From Cleveland, Ohio, Sexual Harrassment were full of raw sexual energy and were one of the pioneers of the cult electro-punk-funk movement. To coincide with the release of the Citinite covers EP, ‘Give It To Me Hot‘ (which features Dâm-Funk, Lil’ Kenny, Sweat.X, Jimmy Edgar, G.rizo and Robert O’Dell), Lynn Tolliver, the man behind the original tracks, kindly agreed to tell the story of his group, and how the classic ‘I Need A Freak’ came to be made.
‘I Need A Freak’, Sexual Harrassment, Heat, 1983
“I was writing songs since the age of 17. I always thought that you had to be in a group or a band to make it – probably because of the fear of failure. So many people don’t want to fail, and it took me years to discover that the people immediately around you do not make the best advocates for something you want to do. I know that isn’t always the case, but I think most of the time it is. Nobody wants to be left behind, and so many of the relatives and friends you have near you feel that’s what you’re going to do to them, if you make it.
“Often I would record little bits of songs on cassette tapes and save them to work on later, and most of the time, ‘later’ never came. I’ve been in several groups – the most successful ones were, The Family Gun, which was me under the name Shotgun and some phenomenal musicians (we were short-lived because the two lead guitar players had problems that superceded the band), and a group called Shotgun & The Soul System, which was me and a group of white musicians, but internal problems dissolved that band.”
In 1981, Lynn began forming ideas for his next group. He explains how he came up with the name; “Sexual harassment is never a good thing, but who doesn’t know about it? My ‘Sexual Harrassment’ was the first good use of the name, and I didn’t have to market the name, or make the name a household word – it was already a household word!”. Whilst with his girlfriend, a song title came up, ‘I Need A Freak’. He continues; “you know how the lyrics go – ‘I need a freak, to hold me tight, I need a freak, every day and every night’ etc – I didn’t have any concept of how the music was going to be or anything, I just went into the studio with a couple of truly great musicians and they started to come up with things. But you know, great musicians generally do more than is necessary, so I said to the keyboard player, just give me a thrusting bottom key note, over and over. I gave the drum musician a tempo and we worked on the track together, with him doing most of the programming of it. They went by the name collectively, Christopher Arthur. Then I laid my vocals down over the basic drum track and over-dubbed several more voices in different pitch ranges.”
The nasty electrofunk track ‘I Need A Freak’ was released on 7-inch in 1982 on the label, Great Records, and re-released the following year on 12-inch on the Heat label (distributed by Montage). By this time, Lynn had joined Cleveland’s urban music radio station WZAK as DJ and program director. “The record was recorded, but I didn’t have high expectations. I used the name David Payton, because I didn’t want to have people help me or hurt me based on my name, and the record started showing some growth. It took a life of its own, and you know, the rest is history. Because the labels involved with the record were set on cheating me out of what I was due, they pressed several different label versions with several different catalogue numbers, so I wouldn’t be able to trace the growth.” Another pressing came out on JDC.
Lynn continues, “I got a lot of declines from labels that I thought were good friends; however, one guy called me back and said to me, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t take the record, it’s up to over 100,000’, and after he called me and told me that, a music rag called Impact printed on the front cover that ‘I Need A Freak’ by Sexual Harassment had sold over 100,000, quietly. Knowing not to argue or complain, I kept quiet; I’ve known songs that got started and then the artist or manager or producer goes off or questions something and the project dies. I didn’t want that to happen so I kept as quiet as a feather.
“As the record became successful, I put together a group, which included my girlfriend at the time, a couple of musicians, and some touring people that would become Sexual Harrassment. I paid a guy to make sure they all got to practice and told them: if you make me mad, you’re out. I have always believed in working with the people that were around me (even to my detriment at times) but that’s just the way that I am. I used other announcers that worked at the radio station with me to add vocals, and a few other women.”
Lynn Tolliver in promo shot for WZAK radio with model Cynthia Moore
Sexual Harrassment as a stage band consisted of Dale Jackson, Lourdes Figueroa (Tolliver’s girlfriend), Kelly Albright, Alicia Starr, Charlie Inez, Kevin C and Lynne Poole. Whereas on the album recordings the band consisted of Christopher Arthur, Daris Atkins, David Tudor, Lourdes Figueroa, Clarence Howard, Joe Hunter, Dale Jackson, Ron Newton and Lynn Tolliver. “The musicians were going to be known as Physical Abuse. (In fact there was a not-so-successful song that was cut by them called ‘Time Is Running Out’. It was on a label called Ransom that was based out of California.) My intentions were to have enough people so that when the dust settled, I would have enough people to have a group left that could perform.”
The album, also called ‘I Need A Freak’, was released in 1983. It has since become a collector’s item and includes the songs that have been covered on the Citinite EP. “As you well know, all of the songs on the album are sexually based. I learned as a youngster, sex sells! The things that are rated the worst – violence, horror and sex – are the things people want to see or hear about. Good news and good stories don’t draw flies, you have to have a little ‘shit’ in the game to get a following.
‘If I Gave You A Party’, Sexual Harrassment, Heat, 1983
“‘If I Gave You A Party’ is a harmless title, but as you get into the song, it gets a little naughty; as the song is going off, my girlfriend asks ‘Where’s Dick, where’s Dick?’ and Charlie Inez replies, ‘I got dick’ and then repeats it again, ‘I told you I got dick’. All of the songs around that time were centred around my girlfriend, but I didn’t realize that until one of the other guys that was a jock on the station said to me, ‘I know who you’re writing about’, and then I knew! The funny thing about that is that when the right-wing and left-wing were both protesting about the lyric content, and they printed the lyrics, my mother said ‘If I kissed you on your hand would you come?… child, I tell you.’ She was a true Christian, and I never expected her to say that, but she did.
“What I did on ‘You Are My Sexual Connection’ is I came up with this jazzy feel, and my image was guys in tuxedos, like snapping their fingers doing a dance routine, with a very classy lead singer saying ‘You, are, my sexual connection’. It’s funny – without sex, mankind is dead, yet we hide the very thing we need. At the time that I wrote ‘Exercise Your Ass Off’ those work-out shows were just beginning to take off. Richard Simmons was one of the popular ones then, so it was like a parody on getting into shape, with of course a sex slant.”
As for the album cover, “from what was told to me, they were a couple of call girls who were paid $50 and got slammed in the sack. I had no input, but it was a great concept.” The photographer, Harry Langdon, also shot singers such as Apollonia and Donna Summer.
Although Tolliver was the lead vocalist on the recordings, when it came to live shows his vocal parts were sung by drummer Dale Jackson. But despite the initial success, things started to fall apart; “because I wasn’t there, I didn’t have time to coordinate, so the band only did a couple of appearances (at a club called The Chique) and never followed through. It was a concept that would have been a phenomenon, but you have to have willing participants. It would have called for some travelling and we weren’t all on the same page. We started getting a lot of requests for appearances around the country but we couldn’t fulfill the bill, so it died.”
But the music, as they say, lives on. It’s not often that you discover an album of tracks that combine the sexual energy of funk with the no-compromise attitude of new wave punk, but I think Sexual Harrassment nailed it. Their tracks are honest and most of all fun. ‘I Need A Freak’ has inspired artists from Egyptian Lover to Snoop Dogg, and I hope with the release of this covers EP, more people will seek out the originals.
You can check out all four tracks from the Citinite covers EP and read about the artists involved in the next post.
Lynn Tolliver has been DJing on radio for over 40 years; a former Marconi Award Nominee, Billboard Magazine Award Winning Program Director and Air Personality, he was recently inducted into the Broadcasters Hall of Fame.