TIR 98: Pleasure Founders Tell Why There’s Still Glide in Their Stride (Parts 3-4)

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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 97 (Parts 3-4 of 4): Two of the founding members of the seminal funk-R&B-jazz band Pleasure. Singer-composer-keyboardist-producer Michael Hepburn and bassist-composer-singer-producer Nathaniel Phillips helped lead the group through a half-dozen albums for Fantasy Records between 1975 and 1980, as well a last hurrah with RCA Records in 1982. After being discovered by the man who become their primary producer. Crusaders legend Wayne Henderson, the Portland, Ore.-based group went on to release some of the most distinctive, adventurous and funky tracks of the era. The original lineup also included Hepburn’s keyboardist brother, Donald, guitarist Marlon McClain, lead singer Sherman Davis, drummer Bruce Carter, percussionist Bruce Smith and saxophonist Dennis Springer.

Influenced by greats like the Crusaders, Headhunters, Band of Gypsies, Earth, Wind and Fire, James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone, Graham Central Station, Mothers’ Finest, Kool & the Gang, Tower of Power and Return to Forever, among others, Pleasure produced nuanced music that at once sounded accessible yet faithful to its own muse. And like the best, most creative bands, their development arc was evident with each successive release — making them a very rewarding group to follow as a fan. Although hits were hard to come by for Pleasure, each record is chock full of rhythmic and soulful delights. Five of their records cracked the Top 35 R&B albums chart.

The group finally did hit it big in 1979 with the monstrous, bass-driven groove of “Glide,” which landed Pleasure its only Top 10 R&B song, from what was arguably the band’s most accomplished album, Future Now. Other top tracks from its catalog include “Dust Yourself Off,” “Bouncy Lady,” a sweet, funky cover of “Midnight at the Oasis,” “Let’s Dance,” “Pleasure for Your Pleasure,” “Theme From Moonchild,” “Joyous,” “Can’t Turn You Loose,” “Sassafras Girl,” “Dance to the Music,” “Selim,” “Get to the Feeling,” “Thanks for Everything,” “Foxey Lady,” “Celebrate the Good Things,” “Future Now,” “Universal,” “Space Is the Place,” “The Real Thing,” “Nothin’ to It,” “Law of the Raw,” “Take a Chance,” “Spread That Feelin’ (All Around)” and “Now You Choose Me.” Unfortunately, it was not long after the group peaked commercially that things began to fall apart and by the early 1980s members went their separate ways.

Disillusioned on the music business, Michael Hepburn would eventually study for and become a lawyer. Phillips continued to lend his rumbling runs and plucking talents to a host of other artists’ projects, including Bobby Lyle, Willie Bobo, Roy Ayers, Billy Cobham, Idris Muhammad, Side Effect, the Dramatics, Narada Michael Walden, Wilton Felder, En Vogue’s Terry Ellis, the Dazz Band, Jeff Lorber and Herb Alpert. Then, a few years ago something miraculous happened . . . Pleasure began to reunite!

Michael Hepburn and Phillips put their heads and musical aspirations together and reassembled an updated lineup that has led to the first new Pleasure music in more than 35 years. Among those also along for the ride are original members Smith and Springer as well as latter years member Douglas Lewis on guitar. The result is the just-released 8-song collection appropriately titled, Now Is the Time. Amazingly, the album successfully picks up right where Pleasure left off in 1980 — which is an enormous compliment and accomplishment. It checks all the boxes any fan could hope for as it’s a full serving of deep funk with strong soul, jazz and rock flavorings blended in — all carried by impeccable musicianship, arrangements and production. It’s quite simply one of the most successful and authentic comeback works from any band of that period.

In the most in-depth and comprehensive interview Pleasure has ever been associated with, Hepburn and Phillips reveal the group’s entire history — with all the ups, downs and in-betweens. That includes their formative years, being discovered, writing songs and laying down tracks, touring, evolving as a creative force, music business challenges, why they are back at it after so many years, and all about the latest record.

RECORDED MAY 2019

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