Tag Archives: Ramsey Lewis

Tom Tom 84 goes Hollywood.

Tom Tom Washington (pictured at left) is basically my hero. He’s also a very humble and cool individual to be around.

As a Chicagoan and a music lover, his distinctive Horn and String Arrangements are like home to me.

Tom Tom came up in Chicago’s Ida B. Wells Projects and studied music under the tutelage of James Mack (an awe-inspiring arranger in his own right). He wound up arranging dozens of records for Chicago Music Heavyweights such as Earth, Wind, & Fire, The Emotions, Tyrone Davis, Deniece Williams (who is from Gary, IN), The Staple Singers, Ramsey Lewis, Leroy Hutson, The Chi-Lites, Otis Leavill, Betty Everett, Jerry Butler, Loleatta Holloway, and many, many, more.

In my cratedigging, I actually look for his name on a record as a mark of excellence.  I call it looking for a “Tom Tom”. I have at least a couple of hundred cuts he’s had a hand in (under the names Tom Tom, Tom Tom 74, Tom Tom 75, Tom Tom 84, Tom Tom Washington, and a few other aliases).

Tom Tom Washington also branched out and worked with artists from all over the world, including Phil Collins and The Whispers. The Whispers are a Los Angeles-based group, and in 1978, he did arrangements for an album called “Headlights”. I know this because I recently found a 45rpm single taken from the album. I’m not usually a fan of the Whispers, but it’s a beast, featuring the top cut, called “Olivia (Lost and Turned Out)” (which is about exactly what you think it’s about), and the B-Side called “Try and Make it Better”,  which is bangin’. The tunes’ arrangements capture the distinctive sound that Tom Tom made classic on hits by Earth, Wind, & Fire and The Emotions. It’s amazing. But why wouldn’t it be? It’s a “Tom Tom”.

Ramsey Lewis and Earth, Wind, & Fire: sun goddess…an exercise of local royalty.

In 1974, Earth, Wind, & Fire was beginning its ascent to “Shining Star”-dom: “That’s The Way of the World” had not yet been released, but “Head to the Sky” and “Devotion” had already made them radio favorites. Maurice White, the lead vocalist on so many of EWF’s cuts (and a beastly drummer) returns the favor paid to him by Chicago legend Ramsey Lewis (who selected him for the second generation of the Ramsey Lewis Trio).

The first generation of the Ramsey Lewis Trio featured Lewis with Eldee Young and Redd Holt (of Young-Holt Unlimited best known for “Soulful Strut”), who struck out on their own in about 1967, while the second featured Lewis, White, and Cleveland Eaton.  The second generation sounded decidedly funkier.

Ultimately, Maurice White, too, struck out to form the Salty Pepers (sic), which, with members of the Pharaohs, formed what became Earth, Wind & Fire.

So, back to 1974. That year, Maurice produced the stellar “Sun Goddess” for Ramsey Lewis’ album of the same name, but there’s a bunch of other cuts on the album of the same name featuring Chicago Soul/Jazz Royalty at their peak of power. Jive on!