Network is just one of those rare, almost unknown groups that never been written much about in any broader extent, whether it's a biography in a encyclopaedia over black music, a radio show or on the net. That's something to be changed right here.
Network got an interesting connection with the great acts of B.B. & Q. band (see B. B. & Q. band's full biography at my new site here) and Mtume (see Mtume's full biography here) and can in fact to a certain extent be seen as a merge between the two. Network was the brainchild of former vocalist and guitarist as well as member of B.B. & Q. band in 1982 and 83, Kevin Robinson (right) and former Mtume member Howard King that together produced the set. Robinson and King had already meet at the "The Cellar" in NYC in June 1981 where Robinson performed with Kinky fox that night. Besides being invited by King to play and tour with Mtume Robinson and King began a succesful writing partnership that would last for eight years. Together with Johnny Kemp, that joined as Network's lead singer and before had worked as background singer and songwriter on B. B. & Q. band's and Change's albums in 1982, Robinson represented the J.F. Petrus stable. Mtume on its hand was represented by the already mentioned iron horse Howard King (called "Locksmith" on Mtume's albums in 1978 and 1980) that had a long and genuine musical history behind him with artists like Roberta Flack, Eddie Henderson and Gary Bartz' before he was hooked up with James Mtume. Their common work just lasted a couple of years before his departure in 82. After that he played drums on D train's classical albums between 1982 and 1984, was a part of the band "The Strangers" (with Robinson, Ed Moore and Herbert Evans) before he joined Network. King was indeed a great asset. He played both drums and keyboards on the Network album while Robinson as always took care of the Guitar. Network and Mtume had yet another crossroad connection in Raymond Jackson that both joined Network and Mtume in 1984 as their respective bass player. He had two years earlier played bass on the two brothers Dunn & Bruce Street's funky "Official business" one and only album that didn't score any major hits however despite a few good tracks. The rest of talanted Network line-up included the competent keyboardist Kenny Hairston that became a member of Slave in 83, played on Nona Hendryx's album "Nona" the same year and later performed on Eric Gable's album "Process of elimination" in 1994, just to mention a few gigs. Scott Yarney on keyboards and Kenny Washington and Kevin Allen as lead vocalists were the final members.
Network got a contract with Salsoul records. How many records that was released, if any, is unknown though, but if that occurred the numbers were very limited. An unconfirmed source says that Salsoul records only printed 50 test records and never released the set, but that is still a bit unclear. Kevin Robinson points out that there was some kind of release even though the selling figures were embarrassing, Kevin Robinson continues "---we (Howard King and I) got a laugh from the number of units sold. Gold is less than platinum, so we guess the Network album went latex." Anything major didn't happen with Network until the Dutch company Rams horn records took over the release for the European market. Everything speaks for the fact that they had the official contract for the European release, even though sources say they did it illegally which indeed sounds a bit odd. Nonetheless Rams horn did release the album in just 500 copies, some of the copies where even withdrawn from the market. The few ones that escaped the withdrawal were sold to ordinary customers and have earned a cult status among collectors and to own the original Salsoul recording is even more extremely valuable.
A strange Promo (bootleg) released on CD from an unknown year is also out there made by the Japanese Studio 530. This is clearly a copy from vinyl though. It included their own tasteful 18:30 long Mega mix, a mix that does not occur on the original Rams horn release.
Time for some action
All the members combined was an impressive line-up, but was it to produce any good stuff? In 84 they finally released their one and only album titled "I need you", that in fact was a mini-LP with only 6 tracks. Robinson together with Howard King produced the set and wrote most of the tracks.
The cover featured four clubs of kings on a black background. The cover was perhaps inspired by a Salsoul release from 77, Chocolat's rare album "Kings of clubs" that equally featured four kings of clubs on a black background!
