Al Goodman: Soul singer who had UK Top Ten hits in the 1970s and 1980s

Pierre Perrone
Wednesday 20 October 2010 00:00 BST

The baritone-bass singer Al Goodman was a mainstay of the Moments, the sweet soul trio from Hackensack, New Jersey who graced the UK Top 10 in the mid-Seventies with the bright and breezy singles "Dolly My Love", "Jack in the Box" and "Girls" – the latter in partnership with the Whatnauts. In the US, they topped the R'n'B charts with the sublime symphonic soul of "Love on a Two-Way Street" in 1970 and "Look at Me (I'm in Love)" in 1975, and again with "Special Lady" in 1980, when they were billed as Ray, Goodman & Brown because of a contractual dispute.

Contemporaries of the Delfonics, the Stylistics and the O'Jays, the Moments survived several personnel changes. Deep-voiced Goodman occasionally sang lead, and co-wrote and co-produced several of their hits, most notably "Girls" and "Look at Me (I'm in Love)", with the tenor-falsetto lead singer Harry Ray and the trio's guitarist, Walter Morris.

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Goodman sang in the amateur doo-wop group the Carvettes while still at school. The band played local gigs, had a regular weekend spot on WOKK, Mississippi's first black radio station, and recorded one single, before unsuccessfully trying their luck in Chicago and then New York.

Hoping for a lucky break, Goodman stayed on in the Big Apple and recorded with the Vipers. In 1968, he landed the job of engineer at Soul SoundStudios, the facility Sylvia Robinson, of Mickey & Sylvia fame, had opened in Englewood, New Jersey with her husband Joe. The Robinsons wereformidable operators and later founded Sugar Hill Records, the first rap label, but at the time they had just launched their All Platinum company and they signed the Moments to their Stang label.

Having co-written and produced "Not on the Outside", the first Moments single for the label, Sylvia Robinson fired founder members Mark Greene and Richard Gross because of their behaviour during a week's engagement at the Apollo Theatre, and replaced them with Goodman, whose singing talent she had spotted in the studio, and Billy Brown. The Moments placed four more singles on the R'n'B charts in 1969 before recording the heartbreaking ballad "Love on a Two-Way Street". "We needed something a little bigger to give us a crossover hit into pop," Goodman later recalled. "Bert Keyes brought us this song that he'd written with Sylvia that All Platinum had cut on another artist hadn't sold. He thought it could make it big with us and he was right!"

With its dramatic piano introduction by Keyes, soaring falsetto and three-piece string section overdubbed three times, "Love on a Two-Way Street" spent five weeks at the topof the R'n'B charts and peaked at No 3 on the US pop charts in 1970. It has since been covered by Stacy Lattisaw and Gloria Estefan, and provided the sample on which the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys recent hit "Empire State of Mind" was built.

The Moments remained All Platinum's most successful act throughout the Seventies, with 25 subsequent singles on the R'n'B charts, including the slinky crossover smash "Sexy Mama" in 1973. The most sophisticated act on a label that didn't quite have the clout of Tamla Motown, the trio nevertheless had a big following among African-American women and also broke into the cabaret circuit.

In 1974, they performed "Girls" without the Whatnauts on Top of the Pops and issued the Live at the Miss Black America Contest album, two years after their previous in-concert offering, Live at the New York State Women's Prison. But in 1978, they fell out with Joe Robinson over the creative direction of the group and decided to leave and sign to PolyGram. The Robinsons argued they owned the rights to the Moments' name so the trio simply called themselves Ray, Goodman & Brown. "Special Lady" showcased their smooth harmonies to perfection and inaugurated a further run of 10 R'n'B chart entries which ended with the slow jam "Where Did You Get That Body, Baby?" in 1988. Ray died in 1992 and was replaced by Kevin "Ray" Owens.

In 2002, a fire destroyed many of the Moments' master tapes, still held in Englewood by the Robinsons. The following year, "Ray", Goodman & Brown sang backing vocals on "You Don't Know My Name" by Alicia Keys.

Goodman had been suffering from liver disease, and died of heart failure during surgery to remove a tumour.

Willie Albert Goodman, musician: born Jackson, Mississippi 30 March 1943; married firstly Alice Lewis (marriage dissolved), secondly Henrietta Young; three sons, three daughters; died Hackensack, New Jersey 26 July 2010.

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