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Jacques Fred Petrus & Mauro Malavasi
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Biography

Jacques Fred Petrus was a native of Guadeloupe, French West Indies, who moved to Italy. When he was a teenager, he used to collect soul and rhythm ‘n’ blues records. With all the music he bought, it was a natural evolution for him to become a DJ in the early seventies. One of his very first gigs was at the Good Mood in Milan. Eventually he began to import disco music from the United States. In the early days he used to order a couple of boxes of vinyl every week because the demand was limited. He used to sell records to other DJ's, who were working at clubs like the Nepentha and the Charly Max. Later, some customers of the clubs became very interested in the music he was playing and bought records, too. In 1974 he started up Goody Music, which, besides Carù in Milan and Ronchini in Parma, was the only importer of disco music in Italy. When private radio stations were legalized in Italy in 1975, Goody Music sponsored a radio program on the first private station: Radio Milano International, which is called 101 Network today. Soon every private station was hosting a disco show and disco music really became huge by 1976. About 1977 Petrus invested in a 24-track recording studio in Bologna and began producing music himself with partner Mauro Malavasi. They met at the Conservatory of Bologna in 1975 and extended Goody Music into a production company and record label with the aim of becoming the Italian Gamble and Huff. Goody Music Production was based in Milan and Little Macho Music was the name of their publishing company in New York. Soon album sleeves just mentionned Little Macho Music as Jacques Fred Petrus mainly operated from his head office in New York towards 1980. During six years executive producer Petrus and fellow producer Malavasi represented the perfect symbiosis between project manager and sound architect until the duo split up in 1984.

Jacques Fred Petrus, the bright and ambitious French entrepreneur, mainly concentrated on the business aspects of the company such as masterminding and financing the numerous discoprojects and shopping around for record deals. He had a flawless nose for scouting and enlisting promising vocalists, first class musicians and songwriters. In Italy Petrus recruited the top session musicians and multi-instrumentalists Paolo Gianolio, Rudy Trevisi and Davide Romani for their composing and arranging skills. They became key figures in the Goody Music stable. Once the music was recorded in Italian studios, the tapes were taken to New York where the vocal parts were added. Petrus hired the services of talented black session singers to assemble his studio aggregations. In New York the mixing and post production took place. Strangely enough Jacques Fred Petrus named himself producer on all albums while in fact he merely acted as executive producer and certainly not as a musician. The talented musician Davide Romani on the other hand deserved a producer mention but was never credited as such.

Mauro Malavasi (picture) was the musical genius who created the sensational discosound together with the staff musicians at Goody Music, Davide Romani in particular. Malavasi was an accomplished piano player. The credits on the albumsleeves also reveal that he was omnipresent as a keyboard and synthesizer wizard during recording sessions, not to mention the musician’s essential role as a composer, arranger and conductor. Malavasi graduated from the Conservatory of Bologna in orchestra/choir direction and composition. This classical background seemed no obstacle for a career as a disco producer. He also mastered several wind instruments like trumpet and used to play in a jazz band. His friend Marzio Vincenzi, alias Macho, convinced him to produce his first record in 1978, which became the starting shot of a tremendous musical adventure…
 

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Peter Jacques Band

During the late seventies Petrus & Malavasi instigated a string of electrifying studiodisco acts like Macho, Peter Jacques Band, Revanche, Midnight Gang and Rudy (Rudy Trevisi). The music Malavasi initially fabricated was energetic Eurodisco typified by an explicit synthsound, pulsating rhythms, funky elements and catchy melodies. Memorable were Malavasi’s atmospheric disco journeys on tracks: soundscapes of spacy synth-lines over Sequencer-driven discobeats accompanied by sexy intoxicating female vocals (Peter Jacques Band “Fly With The Wind”). Other tracks sounded Chic-like (Revanche “1979 It’s Dancing Time”) or reminded of The Village People (Revanche “You Get High In N.Y.C.”). The somewhat icily futuristic disco clearly had similarities with the music of Gino Soccio, Cerrone and Giorgio Moroder who all favoured stacks of synthesizers. Most of the disco albums Petrus & Malavasi released in those days contained merely four extended tracks, a typical disco phenomenon.  The Macho monstergroove “I’m A Man” (a remake of a Traffic/Steve Winwood popsong) covered a complete album A-side and exceeded 17 minutes! The hip and accessible dance music easily reached the international disco crowd. In fact it was tailor-made for the booming discotheques with their almost extraterrestrial atmosphere, flashing dancefloors, glittering mirror balls and hypnotising laserbeams. Petrus & Malavasi’s early work possibly never achieved the classic status of for example Donna Summer or Sylvester. Nevertheless it yielded some huge disco hits with “I’m A Man” by Macho taken from the 1978 album I’m A Man and “Walking On Music” by Peter Jacques Band taken from the 1979 album Fire Night Dance. Eurodisco however, remained a critically ignored and disrespected musical tradition that was rather associated with kitschness than soundness. But this perhaps ephemeral stage in the career of Petrus & Malavasi was crucial for the development of their promising Italian souldisco... (picture: Vocalists Sandi Bass, Dianne Washington, Von Gretchen Shepard and Jacob Wheeler formed Peter Jacques Band in 1980.)

By 1980 Petrus & Malavasi decided to change direction. Their goal was to blend the soulful, R’n’B-derived elements of American disco with harder-edged Eurodisco stylings. Peter Jacques Band introduced the new style on their second Welcome Back set in 1980. The featured tracks “Mighty Fine”, “The Louder” and “Is It It” displayed a warmer, less robotic discosound. The breakthrough came with the creation of studio group Change. The innovative, classy disco-soul on Change’s 1980 smash debut album The Glow Of Love stirred U.S. and European dancefloors. There was undeniably a substantial musical resemblance with that other legendary discogroup Chic. Nonetheless, Change had an energy of its own and wasn’t a carbon copy of Chic. The Eurodisco influence was what put them apart from R’n’B-disco groups like Chic, Kool & The Gang, Shalamar or Skyy. Impeccable smooth harmonies, a deadly bass, subtle piano chords, lush strings, irresistible hooks, growling synth lines, multiple breaks and an overall funky sound characterized the Petrus & Malavasi productions. Due to this success, Petrus & Malavasi set up offices in New York, Disco Capital of the World. New productions for Change and other creations further established the fashionable sound. Since disco was virtually dead by 1982, their music developed naturally into a tighter, techno-funk sound, staying original and thrilling yet.

 

 

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Change

Change remains the most successful project of Petrus & Malavasi and was mainly the brainchild of in-house musician Davide Romani. Romani’s role was crucial in the Change story. Together with Mauro Malavasi he propulsed Change straight into the disco annals by means of smart dance productions and outstanding disco compositions. Sleeve credits never mentioned the name of Romani as producer but his importance as producer throughout the early eighties is beyond any doubt. The group was originally a European/American studio outfit assembled with Italian musicians and hand-picked New York session vocalists. Change delivered five strong albums in line on the Atlantic subsidiary RFC, spawning many international hits. The first album The Glow Of Love in 1980 featured the distinguished vocals of Luther Vandross (picture left) and Jocelyn Shaw (now Jocelyn Brown (picture right) ). Guitarist Paolo Gianolio and bass-player/keyboardist Davide Romani formed the original European nucleus of Change. Their debut album was received very well (seven Grammy Awards) and included the massive dance hits “A Lover’s Holiday”, “The Glow Of  Love” and “Searching”. The cover artwork displayed abstract shapes created by Greg Porto, who would design eight more covers for Change. The strong follow-up set Miracles was released in 1981 with James ‘Crabs’ Robinson replacing Luther Vandross and Diva Gray taking over from Jocelyn Brown. James ‘Crabs’ Robinson happened to be the cousin of studio musician Peewee Ford (a.k.a. Paris Ford), the frontman/bassist on the initial B.B.&Q. Band release. Former lead singer Luther Vandross was tied up with his first solo project Never Too Much on Epic but was, interestingly, credited as a background vocalist. Again Malavasi and Romani proved their mastery of disco songwriting and production. Key tracks were “Paradise”, “On Top”, “Hold Tight” and “Miracles”. For Sharing Your Love in 1982 a real band appeared on the coverphoto of the album. With touring engagements forthcoming, a permanent group was put together. The line-up settled as Jeff Bova (keyboards), Timmy Allen (bass), Michael Campbell (guitar) and Vincent Henry (guitar, saxophone). Deborah Cooper replaced Diva Gray as lead vocalist and remained until the group disbanded. Highlights on this more R'n'B orientated album were the single “The Very Best In You”, “Promise Your Love”, “Sharing Your Love” and “Take You To Heaven”. This Is Your Time in 1983 stuck with the proven Change formula and included “This Is Your Time”, “Don’t Wait Another Night” and the pulverizing groove “Got To Get Up”. Lead vocalist Rick Brennan joined the band in 1983. In 1984 Mauro Malavasi quit and Jimmy Jam (James Harris III) & Terry Lewis were enlisted to write and produce the innovative Change Of Heart set. The album which yielded the hits “Change Of Heart” and “You Are My Melody” redefined soul and R’n’B, creating a high-tech groove for the eighties and beyond. Other delightful moments on Change Of Heart were “Say You Love Me Again”, “It Burns Me Up” and “Warm”. Lead singer James 'Crabs' Robinson was no longer with Change in 1984. The sixth and final album Turn On Your Radio in 1985 was co-produced by groupmember Timmy Allen. Musically it was the weakest one of their career. Nevertheless, Change enjoyed a continued success with the excellent singles “Mutual Attraction” (composed by Timmy Allen) and “Let’s Go Together” (Davide Romani’s very last contribution). Unfortunately, Change was later dropped from the Atlantic label and broke up.

Timmy Allen occupied a prominent role within Change, composing and co-producing tracks on This Is Your Time, Change Of Heart and Turn On Your Radio. Jeff Bova, Timmy Allen and Michael Campbell went on to become very indemand top session musicians. Timmy Allen has also written and produced for various soul acts as Stephanie Mills, Lillo Thomas, Joe, Christopher Williams, Mike Davis, Hi-Five, Backstreet Boys and Glenn Jones. Jeff Bova has worked for a myriad of pop stars: Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Meat Loaf, Michael McDonald, Herbie Hancock, R. Kelly, Chaka Khan, Vanessa Williams, Tina Turner and Robbie Williams, to name a few. Former lead singer James Robinson (picture) signed to Tabu Records in 1987 for his one solo album Guilty. Today he’s regularly guesting on smooth jazz albums. Deborah Cooper sang with C&C Music Factory in 1992. The artist who benefited most from the Change exposure is certainly Luther Vandross who embarked upon a huge solo career in soul music, scoring a multi-platinum album with each release. He also worked as writer and producer for many black acts like The Temptations, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Cheryl Lynn, Dionne Warwick, Gregory Hines, Teddy Pendergrass, Lisa Fisher and Diana Ross. The original Change vocalist Jocelyn Brown remained very active in the N.Y. session circuit and sang backgrounds for Luther Vandross, Bernard Edwards, Kleeer, George Benson, Michael Jackson, Roberta Flack and many others. She was also lead singer with the disco groups Inner Life and Salsoul Orchestra. In 1984 she launched her solo career with the instant smash hit “Somebody Else’s Guy”. The big voiced diva also sang on Incognito’s 1991 and 1999 albums and guested on the Nuyorican Soul project in 1997.

Change songs appear on:

  • Grace Under Pressure: “The Glow Of Love” (The Glow Of Love) 12”, ARS Productions, 1992.
  • Randy Crawford: “The Glow Of Love” (The Glow Of Love) from Naked And True, WEA, 1995.
  • AZ: “Just Because” (The Glow Of Love) from Pieces Of A Man, Noo Trybe/Virgin, 1998.
  • Aretha Franklin: “Here We Go Again” (The Glow Of Love) from A Rose Is Still A Rose, Arista, 1998.
  • R. Kelly: “Spendin’ Money” (A Lover’s Holiday) from R., Jive, 1998.
  • Jazzy M: “Jazzin' The Way You Know” (Let’s Go Together) 12”, Perfecto, 2000.
  • Janet Jackson: “All For You” (The Glow Of Love) from All For You, Virgin, 2001.
 

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B.B.&Q. Band

Besides Change other studio concepts emerged from the Little Macho Music factory such as The B.B.&Q. Band. It was originally a standard faceless aggregation of Goody Music staff musicians and American sessioneers. The informal groupmembers depicted on the first album were the studio musicians Kevin Nance (keyboards), Dwayne Perdue (drums), Peewee Ford (a.k.a. Paris Ford) (bass), Abdul Wali Mohammed (guitar) and lead singer Ike Floyd. They were put together by Peewee Ford on Petrus’ request and got signed to Capitol records. B.B.&Q. Band stands for the New York boroughs Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens, the areas where the original members of the group came from. The B.B.&Q. Band later stabilized into a self-contained group for two subsequent albums. This (touring) band comprised Kevin Nance (keyboards), Kevin Robinson (guitar), Bernard Davis (drums), Tony Bridges (bass) and Chieli Minucci (guitar). 

They are best remembered for Malavasi’s floorfiller “On The Beat”, a joyous groove driven by funky rhythm guitars. It was the opening track on the strong debut release The Brooklyn, Bronx & Queens Band in 1981. This album also included “Starlette”, “Mistakes” and “Time For Love”. The fine follow-up album All Night Long in 1982 featured guitar-player Kevin Robinson on lead vocals but had less hit potential than the first album. All Night Long included the hit “Imagination” (composed by keyboardist Kae Williams) and furthermore “Children Of The Night”, “(I Could Never Say) It’s Over” and “All Night Long (She’s Got The Moves I Like)”. Six Million Times came out in 1983 and was very disappointing, scoring no hits. This project, co-produced by groupmember Kevin Robinson, obviously lacked decent songmaterial and musical passion. In 1985 Jacques Fred Petrus formed a new B.B.&Q. Band on Elektra Records and released the album Genie. Featured tracks were “Genie”, “Minutes Away”, “Riccochet”, “On The Shelf” and “Dreamer”. Genie was a surprisingly consistent album. It was composed, written and co-produced by collaborator Kae Williams (formerly with Breakwater), featuring Curtis Hairston on lead vocals and Ullanda McCullough on background vocals (although there were no vocal credits on the sleeves). The musicians involved were Timmy Allen (bass), Michael Campbell (guitar) and Kae Williams (keyboards, piano). The sound was ostensibly influenced by the Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis productions.

 

 

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More Projects

The High Fashion project (picture) was fronted by the vocalists Eric McClinton, Meli’sa Morgan and Alyson Williams from New York. Their highly acclaimed first album Feelin’ Lucky on Capitol was co-produced by Kashif, Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey in 1982. The awesome synth-laden “Feelin’ Lucky Lately”, written by Malavasi and Davide Romani, perfectly illustrates the elegant and sophisticated dance music of the Italians. Kashif composed three songs, among which the infectious “Hold On”. The soulful gems “When The Lover Strikes” and “I Want To Be Your Everything” (a Kashif song) made the album complete. High Fashion released a second album Make Up Your Mind  in 1983 without Meli’sa Morgan, featuring the single “Break Up”, the fat groove “Pump On The Pipe” and “Show Me” (co-written by Mtume’s Tawatha Agee). This production was backed up by the members of the B.B.&Q. Band. After the High Fashion projects Meli’sa Morgan and Alyson Williams enjoyed personal success as solo artists. Meli’sa Morgan released her co-written debut Do Me Baby in 1986 on Capitol records and Alyson Williams delivered Raw in 1989 on the Def Jam label.

Zinc was yet another studio creation composed of American and Italian session musicians led by the inevitable Mauro Malavasi. Zinc released one rare album Street Level on Jive records in 1982 and featured the lead vocals of Gordon Grody. Grody sang numerous backgrounds for Change, High Fashion and The B.B.&Q. Band. Highlights on the album were the notable “Street Level” (a Kashif song), “Punkulation”, “Amazon” and “I’ll Take My Chances”. Several tracks were flavored with new wave-like elements, demonstrating a peculiar urban pop-soulsound. In 1983 a last single “I’m Living A Life Of Love” was issued but no album followed.

In 1982 Jacques Fred Petrus produced the RCA album I’ll Do My Best for Ritchie Family in association with Jacques Morali’s Can’t Stop Productions (Ritchie Family, The Village People, Patrick Juvet). Ritchie Family consisted of the former discodiva trio Vera Brown, Jacqueline Smith-Lee and Theodosia ‘Dodie’ Draher. The first single “I’ll Do My Best (For You Baby)” carried the recognizable Malavasi signature. Other nice tracks were “Walk With Me”, “Alright On The Night” and “One And Only”. Giuliano Salerni arranged and conducted this project in a distinctive Italian style, delivering a tasteful set. He had previously composed and produced the album You’ll Never Know for Hi-Gloss. This group comprised incidentally Timmy Allen on bass and Kae Williams on keyboards.

The material for the studio groups was generally recorded in Italian studios in Bologna (Fonoprint Studios), Milan and Modena, apart from 1982 when New York was preferred. All the vocals were recorded and mixed in New York at the infamous Sigma Sound, Media Sound, Power Station, Sterling Sound and Sorcerer Sound Studios (the vocals for Change’s Change Of Heart set were exceptionally recorded at Jam & Lewis’ Creation Audio Studio in Minneapolis in 1984). 1982 was a very busy and productive year for the Italians who recorded five outstanding albums in N.Y.. The Goody Music stable used the services of capable American musicians and songwriters. Steady contributors at that time were Timmy Allen (bass, vocals, songwriting), Michael Campbell (guitar), Kevin Robinson (guitar, vocals, songwriting), Kashif (keyboards, synthesizers, songwriting), Steve Robin (keyboards, synthesizers), Jeff Bova (keyboards, synthesizers), Ira Siegel (guitar), Kae Williams (keyboards, synthesizers, songwriting), Alfonso ‘Fonzi’ Thornton (vocal-arranger, songwriter), Terry Silverlight (drums), Yogi Horton (drums), Buddy Williams (drums), Barry Eastmond (keyboards, synthesizers), Herb Smith (songwriting) and Hiram Bullock (guitar).

The soulful background harmonies for the Petrus & Malavasi productions were performed by a trusty crew of the finest New York session singers including Norma Jean Wright, Jocelyn Brown, Luther Vandross, Diva Gray, Robin Clark, Bobby Douglas, Gordon Grody, Tawatha Agee, Ullanda McCullough, Michelle Cobbs, Eric McClinton, Alfonso ‘Fonzi’ Thornton (picture), Johnny Kemp and Leroy Burgess. Many of them happened to be core background vocalists on numerous Bernard Edwards & Nile Rodgers productions and some achieved remarkable solo careers.

First-class productions require great songs. Driving force Mauro Malavasi took the lion’s share of the composing credits. The number of disco gems he realised is amazing and encompasses all the projects he instigated together with Petrus. Goody Music staff musician/writer/arranger Davide Romani also provided most valuable contributions (Change, High Fashion, B.B.&Q. Band, Zinc). Other credited composers were Rudy Trevisi (Rudy, Change, B.B.&Q. Band, Zinc, High Fashion), Paolo Gianolio (Rudy, Change), Jacques Fred Petrus (Change, High Fashion, Revanche), Kashif (High Fashion, Zinc (picture) ), Kevin Robinson (B.B.&Q. Band, High Fashion), Herb Smith (Change, Ritchie Family), Kae Williams (B.B.&Q. Band, Change), Len Boone & Larry La Falce (Change), Timmy Allen (Change, Peter Jacques Band, B.B.&Q. Band, High Fashion) and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Change). The lyrics were provided by talented writers as A. Taylor (Rudy, Revanche, Macho, Peter Jacques Band), F. Floyd (Peter Jacques Band), Paul Slade (Peter Jacques Band, B.B.&Q. Band, Change, High Fashion), Timmy Allen (Change, High Fashion), Tanyayette Willoughby (B.B.&Q. Band, Zinc, Change), Alfonso ‘Fonzi’ Thornton (Zinc, Change, High Fashion), Kashif (High Fashion, Zinc), Johnny Kemp (B.B.&Q. Band), Leroy Burgess (Change) and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Change). 

 

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Biography (Continued)

During the early eighties the Petrus & Malavasi productions charted consistently. But some rather uninspired productions in 1983 showed that the hit pattern became difficult to maintain. Moreover, towards 1984 Petrus and Malavasi formed no longer a team. Due to a financial conflict with Goody Music, Malavasi left the company and went back to Italy to center on songwriting and production work for various Italian pop artists. Long-time associate Davide Romani also broke with producer Jacques Fred Petrus when he was aware of the financial debacle.

Businessman Petrus clearly needed a fresh sound and made a smart move by teaming up with the ultra-hot Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. They had just scored with The S.O.S. Band’s “Just Be Good To Me” and Cheryl Lynn’s “Encore”. The cooperation resulted in an exciting Change album, applicably entitled Change Of Heart. Jam & Lewis’ Midas touch compensated the loss of Malavasi and Romani.

This success proved difficult to emulate on later recordings though. His last projects for Change and Peter Jacques Band were co-produced by Timmy Allen (picture). Veteran Davide Romani joined Petrus again and wrote several new songs for both projects. But the albums did poor on the charts in 1985. Peter Jacques Band’s 1985 album Dancing In The Street sounded very similar to the last Change album and was recorded with the musicians of Change. The track “All Right Let’s Go” was even a clone of the Change single “Let’s Go Together”. Petrus recovered briefly in 1985 with a last solid B.B.&Q. Band project on the Elektra label before he was fatally shot dead.

Sadly, Jacques Fred Petrus was murdered in 1987 in Guadeloupe. Very little is known concerning the mysterious circumstances of his death. There are serious suspicions that the man was heavily involved in organized crime and whitewash practices through the music business. But there are no accurate sources confirming anything. The New York representative for Blues & Soul magazine, editor Jeff Lorez, was told by producer Jimmy Jam that Petrus was involved in some underworld activities and that his body, hit by several bullets, was found at the bottom of the Ocean. Did Petrus become a victim of his boundless ambitions? Surely a tragic end for a remarkable music figure who will live on in the delightful music he created with producer Malavasi, the Italian and American collaborators.

Meanwhile Mauro Malavasi established himself as one of Italy’s leading producers and conductors. Operating from his Clock Studio in Bologna, he has produced among others Cube, Luca Carboni, Gianni Morandi, Lucio Dalla, Ron, Biagio Antonacci, Loredana Berté, Mango, Gerladina Trovato, Ossigenata, Elisa and the international stars Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti. Furthermore he worked with the Mexican pop artist Emmanuel and singer Ava Cherry.

Davide Romani, Paolo Gianolio and Rudy Trevisi are still active on the Italian music scene today. Besides session work (drums, percussion, saxophone, keyboards), Rudy Trevisi is also playing the clarinet in a symphonic orchestra and collaborates regularly with Mauro Malavasi on Andrea Bocelli projects. Paolo Gianolio has worked with Mina, Celso Valli, Claudio Baglioni and many other artists. Davide Romani owns a recording studio (White Studio) in Ferrara and has produced or arranged for artists like Amii Stewart, Mike Francis, Celentano, Edoardo Bennato and Enzo Avitabile. 

The early to the mid eighties was a prolific era for black dance music. A Period that has yet to be surpassed in terms of sheer quality, excitement and innovation. Petrus & Malavasi surely deserve their spot in the gallery of brilliant producers who contributed to the eminent musical output of that time. They left a rich legacy of incendiary dance material, exceeding disco triviality and unlikely to be forgotten by those who have the groove in the heart.

(Admor "Funky" Pages, February 2002)

 

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