Trenton, NJ-born guitarist/bassist Raymond Earl was an integral member of Philly soul band Instant Funk, who in turn was part of MFSB, the studio aggregation that was the house band for Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International Records.
Earl followed the lead of his older brothers, who were guitarists, and picked up the instrument at a young age. Around age ten, he started an instrumental band called Royal 5. While attending a talent show, Earl met drummer Scotty Miller who was the solo instrumentalist for a five-piece vocal group called the Imperialistics. Earl eventually joined the band, and sometime later the two teenagers formed the Music Machine. Adding Scotty's brother Kim on guitar, and pianists James and David Jones, Earl switched to bass. To learn the rudiments of bass playing, Earl would play single 45 records, particularly those that featured Motown bassist James Jamerson, at a slower speed.
In 1968, they began backing local vocal group the TNJs, which included the Jones' brother Elijah ("EJ"). Appearing at local dances and venues, the group began to build a good reputation. Philly soul artist/producer/ songwriter Bunny Sigler was introduced to the TNJs by manager Jackie Ellis. Sigler produced two singles for the group: one for local Newark label ("She's Not Ready") and one for Cameo/Parkway ("I Think I'm Falling in Love").
Around 1971, Ellis christened the backup band Instant Funk because they could come up with funky grooves at the spur of the moment. They worked the chitlin' circuit, backing Sigler and various other R&B acts. In 1972, Sigler, a staff producer at Philadelphia International, was given the go-ahead to start cutting his own tracks as a singer and brought Instant Funk and the TNJs into the studio. The first single was the sweet-as-candy ballad "Regina"; another single, a remake of Bobby Lewis' "Tossin' and Turnin," hit number 38 on the R&B charts. Sigler's 1976 release featured Instant Funk on all of the backing tracks. Though most tracks on Sigler's Philadelphia International albums have backing tracks by MFSB, a significant number feature the Instant Funk rhythm section. The band can also be heard on hits by the O'Jays, Archie Bell and the Drells, Evelyn "Champagne" King, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass. The band worked in the studio almost constantly, resulting in a slew of unreleased tracks.
With the Philly soul sound so hot in the '70s, Sigler was given a lot of producing assignments, which meant more work for his backing musicians. Instant Funk and the TNJs are featured on Carl Carlton's "Everlasting Love" and "She's a Bad Mama Jama" and the entire 1975 ABC Records album I Wanna Be With You. They're also heard on artists Sigler produced for Curtis Mayfield's Curtom label, including Mystique featuring Ralph Johnson, Mayfield (the Heartbeat album, Curtom/RSO 1977) and made a duet album with Barbara Mason (Locked in This Position, Curtom/Warner Bros. 1977), among others. Somewhere around this time, Instant Funk released a single that was based around the popular phrase created by Muhammad Ali: "Float Like a Butterfly."
In 1976, Sigler got Instant Funk an album deal with Gamble and Huff's TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) label. The album, Get Down on the Philly Jump, had two singles that were popular in the disco clubs: the title track and "It Ain't Reggae (But It Sho Is Funky)." Around this time, Sigler and the group worked on a soundtrack for an unreleased movie named Superdragon. In 1978, Sigler amicably parted ways with Philadelphia International Records, bringing along Instant Funk. They continued to tour together and record songs at Sigma Sound and Alpha International. A little earlier, MFSB guitarist Norman Harris had decided to leave Philadelphia International to start his own label, Goldmind. He secured a distribution deal with Salsoul Records. Sigler, seeking more success as a recording artist, signed with Harris' label. He also got a deal with Goldmind for Instant Funk (by now a ten-piece band with horns and a raw lead vocalist, James Carmichael). By this time, the TNJs had disbanded. Sigler decided to augment the band, but before any product could be released on the group, Goldmind folded and all of its acts were transferred to Salsoul. Instant Funk's first Salsoul release was "I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)." A year after its release date, the record was remixed by Garage club DJ Larry Levan and that's when "I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)" went on to be Instant Funk's million-selling breakthrough (number R&B/number 20 pop). Earl co-wrote the song along with Kim and Scott Miller and some input from Sigler, and it's his bass playing that proves the hook on the track. The primary inspiration for the song was the music of Donald Byrd's protégés the Blackbyrds ("Rock Creek Park"), another popular funk band of the '70s. Both the single and the album Instant Funk went gold. Just like at Philadelphia International, Sigler and Instant Funk worked with the acts on Salsoul -- Loleatta Holloway, Double Exposure, and First Choice -- as well as acts on other labels. The band itself released several albums on Salsoul: Witch Doctor, The Funk Is On, Looks So Fine, V(5), and Kinky.
When Salsoul became inactive in the early '80s, choosing instead to focus on its First Choice Home Video division, the band toured for a few years and eventually broke up. Tiring of the rigors of the road, Earl got into production, using Scotty and Kim Miller's mother's basement as the start-up location for his studio. Along with promoter Henry Page, Earl formed Ray Ray Productions. An old family friend, Terrence Reed (aka True Love) wanted to make records. It seems that this collaboration was kismet, as Earl had backed the vocal group the TNJs as member of Instant Funk; Love's father was a member of the TNJs. The demos led to a deal with Jerry Roebuck's Harlem International Records and the release of Love Rap Ballad. The record received late-night airplay on radio stations in the Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York area. Roebuck got the record in the hands of the staff at Critique Records. Released by Critique through a distribution agreement with Atlantic Records, "Love Rap Ballad" broke Billboard's R&B Top 30 -- quite an accomplishment considering there was no supporting music video and radio stations at the time weren't very rap-friendly. This success led to an album, Bustin' Out (with a same-named single musically based around Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers' go-go classic "Bustin' Loose"), and a cross-country promotional tour of college and commercial radio stations and retail stores. The record also had some overseas success. Earl also produced/co-produced and/or played on releases by Karen Domino, E Powers, and Skipworth and Turner.
Earl collaborated with Sigler on tracks for Patti LaBelle, Lou Rawls, Billy Paul, Phyllis Hyman, and Stephanie Mills through the reactivated Philadelphia International Records. Earl is the A&R director of Jerry Roebuck and Rocky Bucano's New York-based record production company, The Organization. His Ray Ray Productions records and produces every type of music found on the musical spectrum. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi