An impressive double bill arrives at Artpark next Tuesday. The “Mighty” O’Jays and Average White Band brings two titans of the disco era together on one stage.
The Average White Band is best known for the instrumental hit “Pick up the Pieces,” and there was a time when no bride could cut her cake without the wedding disc jockey spinning AWB’s “Cut the Cake.”
The O’Jays have one of the most enduring song catalogues in the history of recorded music. “Love Train” is considered by many music historians as the first disco hit, and “For the Love of Money” was a massively successful song even before Donald Trump immortalized it as the theme for “The Apprentice.”
Formed in Canton, Ohio in 1958, The O’Jays scored their first radio hit in 1963 with the song “Lonely Drifter.” It would be almost a decade before The O’Jays reached their commercial peak, and that was after two of five original members left the group, leaving the trio of Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell.
It was that trio that signed a record deal with Philadelphia International, a record label founded by the songwriting team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. Gamble and Huff later wrote “For the Love of Money,” and “Love Train,” and other hits for The O’Jays like “Give the People What They Want,” and “Use ta Be My Girl.”
“Love Train” is still a concert favorite and has inspired audiences to form a massive human train at concerts. The song came out at the height of the Cold War and speaks of the need for unity amongst people of all nations.
Even though they originate from the Cleveland area, because of their association with the Philadelphia International record label, The O’Jays are considered pioneers of the Philly Soul sound later popularized by Hall & Oates. The O’Jays performed with Daryl Hall on the television show “Live from Daryl’s House,” in 2016.
Founding member William Powell passed away of cancer in 1977 when he was just 35 years old. Eddie Levert and Walter Williams are still with The O’Jays, along with longtime member Eric Grant.
Over their storied career The O’Jays have earned many awards and accolades. The O’Jays are Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, (all of Artpark’s Tuesday in the Park headliners for the month of June are Rock Hall Inductees) Vocal Hall of Fame inductees and they have two songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame, “For the Love of Money” and “Love Train.”
Even though they have nothing left to prove, The O’Jays released a new album just a few months ago. “The Last Word,” is supposed to be The O’Jays last album, and like much of their earlier work, the album is filled with socially conscious songs, putting an exclamation point on their storied career.
The Average White Band landed their first major record deal after opening for Eric Clapton at his comeback show in 1973. From 1973-1983 AWB churned out hit singles and albums, and made some notable appearances including a performance at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival as the nucleus the Atlantic All-Stars Band, where they performed an iconic live version of “Pick Up the Pieces.”
The group reformed in 1989 with founding members Alan Gorrie and Owen “Onnie” McIntyre, both of whom are still with the current lineup.
Tickets for the show start at $17 and are available through Tickets.com or at the Artpark box office.
Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.