Kenneth Gamble is one-half of the legendary Philadelphia International songwriting team, Gamble & Huff. Along with Leon Huff, Gamble has written and produced over 170 gold and platinum records – including timeless hits from The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, Patti Labelle and the Jacksons. In honor of their tremendous catalog, which boasts more than 3,000 original compositions, the duo was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – becoming the first recipients of the Ahmet Ertegun Award.
More recently, on May 8, 2010, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff were presented with honorary doctorates by Berklee College of Music. As the two songwriters near the 50th anniversary of their musical partnership, Kenneth Gamble managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on radio’s transition from AM to FM, Philadelphia International’s comparisons to Motown, and contemporary samples of Gamble & Huff’s work.
This past May, you received an honorary doctorate degree from Berklee College of Music. So how does it feel to be called “Dr. Gamble”? [laughing]
Oh, it sounds good! [laughing] I like it! [laughing continues] It was exciting.
After listening to your commencement address, I pulled a few quotes that I wanted to relate, not just to that particular moment, but also to your musical legacy in general.
In your address, you pressed the graduates to become ambassadors of love through their music. And over the course of your career, you have always had a desire to connect positive messages to your music. How did this philosophy become the core of your life’s work?
Well, growing up listening to the radio in Philadelphia with Georgie Woods and Jimmy Bishop, the disc jockeys, and Jocko Henderson and Butterball and all these guys, they used to play records by Curtis Mayfield, like "People Get Ready" and "It's Alright." It was an era filled with message songs and songs with positive meaning to them. James Brown probably had the most significant song for the African-American community when he recorded, "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud).” And so these are the kind of songs that caught my interest early on. And so when Huff and I used to write, we used to write a diverse range of songs. That was part of the consciousness of the sound of Philadelphia. We even took on a slogan called "The Message in the Music." Year after year, as you grow up, you start learning a whole lot more. One of the highlights is a song that Huff and I wrote called "Ship Ahoy" – performed by The O'Jays. That was a big production. So I think that my early years of listening to the radio, and listening to people like James Brown and Curtis Mayfield, inspired me to write songs with social meaning.