Saturday, October 12, 2013

Up Close and Personal with L.J. Reynolds of the Dramatics By Shelah Moody

            When rapper Snoop Dogg (now known as Snoop Lion) called lead vocalist L.J. Reynolds of the Dramatics and asked him to appear on his album “Doggystyle” in the early nineties, the iconic singer said a quick no.
             After all, the Dramatics had 38 top 10 single from the 1970s to the 1980s, including “Watcha See is Watcha Get,” “Get Off My Mountain,” and one of the greatest “baby making” songs of all time “In the Rain.” Known for their flawless harmonies, natty suits and smooth choreography, the Dramatics have inspired a countless artists.
            “I had heard of Snoop Dogg, and I didn’t want anything to do with him from what I had heard,” said Reynolds. “That was before I got to know the man. Snoop said to me, ‘Mr. Reynolds, I didn’t hurt anybody. My mother plays your records all the time, man, and I just have to have y’all on my new album. He said to me, ‘My album’s got a million orders already and I haven’t finished it yet.’ I said, a million orders? What’s the address?  We went to the studio and cut the album, but I didn’t know that it would be a gangsta record. They had to do two versions, because if you listen to the uncensored version, you wouldn’t want your granddaughter to hear it.”
            Ironically, appearing on “Doggystyle” and in the video “Doggy Dogg World” in 1993 could not have been a better opportunity, because it exposed the Dramatics to a new generation of hip hop fans of all races. Working with Snoop Dogg and Da Dogg pound earned the Dramatics an MTV Award.
            Formed in Detroit, MI 1962 by Rob Davis, Ron Banks, Larry Reed, Robert Ellington, Larry “Squirrel” Demps and Elbert Wilkins, the group was originally called the Dynamics. Reynolds joined the group in 1972. Reynolds hails from Saginaw, Michigan, the city that produced Motown legends such as Stevie Wonder. 
            In a phone interview from his Detroit home, Reynolds said that he and the Dramatics are looking forward to shaking it well at Yoshi’s San Francisco this weekend.
            “We’re going to go all the way from the beginning, from ‘Whatcha See is Whatcha Get,’ to ‘In the Rain,’ ‘Get Off My Mountain,’ ‘Fell For You,’ ‘Shake it Well,’ ‘Get Up and Get Down’ and ‘Me and Mrs. Jones,’ said Reynolds, whose vocals range from first tenor to baritone. “We’ve got a lot of fans and a lot of songs to put out for them. I’ve never been to Yoshi’s, but I hear it’s a beautiful place, and I’m looking forward to being up close and personal. That’s what’s so good about it; the audience will be able to stand there and look us eye to eye and get the message, because we are sure going to deliver it. We have five singers, a three piece horn section, and a four piece rhythm section.”
            Veteran DJ, music historian and concert promoter Harry Duncan, producer of the San Francisco-based radio show, “In the Soul Kitchen” ( considers the Dramatics among the most important and influential of the '70's soul vocal groups, along with the Spinners and the Stylistics, the O'Jays and the Detroit Emeralds.
            “The harmonies, arrangements and production of their songs like ‘Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get,’  ‘In the Rain’ and ‘The Devil Is Dope’ gave them a signature sound and are '70's soul classics,” said Duncan. “Some of their songs like "The Devil Is Dope" have been liberally sampled by various hip hop artists.”
The Dramatics’ song “Oceans of Thoughts and Dreams’ was sampled by Beyonce and Destiny’s Child.  Cross culturally, the Dramatics have also influenced Jamaican harmony groups such as the Mighty Diamonds, the Tamlins and the Melodians.
            I asked Reynolds about the origin of the ubiquitous party anthem, “Watcha See is Watcha Get.” The song was written and produced by Tony “Uncle Fester” Hester, who also penned “In the Rain” and other early Dramatics hits.
            “It took us to the level where we needed to be, and all the other records followed,” said Reynolds.  I have several gold records here at the house, basically, every record after ‘Watcha See is Watcha Get.’ Some people from the seventies era know about ‘Watcha See is Watcha Get,’ and in the eighties, we developed a whole other audience with hit records like ‘Me and Mrs. Jones.’  All of those songs sold just as many records as ‘Watcha See is Watcha Get,’ but they were sold to an R&B audience.”
            After more than 40 years with the group, Reynolds is proud of the Dramatics’ diverse fan base.
            “We have a pretty decent group of people who come out to see us,” said Reynolds, who has performed at large scale music festivals such as the Stone Soul Picnic. “The great thing about us is that all nationalities like the Dramatics.”
            I asked Reynolds what was like recording for the iconic Stax record label during the peak of the R&B movement.
            “Al Bell was running Stax records when the Dramatics got there,” said Reynolds. “It was a great experience; I mean, Stax was the soulman’s company. A lot of people wanted to go and get that Memphis sound, that Stax sound, and we were fortunate enough to become part of Stax. I’m still friends with Al Bell today, and we still do a lot of Stax records songs, such as “Ship Won’t Sail Without You’ at our concerts.
            I asked Reynolds what was it like being a part of another great musical movement, the “Soul Train,” television dance show featuring Don Cornelius, whose life tragically ended in 2012.
            “We were on ‘Soul Train’ probably more than any other artists,” said Reynolds. “In a 15-year span, any time we released an album, we were on ‘Soul Train.’ I have a tape here at the house, and I watch myself performing on ‘Soul Train’ from age 21 to 30. Don Cornelius was a very business oriented guy. He only smiled for the camera. When he was off camera, he didn’t smile much. At times, it seemed like he had an unhappy face, but he was a great friend. He developed something that made a lot of people famous, because once you appeared on ‘Soul Train,’ you achieved a certain amount of notoriety in the record industry.”
            Reynolds is particularly proud of the Dramatics’   television history, which goes all the way back to appearances on the Mike Douglas show, Red Fox specials and Arsenio Hall.  
            Along with touring with the Dramatics, Reynolds is currently working on his solo career. He has two popular songs on Youtube, a remake of Marvin Gaye’s “Come Get to This” and “You Sure Love to Ball,” which he will also perform at Yoshi’s. Reynolds also runs his own record label, Motor City Hits.
            In closing, I asked Reynolds for his personal definition of soul.

            “When you feel something and you put it out, the other person has to feel it, too,” said Reynolds. “If they don’t feel it, then you ain’t got no soul. When you put it out like James Brown singing ‘Get up off of that thing,’- that’s soul. Soul is a person who knows how to deliver, like Teddy Pendergrass and even L.J. Reynolds. You say to yourself, wow, he got soul!”

No comments:

Post a Comment