Best known for an original line-up that included super hitmakers Antonio 'L.A.' Reid and Kenneth 'Babyface' Edmonds, The Deele made just a handful of albums for Solar Records and while major success only came towards the end of the group's existence (specifically via the back-to-back late '80s hits "Two Occasions" and "Shoot 'Em Up Movies"), The Deele were a part of a second tier of Solar acts who kept the label a hive of activity, ensuring that black still had an important presence in Los Angeles. Indeed, the very first project that showed the prodigious talent of drummer L.A. and guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Babyface outside their work with The Deele was with Solar lablemates The Whispers, giving the veteran group a new lease of life with the 1987 smash, "Rock Steady."
The future owners of LaFace Records honed their craft working as integral members of The Deele which was initially formed in 1981 in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to L.A. and Indianapolis-born Babyface (formerly a member of the '70s band Manchild, who was given his nickname by no less a luminary than funkster Bootsy Collins!), The Deele originally included Kevin 'Kayo' Roberson (bass); Darnell 'Dee' Bristol (lead vocalist); Carlos 'Satin' Greene (lead vocals) and Stanley 'Sticks' Burke (guitar and keyboards). Formed by the four Cincinnati high school students (LA, Kayo, Dee and Satin), the group was named Essence but evolved into The Deele, as L.A. explained in a 1984 interview with Britain's "Blues & Soul" magazine, "[because our name] is synonymous with the way we live our lives. In a short time, we have experienced a lot of things - and yet we have been able to deal with it all. Hence, we're The Deele!"
It was actually fellow Cincinnati musician, Midnight Star member Reggie Calloway who brought The Deele to the attention of Solar Records but the music the group was making was quite different from the fusion of R&B dance and pop that had given Solar its foundation via hitmakers Shalamar, The Whispers and Dynasty. More akin to the work of labelmates Lakeside, The Deele's style was decidedly funky: "We call it technopop because it is very different from what you're used to hearing out of Ohio," L.A. noted in 1984. "I guess the word means that we combine basic rhythm with high-technical equipment." Acknowledging the influence of Michael Jackson and Prince ("along with The Beatles and more recently groups like Culture Club...[and] old style R&B and people such as James Brown, Sly Stone and Little Richard"), The Deele delivered tunes like "BODY TALK" (a Top 3 R&B hit) and "VIDEO VILLAIN" on their debut album, 1984's "Street Beat."
By the time of their first Solar release, the original quartet had been augmented by Burke (who left in 1985) and Babyface, introduced to The Deele by Midnight Star's Jeff Cooper. A notable cut on their debut, "Just My Luck" featured Kenny on lead vocals on a self-penned ballad, an augur of things to come. But before he could emerge as a recording artist in his own right, Babyface and his fellow Deele cohorts had some dues to pay: touring throughout the U.S. in '84 and '85, the group shared stages with the likes of Luther Vandross, The Dazz Band, DeBarge, Kool & The Gang, George Clinton and Evelyn 'Champagne' King, gaining valuable experience by appearing before SRO crowds.
The group's second LP, 1985's "Material Thangz" was notable because it gave the quintet a chance to self-produce: "...Reggie Calloway, who produced our first album, was tied up producing Midnight Star...," L.A. explained in a chat with "Blues & Soul" editor John Abbey. "We waited as long as we could and all the time we were submitting demo tapes on our own songs to the company. When it became obvious that we couldn't wait any longer, the company gave us the green light to produce ourselves."
The Deele's sophomore set yielded two charted singles in the form of the album's title track and â€˜SUSPICIOUS" but without a major hit, the group returned to the studios to come up with a new LP and third time lucky, "Eyes Of A Stranger" hit the mark thanks to three hits, the Prince-inspired "CAN-U-DANCE" and two classic ballads, the afore-mentioned "Two Occasions" (co-written by Babyface, Dee and former Manchild manager Sid Johnson) and "Shoot Em Up Movies," a throwback to late '60s tunes like The Intruders "Cowboys To Girls." With Babyface's distinctive vocals out front, "Two Occasions" established The Deele as legitimate mainstream hitmakers, ironically just as he and L.A. were achieving major success as producers with a slew of artists including Paula Abdul, Sheena Easton, Karyn White and Johnny Gill. The same year that "Eyes Of A Stranger" hit the streets (and the charts), Solar had also released Babyface's first solo album ("Lovers"): the writing was on the wall and within the year, he and L.A. had officially quit The Deele to devote their time to writing and producers and forming their own label in 1991. Solar released one more album by The Deele, 1993's "Invitation To Love" focusing on the remaining members of the group but it gained little attention. The group continues to tour to this day in multi-artist funk shows.
Contributed by David Nathan