The Controllers


Band members                              Related acts

  line up 1 (1965-1970) as The Epics

- Leonard "LeNard" Brown -- vocals

- Ricky Lewis -- vocals. tenor

- Larry McArthur -- vocals 

- Reginald McArthur -- lead vocals, baritone

 

  line up 2 (1970-75) as The Soul Controllers

- Leonard "LeNard" Brown -- vocals

- Ricky Lewis -- vocals. tenor

- Larry McArthur -- vocals 

- Reginald McArthur -- lead vocals, baritone

 

 

  line up 3 (1975-89) as The Controllers

- Leonard "LeNard" Brown -- vocals

- Ricky Lewis -- vocals. tenor

- Larry McArthur -- vocals 

- Reginald McArthur -- lead vocals, baritone

 

  supporting musicians: (1977)

- Don Barrett -- bass

- David Camon -- bass

- Frederick Knight -- keyboards

- The Muscle Shoals Horns

- James Stroud -- drums

- Carson Whitsett -- keyboards

- Dino Zimmerman -- guitar

 

  

 

- The Epics

- The Soul Controllers

 

 

 


 

Genre: soul

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  In Control

Company: Juana

Catalog:  #200,001

Year: 1977

Country/State: Fairfield, Alabama

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1581

Price: $25.00

 

By the time The Controllers got around to recording their debut album, they'd  already been together for a decade.  

 

The group's big break came in 1975 when they caught the attention of fellow Birmingham, Alabama native Frederick Knight.   Talent scouts for the label caught the group and signed them to Knight's newly formed Juana Records.

 

Written and produced by Knight, the group (now consisting of Leonard "LeNard" Brown , Ricky Lewis, Larry McArthur, and Reginald McArthur), made their Juana debut with the 1975 single:

- 'Is That Long Enough For You' b/w 'Pictures and Memories' (Juana catalog number 3401)

 

The 45 did little commercially, but Knight agreed to finance a follow-on album - 1976's "In Control".  Powered by Reginald McArthur's gritty lead vocals which has always reminded me of a cross between Eddie Levert and Teddy Pendergrass, the set was surprisingly consistent and enjoyable, showing these guys were equally adept at slow-jam ballads and up-tempo soul and funk.  Interestingly, my ears didn't detect a great deal of Southern soul on the debut. In fact the group seemed to take their inspiration from Northern soul groups like The Dramatics (check out the classic tear jerker 'Somebody’s Gotta Win'), Eddie Levert and The O'Jays ('People Want Music'), and perhaps a touch of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.  While that meant the set lacked much in the way of originality, as shown by these seven performances, having good taste in terms of musical inspiration certainly wasn't a crime.   In fact, it was one of the most consistent and enjoyable soul sets in my collection.  'Somebody’s Gotta Win' may have been the standout performance, but the other six tunes were all worth hearing.


"In Control" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) People Want Music   (Mary Holland Bryant) - 5:01

I can remember hearing 'People Want Music' and thinking "Oh, The O'Jays have another single out".  That kind of confused me since I had just recently bought what I thought was The O'Jays' most recent album ("Travelin' at the Speed of Thought"), and this song wasn't on the album.   Regardless, the combination of Reginald McArthur's rugged voice, the uplifting  subject matter, and the overall sound on this one bore more than a passing resemblance to Eddie Levert and company.  By the way, that wasn't meant as a criticism since the [performance on this one was superb.   Juana also tapped it as the album's second single:

 

 

- 1977's 'People Want Music' b/w 'Feeling a Feeling' (Juana catalog number 3406)   rating: **** stars
2.) Heaven Is One Step Away    (David Carmon) - 7:13

Know idea who songwriter David Camon was, but he certainly provided The Controllers with a classic slow-jam on 'Heaven Is One Step Way'.   The combination of McArthur's passionate' lead and the rest of the group's shimmering harmony vocals were truly impressive.  Yeah, clocking in at over seven minutes, the tune would have benefited from some judicious editing, but then you could always have bought the 45: 

