Gary James' Interview With Charlie Ingui Of
The Soul Survivors

In the Spring of 1967, The Soul Survivors enjoyed quite a bit of success with a song called "Expressway To Your Heart". The record went to number one in Philadelphia and New York City and number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It spent fifteen weeks in the charts and went on to sell over one million copies. Here to talk about The Soul Survivors is vocalist Charlie Ingui.

Q - Charlie, as we speak, are you and your brother Richie still performing in The Soul Survivors?

A - Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Q - Are you still recording? Do you have a CD out?

A - Yes, we do. We have a CD out right now called "Heart Full Of Soul". It's on i-Tunes and all the internet market places and limited record stores right now, but mostly on the internet.

Q - So, where are you performing?

A - We perform at some clubs, but most of our performances are in performing arts theatre centers and on package shows.

Q - That is a pretty popular trend today isn't it?

A - Well, today you gotta get a few acts on a bill to sell a ticket.

Q - And it has to be the right acts.

A - Well, that's about it. A lot of the shows aren't selling. Some are. Our base is Philly (Philadelphia). We are tied up with Gamble and Huff still. So, we work in conjunction with Philly International and artists like Harold Melvin's Blue Notes and The Intruders and Billy Paul and people like that. So, we work in the area in conjunction with them. Also we do work with Jerry Blavett. He's been around for like fifty years. He does a lot of concerts. One concert he does twice a year is the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. We'll be doing that in January (2011). We do theatres. Most of the work is seasonal as far as Spring and Summer. We do a lot of fairs and parks.

Q - You guys started out as The Dedications.

A - Correct.

Q - Then you changed your name to The Soul Survivors.

A - Not only changed our name, but changed our entire identity really. We changed our make up. When it was The Dedications it was strictly a vocal group, basically kind of Doo Wop / Pop. As we worked in various mostly clubs in those days. It's the early '60s. And usually with a house band and that became pretty difficult in trying to get what we wanted out of that. When we teamed up with a group of musicians, players, that's when we became The Soul Survivors.

Q - As The Dedications you put a couple of singles out, one in 1962 and one in 1964.

A - Yeah, we did record. We had a couple of records out.

Q - Was that on a regional label?

A - We recorded for Bell Records, which was a pretty big label at the time. Larry Uttals label. We got regional airplay. Nothing real big. Mostly regional New York.

Q - You didn't write "Expressway To Your Heart", did you?

A - Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff wrote that song. That record was their first million seller.

Q - How did life change for The Soul Survivors when that record became a hit?

A - What happened was the record enabled us to get out of the bars which we were playing and get out on the road and really become a national act.

Q - Who did you tour with? Were you supporting somebody or did you get the headliner status?

A - We were working in our area mostly as headliners. But when we went out on the road we were on a Beach Boys tour, Buffalo Springfield and Strawberry Alarm Clock in '67, '68, early '68. I'm not even sure. But that was our first major tour. We played with, oh my goodness, so many different people in this area. They were all big shows in those days. We did one show in Philly with; you'd have everybody from Frank Zappa to Sly And The Family Stone to Vanilla Fudge. The shows were different then. We had a lot of different genres melded into one show. Not like today. Today it's totally different. The market is so separated, so splintered.

Q - And that word "demographics" is constantly used.

A - Yeah. It was a whole different experience, not only for the audience but for the group and the performers. It was a great experience. Before it was The Fillmore East in New York it was The Village Theatre, just prior to Bill Graham purchasing the building. We played there with Cream, Canned Heat, Richie Havens and I don't remember who else. But that's typical of a lot of the shows we did. It was just a great mixture of people and music.

Q - You really had a front row sat, or a backstage pass to the beginning of Rock 'n' Roll, or I should say Rock.

A - Yeah. I had a front seat to Rock 'n' Roll too. I never missed an Alan Freed Show in New York. I grew up right in downtown Manhattan. All of Alan Freed's holiday shows were Brooklyn Paramount, Fox, Loew's State. We lived to go to those shows. We'd get a ticket at 10 o'clock in the morning and wouldn't come out 'til 10 o'clock at night. They'd have continuous shows. They'd have a stage show, a movie, a stage show and a movie. That just kept going on all day.

Q - Do you remember seeing Jimmy Cavallo at one of those shows?

A - Jimmy Cavallo And The House Rockers.

Q - What'd you think?

A - That was a very entertaining band. They were very energetic. Almost kind of like a can I compare them? There were at that same time Freddie Bell And The Bellboys, these self-contained units that were really geared towards more a lounge, and I don't use that word in a bad way, geared towards more of a Vegas lounge type thing. But very entertaining.

Q - You probably saw Buddy Holly too.

A - Absolutely; one show I'd see Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Mathis. (laughs)

Q - You are lucky to have experienced that.

A - Absolutely. Believe me, I treasure the memories that I have of having witnessed all of that. I always wanted to be a part of that. It was magical.

Q - At one point, The Soul Survivors broke up and re-formed in 1972. So what did you do in the time you weren't performing?

A - Well, I didn't do much. (laughs)

Q - How did you make a living is what I guess I should be saying.

A - (laughs) I guess I just did what I could do. Mostly odd jobs I suppose. I don't even remember that interim being very long. I think it was only the question of a year or two that we weren't working. Fortunately, I had enough to get by.

Q - You made some money then.

A - Yeah. I made a little bit. Money was different then too.

Q - Yeah. A dollar was really worth a dollar.

A - Yeah.

Q - After "Expressway" became so popular, you had "Explosion In Your Soul", which didn't do as well for you. Why was that?

A - I suppose it was because it was sort of a formulated clone of "Expressway", which was the mode in those days. Follow up as closely to your hit as you could without totally repeating it I suppose. But also, the whole thing with the record label and distribution, it was a small label. To be honest with you, they did nothing short of a miraculous job in getting "Expressway" as far as it did. I don't know if they were equipped to repeat that feat. I don't think you can make a record like "Expressway" today. I look at the charts and I scratch my head. I don't know how they manage to figure out what belongs where. It's just so weird to me. I don't know.

Q - In your day, a song had to have a melody and a hook and be three minutes long.

A - Well, it's got to evolve back into some kind of music that makes sense. I do see a trend in returning to the song. I don't know what Lady Ga Ga is doing. I haven't heard anything. I don't really listen to that kind of radio. I listen to mostly college stations. That seems to be the only place that is open enough for new product that is at least respectable. That to me is the most experimental venue, the college stations. I find much more quality there. You'll have Jazz. You'll have new material by young artists. You'll have classics. WXPN in Philadelphia is a great station. They have quality music. I guess it's all about quality. You really have to look for it 'cause they don't give it out too freely.

Q - Do you listen to Sirius Radio?

A - That is not only the future, but that is now. That is definitely happening. And not only that, but as an artist who has records out there, I'm real pro XM because finally we're getting paid for some play. I don't know how they've managed to structure this, but we're finally getting some pay for not only the publisher and writer, but the artist is getting paid now from XM, and that's a good thing.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.