Funk & Disco Icon Harvey Scales Has Died

Scales' 60 year career spanned doo-wop to disco, including co-writing DISCO LADY - the first platinum single ever.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel brings the sad news that Harvey Scales, a musician whose career spanned early R&B and Berry Gordy’s Motown days to Casablanca’s fiery disco inferno, has died.

Harvey Scales (who the JS dubs “Milwaukee’s Godfather of Soul” died on Monday February 11 2019 in a Milwaukee hospital following kidney failure and pneumonia.

Scales was a dynamic force in the music industry for parts of seven decades, playing in ’50s groups the Playboys, the Esquires and the Seven Sounds (originally formed in 1961). He was best known as the co-author of Johnnie Taylor’s 1976 #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit “Disco Lady” – the first single to ever be certified platinum by the RIAA and which sold an estimated 2.5 million copies, according to Nelson George. The song featured performances by Taylor joined by Bootsy Collins on bass and legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell.

Andy Noble (revered as a collector and founder of Kings Go Forth among other projects) is quoted as saying Scales “helped break down racial barriers in Milwaukee”:

“He made a concerted effort to play for black crowds and white crowds, and he had different sets for what he thought older black couples would want to hear on the northwest side, and what young college kids wanted to hear on the east side,” Noble said. “What happened is he pulled some of the curious white kids into the black nightclubs, and vice versa. Inadvertently he created a more intermingled town through his shows, and in a city like this, that was important work to be doing.”


After the success of “Disco Lady,” Scales released a couple of underrated albums on the notorious Casablanca Records, including creating the superfly persona pictured above for the Shaft send-up Hot Foot: A Funque Dizco Opera, released in 1979. (It’s virtually impossible not to sing along with the chorus to “Dancing Room Only”: “Everybody get up and shake yo you-know-what…”)

Harvey Scales had been living in Atlanta but his hospitalization in Milwaukee in December enabled him to spend some time with local friends and family before his passing, according to the Journal-Sentinel.