The Chi-Lites - Biography

Not content to be just one of the many silkier-sounding soul groups of the seventies, the Chi-Lites were able to set themselves apart from the pack thanks to their triple-threat lead singer, Eugene Record. The owner of a celestial falsetto and one of the most fitting surnames in history, Record not only sang like a bird, but wrote the bulk of the group's repertoire and produced their often lush arrangements. After a successful run in the early to mid-seventies, the Chi-Lites' line-up became shaky and inconsistent, with Record leaving the group twice, and their popularity dwindling. Today, they enjoy a career as a Record-less trio, and the horn hook on one of their songs, “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So),” was sampled by Beyonce for her super-hit “Crazy in Love.”


Doo wop group The Chanteurs is the earliest known incarnation of what would become The Chi-Lites. Formed in the late fifties, the trio, consisting of Eugene Record, Robert “Squirrel” Lester, and Clarence Johnson, released a single on Renee Records in 1959. They were soon joined by Creadel “Red” Jones and Marshall Thompson, formerly of The Desideros. Now a quintet, they called themselves The Hi-Lites. Over the next four years, the group quietly released singles on independent labels. As Thompson was the earliest member to assert himself as the leader, the group became Marshall and The Chi-Lites. The added “C” was in honor of their beloved windy city, Chicago.


When Johnson departed in 1964, the group dropped the “Martin And” part of their name and went on simply as The Chi-Lites. Record slowly but surely worked his way towards the status of group leader, helped by the fact that he wrote a majority of the songs and produced their singles. The foursome went about releasing singles for another four years, which got them little attention, until they signed with a larger independent label in Chicago, Brunswick Records. In 1969, they released their first big single, “Give It Away,” which reached number 10 on the R&B charts. Their debut LP of the same name followed closely behind the single, and included renditions of Motown hits “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “My Whole World Ended” and “I'm Gonna Make You Love Me.” A second single off the album, “Let Me Be the Man My Daddy Was,” reached number 15 on the R&B charts, and the album itself peaked at number 16.


Eager to sell the group's new single, “I Like Your Lovin' (Do You Like Mine?)” in a convenient package, Brunswick released the 1970 LP of the same name. Other than the single, it featured just two new songs, the all too similar-sounding but more successful “Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So),” and “Trouble's A-Comin.” The rest of the album was comprised of almost all of the tracks from their debut. In 1971, they put out more of a proper follow-up to their first album, entitled (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People (Brunswick). It contained mostly new material and only one previously released song (“Trouble's A-Comin”). Record wrote or co-wrote every cut on the album, proving himself a rarity, as most soul groups didn't have singers who also acted as their chief songwriters. The single “(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People” reached number four on the R&B charts and was followed by the slower and more soulful “Have You Seen Her?” which gave the group their first number one single on the R&B charts. It even reached number three on the pop charts. The album was more socially conscious as a whole, sharing similarities with albums by Curtis Mayfield, Sly and The Family Stone, and The O'Jays.


The closest the Chi-Lites came to making a perfect album followed in 1972 in the form of A Lonely Man (Brunswick). Even though the single “A Lonely Man” sounded almost exactly like “Have You Seen Her,” the release was proof that Record could stretch his creativity across an entire LP, each song captivating and memorable in its own right. Even the cover of Marvin Gaye's “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” came off as a well-executed, well-chosen number instead of filler. The crowning achievement of the album, and perhaps the band's career, was “Oh Girl,” which earned them their first and last number one spot on the pop charts, not just the R&B charts, in the spring of 1972. 


A new album called A Letter to Myself (Brunswick) followed in 1973. The single of the same name found mild success, but only reached number 50 on the pop charts, a noticeable drop from the top spot they'd finally claimed only a year before. An eponymous sixth LP came out later that year, and the group did well with lead-off single “Stoned Out of My Mind.” Their last album for their financially challenged Brunswick label, Half a Love (1974), did not even see release in the US, and was only available in the UK. By now, it became clear that the group had begun their decline, and they'd lost a member, replacing Jones with Stanley Anderson, who in turn was replaced very quickly by Willie Kensey. The new line-up moved to a new label, Edsel, for release of 1974's Toby, which gave them a mild resurgence into the charts. Shortly thereafter, Kensey was replaced by Doc Roberson.


Soon after Toby's release, Record left the group due to his mounting frustrations with the way things were panning out. He became a solo artist for Warner Bros. while the trio he'd left behind decided to press on, acquiring David Scott and Danny Johnson to make up for the loss of Record. Johnson was replaced by Vandy Hampton in 1977 and they signed with Mercury, where they achieved little success. Record became a Chi-Lite once again in 1980, and the group was back to its original line-up of Record, Thompson, Jones, and Lester. They signed to Record's then-label, Chi-Sound, and gained more success than they'd found on Mercury, even scoring a bonafide hit with 1982's “Hot on a Thing (Called Love).” In 1983, they made yet another label switch, this time in favor of Larc Records, where they would see one last top ten hit released, “Bottoms Up.”


Jones withdrew from the group late in 1983, and the remaining three singers carried on together, touring throughout the eighties. Record again parted ways with them in 1990 to do more solo work, and his shoes were filled by Anthony Watson. Jones eventually came back into the fold, and this line-up enjoyed a successful touring career. Marshall Thompson had reclaimed his title as leader of The Chi-Lites and in 2000, the group was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. Jones left the group yet again while Watson was eventually replaced by Frank Reed, and the trio of Reed, Thompson and Lester went on to record new material as well as continue their usual touring. On July 22nd, 2005, Eugene Record passed away after a long battle with cancer, at the age of 64.

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