Published Apr 09, 2013Aficionados of sophisticated, sweet and sensual soul music need no introduction to William Hart. As the leader and prominent songwriter of the legendary trio the Delfonics (also comprised originally of brother Wilbert Hart and the late Randy Cain), who helped put Philadelphia on the map as a soul music capitol in the late '60s and early '70s with a string of classics like "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)," "I'm Sorry" and "La-La-Means I Love You," paving the way for the O'Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, Hall & Oates and Jill Scott to name just a few. While even the babies that were conceived to those luxurious grooves are now well into middle-age, don't call Hart's new collaboration with multi-instrumentalist/producer Adrian Younge: Adrian Younge Presents The Delfonics a comeback. Best known for his score to 2009's spot-on blaxploitation homage Black Dynamite, Younge orchestrates a darkly cinematic, hip-hop-influenced sound on Presents, updating the tried and true formula of sweet Philly soul with some much-needed thump without sacrificing a whit of Hart's timeless vocal style and tender lyrics into a fantasia that classic soul fans and hip-hop heads alike will find irresistible.
How did the Delfonics initially form?
Hart: We formed in our neighbourhood at around the age of 12. At the age of 11 or 12, I started writing songs and as we got older we started hearing people like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and things of that nature. I thought maybe it would be wise if I started singing because I had a tremendous voice when I was younger and everybody kept telling me that I should be on the radio and television. So I decided that I would start writing and form this group. I got Randy [Cain] and my brother [Wilbert] together. After Randy left we got Major Harris, who passed away about three weeks ago.
What was the Philadelphia music scene like in the late '60s and early '70s?
You had groups like the Intruders, the Vibrations, Len Barry, the Three Degrees, Dee Dee Sharp and Eddie Holman. These were [artists] who were recording before I began really getting into writing. Philadelphia is a very conservative place and the music is laid back and mostly clean. That is what I enjoyed so much about what was going on in Philly. I also listened to Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield and they know themselves better than anyone else. People wanted to write songs for me but I wanted to write songs that would get the Delfonics off the ground.
What was your inspiration for songs like "La-La-Means I Love You" and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)?"
My first son he used to say "la-la" all the time and I figured he was saying "I love you." I was always the kind of guy that would take a unique saying and make a song out of it. The same thing with "Didn't I." Back in the '60s the words "blow your mind" were all over the atmosphere.
How did the collaboration with Adrian Younge come about?
I was in my home studio and a friend of my son who's the producer of all the new music that I'm doing for my own record label [LaLa Records] and he was listening to some of my new music and he wanted to hook me up with a guy named Adrian Younge in California. I hadn't seen Black Dynamite and I didn't want to go to California but I went out there and I realized that Adrian was a natural musician. He doesn't read music and neither do I. It was like two guys with a special talent that was coming from the cosmos and it matched up really well. I came in with songs and melody that matched his music perfectly and we began to really start liking what we were doing. It's another chapter of my singing career as I venture out on my own with this particular album.
Could you tell me a bit about recording the album?
I felt a bit like I was in the twilight zone. When I first walked into the studio, Adrian had all of this old equipment in mint condition. The mixing board reminded me of the one at the old Sigma Sound studios in Philadelphia. He wanted the album to be the old and the new meeting up with one another because everybody's been sampling the Delfonics' music. The whole idea of William Hart and Adrian Younge is going to be an ongoing experience. The Ghostface Killah and RZA are going to be doing a version of "Enemies" [from the album].
While we're talking about hip-hop, the video for the first single "Stop Look (And You Have Found Love)" is steeped in hip-hop iconography. What do you think of hip-hop and in particular artists that sample your music?
I love it because they're being like scientists; experimenting with the music. They're doing a great job. People like Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott sampling my music and movies like The Five Heartbeats, Jackie Brown, Family Man, Crooklyn. Prince did a version of "La-La- Means I Love You," The Jackson 5 did "Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can't Hide From Love), " Aretha Franklin on her Young, Gifted and Black album she did "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" There are so many. Music shouldn't be tainted. I think music has got to get clean and sharp and that's why I was dressed clean and sharp in that video. I wanted to give that image that you can still be in the groove and be sharp at the same time. Sort of like a tuxedo, which never goes out of style. It displays elegance, which is beautiful.
With that in mind, what audience were you aiming for with this album?
We were aiming for every music loving human being on planet earth. We felt that we had covered so many different areas and the responses that we've been getting are 99 percent positive. A couple people might not like it but we've been getting great feedback.
You co-wrote all of the songs on the new album. Do you think that your writing and vocal style has changed over the years?
Absolutely, because I've got to change with the times. But I won't deviate from elegance. You'll hear it in each and every song. This is why I think people like sampling my voice. I've been told that I'm the signature sound of the Delfonics, what the Delfonics are known for: the high-pitched first tenor. People call me a falsetto but I'm not a falsetto. I talk deep but my singing voice is of a high quality. I don't do too much falsettoing.
You still tour after 45 years and you have this new album out. To what do you attribute your longevity?
To total belief in God, first of all. Eating properly, no smoking, no drinking. I don't go to clubs. If I do go out I'm fishing or painting landscapes or playing some golf. My wife calls me a renaissance man [laughs]. I try to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I think that's the key to my longevity.
The last time I saw you was at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls. Are there any plans to visit Canada?
Oh Canada. The last time we were in Canada we did the Casino Rama. We definitely would like to visit Canada again.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I'd like to let the listeners know that I'm prepared to write more and more music. I'd also like to add that if you try and believe in yourself you can be successful. You can't hold back. You've got to learn to undo the cobwebs that hold you back from being a successful person. I like to give advice like that. Cobwebs are like an invisible wall: something that you can't get through, but if you believe and go inside your body and tune into God you can have everything that you want, as long as you keep your music clean and available. The whole idea is to be able to sing beautiful music to the world. It has healing powers.