Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band

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Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
Charles Wright performing at memorial tribute for the late founder of the Watts Summer Festival Tommy Jacquette on Saturday, 28 November 2009.
Background information
Also known asThe Soul Runners, Charles Wright & the Wright Sounds, The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Charles Wright
OriginLos Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresSoul, funk, R&B
Years active1962 - present
LabelsMoSoul, Keymen, Warner Bros.
MembersCharles Wright
Past membersAl McKay, Benorce Blackmon, Gabe Flemings, Melvin Dunlap, James Gadson, Big John Rayford, Bill Cannon, Ray Jackson

Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band is an American soul and funk band. Formed in the early 1960s, they had the most visibility from 1967 to 1973 when the band had 9 singles reach Billboard's pop and/or rhythm and blues charts, such as "Do Your Thing" (#11 Pop, #12 R&B), "Till You Get Enough" (#12 R&B, #67 Pop), and "Love Land" (R&B #23, Pop #16). They are best known for their biggest hit on Warner Bros. Records, 1970's "Express Yourself" (#3 R&B, #12 Pop), a song that has been sampled by rap group N.W.A and others.


Charles Wright and the Wright Sounds[edit]

Charles Wright was born on April 6, 1940 in Clarksdale, Mississippi.[1] He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s, playing guitar and singing in several doo-wop groups including the Turks, the Twilighters, the Shields and the Gallahads. He also briefly worked in A&R for Del-Fi Records and was responsible for the 1961 hit record "Those Oldies but Goodies (Remind Me of You)" by Little Caesar & the Romans. In 1962, he formed his own band Charles Wright & the Wright Sounds which included future Watts Band member John Raynford, along with Daryl Dragon, later known as the "Captain" of Captain & Tennille. Over the course of the next six years, Wright would add more players to his group and these were the players who would eventually become known as the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, at least by 1968. Several of those members, including drummer James Gadson, bassist Melvin Dunlap, trombonist/arranger Ray Jackson, and both guitarists Al McKay and Benorce Blackmon, would play on several Dyke and the Blazers charting singles, including "We Got More Soul" (1969) and "Let a Woman Be a Woman, Let a Man Be a Man" (1969).

The Wright Sounds played in several venues across Los Angeles but their best known stint was three years (ending in 1968) at Hollywood's Haunted House nightclub. Originally located at Hollywood and Vine, the Haunted House was a popular club in the 1960s and appears in several popular culture artifacts, most notably the 1969 go-go dancing B-movie, Girl in Gold Boots.

First Watts 103rd Band[edit]

The name, Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band was originally coined by Los Angeles producer and Keymen Records owner Fred Smith in 1967. However, between 1967 and 1968, the Watts 103rd name applied to three, arguably four different personnel configurations before settling into the final band who played on every Watts 103rd album from 1968 forward.[2]

Smith produced a theme song for KGFJ radio personality, DJ Magnificent Montague. The song became so popular that Smith released it as a single in 1967 and created the name, Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band for the studio group who had recorded it. Purportedly, the players on the single included Wright, James Carmichael, Leon Haywood, and Bobby Womack.[3]

There is some confusion because, after "Spreadin' Honey" became a success, Montague re-released the single on the MoSoul label (a Keyman subsidiary) and credited to a different group altogether, the Soul Runners. It has been long assumed that the Soul Runners were simply an earlier line-up of the Watts Band however, according to Wright, the two groups had nothing to do with one another whatsoever.[4]

Second Watts 103rd Band[edit]

In 1966, Carmichael and Wright were both working as session players for the Nashville West recording studio. Their group of studio players was discovered by Fred Smith and comedian Bill Cosby who needed a backing band for his upcoming album, Silver Throat. Smith hired the Nashville West players and gave them the Watts 103rd name. This group included (but was not necessarily limited to): Arthur Wright (bass), Pete Fox (guitar), Streamline Ewing (trombone), Herman Riley (tenor sax), Jackie Kelso (tenor sax), Melvin Jernigan (tenor sax), Mel Brown (guitar), Abraham Mills (drums).[2]

Due to their association with Cosby, the new Watts 103rd band landed a deal with Warner Bros. Records, becoming the first R&B band to sign with them. They released a debut album in 1967. Technically self-titled, the album has also come to be called Hot Heat & Sweet Groove after a sub-title found on the back cover. "Spreadin' Honey" was included on this album, per Warner Bros. insistence, even though none of the players on the album, save for Wright, had actually played on the "Spreadin' Honey" single.[2]

Wright generally disavows this album as a true Watts 103rd project, preferring to describe the second album, Together as the "first" Watts 103rd LP.

Third Watts 103rd Band[edit]

When Cosby went on tour, Wright was put in charge with creating a Watts 103rd touring band which included both the musicians he had just recorded Hot Heat with but also added in the Wright Sounds as well. The Haunted House also began to bill Wright and the Wright Sounds as the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band.

Final Watts 103rd Band[edit]

Creative disagreements led to Smith selling his interest in the group to Wright. Newly freed, Wright reformed the Watts 103rd exclusively out of his Wright Sounds players and broke ties with the musicians he had recorded Hot Heat with.

A May 18, 1968 recording of a live session at the Haunted House became the partial basis for the second Warner Bros. album, Together.[2] That album yielded the group's first major national hit, the slow grooving "Do Your Thing."

Their next album, In the Jungle Babe, is best known for both "Love Land," an uptempo, doo-wop-influenced soul ballad, as well as "Comment," where Wright discusses the state of racial affairs in America. Though the album was credited to the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band, the singles from this album and the group's next two albums, would be listed under "Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band".

