As the sun is shining and all is good with the world, let’s dispense with the usual banter to revisit the excellent “Baby I’ve Got It! More Motown Girls” CD, which I started talking about last month, giving overviews of the featured artists. So, in no particular order, here’s a similar few random words about the remaining ladies, starting with Ann Bogan, who, as you know, replaced Gladys Horton in The Marvelettes. A native of Cleveland, she was a member of The Challenger III group with whom she recorded three singles for Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi label, including “Honey Honey Honey” in June 1962, followed by “Every Day” credited to the Challengers 3 featuring Ann Bogan. She also duetted with Harvey on “What Can You Do”. When Tri-Phi was absorbed into Motown, Ann became a company artist, and before replacing Gladys Horton sang lead on The Andantes’ 1964 single “(Like A) Nightmare”. Marlene Barrow-Tate recalled in the book “Motown From The Background” that Harvey – “brought her from Cleveland to record in Detroit. We needed a lead voice and she was the strong lead singer. We had wished and hoped for a record. She sang lead on ‘(Like A) Nightmare’ but our dream never materialised. There was no real effort to put us out there or promote us. The song was recorded and that was it…..We were happy with it and it was a good sound we had with Ann.”
Gladys Horton told author Marc Taylor in “The Original Marvelettes” book, that when she first heard Ann sing, “Her voice was just so dynamic…Ann had that gospel voice.” The first post-Gladys release was “My Baby Must Be A Magician”, another written and produced for the ladies by Smokey Robinson, and by 1968 Ann was elevated to lead voice on “I’m Gonna Hold On As Long As I Can”. However, it’s thought there are still several unreleased tracks featuring Ann on lead, but, for now, featured on this compilation is her version of “There Are Things”, also recorded by Tammi Terrell using the same backing track.
The pioneering black singer and actress, Barbara McNair is featured here with “You’ve Got Possibilities” from the short-running Broadway musical “It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman”, which is a beautiful contribution here from an equally beautiful lady. Born in Chicago and raised in Racine, Wisconsin, Barbara’s first break came when Max Gordon, owner of The Village Vanguard Club, offered her a spot on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show. Moving on a few years, she signed to Coral Records, and as an actress played a minor singing role in the 1963 film “Spencer’s Mountain” starring Henry Fonda. Two years later, with ambitions to break the adult listening market, Berry Gordy secured her because he believed she would add a sophisticated Hollywood touch to his roster of artists. During her tenure she was credited with a pair of official albums “Here I Am” and “The Real Barbara McNair” in 1966 and 1969 respectively. However, she further recorded with Smokey Robinson but it seems Berry was rather reluctant to release the results. Thankfully, in later years, several of the tracks were liberated. One of her most talked about films was “If He Hollers Let Him Go” during 1968, not due to her acting expertise but rather her nude sequences. She promoted the film by posing for a Playboy spread which she said – “helped my career immensely.” Then the lady also starred as Sidney Poitier’s wife in the 1970 film “They Call Me Mister Tibbs” and its sequel “The Organisation”. A year earlier, she played a nun in the Elvis Presley movie “Change Of Habit”, when she told The Washington Post – “I find movie acting a more rewarding kind of work than singing. When I’m working in a club I must go from one song to another rapidly and I don’t have much time to express myself emotionally. In a movie, you can concentrate on one scene at a time.” In between times, she hosted her own television variety programme “The Barbara McNair Show” from 1969-1972.
“I spent a long time trying to get Norman Whitfield interested in producing me., but he was always tied up working with The Temptations, Gladys Knight and The Undisputed Truth”. So sayeth Yvonne Fair in a seventies interview. In the end he succumbed, agreeing to record the single “Funky Music Sho’ Nuff Turns Me On” on her. So pleased was he with the result that he went on to record the “Bitch Is Black” album, containing her immortal version of “It Should Have Been Me” and the delicious “It’s Bad For Me To See You.” Aside from the music, the album’s artwork also raised eyebrows because it showed the singer brandishing a whip. In fact, when I first saw it I wondered “what the hell?” The whip, she said, was only significant to the album’s actual title – “People think of me as being a little bitchy on stage and that’s where the title came from originally. I’m not into that way-out stuff. I don’t dress like Labelle, for example, but I like to think of my music as having a little of their style and quality about it, with a bit of Tina Turner thrown in.” However, included here isn’t a Norman Whitfield track but rather Yvonne’s take on the Barbara George track “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More)”, recorded prior to her first outing “Stay A Little Longer”. Born in Richmond, Virginia, Yvonne was an established artist before she hooked up with Motown, having sung with The Chantels and James Brown, with whom she had a child Venisha, and recorded “I Found You” which James later re-worked into “I Got You (I Feel Good)”. It seems that between 1962 – 1966 Yvonne recorded a total of five singles with the James Brown Band including the beforementioned title, “Say So Long” and “You Can Make It If You Try”. Despite being a singer to be reckoned with, Yvonne was overlooked as a Motown artist.
