Brainstorm: A View from the Inside, 1975-1978
By Gerald Kent
Ah, Brainstorm! I first met Chuck Overton, Treaty Womack and Belita Woods while I worked with keyboardist Ron Dipalma, with Detroit R&B Diva Ortheia Barnes as vocalist, in a club-restaurant in Ferndale, Michigan. I shared Chuck's hope to blend positive thinking and spirituality as the basis for superior music expression. They came to ask me to audition...yes, I was excited. Brainstorm was well known in Southeast Michigan as a very hot club act, and was being scouted by nationally known industry professionals. Chuck (leader, tenor and alto sax, vocals, writing), Belita (vocals extraordinaire, and writing), Treaty (congas, flute, vocals, and writing), Bob Ross (keyboards and writing), Larry Sims (trumpet and writing), Eugene Lamont Johnson (bass guitar, vocals and writing), Renell Gonsalves (drums and writing), and David Myles (guitar) had assembled a unit that really heated up the Detroit area live scene for about a year.
I was called in late 1975 to learn the repertoire, and toured with the band shortly after. Trombonist Jeryl Bright soon joined the horn section. What an addition! (He has since been a long-time member of Cameo and others, and his horn and arrangements are included in an Outkast track for the 2006 movie Idlewild; Larry Sims later worked with the famous Sounds of Blackness). Jeryl "brightened" the brass and contributed much writing.
The band was discovered by industry icon Clarence Avant, and we soon recorded a demo locally. This led to a contract with Clarence's TABU label and recording sessions at Total Experience studios in Los Angeles, and later United Sound in Detroit, with Jerry Peters producing. The first LP, Stormin, was released not long after. My own composition, "Wake Up and Be Somebody" was chosen as the first 45 single release; soon came the release of "Lovin' is Really My Game", written by Treaty and Belita. This was to become 1978 Billboard Magazine Light Radio/Heavy Disco Record of the Year. Well deserved, that. The record was hot on the east coast and played regularly on such shows as Dance Fever, and recently included in the Mike Meyers movie Studio 54.
I thought that Lamont's and Belita's fine vocals on "This Must Be Heaven" qualified the cut for a 45 single release (and still could!); the local R&B stations in Detroit still play it regularly.
We appeared on "Soul Train" in April of 1977, along with "Archie Bell and the Drells". (Our outfits were a sight!). Actually, though everybody lip-synced on Soul Train, I thought the band did a credible job! I still have that broadcast on Sony U-Matic tape somewhere... (how 20th century!)
Bob Ross left the band in 1976, (I understand he is now producing on the west coast) and William Lloyd Wooten, late of the Dramatics, joined the group. (He still tours with them and the Spinners). He wrote for the second LP, "Journey to the Light", which is now available on CD, a great tune called "If You Ever Need to Cry".
Lamont, who I remember as having a unique command of the Fender Fretless Bass, departed the organization around early 1977; he has a current release (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/lamontj). Bassist Deon Estes came in with his Jazz-bass tone and tenor voice, to carry on (He went on to work with George Michael and release his own, a 45, "Heaven Help Me").
The second LP was completed in 1977 and once again they chose my composition, "On Our Way Home", as the single release; a Stevie Wonder composition, "Every Time I See You I Go Wild", was included in the collection.
A special note about Belita- what a special voice! As time went on, she developed a sultry tenor-ish range to her abilities. She has been working with Mothership Master George Clinton.
Brainstorm went on tour with Marvin Gaye, the Isley's (a very professional tour), Johnny Guitar Watson (nice guy, he was), Rose Royce and many other artists. In early 1978, we shared stage in Washington DC with an up-and-comer named Peabo Bryson (I took special note that night). Singers Delbert Nelson and Misty Love joined the tour, adding wonderful vocals.
For personal reasons, I departed the band in 1978. A third LP, Funky Entertainment, was released. ("Hot For You" was a memorable track!)
About Treaty-- I have worked with her in the IDMR Detroit Choir (see them on the closing scene of "Standing in the Shadows of Motown") for many years. Recently, she was called to tour with the fantastic Funk Brothers (along with Delbert and Misty Love); a fitting tribute to her fantastic gifts. I think she has missed 6 beats in 38 years...
Renell went on to work with such artists as Alexander Zonjik; he developed a fine Latin style (his father, Paul Gonsalves, was famous as a saxophone player with Duke Ellington and other jazz greats).
As for me, I went on to the building trades, but recently I released a self-produced instrumental CD, "Tone Paintings" with my "adjustable" studio group, Kent's Way Overdue, including Chuck, Treaty and Will Wooten and others as contributors. Click on: http://www.wayoverdueproductions.com/, which site features sound samples, and photos of interest, as well as links.
Universal Music Group now publishes Brainstorm's compositions. Though Brainstorm's popularity was short-lived, it will be remembered as being not only a collection of great talent, but even greater than the sum of its members' contributions!
So! Let's all "Keep on Stormin'..."-----------Gerald Kent