Sylvester/Greatest Hits [2 Disc Collection]


Sylvester - Greatest HitsSylvester James (September 6, 1947 – December 16, 1988) better known as Sylvester, was an American disco and soul singer, and a gay drag performer. Sylvester was sometimes known as the “Queen of Disco,” although this moniker has also been bestowed on some of the ladies of the disco era (i.e. Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer).

In San Francisco, Sylvester performed in a musical production called Women of the Blues , with his repertoire of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday songs in tow. In the early 1970’s Sylvester joined a short-lived group of performance artists called The Cockettes, a psychedelic drag queen troupe founded by Hibiscus, aka George Harris. After leaving The Cockettes, Sylvester performed in San Francisco a number of different times as a solo act. One of his most famed shows, entitled Jungle Sin which reprised Sylvester’s greatest Cockette solo songs, took place at the San Francisco supper club Bimbo’s and was produced by the rock impresario David Ferguson in 1972. That same year, Sylvester performed at The Temple in San Francisco with the then-unknown Pointer Sisters which was also produced by Ferguson. Sylvester can be seen in the Cockettes’ outrageous short film Tricia’s Wedding, lampooning the wedding of President Nixon’s daughter Tricia, and in an eponymous 2002 documentary about the group (which at one time included Divine).

In 1972, Sylvester supplied two cuts to Lights Out San Francisco, an album compiled by the KSAN radio station and released on the Blue Thumb label.

In 1973, Sylvester & The Hot Band, featuring Bobby Blood on trumpet, Chris Mostert on sax, James Q. Smith on guitar, Travis Fullerton on drums, and Kerry Hatch on bass, released two rock-oriented albums on Blue Thumb (their self-titled debut was also known as “Scratch My Flower,” due to a gardenia-shaped scratch-and-sniff sticker adhered to the cover).

In 1974, Sylvester met Horus Jack Tolsen (Keyboards) together with Sylvester’s drummer Amadeo Barrios (drums) and Brother Adrian Barrios (Bass) formed a trio which backed up Sylvester at a nightclub in San Francisco called Cabaret – After Dark. Shortly after Horus was fired, Amadeo brought in new players, Archie White (Keyboards), Angel Reyes (Guitar), Background vocalist Bianca Thorton, Gerry Kirby and another vocalist named Debbie. This took Sylvester into a new musical direction. The band unofficially called themselves The Four A’s and had finally thrown in the towel after several attempts to get signed by a major label. In 1975 The Brother’s Barrios gave it one last shot before joining The Lenny Williams Band , and Sly stone.

Sylvester signed a solo deal to Fantasy Records in 1977, working with the production talents of legendary Motown producer Harvey Fuqua, who produced his album Stars in 1979. Sylvester later alleged that Fuqua cheated him out of millions of dollars. Sylvester soon met his frequent collaborator Patrick Cowley. Cowley’s synthesizer and Sylvester’s voice proved to be a magical combination, and pushed Sylvester’s sound in an increasingly dance-oriented direction; his second solo album, Step II (1978), unleashed two disco classics: “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” and “Dance (Disco Heat)”. These two songs charted together on the American dance chart and spent six weeks at #1 on this chart in August and September 1978. By this time both his live shows and recordings also recognizably featured the back-up vocals of Two Tons O’ Fun: future Weather Girls Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes. 1979 brought three Billboard awards and an appearance in the movie, The Rose, starring Bette Midler. He sang “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” live for The Castro Street Fair, thanks to future first openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk.

Moving to Megatone Records in 1982, Sylvester quickly landed a Hi-NRG classic with “Do You Wanna Funk”, which was featured in the 1983 film Trading Places. He was close friends with other Megatone artists Linda Imperial and Jeanie Tracy. Sylvester was also very close to Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash for whom he recorded background vocals for her dance hit “Lucky Tonight”.

