TIR 81: Harry Elston Reacquaints Us With The Friends of Distinction

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Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in TIR Episode 81 (2 Parts): Harry Elston, co-founder and lead vocalist of the sunshiny late 1960s and early 1970s pop-soul singing quartet The Friends of Distinction. Formed in in 1968, the Los Angeles-based Friends of Distinction originally also included Floyd Butler, who passed away in 1990, Jessica Cleaves, who passed away in 2014, and Barbara Jean Love. Prior to that, Elston and Butler were members of the The Hi-Fi’s, which also included future Fifth Dimension singers Marilyn McCoo and Lamont McLemore, and together they worked with Ray Charles. The Friends of Distinction were discovered by football legend Jim Brown and helped them get signed to RCA Records. The Friends came storming out of the gate with the smash crossover hit, “Grazing in the Grass,” which was an Elston-written and sung vocal cover version of an instrumental hit by Hugh Masekela.

It went Top 5 on both the pop and soul charts, and its album, Grazin’, hit no. 10 on the R&B chart. Within about a year, the No. 14 album Highly Distinct and No. 9 Real Friends followed, along with the additional hits “Going in Circles, No. 3 R&B, “Love or Let Me Be Lonely,” No. 6 pop, and “Time Waits for No One.” “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” featured Charlene Gibson, who filled in during Love’s pregnancy. The Friends of Distinction went on to release four more albums — Whatever, Friends & People, Love Can Make It Easier, Reviviscence – Live to Light Again — before calling it quits in 1976. The last couple of records failed to even enter the charts. Cleaves went on to sing with Earth, Wind & Fire and later Parliament-Funkadelic. Up until a couple of years ago, Elston continued to perform here and there.

In this in-depth interview, Elston shares scores of special stories surrounding The Friends of Distinction’s start, rocket ride to stardom, golden recordings, television and stage performing memories, and eventually being cast aside as a casualty of record company politics. Along the way are intimate reflections on icons like Jim Brown and Ray Charles. Let’s check in with Harry Elston, who after all these years is still grazing in the grass, as The Friends of Distinction’s catchy tracks and impeccable harmonies continue to have so many fans digging their sound half a century later.

RECORDED JANUARY 2019

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