2021 introduction: In celebration of the anniversary of his 70th birthday, we revisit this interview, the first of what would be many that (then-future SoulMusic.com founder) David Nathan conduced over almost thirty years with Luther Vandross, emerging as an in-demand jingle and background session singer and coincidentally a neighbor of David’s on W. 56th St. in Manhattan at the time the quintet known as Luther which he had created released their 1st single for Cotillion Records…

Luther:  Good For The Soul!

June 1976, in person interview at the office of Simo Doe, Atlantic Records, Rockefeller Plaza, New York City

By David Nathan

[The group] Luther consists of three girls and two guys whose debut single for Cotillion is attracting a lot of attention. They are not headliners yet, but they’ve been putting in a lot of groundwork on building a solid reputation…

CURRENTLY creating a good deal of interest with their debut single for the newly-reactivated Cotillion label is Luther. ‘It’s Good For The Soul’ is already paving the way for the group’s debut album which was completed but a few weeks back in their hometown, New York.

The five-member unit (three girls, two guys) were happy to explain how they first got together and to talk about some of their plans for the future. The group’s main man is Luther Vandross – who wrote and produced the album – and he started the ball rolling by relating the very beginnings of Luther as a group. “Well, Diane and I went to school together and we met up with Anthony – the three of us were singing together for a good while, since ’66. Then, we were members of a workshop – Peter Long’s Listen My Brother in New York.”  

Prior to that there was no question that Luther was going to be into music as a profession – “I’d sit around singing with records by Shirelles and Patti Labelle whilst everyone was out playing baseball!”  But a couple of years later Luther was getting it together in the recording studios. “In the summer of ’73, we signed with Avco Embassy and worked with Paul Riser and we were there for a year. But we didn’t have any product out whilst we were there, there were problems over the budget, to be honest.” 

The big break for the group came when one of the Main Ingredient’s guitarists, Carlos Alomar was recommended to David Bowie for a session on Britain’s own Lulu by Tony Silvester. Next thing Luther knew he was down at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios working out the vocal arrangements for Bowie’s Young Americans album. It was but a matter if time before David asked the group on tour with him.  “We came along at a time when David was going through a concept change and we think we were partly responsible for it. We had the opening spot for David too, on which we did a combination of original material and other people’s songs.”

During the tour, Mr. B took time out to record one of Luther’s songs, which he re-titled ‘Fascination’.  The tour ended in December 1974 and throughout 1975, Luther did a very great deal of background work. “We were on sessions with so many people: Linda Lewis, Gary Glitter, Maggie Bell, the Brecker Brothers, Judy Collins, Martha Reeves. Then the late ’75, Anthony and I,” explains Luther, “went out with Todd Rundgren.”

In the meantime, Luther had been recommended to Bette Midler and he worked three of the vocal arrangements for the lady’s Clams On A Half-Shell Revue. Luther was also to be heard with Diane from the group on Bette’s single, ‘Strangers In The Night’.  Obviously a multi-talented gentleman, Mr. Vandross wrote one of the key songs for the famous Wiz – ‘Everybody Rejoice’, and it soon became apparent to him that it was time to really do something with his own group.

With Diane and Anthony with him and Christine replacing Robin Clark in early ’76, Luther added Theresa Reed whom the group had heard earlier – in ’74 – but considered too young at that time – “she was only sixteen!” The team had already made several piano demos “which were turned down by everyone – every single record company!” so they decided to make their own master.

On the day that it was announced to the press that Henry Allen had named President of the newly-reactivated Cotillion label, Luther and his then-manager David Krevat happened to be in the building. So the story goes, Henry just walked over to the A&R department’s offices with ‘It’s Good For The Soul’ and within minutes, had signed his first act to Cotillion! Within the shortest space of time, Luther was in the studio recording their first album with Mr. Vandross handling production and writing chores.

“The album has something for everybody in there,” the group declares. “It’s versatile – there’s a lot to love to in there and a lot of the tracks are danceable, though we will stress that it’s by no means a disco album. We want people to hear us sing and we aimed in appeal to everybody.” The kind of audience Luther is anxious to draw will be the kind that “are sensitive, that will listen to what we say. We’re not anxious to headlines yet – because we want to establish ourselves, so going out there with an already established act will help us. Even though all our material is original, we feel that our delivery is strong enough to stand out.” The group already has a six-piece band and they are busy right now rehearsing for performances which should start after the album’s release. Their next trip into their studio is expected “later in the year – we’ll be doing a couple of Christmas songs for Cotillion and then start work on another album.”  

The group members have always been basically musical – their ambitions lie almost universally in music or related fields. Luther (a Taurus) sees himself producing whilst Gemini Anthony Hinton “would like to continue to sing with the group and maybe one day make it out there on my own”.  Piscean Diane would like to see herself as “a legend – I want to reach the top as model, a movie star – I just want it all!”  Theresa, who’s a Libran, says she wants to still be participating in the music field “but I always want a family”. And Gemini Christine sees herself as “writing, working with other people – I don’t want to always depend entirely on singing.”

Together, Luther seem well equipped to deal with the exciting future they have ahead of them. All indications are that ‘Its Good For The Soul’ is going to establish the group and their album should set the seal. Look for Luther – they’re good for your soul!

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