"Bridge’s CD “Crying for Love” won the record of the year, Blues and Soul Magazines in the United Kingdom in 2001."
Considering the quality of the vocalists, Instrumentalists and songwriters who comprised Bridge, The Oakland/Berkeley, California septet should have been big. Dissension within the group and conflicts with producers doomed the band, which spent four weeks in Boulder, Colorado in 1981 cutting an album for Ilene Burns’ CBS distributed Bang label that never saw the light of day. Now after nearly 20 years in mothballs, comes a collection of the demos that helped the group land the Bang deal. These selections reveal a sophisticated fusion of soul, jazz, rock and latin elements that placed Bridge well ahead of its time.
Bridge - Crying For Love
Bridge evolved from Vitamin E, a short lived band that cut a terrific album for Buddah in 1977 titled ‘Sharing” Produced by Norman Connors, the disc featured the male/female vocal frontline of David Gardner and Lady Bianca, with the Oakland soul veteran Freddie Hughes (best known for his 1968 hit “Send My Baby Back”) contributing his multi-octive pipes to the title track. Leader and drummer Paul Tillman Smith supplied the songs. Born in Oakland , Smith has an impressive list of sideman credits, including work with Bobby Hutcherson, John Handy, Jimmy McCracklin, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Simmons, and Michael White. Although he considers himself primarily a jazz drummer, he began writing pop songs in the early 70’s as another creative outlet. Smith’s tunes have been recorded by such artists as Cold Blood, Dj Rogers, Norman Connors, Lenny Williams, Pharoah Sanders, Phyllis Hyman, Jean Carne and Erma Thomas.
When “Sharing” failed to have much commercial impact, the group began falling apart. Gardner quickly lost interest, and Bianca left to work with Sly Stone, then Frank Zappa. Finding a replacement for Gardner was easy. Smith turned to Freddie Hughes’ 18year old son Derek, whose previous experience had been confined largely to church but whose vocal virtuosity rivaled that of his father. Locating a female vocalist was harder. Smith had been hearing about Debra Von Lewis for a couple of years but had been unable to locate her. “Everybody was telling me she could sing, so I knew she was the one,” Smith recalls. “ I hadn’t even heard her. I take musicians’ words for things. When I finally heard her, I said, ‘Yeah, she’s bad, but how does she sound on tape?” Lewis turned out be, in Smith’s estimation, “One of the finest recording artists”.
Another key new member was percussionist and songwriter Jon Bendich, who was only 21 at the time he joined, but had already spent two years on the road as a member of keyboardist Rodney Franklin’s band. Smith and Bendich formed a production company and began working on the demos contained on this CD. Completing the core group were keyboardist Michael Robinson, Guitarist Pat Duffy and bassist Adrian Barrios. Freddie Hughes remained a peripheral member and herein offers a tour de force reading of “Listen,” a Smith composition later covered by Norman Connors.
Smith hated the name “Vitamin E” which Connors’ wife had picked. With the line-up in place, Smith and Bendich came up with their own. “Bridge was a conscious name choice,” Bendich explains. “We were trying to bridge all styles and markets, we were trying to be universal , like Earth, Wind and Fire or Stevie Wonder.” Bridge spent two years playing around the San Francisco Bay Area before landing a deal with Bang Records CBS. An ongoing after hours engagement at Ivey’s in Oakland often featured Pharoah Sanders, Claytoven Richardson and Larry Baptiste as members of the band.
The Bang deal proved to be bridge’s undoing. Arguments over money broke out on the flight to Boulder . After their arrival, Smith and Bendich discovered that they weren’t going to get to produce the album themselves. Engineer Dwayne Scott and Malaco studio drummer turned, Nashville producer James Stroud had been hired for the task. “They didn’t make any real effort to accommodate us “Bendich said of the producers.” It was like, we know how to make records, and you guys sit back and take notes.” Before the project was completed, most members of Bridge had been sent back to Oakland. The producers brought in keyboardist Barry Beckett, guitarist Jimmy Johnson and bassist David Hood in from Muscle Shoals to complete the project. Stroud played the drums himself.
Although Bang had spent $75,000 on the Bridge album, it was never released. The band soon collapsed, though Rosie Gaines filled in for Lewis briefly. Lewis changed her name to Fizzy Quick and recorded an album with a group Tiggi Clay for Motown’s Morocco subsidiary in 1984 and an album of her own for Motown two years later before abandoning music. Derek Hughes went on to sign with both Motown and Prince’s NPG label, but nothing was ever released. Today he is on the road singing with Roberta Flack and also spends time with various touring gospel musical theatre productions.”Derick was amazing, like a young Donny Hathaway, so spiritual, so pure!” Bendich says of Hughes performances on disc,. “And Debra had a way of letting her vulnerability come through. When we were producing her in the studio, you felt everything that she was singing. There wasn’t any faking, and the tone that she had, Debra would make us cry!
Now at long last, the world can hear Bridge the way Smith and Bendich intended in the first place.