2021 Introduction: Atlantic Records’ history of successful vocal groups stretches back to the ‘50s and ‘60s with The Coasters, The Drifters and more. By the early ‘70s, the label boasted a new set of popular harmony outfits including Blue Magic, a quintet with a string of hits that started in 1973. David Nathan caught up with the group as they began working on their third album in 1975…
Blue Magic: Spellbinding
By David Nathan
June 1975, in person interview in New York
Although they’ve only been around for two-and-a-half years, in that relatively short time, Blue Magic have notched up an enviable track record as one of the foremost vocal groups around today. Aside from their chart success, the group have an excellent reputation for their truly energetic and talent-filled live performances. Until you’ve seen these guys in action, you really don’t know what you’re missing because — although it’s quickly becoming an over-worked word — Blue Magic are d-y-n-o-m-i-t-e! If you’ve followed the five-man group’s career to date, you’ll doubtless be aware of their first brilliant album for Atlantic which gave birth to two smash hits in “Sideshow” and “Stop To Start” as well as their second set (“Magic Of The Blue”) which continued to show the style and polish of the Philadelphia-based team. Aided by top arrangements and production from Philly’s best, Blue Magic have found themselves right out front although they insist that in terms of the entertainment field, “we’re still babies!”
We got the opportunity to talk briefly with the group during their lightning visit to New York after a knockout appearance at the Felt Forum with Gladys Knight & The Pips. Naturally, they were eager to bring us up to date on recent happenings. “Well, one of the main and most important events in Blue Magic’s career has been the formation of a corporation we call ‘Mystic Dragon,” they explained. “Under this new set-up, we will be writing and producing material on ourselves — in fact, we have a couple of songs on our upcoming album, “13 Magic Lane” which will be out shortly. One of them is our current single, “Chasing Rainbows” and another is “I Like You”. We’re hoping that in time, people will identify the name “Mystic Dragon” with Blue Magic, since we are eager to get into producing other people in the future.”
Explaining further, the group continued: “We want to be able to expand our various talents through the new corporation. For instance, Keith is a fine choreographer; Vernon is into making and designing clothes; Wendell is our main man for getting those harmonies right; Richard is a ‘wiz’ at accounting; and Ted is a fine writer as well as keeping everything together! We want to be able to use these talents outside of just Blue Magic, to develop them and to help other people learn and grow. In this business, you see so many good acts trying to make it on the way — there is just so much talent out there. And we feel that rather than just ignore it, we should give these people a chance to get over instead of saying, like so many other people in this business do, that we haven’t the time. In fact, we’ve already gotten a list together of some of the groups we’ve met who we’d like to work with when the time comes.”
As a group, Blue Magic feels very definitely that success can naturally bring its pitfalls: “Yes, we’ve seen how ego takes over but we feel that rather than add on, as you get more successful, you take away — you continue to respect other people’s ideas and thoughts rather than thinking that you know it all. You have to go in with the realization that stardom just doesn’t come overnight. You have to be prepared for it all: for the travelling, for all the hassles that you’re bound to run into. You have to put your heart into it and remember that education is absolutely vital from a business point of view. We’ve learnt — the hard way! Right at the beginning, we’d just do whatever we were told to do but the experience has helped us mature as people — we learned too that a very small percentage of being an entertainer actually involves entertaining. The rest is getting it all together and knowing about the business side of things”. It’s evident that Blue Magic have definitely got their collective heads screwed on right and hopefully budding stars will heed their words.
Aside from their new album, the group have been busy working on sessions with Atlantic’s Margie Joseph — the results of which are due in the fall, initial release being a single — “What’s Come Over Me”. “We worked with Margie down in Jamaica and our sessions together went off very well — we should have a joint album out later in the year.”
In addition, the group have been stockpiling material for their fourth album since “we have to get in the studio when time permits, in between fulfilling our performing obligations. We weren’t entirely satisfied with our second album because that was rushed — there was only six or seven months between the first and second albums and we learned from that not to rush things. We have a certain direction to go in which is pre-planned and by recording material ahead of time, it takes some of the pressure off. We basically know which way we want to go and although there could conceivably be changes in public taste which would mean that material we did wouldn’t coincide with what was happening say at some time in the future, you’ll see that a lot of artists are able to create a market for themselves with what they do. Which is what we hope to be able to do.”
So much has been said in praise about Blue Magic’s live act that we had to ask how they maintain such fine performances. “Well, we work on a high energy level because we’re all young and we make sure that we keep in good physical shape. But we’re constantly working on a high emotional pitch and a lot of what we do has to do with audience response — the exchange and communication between us and the people. We feel our purpose is to entertain — in the way people entertained back in the 50s. The real thing! We always select our material to suit our audiences — you’ll get some people who want mostly up-tempo things and some that prefer the ballads. Like once in Munich, Germany we’d started out doing slow material and getting whistled at it for it. Naturally, we thought this meant we were doing real well until the promoter explained that it was the German way of booing!”
With the kind of positive attitude that permeates the future plans of Blue Magic, there can be no doubt that they will continue their spellbinding effect via records and live performances for some considerable time to come.