Archie Bell & the Drells from Houston,Texas hit #1 R&B/#1 Pop with the certified million-selling dance classic, "Tighten It Up." They also scored several hits produced or supervised by Philly Soul producers Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff such as "I Can't Stop Dancing," "(There's Gonna Be A) Showdown," and "The Soul City Walk." The Drells were -- at varying times -- Archie's brother Lee Bell, James Wise, Joe Cross, Billy Butler, Lucious Larkins and Willie Pernell. Because Bell wanted the group's name to rhyme and to avoid confusion with Harvey, IL based group The Dells, he came up with The Drells.
Born in Henderson, TX on September 1, 1944, Bell grew up in Houston in a household that included seven brothers, including All-American football star Ricky Bell. His mother, Ruthie Bell, sang gospel and made sure her sons were involved in church-based activities. Because of his mother, Bell began singing in church at an early age. In his teens, he formed Archie Bell & the Drells and began performing at various talent shows around Houston. While performing, they were discovered by KCOH Radio DJ Skipper Lee Frazier. Frazier has his own record label, Ovid Records, and on a handshake-based management deal, they began recording for him. The group scored a regional hit with "She's My Woman, She's My Girl." Soon after, Bell was drafted into the Army to serve in Vietnam. While on a short leave, he recorded the single "Tighten It Up" with musical backing by The TSU Tornadoes. Issued in December 1967, "Tighten It Up" became a huge hit in Houston and was picked up for distribution by New York-based Atlantic Records.
"Tighten Up," written by Bell and Billy Butler sold more than three million copies, holding both the #1 R&B and the #1 Pop spot for two weeks on Billboard's charts in spring 1968. The Tighten Up LP hit #15 R&B and #142 Pop in summer 1968. Unfortunately, Bell was stationed in Germany while all of this was happening. With the concert offerings rolling in, James Wise sang lead in the group's concerts with Charles Gibbs brought in to add background vocals.
Graciously, the Army allowed Bell to sporadically return to the US to do club dates. While performing at a New Jersey club, the group was approached by Philadelphia-based songwriting/production duo, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. After getting an OK from Frazier and Atlantic, this new collaboration hit with "I Can't Stop Dancing," "Do The Choo Choo," "Love Will Rain On You," "(There's Gonna Be a) Showdown," "Girl You're Too Young" and "My Balloon's Going Up." Their last charting single for Atlantic was the David Crawford-produced cover of the Sam & Dave hit B-side, "Wrap It Up."
Switching to Henry Stone's Glades label, they had a hit with songwriter/producer Philip Mitchell's "Dancing To Your Music." The group began recording for Philly Soul's CBS Records-distributed TSOP label, a subsidiary of Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International Records. Their first hit single for the imprint was the Bunny Sigler-produced "I Could Dance All Night," followed by "The Soul City Walk" and "Let's Groove." The previous three releases as well as "Strategy" featured the Instant Funk rhythm section were on Dance Your Troubles Away.
A curious situation happened with the group's next LP, Where Will You Go When the Party's Over. While "Glad You Could Make It" was released as a low charting single, the thump funkin' "Don't Let Love Get You Down" received massive radio airplay in Chicago and other markets. Mysteriously the track was never issued as a single, dooming Where Will You Go When the Party's Over to only reach the middle of the soul LP charts. The driving Sigler-produced "Everybody Have A Good Time" was a disco hit but only charted #68 R&B in spring 1977. The Strategy album made it to #37 R&B in fall 1979 and was reissued in the '90s by EMI/The Right Stuff. Another TSOP album was 1977's Hard Not to Like It. In 1981, Bell began recording for New York label, Becket Records as a solo artist. His album, I Never Had It So Good, included "Anytime Is Right," a midtempo dance track that charted #49 R&B in spring 1981.
Though Archie Bell & The Drells are best known for their joyous dance hits, they recorded several good ballads such as "Love Will Rain On You." Some like the Bunny Sigler/Ron Tyson song "Honey I Won't Leave You Never" from Dance Your Troubles Away and "Right Here Is Where I Want To Be" on Where Will You Go When the Party's Over were included on a mid '90s CD from Sony Music, Archie Bell & the Drells Greatest Hits. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi