Joe "Pep" Harris
Joe Harris was born in 1944 in Detroit, Michigan, in an area called the Black Bottom, an area made famous by top Black musicians and entertainers. At the age of nine, his mother took him to the Castle, a theater on Hastings Street in Detroit to see the Little Willie John Show.
“It was my first R&B Show ever! I felt something from the energy in that room: the band blasting… the MC screaming and cheering from the audience… that moment in my life I’ll never forget”!
In 1955, in the Brewster Projects and at Garfield Junior High School, Joe formed his first singing group, “The Moroccos.” The group won a contest around the city of Detroit through a department of Parks and Recreation Programs sponsored by Radio Station WCHB. The three finalists for the contest were The Moroccos, The Spinners, and Willie Tyler and Lester. The winner was recorded on the Lupine and Bumble Bee record label, owned by Robert West. Their first recordings were “Bubblegum” and “Trouble in the Cady Shop”, produced by Sonny Woods of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and Joe Hunter of the now infamous Funk Brothers. In 1956 his singing was over and school was over and school was the focus. “Those were Mom’s words!”
In the summer of 1962, one month after graduating from Northeastern High School, Joe was taken by a well-known artist named Lee Rogers, to a club in Detroit called The Village. There he met with Thomas Hester (aka Tommy Stone), Richard Street, McKinley Jackson, and Ronnie Abner to form the Fabulous Peps. They were immediately signed to the Thelma Record Label in Detroit. Their first recording was a song track written and produced by Norman Whitfield on Tommy Stone. The song was originally titled “Alone”. Don Davis and Lee Rogers rewrote the lyrics and called the song “This Love I Have for You”. The A Side was a song called “I Love You Baby”. The Peps became a very popular live act in and around the Detroit area from 1963 to 1968. Their biggest recording was titled “I’ve Been Trying”, written by Curtis Mayfield and produced by Willie Mitchell. The Peps were managed by Radio Disc Jockey Martha Jean The Queen, Ms. Hazel Coleman, and Peter Hall.
Joe originally went with Robert Ward, performing as Joe Pep for six months until Satch, of the Ohio Players, approached him to front the Players in a two-man Sam and Dave type act along with another singer named Dutch Robinson. That relationship lasted a little over one year. Joe then went to Louisville, KY and formed the Nite Lighters. Four months of performing with brought the group to the 20 Grand in Detroit for ten nights. On the last weekend of the 20 Grand date, Joe was approached by Clay McMurray with a message from Norman Whitfield to meet at the Motown Building. That meeting with Mr. Whitfield resulted in the formation of the Undisputed Truth. Ironically, the Nite Lighters Band became the band for the Spinners at Motown because of our relationship with Harvey Fuqua.
The Whitfield Years: “Norman Whitfield became my life. He didn’t fake. In fact my relationship with Norman forced me for the first time in my life to think about who I was and what I was trying to be. His work ethic and focus on winning became all that mattered. We worked day and night, went home and rushed to get back to work the next day. Norman was always teaching and saying “Trust me”… and we did. The Undisputed Truth received a Grammy, Gold, Platinum, Double Platinum, and an Academy Award Nomination. The things we did at Whitfield Records as a team were the best things that I got out of the record business. My Motown years were the highlight of my professional career.
Summary of Accomplishments:
1955-1956: Little Joe and the Moroccos, winners of the WCHB Summer Talent Show. First place winners received a recording contract on Lupine Bumble Bee Records
1962-1969: Performed as an original member of the Fabulous Peps; opening act for Robert Ward and the Ohio Untouchables; Part-time vocalist with The Funk Brothers; original member of
The Stone Soul Children; and original member of the Ohio Players
1969-2016: Front man for the Nite Lighters; formed the original Undisputed Truth; formed The Dream Machine; and joined the P-Funk All Stars
2015: The Undisputed Truth and the Fabulous Peps were inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in Detroit, MI on August 4, 2015
2015: Joe “Pep” Harris received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Black Music Awards in October 2015
Movie Credits: Car Wash, starring Richard Pryor, Franklyn Ajaye, and Bill Duke (Academy Award Nomination); Nite Before, starring Keanu Reeves; Butter, starring Nia Long and Ernie Hudson
Television: Tracy Allman Show (received an Emmy)
Grammy: Undisputed Truth 1971 for the best new mixed group
Albums: Motown/The Undisputed Truth, Face to Face with the Truth, Law of the Land
Lineup for these albums were: Joe Harris, Brenda Evans, Billie Calvin, and Melvin (Wah-Wah Watson) Ragin; on the album Law of the Land also included Rita Harvey and Maude Thompson; Down to Earth; higher than High; and Cosmic Truth, featured Joe Harris, Calvin Stephenson, Tyrone Barkley, Tyrone Douglas, and Vee McDonald
Whitfield Records- 1975: Method to the Madness, featuring Joe Harris, Melvin (Wah-Wah Watson) Ragin, Tyrone Barkley, Calvin Stephenson, and Taka Boom; Smokin, featuring Joe Harris, Melvin (Wah-Wah Watson) Ragin, Lloyd Williams, Lafayette Trey Stone, Melvin Stewart, Lyrica Thomas, Herschel Happiness Kennedy, William Kennedy
The Undisputed Truth 2008-2017: Joe Harris, Jaki G. Fondren, and Dazee Luv