Remembering Bunny Sigler (1941 – 2017) and His Greatest Contributions to Soul and (Instant) Funk

“Say Whaaat!?”

Those two words, exaggerated as they may have sounded, are the signature phrase of one of the biggest funk/disco hits to emerge from the late 1970s, “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)” by the short-lived, Philly-based band Instant Funk.

The song was written by the band’s core members Raymond Earl and two brothers, Kim and Scotty Miller.

But the production credit went to someone far more accomplished in the music industry, someone whose fingerprints were all over some of the biggest Philly Soul hits during the 1970s and ’80s.  It was none other than Walter “Bunny” Sigler, the talented Philadelphia International Records contributor who died suddenly on Friday after a massive heart attack.  He was 76.

The late Bunny Sigler died Friday, October 6, 2017, at age 76.

Sigler, whose nickname came from him having been born just two days before Easter, is probably best known for Instant Funk’s classic, a funk staple that went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Soul and Disco charts in March 1979 and then managed to crossover to the top-20 on the pop chart that May.

But his musical contributions were far greater than that.  Sigler either played on or wrote dozens of memorable soul tunes, primarily for nearly all the artists signed to the Philadelphia International Record label.  His initial break for the Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff production team came with the O’Jays “Sunshine,” a song Sigler cowrote and which served as the follow-up to their big hit, “Back Stabbers” in 1972.

He followed that with contributions to the O’Jays follow-up album in 1973, the platinum-selling Ship Ahoy, which was also their most socially conscious effort.  Sigler penned three of the tracks, including “Don’t Call Me Brother,” a nearly nine-minute opus that is, to many, just as relevant today as it was 44 years ago with its themes of racial injustice and hypocrisy.

Sigler’s first big hit as a singer, from 1967.

Sigler, whose first national hit was a 1967 remake of the Shirley and Lee song “Let the Good Times Roll & Feel So Good,” made a name for himself with soulful ballads as well.  He penned the O’Jays “You Got Your Hooks In Me” by himself, then co-wrote their more memorable “Let Me Make Love To You” for the 1975 album Survival.  “Let Me” reached the top ten of the Billboard Soul chart that year.

While penning and playing on hits for others, Sigler forged a singing career for himself as well.  His first album for the PIR label was 1974’s That’s How Long I’ll Be Loving You, whose title track Sigler performed on Soul Train (below).

That album was quickly followed the same year by Keep Smilin’, a release that was rushed to capitalize on the popularity of the title track.

Keep Smilin’ (oddly) contained many of the same songs on the earlier release, including a seven-minute top-30 remake of the O’Jay’s “Love Train,” but included two additional songs on which members of Instant Funk played backup: the popular title track and the funky “Sweeter Than The Berry.”

A promotional ad for Sigler’s “Love Train” remake in 1974

Another playful song on the album, “Shake Your Booty,” fared modestly well, but wasn’t played on some stations due to its title.  Interestingly, no such ban affected KC & the Sunshine Band’s similarly titled No. 1 tune the following year.

Sigler’s biggest chart hits came later in the decade with songs like 1977’s “Let Me Party With You (Party, Party, Party)” (#8 Soul), and “Only You” with Loleatta Holloway (#11 Soul).  Ironically, Sigler’s “Only You” charted at the same time in 1978 as a completely different “Only You” by PIR’s own Teddy Pendergrass, and Sigler actually out-performed TP’s hit, which petered out at No. 22 Soul.  (BTW, “Hot Soul Singles” is what Billboard called its black music charts until 1982.)

Sigler continued churning out his own records, but it was ultimately what he did for others that made him an industry go-to producer and writer.  After Instant Funk’s million-seller in 1979, he wrote and produced big hits for PIR’s Shirley Jones (of the Jones Girls) and former label mate Patti LaBelle.  His songs “Do You Get Enough Love” and “Somebody Loves You Baby” went to No. 1 and No. 2 for Jones and LaBelle, respectively, in 1986 and 1992.

He also wrote songs for the Whispers (their early Bingo album), Lou Rawls (his All Things In Time and Sit Down and Talk To Me albums) and countless others.

Sigler continued writing and recording into the new millennium, long after the hits stopped coming.  Several were released on his Bun-Z Music and Records label, including the most recent album, Bundino.

He released a new song this August called “Angel Eyes,” an eerie sounding tune that is one of eight unreleased tracks slated for a new album due in January.

That album’s ironic working title is reportedly Young At Heart.  Even if we never hear anything from it, Bunny Zigler’s legacy was cemented long ago.

He will certainly be missed.

RIP Walter “Bunny” Sigler (March 27, 1941 – October 6, 2017)

DJRob

Advertisements

Your thoughts?