Keyboardist/arranger/producer/recording artist Dexter Wansel can be heard throughout the catalog of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. His skills can be heard on non-PIR sides like Jermaine Jackson’s “Where Are You Now” from his gold LP Let’s Get Serious and “Tonight” from Junior’s Acquired Taste LP. His frequent songwriting partners were Cynthia Biggs, Bunny Sigler, and T. Life. A synth pioneer, Wansel’s first LP arranging assignment was several tracks on Carl Carlton’s 1975 LP, I Wanna Be With You, produced by Bunny Sigler. A Biggs/Wansel song, “The Sweetest Pain,” a duet between Wansel and Jean Carn, originally a 1979 single from Wansel’s Time Is Slipping Away LP, was a popular radio-aired LP from Loose Ends’ Zagora LP. Two of Carn’s LPs, When I Find You Love (entirely produced by Wansel) and Sweet and Wonderful, and Jean Carn and Happy to Be With You were issued on a two-album single CD by U.K. label Westside Records in early 1999.
When Wansel was 12 years old, he got the job of a gofer for the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, going to get sandwiches and clothes out of the cleaners for the various acts that performed at the venue like Stevie Wonder and Patti Labelle. Many years later, Wansel would co-write a number one R&B hit for Labelle. In 1975, Wansel met Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff when he was a member of a band called Yellow Sunshine, which also boasted guitarist Roland Chambers who would later become a part of MFSB, the house band for Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. Becoming a part of the staff creative collective, Wansel began arranging, playing keyboards, and writing songs for the label’s acts including the O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, and the Intruders, among others.
When Patti Labelle signed with PIR, she recorded Wansel’s “Shoot Him on Sight,” a song Wansel intended for Jackson Browne, on her 1981 album The Spirit’s in It. A song Wansel co-wrote with Kenneth Gamble and Cynthia Biggs, the lovely unrequited love ballad “If Only You Knew,” held the number one R&B spot for four weeks in early 1984. It was on her I’m in Love Again LP, which went gold, hitting number four R&B.
A partial list of Wansel-associated sides would include Jean Carn’s popular radio-aired LP tracks “I’m in Love Once Again,” “You Are All I Need” (music by Instant Funk), “Where Did You Ever Go,” “Free Love,” and the dance classic “Give It Up”; Shirley Jones’ “Last Night I Needed Somebody” and “She Knew About Me”; The Jacksons’ “Keep on Dancin’,” “Living Together,” “Do What You Wanna Do,” and “Jump for Joy”; The Stylistics’ “Hurry Up This Way Again,”; keyboardist Patrice Rushen covered “Hurry Up This Way Again”; The O’Jays’ dreamy ballad “I Really Need You Now”; Phyllis Hyman’s radio-aired track “Living All Alone”; The Jones Girls’ “We’re a Melody”, the exotic “Nights Over Egypt,” “Love Don’t Ever Say Goodbye,” and “Why You Wanna Do That to Me”; Archie Bell and the Drells’ “Old People”; and Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Till I Come Off the Road” and the radio-aired LP track ballad “The Show Is Over.”
Life on Mars/What the World Is Coming ToWansel’s own charting LPs were Life on Mars from summer 1976 (includes two tracks with Instant Funk, “Life on Mars” and “You Can Be What You Wanna Be”), What the World Is Coming To, Voyager (with its great space-age oriented graphics) from spring 1978, and Time Is Slipping Away from 1979. Several tracks from his LPs were radio-aired LP tracks (the lushly orchestrated “Theme From the Planets,” the spacy, funky “Disco Lights”) and some songs — “Together Once Again,” “One Million Miles From the Ground,” and “Holdin’ On” — are still in singers’ repertoire today. “Holdin’ On” was a radio-aired LP track from actor Lawrence Hilton Jacobs’ self-titled album produced by Lamont Dozier. “Global Warming” from the 1991 PIR/Zoo/BMG CD Universe Featuring Dexter Wansel received some airplay on smooth jazz radio stations. During the ’90s, Wansel continued to work with the reactivated Philadelphia International Records and occasionally toured.
Dexter Wansel-related releases are Grover Washington, Jr. Ultimate Collection, Heaven & Earth-That’s Love, Best of MFSB: Love Is the Message, and Best of the Intruders.