Soul artists come and go. Many groups have faded into obscurity, and some of their members have passed away. But several soul artists from back in the day are still keeping soul alive. One is Soul Generation.
“Most of us started when we were 18 or 19 years old,” said Cliff Perkins, who formed the group in 1970. “Who knew what the record business was about? We knew it was about entertainment, but many didn’t know it was also a business. I was fortunate to have an attorney around me and my family.”
Perkins, who works for the Jersey City Department of Cultural Affairs, was born and raised in Jersey City. He attended P.S. 15, Snyder High School, and Saint Peter’s College.
Music was not his first love. “I was an athlete. I played baseball and football for my high school’s teams,” Perkins said. “I wasn’t even thinking about singing then.”
Perkins’s interest in music began when he’d go to a music club in high school and listen to the guys sing.
He also watched and listened to singing groups like Little Anthony & the Imperials and the Motown acts on television and on the radio. He also followed the local Jersey City group The Manhattans.
“They took me under their wing,” Perkins said. “They lived about 10 blocks from me, and I would go to their rehearsals sometimes. Group member Blue Lovett was my mentor.”
Giving birth to a group
In 1970, Perkins decided to put a group together. “The group members were myself, Earl Davenport, Thomas Timmons, and Herman Hammond,” Perkins said. “We called ourselves The Citations and for two years we performed in clubs in and around Jersey City.” The band that backed the group on a lot of those shows was another Jersey City group called Kool & the Flames who later became the renowned funk/R&B group Kool & the Gang.
Jazz musician Doc Bagbee introduced the group to soul singer Ben E. King who gave them guidance. At that time, Bagbee told the group they needed a new name. “What about Soul Generation?” Perkins asked. Bagbee said, “That’s it!”
When Timmons decided to leave, Perkins recruited Jeff Burgess who could not only sing but was a writer as well. Through Burgess’s connections, he met a producer. They went to the Record Plant recording studio in New York to record their first song, the classic “Body & Soul” which is Soul Generation’s signature tune and later became double platinum. The track, released in 1972, garnered heavy airplay on radio stations across the country and put Soul Generation on the map.
The poignant ballad features lead vocals by Hammond and Perkins, who was not initially interested in singing and never took singing lessons.
“When I started high school, my register was low,” Perkins said. “As I got older, my voice got higher. Usually, that works the opposite way, but with me my voice got higher as I got older.” To this day, he still sings in that same key with perfect precision and is adamant about taking care of his voice. “I don’t smoke or drink. I just try to take care of myself.”
The huge success of “Body & Soul” opened a lot of doors. “When you have a hit record and it’s playing around the country, you work with everybody,” Perkins said. The group toured with The Four Tops, Temptations, The Moment, Earth Wind & Fire, Manhattans, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and others.
Soul Generation originally recorded on Ebony Sound Records, a Jersey City-based label, where they made about three albums. Their next big hit was 1973’s “Million Dollars.” They would later sign with Buddah Records in New York and work with Tony Camillo, who had worked with Gladys Knight & the Pips. “We did a song called ‘Praying for a Miracle’ which was a hit for us,” Perkins said. The group did two albums at Buddah and took a hiatus in 1979.
“I continued to stay in the entertainment business doing jingles, commercials, and background vocals on different artists’ records,” Perkins said. “I then got a call from Sylvia Robinson, who told me that she had broken up with the original Moments singing group (which became Ray, Goodman & Brown) and wanted me to put a new Moments group together. So I became a Moment for a minute,” Perkins joked.
The “new” Moments recorded an album with hits such as the popular “Baby Let’s Rap Now” and “Record Breaking Love Affair.” In the mid-’80s, Soul Generation got back together with a new member, Mike Murphy. He replaced Earl Davenport, who had passed away. Murphy was later replaced with Ted West. This lineup stayed together for about four years.
When Hammond and Burgess retired, Perkins reformed the group in the mold of the Fifth Dimension and, along with West, added Veda LaRue, who was a background singer for the original group on the road. Perkins also added his daughter, Crystal. When Ted West retired, Donald Taylor was brought in.
“People were like ‘Oh, that’s a different look. I don’t see how you’re going to make it,’ but it worked,” Perkins said.
“Classic soul artists have endured the test of time in this crazy music business.” – Cliff Perkins
The group has just released a new CD titled Ooh Baby. “It is selling really well,” said Perkins. “I am surprised at how soon and how fast the CD sold.”
The group still works with other veteran ’70s soul groups such as Blue Magic and the Stylistics. “Classic soul artists have endured the test of time in this crazy music business,” said Perkins. “I still have the same passion for what I do that I had in 1970.”
But the music scene has changed. “I’m from the old school,” Perkins said. “The songs we made were about love as opposed to the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am songs that are out now with no imagination to them.”
Said Perkins: “You can’t go into this business thinking you are going to be a star or because of the glitz and glamour. You have to go into it because you love the craft, love the music business, and love music in general. Your voice is not your longevity, because any day your voice can go. If you’re writing and copywriting your songs, that’s forever. Know the business and build your craft.”—JCM
For more information about Cliff Perkins and Soul Generation, visit soulgenerationfeatcliffperkins.com.
To purchase Soul Generation’s latest CD, go to cdbaby.com or mauricewatts.com.
To book Soul Generation, call (201) 792-2658 or the group’s agent, Carol Hamilton, at (347) 572-4419 or email email@example.com.