- 1978's 'Heaven Is One Step Away' b/w 'Sho Nuff A Blessin' (Juana catalog number 3416)  # 37 R&B   rating: **** stars 
3.) This Train   (Frederick Knight) - 3:56

One of two tracks written by producer Frederick Knight, 'This Train' found the group dipping their collective toes into dance territory. Powered by McArthur's gritty voice, this was another tune that had an O'Jays feel to it.  Nice.  Always loved the train whistle sound effects.  The song was also released as a single:

- 'This Train' b/w 'You Ain't Foolin'' (Juana catalog number 3410)  rating: **** stars

 

(side 2)
1.)
You Ain’t Fooling Me   (Mary Holland Bryant) - 3:19

The Controllers go hardcore soul with a tale of infidelity ...  Reginald McArthur stole the show with his background vocals.   rating: *** stars
2.) Somebody’s Gotta Win   (David Camon) -  8:00

If anything, 'Somebody's Gotta Win' was even better than the first Camon slow-jam.  A major tear jerker, the performance has always reminded me of a Dramatics tune.  One of the most perfect break-up songs you'll ever hear.   And like 'Heaven Is One Step Away', my only complaint was clocking in at eight minutes, it was a bit long.  Again, you could always buy the edited 45:

                                 

- 1977's 'Somebody's Gotta Win, Somebody's Gotta Lose' b/w 'Feeling a Feeling' (Juana catalog number 3414)  # 8 R&B   Be warned that a couple of years later the Controllers re-recorded the song with an irritating-'80s arrangement that wasn't anywhere near as good as the original.   rating: ***** stars
3.) The Reaper   (Mary Holland Bryant) - 4:16

And if you thought all these guys could do was slow jam ballads, I suggest you check out the funky 'The Reaper'    Powered by McArthur's testifying lead vocal, backing from The Muscle Shoals Horns and some nifty poppin' bass, this one would have given virtually any '70s dance outfit a run for their money.   rating; **** stars
4.) Sho Nuff A Blessin   (Mary Holland Bryant) - 4:20

Even funkier the 'The Reaper', the wailing backing vocals and percussion heavy melody were what made 'Sho Nuff A Blessin'' one of the album's standout performances.   I would have tapped this as a single rather than a quickly forgotten 'B' side.  rating: *** stars

 

 

 

 

Genre: soul

Rating: ** (2 stars)

Title:  Next In Line

Company: Juana

Catalog: 205 005

Year: 1979

Country/State: Fairfield, Alabama

Grade (cover/record): NM/NM

Comments: still in shrink wrap

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4340

Price: $15.00

Cost: $66.00

 

This album happened to catch my attention because I knew The Controllers (formerly The Epics and then known as The Soul Controllers), hailed from Fairfield, Alabama (my home state).

 

Released by the T.K. Records affiliated Juana label, 1979's "Next In Line" was produced by longtime collaborator Frederick Knight (who also penned most of the material).  Musically the album's pretty much a period piece with the group clearly trying to figure out how to balance their affection for old school soul, with the audiences seemingly endless taste for mindless disco.

"Next In Line" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) I Can't Turn the Boogie Loose   (Frederick Knight) - 4:54

2.) If Tears Were Pennies (T. Tate) - 4:59

3.) Let Me Entertain You    (Frederick Knight - M. Ward) - 5.55

 

(side 2)
1.) Gunning for Your Love     (Frederick Knight - M. Ward - W.Thomas) - 4:30

2.) Ankle Chain   (Frederick Knight) - 3:55

3.) I Just Don't Know

4.) Hurt Again by Love

 

The record company pulled two singles from the LP:

 

- 1978's 'I Can't Turn the Boogie Loose'  (Juana catalog number 3424)

- 1979's 'We Don't' b/w 'Gunning for Love' (Juana catalog number 3425)

 

The former provided the group with a minor R&B hit.

 

 

 

 

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