Albert Elias could write a song so phat and funky you could hurt yourself.
And he did just that when he teamed with film composer Angelo Badalamenti to write the score for the 1973 flick Gordon’s War.
Part of the early ’70s blaxploitation era of film, director Ossie Davis’ Gordon’s War featured Paul Winfield as a Vietnam vet who leads four of his G.I. buddies on a personal war against the drug pushers and pimps of Harlem. Shaft it was not, but that soundtrack was a classic of its genre. Elias’ driving R&B music, like Hot Wheels (The Chase), would go on to be sampled by rappers, including Public Enemy, Coldcut and Blade.
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Pretty hip for a musician who earned his degree from the Philadelphia School of Music and who trained to sing opera arias and classical music.
Elias, who died Dec. 21, at 86, from cancer in Miami, where he has lived since 1970, was a bit of an entrepreneur, too. After Hurricane Andrew blew the shingles off a neighbor’s roof near his Falls-area home, Elias said, “I can fix that,” so he designed and patented a wind-resistant shingle in 1994.
Born Jan. 13, 1929, in Charleston, West Virginia, Elias joined the U.S. Air Force to serve in Korea from 1953 to 1954. In 1954, he wrote the song My Daddy Is a Woman, pegged to Christine Jorgensen’s headline-making transgender operation in 1952. The country-flavored tune, recorded by Amber Louise, would be featured decades afterward on Howard Stern’s radio program.
Later, Elias wrote and produced for a one-hour episode of the children’s after-school series, NBC’s Special Treat, in 1977, which would win the Peabody Award for best children’s show of its year.
He loved cooking, too.
Elias was recently discharged from the hospital on a Saturday. That Sunday, his sister Virginia hosted a welcome-home gathering for the family. But Elias couldn’t resist helping prepare dinner.
“There’s Albert in the kitchen!” his brother George Elias said, chuckling. “Al, we came to celebrate you,” George told him that afternoon. Elias’ response was typical. “Wait ’til you taste what I’m doing.”
The next day Elias was back in the hospital. He would never return home.
Elias is survived by his wife Amy Barger Elias; his daughter Amber D’Amelio; his son Marc Elias; grandaughter Chelsey D’Adesky; sisters Guinevere Elias Haddad and Virginia Elias; and brothers Lewis, George, Richard and Gwynn Elias. Services were held.
He had a great sense of humor, a great storyteller and people loved them. One time I put him together with a couple of my clients. They were just howling. One client said, ‘Who was that? You put me with a man who told the funniest stories and kept us in stitches.’ That was brother Al.
George Elias, an attorney, on his brother Al’s storytelling skills.
Howard Cohen: @HowardCohen