Full Force member Bowlegged Lou begins with a subtle “Well…,” then pauses for a few seconds. The New York native ponders a question asked of himself and his group mates – his brothers Paul Anthony and B-Fine, and cousins Shy Shy, Curt-t-t, and Baby Gerry – on numerous occasions: Is Full Force deserving of a lifetime achievement award?
“Yeah,” continues Lou with a sigh, “I definitely feel we’re deserving of something.” And rightfully so; since their 1984 production debut, the gold and multi-platinum-selling group has provided the lyrics and music for some of the biggest hits of the last three decades. Their list of collaborators reads like an all-star recording artist almanac; this includes Rihanna, Britney Spears, Black Eyed Peas, Bob Dylan, Usher, and the late “Godfather of Soul” James Brown. If you follow those pages in alphabetical order you’re guaranteed to come across Full Force too – star recording artists themselves.
Whether Full Force collects this elusive prize remains to be seen, though Bowlegged Lou proudly admits during his professional and person life to seeing plenty of Soul Train; a show, he feels, is also deserving of overdue honors.
Soul Train: Was there ever an opportunity presented to Full Force you guys didn’t take that you regret?
Bowlegged Lou: Yeah… [Pauses] “After House Party 2” we could have stayed in Los Angeles and pursued more acting roles, which we didn’t do. We just came back and kept with the music. You have to be more diversified than that. We could have done a spin-off movie. Also we regret not staying with Columbia Records/Sony. We did our 4th album called Smooth and the new president Donny Ienner wanted us to stay with the company. They had meetings about us staying with the company. But we opted out for more money and went to Capitol Records, which was a big mistake at the time. It was a nightmare.
Soul Train: Why do you think your “House Party” characters – Paul Anthony as Stab, B-Fine as Zilla, and you as Pee Wee – have remained so popular over these past 20 years?
Bowlegged Lou: I think we surprised a lot of people when “House Party” came out. But that wasn’t our first movie role; well, not my brothers’ first. They did a movie called “Krush Groove” where they played bullies who beat up Blair Underwood. Even though they only appeared twice in that, those were big impacts.
Soul Train: I remembered they looked menacing, like a pair of angry professional wrestlers.
Bowlegged Lou: These were larger than life characters. Even as Full Force the group with our Jheri Curls we always exposed our bodies and our muscles. My brother Paul Anthony spearheaded all that with the physical fitness, way before LL Cool J and all these acts who showcase their bodies. But in “House Party” I think because of the execution of our roles, the acting we did, and lines we made up – we made up our own lines – that they’re still remembered to this day. 20 years later and people still remember our lines! Kids who weren’t even born in 1990 know our lines.
Soul Train: What has been the most innovative thing Full Force has done throughout your career?
Bowlegged Lou: Innovative… I think you could call us the original hip hop vocal band. We were definitely the first band playing music using a lot of hip hop elements. Sometimes people didn’t know if we were rappers or singers. We toured with a lot of rappers. We think we’re definitely responsible for helping to usher in hip hop and R&B together.
Soul Train: So does Full Force get the credit they deserve for pioneering the mix of hip hop and R&B?
Bowlegged Lou: Not really. People in the know have given us those props. Universally, I don’t think so. We always have to remind folks. When Teddy Riley was coming up he kinda studied us. What he called New Jack Swing was something we already did before. I don’t think we get the right amount of respect for bridging those sounds together. Not really.
Soul Train: Have you done enough to educate the masses on just how much Full Force has accomplished?
Bowlegged Lou: I think we’ve tried our best because people are still remembering us and knowing us. But they don’t know everything we did, that’s why they’re always so surprised. When The Backstreet Boys came out, and Britney Spears, and N’Sync, people were shocked to know Full Force was the fuse behind their music. We wrote and produced one of The Backstreet Boys’ biggest records, “All I Have to Give”. We produced LFO, and were the last American act to work with Selena before she passed away – God rest her soul.
Soul Train: Did you get a greater feeling of accomplishment performing on Soul Train as Full Force or seeing the acts you all wrote for and produced grace the stage?
Bowlegged Lou: Hmm… I guess when we’d see an act we wrote and produced for. We had five acts of ours appear on Soul Train, and we were very proud of that. There was Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, UTFO, Cheryl Pepsii Riley, Ex-Girlfriend, and this group Laughing Out Loud which didn’t even have a record deal at the time.
Soul Train: This act was unsigned, and you completely bypassed the red tape?
Bowlegged Lou: Don just let us bring them on there! When we’d see other acts we didn’t manage but still produced, like Force MDs and Patti LaBelle, and they’d mention us on Soul Train, that gave us great gratification!
Soul Train: Has writing and producing been more important for Full Force than performing?
Bowlegged Lou: To tell you the truth, I’ve always loved performing and being on stage. But the writing and production really has been our bread and butter. That’s really sustained us in the business. If you’d left it up to me and we just did performing our careers wouldn’t be as fruitful as it has been.
Soul Train: Who helped you guys get into the music business?
Bowlegged Lou: My father and my uncle got us in this business, but it was our former co-manager named Steve Salem – may he rest in peace – that suggested that we produce other people. And I was the only one against it, but it worked out that way. So when they’d play songs we wrote and produced for Pattie LaBelle and James Brown – like “Static” and “I’m Real”, we’d get publishing money from it.
Soul Train: As a fan of the show what is your favorite Soul Train memory?
