The Concord Music Group has been reissuing classic albums from the extensive catalogue of the Stax label. Their latest three releases, issued September 13th, are Do The Funky Chicken by Rufus Thomas, Woman To Woman by Shirley Brown, and the subject of this review, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get by The Dramatics.
Stax was a gritty soul label, originally located in Memphis, Tennessee. It was founded by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, who used the first two letters of their last names to form the name Stax. It featured funk, blues, and a hardcore rhythm & blues sound. Some of the artists who graced the label were Booker T. & The MG’s, Sam & Dave, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King, The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, and The Dramatics
Stax vice president Al Bell decided to expand the label’s roster and national appeal by bringing in talent from different parts of the country. One of the new additions was Detroit producer Don Davis, who was brought in to work with Carla Thomas and Johnnie Taylor. He brought along the Detroit vocal group, The Dramatics. Several years later, they would release their debut album for the label.
The Dramatics were and are a rhythm & blues vocal group formed during 1962. After releasing several failed singles during the early and mid-1960’s, they grabbed the brass ring when they signed with the Stax label. Their debut album, Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, was the best and most commercially successful of their career. It also containe their two biggest selling and most popular singles. The title track (which reached number 9 on the pop charts and number 3 on the R&B charts) and “In The Rain” (number five on the pop charts and a number one R&B single) were among the best of the era.
The title song had impeccable and creative arrangements. The group members alternated singing lead on each line. It was an R&B tune, but it looked ahead to the coming disco movement in a good way. A fuzz sound on the lead guitar, plus horns and strings all served to make it memorable. “Get Up And Get Down” was more of the same as the vocal interplay was again different and creative.
Their biggest hit, “In The Rain,” was more atmospheric. The sound of rain falling plus the guitar wizardry of Dennis Coffey in conjunction with the strings all added to the song’s dramatic effect.
The original release contained eight tracks, but this reissue is over twice as long as it adds ten bonus tracks. They consist of singles and some of their better material from follow-up albums. The best track is “Hey You Get Off My Mountain,” which marked Ron Banks debut as lead singer. “Fell For You” marked the first appearance of L. J. Reynolds, who not only shared the vocal lead but would go on to become an important part of the group.
When the Stax label folded, The Dramatics went on to a long and successful career with the ABC and MCA labels.
Unfortunately, time did not treat the members kindly. Original members Ron Banks, William Howard, Elbert Wilkin, and 1973 replacement Lenny Mayes all died of heart problems before the age of 60. Original member Willie Ford and L.J. Reynolds continue to record and tour down to the present day.
Their crowning achievement has now reached its 40th birthday. Watcha See Is Whatcha Get remains one of the better rhythm & blues albums of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and it’s nice to have it back in print in a remastered form.