Among the wonderful aspects of the Internet is the ability to discover obscure tracks from past decades. As a frequent listener of Internet radio, I frequently encounter artists and songs I've never heard before, and sometimes such a track will make me sit up and take notice. Such an event happened the first time I heard the Soul Train Gang's cut “Soul Train '75.”
What was it that captured my ears? It features few lyrics — unless you count female singers out of a Barry White record crooning “Get on the soul train!” No, it was three things: a hard-driving beat; a raspy guitar riff; and some of the funkiest bass lines I've heard outside of a Rick James or even Buddy Miles' classic “Them Changes.” How could such a jam languish in obscurity?
Like the song, the band does not have a presence on the Internet; not even the official Soul Train site provides much background. Not surprisingly, Soul Train host Don Cornelius (along with Dick Griffey) discovered the group, dubbing them the Soul Train Gang and signing them to the just-formed Soul Train Records label. Consisting of Gerald Brown, Terry Brown, Judy Jones, Patricia Williamson, and Hollis Pippin, the group recorded their debut album, Don Cornelius Presents the Soul Train Gang, in 1975. According to Wikipedia's “Soul Train Gang” entry, Cornelius and Griffey produced the disc, which featured the aforementioned single “Soul Train '75.” For a brief time the song replaced MFSB's massive hit “Sound of Philadelphia” as Soul Train's theme song.
By 1976, the group (with new member Denise Smith replacing Williamson) recorded their follow-up, The Soul Train Gang, with Norman Harris producing. Trying to capture the wildly popular Philadelphia soul sound, the band recorded “Soul Train Theme,” which subsequently replaced their own “Soul Train '75” as the TV show's theme. Unfortunately, the album barely registered on the charts, and the Soul Train Gang disbanded in 1977. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Brown later joined Shalamar, singing on their hit “Take That to the Bank” before being replaced by Howard Hewitt.
Unfortunately many critics have dismissed the group as being an average example of 70s soul and funk, a “product” of Cornelius and the TV show. Certainly the Soul Train Gang existed because of the show, but writing off their talents does the group a disservice. Listen to entire “Soul Train '75” track and you'll find yourself unable to sit still. The guitar, bass, and drum work together to create an irresistible beat, and the horns add a Philly-soul aspect to the song. Again, White's influence is present in the string section, but that simply reinforces its vintage 70s sound.
Another fantastic element of the song is how it consists of three sections: the White-like singers and string section, followed by the guitar, bass, and drum rhythm section, and ending with a fierce drum and bass battle punctuated by the horns and the women singers encouraging the band (and, presumably, the dancers) to “do it children/do it good!”
While the Soul Train Gang may have faded into oblivion, their funk workout has been preserved and, ideally, may gain more attention through the Internet. Listen to the entire track via YouTube; obtaining a copy of the single, however, poses a challenge. Your best bet is to track down their Best of compilation, available as an import. Finding the track may be difficult, but its irresistibly funky sound is well worth the hunt.