Dayton has to be considered as one of the better funk bands during the first half of the 80s. The band was from Dayton, Ohio, and wasn’t in any way the only player on the funk scene in the area. The state was in fact the “Funk state” number one during the 70s and early 80s in the US. Great acts like the Ohio Players, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, the Dazz Band, Slave, Lakeside, Switch and Zapp had already a substantial grip on the audience. In the midst of that five men and one lady decided to take a chance getting a bite of that funk cake. The complete line-up included Dean Hummons, Chris Jones, Shawn Sandridge, Derrick Armstrong, Jenny Douglas and John Hardin. John was strangely enough not depicted on the first album and was most likely a very late addition to the band. The first three, already friends and the basic fundament of the new band, had already a genuine experience of funk, as they were former members of the obscure funk band Sun with some minor hits during the late 70s.
The scene was now set for creating the music, but was the brand new band to succeed?
The first adventure
Dayton 1980In 1980 the band was created taking the name of “Dayton” after the members home town. Their first album with the same name was released on the Liberty/United artists records label, a trading name used under license from United artists corporation in Los Angeles. The cover design showed a fine picture with a retro feeling depicting an imaginary bar, probably in the town of Dayton itself. The backside featured several b/w photos of the members at a football stadium, all in all nicely presented. So, what about the music? First of all one can easily say that Dayton’s sound was more polished and softer with a disco influence compared to most of their strongest competitors, but without loosing the fundamental funk feeling. The over all impression was also that the debut got a strong 70s feeling rather than taking in the new waves that started to affect the music as the 70s turned to the 80s. The album was a mix of equally many more traditionally funk tracks and more disco boogie ones with the standard strings and horns. The opening track “Dank”, the best track on this side, was a quirky funk tune with some tasty guitar riffs that set the mark for the funkier section. It was followed up by the more dance oriented “Eyes on you” and two more funkier ones, all good, but nothing sensational. The b-side started up with the mediocre funk tune “Dayton (jam)” but was showing a much stronger piece in the following “Livin’ for today”, a well crafted disco funk track with an harmonic combo of horns, strings and a fat bass. The two last tracks included the average ballad “So glad” and the fairly competent “Daytime friend”.
Chris JonesNotable was that the old guard from Sun in Jones (left) and Sandridge wrote all the tracks and the lyrics on Dayton’s first set. Their importance in writing and producing Dayton’s early productions was indisputably and solidly strong. This role was very different from their old one in Sun where master writer Byron Byrd almost entirely took care of that part, with just minor writing jobs for Jones and Sandridge. Their strong role in Dayton went on for one more record until the newly added mastermind member Rahni P. Harris Jr. completely took over that part in 1982. All together, Dayton’s first album didn’t show any major hits. It presented a rather equally levelled material that all in all managed to create an average debut but was unable to lift it self over that.
Still wont take off
After a minor and more local success with the first album Dayton gave it another try in 1981 on the same label. The outside was promising all right, with a classy blue filter photo of the band taken in a fashionable building somewhere. The back side of the cover showed an equally nice photo, this time with a red filter (below) John Hardin, that probably joined late on Dayton 1981Dayton’s debut, was now gone but otherwise the lineup included the same players. “Cutie pie”, as they called the second album included eight tracks and all of them were once again written by Jones and Sandridge. Compared to the first album that couldn’t lift it self over the average recognition level this one did score a hit in the catchy and sing-a-long “Cutie pie” that reached a more nation wide audience and even beyond that as well. But the rest of the album didn’t show any greater difference compared with the first one despite the decent punchy bass guitar track “One day or another” and deep funky “Body shaker”. It simply sounded the same, that to say is not bad in any way, but not beyond “all right” either. Nonetheless, the band still showed some really good potential and their efforts were to give much more fruit the following year.
Dayton finally reaches the sky…
In 1982 the band had two mediocre albums behind them and their biggest hit so far was “Cutie pie” from their last effort. This year however was going to change the band’s success in a major way when they released “Hot fun”. Once again the release was dropped on Liberty records and the cover featured a foxy lady taking out a hot pie from the oven. Very much of the big turnover was explained by Dayton’s specially invited additional musician, multi-instrumentalist Rahni P. Harris Jr. (below) that didn’t become a member until next year. He did however play a tremendously important role nonetheless. Dayton wasn’t Harris only project this year as he also played on Bootsy Collins’ album “The one giveth, the count taketh away”. Harris first more well-known achievments could though be found already back in 1978 when he released one 12″ that was a popular tune at underground danceclub scenes, especially in the UK. Except that he was much of a shadowman, but that was to be changed from now on.
