Classics: Odyssey – Native New Yorker (Disco Version) (RCA)
What is it to be a native New Yorker? To be honest, as a European citizen, I’m definitely not in the best position to respond, even though I came quite often there. Eventually hearin’ local people sayin’ there’s nothing like it. Something I could definitely feel at the time. And this for numerous reasons. Beginning with the spirit of the city!
As a matter of fact, this fascination dates miles away before the very first time I landed in the Big Apple. At a period – the second half of the 70’s – when I got the chance to be sent recorded tapes from the WBLS programs. Meanwhile comin’ to discover countless gems one week after another. Also, let’s not forget as to how if New York had the Paradise Garage and Studio 54 on one hand, Paris had Le Palace and Regine’s on the other. With Disco pretty much standing as the soundtrack that would mark the soon after end of the 30-year post-War boom.
To that extend, the glamorous arrangements of ‘Native New Yorker’ certainly embody that period. Although the city also happened to have its dark side. Such as evoked by Golden Flamingo Orchestra on ‘The Guardian Angel Is Watching Over Us’ on the other hand.
A so to say one side of the coin, ‘Native New Yorker’ was not necessarily destined to be sung by Odyssey. Not more than by Frankie Valli who first performed it back in 1977. But eventually by Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band for whom songwriter/producer Sandy Linzer had crafted the memorable ‘Cherchez La Femme’.
Things would nevertheless turn differently. With Odyssey scoring their first big success with their version of ‘Native New Yorker’ that same year…
Odyssey originally appeared as a family act in the late 60’s when Virgin Islands native sisters Carmen, Lillian and Louise Lopez joined forces to sing as The Lopez Sisters.
Playing bars and supper club engagements in the Big Apple area, they caught the eye of a New York agent who booked them on a five-month tour of Europe. When they returned to the US, Carmen left to get married. But Lillian and Louise continued. They renamed the group Odyssey and added Manila-born male vocalist Tony Reynolds to spice things up.
By 1976, they met Sandy Linzer who had just produced ‘Cherchez La Femme’. A US Dance smash for Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, featuring August Darnell in his pre-Kid Creole guise. With his songwriting partner Denny Randell, Linzer conceived the idea for ‘Native New Yorker’. An ode to the street-smart citizens of the Big Apple and a possible Savannah Band release, although he held it back.
Linzer finally cut ‘Native New Yorker’ with Odyssey. According to him, Lopez “had a very natural feel for the song. I loved her sound. Some artists just have a quality that, when you hear their voice on a song, it just elevates the level. I don’t think it took Lillian more than one or two takes for a song.” The leading cut to their 1977 eponymous debut-album, it would be their biggest success ever Stateside. And, in the meantime, one of the most sought after 12″ on the second hand market.
‘Hollywood Party Tonight’, their second album which saw the light in 1978, didn’t manage to engender a similar following. However Linzer reboosted the band with the ‘Hang Together’ album two years after. An album which featured the memorable ‘Use It Up And Wear It Out’. A floorfiller which originally languished on the B-side of ‘Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her’. This, until the club DJ’s began playing it, therefore forcing the British arm of RCA to flip the release for radio.
By 1981, Odyssey made some extra noise. This time with an adaptation of Lamont Dozier‘s classic ‘Going Back To My Roots’. A cut renamed ‘Roots Suite: Ajomora, Going Back To My Roots, Bawa Awa’, from their ‘I Got The Melody’ album. Meanwhile, producer Jimmy Douglass oversaw the ‘Happy Together’ album. Calling on members of Funk group Slave, beginning with Steve Arrington on drums for the all-conquering ‘Inside Out’. But also Unlimited Touch bassist Sandy Anderson.
Not makin’ chart in their home country as opposed to Britain, RCA dropped the group after their following single, ‘Magic Touch’, stalled at #41 in the UK. Odyssey nevertheless got briefly back to the attention, 3 years after, with the Butch Ingram 1985 produced ‘Joy (I Know It)’. With lead singer Lillian Lopez showing up once again how she happened to have a one of a kind voice.
She sadly died of cancer aged 76 on Sept. 04, 2012… Meanwhile her sister, Louise, passed in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands on Jan. 27, 2015 at the age of 81.