While he has never been a household name, it is tough to overstate the importance of Earl Young in the history of soul music. As arguably the most important R&B drummer of the 1970s, and the creator of the four-on-the-floor drum beat that became the foundation of the disco sound, Young is iconic. And as the founder of The Trammps, and as part of the rhythm section for most of the major hits of Philadelphia International Records and Salsoul record labels, he was an essential part of dozens of that decade’s most important hits.
Born on June 2, 1940, Young was a singer and drummer for the 1960s act The Volcanos, and became a favorite session musician for many of the local Philadelphia R&B acts. And when he teamed with guitarist Norman Harris (d. 1987) and bassist Ron Baker (d. 1990), he created the foundation of one of the greatest rhythm sections ever.
Pegged by PIR honchos Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Baker-Harris-Young work incessantly over the 70s and early 80s on the now classic albums of such acts as Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The O’Jays, The Jacksons, The Spinners, The Delfonics, First Choice, Loleatta Holloway, The Three Degrees and countless other acts. And it was Young’s work on The Blue Notes’ “The Love I Lost” that is credited by many music historians as the introduction of the disco beat to popular music.
Young’s group The Volcanos developed into the now legendary act The Trammps, who had a great run on the dance charts in the late 70s with such hits as “That’s Where The Happy People Go,” “Hooked for Life,” and one of the signature songs of the disco era, “Disco Inferno.” And with Baker and Harris, Young wrote and produced hits for Blue Magic, The Temptations, The Four Tops and several other top acts. They also became the musical foundation for New York’s Salsoul label, both as producers and as part of the Salsoul Orchestra.
After the death of Baker and Harris, Earl Young focused more on touring and recording with the Trammps – which for a period split into two separate, competing groups. He also continued collaborating, somewhat sporadically, on the projects of other artists.
Earl Young continued to release songs every couple of years, and looks and sounds great even as he enters his seventh decade in the music business. And his legend continues to grow, as two younger generations of stars recognize his immeasurable contribution to soul and dance music.
By Chris Rizik