Fire struck the location of world famous Philadelphia International Records on Sunday night, the site of a studio that spawned a string of rock and soul gems written and produced by Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff and producer Thom Bell. Initially labelled "suspicious" by fire officials, a local man was charged this evening with arson at the building located at 309 South Broad Street, a stone's throw from The Academy of Music and the Kimmel Center.
In a joint statement, owners Gamble & Huff cited the famous McFadden & Whitehead hit: "Ain't no stoppin' us now. Our space has been violated by someone who chose to set fire to it. But what's most important is that we will build it again and continue to rebuild. Nothing is going to stop us."
Gamble, Huff and Bell took over the venerable brick building in 1970, and the hits were plentiful from a stable of artists that became known collectively as "The Sound of Philadelphia": The Intruders ("Cowboys To Girls"); Billy Paul ("Me & Mrs. Jones"); Jerry Butler ("Only The Strong Survive"); Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes ("If You Don't Know Me By Now"); Joe Simon ("Drowning In The Sea of Love"); Mel & Tim ("Backfield In Motion"); The Three Degrees ("When Will I See You Again"); The Jacksons ("Enjoy Yourself"); MFSB ("TSOP [The Sound of Philadelphia])"; and, perhaps most memorably, The (Mighty! Mighty!) O'Jays ("For The Love Of Money," "Back Stabbers," "992 Arguments," and "Love Train").
The production duo estimates that they lost 40% of their memorabilia that adorned the walls, filled offices and was kept in storage, including gold records, awards and private tape collections of artists like Lou Rawls, Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass and The Jacksons. "Some of the things we lost in the fire are irreplaceable," said Gamble & Huff. "We will know better in the days ahead what our total losses will be."
Amazingly, the recording studio itself, located on the third floor, was relatively unscathed. Gamble & Huff use the studio to broadcast their Sirius XM radio series. It is also a popular attraction for students and tourists.
Before housing Philly International, the studio was the site where Chubby Checker's "The Twist" and Dee Dee Sharp's "Mashed Potato Time" were cut for the Cameo-Parkway label.
"The No. 1 thing that went through our minds as we walked through the facility is that thankfully, no one was hurt," the statement from Gamble & Huff concluded. "After all the years our building has been there, we've never had any problems that come close to this. The devastation is just horrible. It's unbelievable."
In 1999, four years after being inducted into the National Academy of Songwriters' Hall of Fame, Gamble & Huff were honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with the Trustees Award for their extensive body of work, both as producer and songwriter, and their contribution to the entire fabric of popular music. In 2008, Gamble & Huff were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock Hall is currently in the midst of a month long celebration of the Philly Sound.
Well, most of a rock monument was saved, so let's not worry about things we can't control, right? "Enjoy Yourself" instead with The Jacksons from 1976! [Chair dancing in the office allowed.]