Updated: Feb 10, 2021
In September of 1979 the radio started playing a 15 minute record with 3 cats talking rhythmically over the music to Chic’s summer anthem of that same year – Good Times. I absolutely had to have the record the first day that I heard it. When I called the radio stations to ask whether this song was a joke that the Dj’s did or a real song, they answered the request line with the greeting: “we are playing Rappers Delight again in an hour”. When I arrived at the record store, Rappers Delight was playing, and the cashier asked immediately “you here for Rappers Delight”? When the cashier pointed to the blue candy striped record cover on the wall, there was another record with an identical cover. When I asked what it was, he said that it was We Got The Funk by Positive Force – “I will play it for you”. On that day I knew that I would collect any and every record that contained that candy striped logo. Over the years I learned through various artists and musicians affiliated with Sugar Hill Records that Positive Force was also the backing band on Rappers Delight – the monumental record that changed everything! It is my pleasure to speak with singer and writer Brenda Reynolds of Positive Force!
JayQuan: It’s an honor to finally speak with you. Where were you born and raised, and what were your musical influences?
Brenda Reynolds: Harrisburg, PA is my birthplace and I spent most of my life there. I always loved Motown and I grew up in the whole Diana Ross & The Supremes and Jackson 5 era. I had 2 sisters and we used to put on little talent shows at home for our parents. We sang on the front porch and in front of the neighborhood kids when the ice cream truck came. I knew that I could sing when I would sing Jackson 5 and Supremes songs, and I sounded just like the records. I never had any formal training, but the fact that I could mimic them perfectly let me know that maybe I could sing. I always loved music and I joined my first group when I was a teenager. A local group needed a singer, and I joined them. People continued to tell me that I had a great voice, so I became more and more confident.
The first group that you actually made a professional recording with was Positive Force?
So was the group that we actually saw on the record covers, and heard on Rappers Delight and We Got The Funk the original line up, or had it changed by the time you signed your record deal? And how did your record deal come about?
Yes, the group pictured on the album was the original line up. Nate Edmonds Sr. was from Harrisburg and he was involved with Sylvia & Joe Robinson’s record labels. He worked with The Moments (later Ray, Goodman & Brown) and he had a lot happening in music. My bass player and another member of the group knew Nate personally and asked him to come to one of our rehearsals and we actually performed We Got The Funk for him. He really liked us, and when he approached the Robinson’s about us, they were just coming from up under a chapter 11. Since the Moments and all of those groups had faded, they likely thought that we would be a good opportunity for them to get back into making records.
I always felt that Positive Force was a bridge between Sylvia’s old labels and her new movement. Thanks for verifying that. It was Positive Force who performed the music for Rappers Delight right?
Yes Positive Force played the rhythm track for Rappers Delight which was Good Times by Chic. When we went to Englewood the company had definitely been shut down for years! It was bleak and dark, and you could tell that nothing had been going on for years. We were likely the first band to go back into that studio and turn the lights on. There was a lot of excitement in the air, and they took us to their home, which was a mansion and I’d never been in a mansion before. They really had us pumped up, and you couldn’t tell me that I hadn’t made it. It was a beautiful setting! All the gold things in the house, and the Gold records on the wall.
Then she ran into the rappers, and things started slowing down a bit for Positive Force as far as the attention and promotion for the group. In fact they wanted us to rap. The singers in Positive Force which were me, Vicky Drayton and a young lady named Colette were all encouraged to rap. Rap was something that I’d never heard before, and I felt that for someone to do it, it needed to sound natural. When the rappers started coming around, they tried to teach us, but we couldn’t get it. It sounded crazy coming out of my mouth and I struggled with it, but I think that Sylvia knew how big rap was going to be, and how much she planned on being a part of that, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it or wrap my fingers around it in a natural way that sounded right.
Did you get a chance to meet the Sugar Hill Gang, or were you totally out of the picture by the time that they were signed?
We were there, and we were back and forth up the highway to Englewood during that time. I was there in the studio when Rappers Delight was recorded. I sat in the board room while the band played and we actually did some gigs with them. There were also times when our band was on stage with members of the band that would actually take over after we left, so there were 2 keyboardists and 2 drummers on stage at times. Most of the New York and New Jersey Sugar Hill Gang shows had a mixture of Doug (Wimbish) and those guys and members of Positive Force.
