Saturday, March 10, 2012

R.I.P. Jimmy Ellis (Trammps)

Via NYTimes: "Jimmy Ellis, the soulful lead singer of the Trammps, whose 1970s hit “Disco Inferno” was immortalized in the film “Saturday Night Fever,” died on Thursday in Rock Hill, S.C. He was 74.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, Erika Stinson, his daughter, said.

Mr. Ellis’s melodious voice overlaid the funky guitar riffs and driving bass and drums of the Trammps’s dance music. He sang lead on most of the group’s songs, backed by the bass singer Earl Young, and later harmonized with Robert Upchurch, who joined the band in the mid-1970s.

The Trammps were formed in the early ’70s, according to their keyboard player and manager, Edward Cermanski. Mr. Cermanski said the second “m” in the group’s name came from the days when Mr. Ellis and his friends sang on street corners.

“The police called them tramps,” he said. “So they said they wanted to be high-class tramps, with two ‘m’s in the name.”

Their first recording was a remake of one of Judy Garland’s signature songs, “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” which reached No. 17 on the R&B charts. They went on to have hits like “Hold Back the Night,” and in 1975 were signed by Atlantic Records, which released seminal disco records by the group like “Where the Happy People Go.”

The Trammps peaked with the album “Disco Inferno,” whose title track climbed to No. 11 on the Billboard pop chart in 1977. It became emblematic of the disco era when it was used as background music in an extended John Travolta dance sequence in the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever.”

From The Guardian... "The Trammps' chart career was short-lived. A year after the soundtrack spent 24 weeks at the top of the US charts, their album The Whole World's Dancing struggled to No 184, despite a guest performance from Stevie Wonder. It was their last chart appearance.

"If their entanglement with disco curtailed the Trammps' lifespan on the charts, it undoubtedly prolonged their live career. Ellis would tour with a version of the band for the next 30 years, until his diagnosis with Alzheimer's in 2008. Two years later, he made a final appearance with the band in Atlantic City, where he had performed in talent contests five decades previously...."

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