Song pays off each Thursday

April 15, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Every Thursday night, before Donald Trump has the chance to fire anyone, Kenneth Gamble turns up the television set and starts to dance.

The South Philadelphia producer has a reason to celebrate. A song he wrote 30 years ago with longtime partner Leon Huff has become the theme song for The Apprentice. Never mind that "For the Love of Money" is about how chasing wealth corrupts the soul and leads to bad things, like stealing from your mother and robbing your brother. Or that Gamble, a devout Muslim, has used his own fortunes to lift up his old neighborhood, renovating hundreds of homes and founding a charter school.

Gamble, 60, thinks both the show and the O'Jays song have something to teach.

"I think this is probably the best show on television, and not because we have the song in there," Gamble said. "It's like going to a class, because those people who are interested in going into business, they actually see how decisions that have been made affect outcomes. I know I've learned a lot myself."

Gamble and Huff could teach Trump's contestants a thing or two about the art of the deal.

Gamble was frontman for a singing group, the Romeos, when he met Huff nearly 40 years ago. The two soon discovered a shared passion for songwriting, penning such hits as Jerry Butler's "Only the Strong Survive." Their socially conscious lyrics, funk rhythms and lush arrangements became part of what's known as the Philadelphia Sound.

In 1971, the pair started their own label, Philadelphia International. But they craved a truly international distribution system and financial backing to sell their artists. The next year, they signed with CBS Records.

Soon, none other than the Harvard Business School was validating CBS' decision. Its 1972 "Study of the Soul Music Environment," a 50-page report, identified black consumers as an untapped market.

"We started out with maybe two or three acts," Gamble said. "We brought the whole African-American market to CBS, which they had not had before."

Trump's theme song came from the line in scripture that translates as "the love of money is the root of all evil."

Like the rest of America, Gamble is seeing that play out on The Apprentice.

Gamble, who had to fire many people in his career in the music business, said he admires the way Trump finesses the boardroom scenes, where one contestant in each episode is sent home. He declined to make any predictions about whether Kwame or Bill might win the $250,000-a-year job with Trump after tonight's two-hour finale.

Too bad. Judging from history, Gamble's instincts would hold up well in Atlantic City.

"I didn't know if the song was a hit, but I'm telling you, when we recorded it, it sounded awfully good," he said. "Our slogan was, `You'll never forget our tunes.' And it looks like it happened that way."

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