Many bands have taken the moniker BRAINSTORM in an effort to be cool. In fact there was a late 1960’s early 1970’s German Brainstorm and there’s an Australian group that started in the 1980’s that’s still going strong today. But the one that matters to us is a homegrown band of Motown funksters that formed in 1976 and had a brief three album four year career.
1976 was the year that Belita Karen Woods, Charles Overton, Jeryl Bright, Larry H. Sims, Deon Estus, Trenita Womack, Lamont Johnson, Willie Wooten and Renell Gonsalves got together in Detroit. R&B music in 1976 was under siege with disco grooves and nobody could be easily pigeonholed into one category. Brainstorm straddled both quite well.
With their 1977 debut release “Stormin” Tabu Records couldn’t decide which direction to market the group. The first single was “Wake Up And Be Somebody” a powerful R&B inspirational number reminiscent of Philadelphia Internationl numbers from the previous few years. It missed the pop charts but grazed the R&B chart peaking at #-48. A change of direction was chosen when the label remixed and released the 12″ single of “Lovin’ Is Really My Game.” The song peaked at #-14 on the R&B charts but soared to #-1 in the clubs. The song is without a doubt a genre defining gem that would be hard to top for any group. Belita’s urgent vocal pleas over crisp horns and a rumbling bassline played at a breakneck energized pace has made this one enduring classic. The album also featured “This Must Be Heaven” a quiet-storm ballad that seems to be a highly sought-after late night gem.
After the groups’s debut success there was reason to believe that Brainstorm might go on to become huge, but regrettably, its sophomore effort, “Journey To The Light,” was a commercial disappointment. The album didn’t provide any major hits, and the only people who bought it were the group’s hardcore followers. Regardless it is generally excellent. Brainstorm had a gem of a lead singer in Belita Woods, who really soars on tunes that range from Stevie Wonder’s funky “Every Time I See You, I Go Wild!” to the quite storm pearl “If You Ever Need To Cry” and the jazzy, Roy Ayers-ish “Brand New Day.” Nor are the lead vocals of Trenita Womack (who is featured on the slow jam “Loving Just You”) and Deon Estus anything to complain about. The reasons this album wasn’t as successful as it’s predecessor was the lack of any remarkable disco numbers or any radio hits. Still the album is worth owning.
When Brainstorm’s second album failed to sell, some people reasoned that it was due to a shortage of up-tempo disco material. So with its third and final album, “Funky Entertainment,” the band decided to go for maximum disco appeal and make up-tempo songs a top priority. While their second release was primarily an album for listening, “Funky Entertainment” is very dance-oriented. In fact, the ballad “You Put A Charge In My Life” is the only thing on the album that isn’t aimed at the dancefloor. The song was released as a single but failed to chart higher than #-84 proving that the groups appeal came from a club based set of fans. A second single remixed and released on two different 12″ singles did bring the group back up the disco charts peaking at #-21. “Hot For You” was fun and in many ways superior to “Lovin’ Is Really My Game.” The album could have had several more club hits with remixed versions of album tracks “Popcorn,” “A Case Of Boogie” or “Don’t Let Me Catch You With Your Groove….” or even the title track.
After the bands breakup in early 1980 the members went on to other projects. Belita Woods went on to do vocals, both lead and background, for Parliament, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Prince. Trenita Womack wrote songs for Sylvester, Enchantment and Betty Wright among others. Renell Gonsalves, the son of longtime Ellington sax great Paul Gonsalves, kept a lower profile but has done work for Bobby Murray and Sheila Landis. Charles Overton appeared on a 1981 Mitch Ryder album and has since disappeared. Jeryl Bright joined Cameo and went on to enjoy a greater success with them. Larry Sims had already had success with Loggins & Messina prior to Brainstorm and has since found happiness as part of the Sounds Of Blackness group. Lamont Johnson continued to record for Tabu Records and had a minor 12″ hit with “Sister Fine.” Willie Wooten had worked with the Dramatics prior to Brainstorm and afterwards he can be heard on Enchantment, Gene Dunlap and L.J. Reynolds records to name a few. Deon Estus has had the most prolific and successful career, besides his own releases he can be heard on Elton John, George Michael, Mica Paris, Aaron Neville albums and countless others.
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