T.J. Tindall, 65, Philly Soul guitarist for Gamble & Huff

T.J. TINDALL, 65, the legendary Philly Soul guitarist on 38 gold and platinum hits, including the O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" and the Trammps' "Disco Inferno," died Tuesday after a long, private battle with cancer.

Mr. Tindall, whose bronze plaque is on the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame on Broad Street, played guitar for Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International Records sessions band, MFSB, at Sigma Sound Studios during the legendary duo's '70s hit-making heyday.

The Trenton-born Mr. Tindall, who played with a galaxy of soulful stars from the Chambers Brothers to Bonnie Raitt, retired in the '80s to run the Light Gallery design business started by his late father, Toussic Allen, in the Princeton area.

He returned in 2011 to play a benefit concert with longtime pal and fellow-guitarist Danny DeGennaro.

Late that year, DeGennaro was shot to death during a home invasion in Levittown.

T.J. Tindall's East Coast band played a memorial concert for him at Jon & Peter's in New Hope, Bucks County, then stayed together to perform at local clubs.

Mr. Tindall was scheduled to return to the studio next week to record a new version of the O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" with In the Pocket - Hooters drummer David Uosikkinen's labor-of-love project to rerecord what he calls the "Essential Songs of Philadelphia."

Mr. Tindall had previously played his '63 Fender Stratocaster, the same guitar he had used on all 38 gold and platinum Philly soul hits, on Uosikkinen's In the Pocket remake of "Disco Inferno."

Uosikkinen said on Thursday that the "Disco Inferno" session was especially exciting for him because Mr. Tindall had been the guitarist and session leader on the Trammps' original 1976 hit.

"I knew T.J. since he was 19 years old," Uosikkinen said. "I looked up to him as my mentor.

"He used to drive this Pontiac Grand Am. And you'd see him going to work with his guitar at 9 and coming back at 6. And I thought, 'Man, this guy makes a living playing music.' "

Uosikkinen said that Bobby Eli, lead guitarist and founding member of the MFSB, Gamble and Huff's house band, told him that Gamble was walking through the studio one day when he heard a riff and said, "That riff! Who's playing that riff?"

"Somebody told Kenny, 'T.J. is playing that riff,' " Uosikkinen said. "So Kenny asked T.J., 'What are you playing?' T.J. said, 'I'm just laying down a riff.' And Kenny said, 'I want to write a song around that riff.' And the song he wrote was 'Enjoy Yourself' for the Jacksons."

With Michael Jackson singing lead, the song was a Top 10 hit in 1977.

Uosikkinen said Mr. Tindall's studio bandmates teased him, asking if he got any royalties for his "Enjoy Yourself" riff, and he just laughed.

Uosikkinen said his friend T.J. was a man of so many riffs that "he really exuded that feeling, that thing, that soul music. The guy just had it in his fingers."

Anita Wise, Mr. Tindall's wife of 17 years, said: "So many people have been calling and I've never heard so many grown men sobbing. Sometimes, they get so quiet, I think the phone's dead, but they're crying."

Back in the '70s, Wise was tending bar at Jon & Peter's in New Hope while Mr. Tindall was playing there.

"The town was just full of young people and we all knew each other," Wise said. "Everybody was in that bar every night. T.J. was kind of a man about town. When he asked me out, I thought: 'Well, it's my turn. Let's get this over with.' But I fell for him."

After a while, they broke up. Wise went on to a successful career as a New York stand-up comedian. She and Mr. Tindall got back together 20 years later, when both were in their 40s.

"He was such a generous spirit," Wise said, "so brave and funny and down-to-earth and humble. That's why so many people loved him."

Besides Wise, Mr. Tindall is survived by his mother, Bobbie Allen, and many loving aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Services will be private. The family is planning a public memorial service soon.

geringd@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @DanGeringer