In 1967 I went to a concert that I fondly recall as the “Woodstock of South Orange,” which I named after the small New Jersey village that I was living in at the time. South Orange is also the location of Seton Hall College (now University), and the concert took place in the school’s Walsh Auditorium. Despite the grand name, Walsh was, and is, a small basketball gym, the kind with the bleachers that roll back into the wall.
Why Woodstock? Well check out this lineup. The headliner was the Beach Boys, who closed out the show. Coming on before them was the Buffalo Springfield, and before them the Strawberry Alarm Clock. It’s the opening act that I’m here to discuss today though, a group of singers and musicians who called themselves the Soul Survivors.
Legend has it that the group’s three singers — Charlie Ingui, Richie Ingui, and Kenny Jeremiah — met the group’s musicians — drummer Joe Forgione, organist Paul Venturini, guitarists Chuck Trois and Edward Leonetti, and bass player Billy Collins — when their respective cars got into an accident on the NJ Turnpike while each group was headed to a gig. Too good to be true? Probably.
The singing Soul Survivors were put together by Kenny Jeremiah in the early ’60s. They called themselves the Dedications then, and they released several singles in the years between 1962 and 1964. Maybe it was ’65 when the “accident” happened, because that’s when they changed their name to the Soul Survivors, and signed to a Philadelphia label called Crimson Records.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were just getting started when Crimson Records sent the Soul Survivors their way. The record they produced for the group, “Expressway To Your Heart,” was one of the first hits the pair produced in what would become a legendary career. The song, which was written by Gamble & Huff, would reach #3 on the R&B chart, and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart in 1967. “Expressway To Your Heart” spent 15 weeks on the charts, and sold over a million copies. It came in at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1967. The song was incorporated into a terrific album called When the Whistle Blows Anything Goes, which was a Top 25 hit on the R&B album chart.
That was about it for the Soul Survivors in terms of big hits. They released a follow-up single called “Explosion In Your Soul” that didn’t do quite as well as “Expressway,’ and another called “Impossible Mission” that didn’t do as well as “Explosion.” By 1969 they were done, at least for a few years. There was a new lineup when Soul Survivors got back together in 1972. They had a minor hit with “City of Brotherly Love” two years later. When they were dumped by their label, and their manager split, they saw the writing on the wall, quit for good, and got day jobs. The dream dies hard though, and the Ingui brothers weren’t quite finished yet. In 1987 they started to play some gigs as the original Soul Survivors, and four years later they signed a five album deal with Society Hill Records. It doesn’t appear that any of those albums were ever released, but the Soul Survivors were still playing east coast dates well into the new century.
Now back to that concert. You would think that in such a star-packed show, a little known opening act would have been forgotten by now. The fact is that more than 40 years later I still recall the Soul Survivors vividly. What keeps them alive in my memory was the intensity of their performance that day. Figuring that they’d show the big boys from California what was what, they laid it all out there. In fact it got so intense at times that I began to wonder what the nuns sitting in the front row of the Catholic school gym were thinking.