In the band's early years, they were mostly known for playing covers of popular R&B hits but by the late 1960s, the group began to create original songs, resulting in a sound that was, as Charles Wright put it, "the middle ground between Otis Redding and James Brown",[5] reflecting the group's musical blend of different regional R&B and funk styles. Their experiments in long, loosely structured grooves, best heard on the Express Yourself and You're So Beautiful albums, could be heard as both influences on and influenced by contemporaries such as Sly and the Family Stone, the Isley Brothers and Parliament-Funkadelic.


As early as 1969, the Watts Band began to lose members. Al McKay left the Watts Band in 1969 and soon joined Earth, Wind & Fire. He was replaced by Benorce Blackmon. After recording the 1971, You're So Beautiful album, Gadson, Dunlap, Jackson, and Blackmon left the Watts Band to work with Bill Withers, playing on the albums Still Bill (1972) and Live at Carnegie Hall (1973).

Charles Wright went on to record four solo records after the departure of the Watts Band's core rhythm section, Rhythm and Poetry (1972), Doin' What Comes Naturally (1973), Ninety Day Cycle People (1974), and Lil' Encouragement (1975). In 2007, he released a new album, Finally Got It Wright, which includes an updated version of "Express Yourself."

"Express Yourself" was sampled by Los Angeles rap group N.W.A 1988 and has been used for many soundtracks of movies, including Remember the Titans, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, plus numerous television commercials. "Do Your Thing" was featured on the soundtrack to Boogie Nights. "65 Bars and a Taste of Soul" serves as the theme music for the Chuck character Roan Montgomery.

Band members[edit]



(As The Soul Runners)[edit]

Year Title Peak chart
Record Label B-side
1966 "Grits 'N Corn Bread" 33 MoSoul Records "Spreadin' Honey"
1967 "Chittlin' Salad" "Chittlin' Salad (Part II)"
"Last Date" "Charley"

(As The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band)[edit]

Year Title Peak chart
Record Label B-side Album
1967 "Spreadin' Honey" 73 44 Keymen Records "Charley" Hot Heat and Sweet Groove
1968 "Brown Sugar" Warner Bros. Records "Caesar's Palace"
"Bottomless" "65 Bars and a Taste of Soul"
"Do Your Thing" 11 12 "A Dance, a Kiss and a Song" Together
1969 "Till You Get Enough" 67 12 "Light My Fire" In the Jungle, Babe

(As Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band)[edit]

Year Title Peak chart
Record Label B-side Album
1969 "Must Be Your Thing" 103 35 Warner Bros. Records "Comment" In the Jungle, Babe
1970 "Love Land" 16 23 "Sorry Charlie"
"Express Yourself" 12 3 "Living on Borrowed Time" Express Yourself
"Solution for Pollution" 96 "High as Apple Pie"
1971 "Your Love (Means Everything to Me)" 73 9 "What Can You Bring Me" You're So Beautiful
"Nobody Tellin' Me About My Baby" "Wine"
1972 "I Got Your Love" "Let's Make Love - Not War" You're So Beautiful

(As Charles Wright)[edit]

Year Title Peak chart
Record Label B-side Album
1966 "Help Yourself" Capitol Records "Number One"
"(I'm Living on) Borrowed Time" Philips Records "Keep Saying
(You Don't Love Nobody)"
1970 "(I'm Living on) Borrowed Time" "Keep Saying
(You Don't Love Nobody)"
1972 "Soul Train" Warner Bros. Records "Run Jody Run" Rhythm and Poetry
"You Gotta Know Whatcha Doin'" "Here Comes the Sun"
1973 "(Well I'm) Doin' What Cums Naturally
Part 1"
27 Dunhill Records "(Well I'm) Doin' What Cums Naturally
Part 2"
Doing What Comes Naturally
1975 "Is It Real?" "Don't Rush Tomorrow" Ninety Day Cycle People


(As The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band)[edit]

Year Album Billboard 200 R&B Record label
1967 Hot Heat and Sweet Groove Warner Bros. Records
1968 Together 140 40
1969 In the Jungle, Babe 145 42

(As Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band)[edit]

Year Album Billboard 200 R&B Record label
1970 Express Yourself 182 27 Warner Bros. Records
1971 You're So Beautiful 147 39

(As Charles Wright)[edit]

Year Album R&B
1972 Rhythm & Poetry
1973 Doin' What Comes Naturally 45
1974 Ninety Day Cycle People
1975 Lil' Encouragement
2007 Finally Got It Wright


  1. ^ Charles Wright (6th April Birthday), Retrieved 27 September 2014
  2. ^ a b c d Wang, Oliver (2008). Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band: Live at the Haunted House - May 18, 1968 [CD liner notes]. Rhino Handmade.
  3. ^ Hill, Edward (2006). "The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band." [CD liner notes]. Water Records.
  4. ^ Thompson, Dave (2001). "Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band." Funk. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. pp. 203-206.
  5. ^ [1] Archived December 14, 2005, at the Wayback Machine


  • Hill, Edward (2006). "The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band." [CD liner notes]. Water Records.
  • Hill, Edward and Richard Edson (2005). "Charles Wright." Wax Poetics Issue 11. pp. 72
  • Morthland, John (1993). Express Yourself: The Best Of Charles Wright And The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band [CD liner notes]. Warner Bros. Records.
  • Thompson, Dave (2001). "Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band." Funk. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. pp. 203–206.
  • Wang, Oliver (2008). "Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band: Live at the Haunted House - May 18, 1968" [CD liner notes]. Rhino Handmade.

External links[edit]