Every important soul music movement, from Motown to Stax to Minneapolis Funk to SOLAR has as its underpinning an exceptional set of songwriters, producers and musicians who, while often not appearing on the front of the album covers, created the substance that made those movements legendary. And when looking at the greatest 70s soul music movement, The Sound of Philadelphia, one of the most important of those unsung lynchpins was songwriter, producer and guitarist Bobby Eli.
Long the lead guitarist of TSOP’s legendary house band, MFSB, Bobby played virtually all of the label’s seminal hits, with his credits extending to releases by Teddy Pendergrass, The Spinners, Billy Paul, Phyllis Hyman, the Temptations and literally dozens more major artists. Equally impressive is the list of hits written or co-written by Eli. Perhaps most notable are the #1 Major Harris smash, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” (later recorded by Luther Vandross), Blue Magic’s signature song, “Sideshow” and the Main Ingredient’s “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely.” But Eli’s compositions also graced albums by Atlantic Starr, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Dells, The Whispers and Rose Royce.
Over the first decade of the new millennium, Eli remained busy, opening his own Grooveyard recording studio in Philly and producing Deniece Williams’ comeback album on Shanachie Records as well as George Clinton’s 2008 Gangsters of Love release. He also helped reunite three of the most influential soul falsetto singers of the 70s, Russell Thompkins, Jr. of the Stylistics, Ted “Wizard” Mills of Blue Magic and Will Hart of the Delfonics (under the moniker the Three Tenors of Soul) on the release All the Way From Philadelphia.
Illness has slowed him down in the past few years, but he continues to be a favorite of artists and fans of Philadelphia soul alike.
By Chris Rizik