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Archie Bell & The Drells

Tighten Up Part 1

Archie Bell & The Drells

Tighten Up Part 1

 

Not only did Archie Bell & The Drells succinctly introduce themselves on the front end of their smash Tighten Up, they claimed that "We don't only sing, but we dance just as good as we want!" And they backed up that brash boast over one of the most thoroughly infectious grooves ever to emerge from Houston, Texas.

 

Born September 1, 1944 in Hendersonville, Texas, Bell put together the first edition of The Drells in '55 while attending junior high in Houston. Consisting of Bell, Billy Butler, James Wise, and Joe Cross in 1966, they hooked up with promoter/KCOH deejay Skipper Lee Frazier. Their first 45 for his East-West logo, She's My Woman, She's My Girl, went nowhere. Next time he took them in the studio, magic happened.

Bell had just been drafted when he came up with Tighten Up (his roommate demonstrated the new dance to him). Crucial to the song's impact was its subtly funky groove, laid down by a band from Texas State University, The T.S.U. Toronadoes, led by guitar-playing brothers Cal and Will Thomas. The hip chord changes, punchy horns, and surging rhythm (by bassist Jerry Jenkins and drummer Dwight Burns) were irresistible. Producer Frazier issued Tighten Up on his new Ovide label, with Bell's original Dog Eat Dog on the flip. Tighten Up made enough regional noise for Atlantic to acquire the masters, though they initially chose Dog Eat Dog as the plug side until the nation's deejays set them straight.  Atlantic then repressed Tighten Up with a different version adorning the B-side, so no one else would make the same error.

As Tighten Up sat proudly atop the pop and R&B charts, Bell was laid up in a military hospital in Germany following a truck crash, his fellow soldiers refusing to believe that he was the Archie Bell! Fortunately, he was able to get back to the states long enough to cut a few more sides for his debut Atlantic album, rounded out by songs from The T.S.U. Toronadoes and other Frazier acts that Archie wasn't even on.

Bell's absence inspired a raft of imitators to gig as The Drells, but he finally came back to straighten everything out. Prolific Philly producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff then assumed the reins for a string of hit Atlantic singles by the group: I Can't Stop Dancing was followed by Do The Choo Choo, 'There's Gonna Be A' Showdown, Girl You're Too Young, and several more lasting to the end of the decade. Bell cut three '73 hits for Henry Stone's Glades label in Miami, Dancing To Your Music the biggest, before reuniting with Gamble and Huff at TSOP. Let's Groove (Part 1) was a 1976 R&B smash for Bell, who made hits with Gamble and Huff at Philly International throughout the rest of the disco-obsessed '70s. He still does a mean Tighten Up

- Bill Dahl -

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