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Diane Villano (for the actual websites
version click here.)
Times Staff Writer
Oxford Circle record producer Kenny Kirby
grew up in Birmingham, Ala., on the blues — Ray Charles, Lynyrd Skynyrd
and Alabama, among others, but it was the sound of Philadelphia that
made this Southern boy rock.
"I loved the orchestration of the music coming out of
Philadelphia with the Stylistics,
and the Spinners.
I dreamed of playing with big black stars," Kirby said.
That sound was a force to be reckoned with in the
1970s, and Philadelphia native Linda Creed,
who grew up in Mount Airy, penned many of those songs we sang and danced
to. Her songbook included Betcha
By Golly, Wow; Break Up to Make Up; The Greatest Love of All; Hold Me;
I’m Stone In Love With You; Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart);
and You Make Me Feel Brand New. She
also wrote the theme for the ’80s television series Simon & Simon.
Creed died of breast cancer in April 1986 at age 37. Six years later,
the National Academy of Popular Music inducted her into its Songwriters
Hall of Fame.
Twenty years after her death,
and Philly Fillet Records CEO Jack
Kearton hope to "recreate the magic
that was Philly International Records" — the home of many well-known
soul groups back then — by producing previously unpublished Creed songs.
Four Linda Creed songs are on Welcome to My World,
a CD by fledgling singer Sharon Lia,
who was to have been featured at a July 26 Philly Fillet record-release
party at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. The new Creed songs are
Welcome to My World; Lucky Ones; Let’s Find Those Two People; and
Love Is Feeling.
In 1988, Creed’s husband,
Stephen "Eppy" Epstein,
asked Kirby, an accomplished musician who has toured with the likes of
Sly Stone, Charlie Gracie
and Van Morrison,
to catalog his wife’s unproduced material. "The unreleased
Linda Creed library is an unbelievable body
of work," Kirby said. "The chords are darker, deeper and hipper."
He spent about a year assembling the collection,
gathering songs in all kinds of formats — from incomplete demos to tape
recordings of Creed,
and even lyrics on pieces of paper in a gym bag.
Some of the best-known
songs in Creed’s impressive collection were done in
Thom Bell, another Philadelphia songwriter and record
"Through her music," said Kirby, "I got to know her. Linda was
very modest — a hippie girl from Mount Airy. She was ‘Lyric’ to
Thom Bell’s ‘Maestro’."
Kirby also came to the City of
Brotherly Love to bring the same integrity and production value
to the songs as
Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff had brought to their
highly regarded Philadelphia International label. "They
never cared about the money. It was about the music," Kirby said
of the local music moguls.
According to Web sites that
chronicle her contributions to music, Creed composed songs
that produced more than 20 gold and platinum records for such
artists as Teddy Pendergrass, Dionne Warwick, the Spinners,
Johnny Mathis, Dusty Springfield and Connie Stevens, among
Her song Greatest Love of
All was a huge hit for Whitney Houston
20 years ago. It also supposedly was Creed’s favorite
When Kirby approached
well-known talent about the trove of unrecorded Linda Creed
songs, there was interest in doing hits from the past, so he and
Epstein decided to look in the direction of up-and-coming
According to Kirby, they found
a male singer with a brilliant voice, and Epstein poured $40,000
into recording some tracks. Tragically, the singer died of
complications from AIDS before production was complete.
Then came Sharon Lia.
Kearton, the Philly Fillet
Records CEO, had given Kirby a CD by the young singer, and Kirby
passed it along to Epstein. The accomplished music mogul agreed
to let Lia audition. "He wanted to see the magic,"
That’s just what he saw
when she sat down at the white grand piano at the Epstein home.
"I sang Let’s Find Those Two People for Eppy,"
Lia recalled. "He turned to Jack with a tear in his eye. It was a song
Linda wrote about them. It was their story. I can’t tell you what it
meant to create this feeling in this man, this mogul. Now when I sing
it, I imagine the two of them together."
After the audition, Epstein gave Lia his unequivocal
support. That endorsement meant a lot to Kirby as well, he said. "Eppy
liked to close his eyes and listen to music on a Walkman, catching every
nuance," Kirby said. "He listened to the final product, stood up and
gave me a hug, and said, ‘Linda would have been proud.’"
Earlier this year,
Epstein died in his sleep. Kirby had lost his friend and mentor. "Eppy breathed life into
my career. From the first minute, he nicknamed me ‘Cowboy’ because of my
Southern accent," Kirby recalled. "He told me that he needed me to be
here (to put the collection together) and was going to be our promo guy.
We even had business cards made up for him. Jack (Kearton) put
one in Eppy’s casket."
While Epstein’s loss is still strongly felt, a
collection of his wife’s unknown songs, thanks to his association with
Kirby, will live on. Bennie Sims,
who had been the musical director for the Three Degrees, co-produced two
of the songs with Kirby.
Lia, a singer/songwriter from Long Island,
is proud to help put Linda Creed’s work before the public again.
"It’s a huge honor," she said. "I feel deeply connected. She was a
songwriter; I’m a songwriter. She was a woman that died a very tragic
death. I want to carry on to continue her vision."
For more information about Philly Fillet, check out
For information about the Linda Creed Breast Cancer Foundation,
Reporter Diane Villano can be reached at 215-354-3036 or