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T.S.U. Toronados

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Biography

Alternately known as the TSU Tornadoes and, more often, the TSU Toronadoes, this often instrumental soul/funk combo was best known for supplying the backing on Archie Bell & the Drells' much-imitated dance smash "Tighten Up." The group was formed at Texas Southern University (hence the first part of their name) in Houston by guitarist/sometime lead vocalist Cal Thomas, who'd previously played in an R&B band called the Arabian Knights. Joining him were fellow students Will Thomas (also Cal's brother) on guitar and vocals, Jerry Jenkins on bass, Dwight Burns on drums, Robert Sanders on organ, Darryl Busby on sax, Clarence "Creeper" Harper on trumpet, and Leroy Lewis and Nelson Mills on horns. The Toronados built a local name for themselves by backing up numerous R&B artists passing through Houston on tour, and also played on campus and around the club scene. Disc jockey Skipper Lee Frazier signed the group to his new local label Ovide, and they wound becoming the primary house band. It was in this capacity that the group backed some studio sessions by a vocal group from Houston called Archie Bell & the Drells. Bell and his partner Billy Butler set lyrics to a funky riff the Toronados had been playing on their club dates, and the result was "Tighten Up," a number one smash in 1968. Unfortunately, none of the Toronados received writer's credit, nor did they get their due for "A Thousand Wonders," which was included on the Drells' accompanying LP and passed off as a Drells tune (Bell's military service had resulted in a shortage of material). However, this behind-the-scenes success did pique the interest of Atlantic Records, which picked up their singles "Getting the Corners" b/w "What Good Am I" and "The Goose" for distribution in 1969; both were somewhat successful, with the former reaching the R&B Top 40. In late 1969, Volt released the harder funk of "My Thing Is a Moving Thing," which was followed in 1970 by "Play the Music Toronados." However, neither was a substantial hit, and the Toronados returned to Ovide for one last single in 1971 before the label was shut down. Jenkins, Mills, and Busby left the group to continue touring, while the Thomas brothers kept the TSU Toronados name and recorded a couple more sides for Frazier's new Rampart Street label, which were never released owing to a dispute over publishing rights. The group formally disbanded after that, although the Thomases re-formed it during the '80s to perform locally. Some of their work has been reissued by the Tuff City subsidiary Funky Delicacies. ~ Steve Huey
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