Vince Unto, the lead vocalist of Executive Suite speaks to DiscoMusic.com about the making of their 1973 Disco hit, When the Fuel Runs Out and how Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates gave them their name.
Vince Unto interview by Bernard Lopez of DiscoMusic.com
The city of Philadelphia has become synonymous with great Soul and Disco music over the decades. What many may not realize is that some of the groups that were tagged as hailing from Philly actually were from the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. One such group was Executive Suite from Camden, New Jersey who in 1973 hit the early Disco scene and radio with "When the Fuel Runs Out" on Babylon Records.
The Philly Sound Via Camden, New Jersey
The lead vocalist of Executive Suite was Vince Unto who recently got in touch with DiscoMusic.com to discuss his music career. While he is now living in California, Vince was born in the Philadelphia suburb of Camden, New Jersey on August 24th, 1949 of German and Filipino extract. The Philly sound had a profound effect on Vince with him wanting to learn to play the drums and later the trumpet. Things really took off when he joined the glee club during junior high and realized he liked to sing. Vince explains, "I got more interested in singing I guess because one of my sisters played all this Motown music, The Impressions, Curtis Mayfield. That kind of music really grabbed me. Also groups like The Drifters with "Stand By Me" and "There Goes My Baby," which was stuff they were playing on WIBG. Groups like the Flamingos-all them nice harmonies and smooth tenors. That really influenced me. I just kept trying and trying and I started imitating people and thats how I actually learned how to sing." Vince goes on to say that he used to do a great Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield imitation.
Vince Unto would later join a high school band called the Italics consisting of eleven members. Vince describes the Italics sound as being, "So tight. We rehearsed everyday." The Italics would do shows in and around the Philadelphia area and it was during one of these shows that Gamble and Huff took notice. In 1968 when Vince Unto graduated, the group split up with one of the singers, Jimmy Williams, picking up the bass and using Winnie Whinfield as his role model. Williams went on to play with the O'Jays and appeared on countless Philly productions. Whinfield was the bass player for Kenny Gamble and the Romeos. According to Vince, "We were influenced a lot by Kenny Gamble and the Romeos because they took us under their wings since they saw talent in this group (The Italics). I guess that if we had stayed together we would have ended up being one of their first groups other than the Intruders."
From High School To Millionaires
It is Jimmy Williams who in 1969 connected Vince Unto with a group of guys who would become the Millionaires. The Millionaires consisted of Henry Tuton, Charles Coniers, Billy Tyler and Vince Unto. One of the members had a brother who was with another group called The Ebonies-and they too were connected with Gamble and Huff. When asked if the Millionaires had any hits Vince replies, "No, we were doing nightclubs in Philadelphia when a guy named Sherman Marshall, who was connected to Johnny Madera and Harry Chippetz of Sigma Sound, told us to come on over to the Shubert Theatre. We did and we got to meet Johnny Madera and Harry Chippetz and we sang and signed a recording contract!" Sherman was also Barbara Ingram's (one of the Sweethearts of Sigma) boyfriend.
The Shubert Theatre was home to many others such as Bobby Eli who was the guitarist of the Vibrations and Daryl Hall who was a song writer for a group called Hall Oates, which would later become Hall and Oates.
Millionaires Become Executives
Bobby Eli and Daryl Hall appreciated the new talent so much that they each would write a song for Vince Unto and the group. It is in fact Daryl Hall who insisted that The Millionaires change their names to Executive Suite. Once The Millionaires became Executive Suite, Bobby Eli wrote a song for them called, "I'm A Winner Now," which was released on the Jubilee label and garnered some airplay, but promptly disappeared due to some interference. Vince recalls, "Gamble and Huff had it banned from the air. I don't know what exactly happened between Gamble & Huff and Johnny Madera, but there was some problem between them. We did get played for about a week, but because of that it didn't go anywhere."
Listen to I'm A Winner Now by Executive Suite with Vince Unto
Around 1970-71 Executive Suite would have a ballad written for them called "Christine" by Daryl Hall, which later appeared in a Hall and Oates album. It was along the lines of The Delfonics or Stylistics in sound. On the day that the song was to be recorded, fellow band member Billy Tyler couldnt leave work on time so Daryl Hall sang natural tenor along with Vince Unto doing high tenor on the track. The song received a little airplay, but not much.
When the Fuel Runs Out
"Your Love Is Paradise" was written by Bunny Sigler and came very close to hitting it very big since it was popular in regional markets such as Chicago and Detroit. Nonetheless, it wasn't until 1973 when Executive Suite would have their claim to fame, the classic song called "When the Fuel Runs Out" written by the premiere team of Norman Harris, Alan Felder and Bunny Sigler. This was released on Babylon Records out of New York in the U.S. and Cloud Nine Records in the U.K.
Listen to When the Fuel Runs Out by Executive Suite with Vince Unto
The interesting part is when Vince explains, "I didnt really want to sing that song because it was actually written for Henry Tuton who had more of a Teddy Pendergrass type of voice. When we got into the studio Henry just could not sing it the way they wanted him to. Bunny Sigler came in and said, 'sing this song cause we're running out of time.' I didn't feel as though I was prepared since I didn't rehearse well enough to sing it. At the time I never expected to sing that type of a song. To tell you the truth, I didn't like Disco. I always felt I was a guy who could do ballads."
Listen to You Believed In Me by Executive Suite
The next single, which also was Disco oriented, was entitled, "You Believed In Me" on Polydor Records and produced by Scribbles who also arranged the song with Patrick Adams of P & P Records and Musique fame. Vince doesn't recall much else from this session. This is the last song that Vince sang on for Executive Suite. Vince finally left the group in 1976 to pursue a regular line of work since he claims they weren't making any money despite all the hard work and he needed to support a wife and two children.
Vince got a job in construction, but did sing part-time with a Philly group called the Intrigues and later did backup with a singer called David Simmons who then changed his name to Abu Bakar. The group that was with Simmons/Bakar became known as the Neo Experience and one of the female singers according to Vince sounded like Chaka Khan and she went on to front the Ritchie Family. Her name was Vera Brown.
Listen to Your Love Is Paradise by Executive Suite
In 1982 Vince Unto was offered a chance to work with a group that would be produced by Stevie Wonder. The group was called Myx, but things never materialized and in due time Vince ended up staying in California and worked in construction. "MYX" did perform background vocals on Neil Diamond's album "Headed For the Future" along with Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock on the song "Lost In Hollywood" and Vince appeared in the Stevie Wonder video "Overjoyed." Currently, Vince still resides in California working a normal 9-5 and is happy with his participation in the 1970s Disco music scene. Big thanks to Vince for getting in touch with DiscoMusic.com and taking time to speak on the phone about his music career.
Written by Bernard F. Lopez (March 20, 2004)
Copyright © 2004 by Bernard F. Lopez
All rights reserved
Recommended Listening and Reading
- Super Rare Disco 2 CD (Includes When the Fuel Runs Out)
- The Motown Album: The Sound of Young America (Book) by Elvis Mitchell, Ben Fong-Torres, Berry Gordy