Rahni P. Harris Jr.The line-up was very different from 1981 and Harris wasn’t the only new addition. In fact the band was almost built from scratch again except the hard core of Jones and Sandridge. Dean Hummons, Derrick Armstrong and Jenny Douglas had all left. Harris took care of much of Hummons’ and Armstrong’s instruments and the two new added vocalists Jennifer Matthews and Rachel Beavers took care of Douglas part. Dayton also added Kevin Hurt on drums, percussion and as background vocalist, Craig E. Robinson on rhythm guitar, bass guitar, percussion and as lead and background vocalist, Justin Gresham as background vocalist and fender rhodes player, Michael Dunlop on bass guitar and Evan Rodgers as lead and background vocalist. Rodgers that was a son of Italian immigrants had one year before released the hit “Secret love” on 12″.
Harris wrote or co-wrote together with Jones and Sandridge five of the good nine tracks and co-produced the set together with Sandridge and Ted Currier. Interestingly to note is that the talented Kool and the gang member and uprising hot songwriter/producer Amir Bayyan co-wrote one track. He had this year produced the monsterhit “Love you madly” with Candela among a few other medium successful projects in the early 80s and was to write and produce La Toya Jackson’s amazing hit “Hot potato” two years later.
The album started up with the warm sing-a-long “Hot fun in the summertime” but it is the second track “We can’t miss” that is the real thing on side A. With a tough and stonehard funk intro this is a fantastically catchy discofunk track with a punchy bass, great hooks, awesome refrain and an overall tough and attractive musical style. Also the tastefully and funky “Krackity krack” on which no one less than Bootsy Collins appears rounds up side A. Side B begins with the passionately singed dace track “Meet the man” featuring some interesting stuff. Also funny “Gunch” (co-written by Bayyan) is a rhythmically good track. The album has also a few descent ballads.
On a whole this album did offer a rather noticeable different from the two earlier ones both in musical style, that was much more up-to date and more listener friendly pop-funk like, and when it comes to real commercial success. Harris role in all this was with out a doubt very important. He was the force they needed to lift the band to higher ground. The material wasn’t sensational though Dayton’s music could be found in various other groups at the time as well.
After Dayton’s relatively success with “Hot fun” Dayton headed for just another release one more later. The musical climate had changed even more since 1982 and rock, pop and synth music had taken over more and more of the black music. This didn’t stop Dayton from producing yet another album with a pop funk style though, this time with almost a perfect result!
Dayton left Liberty records for a deal with Capitol, one of the biggest players on the field, and aimed even higher than the last time. Four members had left the band; Craig E. Robinson, Jennifer Matthews, Justin Gresham, Michael Dunlop and Evan Rodgers, and one had joined in Karen Harris Chappell as lead vocalist. Rahni P. Harris III had strengthened his position and was by now a full time member.
When the “Feel the music” album hit the shelves in 1983 the first that the buyers saw was that sober black background with water drops in straight lines with a classy Dayton logo in white. The back showed the same background, except for the logo, with the tracknames in red and the credits in white. All in all this was a very luxurious feeling at a first glance.
Dayton in 1983 featuring from left to right: Rahni P. Harris III, Shawn Sandridge, Chris Jones, Rachel Beavers (?) and Kevin Hurt
As already been said Harris played a crucial role writing and producing the music in 1982 and his role on this new set became even stronger. In fact he wrote or co-wrote all tracks except one. That single one he didn’t wrote was a quirky funk piece by fellow Ohio funker Roger Troutman from Zapp. That typically Zapp influenced song was also the less interesting one and it was instead the rest of Dayton’s fourth album that walked straight in the hall of fame.
Out as number one on Dayton’s first Capitol release was “The sound of music”, that became an all time classic and by far Dayton’s biggest hit. With a unbelievably catchy intro followed by a vocoder talk box song the whole track is nicely produced in every second and certainly earns a place in anyone’s “best of collection” CD. The rest of the tracks on side A were not bad either. After the first immense experience of “The sound of music” Dayton presented “It must be love”, a brilliant and sensitively singed mid-tempo that reached the no 54 spot on Billboards Hot R&B/Hip hop singles & tracks as well as black singles. As if this wasn’t enough on one single side Dayton launched “Out tonight” as track three. With lyrics about the perfect date “Out tonight” got a lovely and catchy melody that makes anyone happy. The first side ended up with the positive minded and slightly rock influenced “So what” with quite a nice chorus but nothing sensational.
Side B started with the already mentioned highly average and bubbly Roger Troutman track “Love you anyway” with lyrics by his brother Larry Troutman. Track two had gladly more to offer and “Caught in the middle” showed some potential that just missed out that last little bit though. Dayton now turned to more rock beats again in “Eyes”. Despite having a quite good and catchy melody it didn’t managed to lift it self over the average. But with the fourth track the sun fully shined again in the masterfully and sensitively singed “Promise me”, including a sensually played sax intro. Clearly this is the most memorably track on side B. Dayton’s 1983 release was ended with the fill-out mid-tempo Jamaica style track “Lookin’ up” that wasn’t close to most of the other tracks.
