THE STORY OF Janice is the story of many mid-70s soul acts, who passed through the genre with no tangible commercial success but who left behind a small and important legacy to remind the world of how different things might have been, if they’d just caught a break. Janice, led by Reggie Saddler and fronted by his beautiful wife, had great repertoire and, in Janice herself, a torridly impassioned singer who had it in her to become the next Gladys Knight. Their lone 1975 album sold only modestly on its initial release, but is now regarded as a prime example of mid 70s soul at its most potent. BGP is proud to give it a long-overdue, first-ever CD release in its Funk And Soul Classics series.
The story of Janice (the group and album) began in the late 60s, when guitarist-vocalist Reggie Saddler met Janice Barnett, a former beauty queen with a great voice and aspirations towards a professional singing career. The two fell in love, and Janice became the featured singer with Saddler’s six-piece band. The group was often called on to back visiting singers, or to be the opening act for touring bands. After performing as support for Ike & Tina Turner, Janice was asked by Tina to become an Ikette. She turned that offer down in favour of furthering Reggie’s and her own aspirations. At this time the group was based on the east coast, mostly working in and around New York and Philadelphia, but in 1974 they set up base in California. After their move they came to the attention of William Guest, one of Gladys Knight’s Pips, who was also a good friend of Harvey Fuqua.
By the time of Guest’s introduction to writer-producer Fuqua, the Saddlers and their colleagues had already been together for almost five years. They had tried to get their recording career off the ground with singles for hole-in-the-wall imprints such as Aquarius and Panther, which led to their contract and masters being picked up by the New York-based De Lite label. They released five singles on De Lite in a little less than four years, under a variety of names that included Janice and the Jammers, Reggie and the Jammers and the Reggie Saddler Revue. All their singles were good and all are nowadays collectable but they didn’t sell well at the time. Their lack of success might be attributed to the confusing array of group names that adorned the De Lite labels.
Sometime in late 1974 Reggie, Janice and the guys auditioned for Harvey Fuqua. Fuqua had recently called time on a production deal with RCA, and had set up something similar with Berkeley’s Fantasy Records that would eventually lead to the formation of his own Honey imprint, within the Fantasy family. He had written and produced tracks for Gladys Knight and the Pips while at Motown and, like William Guest, he could not fail to notice how much Janice sounded like Gladys. Neither was he immune to her physical beauty and suggested that the group took her first name as its name and made her the focal point. Janice, the group, became the first signing under Fuqua’s production deal. They started work on their one and only album for Fantasy, in early 1975.
Back then it was customary for most full service groups to perform only the vocals on their records, with session musicians being employed to provide instrumentation, but the full group line up of the Saddlers, bassist Freddie Morrison, keyboard player William Acosta and drummer Norman Fearrington were augmented only by some of Los Angeles’ stellar horn men including Ernie Watts, George Bohanon, Oscar Brashear who were specially imported into Fantasy’s studios, and Fuqua’s own occasional acoustic piano.
You might expect that a seasoned songsmith like Fuqua would have had more input to the writing of the repertoire but five of the nine cuts were composed by Janice and Reggie alone whle they also had their names on two of the four Fuqua co-writes. Their own songs offer some of the album’s best moments and it was no surprise when the proto-disco of ‘I Told You So’ was chosen as the single to trail the album.
What was a surprise was that the single failed to make any impression on either the R&B or Pop charts, although disco play was substantial. It was a shame that the album entered the market without the benefit of a hit to push sales. Sadly, the album was bought and loved by nowhere near enough people to bring it any real success – even after Fantasy culled an edit of the wonderful sweet soul ballad ‘Goody Two Shoes’ for its second single; it also flopped.
The commercial failure of the “Janice” album was disappointing for all parties concerned. Shortly after it slipped into the deletion racks in late 1976, Fuqua signed a flamboyant 29 year-old San Franciscan, Sylvester James, who was already several years into a singing career that had brought him little other than a cult following. Under Fuqua’s supervision he would soon become internationally renowned as a superstar of disco. Janice, and Fuqua’s earlier signings quietly slipped through the exit door. Most people at the label were too busy shipping pallet loads of ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’ to notice.
The septet does not appear to have recorded again as a group following the relatively muted response to “Janice”. However they kept their career alive until relatively late in the 1970s, opening for headline bands in concert and working a regular gig at the original Disneyland in Anaheim, CA for a lengthy period of time. But gradually the personal relationship of the Saddlers began to disintegrate and the group unravelled in the wake of their separation and divorce.
Reggie kept a modified version of the Revue on the road until the late 1970s, when he became a born-again Christian. Since 1979 he has continued to sing and preach as the leader of The Reggie Saddler Family, a gospel act that lives up to its name by comprising Reggie, his second wife Bridgette and their daughter Ingra. The Family tours the world and maintains an active schedule at all times, as a quick perusal of their website will confirm.
Janice subsequently focused her attentions on acting on stage and TV – her role as Rosa Parks in Selma, the stage play about the life of Dr Martin Luther King, winning her many critical plaudits – as well as working behind the scenes as a TV producer’s assistant. Eventually she also returned to singing for God, although unlike many born-again performers Janice did not try to airbrush her secular career out of existence. In 1993 she formed N-Flight Records, with her former career boosters Harvey Fuqua and William Guest, cousin of Gladys Knight and former Pip, to record and release gospel music but the enduring appreciation of the original “Janice” album’s up-tempo numbers on the Carolina Beach Music scene led to her subsequently cutting some sides for Marion Carter’s Ripete label. For Ripete, her successful duet with Maurice Williams on ‘It Ain’t No Way’ led to the release of a second secular album, confusingly also called “Janice”, some 20 years after the one that accompanies this booklet.
According to her own website and from her base in North Carolina, Janice Barnett-Adams continues to lead a full and active life in the service of the Lord and has now added the role of televangelist to an already busy CV that, to quote from her online biography, also includes “preacher, teacher, motivational speaker, life coach, producer, singer, songwriter, actress, humanitarian, philanthropist, (television) personality, wife & mother”. She seems to be extremely proud of her earlier career achievements, as does Reggie – and, as you will hear from the 45 minutes of music on this CD, they both have very good reason to be.
However you like your 70s soul, there’s plenty here to appeal to all tastes, from the glorious sweet balladry of ‘Goody Two Shoes’ to the joyous dance grooves of ‘Wake Up Smiling’ and ‘If I Had Known (I’d Be Gone)’ – not forgetting the all-time floor filler that unites collectors and dancers from Manchester to Myrtle Beach, ‘I Told You So’. Although its fame has been limited to soul collectors for much of its life – and, primarily, to those who love Northern Soul and Carolina Beach Music – the “Janice” album should really have brought the five-piece group to worldwide attention 36 years ago.
It’s never too late to catch up with a classic.
TONY ROUNCE / 2011