The Soul Seen, I SPY SOUL retrospective revisits the 2003 interview feature with Larry Gold
Audio of the actual interview appears at the end of the feature.
The Midas Touch
The story of arranger, cellist, and composer Larry Gold is one that should serve as an example to many in the music business or for that matter, in any business. Why you ask? Because his success is a result of his sincere love for what he does, a desire to grow, the recognition of talent around him, and of course, his own outstanding ability.
His story is also one of irony because although many of you aren’t familiar with his name, you and scores of others have experienced his “touch.” Gold’s amazing body of work is punctuated by his tenure with the legendary label, Philadelphia International, as first, part of the house band MFSB that propels the treasured classic soul and R&B hits by folks like the O’Jays, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the Spinners and Patti Labelle to name only a few. And later, as string and horn arranger on hits from Teddy Pendergrass, McFadden & Whitehead, and more. That experience, while concurrently siphoning the knowledge of Sound of Philadelphia architects Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and renowned producer, Thom Bell, accounts for the prowess that has since driven both, major acts and emerging artists to engage his services. The list is both impressive and diverse, boasting such artists as Musiq Soulchild, Floetry, Jill Scott, Brandy, Jay-Z, Monica, Gerald Levert, The Roots, Kindred, Common, Vivian Green, Justin Timberlake, Erykah Badu, Boys II Men, Glen Lewis, Kelly Price, and more. It’s also impressive because it shines with the glow of platinum and yes, gold selling success the records from these artists enjoy.
But there are things that stand out in the story of Larry Gold that could perhaps be seen as the basis his for longevity, success, and the respect he’s garnered- things such as his readiness to embrace new situations that ultimately unveil opportunity. Another is his love of the place he was born, bred and still calls home. You guessed it, Philadelphia. And the two go hand in hand. It’s what attracted a very young and gifted cellist with initial classical aspirations but a fondness for popular music, to the emergent label that was to become the fervent soul source, Philly International. “I always wanted to be more than just a cello player,” says Gold. “I was always involved with popular music. Even from a little child I was learning Elvis Presley tunes on the guitar. So it was both. It wasn’t just one or the other.” He continues, “I must have been anywhere from thirteen to fifteen [years old] when I met Leon Huff for the first time, playing cello.”
Ultimately his vast experience, love of both, a broad range of quality music and the art of making records over the years is what fueled his opening of a small studio in 1985. That would become the prototype for the State of the Art recording facility now known as The Studio, used by many of Philly’s brightest young talent. When asked if the young artists who are flocking to his studio now fully know the depth of his impressive resume and ties to the legendary Philly sound, Gold responds, “It depends on who they are. Certain people do and certain people don’t. He continues, “I know enough young producers that they might say to other people, hey, he’s been making hit records since he was a baby.” And he adds, “I think that people like Timberland do. I think they’ve learned after working with me now a bunch of times that its not just random. I think Rodney Jerkins knew. I think that Amir (Questlove of The Roots) knew. A lot of these young producers are big fans of old music,” Gold asserts. “There’s a lot of respect or else I wouldn’t be working quite as hard as I am.”
So when he was approached by the UK label, BBE, to do a record, the concept was a no-brainer – an homage to the rich and legendary Philly music scene he has been a part of for so many years. The result, Larry Gold presents Don Cello and Friends, a cornucopia of some of Philly’s finest, past, present and future, submitting lyric, voice and song to Gold’s lush and affecting arrangements.
Busy with arranging gigs seemingly around the clock and running a popular recording studio, Gold hadn’t given much thought to doing a record of his own and really had to ponder the offer from BBE. But as he explains his decision to go forward with the project, he says with a chuckle, “I think at the time, a whole group of people were recording at the studio and I thought to myself, ‘well I can get the young kids to help me make it.” Indeed the assiduous 55-year old Gold called upon a range of talents from young and little known to legendary with the criteria for selection being pretty simple. “First of all I wanted everyone to at least have some roots to Philly. The whole concept was to keep it local if I could,” says Gold. “I wanted [the project] to be a touch of the old, but also with some new people. Some [artists] that people never heard of.” He explains, “My intention was to make a nice blend of old and new and not just famous, but also introducing some younger artists.” Don Cello and Friends is the mission accomplished starring a cast which includes Floetry, Kindred, Gerald Levert, Black Thought of The Roots, Jaguar Wright and Philly music royalty McFadden & Whitehead and Bunny Sigler sharing the stage with lesser known, but solid talent like Carol Riddick and Eric (ERRO)Roberson to name a few. The musical goal is achieved as well with infectious dance and up-tempo grooves flowing there way through to warm, sensual and tender moments all providing a hearty glimpse at Gold’s masterful, mood setting, string arrangements. On Don Cello and Friends he successfully whips up the spirit of the classic Philly sound while displaying vibe of the current Philly music scene.
The making of the CD could be seen as one in a multitude of things validating what Gold had a hunch would eventually happen – And that is Philly’s return to prominence as a major music town. When asked about the renaissance Gold says, “I had a sense. I had a very strong sense. I kind of smelled it at the beginning of the 90’s.” But he is also quick to give cudos to the revered Philly unit, The Roots for being a huge catalyst. “The Roots had a lot to do with the city coming back,” says Gold. “Because The Roots really kept playing. They were a band. And when there weren’t other bands playing, they were playing. In a way, they folded into the into the neo-soul movement.” In the end, what he believes is, “No matter what the other markets do, we do our own sort of style and at this point we’re having success with it.”
It’s clear Larry Gold has had a hand in that success both times around. Or you might say, he’s still shining bright on the Philly music scene.
Larry Gold continues to do his thing!
Check out the audio of the whole interview with Larry Gold above