When Teddy Pendergrass agreed to record a new live album for the producers of the King Biscuit Flower Hour, it was unknown what kind of performance the audience might get from the man who was once considered among the sexiest artists on the music scene. The show took place a full twenty years after a near fatal car accident had left Pendergrass paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. He had not performed an entire concert since the accident.
Once Pendergrass and his 11-piece band hit the stage, however, it was clear to everyone sitting in the audience at L.A.'s Wiltern Theatre that the smooth groove of his music was just as soulful as ever. Although he was limited to a stationary, seated position, it seemed like nothing else from his 1970s heyday had changed. Gliding through old hits, new material, gospel and even songs from his days as vocalist for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Pendergrass is clearly excited to be performing again. The fact that the show was recorded on Valentine's Day made it even more special, since so much of Pendergrass' material is about love. "Love was in the air that night," Pendergrass said after the recording was made. "It inspired me so much. Now I am glad it was recorded and people could share it together." Pendergrass dedicated the live album that was released from the show to his "fans, who had waited all those years for my return to the concert stage." He added, "You will be able to tell from the smile on my face how happy I was to be back singing live for you again."
Pendergrass was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, and like so many other black vocalists, got his start singing gospel in the church. By the mid-1960s, he was in a teen vocal group called The Cadillacs, playing drums. When some of the members of The Cadillacs moved over to a more established R&B group called Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Pendergrass went as well. The group already had a drummer but Melvin realized Pendergrass was a great singer, and when asked if he wanted to be the group's lead singer, he accepted. The group reemerged with a new lineup and a new, powerful R&B sound.
At the same time, the landmark R&B songwriting/production teams of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had been looking for a strong vocalist to sign to their new Philadelphia International label and sing their original songs. When they heard a demo of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with Pendergrass on vocals, they signed the group immediately. What followed was a series of R&B classics and albums beginning in 1972 that included "I Miss You," "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "Love I Lost," "Bad Luck" and "Wake Up Everybody," which went to #1 in early 1976. But with all the recognition going to Harold Melvin, Pendergrass rebelled, and in 1976 left to form his own version of the Blue Notes. With both acts using the name, confusion followed, as did a cease and desist order against Pendergrass. Rather than mount a legal fight, he opted to merely stay with Gamble and Huff on Philly International, as simply Teddy Pendergrass.
Between 1977 and 1982, he released five solo albums (all of which went gold and/or platinum) and had a number of solo hits including "I Don't Love You Anymore," "You Can't Hide From Yourself," "Turn Off the Lights," "Come Go With Me" and "Love TKO," some of which he performed at this show. He was about to audition for the lead role in a biopic about Otis Redding when a car accident sidelined him in 1982. He returned to recording in 1984, but it seemed unlikely he would ever perform live again, that is until this King Biscuit show. Pendergrass continues to perform, but only on rare occasions, because of the physical strain it puts on him. He also wrote an autobiography and appeared in the play Your Arms Are Too Short to Box with God.