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  INNER CITY By Mass Production 1982  

on Firecrackers The best of Mass Production RHINO R2 75222 (1996)

Although they never achieved the notoriety they deserved, pound for pound  Mass Production was one of the hardest-working outfits in pop/R&B's heady era of self-contained funk bands.
 It was also one of the largest. In a pop music genre where a five-ember outfit could have easily been considered a combo, Mass Production, sometimes standing I I members  strong (including Agnes "Tiny" Kelly, lead vocals and vocoder; Larry "Rockstarr" Marshall, lead vocals; Rodney "Bunny" Phelps, lead guitar and keyboards; LeCoy "Coy" Bryant, guitar; Tyrone Williams, keyboard; Kevin "D' No" Douglas, bass guitar keyboards, and vocals; Ricardo "Ricky" Williams, drums, percussion, keyboards and vocals Emmanuel  "Joe Rock" Redding, percussion; James "Otiste" Drumgole,  trumpet, flugelhorn, and vocals;  Gregory McCoy, sex and keyboards; and Samuel "The Banger" Williams, drums),  was just short of an orchestra.

  Formed in the early '70s in Norfolk, Virginia, Mass Production was inspired by many of  the successful R&B bands of the day, including  Earth, Wind & Fire, Commodores, George Clinton's P-Funk aggregation, Bar-Kays, and  Cameo.

While some funk band aficionados remember Mass Production as the vehicle of multitalented Tyrone Williams and lead   vocalisi/songwriter/drummer/percussionist Ricardo Williams, the band was a  virtual workshop of capable players  and writers. Music entrepreneur Ed  A. Ellerbe actually jump-started the  crew (through six albums, he would serve either as the group's producer, manager, and/or executive producer): he brought the unit to the attention of Cotillion records chief Henry Allen, who, eager to make a foray into R&B's burgeoning funk movement, signed the group to his Atlantic-distributed label.

It's safe to say that at the time of their debut album, 1976's Welcome To Our World,Mass Production was a band in search of a musical identity- and apparently, a visual one as well : for the LP's cover photo, the group shamelessly reproduced the cover of  The Isley Brothers 3+3 album, down to the poses and leather suits (in the liner notes they graciously  thanked the Isleys, presumably for the idea).
But while, arrangement-wise, "WineFlow Disco" may have unwittingly served as an homage to the pre-"Laclies NiglkC' Kool & Tke Gang (during the Gang's jazzinfluenced party-funk days), that track and the LP's fre-ied, funky title groove caught the attention of funk addicts.

By the group's next album-1979's In The Purest Form-purveyors of M.P.'s boogie were ready and waiting. The single "Firecracker," a nifty hybrid of dance and funk interpretations, boldly defied the soulless disco that still commandeered dance floors at the time. "Firecracker" reached an impressive #4 on Billboard's R&B chart and #43 on the pop charts, sending Mass Production on its way.
Another single from the album, the insistent, melodic "Can't You See I'm Fired Up," could have described how Mass
Production felt. With a hit single enticing booking agents to get the group work and two albums' worth of material to perform, Mass Production, took to the road, eager to stake its claim.

Often the group opened for the very acts that inspired it as a unit. Indeed, this writer remembers catcking Mass Production on one of those multiact bills where the opening act, often enduring bad sound and lights,  is given about 20 dogged minutes to make an  impression on a rude audience anxious for the headliner. Mass Production managed to get the party started, though it was somewhat uncomfortable watching umpteen highly mobile folks get busy on a stage meant for six.

In the case of Mass Production, more often than not, you got what you paiid for. Let's put it this way : In concert, potency of the sound system notwithsading there was very little chance that the band wouldn't sound like its records; after all, for thee most part all the musicians who played on the sessions were squinched right up there onstage.

And Mass Production was nothing if not a major party band. Sure, some of the material in the band's catalog, a I& EW&F or some other band seeking higlker consciousness through The Groove, did have somewhat ethereal titles. And on the jacket of In The Purest Form, Tyrone Williams, in an apparent fit of spirituality, waxed philosophical: "Together, we shall stroll down the pathway of perpetual existence we call Life; Together we are bounded by an energy, so pure, we call Love, Togheter we expand upon our excistence, enhanced by a motivation we call creativit;, Together; We Live, We love, We Create."

The only thing to be said after something so profound is "Turn Up The Music," which was the single and title of the Production's progressed, like the rest of pop/fun to a decidedly "new wave" vilbe, exemplified by its embrace of synthesizers. Accordingly, folks did turn it up--the single made its way to #36 on Billboard's R&B charts.
Mass Production was big on concepts, both musically and visually "Inner City" a solid groove with a spry, strutting bass line, was the musical centerpiece of 1982's In A City Groove. There the clan was on the cover, grinning broadly, using the grand skyline of New York City as a backdrop. The cover of 1980's Massterpieces as (get it?) was even more animated. The setting was a museum, its major piece being a portrait of Mass Production in full stage regalia. In the museum, surrounding the portrait, are the pat ro ns-port rayed, of course, by M. P. membersvariously engaged in horseplay. Agnes inches up her skirt for a urist photographer; a security guard has nabbed two others for loitering, even though nearby another customer hawks a copy of (gasp!) the Mona Li". M. P.'s passion for fun LP covers became a trademark of the group. When you're promoting a band that amounts to a small tribe, you've got to be inventive.



 Welcome to our world (Cotillion LP, 1976)


 Believe (Cotillion LP, 1977)


 Three miles high (Atlantic LP, 1978)


 In the purest form (Cotillion LP, 1979)


 Masterpiece (Cotillion LP, 1980)


 Turn up the music (Cotillion LP, 1981)



 Welcome to our world (of merry music) (Cotillion, 1976)


 Wine flow disco (Cotillion, 1977)


 Can't you see I'm fired up (WEA, 1979)


 Firecracker (Cotillion, 1979)


 Shante (Cotillion, 1980)


 Diamond Chip (Cotillion, 1980)


 Gonna make you love me (Cotillion, 1980)