TIR 76: Philly Figure Dexter Wansel Talks About His Musical Life on Earth


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 76 (2 Parts): A leading contributor to the Sound of Philadelphia who lent his considerable keyboard, composing, producing and arranging skills to dozens of top recording artists as well well as released several albums of his own — I am speaking of none other than Dexter Wansel. He got into show biz an early age, for several years working backstage as an errand boy at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater, where stars from James Brown to the Isley Brothers to comedians like Flip Wilson would do their thing. As a teen, he and his best friend Stanley Clarke formed their first bands together.

His early professional work included working with Bunny Sigler and Instant Funk before he went on to join Philadelphia International Records, where he worked with a slew of artists and hit records. They included Phyllis Hyman, MFSB, Teddy Pendergrass, The Jacksons, Patti LaBelle, The Jones Girls, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Lou Rawls, Grover Washington Jr., The Stylistics, The O’Jays, Billy Paul, Jerry Butler, Pieces of a Dream and many more. Wansel wrote The Jones Girls’ 1981 No. 1 R&B hit “Nights Over Egypt” and Patti LaBelle’s 1983 chart-topper “If Only You Knew.” Among the hits he oversaw while serving as A&R Director for Philadelphia International Records from 1978-1980 was McFadden & Whitehead’s smash hit “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”

Meanwhile, he put out four albums of his own in the 1970s — Life on Mars, What the World Is Coming to, Voyager and Time Is Slipping Away. This eclectic but captivating records thematically reflected Wansel’s fascination with the cosmos and were full of compelling R&B, jazz and funk — sometimes in the same track. Aside from some of the title tracks, other strong songs and performances on those LPs included “You Can Be What You Wanna Be,” “Disco Lights,” “First Light of the Morning,” “All Night Long,” “Time Is the Teacher,” “Funk Attack,” “One for the Road,” “It’s Been Cool” and the quiet storm classic “Sweetest Pain.” Life on Mars, While he only released two more albums in the 1980s he continued to contribute to others’ recordings. Embraced by the hip hop community, his records would go on to be sampled more than 1,000 times. In more recent times, Wansel and his wife, Judith, created the show Sounds of Philadelphia that includes stories and live performances.

In this in-depth interview, Wansel reminisces about working around the black music and comedic stars of the late 1950s and early 1960s, forging his musical skills as a cellist and in middle school with Stanley Clarke, becoming a Philly music studio fixture for many of the finest recording artists of the 1970s, recording his own ambitious albums, his affinity for space and the universe, indelible memories from the studio and stage, and full circle to where he finds himself today. Let’s check in with Philly’s spaceman, an undeniable talent whose star should twinkle as brightly as any amid the galaxy of super talent with which he was associated.