TIR 62: Gregory Williams Tells How Switch Turned On Millions of Fans

Gregory Williams shown in back holding trumpet.

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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 62 (two segments): Gregory Williams, who founded, produced, arranged, composed and played keyboards and horns for one of the most successful R&B groups of the late 1970s and early 1980s — Switch. Founded in Ohio in 1976 and discovered by mentor, producer and composer Jermaine Jackson in 1977, the sextet was signed to and groomed by Motown under the supervision of Berry Gordy. The lineup included Bobby and Tommy DeBarge of the later famous DeBarge family as well as Phillip Ingram, whose brother James Ingram later gained fame as a soul singer. Williams, Bobby DeBarge and another Switch member Jody Sims first recorded professionally in 1975 as Barry White proteges, releasing an album under the name White Heat.

Almost a year in the making, Switch’s self-titled debut in 1978 took radio, record stores and hearts by storm. It included the top 10 R&B smash “There’ll Never Be,” which also cracked the pop top 40. The band was particularly noteworthy for its tight instrumentation and group vocals and harmonies, especially Bobby DeBarge’s soaring falsetto. While Switch’s biggest hits tended toward the mellow and melodic, the group also laid down some catchy uptempo R&B and funk. All told, the group produced six albums, five of them during 1978-1981 for Motown and a final last gasp with Total Experience Records in 1984. The last two were without the DeBarges, who had left to work with their siblings on other projects; and the final album was also without Ingram, who had left to pursue a solo career.

The first four albums all made the R&B top 25 and Switch’s hits and notable songs included “I Wanna Be Closer,” “Best Beat in Town,” “I Call Your Name,” “Love Over and Over Again,” “We Like to Party … Come On,” “Go On Doin’ What You Feel,” “Power to Dance,” “You Keep Me High” and “Just Can’t Pull Away.” Switch has been credited as influencing subsequent self-contained R&B bands like Tony, Toni, Tone and Mint Condition.

In this in-depth interview, Williams shares Switch’s path to success, talks about the albums and songs, the break-up, subsequent musical and life pursuits, and reuniting the group to bring the Switch sound to audiences today. Note, there are some video and audio issues due to inconsistent Internet connectivity, but stick with it. With that, it is at last time to flip the switch and mix it up with Mr. Gregory Williams!

Recorded July 2018

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