Producer/songwriter/guitarist/vocalist T. Life's biggest hit was Evelyn "Champagne" King's 1978 million-selling single "Shame." The track was used as the opening theme for Keenan Ivory Wayans' 1994 movie Low Down Dirty Shame (Touchstone Home Video) and was included on the 1998 RCA movie soundtrack CD More Monty. Sometimes credited as T. Life or Theodore Life, his songs and guitar licks can be found on various tracks in Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International Records catalog and numerous sides he tracked with fellow Philly soul singer/songwriter/producer Bunny Sigler and his backup band Instant Funk. The Jacksonville, FL, native played in a band called Raw Soul that went on to become Frankie Beverly and Maze. Relocating to Philadelphia, Life became part of the thriving Philadelphia music scene of the '70s, performing with the band Spiritual Concept. Signed to Gamble & Huff's music publishing firm Mighty Three Music, Life's songs were covered by PIR artists such as the Intruders ("Memories Are Here to Stay," "Plain Old Fashioned Girl"), several songs on Instant Funk's 1976 debut album Get Down With the Philly Jump (the title track, "Give Me Your Love," "So Glad I'm the One"), Bunny Sigler (the sweepingly romantic ballad "Somebody Loves You," "Ladies Man," "Woman, Woman, Woman," the title track of his 1977 Curtom LP Locked in This Position), and the Ebonys (the steppers classic "Life in the Country"). They can also be also found on releases by non-PIR artists such as Carl Carlton ("Universal Girl," "Let's Groove," "Spend the Night"), the Spinners (the radio-aired LP track "All That Glitters Ain't Gold"), and Eddie Kendricks (the tropical flavored "Get It While It's Hot").
In the mid-'70s, Life started his own production company, Life's Galaxy Productions, with Aubrey "Skip" Gravatt as vice president and two music publishing firms, Mills and Mills Music (BMI) and Spicon Music (ASCAP). While working one night at PIR's recording base, Sigma Sound Studios, Life overheard some tantalizing vocals coming from a washroom. There he discovered teenager Evelyn King who had a job cleaning the studio's washroom after hours with her mother. Signing the singer to a production deal, he began gathering song material for the teenager with the grown woman's voice. While rummaging through a draw filled with tapes from aspiring songwriters, Gravatt came across a song demo from John Fitch and Reuben Cross called "Shame." Getting a deal with RCA Records, Life's first single on Evelyn "Champagne" King (who was nicknamed Bubbles as an infant because she blew saliva bubbles and later adopted the similarly themed nickname "Champagne") was "Dancin'"Dancin' "Dancin'," co-written by Life and Teddy Pendergrass b/w "Till I Come Off the Road." Her debut LP Smooth Talk was released August 1977. Both sides of the single and the LP tracks "Shame," "I Don't Know If It's Right," and the Memphis/Stax-tinged "Nobody Knows" were getting club play and were listed on Billboard's city-by-city disco charts. With an extended 12" disco mix by NY Club DJs turned record remixers Al Garrison and David Todd that featured the rollicking sax solo by Sam Peake, "Shame" began gaining radio airplay. Initially, "Shame" was denied gold certification by the RIAA because the flip side of the 7" 45 single was "Dancin'"Dancin' "Dancin'" and the flip side of the 12" disco single was "Nobody Knows." RCA complied with the rule by issuing 7"s with "Nobody Knows." Though it was certified gold for sales of a million copies, "Shame" sold well over that number, hitting number seven R&B and number nine pop in spring 1978. The follow-up, "I Don't Know If It's Right," with an extended remix by Garrison and Todd, went gold also, peaking at number seven R&B in fall 1978. The sparse ballad "The Show Is Over" and "We're Going to a Party" (the flip side of "I Don't Know If It's Right") received radio airplay. "Smooth Talk" went gold, peaking at number 14 Pop in summer 1978 and selling almost 900,000 copies.
Life became an RCA recording artist with the release of That's Life in August 1978 produced by Al Garrison. Life's studio bandmates Instant Funk are featured on the sparse, beautiful ballad "I Found My Way," which has background vocals by a pre-stardom Luther Vandross and enchanting acoustic piano; the funk/rock single "Tell Me"; and the catchy "Games." Other standout tracks are the lilting island-ish ballad "Another Story" and funky horn-laden title track. The title track single from his second LP, Something That You Do to Me (Keeps Turning Me On), was released on Arista in the early '80s with it becoming a disco hit and a post-release 12" collectible.
The title track single of King's second gold LP (released April 1979) Music Box made it to number 14 R&B in spring 1979. Curiously, Life chose not to use Instant Funk on the entire LP as he did with Smooth Talk; they appeared only on two tracks, "No Time for Fooling Around" and "It's Ok" (the flip side of "Music Box"). Instead, for most of Music Box and his other productions, he used top New York session players, including bassist Will Lee. Her third LP, Call On Me (released in fall 1980), boasted "Let's Get Funky Tonight." Life and King were reunited on one of her '80s LPs.
Life also produced LPs on Kalyan, the 14-man soul/calypso band from Trinidad (All The Way Live on RCA in 1980 with the smooth funky instrumental "Hot Tea"), hard funk/rock band Thomas Bucknasty (RCA, 1980), Vicki Sue Robinson (who had a 1976 number ten pop hit with "Turn the Beat Around" on RCA in 1979), and London Records act the Beck Family (the single "Can't Shake the Feeling"). Some Life-related singles are: Mystique's steppers cut "Is It Really You," Teddy Pendergrass' cousin N'Cole's "Gonna Need This Love" b/w "Thank You for the Love," and Getaway's Columbia single "Can't Accept the Fact." Phyllis Hyman does background vocals on "Can't Shake the Feeling" and Life produced two tracks on her 1978 Arista LP Somewhere in My Lifetime. For most of these productions, Life used top-flight arranger George Andrews. In the '90s, Life was working with bands in Philadelphia. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi