16 Songs, 1 Hour, 13 Minutes


About Barbara Pennington

Britisher Ian Levine had a burning desire to create soul music. On one of his first treks to the U.S. he came armed with a production budget for Voltafine Productions, which he partnered with the help of Danny Leake. Levine persuaded his generous father to bankroll the project, the goal of which was to make soul music. The fall of 1975 found Levine in Chicago scouting for talent; with the help of arranger/producer Paul Wilson, the Brit uncovered Barbara Pennington, a woman who shared vocal similarities with another Chicagoan, Chaka Khan. On a previous trip to the States, Levine had produced sessions with the Exciters, who featured Herb Rooney and Brenda Reid (L.A. Reid's mother). To Pennington, this was her big break; she had sung around Chicago for some time but nothing had happened to advance her career -- despite Chicago's large recording industry -- until Levine came along, thus, she jumped at the chance. Voltafine got Pennington's tracks assigned to Island Records and the first 45 single was "Running in Another Direction." To save cash, the B-side was simply an instrumental version of the same song. Soul music was new territory for Island in the mid-'70s, plus they had little experience promoting singles, being more experienced selling albums. Thus, the single, released in England, couldn't be found in record shops, despite the fact that a demand had been created by Voltafine Productions via radio stations and club promotions. The lack of airplay accounted for "Running" selling only 5,000 copies. Still, Voltafine arranged a tour of England for Pennington and Levine's other Chicago discoveries, Evelyn Thomas and L.J. Johnson. Woods' and Johnson's tracks had been placed with 20th Century and Phonogram, respectively, and were selling well in England due to better promotion. Pennington was the small fish among the three, and Island Records didn't exactly greet her with open arms; in fact, they ignored her and offered no tour support nor promotion. In spite of Island, Pennington gave good performances to the sparse crowds. She was a whoop-it-up bump-and-grinder who loved feeding off the audience. Undaunted after the moderately successful tour, Levine scheduled some more releases for Pennington: the stomping "I Can't Keep My Heart Still," the disco-sounding "Twenty-Four Hours a Day," and "You Are the Music Within Me." Once again, Paul Wilson did the arrangement, and Levine and Leake handled production, but this time the orchestra was larger, and the tracks had a fuller sound. Voltafine was now thinking of the States as a market for their product. The tracks were laid in Chicago at the Chicago Recording Company. The whole ordeal fascinated Pennington, who, since meeting Levine, had flown to England, performed in clubs, and was living the life of a recording artist. Fed up with Island's lack of interest, Levine repurchased Pennington's contract and signed her with United Artists Records. United Artists released Pennington's "Twenty-Four Hours," which became a popular disco item in Britain; another United Artists-release, "Spend a Little Time With Me," made some noise too. Switching from United Artists, Pennington released "Out of the Darkest Night," "Way Down Deep in My Soul," and "Don't Stop the World" on Record Shack Records. All received plays in Europe but few, if any, spins in the States. Other singles, "Fan the Flame" and "All American Boy," are well-known to Europeans. The latter is featured on the Gay Classics, Vol. 1 LP released on Wear-It-Out Records. Three of Pennington's albums are: Midnight Rider, Out of the Darkness, and The Best of Barbara Pennington. ~ Andrew Hamilton

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