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CHOCOLATE MILK BIOGRAPHY
Chocolate Milk formed in 1974 in Memphis as a four-piece jazz combo, which included saxphonist Amadee Castenell, in the mold of early Kool & The Gang. They established themselves in jazz circles playing straight ahead jazz before making a change in direction. The group would take on additional personnel and move away from jazz, making the move to becoming a funk octet. Relocating to New Orleans, they would work under the tutelage of famed producer Allen Toussaint becoming his house band.
In 1975 they would make their recording debut on RCA Records with the album Action Speaks Louder Than Words. The line-up at this point would include Castenell, Ernest Dabon on bass, Robert Dabon on piano, clavinet, strings and mini moog, Joseph Smith III on trumpet and flugelhorn, Frank J. Richard on percussion and lead vocals, Dwight Richards on drums, percussions and lead vocals, Mario G. Tio on guitar, and Kenneth Williams on congas and percussion. Toussaint would be their producer and Lloyd L. Harris Jr. would be their manager. That line-up would continue on their eponymous sophomore album the following year. On both of these albums, the group would write their own music.
Afterwards, Ernest Dabon would leave the group and be replaced by David Barard on bass and Steve Hughes on guitars. The nine-man line-up would then put out their album Comin’ in 1976. This line-up would continue into 1977 with the album We’re All In This Together, with producer Allen Toussaint joining the group on acoustic piano. On this album, Chocolate Milk and Allen Toussaint would share in the songwriting department. Barard and Hughes left after this and the septet would follow-up in 1979 with the celestially themed album Milky Way. They would be joined on that set by bassist Clyde Toval, who shared in the songwriting credits on one of the songs with the group.
At this point, changes were afoot. Chocolate Milk pared down to a sextet with the departure of Kenneth “Afro” Williams. They also left Allen Toussaint’s camp, opting for a change in their sound. In 1980 they jumped on the disco bandwagon with the album Hipnotism and enlisted outside creative forces on much of the album’s content. In 1981, they opted for another change in sound. This time they took as their model the funk band
Chocolate Milk concluded their tenure with RCA Records and broke up in 1983. However, saxman Amadee Castenell would go on to establish a successful solo career returning to his jazz roots and also returning to the fold with New Orleans producer Allen Toussaint.
Interest in Chocolate Milk was rekindled in the nineties with the help of sampling, with their work turning up in various hip hop and R&B songs, most notably the hit We Got It by the group Immature (now known as IMX) which sampled Chocolate Milk’s 1977 horn-driven classic Girl Callin’. Their music would then begin appearing in various compilations including their 1975 debut song on the MVP CD series. This rekindling of interest eventually led to reissue label Razor & Tie Records putting out a hits collection, Ice Cold Funk: The Greatest Grooves Of Chocolate Milk. This in turn led to various long out of print albums from the group’s RCA catalog finally being reissued on CD.
In recent years, songs from Chocolate Milk have made their way onto movie soundtracks and members of the band have reunited for special performances. The Meters may be the better known New Orleans band. However, Chocolate Milk have earned their place in the annals of New Orleans jazz and funk as well with their musical legacy.