You wrote Passion Play and Bad News for the Sugar Hill Gang debut lp right?
I wrote Passion Play, but not Bad News. Bad News is a great song though.
I’ve talked to a gentleman named Chip Shearin who says that he played the bass line for Rappers Delight. Was he affiliated with Positive Force?
Jay there have been so many stories over the years and I have to tell you, Bernard Roland from Positive Force played the bass line. I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s hurtful because Positive Force was put on the shelf after Rappers Delight blew up. I understand that Sylvia was a visionary who believed in what she saw, but we ended up having to sell Positive Force music out of the trunks of our cars. Coming out from under chapter 11 they put all of their money into Rappers Delight which was wise because it did what it did. But I’ve heard and read that story and I will tell you that Positive Force musicians played the rhythm tracks for Rappers Delight. The first Sugar Hill Gang album has our guitar player and bass player on the cover. You cant see me in the shot, but I was on stage also. It really hurts me that someone else claims that when I know that our band played that music. I’ve talked with Bernard about it, and he really feels discounted.
I believe that my first copy of We Got The Funk was on Sugar Hill, but it was originally released on one of Sylvia’s other labels – Turbo right?
Yes you’re correct, the original pressings were on Turbo.
Are you familiar with the 3 person spin off group called Positive Express that Sylvia released an album on, on Victory Records?
I am familiar with that, and that was after Positive Force didn’t agree with some things that the Robinson’s wanted us to do, so they decided to remake us (laughs).
Looking at the back cover, I notice the brother with the black shirt as a member of Positive Force, but the other 2 members don’t look familiar….
Yes, that was a whole new group formed to not necessarily replace us, but our dealings were shaky with them (The Robinsons) at the time, so I guess that they had to create a new Positive something (laughs)…I did know the members in the new group, and the guy in the black shirt had been a member of Positive Force at one time, and we interchanged members over the years. In fact he was on the album cover for our first lp and he left Positive Force to join that group, because he was made to believe that was gonna be much bigger than Positive Force. So he fell for the okie doke, and when he left we had gigs on the table and everything, but we wished him well.
I remember seeing writings about Positive Force in UK magazines and I know that you performed on Top Of The Pops (A UK version of Soul Train/American Bandstand). Would you say that the group had more popularity overseas than the U.S.?
I would say yes, we were better received there. We did go to London and do some clubs and Top Of The Pops as you mentioned. We didn’t do much work here in the states. By the time Rappers Delight hit the shelves, they stopped funding anything that had to do with We Got The Funk. We actually pursued a lawsuit because we needed Sugar Hill to hold up their end of what we agreed to contractually. We were supposed to do another album and more music. We had a few street smart people in the band, and they asked questions. In fact our bass player was from the streets and Joe (Robinson) dealt with him differently than he did the rest of us. Joe was perceived as a gangster and he respected our bass players street smarts. But because we asked questions, they didn’t really wanna deal with us anymore. We met Morris Levy (of Roulette Records who reportedly helped the Robinson's fund Sugar Hill Records), and that was like a scene outta the Godfather.
Jay the man never turned around when he talked to us. I never saw his face!! We went there with a lawyer and when we went into Mr. Levy’s office he was facing the New York City skyline. Mr. Robinson was pacing the floor and Mr. Levy asked him “what’s going on Joe. I thought that these kids were happy. Why are we here”? Mr. Levy appeared very upset with Mr. Robinson. He said “lets get these kids back into the studio and get this thing right”! Again we were local celebrities with no money in our pockets and we were selling records from the trunks of our cars. But yes, we did make a little more noise overseas, but because we were in the top ten over there, they were kind of forced to send us to Europe. I can still remember when Sylvia told us that we had to get our passports because we were going to Europe. We were on the top ten over there for quite awhile. To keep the door open over there they had to send us, because there was a demand but I don’t believe that they necessarily wanted to.
I know that you have some music now that actually charting and doing very well. Tell me about the years after Positive Force and you going solo up to the present.
Well I never stopped singing, and right now I do have a single on the charts called Operator and it’s been holding its own for a few weeks at #17. It entered at around #150. I worked with Jazz pianist Bob Baldwin and Marion Meadows on You’ll Never Know A Lover which was featured on my Hold On To Love Release. If you go to brendareynoldsmusic.com you can sample all of my releases and link to all of my social media pages.
Thank you, its been an honor!