Musical historian Norman Richmond on Teddy Pendergrass

Teddy Pendergrass had a special relationship with Canada. His first professional shows were done in Canada.

Pendergrass began his career behind a drum kit, not in front of a microphone.

He is in good company, when you consider Marvin Gaye, David Ruffin and Jeffrey Osborne were drummers too.

After auditioning for Little Royal, a James Brown clone, Teddy found himself, at the tender age of eighteen, driving north to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with Little Royal and his band.

In his biography, Truly Blessed, Pendergrass discusses the lessons he quickly learned.

Says Pendergrass, “The road was a whole different world, and my weeks with Little Royal were…eye-opening.

“Lesson number one: women really dig musicians. A lot.

“In Montréal, I was chased—and caught—by a pretty white girl, and that was cool.

This was something that didn’t happen in my neighborhood, and I was game.”

Pendergrass quit Little Royal’s band in Quebec City, Quebec, because he felt that Little Royal was a tad bit too dictatorial for his liking.

However, he did reflect later on his decision to leave and confessed to being bull-headed.

“Maybe if I’d cooled down and given it some thought, I would have realized how foolish and dangerous it was to take off on my own, hundreds of miles from home with only twenty-five bucks in my pockets.

“But I was young, headstrong, impulsive, determined, and well…stupid—you get the picture. Bottom line; I’d made up my own mind.”

He played many times at the Le Coq D'Or on Yonge Street in Toronto, which is where Lionel Richie and the Commodores, James Ingram and others played, and I recall meeting and shaking the hand of Jimi Hendrix in front of that club.

Pendergrass also played the Ramada in Don Mills.

Al Peabody interviewed him on Bill Payne’s “Payne Place” on CHIN Radio.

I do not remember him playing Toronto as a solo artist.

Pendergrass was a believer in the adage, “from the cradle to the grave” and constantly attempted to improve himself.

He discussed his desire to learn about his instrument.

“All the traveling we did to the Caribbean and South America exposed me to rhythms and sounds I’d never heard before.”

He also talked about going back to school and studying.

Pendergrass had a great eye for talent. When he left Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes he first considered putting together a hand-picked super group.

He, like Paul Williams, a founding member of the Temptations, believed that sex appeal was a major factor in the music industry.

He said he wanted Harry Ray (best known for his lead vocals on “Special Lady”) of Ray, Goodman and Brown, also known as the Moments.

Pendergrass also had his eye on Harry McGilberry, who had recorded with an underrated vocal group from Philadelphia, The Futures.

McGilberry also went on to sing with the Temptations and can be heard on the group’s last smash, “Stay.”

Pendergrass, Ray and McGilberry all stood well over six feet.

He, like Paul Williams, a founding member of the Temptations, believed that sex appeal was a major factor in the music industry.

While I have always appreciated Pendergrass, I feel he was a bit cagey on the issue of African liberation.

Philadelphia has always been a hotbed of Black resistance.

Mumia Abu Jamal–who is years younger than Pendergrass–talked clearly about growing up Black in Philly.

While Pendergrass did discuss his run-ins with the police in the “city of brotherly shove,” he was vague on the Movement.

I read his book from cover to cover and I still do not know where he stood regarding the human rights struggle.

Did he dig Malcolm? Did he dig Martin? What were his thoughts on black power?

I know that Bootsy Collins took part in the rebellion in Cincinnati before joining James Brown.

Pendergrass was not your stereotypical R & B singer.

I looked forward to seeing him being interviewed on national television. I loved the way he carried himself.

The respect he gave to—using his words—“Mr Gamble and Mr Huff” was refreshing.

I will never forget the interview he did on the Tom Snyder show.

Says Pendergrass, “I put away the gold chains and buttoned up my shirt; I sported a stylish but more conservative look and even took to wearing my glasses during television interviews.

“For an appearance on Tom Snyder's show, I wore a gray suit, white shirt, and burgundy tie.

“I found that when you dress like a businessman, people know you're about business. I wanted to be taken seriously and regarded as a serious-minded person."

He did not want to go to Vietnam. He was in sync with the Movement on that matter.

Recall both Malcolm and Martin opposed the war in Vietnam.

Malcolm was the first out of the blocks, and King boldly stood up on April 4, 1967, opposing the unjust war in South East Asia.

“But without getting too political about it, I simply felt that Vietnam was not the place that I should be,” says Pendergrass.

It must be mentioned that U.S. representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA) attended Teddy Pendergrass' funeral and brought condolences from president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

It can safely be said that the first lady made this happen.

Richmond can be contacted at norman.o.richmond@gmail.com

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