Bobby Eli

We’ve been playing Bobby Eli’s licks our whole lives, even if we didn’t know his name.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that guitarist, songwriter, producer and founding member of MFSB and the Salsoul Orchestra, Bobby Eli has died at the age of 77 of natural causes in Havertown, a suburb due west of Philadelphia.

Eli recorded on countless Philly disco hits from Philadelphia International founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Gamble and Huff praised Eli as “one of the greatest guitar players that we have worked with” in a statement to the Inquirier, praising Eli as a “key role in the TSOP sound.”

Born Eli Tatarsky on March 2, 1946, Eli’s career began much earlier than the disco era — the first of his more than 900 credits on Discogs date from the mid-1960s — and the Inquirer story Dan DeLuca mentions his first connections with Gamble, Huff, Earl Young and the future nucleus of Philly International house band MFSB to random encounters at bars and bus stops in Philadelphia:

“The Bobby Eli sound is comprised of less is more,” he said in 2021. “A lot of musicians want to show their chops. I was good at coming up with simple guitar figures. They were spontaneous, picking up from the vibe in the room. It was just us grooving.”


It is something that’s been lost with the times but like other alumni of Sigma Sound, Eli was a versatile artist and songwriter. Artists that covered songs Eli was credited with writing or arranging include jazz and soul vocalist Etta Jones, First Choice, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, bluesman Albert King and crooners like Englebert Humperdinck and Johnny Mathis. The breadth of his catalog ranged from torch songs to some of the most incendiary soul-driven tracks of the disco era.

Bobby Eli is the second notable member of MFSB to pass away this year. John Davis of the Monster Orchestra died in January; a profile of the prolific band leader and gritty Philly disco musician is in the latest issue of 5 Mag and not yet online.