Monday, August 27, 2007

Disco Delivery #43:
Wardell Piper (1979, Midsong International)

Wardell Piper - Super Sweet
Wardell Piper - Super Sweet (12'' Version)
Wardell Piper - Win Your Lovin'
Wardell Piper - Captain Boogie
Wardell Piper - Captain Boogie (12'' Version)
Wardell Piper - Don't Turn Away From Me Baby
Wardell Piper - If You Want To Make Love To Me

When I took a little trip to Vancouver back in March, among the other goodies that I got, I had finally managed to get a copy of Wardell Piper's awesome (and only) album along with one of the 12'' singles from it. Although there was writing on the cover and a cut-corner (thanks to DungeonDJ for the retouched photo!), luckily the record itself was in mint condition and the sleeve even included an original fold-out poster of the cover... I had wanted to have a copy of the album (the local record stores here never had any decent ones) ever since I had heard the two singles off of it some five years back. Couldn't get enough of them then, and I still love 'em now.

Wardell, like many of her contemporaries, would get her start singing in church at the tender age of five. Years later, right out of high school, she would become one of the early members of First Choice appearing on some of their first singles like "This Is The House Where Love Died" and "Armed And Extremely Dangerous." Although online sources are somewhat unclear about exactly when she left the fold, (unfortunately my Japanese First Choice 2 CD compilation, with incorrect liner notes, is no help either), it seems she most likely left the group shortly after those few initial singles.

While on her own album, the singles "Super Sweet" and "Captain Boogie" were the major attractions, the rest of the record doesn't doesn't disappoint either. Definitely one of the funkiest, rawest disco albums I've heard from a female disco artist of the time. Along with those tight grooves - that that glam 'eve and the serpent' shot has got to be one of the most outrageously stunning disco cover shots I've ever seen. Quite honestly, one of the best things about collecting disco, (right along with the music, of course) has got to be admiring the album covers that they got away with..

Recorded in her native Philadelphia at Alpha International Studios and produced by John H. Fitch (AKA John H. Fitch, Jr., John Fitch) and Reuben Cross (who had also produced some tracks for Carol Douglas at the time as well written Evelyn 'Champagne' King's break out signature hit "Shame"), the daring glamour of the cover photo on the outside seemed perfectly matched to the grooves inside. The album, to me, is like one of those ultimate combinations of disco and funk. Those prominent horns, guitars and bass giving a bit of a heavy funk feeling, yet at the same time topped off with a great string/horn harmony on much of the album, giving things a bit of that disco finesse. It's one of those albums that doesn't sound overly polished, yet still managed to achieve a full, meaty sound, with no shortage of elements in the mix. There's just a certain uncomplicated, uncluttered and (although I hate using this description) organic sound to the record, with the finished product bursting with an undiluted energy and spontenaity.

Aside from the the musical backing, Wardell's voice is undoubtedly one of the big spectacles of this album. Her vocals only adding and highlighting the record's funk factor. I haven't heard too many of her later singles, but judging from what I've heard so far, they didn't seem to come close to approaching the type of vocal dynamism she had on this record. By that, I don't necessarily mean histrionics like Patti LaBelle or sheer power like Loleatta, but in how she seems comes across gutsy, smooth and straight-forward one minute, then coming practically unhinged the next, letting loose these sudden, wild, wails, moans and feline screams; that voice making itself one of the boldest, funkiest things on the record.

The first track "Super Sweet" practically sets the template, with it's steady groove opening with an infectious guitar line, propelled by a fat bassline and handclaps. The horns and strings (courtesy of Philly's Don Renaldo and his Strings and Horns) come in a little bit later kicking things up considerably. If you thought strings couldn't be funky, they make 'em on here. Undaunted, even by a funny line like "I'm stuck on you, like glue on a shoe," or by that cute K.C. & The Sunshine Band reference in the chorus/refrain, Wardell really gives it on this track. Her vocals seem to climb along with the record, getting wilder and wilder by the minute until she completely turns it loose at the five minute mark. The second half of the song (which, in all, goes on for some 11 minutes on the album) is marked by a mean break at the 7.50 mark, which would last for another three to four minutes, giving prime exposure to that big, bad-ass bassline.

The 12'' version mixed by Jimmy Simpson (brother of Valerie and Ray) is slightly shorter at 8 minutes, replacing the funky guitars in the with a steady percussion lead-in, which later brought those light synths in the background right up front. Overall, not quite as punchy as the album version, though it cuts a cleaner, more straightforward groove; keeping Wardell's wild vocal runs and the basic dynamic, but cutting out the multi-layered breaks and coda at the end, instead focusing solely on the bass and percussion, particularly towards the close.. That said, in my opinion, both the album and 12'' versions of this track are equally effective and complimentary takes, neither straying too far rom one another, yet still highlighting different elements in the track.

Side one ends with a slower track, "Win Your Lovin'," which I wouldn't call a ballad, but perhaps the closest thing to one on this album. Despite the tempo, this track has the same meaty backing as the opening track, especially with the bass hitting it real hard right up front, keeping an extra tight groove going along with the horns, percussion (especially at that 6 minute mark) and strings which all together keep the proceedings consistently interesting and engaging. Of course, Wardell's vocals also deserve some credit for that as well. Although slightly more subdued on here, she manages to sound assertive and gutsy, yet perpetually on the verge of letting out that signature wail of hers..