Later pressure from the label to “butch up” his image would result in him attending meetings in full-on drag. A drag photo shoot, which he staged and presented to label heads as a gag (calling it his “new album cover”) would later grace the cover of Immortal after Sylvester died; it was the label’s way of paying tribute to his spirit. In 1985, one of his dreams came true as he was summoned to sing back-up for Aretha Franklin on her Who’s Zoomin’ Who? comeback album. His sole Warner Bros. Records album was Mutual Attraction in 1986; a single from the album, “Someone Like You”, became Sylvester’s second #1 hit on the U.S. dance chart and featured original cover art by Keith Haring.

Sylvester died of complications from AIDS in San Francisco on December 16, 1988. He was 41 years old. His good friend Jeanie Tracy took care of Sylvester during his last days.

On September 20, 2004 Sylvester’s anthem record, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”, was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. A year later, on September 19, 2005, Sylvester himself was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievement as an artist. [Wikipedia]

Disc One:

Dance [Disco Heat] [Remix]—-From the very first beat of the tracks, you know that this is a stone solid Disco club hit….everything about the tempo and sound screams the sweaty gay discos of the late 70’s. The spoken word intro is TOO gay…but lots of fun. The beat of the song is moderate sticking to around 120 BPM;s…the backdrop of vocals are nice…this is just full of memories and a classic example of the talent Sylvester possessed. This is GRAND!!!

Bodystrong—-Clocking in at over 8 minutes long, what else would you expect from that decade. The loopy bass beat literally defines the disco sound…..you can almost feel the heat and smell the poppers as the lights swirl around your head. The intro…typical….is very long….before you get any vocal, you get the rhythm and bass firmly implanted in your brain. The song is less than fantastic…featuring the typical sound that makes you think of a studio session band trying to cash in on the disco fad…which happened all the times in the 70’s. This is nice, but less than spectacular for me.

Sell My Soul—-The immediate thing you notice is that this not begin in typical Disco flair…this is much more atmospheric and R n’ B based. The chorus of female vocals along with Sylvester create a nice picture. The horns kick in and the bass becomes more pronounced…Sylvester enters and delivers a bluesy sexy soul that you can dance to…Genius….’nuff said!

You Make Me Feel [Mighty Real]—-For me, this is one of the best Disco songs ever recorded. There is no weak spot to be found on this recording. Sylvester sounds better than he had ever and the beat of the song is so damn addictive you fall in love with it even more than the vocal. Not to slight the vocal…this is magnificent. The loopy sound of the music and the pace of the song is just made for huge packed dance floors…and so it was…a tremendous piece of musical history…regardless of how you feel about it.

Can’t Stop Dancing—-With that deep choppy bass beat, you know that you are still not in Kansas. The synth lines enters and ramps up the pace of the song and you soon have a nice rhythmic track resplendent with horns and strings [manufactured?]. Sylvester enters in an almost normal tone but reaches for his comfortable falsetto before the 5th word. This is nice…a little bit more generic in sound, but still rather tasty.

Lovin’ Is Really My Game—-With that glittery piano intro, the bass creeps up into the song rather slowly but soon becomes the star of the show. The oft spoken ‘loopy’ sound is here and the generic sexual lines are a hoot. Sylvester was not afraid to be who he was…songs like this just prove it. This is rather non descript…not really sure why this is here, but it is always nice to hear the voice.

Do You Wanna Funk [Remix]—-If asked what my favorite all time Dance/Disco song…this is it hands down. Not only is this song damn contagious, it has great memories for me. Sylvester combined with Crowley literally made magic. Crowley’s music was made for Sylvester’s voice and vice versa. You can not get much better than this…the song is heavy on disco funk….so danceable you will kill yourself and just dirty enough to result in some interesting actions on the dance florr…as I said…who could ask for more? And when he lets out that scream…..holy shit this is fun!

Don’t Stop—- Again, this is full of that rhythmic disco sound, but the strings give the song a more organic feel…making me think of circa 1979. Sylvester delivers a vocal that is crystal clear and so damn pleasant you will fall in love with this rather gentle dance song. This is big…lots of fun…and damn nice!!!

