Monday, Jul 03 2006 | 15:37

What is Chocolate Star? Chocolate Star almost became known as an artist more than a record company. But indeed Chocolate Star was the label started by Gary Davis, with one of his associates Dennis P. Jones. Dennis was a graphic artist at the time, painting signs and doing flyers all around Camden. Meanwhile Gary was in New York working for Peter Brown while at the same time finishing his degree in music composition and theory from Glassboro State in New Jersey (now Rowan University). He studied composition and arranging from the late jazz great Manny Albam. Outside of formal education one of the people Gary learned the most from was his Uncle, famed jazz organist Richard “Groove” Holmes. Groove was one of the baddest B-3 organ players that ever lived. He could play funky bass line with his left hand and explosive melodies and chords with his right hand at the same time, and add in some bass pedal too just for the hell of it! This one bad cat! “How the hell does he do it?” Gary would ask his cousin Larry. “He is left handed like me I guess.” Among other things his Uncle’s wicked funky bass lines influenced Gary greatly.

Now back to Chocolate Star. Dennis’s Graphics Company was called Chocolate Star. He asked Gary “Why not call our record label Chocolate Star?” Gary looked at him. “Why not!” In September 1980 they began Chocolate Star Productions / Records. Garry was pretty laid back and still is to this day. Names and credits never really worried him much. He was always more focused on his work. Who cares about that other stuff? This is one of the reasons why everyone knows more about Clyde Alexander and Sanction’s “Got To Get Your Love” than Gary’s version of the cut. But he was the man who put it all together and then got Peter to record it on Heavenly Star. That was in ’79. Gary and his neighborhood buddy Truck wrote “Got To Get Your Love”. Truck (real name Jeffery Flowler) wrote the lyrics and Gary wrote the music. Gary was in his mid 20’s and Truck was a teenager. In fact many of the people involved with this now legendary cut were still in their teens like the young Clyde Alexander, whose vocals on the tune are so low most people don’t even know they are there. He was about 15 at the time and lived around the corner from Truck on Phieffer Street in East Camden. Ronda Whaley sang the main vocals and also lived in the neighborhood. The same with Clarence Johns, from the neighborhood and still in his teens he was responsible for the steady beat and flourishing drum fills that both hold the song together and kick it to life. Gary lived on Bank Street, around the corner from the whole crew and played piano and keyboards. His younger brother Wendell, who had just got out of the army, played guitar along with Gregory Warren and his cousin Larry Holmes, son of the late jazz great Richard “Groove” Holmes played bass, and their hand sax player was Tim. The singers Rhonda, Clyde and later Amanda were artist, separate from Sanction. Garry had gotten them all together to be ready for the next time he had an opportunity to got into the studio in New York City fro Peter Brown. The day did come and Peter took the Jersey Boyz to Opal Studio on 54th Street in New York, housed in the same building as the legendary Studio 54.

Who would the artist be? Back then Peter was doing mostly disco and dance music. Gary loved what the young deep voice of Clyde had done to “Got To Get Your Love” and this was the real disco tune he had written. The others were tunes that were disco-fied, tunes with a disco beat behind them and Gary didn’t want that. Clyde would be the first artist and “Got To Get Your Love” would be the tune. Clyde loved listening to Roy Ayers and Al Jarreau, and wanted to do the kind of things they would do. Garry was a jazzman and loved that type of stuff. Unfortunately, when the tune was mixed Gary was not on hand and the mix was run like a typical disco cut with the female vocals on top and Clyde barely audible. But somehow Clyde seems to have gotten all the credit anyway. Gary thinks it’s kind of wild. It really does bother him because the group should get the credit and he still believes to this day that it’s about the talent. A short while later Gary, Sanction and his artists went back to A-1 Studio to record the Chocolate Star album. He wanted to do an album that would appeal to many types of music lovers and it did. He recorded his personal jazz favorite “Gee Dee”, which of course was named after him. The tune was influenced by one of his favorite jazz pianists, the great Joe Sample. He loved ballads, so he get Amanda to sing “The Time For Love Is Now” and she had already laid down vocals for “Last Night” during a Peter Brown session. Rhonda sang “Stay With Me” as a duet with Gary’s brother Wendell. Of course Sanction played on all four tunes. The A side of the record was now in the can. On the flip side Gary wanted to do something commercial so they re-edit “Got To Get Your Love” without the horns (or Clyde) and added in an extra female track by Sonija Rose, the girl of his dreams, who later married Gary. She too lived around the neighborhood like everyone else. Gary wanted to re-mix “Searching For My Love”, but ran out of time. This was all done on a Sunday afternoon ion about one-four hour session.
The other tunes were done in Gary’s own home studio. “The Pop” was written and performed by Dennis. Gary wrote and did the vocals by himself on “Super Jake” one of his first rap tunes, which he had written years earlier for Peter Brown but never had a chance to lay down on tape. “The Professor’s Here” was also recorded in Gary’s studio and completed the album. An interesting fact is that “The Professor’s Here” was part of the beginning of house and trance music and so was “Space Walking” and “Slow Walking” which were to come on “The Pop” 12inch. Those three tunes and “The Pop” were some of the first, if not the first tunes to come out with a drum machine. It was definitely the beginning of something big. The rest is history.

Gary moved to South Florida in 1984. He’s still writing and producing music, mostly for his own independent movies and TV Shows. He wants people to know that he loves all kinds of music. There are very few things he loves more than to sit at a grand piano and just play … jazz, classical, funk, hip hop, whatever comes into hi head and flows through his fingers. And he doesn’t mind composing for a few strings every now and then. Perhaps one day he’ll get to play a duet with the likes of Alicia Keys. You can check it all out at www.chocolatestar.net. After relocating to Florida Gary got involved with Miami Bass music … but that’s another story …

More about Gary Davis:

Gary Davis – the man behind Clyde Alexander’s “Got To Get Your Love” (written by Lynn Petrin aka DJ Cuebism)

Gary Davis – a short story of Gary Davis

The album Chocolate StarVery Best Of Gary Davis” (Traffic) is out now on CD! 2LP out soon!

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