Greatest Slow Jams by The Dramatics

May 16, 2014


The Dramatics formed during 1962 and were constants on the rhythm & blues charts during the 1970s. While Ron Banks and Lenny Mayes are deceased;  L. J. Reynolds, Willie Ford, and Winzell Kelly are still with the group. They may not come immediately to mind when thinking of 1970’s music but their time with the Volt label, a subsidiary of Stax, produced some of the better soul music the early 1970s.

The Dramatics have now returned as a part of the “Slow Jams” series of releases, which is dedicated to rhythm & blues love songs. Greatest Slow Jams gathers eight classic tracks from their Volt period, adds three more from the 1970s, and an odd L. J. Reynolds solo track from 1985.

The weakness of such an approach is the elimination of their up-tempo material, including “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get,” “Get Up And Get Down,” and “Fell For You;” all of which remain some of their best songs. On the other hand, what is here is very good and perfect for a romantic evening around a blazing fire.

THE Stax label always had more of an edge than many of their contemporaries including Motown. While the vocals are of the smooth soul variety; the instrumental backing prevents the songs from being repetitive.  Some are piano based; others have a prominent guitar, and some feature strings. It is this variety that sets the music of The Dramatics apart from a lot of what was being issued during the 1970s.

Songs such as “Toast To The Fool,” “Thank You For Your Love,” “Hey You Get Off My Mountain,” and their biggest hit “In The Rain” were all smooth performances that hold up well. When the group left Stax, the quality of their material and their commercial success began to suffer.

The Dramatics are not usually recognized as a top tier vocal group but when they were good, they were very good. It may be a little stretch to fill an entire album with slower material but there are some nuggets to be found here.

Whatcha See is Whatcha Get by The Dramatics

September 29, 2011

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.