Soul singer with John Whitehead
Tuesday 31 January 2006
Gene McFadden, singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer: born Philadelphia 1949; married (two sons, two daughters); died Philadelphia 27 January 2006.
The uplifting anthem "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" by the Philadelphia duo McFadden & Whitehead was a worldwide hit in 1979 and bridged the gap between soul and disco. But Gene McFadden and John Whitehead were more than one-hit wonders. As part of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International label, McFadden and Whitehead also wrote hits such as "Back Stabbers" and the much-sampled "For the Love of Money" for the O'Jays, as well as "Bad Luck", "Wake Up Everybody" and "Where Are All My Friends" for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.
Born in Philadelphia in 1949, McFadden grew up there and formed a vocal group called the Epsilons with his schoolfriends John Whitehead, Allen Beatty and Ronald "Roame" Lowry (Whitehead's cousin, later in Maze). When the Stax superstar Otis Redding played Philadelphia in 1966, the quartet managed to bluff their way backstage and performed for the singer, who offered them the opportunity to join his touring road show.
The following year, they provided background vocals on the Arthur Conley smash "Sweet Soul Music". They had been due to record it themselves as their début single for Stax but, when Redding died in a plane crash in December 1967, the Epsilons went back to Philadelphia.
They kept in touch with Stax and, in 1969, the label issued "The Echo" as their first single, which made the lower reaches of the R&B charts. James Knight and Lloyd Parks replaced Beatty and Lowry as the quartet became Talk of the Town for "Little Bit of Your Lovin' " and "Don't Be So Mean" which came out on North Bay Records in 1971. Knight didn't last long and Parks joined Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes alongside the singing drummer Teddy Pendergrass.
Parks also managed to help Whitehead land a job in the post-room at Philadelphia International, the label set up by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with the financial backing and the distribution muscle of Columbia Records. Whitehead was soon badgering Huff to listen to "Back Stabbers", the first song he'd written with McFadden. "At the time, I was going through a couple of personal things with my family and outsiders and the words Back Stabbers happened to come out," Whitehead recalled. "Gene played a southern soul kind of lick on his guitar and the lyrics came off the top of my head."
Leon Huff contributed a piano melody to the song and convinced the O'Jays to record "Back Stabbers", which became the first worldwide hit for Philadelphia International in 1972. Over the next four years, McFadden and Whitehead carried on releasing singles - "Super Groover (All Night Mover)", "If We Got the Will" and "I Apologize" - as Talk of the Town, but they were in greater demand as in-house songwriters with Philadelphia International.
Often partnered by Victor Leon Carstarphen on keyboards, McFadden and Whitehead wrote, produced and sang background vocals on several songs for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, including "Bad Luck" and "Wake Up Everybody". They composed "Soul City Walk" and "Don't Let Love Get You Down" for Archie Bell & the Drells, "I'll Always Love My Mama" for the Intruders and "Be Truthful to Me" for Billy Paul, as well as "The More I Get, the More I Want" and "Cold, Cold World" for Teddy Pendergrass.
By 1978, they had Grammy nominations and gold and platinum records galore, but McFadden and Whitehead still felt they could make it in their own right. With the keyboard-player Jerry Cohen, the duo came up with "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now", a track which fitted their renewed optimism. "We had the singalong chorus first, then added the verses," McFadden told Blues & Soul magazine in 1980:
We felt it was a hit the minute the tracks were completed. Honestly, though, we never expected it to be so big. The song applied to everybody and it was also about our own lives.
Issued in 1979, "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" made the US Top Twenty and the UK Top Five; it became the anthem of soul weekenders in Britain for most of the Eighties. It has since been covered by the Radio London DJ Steve Walsh, the soul superstar Luther Vandross and the rapper Big Daddy Kane. However, despite releasing two albums on Philadelphia International, McFadden & Whitehead never quite managed to follow up their massive international hit.
At the end of 1981, they left Philadelphia International for a production deal with Capitol/Emi America and went on to work with Melba Moore and Freddie Jackson as well as releasing a third McFadden & Whitehead album entitled Movin' On in 1982. Two years later, they issued "Ain't No Stoppin, (Ain't No Way)" on Sutra Records but stopped recording shortly thereafter.
In a career spanning over 25 years, the duo also worked with James Brown, Gloria Gaynor, the Jacksons, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Lou Rawls and Stevie Wonder. They reunited in the Nineties, appearing on disco and soul oldies package tours.
In 2004, Whitehead was shot dead in Philadelphia while changing a tyre on his car.
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