R&B Hall Of Fame: Drummer Earl Young

Earl Donald Young (born June 2, 1940) is a Philadelphia-based drummer who rose to prominence in the early 1970s as part of the Philly Soul sound. Mr. Young is best known as the founder and leader of The Trammps who had a major disco hit record with “Disco Inferno”. Young, along with Ronnie Baker and Norman Harris (the trio best known as Baker-Harris-Young), was the owner of the Golden Fleece record label.

The Early Days

In the mid-sixties Mr. Young played drums on many early recordings for the Philadelphia-based record label “ARCTIC” (Records) and the Philadelphia-based record label “Phil L.A. Of Soul”. In 1964 Earl Young became a member of a Philadelphia soul quintet called The Volcanos. The original line up was lead vocalist Gene Jones (later known as Gene Faith), vocalist Steve Kelly, guitarist Stanley Wade, his bassist brother Harold “Doc” Wade, keyboardist John Hart, and drummer Earl Young. The main body of The Volcanos later became The Trammps.

The Philadelphia International Years

By the early 70s Earl Young was featured prominently on many Philadelphia International Records (PIR) recordings while also recording extensively at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios as part of the group of musicians knows as MFSB.  Young can be heard on the gold single “Cowboys and Girls” (number one R&B, number six pop, spring 1968), “When We Get Married” (number eight R&B, summer 1970), as well as the group’s later hits, “I’ll Always Love My Mama (Part 1)” (number six R&B, spring 1973), “I Wanna Know Your Name” (number nine R&B, fall 1973), and the Three Degrees’ platinum single “When Will I See You Again” (number four R&B, number two pop, fall 1974).  

The Salsoul Years

In the late ’70s, Earl Young, Harris & Baker started Baker-Harris-Young Productions, producing, writing, and playing on disco/R&B hits for Salsoul Records artists Loleatta Holloway (“Hit and Run”), Double Exposure (“Ten Percent,” “My Love Is Free”), First Choice (“Armed and Extremely Dangerous”), and Love Committee (“Heaven Only Knows,” “Cheaters Never Win,” “Law and Order”). The trio was reunited with Eddie Holman, whom they’d backed on “Hey There Lonely Girl” (number four R&B, number two pop, late 1969), for the 1977 album, This Will Be a Night to Remember. Baker-Harris-Young functioned primarily as studio musicians, however Baker-Harris-Young had went on tour with MFSB and Vince Montana’s Salsoul Orchestra,

The Trammps Years

Disco’s most soulful vocal group began in the ’60s as the Volcanos, and were also called the MoodsGene Faith was the original lead vocalist, with Earl YoungJimmy Ellis, guitarist Dennis Harris, keyboardist Ron Kersey, organist John Hart, bassist Stanley Wade, and drummer Michael Thomas. But by the time they’d gone through various identities and emerged as the Trammps in the mid-’70s, the lineup featured lead vocalist Ellis, Norman Harris, and Stanley Wade, Robert Upchurch and Young. A snappy revival of Judy Garland’s ’40s tune “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” was their first chart single, reaching number 17 on the R&B list in 1972. Despite their well-deserved reputation and boisterous, jubilant harmonies and sound, the Trammps were never a huge commercial success even during disco’s heyday. Indeed, they had only three R&B Top Ten hits from 1972 through 1978, and such wonderful records as “Soul Bones,” “Ninety-Nine and a Half,” and “I Feel Like I’ve Been Livin’ (On the Dark Side of the Moon)” stiffed on the charts though they were beloved by club audiences and R&B fans alike. Their only huge hit was “Disco Inferno” in 1977, which was a number nine R&B single in 1977 and was also featured on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Yet it missed the pop Top Ten, peaking at number 11. But the Trammps’ prowess can’t be measured by chart popularity; Ellis’ booming, joyous vocals brilliantly championed the celebratory fervor and atmosphere that made disco both loved and hated among music fans. – Ron Wynn

Earl Young Currently

In 1979, Earl Young received his only Grammy Award for Album of the Year for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

In 1989, newcomers Ten City sought out Young to work on their first album for the house music scene, and even commissioned Young to remix of some of the material and as a session drummer.

The Philadelphia Music Alliance (PMA) has honored Young with five bronze plaques on the Walk of Fame on Broad Street. He was recognized as a member of the Trammps, the peerless rhythm section Baker, Harris & Young, along with the Philadelphia International Records studio orchestra MFSB and the Salsoul Orchestra, as well as John Davis & the Monster Orchestra.

In September 2008, Young joined some other ex-MFSB musicians on the Carl Dixon/Bobby Eli session at Eli’s Studio E in Philadelphia where four new songs were recorded. The rhythm section included Young, Eli, Dennis Harris (the cousin of the Philadelphia guitarist Norman Harris) on guitar, Jimmy Williams (bass guitar), T Conway (keyboards) and Rikki Hicks (percussion). Vocalists on the session were the Philadelphia harmony group Double Exposure performing “Soul Recession”, and Chiquita Green.

By no mean is Earl Young done yet. He states “The best is yet to come!”. He’s working on some new recordings that’s sure to blow some minds as well as speakers. Yes the Philly days were good to him but he knows you have keep up with the times and stay current on the music scene. The young people need him so we’ll all stay focus. Heck, they already sample all the good stuff from back in the day, why not show them the where it came from.

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