Tony Valor is best known for his Tony Valor Sounds Orchestra and Fantasy's "You're Too Late" records. Tony Valor speaks with DiscoMusic.com about his music career and TVI Records label.
Tony Valor interview written By Bernard F. Lopez of DiscoMusic.com
Tony Valor is a name you'll see on the credits of many Disco records from the 1970s as well as the singer of countless songs from the 1960s onward. Let's explore a little more about Mr. Valor and his contribution to music and in particular Disco.
It sometimes seems as though Disco music appeared out of nowhere in the 1970's, but the people who made it all happen actually go much further back. Many artists and producers took their experiences with older styles of music and used them as the basis for their forays into Disco and dance. One such Disco notable is Tony Valor who teamed up with Tom Moulton to form T. N. T. Productions as well as produce and write for Maryann Farra & Satin Soul, the Tony Valor Sounds Orchestra, Soccer and Fantasy. Tony Valor has worn many hats in his lifetime including being a singer, producer, manager, studio engineer, radio station DJ, New York City policeman and a music industry lawyer. Valor shares with DiscoMusic.com readers many insights into his music career so read on to find out how it all came about.
Tony Valor's Pre-Disco Years
Tony Valor was born in Sicily, but at the age of one his family moved to Brooklyn, New York where he would stay well into his adult years. His father a dancer and record shop owner instilled music in the younger Valor and encouraged him to sing as well as learn to play the piano, guitar and drums. By the time he reached his teens Valor was singing on street corners in Brooklyn in a sort of doo-wop style that caught the attention of an executive of Music Note Records. This led to Valor recording some vocal tracks in the late 1950's-early 1960's such as "So Tenderly" under his own name. In fact some of these songs were re-released as part of a compilation entitled the "Best of Music Note / Music Tone Records."
Through the 1960's Valor sang vocals with other groups such as The Impalas and The Classics ("Until Then"), but realized he needed to expand and do other things such as producing. Valor says, "I started to work with other acts, but as a performer I really was not going to do well." In order to pursue producing, Valor also wanted to learn how to be an engineer in a recording studio. Mario Rossi of Rossi Studios in Brooklyn kindly offered to teach Valor the very basics of running a 4 track-recording console. For an hour a day over a two-week period Valor absorbed as much as he could. To try out his new found skills he invited a lounge act to come in the studio to be recorded. Valor admits, "It took me several hours to get the drums miked, which normally took an experienced engineer about an hour at that time." Despite the learning curve and trials and errors the recording was released commercially.
Maryann Farra & Satin Soul At Brunswick Records
By the 1970's Valor had honed his skills and started working for the legendary Brunswick Records label. It was here that he would begin working with a group that would put Brunswick Records on the Disco map. This group Maryann Farra & Satin Soul originally were known as Maryann Farra and the Genesis.
By 1976 Tony Valor had groomed Maryann Farra & Satin Soul's sound and released "Do Those Little Things" b/w "Just A Little Timing" as the first 12-inch Disco single (DIS CO207) on Brunswick Records. The record was more successful in Europe than back at home in the U. S. Valor says, We did get a lot of play, but we didn't get what everyone else was getting. Yet, we were the most copied style. It wasn't the best-produced thing since it was my earlier stuff, but it was just different."
Brunswick Records, originally formed in the 1920s, was best known for Chicago Soul and R & B sounds. Tony Valor, who had ascended to the position of VP at Brunswick, was expanding the repertoire with music that appealed to many of Brunswick's European licensees. What Valor was doing was flirting with what was to become early Disco music. He explains that the music of Satin Soul was very different, "I liked R & B vocals with a pop track and that's what I kind of did. …In the early days on Brunswick besides my work on groups like Touch and Maryann Farra I also put out an album on my own with just the music-just instrumentals so the DJs could play around with it."
The record in question was released under the name Tony Valor Sounds Orchestra (BL-754210). It was a name first coined by Tom Moulton. Valor tells the story, "Tom Moulton gave it the name when he heard the different things I would do in the studio, which was a way of saving money, but I would create things that Tom Moulton loved. Moulton would say, ‘Oh, you did that cheap-that's where your name comes from-cheap velvet.' Moulton gave me the name Tony Valor Sounds Orchestra because it sounded like an orchestra, but it wasn't."
Tom Moulton and Tony Valor
Tony Valor originally met Tom Moulton through their work for De-Lite Records. The president of De-Lite wanted to release a Valor production and said he wanted to give it to Moulton to remix. In the studio the two got along very well and Valor adds, "Tom Moulton loved my stuff because it was so unusual. The way I did things was like…I saved a lot of money by cutting a lot of corners. That's how we came together and teamed up and formed T. N. T. Productions. Tom had great ears for sound-he was great." Their collaborations included material for Tony Valor Sounds Orchestra, Touch (Energizer: Brunswick BL-754214), Jeannie Napoli (De-Lite) and others. In short time Moulton became very busy with outside remix assignments and the two parted ways, but have remained good friends till this day.
Barry White and "Ma-Mo-Ah"
The first song put out under the Tony Valor Sounds Orchestra was "Ma-Mo-Ah, on a 7 inch single and later as a Brunswick 12 inch single in 1977 as "Ma-Mo-Ah (Take II)." The Take II stems from the fact that although this is the version we all know it is actually a remix by Tom Moulton with added percussion. When asked how he came up with the title "Ma-Mo-Ah" Valor responds, "I was in Los Angeles with Barry White. He had just finished a concert and I was backstage. He walked into the dressing room and his mother was there and he said ‘Ah, Ma-Mo-Ah'-that's what he used to call his mom and I said, ‘Gee, I like that." When I got back to New York I produced a record called Ma-Mo-Ah." Valor goes on to explain that hearing music by Mongo Santamaria inspired the sound of "Ma-Mo-Ah."
"Ma-Mo-Ah" was a worldwide smash in 1977 and has been re-released a few times since then. In addition Valor goes on to say, "I get sampled a lot and how I can tell is there was something I did in that record that has not been done before or since. I encoded certain things in DBX… so it had this particular sound. No one knows how I did it and if they take the sample they can't change that."
This was a good opportunity to ask Tony Valor how he felt about sampling and he responded, "I'd rather people sample and pay the fee. There's a singer in the U. K. named Rhianna with a song called "Oh Baby" which is fabulous. They did a whole thing from one of my 1958 records called "I Forgot About That / Latin Nights In Manhattan." They paid very nice and her record has done very well. I'd rather them do that than just copy. It gives you money and credit. Sampling to me is fine, the creativity of years ago-you can't beat it. There are very few good musicians. With MIDI there is no need to be a good musician."
Love Has Come My Way
After parting with Tom Moulton and Brunswick Records, Valor signed with Paula Records in 1978 for the album "Love Has Come My Way," which yielded a 12-inch Disco single (# Paula 1243) of the same name with "Opus 22" on the flip side. Carol Williams was the featured vocalist. The single was mixed by the late Jim Burgess and did very well in Discos in the U. S. and around the world. Valor recalls, "Jim Burgess was fabulous. I worked with him in the studio and I enjoyed working with him. In fact he searched me out and asked to mix my record. He didn't even charge me!"
Tony Valor Scores With Soccer
Many listeners may recall the Disco group called Soccer. They were Italian musicians headed by Angelo Venuto who came to Valor's attention when they submitted a tape to him. Valor ended up producing their album. In a rather strange twist Soccer's first 12 inch Disco single with "Come and Get It On" as well as the full album were released by Salsoul Records in 1979 as a rush job, but a year later appeared on Roy B. Records. While Valor doesn't recall exactly, he does say that soccer star Pelle was associated with the group hence the group name and the woman with the soccer uniform on the album cover. The group still performs and are now known as The Callops.
Fantasy and the 1980s
The dawning of the 1980s saw a shift in musical styles and Valor changed right along with it. In 1980 Valor produced a studio group simply called Fantasy, which is best known for the classic Disco hit You're Too Late on the CBS subsidiary Pavillion Records (not Pavilion). According to Valor, "It was just a studio concept and the people in the act were fabulous dancers with three of them being Alvin Ailey dancers." The move to Pavillion Records was brought about in part because of his longstanding friendship with John Luongo who worked with CBS. Luongo was very instrumental in the studio and saw that everything in the Fantasy project ran smoothly.
I quizzed Valor about the change in sound with Fantasy and this is what he had to say, "I played up more on the keyboards. I liked the piano quite a lot." He goes on to explain that the piano intro to "You're Too Late" was a lick he had borrowed from a Kool & the Gang song that he liked and wanted to extend and flesh out.
"You're Too Late" did extremely well and Fantasy was named the number one Disco group in Billboard's Year end Awards for 1981/82. It was made up of the following members:
Tamm E Hunt - lead singer
Ken Roberson - background/choreographer,
Rufus Jackson - background/lead
Carolyn Edwards - background.
Luci Martin and Norma Jean who were both former leads for CHIC did perform background vocals along with Clare Bathe from MACHINE.
Valor still produces a group called Fantasy, but with a totally different lineup and sound. Fantasy's newest release is available on Valor's TVI Records. Valor also worked for De-Lite Records as VP A & R.
Valor After the Golden Age of Disco
Although the golden age of Disco came and went Tony Valor kept very busy with his TVI Records label by releasing product mainly in Europe and managing other groups. In addition he was always involved in behind the scenes legal and management issues pertaining to the music industry. It may come as a surprise to many, but Tony Valor actually owned and/or managed many popular Disco acts of the day such as The Bombers and several Willi Morrison and Ian Guenther produced groups like THP Orchestra, Southern Exposure, Sticky Fingers… You may not always see Valor's name in the credits, but he is behind a lot of great artists and continues to do that till this day. The only thing that has changed is the faces of the singers and styles of dance music.
It was a pleasure speaking with Tony Valor and I would like to thank him for graciously taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with DiscoMusic.com. Be sure to check out TVI Records newest releases.
Written by Bernard F. Lopez (April 18, 2003)
Copyright © 2003 by Bernard F. Lopez
All rights reserved
Listen to You're Too Late by Fantasy:
- Diggin' the Crates Vol 4 (feat. "Ma-Mo-Ah")
- Fantasy - You're Too Late
- Maryann Farra & Satin Soul
- TVI Records 25th Anniversary (feat. many Tony Valor produced groups from the 1970s, 80s & 90s)
- Tony Valor Sounds Orchestra - Love Has Come My Way