We first heard it from a Facebook post from Jellybean, and it looks like the news is true. Vincent Montana Jr, a producer, arranger, conductor, musician, founder of the Disco era Salsoul Orchestra and member of the MFSB rhythm section – which means his DNA is baked into most of the drum sounds you’ve ever heard on a dance record – passed away today. A post on his Facebook page describes the 85 year old Montana as having passed away peacefully with his loved ones beside him.
If anyone deserved the title of star, it’s this gentleman from South Philadelphia…
Renowned as one of the greatest vibes players of his era, Montana had a mastery of a half dozen instruments and a working knowledge of just about all of them. He first came to be known as a key cog in the greatest musical machine since the Funk Brothers hammered down the sound of Motown: with Harris on guitar, Huff on the keys, Baker on bass, Young on drums and Montana working the vibes. The Philly Sound did more than make an impression, or leave a trace – as the propelling force behind what would later become Disco, the sessions musicians that would go on to form MFSB, The Salsoul Orchestra, the Gamble & Huff partnership in all of its manifestations would have possibly the most profound influence on popular music of their generation.
In 1974, Montana created The Salsoul Orchestra, the 37 piece group of musicians that practically wrote the blueprint for everything that people today associate with Disco – soul with strings, the virtuosity, the upfront vocals via Evette Benton, Carla Benson and Barbara Ingram. “Runaway”, featuring Loleatta Holloway on vocals, became one of the most sampled records of The Salsoul Orchestra’s catalog due to the rhythm section, but features an exquisite solo on the vibes from Montana:
It’s common to stop at this point and try to sum up what an artist did after their big breakout. But while I was never close to Montana, I know that he never stopped working. Dimitri from Paris worked with Montana’s “orchestrations” (the quotes are because I can only imagine how much work is really behind that simple word) on 2006’s “The Way You Love Me” by Ron Hall & the Muthafunkaz featuring Marc Evans. His Facebook page is the sort of living document that was a real treat for fans: clips of music along with short reminiscences about them, such as this one:
1975: I was on a deadline. My first LP with Salsoul Records was nearly complete; I just needed one more song. My wife suggested “Tangerine” – it was one of her favorites, so I produced & arranged my own version. As the 2nd single of the album, Tangerine hit the Billboard Top 20 in early 1976 and pushed “The Salsoul Orchestra” LP to number 14 on the Albums Chart. Enjoy!