PHILADELPHIA, PA—A two-alarm fire ripped through the offices of Philadelphia International Records on February 21; the company’s studio, where acts like The Jacksons, Teddy Pendergrass, Lou Rawls, Patti La- Belle and Chubby Checker recorded classic songs, was relatively unharmed.
The Broad Street offices and studio have been the working home to producers/ songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff since the early 1970s. There, they recorded countless soulful singles that came to be known as the Sound of Philadelphia, generating more than 100 Gold and Platinum records and over 70 #1 hits, including “Love Train” by the O’Jays, “Me & Mrs. Jones” (Billy Paul), “If You Don’t Me By Now” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes) and “Enjoy Yourself” by the Jacksons. Prior to the PIR era, the facility was the home of the Cameo-Parkway record label, where Chubby Checker recorded “The Twist.”
The building was “severely damaged” according to PIR publicist Randy Alexander, who noted that police have found the blaze “suspicious”; an official ruling may come later today. Both Gamble and Huff were in New York City at the time of the fire.
When firefighters arrived that morning, they had to rescue a man from a third-floor window; the floor houses the studio, offices and a merchandise storage room, where the fire broke out. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the man’s name has not been released to the public, and while no charges have been filed against him, he was reportedly “uncooperative” during police interviews as to why he was in the building.
According to Chuck Gamble, executive vice president of Philadelphia International Records and nephew of the songwriter, roughly 40 percent of the offices’ memorabilia, including photographs and gold and platinum record awards, is still unaccounted for; he told the paper, “It was dark in there, so at this point, we just don’t know where they are. They could have been knocked off the walls or were melted.”
The studio, however, was untouched by the fire, even including the original orange shag carpet covering the walls. Other than smoke damage, the recording facility reportedly appears to have survived the fire intact.
As a sign of the times, however, the studio isn’t PIR’s main revenue source these days; most of the company’s work centers around licensing and marketing of its back catalog. The majority of PIR’s reported 10,000 master tapes were kept off-site.
Philadelphia International Records