Lighter blamed in Philly blaze
Music memorabilia destroyed by fire
PHILADELPHIA – A man rescued from a fire at a renowned R&B record company had been using a lighter to see inside the building, which he entered while possibly intoxicated, police said Wednesday in charging him with arson.
Police said Christopher Cimini, 27, apparently believed he was someplace else and was seen trying a set of keys before kicking in the door of Philadelphia International Records, the home of musicians including Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, Lou Rawls and the O’Jays.
Fire, smoke and water damage from last weekend’s blaze ruined 40 percent of the company’s memorabilia, though the recording studio was largely spared, label co-founder Kenneth Gamble said Wednesday.
“When I walked through it the other day, it was like an old friend had died,” Gamble said. “I’m looking for the resurrection. Bottom line is we’ll be back.”
Cimini is charged with arson, risking or causing a catastrophe, burglary, criminal trespass and other crimes in the Sunday morning blaze.
The fire damaged gold and platinum records and the company’s personal inventory of CDs by Michael Jackson and the Jacksons, Pendergrass, Rawls and LaBelle, Gamble said.
Gamble’s partner, Leon Huff, said, “We’ll bounce back. We wrote the song – ‘Only the Strong Survive.’ ”
Gamble, 66, Huff, 67, and fellow Philadelphia producer Thom Bell are credited with creating the lush acoustics of 1960s and ’70s soul music that came to be known as the Sound of Philadelphia. Gamble and Huff’s songs include the O’Jays’ “Love Train,” Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” and McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”
Many of their biggest hits continue to resonate in popular culture through remakes and commercial licensing. The duo won a Grammy for Best R&B Song in 1989 for Simply Red’s version of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” which was originally performed by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. The O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money” is the theme song for Donald Trump’s TV show “The Apprentice.”
Before Gamble and Huff bought the three-story brick building in 1970, it was home to Cameo Parkway Records, where Chubby Checker recorded “The Twist.”
Today, the building primarily serves as the licensing arm of Philadelphia International Records, which hosts tour groups and offers a small gift shop.
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