I don’t have to stray very far from home for this week’s Soul Serenade. Providence is just 30 minutes away from my home in southern Rhode Island. And it’s in Providence that the five Tavares brothers were born and raised. The capitol city is home to a substantial Cape Verdean-American community, and it was from that community that the brothers sprung.
From oldest to youngest, the five brothers are Ralph, Pooch, Chubby, Butch, and Tiny. They first started singing as Chubby & the Turnpikes in 1959, when Chubby himself was just nine years-old. Later they shortened the name to simply the Turnpikes. They signed with Capitol Records in 1967 and had local hits with “I Know the Inside Story,” and “Nothing But Promises.” For a year or so in the late ’60s the band’s drummer was Joey Kramer who left when he was asked to join Aerosmith.
They had their first real hit in 1973. By then the Turnpikes had reverted to their family name. “Check It Out” was a Top 10 hit on the R&B chart, and a Top 40 hit on the pop chart. At the time the group included a sixth brother, Victor. He sang lead on “Check It Out,” but departed Tavares soon after that.
The group was off to a great start, and their success continued the following year when they scored a #1 R&B hit with a cover of the Hall & Oates classic “She’s Gone.” Hall & Oates themselves didn’t have a hit with their record until 1976. The follow-up, “Remember What I Told You to Forget,” also did well, reaching #4 on the R&B chart and #25 on the pop chart. Tavares had scored some big hits, but their biggest success was still in front on them.
In 1975 “It Only Takes a Minute” set fire to the charts, going to #1 R&B, and Top 10 on the pop chart. That success led to Tavares being part of a Jackson 5 tour that also included KC and the Sunshine Band. The hits kept coming with “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” (1976), and “Whodunit” (1977). Tavares became widely associated with the nascent disco craze, and that association was solidified when they appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album. Their cover of the Bee Gees “More Than a Woman” was another Top 40 hit for Tavares, and they won a Grammy for it.
By the late ’70s disco was waning. Tavares tried to distance themselves with some non-disco recordings but they weren’t as successful on the pop chart. They did continue to have R&B success however. “Never Had a Love Like This Before” and “Bad Times” were among their later R&B hits. As they ’80s dawned Tavares left Capitol for MCA Records. There they had their last big hit with the ballad “A Penny For Your Thoughts” in 1982.
Ralph left the group in ’84, and Tiny did the same in the ’90s. The three remaining brothers carried on and in 2009 Tiny returned. The group continues to tour and last year they were inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.