O’Jays stays true to roots

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Sunday, January 26, 2014    

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IT was the summer of 1978 and Now That We Found Love, a funky reggae song by Jamaican band Third World, was jamming American radio stations.

Not many people knew the song was a cover. The original was done in 1973 by American Rhythm and Blues group, The O'Jays, for their album Ship Ahoy.

The O'Jays lead singer Eddie Levert remembers the impact of Third World's version.

"They did great things with the song and it became a big hit for them but it was only an album cut for us," Levert told the Sunday Observer. "Because our album had such great songs the DJs (disc jockeys) never played our version."

The O'Jays are scheduled to perform Saturday at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium.

The current line-up includes original members Levert and Walter Williams as well as Eric Nolan Grant. Levert, Williams and William Powell recorded a number of hit songs for the hot Philadelphia International Records during the 1970s.

That label was home to prolific songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The O'Jays were part of a stable that included Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Lou Rawls and on incredible house band named MFSB. The group's many hits included Ship Ahoy, Love Train, For The Love of Money, Backstabbers, Brandy and She Used to Be My Girl.

Levert, now 71, notes that despite changing trends in music, the group stays true to its roots.

"We're still Rhythm and Blues, a lot of our peers are gone so we're the last of a dying breed. That's why it's important we stay relevant because we're the last men standing," he said.

While he rates R Kelly as "a genius" and has high marks for John Legend and Boyz II Men, Levert believes their sound is too commercial.

"They're doing a good copy of what R&B should be but it's not R&B. It's got to a place where everybody sounds alike," he said.

The O'Jays are from the Midwest state of Ohio. They started as a quintet in the mid-1960s but exploded as a trio with Gamble and Huff a decade later.

It will be their second appearance at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival.





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