Mantra released their first, and only, self tilted album on Casablanca in 81. The band included Roger Harris, lead vocals, Paul Drennan, guitar and background vocals, Kenny Burch, keyboard and background vocals, Eric Alexander, bass guitar and background vocals, Bobby Lovelace, drums, David Webber, trumpet, keyboard and background vocals and Henry Cleveland, trombone, keyboard and background vocals. The band not only included seven members but the album itself included the same number of tracks. The set was produced by experienced funk players Larry Blackmon and Anthony Lockett from legendary funk band Cameo. Mantra was one of their protégé bands and it was reflected in many ways. Blackmon together with Lockett not only produced the set but wrote all tracks except “Doin’ it to the bone” and the music inherited much of the “Cameo sound”.
The cover featured a very colorful and expressive funky picture on the front with a black and white photo on the back.
Down to business
The music was unmistakably Cameo style inspired even though Mantra couldn’t compete with Cameo’s own album “Knights of the soundtable” that same year. The most noted hits were the catchy “Doin’ it to the bone”, that charted, together with their probably best track, the intense disco funk hone blower of “Action”. Also jam-on “Do you wanna” on side two was a notable funk track. The rest were pending from average to poor and didn’t show anything of particular interest with the exception of the two appealing ballads “Promise me” and “Let’s stay together”.
Like always, when outside writers are used that already got a band of their own, it’s crucial how they use their material. Blackmon and Lockett simply didn’t put their best efforts on Mantra’s album, a fact that most likely played an important part in their early departure. In comparison, Cameo’s album in 81 did have more steam and thrust than Mantra even though the best tracks of Mantra wasn’t in any way less potential or interesting than Cameo’s.
Summing it up
Even though they didn’t came up with any sensational or innovative music, much due to the fact that they didn’t receive the best material from Blackmon and Lockett, the debut still shows a competent and appealing result with musical qualities over the average level. The album is also a really rare gem to have and certainly worth a closer look, but most likely only for serious funk lovers and especially if you like Cameo style music.
Despite a rather promising start the album didn’t sell enough for a second release and the band soon vanished as just another short lived funk group.
Very little is known about the destiny of the members after Mantra. The most successful of them became drummer Bobby Lovelace as he joined classic electro funk band Midnight Star in 83 as a drummer and background singer. In this new costume he experienced awesome success with hits like “Electricity”, “Body snatcher” and “Operator”. He also performed as background singer and played drums on The Whispers album “So good” in 84. Lovelace is still jamming with Midnight star. Their latest achievement are the CD “15th avenue” from 2002 on which he not only play drums and percussion but also is the executive producer of.
Henry Cleveland has later on played trombone on several jazz and gospel influenced tracks during the 90s but is otherwise unknown.
Lead vocalist Roger Harris became in 1982 one of the founders of funk band LA. connection that was just another Blackmon protégé band. The set that Blackmon produced included some pretty decent stuff with some obvious similarities in sound with Mantra even though the material of Mantra got a more exiting appeal over all. Even so, that wasn’t enough and the band joined the same destiny as Mantra did after releasing only one album. His later achievements are also, like the rest of the band’s members, unknown.
What ever they do today Mantra will always be their own little funk adventure in the early 80s as a part of their musical evolution.