The music has a common sound with B.B. & Q. band in 82 and 83 and Robinson's musical influences were obvious. The album it self contained a whole lot of fast tracks and most of them were good but didn't reach the same level as the mentioned albums of B.B. & Q. band. The most well-balanced, harmonious and well-produced track was undoubtedly the smooth and catchy Kashif like "Cover girl", generously included with an extended 6:32 version that also was released on a 12". This track could easily has fit both the 82 and 83 albums of B.B. & Q. band and was Network's biggest musical achievement.
The rest of the material, that had a harder and more funkier edge, also included some pop and rock influenced like the happy "I need you" by Harston, that is well worth some attention with its open and joyful refrain. The rest included the descent and groovy "Pump it up" and funky and catchy "Why you wanna treat me like that" that was their second 12" release (similar to Real to reel's hit "Can you treat me like she does" from the year before that was written and produced by Leon F. Sylvers III). Both tracks were good but yet nothing sensational and had difficulties to reach any higher grounds. The remaining tracks included Greg Brown's and Kevin Allan's "Hard to give it up" and Robinsin's and King's descent ballad "Jennie".
A seventeen minute long mega mix was also included on the obscure Japanese Promo (bootleg).
Summing it up
On a whole a good, solid album with "Cover girl" as the no 1 track. Kevinson did a fine job as co-writer and co-producer together on this their first attempt with the production company concept. Despite the over all good standard of the melodies and arrangements Robinson and King didn't quite reached the same level as their earlier efforts in B. B. & Q. band and Mtume.
The almost completely unknown Network band's album is most likely foremost an album heading towards the hard-core fans of R&B in general and B. B. & Q. band and Mtume fans in particular due to its exciting connections. It also might have a value in its rarity and the fact that is very much a collector's item.
The two founders of the band, Kevin Robinson and writing partner Howard King didn't spend much time with the Network project after it was finished and soon the band was history, Kevin explains "Howard and I got very busy with other projects around that time; along with recording session and dates with BB&Q in Montreal, New York, etc. I did not keep up with the Network project after it was completed." Despite the commercial flop Robinson's and King's music partnership continued in a successful way. Their recorded work included: Just like the first time - Freddie Jackson's title cut (double platinum), You're all I need - Patti LaBell and Sarah Dash, First Love and It's been so long - Melba Moore (top five Billboard R&B), Luv's passion & you - CHAD (Robinson and King- top twenty Billboard R&B), I'm gonna get over you - Sweet obsession (top ten Billboard R&B) and Animal - The Bar kays (Kevin Robinson, Keni Hairston, Trevor Gale) the mention a few. Their eight years long writing partnership ended sadly in when Howard was involved in a crippling auto accident in 1989.The most successful of the former Network band members became Johnny Kemp that released his new-jack-swing inspired debut album "Johnny Kemp" in 1986. One interesting thing about the album was that it did include an up-tempo re-make of Network's biggest hit "Cover girl". Otherwise it was the smooth dance track "Just another lover" that caught most attention on Kemp's debut. The first album was then followed up by a second release in 1988 before disappearing from the broader musical scene with no more albums. The mega producer/songwriter Kashif was involved in both albums as many ex-Change members as well. Most known, besides Kemp, became bassist Raymond Jackson that continued his successful work as a bassist and vocalist on the awesome band Mtume's albums until 1986. The skilful Kenny Hairston continued with several engagements as well including soul singer Eric Gable's third album in 1994.
About the exclusive reissue
A limited re-issue
from PTG records of Network featuring one 12" on vinyl and one
CD of the album are now available. The
12" (left above) includes the very exclusive 8:55 long 12"
version of "Cover girl" and the 7:55 long "Hard to give
it up" on the B-side. The CD that also is available on vinyl (right
above) features the original album and an edited version of this biography
in the inlay booklet. You can purchase all this great stuff at: www.vinyl-masterpiece.com
(main distributor) or www.boogie-times.com
Discography of Network
Please click on the image below to see a complete list of the songs.
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