The landscape of the American music industry seems to be constantly evolving, especially these days when things like being outrageous on Youtube can lead to fame. But R&B group The Whispers have remained steadfast through it all, with the same sound that has only improved with time. The Sentinel recently caught up with identical twins Wallace “Scotty” and Walter Scott, the group’s front faces, to talk about their experiences in the industry, staying humble and lessons learned.
“We’ve been around for 53 years and so we’ve seen a lot of how the music business has changed. It has changed completely,” said Walter.
“We watched rhythm and blues come in, disco, rap… we watched it all. It evolved into where it is now. And the thing is, twenty five years or so ago, we were beginning to be called ‘old school’ so we thought our career was over. What we didn’t realize is that, that was the greatest thing that could have happened to us because it really contributed to our longevity…”
The twins were born in Fort Worth, Texas raised with Southern values, ones they brought with them when they arrived in Los Angeles in 1959.
“I think the success that we’ve had is really attuned to being humble, never taking ourselves for granted or acting like we were bigger than we really were,” said Walter.
“We were taught that if you didn’t work and earn it then you didn’t deserve it. We came from what we now know was a poor beginning. But back then we didn’t know. We were fine.If anybody had told me coming from Watts California that I would end up in Lagos, Nigeria, Tokyo, Paris France… We had no idea the world was as big as it is.
“When you come to California and you’ve been raised southern, when kids hear you yes ma’am and no ma’am they laugh,” Scotty explained.
“But we didn’t know any other way to be. Those [southern manners] have stayed with us and kept us. We brought those qualities to the other guys (in the group)…”
The twins met the other group members in Watts, where they lived in the Jordan Downs housing project.
“It all started at Jordan High School. There was a guy called Hunter Hancock that used to have talent shows… record hops, he called it,” Walter recalled.
“We ended up entering one of his talent shows. He put us on the radio, me and my brother. We were called the Scott twins. While we were doing one of his talent shows… we were entered in as the Scott Twins. And the group that my brother would later be in was called the Whispers, they were a trio. Back in those days, they’d have us back in the gym waiting to go on stage.
“While we were back there, we were singing the songs of the day… the Temptations, the Four Tops and harmonizing. We really liked the way we sounded with this trio, so we said ‘after this talent show we need to put this together’. That’s basically how the Whispers got started.”
That was in 1964. The original group members along with Walter and Scotty were Gordy Harmon, Marcus Hutson, and Nicholas Caldwell. In 1966, the group traveled north to the Bay area after being invited musician Sly Stone. There, the group began developing a reputation as a show-stopping live act. After Harmon injured his larynx in a driving accident in 1973, he was replaced by former Friends of Distinction member Leaveil Degree.
“We had been singing for years and people in Los Angeles knew us well,” Scotty recalled.
“We went to a small label in Hollywood called Dore records. The guy who owned it, his name was Lou Bedell, Jewish guy. He liked R&B music. We went in to audition for him and he said he loved our sound, it sounded really soft. He said, ‘why don’t we call you guys the Whispers’? I said, Sir, as long as you give us our check, you can call us what ever you want!”
The group scored many hits on the R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and they hit #1 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart in 1979/80 with “And the Beat Goes On” / “Can You Do the Boogie” / “Out the Box”. In 1987, they enjoyed a brief tenure in the Top 10 when “Rock Steady” became their first Top 10 success on the Hot 100, reaching #7, while also capturing the #1 spot on the R&B chart.
With all they had been accomplishing, it was a long time before they had stopped to think about the level of their success. The moment came during a performance in Louisiana.
“We were in Shreveport and we were doing our show and all of a sudden the band stops,” Walter remembered.
“Out walks Dick Griffey. And he has with him five gold albums framed. He stopped the show to tell (the audience) that, that week the Whispers album had gone gold. This was about 1980. And a gold album meant you had sold at least half a million copies. What we didn’t know is that we would go on to sell 2 million. Two months later the album went platinum.
“We knew by 1981, we didn’t think of it as made it, we thought of it as the validation from our peers and fans that they liked us.”
Added Scotty, “from that point on, up until 1988 everything we recorded was either gold or platinum.”
They never had the experience of being mega celebs but what they had, they have enjoyed immensely they said.
“We have seen so much change but our fans have been with us. When you look at music like ours or the Temptations or the Ojays, that music is still here,” Walter said.
The brothers also talked about going and giving back. “We go back… we go to high schools a lot,” Waler said. “We’re proud. We tell students, we’re from Watts California and we want them to know that they can come up in their environment…”
“It’s all about being who you are…” and “being the hell out of that,” added Scotty.
“That’s what we have pretty much done throughout our career and it has lasted,” Walter said.
Fans should look for new music from the Whispers in February 2018