Undisputed: Trey Stone and the Peps were fabulous in Great Britain
Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a two-part series.
Veteran singer Joe Harris had some words of advice for Trey Stone as they prepared for his concert in England with the Fabulous Peps: Learn the words well because “those folks you are going to be singing to are gonna know those songs better than you.”
The Fabulous Peps were an R&B band that emerged from Detroit’s doo-wop era. Harris, the bandleader, accepted an invitation to headline an “all-nighter” in the working-class town of Wolverhampton, England, where soul music is the rage. But when the other original Peps backed out, Harris invited South Lake Tahoe player Stone and Motown singer Steve Calloway to fill in.
Stone initially thought he would be backing the singer-dancers as a guitarist, but Harris told him he needed him up front. Stone said he felt naked without his guitar. However, Harris, who has collaborated with Stone for years on a variety of projects, had complete confidence in his friend, saying, “I know when Trey is committed to do something, I know what I am going to get.”
Stone received his affirmation when he performed the Impressions’ “I’ve Been Trying,” a ballad the Peps chose to close every one of their shows at Harlem’s Apollo Theater from 1966-70.
“When Trey sang that song, the girls started screaming,” Harris said with a laugh. “Thirty years later, the response is the same.”
It’s actually closer to 40, but obviously that’s moot to the folks in the coal mining town.
Harris must have felt some pressure as well. His baritone was the signature voice on 14 albums with the Undisputed Truth, but Harris had to sing in the same falsetto tenor that he used as a young man with the Fabulous Peps. He admitted after about six songs to being grateful for the crowd’s highly audible response.
The new Fabulous Peps began to come to a serious realization of how well they would be received during an interview and a live performance on BBC radio.
“The telephone lines just lit up,” Harris said. “I said, ‘Trey? See?’ “
Calloway earlier learned of Europe’s infatuation with the music at a funeral for the Funk Brothers’ Joe Hunter which reunited him with members of the Professionals. Calloway learned that one of their albums was worth $4,000. While in England, several people asked him to autograph the valuable album cover.
“He got to the point where he said, ‘Man, I can’t sign these copies because if I sign it, it loses value,’ and every one of them said to sign it anyway because they were taking it to their grave.”
Stone played with Harris in the Undisputed Truth and as a session player with Norman Whitfield and his best-known project, the Temptations. The rapport between the two is still good, as is the future.
England wants the Fabulous Peps back: Harris and Calloway plan to come to Tahoe in the spring to rehearse and record in anticipation of a U.K. tour.
“This could be the start of something,” Harris said.
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