The Sapphires were a trio consisting of Carol Jackson, George Gainer, and Joe Livingston, although Kenny Gamble was also closely associated with the group very early in its history, arranging the vocals on their first album. The trio came out of Philadelphia in the early '60s, where they were signed by producer Jerry Ross and initially released their songs on the Swan label.
The group's first record was the romantic ballad "Where Is Johnny Now," backed with "Your True Love." The backing group for these and other early Philadelphia recordings by The Sapphires included Leon Huff and Thom Bell on keyboards, Bobby Eli on guitar, Joe Macho on bass, and Bobby Martin playing vibes. When this record failed to chart, Ross turned to Gamble for their next single, "Who Do You Love," which reached number 25 on the pop charts. Their next single, "I Found Out Too Late," failed to repeat that success, but its release was accompanied by the issue of the group's first LP. The Sapphires left Swan shortly after the release of a third single, "Gotta Be More Than Friends," moving to ABC-Paramount in 1964, which also led to their recording in New York City. Perhaps not coincidentally, their first ABC single, "Let's Break Up for a While," had a sound reminiscent of the Drifters from this same era.
The group entered its most productive and musically ambitious period during late 1964. The Sapphires' next single, "Thank You for Loving Me," was written by the Brill Building talents of Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, and Wes Farrell, and arranged by Jimmy Wisner. Their next single, "Gotta Have Your Love," finally gave the group the second hit they'd been waiting for, with a smooth Motown-type sound and an infectious beat that helped carry it to number 33 on the R&B charts, with an appearance on the pop charts at number 77 in the spring of 1965. The song also featured a trio of background vocalists who would go on to bigger things in the years to come: Valerie Simpson, Nick Ashford, and Melba Moore.
The group was never able to build on this record's success, though not for lack of trying. Their next three singles, "Evil One," "Gonna Be a Big Thing," and "Slow Fizz," all had pleasing hooks and, in the latter case, a wonderfully danceable beat, but failed to sell. "Slow Fizz," released in 1966, marked the end of their contract with ABC-Paramount, and the trio broke up soon after.
The Sapphires left behind an extraordinarily high-quality body of work, a match for anything Motown was releasing at the same time. Their lack of staying power on the charts can be attributed largely to many factors, including the vast array of competition from various soul acts at the time -- had they maintained a somewhat more consistent sound, or broken nationally a little earlier with a slightly higher profile, they might have achieved the success they deserved. As it was, they left behind a very fine, occasionally stunning body of songs, and provided some valuable early experience for Gamble, Bell, and Huff. ~ Bruce Eder
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