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Stepney, Charles – Step on Step [2xLP Gold Vinyl]– New LP
Stepney, Charles – Step on Step [2xLP Gold Vinyl]– New LP
Stepney, Charles – Step on Step [2xLP Gold Vinyl]– New LP
International Anthem Recording Company

Stepney, Charles – Step on Step [2xLP Gold Vinyl]– New LP

Regular price $ 44.00 $ 0.00


Chicago-born composer, producer and arranger Charles Stepney is known to some for his work with Earth, Wind & Fire, Deniece Williams, Ramsey Lewis, Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Terry Callier, and many more. In the decades since his untimely death in 1976, the presence of his name in liner notes has become a seal of quality for record collectors, while his sound has been sampled extensively by artists such as Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, The Fugees, MF Doom, and Madlib.

Step on Step – which comes almost 50 years after Stepney’s passing – is the enigmatic producer's eponymous debut album. It's an album full of creative compositional seedlings – originally written, performed, and recorded by Stepney in the basement of his home in Chicago, between the late 1960s and early 1970s, using just primitive drum machines, early-gen Moog synthesizers, pianos, vibraphones, and a few other instrumental accessories.
nternational Anthem is proud to present 'Step on Step', a double LP collection of home recordings marking the de-facto eponymous debut album by enigmatic producer, arranger, and composer Charles Stepney (1931-1976). The music that makes up Step on Step was created by Stepney alone, in the basement of his home on the Southside of Chicago, sometime in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before his untimely death in 1976.

A Chicago born and bred arranger, producer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Stepney is known for his work with Earth, Wind & Fire, Deniece Williams, and Ramsey Lewis, and as a staff producer for Chess Records in the 1960s, where he was an essential creative force behind seminal recordings by Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton, Marlena Shaw, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Terry Callier, The Dells, The Emotions, and many more. In the decades since his passing, the presence of his name in liner notes and on vinyl labels has become a seal of quality for record collectors, music historians, and aficionados, while his sound has been used by countless samplers in the hip-hop world including Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, The Fugees, MF Doom, and Madlib. But in comparison to the post-mortem renown of his sound, or the music he created and the artists he supported while he was alive, Stepney is a greatly underappreciated figure… a genius relegated to the shadows.

One of the signature elements of his “baroque soul” sound is the epic, expansive, orchestral expression of his horn and string arrangements (in many cases brought to life by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), as heard on Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleurs,” or Marlena Shaw’s “California Soul,” or Terry Callier’s “What Color Is Love.” Hence making it even more special that his de-facto debut LP Step on Step, which sees its first wide release nearly five decades after his death, is a collection of stripped-down 4-track tape recordings featuring Stepney, alone, performing all instruments with minimal means. It is, as said by Chicago culture historian (and author of Step on Step liner notes) Ayana Contreras, “the uncut funk,” an unprecedented depiction of an imbued composer imagining and conceiving music (some of which would eventually become massive studio productions) in its primal state.

Step on Step features 23 tracks, most of which are original compositions by Stepney that were never again recorded by him or any other artist. It also features prototypical, seedling-style demos of Stepney compositions for Earth, Wind & Fire, including “That’s The Way of The World,” “Imagination,” and “On Your Face,” as well as the original version of “Black Gold,” which would eventually be recorded by Rotary Connection (as “I Am The Black Gold of The Sun,” with lyrics by Richard Rudolph). And in addition to the wordless croons of Stepney original and early single “Daddy’s Diddies,” Stepney’s actual voice is heard on a couple occasions across the album, testing microphones and inputs on his tape machine.

All of the otherwise unrecorded, previously unnamed original compositions contained on Step on Step were given their titles by Stepney’s daughters Eibur, Charlene, and Chanté Stepney, whose voices are also heard throughout the album, telling stories and sharing memories about their father. The Stepney Sisters, who produced this album over many years, have long been engaged in efforts to celebrate their father’s legacy and bring his work into brighter light. They’ve cherished the tape reels left behind by their father in the basement of their home, transferring the audio on multiple occasions, and originally compiling the recordings for an ultra-limited CD on their own DIY label (The Charles Stepney Masters) in the early 2010s. “We always talk about how we were trying to develop this and would go to different people and they would go ‘what is this raw stuff…’ It was just the first level of something that became something really great,” says Chanté. “To get this type of intimate look into an artist’s process is really unknown and unheard of… so I just really appreciate the opportunity to give this. I am very happy for my Dad that we’re able to share this with the world in this way, with this amount of respect.”

This new double LP collection on International Anthem presents “a genuine, beautiful, deeply emotional and personal effort by three women to reconnect with their father and validate their own memories of his passion and brilliance,” says label co-founder Scott McNiece. And it’s a long-overdue fulfillment of Stepney’s unsatiated plan to release a solo album – which he once vowed to his daughters that he would do, and that he would name it: “Step on Step.”


released September 9, 2022

All instruments performed & recorded by Charles Stepney.

Produced & Narrated by Eibur, Charlene, and Chanté Stepney.
Edited & Sequenced by Scott McNiece.
Additional Recording, Treatment & Mixing by Dave Vettraino.
Mastered by David Allen.

