Arson charge in famed Philly music company fire

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by Kathy Matheson

PHILADELPHIA (AP)—A man rescued from a fire at a renowned R&B record company had been using a lighter to see inside the building, which he entered while possibly intoxicated, police said Feb. 24 in charging him with arson.

Music-Company-Fire
‘WE’LL BE BACK’—Leon Huff, second left, inspects Philadelphia International Records in the aftermath of a fire, in Philadelphia, Feb. 23.

Police said Christopher Cimini, 27, apparently believed he was someplace else and was seen trying a set of keys before kicking in the door of Philadelphia International Records, the home of musicians including Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, Lou Rawls and the O’Jays.

Fire, smoke and water damage from last weekend’s blaze ruined 40 percent of the company’s memorabilia, though the recording studio was largely spared, label co-founder Kenneth Gamble said.

“When I walked through it the other day, it was like an old friend had died,” Gamble said. “I’m looking for the resurrection. Bottom line is we’ll be back.”

The fire damaged gold and platinum records and the company’s personal inventory of CDs by Michael Jackson and the Jacksons, Pendergrass, Rawls and LaBelle, Gamble said.

Gamble’s partner, Leon Huff, said, “We’ll bounce back. We wrote the song—‘Only the Strong Survive.’”

Gamble, 66, Huff, 67, and fellow Philadelphia producer Thom Bell are credited with creating the lush acoustics of 1960s and ‘70s soul music that came to be known as the Sound of Philadelphia. Gamble and Huff’s songs include the O’Jays’ “Love Train,” Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” and McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”

Many of their biggest hits continue to resonate in popular culture through remakes and commercial licensing.

Before Gamble and Huff bought the three-story brick building in 1970, it was home to Cameo Parkway Records, where Chubby Checker recorded “The Twist” and Dee Dee Sharp, Gamble’s first wife, recorded “Mashed Potato Time.”

Today, the building primarily serves as the licensing arm of Philadelphia International Records, which hosts tour groups and offers a small gift shop. An art store also occupies space on the ground floor.

LaBelle, who recorded the gold album “I’m In Love Again” for the label in 1983, said in an interview Wednesday that she is still close to Gamble and Huff. Hearing about the fire was devastating, she said.

“It was like a big piece of them was taken away,” LaBelle said. “I just felt awful for them.”

Gamble and Huff were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

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