Although L.J. Reynolds is best known for his robust lead vocals on such classics by the Dramatics as “Fell for You,” “Be My Girl,” “Can’t Get Over You,” “Door to My Heart,” “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and “Shake It Well,” the Saginaw, Michigan native also has made a number of distinguished recordings as a solo artist, the latest being Love Is About to Start on Volt Records.
Recorded in Detroit, the album features five tracks produced by Reynolds himself. They include a version of the Deniece Williams classic “Silly” on which he places his unique stylistic stamp, much as he had earlier with renditions of Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me,” and the Winans’ “Tomorrow.” There’s also a remake of “Key to the World,” a self-penned song he first recorded in 1981 for his Capitol debut solo album. “It won’t go away,” Reynolds says of “Key to the World.” “When I’m on the road, people are always asking me where they can get it and will I sing it. Capitol discontinued the record, so I went back and recorded it almost the way I cut it before, but even better. They’re gonna love it.” And the tune “Down on My Luck,” co-written by the singer and his wife Susan, is Reynolds’s nod to country music. “I love country music,” he explains. “I listen to Young Country—Shania Twain, Brooks and Dunn, the Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill. There ain’t a country record I don’t know.”
The remaining four tracks on Love Is About to Start—including “Don’t Go There,” on which Reynolds is backed by his friends from the Dramatics—were produced by one of the most-in-demand hitmakers in the business, Michael J. Powell. The Detroit songwriter and guitarist played a key role in launching Anita Baker’s career and went on to produce such other singing greats as Aaliyah, Regina Belle, Rachelle Ferrell, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Gerald Levert, Tyrese, and Karyn White. “I was very fortunate for this to happen for me,” Reynolds says of working with Powell. “Mike gets a lot of money just for one song. For him to come in and work with me and invest with me was such an honor. He is a musician first, which makes him a really good producer. His music is so interesting and the way he does background vocals. All I have to do as a singer is to get on top of that. It was a perfect marriage.”
Born in 1952, Reynolds started out in show business at age five as a member of Ziggy Johnson’s High Steppers. A tap dancer, young Reynolds was the only boy among some 30 girls who comprised the children’s dance troupe, a popular attraction in Michigan and throughout Canada. Then, one day, producer Johnson asked him to sing a number in the show. “People started throwing money on the stage when I started singing,” Reynolds recalls, “so I figured I better stick to singing.” Thus began the singing career of one of the most urgently emotive vocalists in the annals of R&B. It would be some years, however, before he achieved international fame as lead singer of the Dramatics.
Larry Reynolds launched his recording career at age 11 with a number called “Sweet Tooth.” “It did absolutely great in my hometown,” he recalls. The follow-up single, titled “We’re in the Middle” and credited to L.J. Reynolds and the Relations (his brother, a cousin, and two brothers-in-law), was less successful, though it eventually became a cult classic on England’s Northern Soul scene. At age 17, Reynolds moved to New York City and became lead singer of Chocolate Syrup. The group scored a moderate national hit in 1971 with “Let One Hurt Do.” Chocolate Syrup toured up and down the East Coast, but things became sticky when the group’s second release, “What’s the Matter, Baby,” failed to click. The song, however, later became a “beach” favorite with shag dancers in the Carolinas.
One afternoon in 1972, while sitting at home in Saginaw, his dreams of becoming a singing star having more grown distant, Reynolds got a phone call from Ron Banks, leader of the Dramatics, the hottest new soul vocal group in the country at the time. Dramatics lead singer William “Wee Gee” Howard had left the quintet. Banks, who’d met Reynolds earlier at the Apollo Theater, hoped to persuade Howard to return and hired Reynolds as a temporary replacement. The fill-in assignment turned into a job that lasted eight years and established Reynolds as a star.
Reynolds first left the Dramatics in 1980 to go solo. He recorded two albums for Capitol (L.J. Reynolds and Key to the World) and one for Mercury (Lovin’ Man). His best-selling singles from the early Eighties included “Ain’t No Woman Like My Baby,” “Key to the World,” and “Touch Down.” He signed with Fantasy Records in 1985 and recorded a secular version of the Winans’ gospel song “Tomorrow” that became a moderate hit. The handsome singer began working on a solo album but put it on hold when the Dramatics got back together in 1987 for the Fantasy album Somewhere in Time (A Dramatic Reunion). The reunion was intended to last only 18 months, but the Dramatics, with Ron Banks and L.J. Reynolds at the helm, remain an unstoppable unit 13 years later.
Since rejoining the Dramatics, Reynolds also has continued recording as a soloist. He cut the album Tell Me You Will for Fantasy in 1987 and a gospel album for Bellmark in 1991. Also for Bellmark, he and Banks made an album of duets titled 2 of a Kind in 1994. Reynolds is also featured throughout the Dramatics’ latest Volt Records release, If You Come Back to Me (a spring 2000 release).
While continuing to tour and record as a member of the stellar singing group, Reynolds will spend part of the year doing solo engagements in support of Love Is About to Start, his own Volt solo album. “I plan to do a bunch of ’em,” the veteran vocalist says. “I just plan to be a workaholic in the year 2000.”