RIP: Bunny Sigler

Posted October 10, 2017 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Prolific Philly soul contributor passes away at the age of 76

Promotional shot, 1974

Promotional shot, 1974

On Friday (Oct 6), Philly soul singer and songwriter Bunny Sigler passed away at the age of 76. The musician is often accredited as being one of the important architects in developing the Philly soul sound, a vibrant R&B category spearheaded by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell. Sigler’s longtime attorney Lloyd Remick confirmed his passing, adding that he succumbed from a heart attack at his Philadelphia home.

Born Walter Sigler on March 27 in Philadelphia, the beloved musician emerged as an artist in 1967 with his own unique medley of Shirley & Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Feel So Good” for the prestigious Cameo-Parkway label. The song, co-produced by then-unknown Philly soul giant Leon Huff, became a Top 40 hit and helped put Sigler’s name on the map. “Yeah, that went to the top of the Billboard charts. The black people didn’t go up there like that at that time,” Sigler told HiFi in a 2013 interview. “But they didn’t think I was black anyways. I guess they thought I was Jewish.”

Soon after, Cameo-Parkway folded and Gamble persuaded Sigler to join the songwriting staff at the developing Philadelphia International Records and also played piano on many of their productions. Thanks to the success of Joe Simon’s Gamble & Huff-powered 1971 album Drowning in a Sea of Love, a disc that featured four compositions by Sigler with songwriting partner Phil Hurtt, Sigler’s work began to show up on landmark PIR albums for the O’Jays, the Three Degrees, Billy Paul. His work also landed on albums outside of PIR, many of them being huge hits. With Ahmet Erugten’s Atlantic being totally invested in the groundbreaking Philly soul sound, climaxing with a Dusty Springfield “Philly soul” album, Thom Bell along with Sigler saw an increased workload during the early ‘70’s. Sigler’s work landed on albums for the Spinners (“He’ll Never Love You Like I Do”) and Wilson Pickett (“International Playboy”). The biggest of them was Jackie Moore’s “Sweet Charlie Babe,” a song that vaulted to number 45 R&B. Soon after, Sigler teamed up with songwriting combo Norman Harris and Allan Felder to pen “Bingo” for the Whispers. It was a Top 40 hit on the R&B charts.

Sigler would jump back into recording, releasing highly overlooked solo albums and singles for PIR and even a theme song for the Shawn Brothers’ karate film Five Fingers of Death.  Still, it was Sigler’s songs on other albums inside the PIR stable that remained the most memorable of his catalog. The powerful message song “When the World’s at Peace” opens up the critically-acclaimed Back Stabbers 1972 album by the O’Jays. It also culminates with the dreamy soulful ballad “Sunshine” right before whisking into Gamble & Huff’s universal anthem “Love Train.” On their following disc Ship Ahoy, Sigler’s “You Got Your Hooks on Me” proves to be one of the album’s finest deep cuts. And while Sigler penned for other PIR acts throughout the mid-‘70’s and even during the label’s hazy days in the ‘80’s (Shirley Jones, Phyllis Hyman), the O’Jays managed to walk away with most of Sigler’s best. In 1982, Sigler brought “Your Body’s Here With Me (But Your Mind’s on the Other Side of Town” to the O’Jays, netting the legendary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame group one of their first Top 20 R&B hits in the changing decade.

Soul songstress Patti LaBelle even scored sizable hits penned by Sigler, such as the Top Ten R&B ballad “Love, Need and Want You” and the 1992 No. 2 R&B gospel-leaning “When You’ve Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven).” The latter was solely produced by Sigler and featured on her gold-certified Burnin’ album for MCA.

Outside of PIR, Sigler’s work also flourished, landing on albums for First Choice, the Barbara Roy-led Ecstasy, Passion & Pain, Carl Carlton, Chaka Khan, Barbara Mason, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Gladys Knight & the Pips and Curtis Mayfield. He also co-wrote the Philly-studded featured single, “Run Jesse Run,” a promotional single for Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Democratic presidential campaign that also featured performances by Phyllis Hyman, Rev. James Cleveland, Leon Huff and Lou Rawls.

Sigler eventually left PIR as a solo artist and moved over to the Salsoul-distributed Gold Mind Records, a label powered by songwriter and former MFSB musician Norman Harris. “I had left Gamble & Huff just when they were getting ready to cut for Michael Jackson [and the Jacksons],” Sigler told HiFi. “I really regret not being able to cut Michael, but I got Instant Funk – that’s the first time I really got a record played.”

