Ray, Goodman & Brown

Ray, Goodman & Brown

    Part of the generation of soul music groups that arose in the late 60s and early 70s, the combination of Harry Ray, Al Goodman and Billy Brown became most notable as perhaps the greatest live performing group of that elite bunch.   While many groups of that era had more successful recording careers, few have equaled the stage presence and consistent crowd pleasing shows of RG&B.

    The trio was brought together by Stang Records in 1970 as replacement members of the label's soul group the Moments.  As the Moments, they hit the top of the pop and soul charts in 1970 with the falsetto ballad, "Love On A Two Way Street."  That began a string of major soul hits throughout the 70s, including "If I Didn't Care," "Gotta Find a Way," "Sexy  Mama" and another soul chart topper, "Look At Me (I'm In Love)."   

    As the decade came to a close, the group experienced significant creative differences with Stang and label founder Sylvia Robinson (later known as a rap pioneer through her Sugar Hill label).  Unfortunately, Stang owned the "Moments" name, and the group's departure from the label meant leaving their well established moniker behind -- a tough pill to swallow after a decade as the Moments.

    They signed with Polydor in 1979 and decided to simply label themselves Ray, Goodman & Brown in part "because no one can take our names from us."  Their Polydor debut was a masterpiece, led by the #1 crossover hit "Special Lady."  In a time of disco domination, an album featuring ballads with rich harmonies and casual repartee among group members clearly appeared out of place.  But it was just what weary soul music fans were looking for and the LP shot to the top of the charts.  In fact, the first side of the disc, featuring "Special Lady," "Inside of You," "Slipped Away" and "This is the Way Love Should Be" was the best album side of that year (and most other years) and created a whole new following for the group among fans who didn't know that Ray, Goodman & Brown was the Moments renamed.

    Their follow-up disc, Ray, Goodman & Brown II, was similar to its predecessor and spun off two minor hits with "Happy Anniversary" and a cover of the Platters' "My Prayer."  However, by the time of the group's third album, Stay, it was considerably more difficult to get airplay for what was viewed by many industry people as an "old" Soul sound.  Harry Ray left the group for a brief solo career in 1982 (ironically on Sylvia Robinson's Sugar Hill label), but returned by the mid-80s.  The group made a minor comeback in 1987 on EMI with the big ballad "Take It To the Limit," but wasn't able to score a follow-up hit.  Unfortunately, tragedy followed, as Harry Ray died suddenly in 1992.  He was replaced by long-time group associate Kevin Owens, a talented tenor and falsetto lead who had toured for years with Luther Vandross.

    Through the 90s, RG&B continued to find welcoming audiences as they toured extensively with the Stylistics, the Chi-Lites, and other classic soul groups.  While they tended to play early in the bills, their ability to transcend their collection of hits when performing live -- often interspersing hot covers of modern hits in their shows -- made them crowd favorites (especially the women) in most major cities.  Their sexy, upbeat, exciting act generally stole the show in the multi-group tours and has kept them busy and in demand years after their last hit.

    In 2003, fifteen years after their last recording, Ray Goodman & Brown released not one, but two new albums.  The first, Intimate Moments, collected some new and some previously unreleased recordings but, despite good reviews, received little attention.  The other disc was a concept album, the self-released A Moment With Friends (available on the group's website), in which the group covered hit songs of some of their friends - namely, other classic soul groups from the Stylistics ("You Are Everything," "Break Up To Make Up") to the Manhattans ("It Feels So Good To Be Loved So Bad") to Blue Magic ("Sideshow," "Three Ring Circus").  It was a great concept, and the performances were even better.  The recording is crisp and the group's harmonies are divine.  And while the covers are generally faithful to the original versions, they hold up very well on their own and on occasion (such as their version of the Main Ingredient's "Spinnin' Around") maybe even surpass the originals.  It is one of my favorite albums of 2003 and is a must collection for lovers of 70s soul groups.

    Late in '03 the group was contacted by Alicia Keys to provide vocal support on her album, Diary of Alicia Keys.  Ray Goodman & Brown's backing harmonies created the foundation for the album's first release, the wonderful 6 minute smash "You Don't Know My Name."  They have since performed on several occasions with Keys, who is to be given great credit for recognizing and honoring this wonderful vocal group. A few years later Goodman produced an excellent Sam Cooke tribute album by the Manhattans' Gerald Alston. And in 2009, the group began working on a pilot for a radio show called "A Moment With Friends." Sadly, on July 27, 2010, Al Goodman died suddenly, leaving a legacy as a great entertainer and a soul legend.

    Whether as the Moments or as Ray, Goodman & Brown, the group (both with Harry Ray and later with Kevin Owens) was consistently one of the most reliable and enjoyable soul groups of the past forty years, and deserves a spot among the legends of soul music in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.

    by Chris Rizik