Side Effect is an incredibly dynamic vocal quartet whose highly original approach to pop music has reached a new level of finesse on their latest Fantasy release, Rainbow Visions. It’s the ultimate, you might say, in Side Effective-ness.
"The new album definitely feels more ‘us,’” says group leader Augie Johnson, who produced Rainbow Visions with Wayne Henderson. "We wrote most of the material ourselves, and all of us were very much involved in the making of the album.” Augie handles all the arrangements, and all members of the group compose.
Augie Johnson, Louis Patton, Greg Matta, and Sylvia St. James put out an innovative, vital brand of music, and Rainbow Visions is a perfect showcase for their upbeat and occasionally zany musical personalities. But Side Effect is serious about success, and they’ve got the chops, the charisma, and the deter-mination to make it.
Side Effect’s first album, simply called Side Effect, was a solid introduction to the group’s vocal talents. But it was the release of the single "Always There,” a disco smash, that really catapulted Side Effect into the public eye (and ear). The follow-up LP, What You Need, included no less than four big singles: "Always There,” "Keep That Same Old Feeling,” "S.O.S.,” and "Finally Found Someone.”
Next came Goin’ Bananas, a deft and colorful display of the group’s versa-tility, ranging from pop to disco to bebop.
Rainbow Visions gets off to a raucous start with "Peace of Mind,” a powerful vocal vehicle for Sylvia St. James, and with "Disco Junction,” one of the most galvanizing dance tunes in recent memory. But Side Effect shines as brightly on the album’s quieter moments: Louie Patton’s raw-edged balladeering on "She’s a Lady,” just released as a single; "I Like Dreaming,” written by Greg Matta and featuring his astounding multi-octave vocal work; and the title track, a Wayne Henderson composition spotlighting Augie Johnson’s distinctive vocal style.
Augie Johnson, a Leo, was born in New Orleans, but moved to L.A. when he was five (his father is a musician). Augie began to play the clarinet at age six; two years later he was playing in the American Legion Band. When he was ten, he joined Bob Mitchell’s Boys Choir, and toured with them for four years.
While in junior high Augie took up tenor and alto saxophones, and formed his first band, "The Jazztronauts.” During his years at Washington High School, Augie was active in both instrumental and vocal groups, playing in several and forming a couple of his own. Augie went to Los Angeles City College, ma-jored in music, and met Louis Patton.
Then the Army got him. Johnson spent his two years as an entertainment specialist—producing and participating in all kinds of functions, both on the base and in the community.
By January 1972, Augie was back home in L.A., and he looked up his old friend, Louis Patton. In May of that year, Side Effect was formed. The group has played many clubs in Los Angeles, and has toured Canada. Augie has done lots of session work too, with the Temptations, Mac Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Marvin Gaye, Funk Inc., Leon Haywood, and many others.
Louis Patton, a Capricorn who prefers to be called Louie, grew up in south-central Los Angeles, which brought him into contact with the very core of ghetto life. As a kid he was rough and bright, and got into a lot of fights. Musically, Louie’s life began at age five with piano lessons. When he was eight he began playing the clarinet and singing in the choir at his school and church. By the time he was 15 he had learned to play the saxophone and bassoon. Then came high school, when music gave way to athletics. Many medals and trophies later, a broken wrist shattered a dream of playing professional football, and Louie began singing in clubs, but then he too was drafted; his two-year Army hitch included time in Vietnam.
When Louie got back home, he picked up right where he left off. He was singing, and managing singers, when he first met Gregory Matta. Not long afterwards, he got together with Augie and Greg, and Side Effect was formed. Louie’s professional experience includes session work with the Drifters, Marvin Gaye, Leon Haywood, and Ronnie Laws.
Gregory Matta, a Scorpio, also grew up in Los Angeles. He started singing in school and church choirs at a very early age, and took up the clarinet at age ten. At Washington High School, he majored in music, formed several groups, and developed a strong interest in singing. He won several awards and was voted the most talented person in his class. By the time he finished high school, Greg could also play the drums, piano, and organ. His vocal groups won talent shows throughout L.A.; the most popular group was the Contemporary 5.
Gregory attended L.A.’s Southwest College and worked periodically with Louis Patton. Greg, too, has done a lot of session work with people like Michael Jackson, the Jackson 5, Stanley Turrentine, Marvin Gaye, and Johnny Mathis. Greg is the youngest of the guys in the group and may very well have the most vocal potential because of his unusual range: his voice bottoms out at a low baritone and climbs up to a very high first tenor. He loves to dance, and choreographs many of Side Effect’s routines.
Sylvia St. James, a Capricorn beauty, brings a tremendous amount of talent and experience to Side Effect. Born and raised in Waukeegan, Illinois, Sylvia lived for a while in Wisconsin. Later, she entered an ashram in the Los Angeles area, where she stayed for a year and a half. "It was while I was at the ashram that I got seriously involved with music. It just happened that everyone I lived with was a musician, and when the ashram broke up, I made a conscious decision to be a professional musician and dancer.” Sylvia studied dance privately for four months, and then landed a job with the Mike Curb Congregation—her entry into the pop music business. Since then, Sylvia has worked extensively in L.A. and Las Vegas with acts as varied as Connie Stevens, Eddie Arnold, Hugh Masekela, and Frank Zappa.
Sylvia counts her experiences with George Duke and Frank Zappa among the funniest and most musically rewarding. She sang on George Duke’s LP The Aura Will Prevail.
Besides the extensive work on their own recordings, the various members of Side Effect have been keeping more than busy on other projects. Augie sang background on recent albums by Boz Scaggs, Bill Withers, and Rod Stewart, and has also done a couple of TV shows. Greg and Louie have been doing session work and commercials, and Sylvia sang on the latest Pointer Sisters LP. Johnson is co-partners with Wayne Henderson in At-Home Productions.
Augie has been involved in production lately too—he did the Boppers’ first album for Fantasy, and will be back in the studios with them in January. The Boppers are the superb instrumental ensemble that has backed Side Effect on their albums and on stage.
Augie, Greg, Louie, and Sylvia are four dynamic entertainers, and they get a lot of practice—Side Effect spends a great deal of time on the road, both as headliners and opening acts for top-name acts like Natalie Cole, the Spin-ners, the Ohio Players, and Aretha Franklin. Their imaginative stage presentation never fails to create excitement, and Rainbow Visions is sure to stir up more of the same!