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‘Soul. R&B. Funk.’ spotlights Black music

A great coffee table book

Gregg Reese OW Contributor | 3/14/2019, midnight

Taschen, the high-end art book publisher launched in Germany, has filled a niche market among the well-heeled consumer of such unique reading material. Possibly best known for slick, high priced books on art and culture--including a series about the provocative fashion photographer Helmut Newton—Taschen has also manufactured materials appealing to the Black consumer as well. Among them is “GOAT—Greatest of All Time,” an opulent tome dedicated to Muhammad Ali, who personally signed every copy.

At a whopping 75 pounds with some 800 pages, this behemoth lists $1500 (smaller, cheaper versions are available starting at $150). Taschen’s latest offering, homage to the glory days of Black music circa 1970 through 1980, “Soul. R&B. Funk. Photographs,” comes in at a paltry seven pounds but is no less compelling. It chronicles the career of native son and Verbum Dei High School alumnus Bruce W. Talamon. As a Whittier College undergrad, young Talamon had ambitions of becoming an attorney, but the purchase of a Pentax camera and a summer trip to Europe (where he captured the likes of Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon in concert) compelled him to change career paths as a commercial photographer.

Talamon plied his trade in an era before record companies tightened control over images, and as such he had unparalleled access to chart-topping mega-stars without the intrusion of publicists, giving his images a spontaneity missing from contemporary photos. At 376 pages, purchasers get on only the expected performance shots of artists and their adoring fans, but candid studies as well. Among them are:

—Maurice White making a pilgrimage to Egypt’s Great Pyramids, an umbrella shielding him from the Sahara Desert’s merciless sun.

—Johnnie Taylor parked in his limo in front of Pink’s on La Brea Avenue to enjoy some of L.A.’s celebrated street food: a chili dog and red soda.

—Marvin Gaye during an impromptu basketball game at a playground in the “hood” tickling the ivories in his Topanga canyon home, and sitting down to a 1978 soul food feast at his parent’s home on South Gramercy Place, the same house where his father would take his life six years later.

—The Spinners’ Philippe Wynne mingling with the audience at Crenshaw Boulevard’s long shuttered Total Experience night spot.

The photos of stars in outlandish outfits with embroidered shirts and wildly flared trousers are a visual time capsule of the day. No less an inspired force were the clothiers who created these garments, especially designer Bill Whitten (1944-2006). His celebrity clients included the Commodores, Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Jacksons (he created the seminal white glove Michael Jackson performed in), along with performers outside the genre like Neil Diamond, Elton John, Steppenwolf, and Edgar Winter.

From his Santa Monica Boulevard studio dubbed Workroom 27 (he later opened a shop on Melrose Avenue), Whitten dressed the Hollywood elite. One candid shoot captures soulful falsetto singer Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations helping himself to a drink from Whitten’s well-stocked bar during a fitting.

“Soul. R&B. Funk. Photographs 1972-1982” by Bruce W. Talamon retails for $70 ($58.71 on Amazon.com).