at The Music Hall at World Cafe Live

Philadelphia, PA


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Event Details

COVID INFORMATION: Until further notice, all guests will be required to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination for entry to World Cafe Live. Masks must be worn by all attendees at all times except when eating or drinking. By purchasing tickets, you acknowledge that everyone in your party will follow any regulations in place at time of show (subject to change), and will not be entitled to a refund for noncompliance. Please check here for current venue protocol. Thanks for your support & cooperation in ensuring a safe return to live music!

$35 ADV // $37 DOS + FEES

Doors 6:30pm
Show 8:00pm


Soaked! Breakwater and a Wave of Grooves

On the third day of 2010, a nearly impossible dream became a reality -- Breakwater reunited. Five of the original eight band members gathered at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia for a homecoming that was 30 years in the making. Breakwater's dedicated fans had longed for a reunion ever since Splashdown prematurely concluded the band's story in 1980. "Breakwater is part of the culture in Philadelphia," explains bassist Steve Green. "There's an age group of people who grew up with our band." Playing before a sold-out crowd, Breakwater reassumed their place on the mantle as one of Philadelphia's most beloved homegrown bands. An audience ranging from early 20-somethings to 60 year-olds experienced what discerning crate diggers and DJs around the world have known for years: when Breakwater splashes down, expect to get soaked by a wave of grooves.

Long before Breakwater doused listeners with their fusion of funk, jazz, and soul, they were young musicians carving a niche in Philadelphia's fervent music scene. Hailing from Germantown and Mount Airy just 30 minutes from Center City, they started playing together as early as 1970. "I guess it was middle school when it all started, really," says vocalist/trumpeter Gene Robinson, Jr. "The leader of the band was Kae Williams, Jr.

He was playing organ back in eighth grade. He was our keyboardist. A good friend of mine who'd played saxophone in school with me went to school with Kae. He asked me if I was interested in playing horn in a little band. That was the embryo." The band's name had rather inauspicious origins. "We were going through the dictionary like everybody else," laughs percussionist John "Dutch" Braddock. "We didn't know what to call it. Synergy was real close. We were getting ready to go for Synergy and then in some kind of way, Breakwater did it. It sounded good to us."  With a name locked in, Kae Williams emerged as Breakwater's guiding force. Drummer Jimmy Jones explains, "We were all involved with what we inevitably became but so often there has to be some type of leadership involved. At a certain point where it looked like we were going to continue to do things, we said to Kae, 'Dude you're the leader.' He had such vision in terms of how he saw us and how he related to the other bands that were out there."

A Breakwater show in the mid-'70s consisted of crowd-pleasing Top 40 hits as well as tunes that transcended cover bands' typical repertoire.  "These guys had wonderful taste in music," enthuses saxophonist Greg Scott. "A lot of it the audience had never heard before but the band got over playing it." Scott's ears were particularly attuned to progressive sounds. He'd been a member of jazz fusion band Good God, who released an album on Atlantic in 1972 and gigged with acts like Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. "Breakwater kind of knew who I was because they were into jazz," he continues. "I sat in at a rehearsal on N. 18th St., the West Oak Lane section of the city.  It was in the basement of a row house.  The band was great.  They asked me to join. Being a creative person, I always look for something where you don't quite know where it's going. It's got possibilities. If you know where something's going, it's going to be a little boring. I didn't get that from these guys. I got this openness of, 'If we like it, we're going to do it.' Having been in original bands before I said, 'You guys should be writing your own music because you're not playing anything that anybody knows anyway!'" Jazz player Steve Green co-signed Greg Scott's advice, which was also his pre-condition for joining the band: "The stipulation for me at that point was that if I was going to do it that we'd have to play original music."

Even before Breakwater began composing original material, their style deviated from the sound that was synonymous with their home city -- Philly soul, especially the kind produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff out of Sigma Sound Studios. "People back then asked, 'How do you describe your sound?' and we used to say, 'Funk 'n roll,'" recalls John Braddock. "We were really jazzy. We were Philly hippies so it was kind of hard for Gamble & Huff to market that."  Greg Scott continues, "Everybody wanted to get a deal with Gamble & Huff -- they were turning out a hit a week. I know Gamble & Huff knew about us. They were looking for artists to fit into their sound. We were a hard-driving funk band and they were basically sweet soul. It felt very natural to go outside of their channels even though they're very clearly a successful organization right here in the city." Breakwater never considered approaching Gamble & Huff, despite the high probability of scoring a record deal with the producer's Philadelphia International

Records.  Gene Robinson adds, "Since we were the hottest thing in the city at the time, I think they felt that we would go that route but we really weren't that trusting of that situation. We had seen that a lot of the people that we knew that went that way weren't getting their royalties, things were happening like that. We really were a little suspicious of that." Like the independence symbolized by the city's Liberty Bell, Breakwater asserted their sovereignty and searched for a record deal beyond "The Sound of Philadelphia."

