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


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.



Scott Goldfine

As a fervid lifelong music & film enthusiast / student, I grew up in and around the Los Angeles entertainment industry. I have worked and held many positions in various media realms, since 1998 serving as Editor-in-Chief and now Associate Publisher for Security Sales & Integration, a trade publication serving the electronic security industry. I love several genres of music & film. The former includes funk (Parliament-Funkadelic, Prince, Ohio Players, etc.); blues (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Eric Gales, etc.); rock (Jack White, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young, etc.); hard rock (AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, etc.); jazz (Herbie Hancock, Bob James, Crusaders, etc.); R&B (Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Gil Scott-Heron, etc.); and more. I was a club disc jockey and ran a mobile DJ company (Musical Moods) for more than 15 years, which is where the name Dr. GX originates (Doctor Good Times). Fave film genres include horror (Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.); science fiction (Aliens, Terminator, 2001, etc.); action (Warriors, Road Warrior, Die Hard); westerns (Outlaw Josey Wales, Showdown at OK Corral; Wild Bunch, etc.); suspense (Jaws, Inception, Silence of the Lambs, etc.); drama (Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, etc.); and comedies (Life of Brian, Superbad, Ruthless People, etc.). I have attended many hundreds of concerts and movies (in theaters or screenings). I may as well also throw in a few favorite TV shows to give an even broader taste of my sensibilities. A handful would be Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Lost, Justified, Fargo, Seinfeld, Sopranos, South Park, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Key & Peele, Monty Python, Inside Amy Schumer, Louie, Modern Family, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Last Man on Earth, Bob Newhart Show, All in the Family and The Office. Fave authors are Stephen King, Clive Barker and Michael Crichton. I am also a big sports fan and lifelong supporter of the Dallas Cowboys (NFL), Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) and Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB). Also enjoy my family of course, electronics/computers/AV gear, and animals, nature and outdoor activities. Graduate of Santa Monica High School, Santa Monica College and California State University Northridge (Radio-TV-Film, Psychology minor). Also studied at UCLA for kinesiology/psychology and earned post-grad Certificate in Accounting from Santa Monica College. Present main occupation is as Associate Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Security Sales & Integration (SSI), which I joined in 1998. I am responsible for overseeing all editorial content in print. online, electronic, in-person and any other media or products for the electronic security industry's leading business-to-business trade publication. SSI is part of Framingham, Mass.-based Emerald Expositions.