The roller blind down – The end
Dayton had made it to the top step-by-step and “Feel the music” was the crown jewel among their albums. In 1984 Dayton took a break and waited to 1985 until their next and final album. Meanwhile the genius Harris had worked as a producer with a new band called Colorblind (see Colorblind’s full biography here) in 1984. Their album “Crazy” was a nice mix of fast popfunk tracks that showed some great potential but the band ended up as so many else with just this classic and rather rare album.
So, could Dayton achieve something spectacular to match the great 1983 success? It turned out to be an immensely hard nut to crack. One reason was that Harris unfortunately didn’t spare that sparkle and glow from Colorblind’s album for Dayton ditto. Perhaps this was a noble move but still a major mistake in Dayton’s point of view. Another reason to the difficulties was that the musical changes around them were even more revolutionary now than in 83. Capitol’s influences on he final result played an important role too in an ever-going merry-go-round to catch market shares. With this in mind the band decided to try to adapt their self to those new waves by adding pop and rock but the result became, if not a disaster, a result with out groove, depth and musical touch as they had before. The result was simply way to watered-down. Their fellow Ohio funkers Dazz Band, Slave, Lakeside and Switch couldn’t coop with the changes either and made very poor and watered-down albums at this time too as most of the black soul, funk and R&B groups did for that matter. Dayton therefore wasn’t in anyway alone, but that is no excuse.
Before their last release, that got the ironic name “This time”, lead vocalist Karen Harris Chappell had left for Elaine Terri. The changes were otherwise none. The album cover was very colourful and much different from their earlier once though with a somewhat free interpretation of the cubist art form.
The set was once again released on Capitol and Harris once again got the mission to write almost all the tracks, this time seven of eight. He wasn’t to succeed on this album though and the result became as said, despite that promising colourful cover, unfortunately only a pale and unimaginative copy of their earlier works.
Although the hash words about the album it do shows a few lighter moments that includes the happy and pure pop pieces “I’ve got me (somebody to love)” and “Nobody else” on side A of which the latter is the most enjoyable.
On side B you’ll find at first two boring tracks that are followed up by yet another a decent pop track in “Coming to get my love”. The last track is a bit funny as Dayton borrowed that typical “tjiba tjiba” chorus from “The sound of music” but in quite an average mid-tempo track.
By this effort Dayton’s musical life ended and as for many other black artist in a less impressive way. They didn’t manage to get a deal with Capitol and obviously didn’t find anything else either and were disbanded.
After the fall of Dayton the members were scattered for the wind. Harris worked with Melba Moore in 1987 and Hummons was among others involved in the group Soul influence in year 2000. Bass guitar player Derick Armstrong appeared on Aalacho’s elektro album as late as 2004. Debbie Sandridge was later on the executive producer of Stacy Lattisaw’s hit “Call me” in 1989. Vocalist Jenny Douglas later became a respected and well-used part on albums with Keith Sweat and great acts like Toto. Rachel Beavers turned on to artist development and helped Rebecca St. James on her album in 2004. Evan Rodgers became during the 90s a succesful producer and songwriter for artists like Christina Auguliera and Brand new heavies. Even though we don’t know the work of all these former members, Dayton’s name lives on in many people’s hearts.
During the years they acted as a band they experienced both highs and lows. Dayton started from the bottom and managed to reach the top by hard work and a bit of luck. Together with the hard-core members from Sun in Sandridge and Jones the highly talented Rahni P. Harris III was the key figure in Dayton and a really lucky strike to catch. On the inside Dayton had some problems getting that perfect mix and balance within the closest members and did often change members. This instability had naturally impact on the result but they did nonetheless manage to do a pretty fine job to level out this lack of balance. Dayton has to be remembered as a fine popfunk that evolved from discofunk via sophisticated (pop) funk to pop. Despite this quite wide range of styles Dayton should have had more acknowledgement and recognition back then and today than they actually did get. This is especially obvious for the two very competent albums in 82 and 83 of which the latter is a true classic. So let us simply “Feel the music” once again!
A few reissues have been made of some of Dayton’s albums. The first came on the 9th of February 1999 when the trustworthy Japanese label Vivid sound released the two most successful albums of “Hot fun” and “Feel the music”. They were both superbly remastered, although way to expensive as they were imported. Despite the price they are worth any cent.
On the 23rd of August 2004 EMI Holland released both the “Hot fun” as well as the self titled debut as a part of their “Master of soul & funk” series. Both are sold for under 10€, so it’s a real bargain.
You can find the Japanese releases on Amazon US and the Dutch releases on Amazon UK, Amazon Germany (best price) or Amazon France. The EMI releases can even be found at www.vinyl-masterpiece.com