Entertainment behind the scenes
‘Philly Soul’ producers Gamble and Huff honored in Beverly Hills
All aboard the “Love Train” in Beverly Hills. Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, the soul music Svengalis who wrote and produced the O’Jays’ peace anthem and about 3,000 other timeless tunes, received a lifetime achievement award at a star-studded black-tie dinner on Tuesday.
The pair picked up the Icon Award from BMI, a performing rights group that collects royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers. Other awards went to pop singer Colbie Caillat and country star Taylor Swift, the co-writers of some of BMI’s biggest songs of the past year.
But Gamble, 65 (right), and Huff, 67, were the main attractions at the Regent Beverly Wilshire event. In a mini tribute concert, Gavin DeGraw performed “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” Estelle took on “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and Michael Buble did “Me and Mrs. Jones” — all R&B classics churned out by the duo’s Philadelphia International Records label during the 1970s.
Huff fondly recalled his early days as a studio musician in New York, playing piano on tunes for pioneering producers such as Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were in the audience, and Phil Spector, who was otherwise detained. He and Gamble met at the Brill Building, the legendary songwriters factory in Manhattan, and a lucrative 40-year-plus partnership was born.
The pair went on to launch Philadelphia International Records in 1971, and dominated the pop and R&B charts during the decade with songs performed by the likes of the O’Jays, the Stylistics (“I’m Stone in Love With You”), Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (“If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” “Don’t Leave Me this Way”), Billy Paul (“Me and Mrs. Jones”), the Intruders (“I’ll Always Love My Mama”), and the Three Degrees (“When Will I See You Again”).
“I feel grateful for writing songs that made people feel good because music is a healing force forever,” Huff said.
Gamble paid tribute to another VIP in the audience, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. “It was … Motown that inspired guys like me and Huff,” Gamble said, citing the Detroit label’s songwriters such as Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Smokey Robinson.
Swift, meanwhile, received the Presidents Award, which honors “an exceptional individual in the entertainment industry deserving of special recognition.” “I write songs on my bedroom floor about boys,” said the 19-year-old singer, the biggest-selling artist in the United States last year.
Caillat performed her big hit “Bubbly.” which was named song of the year. She was also one of eight songwriters of the year, sharing the honor with such stars as R&B singer Chris Brown, Maroon5 frontman Adam Levine, hip-hop performer T-Pain, and Matchbox Twenty guitarist Paul Doucette,