Charles Earland came into his own at the tail end of the great 1960s wave of
soul-jazz organists, gaining a large following and much airplay with a series
of albums for the the Prestige label.
While heavily indebted to Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, Earland came
armed with his own swinging, technically agile, light-textured sound on the
keyboard and one of the best walking-bass pedal techniques in the business.
Though not an innovative player in his field, Earland burned with the best of
them when he was on.
Earland actually started his musical experiences surreptitiously on his father's
alto sax as a kid, and when he was in high school, he played baritone in a
band that also featured fellow Philadelphians Pat Martino on guitar, Lew
Tabackin on tenor, and yes, Frankie Avalon on trumpet.
After playing in the Temple University band, he toured as a tenor player with
McGriff for three years, became infatuated with McGriff's organ playing, and
started learning the Hammond B-3 at intermission breaks.
When McGriff let him go, Earland switched to the organ permanently, forming
a trio with Martino and drummer Bobby Durham.
He made his first recordings for Choice in 1966, then joined Lou Donaldson
for two years (1968-69) and two albums before being signed as a solo artist
Earland's first album for Prestige, 'Black Talk!', became a best-selling classic
of the soul-jazz genre; a surprisingly effective cover of the Spiral Starecase's
pop / rock hit 'More Today Than Yesterday' from that LP received saturation
airplay on jazz radio in 1969.
He recorded eight more albums for Prestige, one of which featured a young
unknown Philadelphian named Grover Washington, Jr, then switched to Muse
before landing contracts with Mercury and Columbia.
By this time, the organ trio genre had gone into eclipse, and in the spirit of
the times, Earland acquired some synthesizers and converted to pop/disco in
collaboration with his wife, singer / songwriter Sheryl Kendrick.
There followed a succession of successful jazz / soul / funk albums including
'Odyssey' in 1976, featuring 'Intergalactic Love Song', 'The Great Pyramid',
featuring 'Driftin' and perhaps his best remembered album from this period
'Revelation', featuring the Randy Muller (Brass Construction) produced 'Let
The Music Play'.
He moved into the Eighties with 'Coming To You Live' featuring 'The Woman
In You' and the title track.
There were further CBS outings with 'Street Themes' and 'Earland's Jam'.
In 1983 he released an odd twelve inch single entitled 'It's A Doggie Boogie,
Baby', popular on the UK dancefloors.
Sheryl Kendrick's death from sickle-cell anaemia in 1985 left Earland
desolate, and he stopped playing for a while, but a gig at the Chickrick House
on Chicago's South Side in the late '80's brought him out of his grief and
back to the Hammond B-3.
Two excellent albums in the old soul-jazz groove for Milestone followed, and
the '90's found him returning to the Muse label.
Earland died of heart failure on December 11th, 1999, the morning after
playing a gig in Kansas City, he was 58.