Mr. Tighten Up was born on September 1, 1944!
Growing up in Houston, Texas, Archie Bell started singing in church before cutting his teeth in a junior high school vocal group called Little Pop and the Fireballs. By the time he’d made it to high school, he’d formed the Drells, who, though Texans through and through, specialized in a breezy thread of Chicago-style soul. Their unique approach won them many a talent contest and brought them to the attention of local disc jockey and Ovide Records head honcho Skippy Lee Frazier. Their first outing for Frazier, 1966’s “She’s My Woman” became a local hit but the next year Bell was drafted. Before heading off, he and the Drells managed to lay down a few tunes in the company of Texas State University’s ace instrumental soul squad the T.S.U. Tornadoes. One of the songs was a loose, infectious number called “Tighten Up,” which was subsequently released and became a hit, first in Houston and then all over the country.
It crested at number one on both the pop and R&B charts while Drell was recovering from wounds in Vietnam. Learning of his windfall, he began traveling back to the U.S. to record while on leave, and eventually lit out for a national tour with the Drells. It was after a show in New Jersey that he met Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Philadelphia’s leading songwriting and production team. The partnership wound up being a fruitful one, scoring hits such as “I Can’t Stop Dancng,” “Do The Choo-Choo” and the most excellent, “(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown,” which was later re-invented to perfection by the New York Dolls.