I will always remember this song as being the theme of the Bob-Lo Island Amusement Park, a place where I won four tickets from CKLW. The unique thing about Bob-Lo was that the only way to get there was by a steamboat with the big paddle at the back. “The Hustle” was everywhere, there were even a group of disco dancers who did the box dance when it came on the steamboat’s sound system. It was the first of many times the family would pack up to spend the day there. You could even get a table and a grill! Years later a biker friend of mine mentioned that Bob-Lo was a big transfer point for marijuana. He explained that you bring a big cooler full of pot to the island and then take the other ferry that went to Amherst, Ontario. I remember there were a lot of hippies (long hair, leather, headbands etc) on board. Good times! We went back one more time in August before school started.
I had just finished Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth Of Beethoven” and feeling inspired, I again tried “The Hustle” and this time it seems to have clicked. Reaching back to find songs I haven’t remixed yet like this is giving me the strength to move ahead and now with the political landscape changes, I feel hopeful again like I did when I was 15.
Van was born January 6, 1944 in Washington D.C. where at the age of four his mother enrolled him to learn piano. Soon he was jamming with his brother Norman who played the violin. He began to write songs at the age of 12, but gave in to peer pressure and gave up his dreams of a musical career until he took up psychology at Howard University.
He began to sing with a local group called the Starlighters, left them and moved on to the Heartbeats where he learned recording and then moved to Philadelphia. He founded the Rockin’ Records label with his uncle and released “Hey Mr DJ” which got picked up by Florence Greenberg’s Scepter Records.
He was then promoted to A&R and wrote “Stop The Music” for the Shirelles then worked for Lieber and Stoller as a staff writer composing songs for the likes of Gladys Knight & The Pips, Barbara Lewis and Ruby & The Romantics. Aretha Franklin, Brenda & The Tabulations, Nancy Wilson and Tom Jones.
In 1970 he wrote and produced “5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years Of Love)” for the Presidents a #11 pop hit. That led to his association with Hugo & Luigi of Avco Records.
While working on his second LP “Disco Baby” he geared the songs for club play since that was the best way to introduce new music that the club DJ’s would embrace. He realized that the DJ’s were now influencing the all important radio play.
He was just about finished with the album when the DJ David Todd at the Adam’s Apple in New York City wanted to introduce him to the latest dance craze, The Hustle. McCoy was interested, but with no time to visit the club, he sent his business partner Charles Kipps Jr in his place.
Kipps was so enamored of the sound and the dance moves that he went to the studio to show Van what was going on. McCoy realized that the Hustle dance re-introduced hand holding moves that were reminiscent of ballroom dancing, two people moving in sync with each other instead of the frantic one person dancing alone with another.
McCoy already had drummers Steve Gadd and Rick Marotta, Eric Gale and on John Tropea on guitars, Richard Tee on piano, with a horn and string section conducted by legend Gene Orloff. During the recording of “The Hustle”, co-producer Hugo suggested that a piccolo be used instead of the guitar Van was using. Phil Bodner stepped in and played the instrumental motif that was the icing on the cake.
Released April 19, 1975 it entered the chart at #95 it peaked at #1 on the Hot100 July 26, 1975, #1 on the R&B chart July 12, and then #3 on the disco chart. It was to be his only Top 40 hit, but he won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental.
McCoy then produced David Ruffin (Walk Away From Love) and worked with his protegés Faith, Hope & Charity. Almost four years later, McCoy passed away at the age of 35 from a heart attack. It was a shock to find out about his death at such an early age. He did leave us with this joyous song to remember him by.