A couple of weeks ago I featured the music of Motown’s Edwin Starr in the column. This week we move on to a band that served as Starr’s backup band early in their career. Starr not only gave them work, he eventually introduced them to the legendary Motown producer Norman Whitfield who paved the road to stardom for them.
Rose Royce got started in the Inglewood and Watts areas of Los Angeles when musicians from several different groups got together to form a unit called Total Concept Unlimited. By 1973 they were backing Starr on tours of England and Japan. That’s when Whitfield entered the picture. Ten years at Motown had been enough for Whitfield and he was looking to do his own thing. He started his own label and signed TCU, which was by then known as Magic Wand. Whitfield enlisted Magic Wand to serve as the studio and road backing band for the Undisputed Truth. When the tour stopped in Miami, Undisputed Truth leader Joe Harris heard a singer named Gwen Dickey, who was part of a Miami group called the Jewels.
Harris told Whitfield about his find, and Dickey was flown to LA for an audition. Whitfield quickly realized that Dickey was exactly what Magic Wand needed. Whitfield gave Dickey the stage name Rose Norwalt, and with that, the band’s lineup was complete and they were ready to record their first album.
Film director Michael Schultz had a big hit with Cooley High in 1975. When it was time to make his next film, Schultz asked Whitfield to write the score. Whitfield saw it as an opportunity to showcase his new proteges. The band’s name was changed again to something more in keeping with the film. That film was Car Wash. The film was a smash, with Whitfield winning a Grammy for Best Motion Picture Score. The soundtrack album was released in late 1976 and featured three Rose Royce songs that were Top Ten hits on the Billboard R&B chart. The film’s title track also went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was followed by “I Wanna Get Next To You,” which reached #10 on the pop chart, and “I’m Going Down.”
The following year the group’s second album, Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom, was released. The album spawned two more Top Ten singles, “Do Your Dance,” and “Ooh Boy.” Another track, “Wishing on a Star,” went Top Ten in the U.K. and received a notable cover from the Cover Girls in 1992.
In 1978 Rose Royce released their third album, Rose Royce III: Strikes Again!. Two more hit singles emerged from the album, “I’m in Love (And I Love the Feeling),” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” Both went Top Five on the Billboard R&B chart, and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” lived on in not one but two cover versions by Madonna.
“Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” was written by Miles Gregory and produced by Whitfield. The impetus for the song resulted from Whitfield’s desire wanted to work with the noted British composer and arranger Paul Buckmaster. They asked Gregory to write a song that they could work on together. Gregory, however, was in failing health due to drug abuse at the time, and his condition proved to be the inspiration for the song.
Kenny Hill of the San Diego Union Tribune said at the time that “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” proved that R&B, soul, and disco weren’t dead and that the record “was a lasting impression of Rose Royce’s brilliance as a group,” and Bob Kostanczuk of the Post-Tribune said it was Rose Royce’s greatest song.
“Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” wasn’t as big a hit as some of Rose Royce’s earlier efforts, but it eventually managed to climb to #32 on the Billboard Hot 100. The record did better on Hot Black Singles chart, where it reached #5.
Rose Royce had more hits over the next few years, and there was one last album in 1979, but nothing matched their earlier success. In 1980 Dickey’s departure seemed to mark the end for the band. The remaining members eventually got back together and had some success, particularly in the U.K. where they are a top attraction. Dickey also continues to work in the U.K., as a solo artist.