Bowlegged Lou: It was when my favorite group of all time since second grade, The Temptations, made their first appearance on Soul Train. They did “Can’t Get Next to You” and “Poppa Was a Rolling Stone”. That is my favorite Soul Train memory of an act performing.
Soul Train: So you have a favorite memory that doesn’t involve an act performing?
Bowlegged Lou: I was also a fan of the Soul Train dancers as well. There were three dancers who stuck out particularly to me; one was Rosie Perez, who I was just in love with when she was a Soul Train dancer! Another was a dancer named Niecy Payne, and another was named Louis Carr – Big Lou.
Soul Train: What memory of them stands out?
Bowlegged Lou: I’ll never forget when Dennis Edwards was performing and Niecy Payne was doing this dance with him, the song was called “You’re My Aphrodisiac”. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. Louis Carr was very out there, I would say very loud and brash as far as a dancer. He’d always have on his hat and shades, and was the rowdy…he was just so dope! I remember when New Edition performed, they singled him out and said, “Man we really like that guy!” And Rosie Perez, I gave her a nickname; I called her Rosie “The Pumper” Perez because she used to do those gyrations. [Laughs] And I became good friends with all three of them.
Soul Train: Okay Lou, so what is your favorite Soul Train memory with Full Force?
Bowlegged Lou: It was our first appearance on Soul Train. It was so surreal because we were such huge fans of the show, and I couldn’t believe we were actually doing Soul Train! We performed one song, we did “Unselfish Lover” which was our second single at the time.
Soul Train: Which is considered a classic now.
Bowlegged Lou: But our first single which was very popular was “Alice, I Want You Just For Me”; we wanted to do that but our record company said to do the second single. Nobody had even heard it yet. So we did it, but when Don Cornelius came to interview us – that was surreal also! We had already planned to sing “Alice, I Want You Just For Me”. So Paul said, “By the way Don, we got a little something we want to do for you a cappella.” So we did the first verse, and we kind of took over!
Soul Train: I remember that!
Bowlegged Lou: We were singing, and Don Cornelius started dancing a little. It was crazy. After that we must have done six other performances. And we’d bring our acts on the show. We got so tight with Don Cornelius, especially me, I would get our acts on the show without the record company doing the usual calling up. I would just call up Don. Told him about Cheryl Pepsii Riley, has this great song “Thanks For My Child”, and boom – she was on Soul Train. Ex-Girlfriend had this song “Why Can’t You Come Home”; we were able to get them on Soul Train as well. And the same thing with Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam.
Soul Train: It sounds like over time you built a good rapport with Don Cornelius.
Bowlegged Lou: We built a good relationship with Don Cornelius. I grew to love him and respect him. When they say the longest running syndicated show in television history, it makes me so proud. I feel Don and Soul Train never really got the just due they deserved. I’ve always felt Soul Train deserved more.
Soul Train: Tell us how your relationship evolved with Don Cornelius.
Bowlegged Lou: I used to call Don sometimes just to say hey. When his birthday would roll around I had it in my calendar, so I’d always call him to wish him a happy birthday. I haven’t missed a year yet. He always told us how much he liked us! And we’d kick it and talk. I’d always been an advocate that Don should have gotten a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I always felt if Dick Clark has one, Don should have one too. He finally got one, and I wouldn’t say it’s because of me, but I always pushed for that. We dedicated one of our albums to him – Don’t Sleep. We just have a genuine love and respect for Don Cornelius to this day.
Soul Train: How did it make you feel when Soul Train started to diversify, and you’d see acts like Simply Red and Michael McDonald?
Bowlegged Lou: And Elton John! I thought it was about time! If American Bandstand could play black acts on their show, Soul Train could do the same with the white acts. But they had to have some semblance of soul to them. Don Cornelius also had Average White Band on the show, and also KC & The Sunshine Band. I thought it was great. David Bowie was on Soul Train! C’mon…Wow.
Soul Train: Appearing on Soul Train was an honor, and with this honor artists knew they needed to conduct themselves a certain way. So how did appearing on Soul Train and getting to interact with Don Cornelius affect you guys as recording artists?
Bowlegged Lou: I think it affected us in such a positive way, when we did our final performance on Soul Train we were interviewed by Shemar Moore who’d taken over for Don. As much as we liked Shemar, it just wasn’t the same. Questlove of The Roots pointed something out to me; he is a huge fan of Soul Train, and has the shows on tapes and DVDS and everything. He told when he’d see us on Soul Train Don Cornelius would always say, “Hey, I love having you guys on here. You guys are articulate…” He said Don never said that to a lot of Black groups! [Laughs] Don just has such an aura.
Soul Train: Okay Lou, what can artists of today gain from an experience with a person like Don Cornelius?
Bowlegged Lou: I think they’d learn more loyalty and respect, something that’s not just another promotion avenue. MTV does certain people, but it’s just not the same like when you’re with a historian, a historic person like Don Cornelius who is an icon in this business. Artists of today would learn more, and have more respect. But they don’t have that person anymore. They end up taking things for granted.
— Mr. Joe Walker
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Mr. Joe Walker is an acclaimed journalist published over 2,000 times in more than 30 different regional, national, international and online entertainment and news publications. He’s likely writing something as you’re reading this. While also Editor In Chief/Creative Director of The Ultimate Interactive Magazine (TheUIM.com), he contributes to Hear/Say Now, Muskegon Tribune, Kalamazoo Gazette, and SoulTrain.com. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker.