Monday, July 4

How We Made: Rose Royce’s Car Wash | Disk

Gwen Dickey, singer

I was singing in a band called The Jewels and I was discovered and recommended to Norman Whitfield. I had no idea he was a legendary Motown songwriter and producer. I went to meet him at his mansion in Beverly Hills and I said, “Sir, why do you have all these gold and platinum records on your walls?” He dropped to the ground and laughed for 20 minutes. Later all were: “The Norman Whitfield? The temptations? Marvin Gaye? “But I was a kid from Biloxi in Mississippi. I never read names on the back of albums.

Norman had left Motown and was working with a band called Total Concept Unlimited. He told them they needed a “pretty young lady who can sing,” so bring us together like Rose Royce. They renamed me Rose Norwalt, a mix of Norman and Walter, their sound engineer. “The next time you come home,” Norman said, “you’ll be so famous they’ll run down the street after you.” I thought he was crazy.

We were recording our first album when he said, “I have a deal for a comedy movie called Car Wash – about people who work in a car wash, and you’re going to make the music. “One day after a band rehearsal, Norman ordered buckets of chicken and the others left to play basketball. He started singing, then drank a pencil and wrote the letter for Car wash right there in the greasy chicken box. He taught me the song as I sat next to him, laughing. “You won’t laugh when this is a big hit!” he said.

Three days later, we were in the studio recording it. Not many songs start with clapping, but Norman didn’t bother with the conventions. He was meticulous with every pronunciation. He made me sing the line “a movie star or an Indian chief” for two hours because he said it sounded like he was singing “Indian sheep”.

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The song opens the movie, and at the premiere the entire audience stood up as it played. The producer was really upset and said, “Sit down! Sit back and watch the movie! “The song was a huge hit and the movie became an icon of the disco era. Soon after, in Miami, people were running after the band’s coach, calling my name, as Norman had predicted.

See a trailer for the movie Car Wash

Henry Garner Jr, drums

We formed Total Concept Unlimited after dropping out of high school in Los Angeles, shortening the name to TCU because it was a mouthful. We converted Edwin starrbacking band and toured with him in Great Britain. Everyone still got the name wrong. “Ladies and gentlemen, from the USA … TUC!” When we got together with Norman, he said we had to change the name. We became Magic Wand for a while, then Rose Royce. Norman explained that Rose represented Gwen, classy, ​​and Royce represented us, a top-of-the-line car.

I remember asking Norman what the plot of the movie was and he said, “It’s what happens in a car wash every day. That’s the story. “I understood after that. We had the opportunity to visit the film set and we were excited to meet people like the Pointer Sisters and Richard Pryor. The Pointer Sisters also came to the studio to do a song for the soundtrack. They thought they would nail it in one take, they didn’t know Norman. They came to the studio one morning and didn’t leave until the next day.

'I want a sound like a machine'… Norman Whitfield.
‘I want a sound like a machine’… Norman Whitfield. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Norman coached us until every note was perfect, turning us from untrained horses into thoroughbreds. We rehearse at his mansion in Beverly Hills. For Car Wash, he told me: “I want a sound like that of a machine.” When I came up with the disco hi-hat sound “tch-tch,” he said, “That’s it! Keep it up for the whole song. ”Fortunately, the single came out just as the club was blowing up.

We recently learned that the movie was initially discontinued because Universal wasn’t sure how to market a black film, but the song sold the movie. Between ourselves, we would say: “This will never be a success. We are literally singing about a car wash! “We never said anything to Norman. Thank God we didn’t.

Rose Royce with Gwen Dickey perform Soultasia, a lifetime celebration of Soul & Disco in Maldon, Essex on July 24. Tickets here. Rose Royce (original members) will announce US dates shortly.

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