Gene Robinson remembers the turning point in the band's quest to sign with a label. "We did a demo record," he begins. "The guy who was our road manager went to school in Wittier over in California. He met up with Ray Charles' son in school and he got the demo to him. Ray Charles got it to Quincy Jones. He was really impressed with the music and wanted to work together. We were blown away." At the time, Quincy Jones' productions for The Brothers Johnson scored hit singles on both pop and R&B radio while his work on The Wiz (1978) soundtrack and his own Sounds ... And Stuff Like That (1978) album further exemplified his production genius. Breakwater was essentially guaranteed a hit album if they worked with Jones.

The producer's interest prompted other labels to pursue the band -- even ones that had turned them down in the past.  "Arista actually passed on us until Quincy got interested," states Greg Scott. "Arista now wants us to come to New York and audition for Clive Davis." Arista offered the band a handsome deal that included $75,000 upfront and the band's choice of producer. The offer from Quincy Jones' management was significantly less -- $10,000. Greg Scott remembers weighing the options, "We can stay in Philadelphia and record in New York ... or we can record with Quincy Jones. This is a tough decision, trust me, because we all thought The Brothers Johnson was just fresh and popping. 10 grand -- it probably cost that much just to get to LA and move everybody there, let alone have any money to live on. Everyone will have to get jobs." Avoiding the considerable expense of relocating to Los Angeles, Breakwater signed with Arista and joined an estimable array of jazz and R&B-based acts on the label like Pharoah Sanders, Norman Connors, and Harvey Mason. "It took some name dropping

to turn our heads (towards Arista) a little bit," says Jimmy Jones. "One of the names that was thrown in there was Maurice White. He might be involved because Clive had an in with him." Neither Maurice White nor any other of the potential bold-face producers that Arista initially discussed with the band were selected for Breakwater's debut. Instead Clive Davis matched his label's in-house producer Rick Chertoff with the band. Since 1975, Chertoff had produced a number of acts for Arista including De Blanc, General Johnson, Elliot Lurie, and Baby Grand, who later became The Hooters.

While not necessarily the band's first choice, Chertoff strove to make Breakwater a distinctive presence on Arista's roster. "What we did was good," says Gene Robinson. "I was 85% happy with it." Released in 1978, Breakwater made some significant ripples throughout the U.S., albeit in specific markets, and climbed into the Top 40 of the R&B albums chart.  "It was a regional response," Steve Green clarifies.  "We had pockets that really loved the music. We did spot dates like Chicago and Philadelphia, places in California and Ohio." The fact that GQ released Disco Nights (1979) shortly after Breakwater's self-titled debut didn't help. Rather than push "No Limit" or "Work It Out," Arista channeled more support towards GQ's fast-rising title track, which had a clear destination in the lucrative disco market. "Once their record got high, all of the promotional money funneled their way to push that record," Robinson explains. "We were a little more diverse so I don't think the label knew how to market us."

Planning their follow-up, Breakwater attempted to reconcile their creative inclinations with Arista's expectations for commercial success. "Our desire was to bring the truer sound out of the band," says Green. "The first album was a great album, but the band was produced so I think a lot of the raw energy from Breakwater didn't make it on the record. At the same time, Arista was looking for hit singles. We walked that tight rope of trying to figure out how to be true to who we are but at the same time put out an album that would sell. Clive Davis looks for hits. Everything is being looked at in that way. 'Is it going to be a single?'" Jimmy Jones emphasizes how the band would not compromise their musical integrity, even if Arista needed a hit to springboard Breakwater to a wider audience. "It was to really zero in on having our own material,"

he says. "We had reached out to find some other music from other places and we felt real strong that we wanted to contain our sound by having our own material specifically on that next record. Everybody was writing. Most of the material in its original form was written by Kae but the songs were always a combination of efforts with everyone. Kae had this groove that was really nice and really very much an identification of the band.

You'd hear it and you thought about the band playing live, then the rest of the guys would polish the top of it."

Further distinguishing the process of the second album from the first, Breakwater shifted operations from New York and Philadelphia to Santa Barbara on the west coast.

Whereas horn players like the Brecker Brothers rounded out the band's sound on Breakwater, LA session stalwarts from the Seawind Horns stepped in for Splashdown. "Seawind was one of our favorite bands," notes Green. "Jerry Hey was their horn guy so when his name came up we were like, Yeah! Him and Gary Grant, those cats were just absolutely amazing." (Had Quincy Jones produced Breakwater's first album, the band would have ultimately worked with Jerry Hey since he arranged horns for many of Jones' productions.)

Breakwater convened at Santa Barbara Sound Recording, where the maritime atmosphere directly shaped the new batch of songs.  "Our hotel was right on the beach," says Steve Green. "Right across the street from us was a breakwater -- we'd never seen a breakwater really -- and the Breakwater Restaurant! That environment really was influential, conceptually. I would say that a lot of the inspiration for Splashdown Time came out of the fact of where we were in Santa Barbara with the water right there." The band translated the water theme to outer space on the album's opener. "You are now ready to start your descent and re-enter the atmosphere of pleasure," Robinson intones, amidst propellors and laser shocks. "That was me on some sort of machine," he says. The track then launches into horn-driven funk, merging soul with science fiction for five and a half minutes, plus a surprise 30-second coda.

The band mellowed the rhythms on Love of My Life and The One In My Dreams. Penned by Kae Williams, both songs exhibited Breakwater's approach to love songs -- not completely downtempo but not the sizzling funk of neighboring tracks. "One of Kae's biggest strengths was setting a mood," says Green. "He was an amazing keyboard player. He'd be in his basement working on music constantly." Adds Robinson, "Kae was a really good writer. He had the pulse of the band. He was pretty creative and kind of knew what we did best."

Zay Gilmore's guitar solo on The One In My Dreams stirred a hint of rock into the band's stew of sounds, a quality that exploded on Release the Beast. "The band really did have a lot of influences from a lot of different genres," says Jones. "We were big fusion heads in terms of rock and jazz being done together. Zay was a big rock guy.

He had a lot of influence on that song, just the way he played." Steve Green notes how the track very specifically reflected Breakwater's musical personality. "That sound and energy that you hear on Release The Beast was a definite part of who Breakwater is. That one kind of got on the album -- there were other ones that didn't! That one slipped through. While we were out there, we worked on changing some words to Release the Beast. It was called something else like 'Dance and Jam' when we got there." The fervor of the band's playing on Release the Beast was so strong it practically melted vinyl.

You departed from the rock orientation of Release the Beast but grooved no less harder. Animated horn lines traded the spotlight with Robinson's soulful vocals and suggested the tightness of the band's concert performances. "The recordings were dynamite with some very serious expertise but it's another thing to see the band live," says Jones. "That was always the deal.  The record is hot and the grooves are strong to the max and the artistic ability is on those recordings but there's an organic thing that happens when you see the band live." Another self-penned Williams composition, You also showed the keyboardist's ability to consider each band member's playing style in the songwriting process. "Kae had a way of keeping the player in mind," says Jones. "He'd be thinking of how Zay played. He'd be thinking about how I played. I learned so much in terms of what his perception of how I played was. He would point out something that he noticed me doing and, since he noticed me doing that, then I would continue to do that. It became a part of my playing. I wasn't necessarily as mindful of it until he mentioned it."

Williams partnered with Robinson on Say You Love Me Girl, a song that stands as one of Breakwater's most enduring tracks 30 years later. "He would come up with the basic tune and then I would finish the lyric," notes Robinson about writing with Williams. "That's kind of how we worked." Laying the track down in the studio, the duo's collaboration became notable for the prevalence of John Braddock's percussion. "Even now when I reflect on it, it was almost urban salsa," says Braddock. "I don't even know the word to put to it but it's what came out of us. It was almost a gift from God."

A pair of Williams' own songs closed the album, each expressing a different kind of optimism. "We gotta put our hearts together, cause we all need love," the band sang on Let Love In while Time was built around the mantra "Good things come in time." Robinson explains the autobiographical sentiment of the latter, "It's just trying to bide our time and hoping that somebody would get us. Reinforcing the self-confidence." However, the idea of good things coming in time for the band wouldn't manifest for another three decades...

Indeed, time was not on Breakwater's side upon the release of Splashdown in May 1980. Label support wasn't forthcoming either. "I think they had tools to be able to do justice in propelling the band forward but I think they became confused," opines Jimmy Jones. "Sometimes it seemed like they couldn't make up their mind about which song to promote. That can be a good thing because it's almost like 'We can't make up our mind because there's more than one good song on there' but still there's a strategy that says, 'We start with this one and keep going until we accomplish what we want to accomplish.' One station would be playing one song and another station would be playing another, before any specific one was pushed. That's what happened to Breakwater. There's no question that Say You Love Me Girl was the single to push.

For the life of me I can't understand what went wrong." The fact that the band didn't have a hit single or embark on any extensive tour made the album's six-figure sales quite an achievement. "We sold about 130,000 records," says Robinson. "The label wasn't really happy."

Breakwater had enough material for a third album but the band slowly dissolved after Arista didn't re-sign the band. "I was the first person to leave because I had music that I was writing," says Steve Green.  "I was also working at Philly International and recording some other stuff with MFSB." Adds Jones, "I got married and felt that it was time to put my attention on raising a family and doing what I needed to do. The guys continued to do things. Kae continued to do things, got stronger as a player in the music arena. Gene continued to write. Steve continued to be known in a lot of realms as just a killer bass player and writer. Greg as well. They had a band together for awhile. I kind of hung out in the church and played worship.  Dutch hung out doing some church things." Gene Robinson continues, "Across the board, things started happening where we couldn't devote the time and we would have had to get a new deal and so forth and so on. We started getting older. Life happened, basically. If we had been able to be successful enough to feed ourselves, we would have continued. I had to break down and get work."

The fans who owned Breakwater and Splashdown, or saw the group perform throughout the '70s, didn't forget about Breakwater, even 20 years after the group's last recording. Gene Robinson continues, "People who knew that I played would ask me, 'When are you guys going to try to come back out?' I was like, 'There's no way I'm ever going to do that. I want to leave the legacy intact.' We really prided ourselves in how well we performed. It was our calling card here in the region. What I call us is a 'tweener: we never had a big hit but we had pockets of fans who actually got what we were trying to do. Here in the region where I live -- Philadelphia, Delaware, New Jersey area -- people are crazy about us but no one outside of that area knows us except for the few pockets in Europe." In fact, it was a European act that helped jump start the band's resurgence. French electronica duo Daft Punk dusted off Release the Beast and sampled it on "Robot Rock," which topped the UK dance charts and even made the Top 40 in 2005. Suddenly a whole new generation of listeners discovered Breakwater.

With a sample bringing Breakwater back to the clubs and the airwaves, there was no better time for a reunion. Steve Green reached out to his seven band mates to discuss the possibility of reuniting. "Steve got the consent of everyone who was still around," says Jones, "everybody wanted to do it, the whole eight members. Then ... Kae passes." Sadly the man who led Breakwater from its earliest incarnation through its emergence as a Philadelphia mainstay to its arrival on a major label died in July 2008. He was 52.

A year passed before the band resumed the conversation. "This time when we talked about doing it, not everybody was so game to come along," says Jones. "Vince decided to keep his attention on his kids who were about to go to college.Zay was just working on some personal problems. It just wasn't time for him to be involved. That left five members. The five of us finally decided we were going to try and do it." Steve Green continues, "The first thing was, let's just get together and maybe do a cookout or something! We got together and started playing some music, trying to learn these tunes over again. It's interesting because when we cut those albums, we were young musicians on fire. You change your playing over the years as you become more seasoned. We found, particularly between the drummer and myself, that we really had to reach back to make the sound work. It took maybe about two or three times of playing together before we finally clicked -- okay, here it is."

When Breakwater granted their fans' wish and officially reunited at World Cafe Live in January 2010, they witnessed an intergenerational audience singing along and savoring every note. "All of the hard core fans came with their albums," says Green. "They were waving them in the air.  It was amazing to watch that, to know and to feel that this is their music. We're enjoying it and grooving and having a ball but it gave us so much purpose to see it hit home. This is about them. This is all about giving. This is all about us being a vehicle for giving this music to people." The response even inspired the band to write and record. They issued "For the Last Time" as a single on CD Baby in 2011 and have a full-length album nearly ready for release.

More than two years since reuniting, Breakwater continues to perform throughout the northeast to standing room-only crowds. Of course, they welcome the opportunity to greet their fans across the Atlantic and meet the audience who's helped introduce their music everywhere from London to Paris to Tokyo. "Just the fact that we get to do it is not a light thing to us," concludes Jimmy Jones. "We see it as a blessing and value it as such. The chemistry is continuing to develop every time we play. There's so much to learn when you play together. There are secrets with grooves and how they work.

That's basically the Breakwater thing -- playing some serious grooves." Are you ready to get soaked?

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Event Location


The Music Hall at World Cafe Live

3025 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA, 19104

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