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Gene McFadden

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Philly great Gene McFadden dies at 56

Teamed with John Whitehead for a string of hits

GENE MCFADDEN, part of a song-writing team that authored the smash hit "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" in 1979, died yesterday after a battle with cancer. He was 56.

McFadden died at his home in the city's Mount Airy section about 3:45 a.m., his family said.

"My dad was laid-back and cool," said Casandra McFadden, one of his daughters. "He was a really private man and really about his family."

Casandra McFadden said her father had been suffering from liver and lung cancer since being diagnosed with the disease in October 2004.

McFadden teamed with Philadelphian John Whitehead in their youth to form a singing group and later wrote and/or produced such classics as "Backstabbers" for the O'Jays and "Wake up Everybody" for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

Whitehead, 55, was shot to death in May 2004, as he watched a mechanic repair his car behind his West Oak Lane home. Police believe that the bullet was meant for someone else. The killing still is unsolved.

As teens, McFadden - who graduated from Edison High School in North Philadelphia - and Whitehead were members of a band, the Epsilons, which they formed. They toured with and were managed by Otis Redding until his death in 1967. They later signed with the label Stax and had a moderate hit in 1970 with "The Echo."

When fellow Epsilon member Lloyd Parkes left, McFadden and Whitehead changed their name to Talk of the Town and began working with record producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Gamble and Huff discovered their song-writing talents and decided to employ them in that capacity at their label, Philadelphia International. They stayed there for 16 years.

Their first big hit for the label was the O'Jays' "Back Stabbers," a major 1972 R&B hit. They wrote for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and penned the Intruders' "I'll Always Love My Mama." Then also wrote "Let's Groove," "Soul City Walk," "Strategy" and "Don't Let Love Get You Down" for Archie Bell and the Drells.

Their own album, "McFadden and Whitehead," came out in 1979, and the following year they wrote songs for Gamble and Huff's subsidiary TSOP (the Sound of Philadelphia). Later, they worked for Capitol Records.

"Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" - which was a top-20 pop hit and went to No. 1 on the R&B charts - became a favorite of Eagles fans, and during the 1980-81 season McFadden and Whitehead performed the song at the Vet before the start of the Eagles-Cowboys NFC Championship game, which the Birds won, catapulting them into the Super Bowl.

"Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" wasn't the first message song they wrote. They also authored "Wake Up Everybody," which topped the R&B chart for two weeks in 1976. It was recorded by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with vocals by Teddy Pendergrass.

McFadden once said the inspiration for "Wake Up Everybody" wasn't political. "We were just thinking the world needs to get better," he said.

He said he and Whitehead came up with the song while thinking about "Puff, the Magic Dragon" by Peter, Paul and Mary. "The lyrics flowed out of my mouth as if God was telegraphing what he wanted me to say," Whitehead once said in a Billboard interview.

The duo influenced mainly United Kingdom groups such as Simply Red, Lisa Stansfield and Boy George and the Culture Club, although they did have some affect over Philadelphia's Hall & Oates.

Besides daughter Casandra, McFadden is survived by his wife, Barbara, another daughter and two sons.

Funeral services were scheduled for Thursday at Triumph Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.
Published on Philly.com on Jan. 28, 2006
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