Gladys Knight and the Pips!

I have loved this woman’s voice since 1961.  She is known as the Empress of Soul and is a singer – songwriter, actress, humanitarian, author and business woman.  Her brother, sister and cousins would make up her backing group! …

Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight & the Pips

Video: Our favourite SongFriendship Train” Full version 1972, they could move
Video:  Neither One Of Us, (1973)

Because of the Number of Songs, I will just give you my favourites.  I know that I will miss some and I do apologize.

1.   Every Beat Of My Heart/ Vee-Jay 386/ June 1961/ #6

2.   I Heard it Through the Grapevine/ Soul 35039 /November 1967/  #2  #1 R&B (6 weeks)

3.   The End of Our Road/ Soul 35042/ February 1968/ #15

4.   It Should Have Been Me/ Soul 35045/ July 1968/ #40

5.   The Nitty Gritty/ Soul 35063/ August 1969/ #19

6.   Friendship Train (love this one)/ Soul 35068/ November 1969/ #17

7.   If I Were Your Woman/ Soul 35078/ December 1970/ # 9

8.   Neither One of Us/ Soul 35098/ March 1973/ #2

9.   Midnight Train to Georgia/ Buddah 383/ September 1973/ # 1 (2)

10. I’ve Got to Use My Imagination/ Buddah 393/ December 1973 +/ #4

11. You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me/ Buddah 403/ March 1974/ #3

12. On and On/ Buddah 423/ June 1974/ #5

13. That’s What Friends Are For/ Arista 9422/ November 1985/ Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder/ #1(4)

A family thing, it was. From a homebody sister to bad boy cousins, Gladys Knight and the Pips focused their energies into superbly dynamic performances. The Motown machine itself would take some cues from them.

In a different house of soul, young Gladys belted powerfully at Atlanta church events. She then took her voice to the masses, winning a 1952 talent contest on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.

That same year, when her brother “Bubba” (Merald) turned 10, he, she, their big sis Brenda, and Guest cousins William and Elenor formed a singing group. Another cousin, James “Pip” Woods, inspired both its name and its members’ ambitions beyond family functions.

With Woods as manager, they won a two-week contract at the Royal Peacock Supper Club through a talent show. Soon, they were entertaining some less sheltered folks than themselves on the Chitlin’ Circuit, swinging through black clubs in the Southeast.

In 1959, Brenda and Elenor left the group. Its average vocal pitch lowered with the addition of Langston George and cousin Edward Patten.

Around this time, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke unwittingly became part of Pips history as two of the R&B singers that those youngsters toured with!

The Pips’ first hit, “Every Beat of My Heart,” doo-wopped up the charts in 1961. One problem: They hadn’t known they were taping the song for real. They heard it on the radio–so to re-word a later Pips line, “woo hoo!”.  But Vee Jay Records gave them no earnings–boo hoo!

The Fury label made their status a bit clearer across a re-recording of “Every Beat” and Top 40 songs like “Letter Full of Tears.” By that point, they’d become “Gladys Knight and the Pips”.

George departed in 1962, but the now-permanent quartet barely missed a step. It was so good at the Apollo that it cleansed the “boos” right out of the critical crowd.

It took one of Knight’s several pregnancies in the early ’60s to temporarily stall their progress. The Pips plugged on as backups here and there and managed some records of their own, like “Linda” and “Darling.”

They reunited under their worldly new manager, Marghuerite Mays, who introduced them to Cholly Atkins. The Broadway-bred dance coach developed the group’s exemplary stage moves, including struts, slides, and pirouettes. Earlier vocal guidance by Maurice King, a bigwig on Detroit’s jazz/R&B scene, also paid off.

Berry Gordy liked what he saw and heard. Gladys was less enthused about enlisting as a Motown song soldier. But in 1966, Gladys Knight and the Pips signed up (as had Maurice King and Cholly Atkins).

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong dotted the Pips/Gladys Knight discography with vigorous pieces like “Friendship Train” and “The End of Our Road.” The group hit the big time with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” originally slated for and later re-released by Marvin Gaye.

Gladys Knight and the Pips songs weren’t all roof-raisers. The tempos slowed for resonant ballads like “If I Were Your Woman” and “I Don’t Want to Do Wrong.” Knight gave each her emotional all, even if she couldn’t always relate to their narrators. The Pips backed her up less than they pushed their harmonies forward, up, and all around her.

Although they had more experience than many Motowners, they wouldn’t touch those stars until they joined Buddah in 1973.

The high from their last Motown hit, “Neither One of Us,” carried over to the new label. Buddah offered them loads of creative freedom and promotion, and released enduring classics like the Grammy-winning “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” With the soundtrack Claudine, Gladys Knight and the Pips toed the film-music waters, too.

By the late 1970s, Gladys Knight’s music had shifted into an ever-smoother soul vein. At Casablanca, the Pips recorded two separate albums, At Last…the Pips and Callin’, which failed and turned out to be their last.

Like the family they were, in 1980, the members re-reunited! They made two hits at Columbia: “Save the Overtime (for Me)” and “Landlord.” The latter, an Ashford and Simpson piece, briefly recalled the group’s Motown ties.

Knight remained a fixture in adult contemporary music and an occasional presence in movies (1976’s Pipe Dreams) and TV (1985’s Charlie & Co.). She and her guys stayed together long enough to toss “Love Overboard” onto the R&B charts in 1988. But they entered the ’90s as one soloist and three retirees.

In 1996, the soul singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That added one more home to the millions that had been welcoming them for decades.

In those same homes, celebration turned to mourning on February 25, 2005, when Edward Patten passed away.

In 2008, Knight had a cameo in TV’s “30 Rock” as the rest of the cast sang “Midnight Train To Georgia”.

In 2009, Knight was featured in Tyler Perry’s  “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” and performed her song “The Need To Be” from the 1974 album “I Feel a Song“.

Whether at Fury, Motown, or Buddah, recorded or live, Gladys Knight and the Pips always sang with love–for each other and for the music they strove to perfect.



4 responses to “Gladys Knight and the Pips!

  1. WHAT a fine group! And Gladys was as soulful as ANY of the great female singers from this era. But as successful as they were, I don’t think they’ve gotten the full artistic credit they deserve!

    “Midnight Train to Georgia” is such a fascinating and poignant song (and a beautifully recorded track). Imagine: a HUGELY successful (#1) song about a broken man who is heading home empty-handed after failing to make it in Hollywood — sung by the woman who is going to follow him home! I heard the song a hundred times on the radio before I actually followed the story, THEN it tore me apart. The first time I actually HEARD Gladys sing, “I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine” it killed me! It doesn’t get more real than this. This song was written by Jim Weatherly who—coincidentally—wrote my other two favorite Pips’ songs: “Neither One Of Us” and “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” Of course their other tunes were great too.

    Keep up the great work, Russ & Gary!

    • Great comments, John. Jim Weatherly definitely wrote from the heart… words so full of meaning… words to which we can all relate. —– Original Message —–

  2. Always a class act

  3. William b. Grice

    I have been hooked on Glady’s Knight for years and this song in particular….
    Years ago there was a TV Show Called Fernwood Tonight……the guests on one of those shows were the Pips…..and of course the sang their part only of the song leaving out Gladys entirely….Great memories here….Thank you

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