Fans of the Philly soul sound may debate endlessly about what the key ingredients are, but all must agree that the name James Smith figures prominently. The vocalist James Smith was one of the original members of Philly soul mascots the Stylistics, although he also was one of the singers who departed prior to the group's final run on the oldies circuit. This James Smith is not the same as the guitarist who played on many Philly soul productions: that was James Herb Smith. The latter instrumentalist may have used the middle name to differentiate himself, although some guitarists could conceivably have other reasons to mention "herb."
The Stylistics -- formed in 1968 by combining members of two different vocal groups, the Monarchs and the Percussions -- were first produced by Thom Bell, later Van McCoy. Smith was riding high with the group for about eight years beginning in 1968 including singing on a dozen straight chart smashes. The group still enjoyed popularity in Europe in subsequent years but original members named James began to peel away beginning in 1980 with the defection of James Dunn followed by Smith. Slim of Jims, the remaining members decided not to bother with replacements and carried on as a trio.