Donald Hepburn, co-founder of R&B group Pleasure, dies at 73

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    We are sad to bear the news of the passing of Donald Hepburn, keyboardist extraordinaire, songwriter and founding member of the terrific 1970s R&B group Pleasure. He was 73.

    The group posted the bad news on its website, also mentioning several memorable Pleasure songs that Hepburn had written, including “Thoughts of Old Flame,” “Two For One,” “Sassafras Girl,” “The Real Thing,” and “Sending My Love.”

    We are sad to bear the news of the passing of Donald Hepburn, keyboardist extraordinaire, songwriter and founding member of the terrific 1970s R&B group Pleasure. He was 73.

    The group posted the bad news on its website, also mentioning several memorable Pleasure songs that Hepburn had written, including “Thoughts of Old Flame,” “Two For One,” “Sassafras Girl,” “The Real Thing,” and “Sending My Love.”

    Hepburn's brother and bandmate, Michael Hepburn, gave us this beautiful tribute to his sibling: "My Brother was the visionary creator of a style of early fusion that I and the finest musicians in Portland Oregon had the blessing to play, grow, and develop from.  Star players from the jazz band programs at the Clark Community and Mt. Hood Community Colleges, and Jefferson High School would sit in with his band, The Soul Masters, and play hit covers and legendary jazz standards. From this circle of artistic excellence eventually came Pleasure, which featured probably the greatest funk rhythm section from the Pacific Northwest to date, the Funky Franchise. 

    "Donald led us into Pleasure’s celebrated discography of funk hits, which are now the bedrock foundation of sample-based HipHop, from the very beginning with 'Dust Yourself Off,' till the very end with 'Now You Choose Me' and 'Sending My Love,' as well as with his timeless jazz-influenced instrumentals, 'Ghettos Of The Mind,' and 'Sassafras Girl.' But for me personally, he gave his little brother and the world the best version of himself with the extraordinary ballad, 'Thoughts of Old Flames.' I love him, and miss his joyful spirit, but he lives on, in all of our hearts, and by his musical gifts to us all, which were extraordinary."

    During the half dozen years beginning in 1975, there weren’t many groups that provided the fun and funk like Portland, Oregon band PleasureOriginally formed in the early 70s as a merger of two local bands, The Franchie and The Soul Masters (which was founded by Donald Hepburn), Pleasure delivered a number of hits that epitomized the joy and pure musicianship of many of the great R&B and funk acts of the era.

    During the band’s Imperial Period, it consisted of drummer Bruce Carter (d. 2006), bassist Nathaniel Phillips, guitarist Marlon McClain, keyboardists Michael and Donald Hepburn, saxophonist Dennis Springer, trombonist/guitarist Dan Brewster, vocalist Sherman Davis, and percussionist Bruce Smith.

    Helped by sax legend Grover Washington, Pleasure signed with Fantasy Records and producer Wayne Henderson. It began a great collaboration the led to a series of memorable albums and number of major hits, including “Joyous,” “Yearnin Burning,” and the group’s signature hit, “Glide.”

    The band broke up in the early 80s, though many of its members stayed active working with dozens of other artists. Over the years, various formations of the group re-emerged. Most recently, a new version of the group consisting of Michael Hepburn, Nathaniel Phillips, Douglas Lewis, Dennis Springer, Brian Foxworth, and Tiffany Wilson, is performing quite nicely, and indepdendently issued the 2019 release Now Is The Time.

    Pleasure member and longtime friend of SoulTracks Marlon McClain told us, "Donald Hepburn was a musical genius and gave me my nickname 'The Magician.' His heart and soul will remain omnipresent not only in the music that he created but the people that he touched along the way! Rest in power Donald!"

    We will be mourning Donald Hepburn’s passing with the rest of the soul community, even as we remember the great music of Pleasure.

    By Chris Rizik

     
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