If you are a fan of soul music and you’re not watching “UnSung”, then you are seriously, seriously missing out. The “Behind the Music”-esque documentary series, which airs on the TVOne network, tells the often mesmerizing stories of R&B acts from the Seventies and Eighties who were never totally recognized by the mainstream. While R&B and pop artists are generally on an even playing field these days, this series serves as a reminder that there are tons of soul and hip-hop artists out there who, despite their sales and influence, have not received the props they deserve.
The most recent episode of “UnSung” focused on The Sylvers, a family act (featuring nine siblings) that recorded throughout the Seventies and early Eighties and scored major pop hits with “Boogie Fever” and “Hot Line”. Their story was a riveting one, from the siblings’ mom raising ten kids alone inL.A.’s notoriousWattsneighborhood to the family’s tragic struggles with mental illness and substance abuse. Of the 10 Sylvers children, two are now deceased and two are incarcerated. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story from a musical perspective was the departure of elder brother, singer and songwriter Leon Sylvers III. Struggling with the group’s bubblegum musical direction, wanting to flex his own creative muscle, and caught between his family and the group’s management,Leonwas voted out of the group in the late Seventies.
Leon didn’t dwell on that disappointment for long-eventually he signed on as a staff writer and producer for Dick Griffey’s SOLAR (Sound of Los Angeles) Records. He then rode a decade-long hot streak that found him producing R&B #1s for Shalamar (“The Second Time Around”), The Whispers (“And the Beat Goes On”), and Gladys Knight & the Pips (“Save the Overtime (For Me)”). He also recruited a few local singers and musicians and formed a group called Dynasty, who scored their biggest hit with 1980’s effervescent “I’ve Just Begun to Love You”.
Leon was not officially a member of Dynasty when this song (from the group’s second album, Adventures in the Land of Music, scaled the top ten of the R&B and dance charts, but he did produce the song and play it’s memorable bass line. If you look closely at the video, you can actually see him playing bass although he doesn’t get the closeup action that the other members get.Leongot plenty of face time after that, however, as he became an official member of Dynasty starting with their third album, The Second Adventure. They scored a handful more hits on the R&B chart through the rest of the decade, although they never obtained any real pop success (“I’ve Just Begun…” was their biggest pop hit, peaking at #87.) While the rest of the members never recaptured any kind of meaningful notoriety, Sylvers kept plugging along, briefly associating himself with Teddy Riley’s New Jack Swing camp and working with BLACKstreet and New Kids on the Block, among others. Most recently, Leon III and his son Leon IV received a Grammy nomination for their work on neo-soul singer N’dambi’s 2009 album Pink Elephant.
Although often derided as a Jacksons knockoff (which isn’t exactly true), The Sylvers family, led by Leon III, had talent for days and have left a lasting legacy of hit singles. It’s a shame that they couldn’t keep it together long enough to build a Dynasty of their own.