Salsoul’s First Choice Reunites, Even If It’s for One Night Only

Posted August 9, 2014 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Salsoul girl group breaks the spell on hiatus with rare Summerstage set

Photo above courtesy of Lisa Pacino

“It’s not over between you and me…”

The words from the legendary Salsoul dance hit “Let No Man Put Asunder” had new meaning when the ladies of First Choice emerged on the outdoor amphitheater of East River Park for Mobile Monday’s tribute to Salsoul Records on August 6 [see flyer]. Many of Salsoul’s biggest acts were there to greet the audiences with their respected New York/Philly disco workouts: Double Exposure, Instant Funk, Joe Bataan, the ladies of the funk/disco band Skyy and the dubbed First Lady of Salsoul – Carol Williams. But the fans were more anxious to see First Choice for a number of reasons.

The main reason was because the original members of the others acts had been mostly together since Salsoul dissolved. No real surprise with the other acts. But First Choice was the exception. They had a different story to tell. The group best known for their 1973 hit “Armed and Extremely Dangerous” had been in hiatus mode for nearly two decades. Lead singer Rochelle Fleming left the group indefinitely at the jump start of the 1980’s. Although the group landed a big club hit in 1983 with a Shep Pettibone mix of their 1977 gem “Let No Man Put Asunder,” the group’s future was left uncertain as the group members all left to pursue their own musical careers. Ursula Herring focused on a career as a backup singer for a number of Philly favorites while Annette Guest married gospel musician Gabriel Hardeman, creating a powerful songwriting team behind a number of hits for R&B acts including Stephanie Mills (“I Feel Good All Over”) and Miki Howard (“Love Under New Management”). The other members – finished with the idea of finding success in a dog-eat-dog music industry – settled in their individual careers.

And since 1980-something, the girls from the classic First Choice era (Fleming, Guest, Herring) have not performed one single gig together. At least that’s what public knowledge tells us. Back in 2012 while writing the liner notes for First Choice’s magnum opus Delusions for UK’s Big Break Records, I spoke with both Fleming and Herring about the possibility of a future reunion. Fleming, focused on upcoming solo projects, didn’t shoot down the idea. “Next year, if it’s God’s will, we’ll get together and do a mini-tour or something,” Fleming said.

2013 passed with no trace of a reunion. But the good people at Mobile Mondays thought of the brilliant idea of bringing together the forces behind the Salsoul machine for an epic homecoming. It was a golden opportunity that the women of First Choice couldn’t turn down. After a series of rehearsals in Philadelphia, the united First Choice – featuring original member Wardell Piper – took the stage and provided live vocals to instrumentals of their famous pre-recorded tracks. Yes, having a muscular live band with a fury of string players would have liberated the crowd into ecstasy, but they worked with what they had: Their harmonies were still good, a bit spotty in places; Fleming, in great voice, exercised her gospel-styled ad-libs; Guest-Hardeman showed no signs of wear and tear when delivering her solo part to “Dr. Love” (“He’s all I ever need to take the pain away”). Their choreography, once anchored by the legendary Jolly Atkins, seemed a bit slower, but they still packed in a wallop as they strutted across the stage with a kind of spunky zeal.

“How y’all doing New York,” Herring shouts out across a thunderous crowd.

“Long time no see,” Fleming then says.

They opened up their slimmed twenty-minute, three-song set with “Let No Man Put Asunder,” a song that was never released as a single originally but turned into a mammoth of a record when Salsoul released it as a 12″ inch D.J. tool anchored with an additional mix from late Frankie Knuckles. That song and Fleming’s infectious ad-libs has been sampled probably more than any other record coming out of the Salsoul stable.

Afterwards the Tee Scott-mixed “Love Thang” then bursts from the speakers like a classic summer picnic anthem. With Piper in place, the harmonies are fuller and the energy goes to a higher level. The set’s climax, the deliciously mixed “Dr. Love” from Tom Moulton, finished out their comeback celebration. When the song marches into its fade as Fleming belts out her ad-libs, the girls have a hard time letting loose of the moment. The look on their faces are saying alot of things: It really happened. Is it really over? Where’s the rewind button?

No one knows for certain on what’s to come from this one-off event. It could blossom into a small regional tour. Or they could set aside the rest of their weekends for the summer to do a few gigs at B.B. Kings or House of Blues.

“We want you all to start spreading the news that First Choice is back,” Herring tells the crowd at the end of their set.

Fleming nonchalantly chimed in, saying “We never really did leave. We just took a little break, you know, to do our own thang.”

Let’s hope this “love thang” goes another round.










About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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