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Soulman Harvey Scales Lends Milwaukee Charities a Hand

Dec. 4, 2013
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When it comes to the legacy he wants to leave, R&B survivor Harvey Scales says, “I want to be remembered for outstanding performances up against some great economic and social hurdles. But I also want to be revered for my efforts to try and knock down some of those same walls for our future generations to walk through.”

The Milwaukee native, now residing in Atlanta, strikes a prominent figure throughout a half-century of music history. Starting out with hometown luminaries such as pop jazz singer Al Jarreau and “Get On Up” hit-making vocal group The Esquires, both peaks and new vistas in his career have come through dance crazes. His first solo recordings were made as Twistin’ Harvey in order to court Cubby Checker’s following. As co-writer of veteran soul singer Johnnie Taylor’s 1976 smash “Disco Lady,” he shares honors for the first single credited with a platinum sales certification by the RIAA. And now, he’s up to something for the Southern soul scene popular among adults of a certain age and musical disposition. 

“Currently I am in production on a new song for a line dance, ‘Thick-a-lishus.’ This song was created for the plus-size woman,” Scales says. “I have also been a part of the Help Someone Heal Through Laughter movement.” The Christian comedy charity set up to help ex-convicts to avoid recidivism, among other causes, hosts an event at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8, at the Hilton Milwaukee River Hotel (4700 N. Port Washington Road), where local gospel singer Dorothy Malone will perform one of Scales’ latest writing and production credits, “God’s Got Your Back,” a testimony with a tempo that could also serve as a soundtrack to some serious Chicago stepping. Scales sounded even more enthusiastic about appearing Friday, Dec. 6, at a fish fry Christmas toy drive reception for underprivileged youth at Coffee Makes You Black (2803 N. Teutonia Ave.), starting at 5 p.m.

The work for which Scales may receive the steadiest royalty checks, though, is his run of ’60s and ’70s hard-funking, occasionally socially conscious singles as a solo act and with his band, The Seven Sounds. One song from his tenure on famed disco label Casablaca Records, “Dancing Room Only,” has been used for tracks by, among others, British innovators Soul II Soul, hip-hop stalwarts The Beastie Boys and pop smoothie Bruno Mars. Scales’ current band, not far removed from the original Sounds’ brass-laden brashness, continues to move crowds, including Milwaukee, but far beyond as well. “One of the biggest highlights of my career was going overseas and being received the way I did,” he says. “It was amazing. They love soul music!” A YouTube search for his ensemble’s performance at a 2011 Italian festival leads to an especially grooving reward.

But a survivor such as Scales has also had to endure some career downturns. He says of some of his direst days, “The lowest point had to be when The Seven Sounds split up at the height of our career. We were in direct competition with Kool & The Gang, The Ohio Players, etc. At that point in our career, our momentum was pushing us past those legendary bands, but the temptations of the music world put a wedge in our movement.”

His move south, facilitated by an offer to affiliate with now-defunct LaFace Records several years ago, has served him well. Not only is Scales keeping busy in genres somewhat afield from collectible 45s and current crowd pleasers such as “The Yolk” and “Trying To Survive,” a half-century of fame hasn’t jaded him out of humility. “I’m blessed to be an entertainer and a songwriter,” Scales says. The blessing is at least as much in the listening as well.


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