Trumpeter and Educator, Bill McGee (William Ford McGee) was born on Feb 16th, in Richmond, Virginia to Bill and Vivian McGee. He's been a top trumpet man in the music industry for well over thirty years and yet brother Bill tries to imply with a wink and a nod, that he's just a little over thirty years old. Bill McGee credits his excellent musicianship to his roots in Atlanta, where his mother was on the faculty at Morris Brown College. "My mother use to chaperone band and choir trips at the college. (Jean Carn was in the Morris Brown College choir at that time as Sarah Jean Perkins) So, I got to see the famous (FAMU) Florida A&M University marching band perform throughout the mid-sixties." Jazz Lovers know that Jazz great Cannonball Adderly and his brother Nat Adderly attended FAMU. Dr. William P. Foster, the famous director of the FAMU marching 100 was one of the people who revolutionized the marching band concept by playing Movie Themes, Broadway Hits and popular songs like James Brown's "Cold Sweat" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," instead of the traditional military style marches. Prior to this period most marching bands marched back an forth playing traditional march music. This exposure to high energy music was very important because as the son of a single parent, Bill didn't have the benefit of hearing Jazz every day or being around a lot of musicians until he went to high school, "Don't get me wrong, I heard Diana Washington, Andre Previn, Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis a lot when I was young. But my mother and her sister's didn't play much be-bop or straight ahead stuff like Diz, Miles or Coltrane, at least I don't remember hearing it in our house."
"I credit my high school band director, Dr. Bobby Jordan, (a Washington High and FAMU graduate) for setting high standards. He would constantly talk to us about the need for learning the fundamentals of music. I think it was that foundation and the older students in the band that had the greatest influence on me, early on." One of his first influences was William Gee, a trumpet player, who in high school played jazz piano and wrote arrangements for the school band. Gee went on to become music director for Marvin Gaye. Another influence was Scott Edwards, renowned studio bass player.
"Scott played trombone in the high school band. He learned the Electric Bass in high school and was playing with Stevie Wonder two years later. Scott recently told me the story of how he got the permanent Gig with Stevie. He said, Miles Davis stole Stevie's bass player away from him. (Michael Henderson) He said Stevie was going to Kick Mile's butt..." Bill believes that the history of his high school had a significant impact on his foundation. He graduated from the historic, Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Ga., which is the same high school that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lena Horne, Opera singer, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Gladys Knight, Nipsie Russell, Dr. Louis Sullivan and Jean Carn, attended. "At Washington High, we were taught that you could be anybody or do anything that you wanted to do. They used Dr. King, Gladys Knight, Lena Horne and Dr. Sullivan, as examples.
After high school McGee gigged with several local bands including Curtis Smith and The Counts. Curtis Smith was an R&B guitarist from Alabama who had the traditional R&B style. "Curtis was the first recording artist I worked with. He had a single on a small label, so we performed all over the Southeast. Curtis was friends with Roy Lee Johnson, another R&B guitarist/song writer." In 1964, John Lennon decided to record Roy Lee's "Mr. Moonlight," which would appear on The Beatles "For Sale" and "Beatles '65" LP's. He was the first songwriter that I met. Keep in mind I was only seventeen. They use to sit around and talk about the people they knew like, James Brown, Otis Redding, William Bell, Gladys Knight and Gorgeous George. George was the emcee for the Isley brothers, he use to tell us how Jimi Hendrix played in his band and smoked those strange cigarettes." McGee said, "To an impressionable seventeen year-old, these were great stories."
In the fall of 1969, Bill McGee enrolled at Morris Brown College, where guitarist, Regi Hargis, bassist, Ray Ransome, and saxophonist/pianist, Donald Nevins, had founded a horn band named Hellaphenalia. In early 1970, they asked McGee to join the group. The group subsequently signed a deal with Tangerine Records, which in 1971 released the group's first recording. A'int Nothing Superstar about Me. "I remember that we recorded in a small studio in College Park, Ga., and we played our horn parts in a closet, that was converted to a booth. Another member of the original group was saxophonist and arranger James McDuffie. Duff was a great influence on me, because I had a chance to watch him write songs. I watched him write a song for an Atlanta vocalist "Gina Hill" and a few months later I heard it on the radio, that was very exciting." During this period black music was changing from the R&B style of Otis Redding and James Brown to the self-contained bands like Sly and the Family Stone, War, The Ohio Players and Kool and the Gang. I also have to give credit to those great horn bands like, Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears and of course Tower of Power. It was a great time to be a young trumpet player. After Mcgee and others left the group, Hellaphenalia reorganized as Brick. (Bang Records/CBS.) I was young and wild, so basically they fired me... it woke me up!
"Atlanta in the early seventies was an exciting and eclectic place to live, we had anti-war protestors, drugs, the civil rights movement, the Klu Klux Klan, and Lester Maddox. I soon realized after some hard times that the big city life was getting the best of me, so, in January of 1973, I moved back to Virginia hoping to finish college. I moved in with my grandparents and with their support enrolled at Virginia State College. I remember in my admissions interview, that I told the professor my gigging days were over until I graduated. Three weeks later, I co-founded the group Trussel "Love Injection". By this time I was almost twenty-one and my experiences in Atlanta proved to be an asset to the group. Our co-founder and drummer, Ron Smith, was from Englewood, New Jersey, where he attended school with Luther Vandross. Ron was also the back-up drummer to Yogi Horton, at All Platinum records, so he also had experience making records when he came to Virginia. His experiences were also very instrumental in setting the foundation of our group. We later started our own label, "Bridge The Gap Records and Tapes" and opened a record store. Trussel developed a huge following at many of the HBCU colleges in the south. We frequently performed in Greensboro, (The Cosmos Club) and Winston-Salem, (The Dungeon) and in Asheville, NC., at a huge club that could hold two thousand people, called The Orange Peel." In the mid-seventies, around the southeast, there was a network of clubs where bands could consistently gig. "We played the same club circuit as The Commodores, Zapp featuring Roger Troutman, Peabo Bryson, and Mother's Finest.."
In 1978, Marvin Daniels, a very close college friend, a fantastic trumpet player and leader of the group Southern Energy Ensemble, made a connection with a lawyer from Philadelphia (John Black.) Black was the manager for a fifteen year old girl that had a record deal with RCA. Her first single had been released but wasn't really moving. They needed a band to back her up and tried unsuccessfully to get a group together in Philadelphia. "Marvin contacted me and asked me if Trussel would be interested? I said, you must be crazy, we're not backing up a fifteen-year-old brat, and I don't care what kind of record deal she has. Since our group was a democratic organization, I told him I'd present it to the entire group. Everybody but two of us voted to give it a try."
The girl was Evelyn "Champagne" King. Her debut single "Shame" (RCA) had just hit the Billboard Disco Chart. "The kid came in to sing for us, we started playing a Chaka Khan cut, I think it was "Once You Get Started," she started singing and we all almost dropped our instruments. I had never heard a kid sing like that before in my life. She was a gifted child with a big, low-pitched voice and she was only fifteen. I immediately became her biggest fan." Marvin served as her music director and Trussel began backing her up. "A pivotal night was when we performed at Broady's in New York, for the RCA staff. Label president, Bob Summers, came with Warren Schatz and Al Garrison. They were floored by the performance of both Evelyn and Trussel. After the show they came to our dressing room and promised to sign us to RCA, we were on cloud nine. We had just been promised a record deal by the big wigs at the label. That's the night when "Shame" received a priority from the head of the label and from that point on it received all of the promotion necessary to make it a #1 hit."