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• James Reese & The Progressions Info

Two instrumental pieces from the more sophisticated end of the funk spectrum, “Let’s Go” builds from a delightful horn crescendo to intricate call and response between competing horns as the rhythm section chugs away and “Jody’s Freeze” sounds like Gene Ammon’s “Jungle Strut” on steroids - with two massive breaks towards the end of a frothy workout. James Reese, a trombonist who showcased his organ playing abilities on his recorded debut, earned his keep as a public school band director and toured in the off-season with Motown stars such as The Temptations and Diana Ross and various independent big bands.

Unfortunately, the transcribed interview between James Reese and Egon got lost in the sauce, so below we present James Reese’s “Funk 45 Files.” This originally appeared in Big Daddy Issue 5, Winter 2000.

Area/City: Spartansburg, South Carolina.

Year/Date Recorded: Late Spring/Early Summer 1969.

Band Members: Levan “Pap” Bevins * (Guitar), McKinley Collier * (Percussion), Robert Goforth (Bass), Joe Hardy (Tenor Sax – solo on “Jody’s Freeze”), Willie Hill (Drums), Alexander Nichols (Trombone), James Reese (Trombone and Organ), Rudolph Riley (Tenor Sax and Reeds), Unknown symphony/studio musician from Atlanta on French Horn. Reese remarks, “I had never heard a French Horn in a funk environment so I decided to give it a shot.” Go ‘head!

*Only played on “Let’s Go (It’s Summertime)”

Studio Used: Mark V Studio, Greenville, South Carolina, a studio favored by Southern gospel groups. Engineered by Bob Edwards and Otis Forrest, the latter of whom went on to relative fame as an arranger and producer in Nashville, Tennessee.

Equipment Used: A Hammond B3 with a Leslie Speaker and a Fender Precision Bass are the only specifics Reese remembers.

Producers: William Douglas (label owner) and Rudolph Riley.

Arranger: James Reese.

Notable Recording Techniques: Recorded live on Ampex 8-track recorder with overdubbing used only for the French Horn. Reese recalls setting a vocal mic within 3 inches of the Leslie speaker on the Hammond. The drum kit required three to four mics and one mic used on each of the remaining instruments. Reese: “We recorded in true stereo. We didn’t do a separate Mono mix and most of the DJs during the day only had mono equipment.” Fortunate for us!

# Of Copies Pressed: Approximately 1,000 by Queen City in Cincinnati, OH.

# Of Copies Distributed/Where: 200 were distributed in Charlotte, NC with a similar amount worked in the Washington, DC/Maryland area.

Was It A Local Hit? Reese: “It didn’t make any major charts, but the feedback we got from strangers (for, in most cases your family and friends like everything that you do) was positive. It wasn’t played enough to make an impact. As you know, airplay has always been hard to get.” However, DJs in the region (including Jimmy Witherspoon of WCOS in Columbia, SC) picked up on the single and Rudy Green (WJMO – Cleveland, OH) and Jimmy Payne (WSOC – Savannah, GA) also spread the love.

Notable Performances: Reese: “We played lots of club dates, mainly on weekends due to our day jobs. On one occasion, a club owner booked us as a back up band for a little known entertainer from Memphis. A year later the guy became a superstar – I’m referring to Al Green.”

Other Notable Songs Made/Side Projects of Band Members: The only Progressions spin off was a retake of “Let’s Go (It’s Summertime)” by Reese along with Bevins and Goforth in the mid 70s. Unfortunately, this single was never released.

Notable Achievements By Band Members: While on tour with The Jackson 5 in 1977, a fellow trombonist hipped Reese to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He now notes, “Six weeks after that meeting, while waiting on a Teddy Pendergrass tour to begin, I made a decision to make Jesus Christ Lord of my life.” He’s never looked back. 23 years later he is the full time Staff Minister/Orchestra Director at the Evangel Cathedral, one of the largest churches in South Carolina. And he’s kept in contact with many of The Progressions. Riley, another public school band director at the time of recording, remained in the school system, retiring in 1997. Nichols moved to Pennsylvania and entered the corporate arena. He now owns a computer business. The late Robert Goforth, a student at the time of the recording, went on to college and majored in business. He played nightly for 25 years in a jazz group, becoming one of the most respected bass players in North and South Carolina. Seven months before his unfortunate passing, he joined Reese’s church and became the orchestra’s bassist. Hardy remained in South Carolina and succeeded in the industrial arena.

Notable Stories Etc: Reese grew up in Newnan, Georgia with one Hamilton Bohannon, a drummer that would go on to fame as a Brunswick recording artist. The two played together in the same high school band and, in the tenth grade, formed a group called the “Bop Dads” to play dances, taverns and clubs. Come senior year, the two formed a more sophisticated group called the “Royal Dukes” that lasted until the two went separate ways in college.