Both these men have contributed to further education at university level in recent years, with Richard Evans now a professor of composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston and Johnny Pate conducting classes at Nevada University in the music department.
Pate was born in 1923, in Chicago Heights, Illinois. In the 1970s Pate was hired by Capitol Records to produce and arrange artists signed to their black division. His first assignment was conducting arrangements on Peabo Bryson’s first gold album for the label entitled “Reaching for the Sky”. This particular recording project included another Chicago legend by the name of Richard Evans, who was responsible for many classic Jazz and instrumental Soul recordings at Chess Records’ Cadet Records off-shoot. Evans co-produced all the tracks with Bryson. The 1977 release included a now “Quiet Storm” classic “Feel The Fire” that charted at number 13 on the Billboard R&B and Soul Singles Chart in America. The same song will also be covered by Stephanie Mills on her 1979 album “What Cha’ Gonna Do with my Lovin’” gold-certified album. Mills recorded another version of the song as a duet with the late Teddy Pendergrass on his “TP” double platinum certified album (2 million copies sold) according to the RIAA. The following year in 1978, Pate co-produced with Bryson his second studio album for Capitol Records, entitled “Crosswinds”. He also was involved in background vocal, horn and string arrangements. The album featured the classic soul hit single “I’m So Into You” which charted on the Billboard R&B and Soul Singles chart at number two, week ending February 10th 1979. The hit single stayed at the number two position for two weeks. The album did extremely well and obtained gold status for over half a million units sold in America during the height of the Disco boom, creating a brilliant counter punch to the dominant style of the period in popular music. This was a surprise, given that the album consisted mainly of mid-tempo and ballad tracks suitable for a more romantic atmosphere, executed with powerful vocal performances by Bryson.
Pate repeated the same success with the only recording project he produced and arranged with Natalie Cole. The title of the duet album was “We’re the Best of Friends” with Cole and Bryson performing together. The album became a success by obtaining gold certification and selling in excess of half a million units according to the RIAA in 1979.
Pate is certainly an enduring music icon who is still continually discovered by new musicians in different music genres for his master-piece arrangements and productions during the Chicago Soul and R&B era. He has been credited on over 220 albums and worked with 45 recording acts since the beginning of his career.
Richard Evans is credited on over 397 albums and has worked with over 140 artists during his career as both arranger and producer. He is also a composer and musician, playing the double bass. He started his career at Chess Records during the early 1960s, using his arranging and production skills to showcase mainly instrumental recording projects called “Soulful Strings” using Cadet Records’ house band, which included Charles Stepney (who was a major Chess and Cadet producer and arranger in own right, on organ and vibes), Phil Upchurch (guitar), Lennie Druss (flute and woodwinds), Cleveland Eaton (bass), and on many occasions, when Stepney was not available for recording, both Bobby Christian and Billy Wooten on vibes. From 1966 to 1971 Evans recorded seven LPs. Many of the tracks on each album were compositions written by songwriters outside of the Chess organisation. With Evan’s brilliant creative skills he managed to create a signature. As an innovative arranger and producer, Evans would use an eclectic range of instrumentation based around a dynamic string section which had a powerful impact on the overall sound, especially on the 1967 recording of “Burning Spear”, written by Evans, from the album “Groovin’ With The Soulful Strings”. The track is actually led by flute from the introduction and then come strings and the steady beat of the drums, to give a rich sweetness to the sound. The orchestra also produced the now-classic landmark masterpiece recorded in 1969 called “I Wish It Would Rain” on the live album “Back by Demand – In Concert”. (The instrumental track was originally co-written by Strong and Whitfield, key staff song writers at Motown Records during the company’s golden era from 1960s to early 1970s).
In the 1970s, after Chess Records closed down its operation in Chicago, Evans started to work with Ramsey Lewis on his gold-certified “Sun Goddess” album released in 1974. He conducted arrangements for horns and strings. During that same period he was hired by Natalie Cole’s main production team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy for horn and string arrangements. Evans’ creative contributions helped Cole’s first four studio albums on Capitol Records to sell over a million copies each, with two of the studio albums achieving number one position on the Billboard Soul Albums Chart. It started with her debut album “Inseparable”, at number on November 22th 1975 (1week). The recording project won two Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, where she beat the record set by Aretha Franklin, who had actually won the proceeding awards consistently for eight years in a row.
Cole’s second studio album to achieve number one was “Unpredictable” on April 2nd 1977 (3 weeks). A track called “I’ve Got Love on My Mind” extracted from the album sold over a million copies (gold-certified by the RIAA) and peaked at number one on the Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles Chart on February 26th 1977 (5 weeks). On the platinum-certified album “Unpredictable,” Evans arranged strings on two tracks, “Peaceful Living” and “Your Eyes”. The album was mainly recorded at PS Recording Studios in Chicago, the recording studios owned by Paul Serrano. Following the platinum success of “Unpredictable”, Evans arranged strings on four tracks which included Cole’s second gold-certified single of her career called “Our Love”, that peaked at number one on the Billboard Soul Singles Chart, week-ending January 21st 1978 (2 weeks).
At the start of the 1980s, Evans got involved with recording projects overseas, working with UK Pop icon Peter Gabriel on several of his gold and platinum recording projects, conducting arrangements and playing bass guitar. During that particular period while working with Gabriel, he was lecturing on composition in Classical and Jazz music at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in the United States.
These two talented musicians made an important contribution to the Signature Sound of Chicago, which is easily overlooked.