High note hit: Northwest musician has gold record past

Eddie Fluellen leads an unassuming life these days. He teaches piano in his home, using the Young Chang baby grand piano in his family room, provides accompaniment for community theater and choral groups and picks up work here and there.

It’s only when one visits his website, eddiefluellen.com, that you learn he spent nearly a decade in the rock music business, with two gold records to his credit. They hang in his family room. He pointed to himself in a photo included with one. He was the trumpet player with the huge Afro.

“That’s me, as I like to say, about 50 pounds of hair ago,” he said.

He bought his northwest home knowing one room would become his studio. It holds more than a dozen keyboards, a mixer board and various speakers.

He said his daughter Ashley, 17 and a student at Las Vegas Academy, recently discovered the resurgence of long play albums.

“She saw my turntable in there about eight months ago, and she’s really into music, so she discovered the turntable, and she absolutely loves it,” he said. “So, one time we went to a music store … and were looking at the prices. They were like $40 or $50. … Having done this, I won’t pay $50 for a record.”

Fluellen plays accompaniment for the Sun City Musicmakers. Megan Schnizlein, Musicmakers musical director, called his bio “fascinating.”

“He was in a great band,” she said.

Fluellen was born in Barberton, Ohio, and raised in Akron, an area known more for its rubber tire production than music. He spent his early years learning different instruments — piano, trombone and tuba.

His stepfather’s love of music had a big influence on him, he said, introducing him to the sounds of artists such as Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal, The Mills Brothers and Nancy Wilson.

“I had all the albums of bands I liked, and I’d study the pictures, read every single credit on the album,” Fluellen said.

He said he knew his dreams of going to Los Angeles and becoming a professional musician would come true.

While still in high school, he joined a local band, Raw Soul Revue, which had a full horn section. At the time, bands such as Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire were changing music. After two years with Raw Soul Revue, he was introduced to Gregory Williams of the band White Heat, which was produced by Barry White.

Williams tapped him to be in a new band, with the assurance that an upcoming Southern California trip would land them a record deal in two weeks.

“I joke with him now,” Fluellen said. “I tell him that if he told me that now, knowing what I know about the business, I’d throw him out of the house.”

He said being 19, though, he never questioned his new friend’s big dreams.

Jody Sims, the drummer, and Williams flew to Los Angeles to visit the Motown Records offices. There, they found themselves in an elevator with Jermaine Jackson of The Jackson 5. The problem: Jermaine and his wife got off the elevator before they got the courage to introduce themselves. The solution: The two band members jumped off at the next floor and scoured the parking lot, locating Jermaine and handing him a cassette, an extra copy of their demo tape.

The result was that Motown signed the band. The members were: Williams on keyboards, trumpets and lead vocals; Sims on drums, percussion and vocals; Phillip Ingram on keyboards, percussion and lead vocals; Fluellen on keyboards, trombone and vocals; Bobby DeBarge on keyboards and lead vocals; and Tommy DeBarge on bass and vocals.

Because they overlapped instruments, band members would change parts from song to song. An observation by an A&R record executive about that unique aspect yielded the band’s new, more marketable name: Switch.

In Los Angeles, the Motown/Gordy records machine had them going on a shopping spree for clothes suitable for their album cover. Jackson co-wrote some songs. The publicity department had them posing for photos. Michael Jackson would stop in to talk music with them.

“Before the first album came out, I’d go, ‘Wow, is this really going to happen?’ … But I’m living proof that if you pursue your dream, it can happen,” Fluellen said.

Switch’s first album, comprising mostly self-written songs, went gold. So did the second album, “Switch II.”

Switch spent the majority of the year touring the United States. Back in Los Angeles, they went to work on their next album. Switch would record six LPs, which yielded the top 10 hits, “There’ll Never Be,” “I Wanna Be Closer” and “I Call Your Name.”

After their last album, the band members drifted to other projects. The DeBarges’ family, for example, came to the West Coast, and their attention was focused on the brother-sister band. Fluellen went on to work with other artists and write songs.

Now in Las Vegas, he is called upon to perform with a variety of local and national acts, as well as writing and arranging music through Fluellen Music. He is often called upon for independent projects, sometimes with fellow musician Bill Jefferson, a bass player.

“Eddie’s great to work with,” Jefferson said. “He comes to a job well-prepared. His playing is, it’s sort of like a bed. He plays down a good bed of music.”

Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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