The side two opener, "Captain Boogie," is yet another one of the big tracks on this album, certainly one of my instant favourites. One of those "he's the greatest dancer" type of tracks, about admiring a super-cool dude at the disco, who "does his steps, smooth as silk, cool as he can be," the ladies getting "satisfaction.. watching him in action" calling him "the baddest cat, I've ever seen." With those horns punching through right at the start, it cuts an infectiously fun, ferocious groove that never lets up - gets right in up your face and kicks you in the ass. With Wardell going wild, horns blazing right up front, guitars, galloping percussion and everything else it seems out in full-force, even a few synthesized elements in the mix, this track packs a punch like none of the others on the record.

The 12'' version remixed by Eddie O' Loughlin (producer, executive and founder of the Midsong and Next Plateau labels) and New York DJ Tony Gioe takes the track from around 6 minutes to around 8, starting off with a steadier, simple 4/4 beat and hi-hat instead of the horns. Overall, it ends up toning down some of the dynamics of the album version, with the horns much less prominent in the mix and the 4/4 beat on the bass drum, practically buried on the album version, but right up front on the 12''. Although slightly shorter; for me, the punchy, practically ass-kicking album version feels so much more satisfying. It sounds like they took a similar approach to the "Super Sweet" mix on this 12'', but perhaps in an effort to give a more staightforward groove, it's as if they ended up knocking the wind out of it's sails instead, so to speak; taking away and trimming down some of the tracks' most infectious elements.. One of those exceptional instances where the 12'' version is inferior to the LP version.

The next track on the record, "Don't Turn Away From Me Baby" is yet another strong selection on here. The tempo is a bit slower, but Wardell still scorches through this one, helped along by an especially fired up band behind her. I absolutely love the sexy, steaming almost desperate tension on this track, with the horns and strings making an especially explosive combination on here, building things to a fever pitch, at which point an awesome sax comes in towards the end, taking things even higher..

The album comes to a close with "If You Want To Make Love To Me," which is an improbable, though in a way, fitting album closer revealing Wardell as less of the disco temptress or the uninhibited party girl but as a deftly clever tease instead; engaging you, surprising you, and charming you - giving you just enough to leave you wanting more than you can have.. Just when you thought the album had no surprises left, the chorus pretty much says it all: "if you want to make love to me, you're gonna have to marry me." With all the connotations attached to disco, and all the suggestions the daring cover shot and her wild vocal ways might have made, it's the last sort of sentiment ("that free love stuff, boy it's not enough") one would expect at the end of such an album - a disco album, no less. It's an almost absurdly surprising, if not playfully subversive, way to end one. I guess her inner church lady was never far behind - snakes and disco be damned...

That last track, in particular, reminded me of a couple of articles that I found about her on the 'Souvenirs' section of Victor Simonelli's excellent website (one of the few sites out there with actual disco magazine articles from the time). There's one, in particular, where she seems to express mixed feelings about her image and disco in general. Some choice excerpts and quotes from that article (entitled "Disco's Other Bad Girls"):

And what, you ask, is Wardell Piper? Backed by a troop of near-naked male dancers/or by a cageful of live tigers, Midsong's Wardell from Philadelphia wails, moans and disco-funks....outrageously mixing disco technology and ballsiness. Even those who do not own stereos have been known to buy Piper's album for the photographic update of Eve and the serpent depicted on the cover. Within tongue-shot of a python's head, Piper's frameable fantasy suggests that she does to a snake what Donna Summer does to a microphone.

Despite her claim as a goddess of disco-funk, in real life, Piper appears in a conservative business suit. No pythons, "I don't want people to label me a snake lady," she says. When I finish on stage, I don't wrap snakes around my neck. I go home to forget about that scene. After a while, disco gets on my nerves."

"Everybody associates me with sex and that just takes me out" pipes Piper....

.....As [an] uninhibited fan performed an impromptu bump and grind, Piper bumped right back. "I consider it an honor to inspire reaction like that," Piper commented later. And what did she do after the show? "I left the stage and prayed."

Lord knows, if I was sharing a stage with live tigers and near-naked men, I'd probably be saying a few prayers, myself..

In any case, there's another great interview with her reproduced on the same site from August 1979, originally from a trade magazine called Disco DJ, where she talks in more depth about her background, influences and her views on disco..

From what I've found, evidently there was one B-side culled from these sessions called "How Long," which is, of course, not on the record, but which seems to have found it's way on to the flip side of some versions of the "Captain Boogie" 12'' single, mostly on some of the European pressings on coloured vinyl. From what I gathered, she'd release only one more single on Midsong in 1980, entitled "Gimme Something Real." She would then go on to record and release singles for the Prelude and Sam labels in the early 80's, among them "Come On Back To Mama" (1983, Sam) and the ice-cool groove of "Nobody (Can Take You From Me)" for Prelude in 1984 before completely fading into obscurity thereafter.