Photos by Rubie Stepney.
Liner Notes by Ayana Contreras.
Design & Layout by Craig Hansen.


A legendary R&B producer and arranger that sample-flipping rap producers turned into a hip-hop touchstone, Charles Stepney also made prismatic one-man-band demos in his Chicago South Side basement, working up songs for Earth, Wind & Fire, Rotary Connection, and other collaborators during a dazzlingly fruitful decade before a heart attack killed him in 1976 at age 45. “Charles was such a gorgeous musician,” Richard Rudolph, lyricist for Rotary Connection, told Wax Poetics in 2007. “He’d play all these beautiful things, and give me the tapes with the melodies on them, and I’d ride around and—God, it was fantastic—try to write to them.” It’s sweet to imagine that scenario while listening to Step on Step, a compilation of previously unreleased Stepney demos uncovered by his daughters Eibur, Charlene, and Chanté. The album is part of a multimedia project to commemorate the work of their dad, a crate-diggers’ hero whose widescreen imagination helped define Chicago soul, in turn birthing a generation of Windy City rap innovators—Common, Kanye, Lupe, Chance, Noname, Jamila Woods—many of whom would sample his work, re-enacting Rudolph’s experience. (It wasn’t just a local phenomena; when his daughter, comedian Maya Rudolph, first met Q-Tip—who famously incorporated Rotary Connection’s “Memory Band” in A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum”—she told him, “Your band put me through college.”) Step on Step, though, shows an unfamiliar side of Stepney, whose signature maximalism incorporated call-and-response choral arrangements, jazzy brass pageantry, and swirling storm clouds of strings, often drawing on the talent of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Witness the majesty of “Les Fleurs,” a solo signature of Rotary Connection’s Minnie Riperton, Maya’s mom and Rudolph’s wife—an oft-sampled gem that underscored the credits of Jordan Peele’s Us and, more recently, capped the controversial “Big Payback” episode of Atlanta. Stepney came up as a jazz pianist and vibraphonist, recording with Chicago saxophonist Eddie Harris in the early ’60s, and those instruments dominate these demos alongside a new acquisition: an early Moog synthesizer, which by all indications Stepney quickly mastered. “Gimme Some Sugar,” “Daddy’s Diddies,” and “Gotta Dig It to Dig It” are effervescent synth-funk workouts in the vein of Stevie Wonder’s contemporaneous Talking Book and Innervisions; “Daddy’s Diddies” also features Stepney’s delightful, multi-tracked scat-singing, the set’s only vocal performance: a South Side echo of the joyous vocal play of Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges’ “Cravo E Canela” from Clube Da Esquina, another early-’70s touchstone.
The draw here for many listeners will be the blueprints of classic recordings. “Black Gold” is a piano sketch for Rotary Connection’s psych-soul revival meeting “I Am the Black Gold of the Sun,” a Stepney masterpiece that triggered one of his periodic revivals when house-music heroes Masters at Work remade it in 1997 for their Nuyorican Soul project. Stepney’s “That’s the Way of the World” is a fully imagined realization of the 1975 Earth, Wind & Fire hit, a watercolor of Moog melodies, while “Imagination,” played on what sound like electric piano and organ against a skeletal drum-machine beat, distills the brassy falsetto gospel-soul highlight from Spirit, the 1976 album the group was creating with Stepney when he passed. (In one of the narrated footnotes sprinkled through the compilation, one of his daughters mentions her plans to use the recording to walk her down the aisle at her wedding in her late father’s absence.) The downscaled intimacy of Step on Step may or may not be an accurate picture of the solo album Stepney had planned one day to record. Its 23 tracks—fully developed songs plus fragments and ephemera—do capture his rich sense of melody and counterpoint, flair for embellishment, and modular approach to composing; its mosaic format recalls the “segues” that Stepney and soul-folk singer Terry Callier used on the latter’s sublime Occasional Rain while laying out a banquet of stems for future beatmakers to repurpose. But as a portrait of an artist whose defining achievements were ultimately collaborative and monumental, the miniaturism showcased here is sometimes frustrating, especially as no one has yet ventured a survey like what Ace Records has done for Motown psych-soul swami Norman Whitfield and Sound of Philadelphia orchestral-soul architect Thom Bell, producer peers that Stepney is every inch the equal of and then some. It’s overdue. It’d be wonderful to hear his work with EW&F, Callier, and Rotary Connection alongside the Afro-Brazilian jazz-funk of Ramsey Lewis’ Salongo, the psych-blues freakouts of The Howlin’ Wolf Album and Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud (fueled by future Miles Davis hire Pete Cosey), and Stepney’s other Chess/Cadet/GRT Records productions: Riperton’s lush solo debut Come to My Garden, the Dells’ mighty Dionne Warwick/Burt Bacharach tribute, etc. Hopefully this set—together with a forthcoming documentary and the formation of Rotary Connection 222, a new repertory outfit of Stepney offsprings both spiritual (Junius Paul, Makaya McCraven) and literal (granddaughter Brandice Manuel)—will spur a lasting reappraisal of a man whose expansive cosmic soul feels as inspiring and necessary now as when it was first made.

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