Arranger, 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.
Norman also 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 by ear.
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.
Norman was 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 recordings.
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.
As the ‘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.
In 1980, 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.
On 21st March 1987, he died of complications from heart disease. He was only 39 years old.
Norman 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 recordings
Don’t Leave Me This Way (Kenneth Gamble/Cary Gilbert/Leon Huff)
Philadelphia International S PIR 4909 A
Arranger, Guitarist – Norman Harris
To Be Free To Know Who We Are (Victor Carstarphen/Gene McFadden/John Whitehead)
Philadelphia International (S PIR 4909 B) (UK 45)
Here’s Norman Harris performing “In Good Faith”…