With Instant Funk as his backing band, the uncanny return to the top of the music charts for Sigler came with the 1977 disco-channeling “Let Me Party With You (Party Party Party),” a song that channeled Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” in more ways than one. It reached number 8 R&B and number 43 pop. From the Let Me Party With You album, Sigler scored two other hits on the R&B charts, becoming his most celebrated chart-performing album to date. In 1979, he followed it up with “By the Way You Dance (I Knew It Was You),” a Top 20 dance hit. Sigler also contributed huge disco and R&B hits for other Salsoul and Gold Mind acts including Double Exposure (“My Love Is Free,” “Everyman”), Loleatta Holloway (“Only You”, “I May Not Be There When You Want”) and the Salsoul Orchestra.

Sigler also helped Instant Funk reach their creative apex thanks to the arrival of the blistering disco-funk jam “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl).” The self-titled album, all produced by Sigler, yielded the mammoth hit, which peaked at number one for three non-consecutive weeks on the R&B charts and also managed to hit number one on the disco charts and number 20 pop. “I Got My Mind Made Up” is also known for its catchy “say whaaat” girl chant, an idea that Sigler secured at the last minute. “I put that ‘say whaaat’ in there with the girl,” he said. The uncredited “girl” happened to be lurking around the Alpha International Studios in Philadelphia.

Sigler at the 51st annual Grammy Awards.

Sigler at the 51st annual Grammy Awards.

Sigler’s association with Instant Funk dates back to 1974 with the release of his PIR studio album That’s How Long I’ll Be Loving You and the juggernaut underground disco cut “Free Man,” a Scepter Records-released cut performed by South Shore Commission. On the Tom Moulton-mixed single, Instant Funk is credited for providing the song’s infectious instrumentation. Despite a long lapse in collaboration, Sigler eventually returned to tour and work with Instant Funk even after Gold Mind was dissolved and Salsoul folded. Most recently, Instant Funk contributed compositions and music on his last studio solo release, the 2015’s independently-released Bundino.

In his later years, Sigler continued to record new music vigorously, including a gospel project (2008’s The Lord’s Prayer, which featured best-selling gospel harpist Jeff Majors on the title cut), his first-ever Christmas album (2012’s When You’re In Love at Christmas Time) and 2015’s Bundino. In August,  a cover of “Angel Eyes” was released and came packaged with a concept video released on YouTube. Meanwhile, Sigler’s songwriting catalog – whether it was his solo works or songs he’d written for others – found a new life in the world of sampling done in contemporary R&B and hip-hop. “Love, Need and Want You” landed in OutKast’s “Ghettomuzick” and the Nelly/Kelly Rowland smash hit “Dilemma,” the latter earning a Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and becoming one of the best selling singles of all time. Jay-Z also tapped Sigler to use “If,” a song on Jackie Moore, for the opening moments on Jay-Z’s groundbreaking The Blueprint disc. “We’ve made more money off of sampling than when we first recorded those songs,” Sigler told HiFi in another interview.

And about his popular namesake “Bunny,” Sigler responded to the question in a 2012 interview with HiFi: “I was born with a tooth. My nickname came from me being born the day before Easter. They were saying that it was foretold that I would be luck in life.”


Close friends of Sigler and other artists in the music industry spoke out on social media and in circulating press statements about his impact and legacy. “I am truly and deeply saddened by the passing of my very dear friend,” Philadelphia International Records’ founder Kenny Gamble wrote. “He was one of the most talented, creative and great songwriters and music producers I have worked with. He contributed so many great songs to our artist roster from the beginning. Bunny also was a great singer, and performed superbly on many of our hit songs as a background vocalist. More importantly, he was like family to us. And he was the best.”

“Bunny was one of my favorite producers and writers,” Leon Huff echoed. “I truly loved [him] and will truly miss him.”

Patti LaBelle also responded to Sigler’s death: “I’m deeply saddened by the passing of my friend and brother in music. “Bunny spent his life using his talents to bring love and joy to others and for that we are all grateful. He will truly be missed, but his legacy lives on.”

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the leader and legendary drummer for the Philly neo-soul/hip-hop band The Roots, echoed those same sentiments. “Definitely a highlight for us working with him,” he wrote in a lengthy, fitting tribute on his Instagram account. “He was the definition of cool, man. This cat will be missed man. Thank you for all you taught us.” Sigler appeared as a guest vocalist on the group’s “Long Time,” a song heard on 2006’s Game Theory.

Funeral services and final arrangements have yet to be announced. “On behalf of the Sigler family we would like to thank you for your condolences,” read a Facebook post on late Friday. “At this time we are preparing arrangements and ask that you respect our privacy.”

Sigler is survived by his wife, Martha, a daughter Eva, and a son Jabare.

Remembering Bunny Sigler | HiFi Magazine


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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