(Philadelphia International masterminds Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff).
How did you come to sign with Gamble and Huff and Philadelphia International Records?
Richard Barrett and Kenny Gamble with long-time friends. They were both singers and involved in groups at one point. Richard was in a group called The Valentines.
What was it like working with Gamble and Huff?
It was exciting because the way they worked, they gave you an opportunity to be creative as far as your vocals were concerned. We were the ones that were responsible for any vocal arrangements that were done. Some groups have people that come in and tell you and show you what to sing but we took the demos to our little hotel rooms and figured out what was going to be sang where and who was going to sing what. So it was exciting and it was good.
What led you to part company with Philadelphia International?
Until this day, I don’t really know that story. (Laughs). At the time we were told that we were ‘hummers’ – that was what we were supposed to do. We were to perform and concentrate on the show, nothing else. Anything that had to do with business was Mr Barrett’s area. You did not ask (laughs). You left that alone. Like I said, he was a tyrant.
Were you disappointed that you had to leave the label where you’d had so much success?
I was because I thought that it was a good marriage and that we were going to be able to have songs written for us. I thought that the first group of albums that we did had very good material and I was looking forward to more.
Later in the ’70s you moved to Ariola and worked with Giorgio Moroder.
That was interesting. Working with different producers you find that they have their own way that they like to work. With him, we had to learn what his thing was. That was okay but I wasn’t too bowled over because the majority of the songs at that time would gearing towards a particular market so it wasn’t really about recording something that you liked, it was about recording something that they knew was going to sell. Fortunately, we came up with a couple of good songs I think from that era.
Do you have any personal favourites among all of the songs that you’ve recorded?
‘When Will I See You Again’ will always be my favourite because it’s something that’s a constant thought. Tavelling all the time you’re constantly meeting people and you’re constantly leaving family behind so that’s like a constant thought in the mind: when am I going to see them again? Things happen in life and you just don’t know when your time is going to come so you can only hope that you can hold these people close and look forward to seeing them again.
The Three Degrees has always maintained a glamorous image. How important to the group’s success was the way that you presented yourselves?
I think it was very important. Being girls, of course, we love dressing up and that was never an issue. The only thing that we would probably have an argument over was what colour our dresses were going to be. We loved our costumes. But it’s a bit more difficult now because our profile was much higher in those days. Back then finding someone to make our costumes was never an issue but now it’s an industry that is very difficult to find someone. If you do, it’s like okay, I don’t know what you do but I’m not going to pay an arm and a leg for what you’re going to do. So we’re still trying to maintain that.
What’s been the main highlight of your time in The Three Degrees?
Mmm. Wow. I can’t find just one because fortunately there are so many. Our first gold record was presented to us by Princess Anne. And then we were asked to open the first colour TV channel in Dubai. We were up on top of the highest peak, a mount they call Jebel Hafeet. They were filming a video up there up on top of the mountain and the only way they could get there was by helicopter. It was an area that was so small that the helicopter couldn’t land and stay. It had to land, drop us off, and then take back off. I will never forget it and I personally don’t like heights but it was my favourite day. Also, we were riding these Arabian stallions that the Sheikh allowed us to use for the filming. Another highlight was being in Japan and having Kenny Gamble saying you’re record, ‘When Will I See You Again,’ is number one in the States. And meeting Prince Charles, of course, and like I said, being dubbed the longest-running trio in history. We surpassed the Andrews Sisters, so I mean wow! (laughs).
The group was also in the 1971 hit crime movie, ‘French Connection.’
Yeah. All three minutes. (Laughs).
It’s a memorable cameo though. You did ‘Everybody Gets To Go To The Moon.’
Yeah. It was so strange how it happened. We were performing at the Copacabana which was one of the clubs in New York that we would frequent and at the time the producer was coming to look at the club, I guess, to scout the scene and see where they were going to shoot what and how they were going to do things. We were performing there so I guess we must have piqued his interest so he thought okay, this would be a nice added line to the story. So we got in there.
What’s been the key to The Three Degrees longevity?
It has to do with the fact that when we’re live everybody is working: all three people are performing. All three people do leads, so you have variety there and the fact that the song listing suits some young ones. The teenagers can enjoy it and the grandmothers can enjoy it too so because of the age span of our audience I think that is what has allowed us to continue for so long because we weren’t trapped into appealing to this age group or that age group. I think the fact that we can appeal to any age group is the key.
Finally, what does the future hold for The Three Degrees beyond this tour?
Oh gosh, I’m hoping to continue touring. (Laughs).
What about new recordings?
I don’t know. That’s such a delicate thing because if you listen to what’s being put out there nowadays, it’s not exactly what we want to sing. So trying to find something that is age-friendly is kind of difficult because they keep giving you things that you think yeah, okay, if I was twenty or thirty years younger, this would be fine but I’m not shaking my booty and I’m not bootilicious.
You have to keep your dignity, I suppose. So therefore trying to find suitable material is hard.
THE THREE DEGREES WILL BE TOURING THE UK IN JANUARY AND FEBRUARY 2015.
SEE FULL ITINERARY HERE: http://thethreedegrees.com/