Planet Patrol


Considered by many as the founders of Electro Funk, Planet Patrol  was originally a vocal  quintet from Boston called “The  Energetics.”  Their conversion to Electro was conceived by Electro architects John Robie and Arthur Baker, who performed and produced the act’s music.

The Energetics were a Bostonian pop soul group that included  Joey Lites, Melvin B. Franklin (not to be confused with Melvin Franklin of the Temptations) , Herbert Jackson, Tony Borders, and Calvin  Shepperd. In 1974 they released “You make me nothing” b/w “Rainy days and mornings” on Cobra, as The Energetics. They released a single, “Me and my girl” b/w “It at first” through Top Top Records in 1975. After they were taken under the wing of Brian and Eddie Holland, they recorded an album, “Come down to Earth” (1979-Atlantic). It produced two singles, “Living by the strength of your love” and “Come down to Earth,” who’s middling  performance cemented their status as a regional act – except inevitably among a segment of British and Japanese fans of Obsuro soul. After being dropped by Atlantic, they moved to New York and struggled to continue. Mills and Borders left and Rodney Butler and Michael Anthony Jones replaced them. 

Their story seemed likely to end there until  one day in 1982 , a fellow Bostonian expatriate living in New York contacted them. That person was  Arthur Baker, one of the principal architects of a new sound  in hip hop  that used a Roland TR 808 and PCM (digital delay unit) to provide the backing tracks  instead of samples.  With John Robie playing keyboards and Baker producing, the duo teamed up with  Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force to inject Teutonic funkiness into hip hop with “Planet Rock.” The Energetics, reborn as the more suitably sci-fi PLANET PATROL, recorded “Play At Your Own Risk”  the same night at Intergalactic Studios. Though both songs virtually defined Electro and the production was similar, the effects were quite dissimilar.  Where Soul Sonic Force bounced raps off each other, Planet Patrol, with their roots in the 70’s R&B scene were stridently soulful.

“Play At Your Own Risk” was a smash hit, reaching #21 on the Billboard Charts  and the group performed on Soul Train. Though “Planet Rock” tends to receive all the critical praise, “Play At Your Own Risk,”  in the long run, was probably the more influential of the two, being the blueprint and directly inspiring the beginning of the Freestyle explosion the following year!  Adding to it’s  legend, “Play At Your Own Risk” is considered by  many as the Anthem for b-boys and  robot style dancers globally and  has inspired generations of dancers  and DJ’s worldwide. 

The full-length , PLANET PATROL  (1983 Tommy Boy Records) was cranked out in a single week at Vanguard Recording. Baker and Robie had already completed the music although the singers contributed to the lyrics, which continued to be more emotional in their orientation than other Electro acts. Nearly every song on it was released as a single, including the John Robie and Arthur Baker co-written “Danger Zone” and “Cheap Thrills” (#30 on Billboard) , a cover of Gary Glitter’s ” I Didn’t Know I Love You (til I Saw You Rock n Roll)” and a cover of Todd Rundgren’s “It Wouldn’t Have Made A Difference.” In fact, only one track, “Don’t Tell Me,” wasn’t a single – it was a b-side.

After the release of the album, Robie and Baker continued producing other projects, occasionally collaborating but more often not. Without their involvement, the members of Planet Patrol drifted apart. One member, Joseph Lites, passed away due to a diabetic seizure. Another, Melvin B. Franklin, worked a series of blue collar jobs including a thirteen year stint as a doorman at the Westin Hotel. After two years working as a skycap at Boston’s Logan Airport, he was shot to death by an unknown assailant on October 15th, 1996. Herb Jackson was pronounced dead after ingesting a large quantity of acid and blow. Luckily, he was revived! As many who have survived a brush with death do,  Jackson found God and became an ordained minister. As many fewer do, he revived his old band Planet Patrol and united with Andre “Dre Divine” DuBose and original member Rodney Butler! They’re currently recording several new tracks on their own “Space Age Records” label and currently are in negotiations with the owner of Tommy Boy Records, Tom Silverman. Stay tuned and keep your ears to the airwaves and cyber space for the return of PLANET PATROL! 

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