Although I presume she would have been largely inactive in the music business since then, surprisingly in 2004 I'd come across a 12'' single, a house track with her on vocals entitled "Good Lovin'. " Apparently a re-release of a track from 1999, credited to The David Banks Project featuring Wardell Piper on David Banks' AKA DJ Disciple's own label Catch 22 Recordings. Sure enough, the voice was unmistakable.

Since then, there doesn't appear to have been anything more, but then again, who knows if or when she may resurface on record next. Regardless of that, so far this album remains, for me, one of the more distinctive disco records released by a female disco singer. With the raw, funky edge of the grooves, her voice cutting through the mix, often with wild abandon, and of course, that unforgettable cover - it made for a stunning, memorable and fully satisfying (if not, slightly surprising) package all the way through.

Note: In the late '90s, "Super Sweet" and "Captain Boogie" off this album were released on a CD, in what appear to have been their 12'' versions, called "12x12 Original 12'' Disco Mixes" on a small label called Prophecy Entertainment. Not sure how good the sound quality was, however the CD was mostly made up of tracks from the Midsong catalogue (which seems to be one of the more underrated disco labels out there), and is so far probably the only CD to focus on their output. The label (Prophecy Entertainment) that put it out once had a website, which has long since closed (much like the label itself). Although there don't seem to be many traces of the CD out there anymore, evidently Amazon still lists it on their website (albeit with no new or used copies available as of this writing).






Anonymous said...

Good choice, Tommy! Thank you.

Tommy said...

No problem, Thanks Enrique! :) Pinball.. will be next ;)



Tommy said...

Glad you like DJ Ricardo :)

BoogieMan said...

This is an exquisite album. I'd almost forgotten that I had been looking for this one. I only had the 12" versions of "Supersweet" and her Hi-NRG infused "Nobody (Can Take You From Me)". Great, rare, stuff here Tommy. Thanx.

Tommy said...

No problem DungeonDJ! Yeah, until I found it several months back, I had been looking for this one for a little while too. It was so nice to finally find it (even if the cover was a little worn). I've been listening to this album like crazy for the last little while..
Anyway, thanks for the comment! :)

soulbrotha said...

.....As [an] uninhibited fan performed an impromptu bump and grind, Piper bumped right back. "I consider it an honor to inspire reaction like that," Piper commented later. And what did she do after the show? "I left the stage and prayed."

I howled at that excerpt! Ooo Tommy, you got me with that one. LOL!

Thanks for this. I always wanted to hear what the rest of her album sounded like.

soulbrotha said...

And, as always, a great write-up!

M.E. Grant said...

Wow, the 12-inch version of Super Sweet is actually shorter than the album version. How about that?

Tommy said...

lol, no problem Soulbrotha! Thanks for the kind words :) .. I loved that quote too haha. That article only had a brief section on Wardell, but they definitely got some good quotes out of her..

martymartymarty, no problem! Thanks for the comment! :)

Hey M.E Grant! Yeah, although I've come across a few like that, it's a bit unusual isn't it? Someone oughta make an ongoing list of singles like that. I guess in some cases, longer doesn't always mean 'club friendly', so to speak.. Though really, as much as I enjoy the 12", nothing can top that 11 minute album version, IMHO..

Unknown said...

Shit! Another great post. You should write books on this stuff Tommy...

-Sean / The Red Room

H.M.A. said...

Captain Boogie

I think you've found your DJ moniker, Tommy!

Great tunes! (as usual) thanks for the fantastic post!

osses said...

Great choice,album hard to find in my country..Keep doing it Tommy:)

Tommy said...

Hey Sean, thanks for the comment! At this point, I'm really not good enough of a writer to put a decent book together, but who knows, maybe one day ;) Anyway, thanks again for the comment! I just added a link to the Red Room :)

Hey Terry! Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you liked it :) Captain Boogie haha, I think I could get used to that lol.. If I ever do decide to DJ one of these days, that is.. ;) Anyway, thanks again!

Hey Osses, thanks for the encouraging comment! I'll do my best! :)

osses said...

No problem man,your blog allows me to listen to songs i would probably never hear ,if i dont go to U.S.A ,Canada or..Japan(yeah,there is abig record market also..)

Im doing my best to encourage polish people to listen to disco at my blog..but there are no such rare lp's like here:)


john holmes said...

Oh yes, Wardell. Funny enough, I bought this album for 1 euro or something just because of the cover, and because it obviously smelled like disco. I went home to listen to it and it just didn't fit anywhere, couldn't play it. Today, after so many months, I finally could listen and understand it... and totally love it to death! Music just keeps surprising you, right? I love this raw energy of funk blessed with that tasty disco flavor, and god, that bass player is astounding!

my copy of the album, however, is a portuguese one so I have little info on the musicians and such, it was a relief to stumble upon this entry on your blog, makes my day! thank you, and I'll continue enjoying your finest taste and learning as much as I can about the blessed disco! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Not much is known on Wardell, but is quite some extensive resume!
Well done!
For more Disco, visit;

Unknown said...

Glad top report that Wardell is alive and kicking! You can find her on Facebook!

Thanos said...


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