Band Of Gold—-With a huge bass line and slowly emerging synths, this cover song finds Sylvester almost begging to be taken into the mainstream. This has a huge Disco presence though and Sylvester does what he does best…he sings his ass off and the result is another track for the history books. This is magestic…I love this.

Stars—-Clocking in at a whopping 10 minutes in length, this is like a stage play!!!! The song emerges slowly…with sounds added as each musical refrain repeats until it grows larger and larger. The end result is a huge dance marathon. Sylvester enters the scene and just eggs you on to keep going and keep dancing and keep loving the feel of the music. This is a huge, magnificent , fantastic opus of the grandest kind!!!

Disc Two:

One Night Only—-Another cover of a huge Disco classic, this is so much fun. This finds Sylvester delivering a slow and bluesy vocal that makes you think of Church!!! This is fantastic…and let me tell you…Sylvester could hit those notes…this is indescribable. This is Patti….Tina…and Aretha influenced magic.

You Are My Friend—-Presenting his cover of this LaBelle classic in a live setting, this song builds in extreme measures. Sylvester enters and delivers his vocal to a Gospel styled musical delivery….he introduces his Girls…and it is almost hilarious. The crowd goes wild when Martha and Izora enter and both sing…this is a huge emotional song that I never get tired off. This is real…dirty soul gospel that only proves to you that Sylvester was pretty good at that Church music. Marvelous!!!

Ooo Baby Baby—-Delivering yet another cover song, perhaps this was another misguided step to try to make Sylvester more mainstream. This has a pleasant result though, the song has a nice breezy feel that finds Sylvester sounding perfectly comfortable with his vocal and the doo-wop feel is classic with a R n’ B twist. Pretty Great!!

Be With You—-This is a fine return to the Crowley style disco that helped Sylvester so much in his career. This is energetic and has a synth line that is damn addictive. This is remarkable…Sylvester enters with overlayed vocals that fly all over the song in different tones…it’s remarkable. The dance ratio is a million to one and you will return to this again and again.

Take Me To Heaven—-Wow….this starts out really slow, but becomes this addictive synth groove that sounds fresh even for its age. This is like a alt-dance song circa 2000….the energy and the synth line drive and drive the beat into your brain with this addictive pace…the vocal is like a conglomeration of Sylvester songs all rolled into one huge song…this is literally…no lie…genius!!!

Trouble In Paradise—-A rather sedate song that takes a minute or so to get really started, it is worth waiting for as it opens up into a rather mainstream sounding R n’ B dance track. If you did not know the back story, you would think Sylvester was an up and coming Woman singing R n’ B. This is nice…I love the energy and the mainstream quality of the song.

I [Who Have Nothing]—-Clocking in at over 11 minutes in length with varying BPM’s, this song is a tour de force of musical tempos that just urges you to stay on the dance floor and move with the flow. The electronic drum sound is magnificent…the slowly emerging beats and the cow bell makes you think of Love To Love you. This is huge and takes patience but the result equals lots of fun. This is great.

Menergy [Remix]—-I actually became familiar with this song and the next from an Italian Pressing of Do You Wanna Funk?. I love this song and wonder how the hell I missed it the first go around…perhaps I was not that gay at the time…LMAO!!! This has huge swirling synths and atmosphere that develop into a bass beatdown and lyrics that are full of back-room imagery. This is huge and fun. I really like this song….just mad I missed it the first time around. The sound is very Boystown Gang…and Sylvester delivers some screams that will melt your ears.

Rock The Box [Remix]—-Not nearly as fun or addictive as the previous song, the menage of Crowley hits defined Sylvester and made him a Gay household name. This is fun but the addictive quality is missing from this track,. Still great to have a longer, extended version of this.

Do You Wanna Funk—-Not sure why they found it necessary to put another version of this song on this collection. Pretty much rote…I would have preferred they include the version of him singing How Great Thou Art….it is incredible.

****3/4 out of 5

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One Response to “Sylvester/Greatest Hits [2 Disc Collection]”

  1. OK nice to see- interesting blogs are always sweet! Peace.

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