Bunny Sigler is Philadelphia music. Born here in 1941 and raised in Northern Liberties, Sigler is a singer, but it was as a skilled songwriter that he helped shape the renowned “Philly sound,” working with just about every notable soul artist coming from or through the city in the 1960s and early ‘70s. He penned songs for artists including the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Lou Rawls, Billy Paul, Patti LaBelle, Stephanie Mills and countless others. And through the magic of sampling, he’s still getting writer credits on rap records like Jay-Z’s “The Ruler’s Back” and 50 Cent’s “Ski Mask Way.”
Forty-five years after making his mark with a bouncy cover of Shirley and Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” for pioneering local label Cameo-Parkway Records, Sigler’s released When You’re in Love at Christmas Time, a holiday LP reminiscent of his Philly International days. So, it seemed fitting then, on a recent night at Silk City on Fifth and Spring Garden—walking distance from where Sigler grew up on Olive Street—that he sat down with Ill Vibe Collective DJ Lil’ Dave Adams to offer his reviews on holiday music specially-selected by the spinmaster. Adams, at 34, is two generations younger than Sigler, but also from Philadelphia—and also has a fine-tuned musician’s ear. He and his Ill Vibe cohorts produce tracks, play gigs and tour with artists when they’re not packing dance floors aplenty in local venues, small and large. Plus, Adams, a West Philly resident, has been ably serving the masses on his weekly radio show on Drexel’s WKDU 91.7FM for about 15 years.
What songs got spun? Some were old; some were new. One was Sigler’s. And none of ‘em mentioned figgy pudding.
“Midnight Clear,” Daz-I-Kue and Rasiyah
Lil’ Dave: This song is about five years old. These guys are known for … well, this is a style called broken beat. It’s like an electronic style, but real soulful, influenced by jazz and classic soul.
Bunny Sigler: It reminds me of old jazz. Like Oscar Brown or Junior, one of those guys from back in the day. Their vocals go to another level. It’s almost like they’re scatting. I never heard this, but it’s a remake of a standard.
“Christmas Time Is Here (Steppers Mix),” Analog Players Society
LD: It has to go through the little build-up.
BS: Real horns?
LD: Yeah. Actually a live band.
BS: Sounds like a song this guy did with keyboard horns. This makes me feel like I’m hanging out in New York.
LD: It’s actually a group out of Brooklyn.
BS: I knew I heard New York.
LD: They definitely have a little reggae influence going on in there. It’s a little bouncy.
BS: [feeling the beat] Tick, tick, tick … This reminds me of [singing] “How long has this been going on?”
“Black Christmas,” Harlem Children’s Chorus
BS: This sound is timeless. It’s like Sam Cooke.
LD: It’s like an older, rare record. This was on a compilation, a whole bunch of records some different vinyl enthusiasts went out and found.
BS: This reminds me of Tina Turner [singing right on beat]: “Ikey … I think it’s gonna work out fine.” Dave, where do you find these records?
LD: There’s a bunch of places around the city. I’m always hunting in the dollar bins. In West Philly, where I live, there’s always flea markets and thrift shops, people putting records out on the streets, and I’m grabbing ‘em all up. I always find some gems in there.
“Li’l Drummer Boy,” Lou Rawls
BS: I forgot Lou did this. This is a record that gets played a lot because a lot of people did this song. I recorded stuff with Lou Rawls that’s still in the can, stuff that never came out. If you listen to Lou here, you hear how classy he was. He was a lot classier before—he got funky after he got with us. I’ma tell you something about Lou Rawls: A lot of artists, you only see ‘em when you’re working with them. Lou Rawls? I don’t care what he was doing; if he came to town, he’d call me up: “Hey, Bunny! I’m in town. What are we doing?” And we’d hang out. And most singers, if they’re doing a show, they don’t want another singer on the stage. Not Lou. He’d be like, “Come on up here!” And I’d get up on stage with him and start singing.
“Li’l Drummer Girl,” Alicia Keys
LD: I got a compilation with this on one side, and I don’t even remember what was on the other side, but I saved this. I thought this was a good record. She’s really young here, like 16. This song was from before she blew up. Ah, that beat is … uh, Biggie.
BS: … Al Green. I can hear her singing against what she’s playing. When you play the piano, you can get around your chords.
LD: Usually people make current, up-to-date Christmas stuff that doesn’t sound so great, but it sounds better if you have an old sound. This song has a current sound, but it’s still good. It still gets you in the mood for Christmas.
“When You’re in Love at Christmas Time,” Bunny Sigler
LD: You do the background and the lead?
LD: So, your voice is on several tracks?
BS: I do everything. I always double the tracks. I do like six voices. Me and Bryant Pugh wrote the song. He’s the music director for Sharon Baptist Church in West Philly. It’s a big church … 3,000 people.
LD: My aunt goes there!