Saturday, December 26, 2015

Passings: William Guest of Gladys Knight & the Pips (1941-2015)

William Guest, one of the founding members of Gladys Knight and the Pips, died on Thursday in Detroit from congestive heart failure. He was 74.

Gladys Knight wrote on Instagram:

God in His infinite love and wisdom has a purpose and plan for each of our lives when we come to this earth and when we return home to Him. I trust him in that. My mother, Elizabeth Knight, always prayed for his guidance in raising up his children to one day be his worry servants. She heard us singing in the back yard at Bubba's birthday, September 4th, 1952 and founded a group of family kids who became Gladys Knight & the Pips! We have lost many along the way; Edward Patton, Eleanor Guest, and now William Guest. We tried using our gifts of music in a way that would be pleasing to God. Please, take care of their journeys home and I say thank you Lord for a long and wonderful ride. -GK
The Pips were a family affair, formed in 1953 after Gladys Knight won on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour the previous year at the age of 12. Joining in the initial group were Knight, her brother Bubba, sister Brenda and cousins William and Eleanor Guest. 

The group performed throughout the 50's whenever possible, eventually replacing Brenda and Eleanor with Langston George and Edward Patten. 

They released their first single, Whistle My Love, in 1958 with little interest but, in 1961, they had their first big hit with the Johnny Otis song Every Beat of My Heart. Ascending to number 6 on the Hot 100 and number 1 on the R&B charts, they hit again later in the year with Letter Full of Tears (1961 / #19 Pop / #3 R&B) and in 1964 with Giving Up (1964 / #38 Pop / #6 R&B).

In 1966, the group signed with Motown where they scored three top ten Pop hits and 12 on the R&B singles including I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1967 / #2 Pop / #1 R&B), The Nitty Gritty (1969 / #19 Pop / #2 R&B), Friendship Train (1969 / #17 Pop / #2 R&B), If I Were Your Woman (1970 / #9 Pop / #1 R&B), Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) (1973 / #2 Pop / #1 R&B) and Daddy Could Swear, I Declare (1973 / #19 Pop / #2 R&B). 

Unfortunately, even with their success, Knight and the rest of the Pips never felt that they were given as much support at Motown as the "premier" acts and were only provided with the second tier songs to record. In 1973, they made the decision to leave the label and signed with Buddah Records, where their career finally hit its stride, scoring a consistent string of top ten hits. Their second single and first major hit, Midnight Train to Georgia, went to the top of both the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B singles. They followed with eight more top ten R&B singles including I've Got to Use My Imagination (1973 / #4 Pop / #1 R&B), Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me (1974 / #3 Pop / #1 R&B), On and On (1974 / #5 Pop / #2 R&B) and I Feel a Song (In My Heart) (1974 / #21 Pop / #1 R&B). 

Between 1978 and 1980, Guest and the rest of the Pips were forced to record separate from Gladys Knight due to legal wranglings with Buddah. In 1980, the group left Motown and signed with Columbia where they continued to have success through the end of the decade including the chart toppers Save the Overtime (For Me) (1983 / #66 Pop / #1 R&B) and Love Overboard (1987 / #13 Pop / #1 R&B).

The group did one final tour in 1988 before disbanding and Guest and Edward Patten formed Patten and Guest Productions to manage artists. 

In 2012, Guest and his sister, Dame Dhyana Ziegler, released his autobiography Midnight Train FROM Georgia: A Pip's Journey. They won the Grammy Award for R&B Performance by a Duo or Group for Midnight Train to Georgia (1974) and Love Overboard (1988) along with Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) (1974). 

Guest was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1996) and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2001).