conductor, guitarist, producer and songwriter from Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, who hooked up with Ron Baker in the late 1950s and played the
local club circuit until studio work beckoned. In the 1960s, they added Earl Young
to the mix, and became a rhythm section with whom to be reckoned.
served as Barbara Mason’s music director, although he was precluded from
playing on her albums because he could not read a lick of music. It did not prevent him from having a
lucrative career as a studio musician, however, as he could play perfectly
He was wooed
by Kenneth Gamble to play guitar on some Intruders stuff on Gamble
Records. Ron came along as part
of the package, but Earl was shut out because Kenneth already had his own
drummer, Karl Chambers. The
trio would be intact for a number of hits, however, such as
“Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” and “La La Means I Love
You” by The Delfonics and “Yes I’m Ready” by the
aforementioned Barbara Mason.
also heavily involved with an all-female trio known as First Choice who
recorded for Thom Bell’s label.
He co-wrote a pair of songs for them, “One Step Away”
and “Smarty Pants”, and arranged and conducted on the
In 1973, he
co-founded MFSB, which became the house band for Philadelphia
International, now run by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. MFSB released a self-titled album
and topped the charts with “T.S.O.P. (The Sound of
Philadelphia)” in 1974.
‘70s progressed, Norman gravitated more and more to arranging and
producing. In 1975, he arranged
material for Loleatta Holloway’s eponymous album and The
O’Jays’ Family Reunion: He also co-produced Loleatta’s
album as well as Revelation’s Get
Ready for This. He
performed similar duties for his cousin, Major Harris, on his Blue
Magic-Margie Joseph collaboration, Live!,
and 1976’s Jealousy. In 1977, he produced The
Temptations’ punnily titled Hear
to Tempt You.
He started his
own record label, Gold Mind, in 1979.
One of the first acts he signed was First Choice. He and his frequent
partners-in-crime, Ron Baker and Earl Young, released one self-initialed
album, BYH, the same year.
Norman went solo with The Harris
Machine. One of its tracks,
“In Good Faith”, later appeared on the compilation, Norman Jay Presents Philadelphia: The Underground Anthems of 1973-1981. He reunited with Loleatta Holloway
in 1980, arranging, co-producing and playing guitar on Love Sensation. In
1983, he arranged, co-wrote and produced “Doctor Love” for
First Choice. Eugene Wilde
employed his ax for “Che Che Kule” in 1985.
March 1987, he died of complications from heart disease. He was only 39 years old.
Harris’s musical legacy is considerable. He was one of the architects of
“The Philadelphia Sound” and, with Ron Baker and Earl Young,
was a multiple threat who always brought arranging and production acumen,
as well as his own rhythm section, to the table. The CD era affords us opportunities
to hear this multi-talented fellow in all of these capacities on
re-packagings such as Christmas
Jollies by The SalSoul Orchestra and It’s Not Over:
The Greatest Hits of First Choice.
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
Don’t Leave Me This Way (Kenneth Gamble/Cary Gilbert/Leon Huff)
International S PIR 4909 A
Guitarist – Norman
To Be Free To Know Who We Are (Victor Carstarphen/Gene McFadden/John
Whitehead) Philadelphia International (S PIR 4909 B) (UK 45)