Funk music was at an all-time high in the mid-seventies, with funk groups were constantly turning out hits. One of the newer funk groups had a huge hit album that kept dance floors packed for a while at discos and house parties. The group was B.T. Express.
Coming straight out of Brooklyn, New York, B.T. Express (Brooklyn Transit Express) was formed from three players of the group King Davis House Rockers, which was a local dance band that had released a few singles in the late sixties and early seventies. The three players (guitarist Richard Thompson, tenor sax player Bill Risbrook and sax player Carlos Ward) formed Madison Street Express, along with bassist Louis Risbrook, percussionist Dennis Rowe, drummer Terrell Wood and vocalist Barbara Joyce. They, along with their producer Jeff Lane, signed with Roadshow Records to record writer Billy Nichols’ song “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied).” It was shopped around to all of the major labels until Scepter Records accepted it. The label also suggested the group change its name from Madison Street Express to Brooklyn Trucking Express, a.k.a. B.T. Express.
“Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)” has an infectious, relentless dance groove and beat along with its opening handclaps and catchy lyrics “Come on and do it, do it, do it ‘til you’re satisfied, whatever it is.” Of course, many young people believed the song’s lyrics alluded to sex, but all is in the ears of the beholder depending on how you interpret the song’s meaning.
The single was released in late July 1974 on the heels of the popularity of another relatively new group, Rufus, who scored with the big summertime hit “Tell Me Something Good.” When the funk-tinged “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)” was released to radio stations and record stores, it caused quite a sensation across the country and record buyers scooped it up. The song eventually zoomed to number one on the soul single charts the week of October 19, 1974, and number two on the pop singles chart. In addition, it went to number eight on Billboard’s new dance/disco charts and was one of the biggest hits of 1974.
Both the A and B sides of the single contained the song. The A side was five minutes and 52 seconds long, while the B side was an edited three minutes and nine seconds version.
When B.T. Express performed the song on Soul Train at its October 1974 taping, the Soul Train Gang went wild with lots of screaming and whistles blowing. Long after they finished performing, the dancers thunderously applauded the group for close to two minutes. Indeed, “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)” was, to use an old expression, “the joint of the time.”
The song has been heavily sampled, notably by the group Truth Hurts for their 2002 hit “Addictive.”
Anticipation was high for the release of the group’s album. Just the mention of the scheduled release of the album by B.T. Express on Soul Train caused the dancers to scream in excitement.
The album, entitled Do It (Til You’re Satisified) after the hit single, was released in late October 1974. The album jacket featured photos of the group posing on an outdoor Brooklyn subway station platform.
The album kicks off in high gear with the pulsating, funky instrumental track “Express,” memorable for its “toot toot” train whistle sounds. This horn-driven burner was another song that kept dance floors packed in late 1974 through 1975 (catch some Soul Train reruns from early 1975 and watch the dancers get down on this tune whenever it is played) and it, along with the album’s title track, remain two of the all-time classic funk and disco tracks.
“Express” was the group’s second and last number one single on the soul chart, peaking the week of March 8, 1975. It went to number four on the pop singles chart and number one on the dance/disco chart.
Of interesting note, James Brown’s group Fred Wesley & the J.B.’s recorded a song that came out in May 1975 titled “(It’s Not the Express) It’s The J.B.’s Monorail,” which bears an identical sound to B.T. Express’ “Express,” but just a bit slower.
Every other cut on the album kept many platform shoes on the dance floor. The second track, “If It Don’t Turn You On (You Oughta’ Leave It Alone)” and the third, “Once You Get It,” have the same steady funky mid-tempo groove of the album’s title track. “Everything Good to You (Ain’t Always Good for You),” the album’s fourth track, is a jubilant tune with a great lead vocal by Barbara Joyce. “Mental Telepathy,” the last track on side one, is a mysterious psychedelic song with a thumping bass and infectious groove that created a lot of buzz among listeners and disco patrons.
Side two opens with the aforementioned “Do It (Til You’re Satisified).” Next up is one of the most classic dance tracks ever recorded. It’s the uptempo, foot stomping, bass and horn driven “Do You Like It.” It received a lot of radio airplay on many soul radio stations and at discos and it further helped to sell the album. Indeed, “Do You Like It” will truly give one quite a workout on the dance floor.
The next to last track is the uptempo “That’s What I Want For You Baby” with a jubilant lead vocal by Barbara Joyce. The final track is the short but very funky “This House is Smokin’,” which sounds remarkably similar to Kool & the Gang’s “Funky Stuff.”
Do It (Til You’re Satisfied) was a huge hit on the both the soul and pop album charts, peaking at number one on the former and number five on the latter and shipped gold. The group fit right in with their fellow “funketeers” that included Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Parliament-Funkadelic, Isley Brothers, Kool & the Gang, Graham Central Station, Ohio Players and Earth, Wind & Fire.
The group recorded other albums that included 1975’s Non-Stop (which included their classic stomper “Peace Pipe”), 1976’s Energy to Burn, 1977’s Function at the Junction, 1978’s Shout, 1980’s 1980 and their last album, 1982’s Keep It Up. All of the albums had strong funk cuts, but as with other funk artists as well as soul artists, disco music overshadowed the majority of funk music in the late seventies, although certain funk groups like the Isley Brothers, Parliament-Funkadelic, Rufus and Earth, Wind & Fire were able to continue enjoying mainstream success during the disco period. A lot of artists that came out during the overexposure of disco’s rein suffered as the eighties dawned. Although B.T. Express and others were making good music at that time, groups and artists that were associated with disco ultimately endured a backlash (very little or no radio airplay, no offers for doing TV and concert appearances, etc.) from which many of them never truly recovered.
Nevertheless, B.T. Express still performs and they can still put out as much energy as they did in their heyday. When I saw them perform a show at the World Trade Center’s weekly R&B Friday concert series one summer afternoon in the late nineties, they had everyone on the World Trade Center’s outdoor plaza rocking!
One of the group’s members, Michael Jones, who joined the group in 1975, went on to become a successful singer and producer under the name Kashif. The list of artists he’s worked with reads like a “who’s who” in R&B: Whitney Houston, George Benson, Barry White, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Kemp, Al Jarreau, Meli’sa Morgan, Da Brat and many others. He has also worked as an author, software developer, film producer and educator. But ever since his humble beginnings in B.T. Express, music will always be his first love.
B.T. Express indelibly made its mark on the music scene. The Do It (Til You’re Satisfied) album is one of the most revered classic soul and funk albums in music history and its songs have been heavily sampled by many artists including Jay-Z, 3rd Bass, EPMD, DMX, Big Daddy Kane, Ice Cube, Kool Moe Dee, SWV, MC Lyte, Ice T and DJ Quik.
Indeed, B.T. Express’ music will keep on “satisfying” music lovers for many years to come.
Download Do It (Til You’re Satisfied) on iTunes.
Former Soul Train dancer Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, poet, filmmaker, dancer/performer and choreographer who, as he states, “has works in progress.” Stay tuned.