Harvey Scales--An appreciation
Twistin' Harvey Scales' 1968 hit "Broadway Freeze"
“Milwaukee’s Godfather of Soul” Harvey Scales, who led the James Brown-inspired soul funk band Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds (sometimes called Twistin’ Harvey and the Seven Sounds) and co-wrote songs including Johnnie Taylor’s 1976 classic “Disco Lady” (the first platinum single) and his own “Love-It is,” which J. Geils Band popularized on its 1975 Hotline album, died Monday at 77.
“Growing up in Milwaukee, we caught Twistin’ Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds many times. They were a big influence on us, REAL R&B!” said fellow Milwaukee native Jon Paris, who went on to fame as a New York-based singer/guitarist and like Scales is a Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Hall of Fame inductee. “He’s one of the great ones.”
Scales started in the bebop era singing on street corners and continued working into his seventies, his son Harvey Scales, Jr. (also known as rapper JF Scalez) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He said that the thousands of digital messages received since his father’s death showed “how many generations he’s impacted.”
Scales had played in Milwaukee bands The Playboys and The Esquires, and worked with another future star Milwaukeean, Al Jarreau. He opened for the likes of Chubby Checker and Stevie Wonder, worked with the Wisconsin labels Cuca and Magic Touch and the national Chess and Casablanca, and was sampled by the likes of the Beastie Boys, who used his 1979 song “Dancing Room Only” 10 years later on their “Shake Your Rump.”
He’s credited with helping break down racial barriers in Milwaukee by striving to play for both black and white audiences, and performed in Wisconsin venues where black people weren’t allowed.
“When you got him on stage, you could hear a pin drop,” his manager Barbara Meyer-Spidell told the Journal Sentinel.
“He was a very solid talent whom I thought enough of to compile,” says Aaron Fuchs, owner of New York’s Tuff City Records, who released in 2009 the Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds compilation Love-Itis: All the Rare & Unreissued 45's from the Vaults of Magic Touch: 1967-1977 on his label’s Soul-Tay-Shus Records imprint. “He was never part of an artist development entity like Atlantic or Motown, and hopped from market to market—Chicago, Cleveland, L.A.—and role to role: singer, songwriter, producer.”
For Grammy-winning producer/soul maven Leo Sacks, Scales “was like a comet shooting across the sky, but for that one minute, he was utterly incandescent.”
Scales, added Sacks, “wrote and sang about his soul, from his soul. And he had a natural feel for carnal, flesh-driven characters: ‘Love-it is’ was a blast of low-down lust. No wonder [J. Geils frontman] Peter Wolf ate it up! And ‘Disco Lady’ was Harvey’s sex-driven alter-ego.”
Sacks says that Scales was “a natural preacher man, a combination of gospel, country and blues.”
“That’s some party the Maker is throwing tonight,” he concludes. “Harvey and his homies—Bobby Womack, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Don Covay, Bunny Sigler, Johnnie Taylor, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge, Guitar Watson--all making the hang. Talk about some friendly travelers!”