Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Passings: Robert "Big Sonny" Edwards of the Intruders

by VVN Music

Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff are household names among lovers of soul music but, in 1968, they were still struggling producers in Philadelphia.

In 1967, they finally had their first hit with the Soul Survivors Expressway to Your Heart and, a year later, did it again with the Intruder's Cowboys to Girls.  The two hits sent them on a path to become two of the biggest hit makers of the 70's with their Philadelphia International Records.

On Tuesday, Gamble and Huff released a joint statement mourning the death of Robert "Big Sonny" Edwards, one of the original members of The Intruders.

We are very saddened to learn of the death of our good friend, ‘Big Sonny.’ The Intruders, featuring Big Sonny and the rest of the original members, were near and dear to our hearts, and helped start our musical career as a team. Not only was the group one of the first artists we wrote for and produced, but they also were our close friends. Big Sonny and the group were great artists who we have been honored to work with from the very beginning. We will truly miss Big Sonny. We send our sincere condolences to his family.
Edwards died on Saturday at a hospital in Philadelphia after after suffering a heart attack at his home. He was 74.

The Intruders formed in 1960 with Edwards, Sam "Little Sonny" Brown, Eugene "Bird" Daughtry and Phillip "Phil" Terry. The group bounced around between record companies over the next six years including stints on Gowen, Music Voice, Musicor and Excel before finally settling with the Gamble label in 1966. Gamble and Huff had just started the company after leaving the safety of Cameo-Parkway and the Intruders were their first act.

The group scored their first hit that same year with (We'll Be) United (1966 / #78 Pop / #14 R&B) and followed the next year with Together (1966 / #48 Pop / #9 R&B) but their biggest break came in 1968 with the release of Cowboys to Girls which went to 6 on the Hot 100 and topped the R&B Singles chart.

The Intruders continued to have regular hits and Gamble and Huff used that success to convince Columbia Records to fund their Philadelphia International imprint. Through to 1973, they amassed twelve top twenty R&B hits including (Love is Like a) Baseball Game, When We Get Married, I'll Always Love My Mama and I Wanna Know Your Name.

In 1975, the Intruders broke up and Edwards followed a life as a Jehovah's Witness.

The Intruders received a bronze plaque along the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame in 1996. In 2010, Edwards and Phil Terry, the surviving original members of the group at the time, were honored by Philadelphia International Records with the annual Phillies Gamble & Huff Community Partnership Award.

Edwards is survived by his wife, a son and two grandchildren.