Leon Huff, together with his songwriting partner Kenny Gamble, played a crucial role in the career of Teddy Pendergrass, who died yesterday. The pair signed Pendergrass to their Philadelphia International record label when he was still the drummer with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. But it wasn’t long before they recognized his vocal talents and the pair began to write tracks for Pendergrass. Gamble and Huff would also oversee his hugely successful transition into a solo star. EW spoke with Leon Huff earlier today and you can read his recollections of the late soul legend after the break, where you will also find a clip of Pendergrass’s emotional performance at Live Aid.
On discovering Teddy Pendergrass
“We signed Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes in the early ’70s. Doing [their] first album we wrote a song called “I Miss You,” and Teddy was messing around in the background singing. When I heard that big booming baritone voice roll out of the background I said Gamble, ‘Listen to that voice, that voice is powerful.’ I think during that time Gamble was talking to Harold about having another singer other than himself, a powerful singer who could sing those uptempo songs and dance. And Teddy was perfect—he fit right in and me and Gamble gravitated toward his voice, starting writing everything [for him]. He could sing anything.”
On realizing the singer was destined for solo superstar status
“Me and Gamble knew we had something special when Teddy made the transition from being a member of a group to being a solo artist. I remember me and Gamble flying to California to witness his debut at the Roxy in Los Angeles. Teddy just tore the place up. He walked out on that stage and the females just went wild, and he hadn’t even opened his mouth yet. He just stood on that stage and he had on a very dramatic outfit that night, and the lighting was great, and the females went crazy. It was a great successful opening for Teddy and he just went up from there.”
On the 1982 car crash that left Pendergrass a paraplegic
“Me and Gamble were in Jamaica at the time preparing songs for his next album. We were eating breakfast that morning and it came across the news, and I just dropped my fork. Couldn’t eat no more. So that’s how we got the message—through TV. And we flew back that night. It was a terrible time, but Teddy endured. He endured that whole difficult experience. And he continued to record even after the accident.”
On the singer’s emotional performance at Live Aid, his first since the accident
“Yeah, that was fantastic. That was a confidence builder when he did that. People just showered their love, they showed that they loved him. It was overwhelming.”
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