50 years ago this evening, on Dec. 7, 1972, Milwaukee soul singer Harvey Scales got top billing and a rave review in Warren Gerds’ weekly club music column in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
“Scales is a dynamo on stage, one of those startling guys who is a constant live wire. At the Sans Souci, the dance floor is his stage. He roams it, putting the microphone through acrobatic stunts, falling to his knees, singing in blazing fashion. When people talk about singers with soul, Scales was one of the originators. He’s always been kinetic. …
“His Seven Sounds, which has been backing him for seven years, is a powerhouse, too. At times, it roars, with the beat pulsating.”
Gerds, then in his late 20s, testified with authority.
“Scales is one of the few cats still around from my college days (in Milwaukee). I remember him still as Twistin’ Harvey. He was a phenomenon on his campus visits.”
Harvey Scales and his Seven Sounds Unlimited were no strangers to Green Bay, two hours north of Milwaukee. In the late ’60s, a young Harvey Scales had played at the 616 Club and the Piccadilly, plus a Riverside Ballroom gig “with Chubby Checker, when he was hot,” he said.
On this visit, the 30-year-old Scales — “Put me down as 29, though. Spare me,” he told Gerds — was riding high, seemingly on the verge of breaking through after playing clubs for 11 years.
Scales had played some tapes for Isaac Hayes while performing in Chicago. Hayes liked them and recommended him to Stax Records, which gave Scales a recording contract and released a single.
“I Wanna Do It,” released in 1972, was a steamy bit of funk that clearly was influenced by Hayes’ style as heard on the “Shaft” soundtrack a year earlier.
“The current record for Scales is being bought by black audiences in Washington, Cleveland and Chicago,” Gerds wrote. “Not many sales here.”
Nope, you likely couldn’t find it — or hear it — in Green Bay unless you were at one of Scales’ shows during his two-week stand at the Sans Souci out on Main Street on the southeast side.
“You know how it is,” Scales told Gerds, acknowledging the realities.
13 years ago, my friend Jameson Harvey — the proprietor of the still-mighty Flea Market Funk blog — came across the 45. His review:
It’s a stone cold groove. This wah wah guitar and drums that are unfuckable with (look that up internet junkies). Scales wants some of that Funky Thang, but when he asks the bass to funk up the place because it ain’t no disgrace, you know the man is serious as a heart attack.
You know how that is.
Decades later, Harvey Scales was still serious as a heart attack, bringing that stone cold groove when he was in his 60s and 70s.
I’m too young to have seen Harvey Scales in his prime, but I was fortunate to see latter-day versions of Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds at a small outdoor show in 2010 and then in a steamy tent on the Fourth of July in 2013. Kinda felt like I was seeing one of the last of the great soul and R&B revues.
One last note, found while looking for something else: In August 1967, one Harvey L. Scales, 25, of Milwaukee, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Milwaukee for failing to report to his draft board. Can’t find how that turned out, but it doesn’t appear to have slowed his career.
That June, Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds had released a single, “Love-Itis/Get Down,” on Magic Touch Records. By that October, “Get Down” was in the national charts.
(H/T to my friend Larry Grogan for this rip, presented in more than one of his Funky 16 Corners mixes. Larry also wrote about the A side of the “I Wanna Do It” release — “What’s Good For You (Don’t Have To Be Good To You)” — on his blog in 2016.)