By Taki S. Raton
Milwaukee ’s own R&B singer, songwriter and producer Harvey Scales was in town recently to serve as Master of Ceremonies for scheduled stage performances at Brad Bernard’s 2011 Community Arts & Funk Festival held on Saturday, August 27 at the Performing Arts Center. A prominent figure in the music industry since the early 1960’s, Scales began his career here in Milwaukee when he and long time friend Al Vance got together and formed the soon to become national and internationally known Harvey Scales & The 7 Sounds.
Once called Milwaukee ’s “Godfather of Soul” by a local reporter, Scales and the Sounds dazzled and captivated audiences throughout the 70’s and 80’s. He received national recognition in his collaboration with Johnnie Taylor for “Disco Lady”.
This Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping hit became the very first platinum single in the history of the Recording Industry Association of America, selling over two million copies, and was certified platinum on April 22, 1976. Scales is not only the first African American song writer to receive this status, but this was also the first platinum single ever awarded.
This success secured for him a recording contract with Casablanca where he released two albums – “Confidential Affair” in 1978 “and “Hot Foot: A Funque Dizco Opera” in 1979. During this period, the multi-talented artist additionally co-wrote “I Can Do Bad All by Myself” with fellow songwriter Johnny Mills, also of Milwaukee.
“These past six days, I have had the honor of being in the company of a living legend and one of the few artist called “God Father of Soul and Funk Music,” says Tony Muhammad, Service Developer for the consulting company, MUSA.
Muhammad, who had the esteemed responsibility to chauffeur Scales to his various area engagements, adds that he is a “walking, talking entertainment historian. I was intrigued with his detailed knowledge on genres from Gospel music to what is today called ‘Rap.’”
Muhammad says that Scales “through his seasoned baritone voice, puts it all in perspective of how he influenced soul and funk music and the inspiration through his song-writing and performing talents that he has had on the success of many great professional singers, song-writers, and instrumentalist that we still honor today.”
Born in Osceola, Arkansas, Scales grew up in Milwaukee and attended Roosevelt Middle School and North Division High School.He has performed in venues throughout the United States including his hometown Milwaukee at such popular gatherings as Summerfest, Wisconsin State Fair Park and African World Festival. During this summer, Scales was a part of the prestigious line of entertainers selected for July’s Porretta Soul Festival in Italy. This annual gala this year was in tribute to R&B recording artist Otis Redding.
In addition to “Disco Lady,” Scales wrote “Once is Not Enough” for the Ojays and “Be for Real” by the Dells and popular titles for the Dramatics. These musical sensations were followed by the single hits “Spend the Night Forever” and “Single Girls.”
He has performed with some of the biggest stars in the industry such as Wilson Pickett, Ottis Redding, Natalie Cole, the Temptations and Ike and Tina Turner, the Esquires, Jackie Wilson and James Brown.
Described as being a “Master of the Live-Stage Performance,” he was also known by local fans as “Twistin’ Harvey” in the early 1960’s. He and his band were additionally regulars on the college circuit. The entertainer can still be found recording in the 90’s and well into the millennium. In 1997, Scales released “Somebody Else’s Somebody” which is said to be one is his greatest releases ever.
Titled “Back Then One More Time,” a recent release on CD by Harvey Scales & The 7 Sounds includes such tracks as “Monkey Time,” “Welcome Home,” “Sweet Harmony,” “Been Loving You Too Long,” and “Try A Little Tenderness.”
“I first met Harvey when I was a law student in my home town of Buffalo, New York in 1972 where he was performing with his band in a local bar,” says Russell Stamper.
The renowned Milwaukee judge adds that the entertainer puts on “a dazzling show and a part of it was to invite audience members to come up and dance with him and the band. I did so and we then established a strong friendship from that time forward. I came to the bar with a friend from Milwaukee who already knew Harvey and the three of us had warm conversations. When I later moved to Milwaukee, I saw him from time to time and hooked up with others who know and loved him.”
Stamper recalls that he has come to not only appreciate his musical talent “but also his wide knowledge of music history as well as his friendship and association with so many musical artists.”
Citing his depth of musical discernment, Scales remarked in an interview that singer and songwriter Prince was a mixture of Jemi Hendrix, James Brown and Little Richard:
“Prince was inspired in the way he performed with his guitar by Jemi Hendrix, he got his moves from James Brown and his hair style from Little Richard.”
Our Milwaukee entertainer himself admitted that he was influenced by the flair of Jackie Wilson and the showmanship of James Brown.
Now residing in Atlanta, Scales reveals that “since I’ve been back, I have been graced with the company of friends and fans that I have not seen in 30 years. I am meeting their sons and daughters and grandkids and I am just loving the stage of this 2011 Community Arts & Funk Festival. It just feels great to be back home in Milwaukee among friends.”