RIP: Vincent Montana, Jr.

Posted April 14, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Philly soul arranger, vibist, producer dies at the age of 85

Vincent Montana, Jr., 85, talented composer, arranger, percussionist, orchestra director and renowned vibraharpist, died February 13. No word on the cause of death.

With a career spanning back to the 1950’s, Montana began his career working for Cameo-Parkway and left his fingerprint on classic records for Chubby Checker, Frankie Avalon and teen idol Fabian. He would rise to higher heights after linking up with the Gamble & Huff’s Philly soul institution. As a member of MFSB, Montana’s work – consisting of arrangements, songwriting and providing his signature vibes to Thom Bell’s lush productions – documented hits songs for the Spinners, the Stylistics, Billy Paul, the O’Jays, the Three Degrees and dozens more. His work also leaked outside the realm of Gamble & Huff’s PIR label, particularly after moving on to the Cayre brothers’ Salsoul Records.  At Salsoul, Montana was responsible in creating the 35-member Salsoul Orchestra which predominately consisted of MFSB members. Sources even suggest that the term “salsoul,” which characterized the fusion of salsa and soul, was inspired exclusively by Montana.

Regardless of where the term originated, Montana helped the label develop one of its first big hits: “The Salsoul Hustle,” which was recorded by the Salsoul Orchestra. The follow-up, “Tangerine,” was a remake of the Jimmy Dorsey 1942 hit and netted the label its first Top 20 hit. Later that year, “Nice n’ Naasty” flew to number 30 pop. “Magic Bird of Fire,” a rearranged Stravinsky cut, also did well, selling over 500,000 copies. The Salsoul Orchestra was also responsible for much of the musical content released on the label, which included background work for Loleatta Holloway, Double Exposure and First Choice. Montana eventually left Salsoul due to issues with royalty payments and moved to Atlantic, recording under Montana. In just one year, he released three albums for them, including the Goody Goody, I Love Music and the Tom Moulton-mixed A Dance Fantasy: Inspired by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. By the end of the Seventies with disco slipping slowly from the eye of popularity, Montana had racked up top industry honors, including Billboard’s Top Disco Orchestrator (1975, 1976, 1977) and Top Arranger of the Year in 1977. Surprisingly, Montana’s involvement on the perennial holiday favorite, Christmas Jollies, is the subject of many “best holiday album” lists. HiFi Magazine ranked it number 32 on their list of best holiday albums.

With much of his resume delegated to disco, Montana continued working and even presented work on projects by Masters at Work, Dimitri From Paris and Pet Shop Boys. He also continued to record for his own Philly Sound Works label and united occasionally with the Salsoul Orchestra for special performances and anniversary reunions.

A marvelous write-up on Vinnie’s history in music can be found at Disco Delivery.

On the day of his passing, Twitter was lit up with many in the dance music community paying tribute to his paramount legacy:

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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