“I started out as a writer, but once I got into recording it took all my time to get into learning how to perform,” Mary Wells told Wayne Jancik in 1980. “I learned how to walk on and off stage….and got more into being an artist.” When she was auditioned by Berry Gordy, only the Tamla label was in existence and she dearly wanted to join it as it was making itself heard in Detroit. However, Berry had other ideas; he planned to open another, Motown, and wanted Mary to be one of its first new artists. “I was kinda disappointed about it because Motown wasn’t anything then.” Berry won out because after a staggering 22 takes, “Bye Bye Baby” was her debut release. “During that time they had one-track recording. No-one could make any mistakes. The singer and musicians had to come out perfect. …I was pretty hoarse but it came out great, more churchy and bluesy.” From here, Mary was slowly elevated into the position of Motown’s first Queen, thanks to the unprecedented success of “My Guy”, written and produced by Smokey Robinson. Detroit-born into a poor but hard working family, Mary was shy to the extreme, with no ambition to become a professional singer. Her intention was to work behind the public spotlight, writing songs for other artists, but fate had other plans for her, because within a few months this typical Detroit teenager was the biggest-selling black female artist. The included remake of “She Don’t Love You” with strings was recorded in an outside studio, date unknown, and has only recently been liberated, gradually filling in the recording gaps in Mary’s somewhat checkered career.
Featured twice on this CD is the multi-award winning musical family who, I think it’s fair to say, has carved a place in our hearts, thanks to the run of platinum music driven by Gladys Knight. Here we have “Is This Why (I Gave My Love To You)”, co-written by Debbie Dean, and the CD’s opening track, “In My Heart I Know It’s Right”, a Marvin Gaye, Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua composition. In her autobiography “Between Each Line Of Pain And Glory”, she wrote that prior to Motown, Gladys Knight and the Pips were already a successful group with selling power, and she mulled over whether joining them was right for them. Would they be promoted as a priority act or, as she put it, be a stepchild in that environment? In other words, what could the company do for them that they couldn’t do for themselves? Being a group ahead of its time by having formed their own corporation with a profit-sharing plan and a pension and being experienced in booking and money management, they were confident they could avoid future pitfalls the company might throw at them. So a group vote was taken and they signed a seven-year contract with Berry Gordy because, they decided, they wanted his hit making power. However, it became apparent from day one that they were not going to be Berry Gordy’s priority – “We were relegated to the lower tier of Motown acts with The Monitors and The Spinners. Some of their members had to do odd jobs around Hitsville in order to keep their pay cheques coming.” They doubled as chauffeurs and go-fers until it was their time to record but, she insisted, her group carried nobody’s coats. Their ground level status was further evident she wrote – “(When) we’d hear about parties at Berry’s house and company picnics after they happened, which is usually a clear sign that we weren’t on the A-list.”
Marvin Gaye once said – “Kim Weston’s a great gal and we became very close friends. Working with her (on their ‘Take Two’ album) fulfilled my need to do something different. It was acting. It was an escape for me. I could imagine with Kim, for instance, that we were innocent young lovers.” While the lady herself told Susan Whitall – “He was a very shy person when I knew him; very gentle, very sweet and concerned, and very protective of me.” In actual fact, Kim and Marvin had travelled together prior to recording their duets. Following the release of her “Love Me All The Way”/”It Should Have Been Me” on Tamla in February 1963, she toured as his co-star. “So we did that for three/four years before we recorded together. He was recording with Mary Wells while I was travelling with him. Unfortunately, we never did any duets together (on stage).” Hence, she was the obvious choice to partner him on vinyl when Mary left the company. Meanwhile, Mickey Stevenson also told Ms Whitall that Kim was his best singer ever – “(She) had a great voice, an absolutely great gift. It was like steel sometimes. She’d hit certain notes, and it could shatter a house.” Kim’s featured with a pair of titles, “So Long”, the closing theme of the Russ Morgan Orchestra, and “I Up And Think Of You”, one of fifty Robert Hamilton productions in Motown’s vaults, originally recorded by Linda Griner which, by all accounts, is still waiting to surface.
When Brenda Holloway was sixteen-years-old, she worked with Barry White, and on the Donna label with her sister Patrice. “Patrice had a hit when I was eighteen and she was twelve called ‘The Del-Viking’…I used to do the dancing because she was kind of chunky at twelve.” The sisters also earned a living as background singers for the likes of Tina Turner, The Blossoms and Johnny Rivers. Brenda said her relationship with Berry Gordy was totally unique, likening herself to his adopted child – “…As far as being part of the (Gordy) family, I was adopted and wanted. And I didn’t come there (Motown) broke…I was refined, I’ve always been refined.” It appears Berry trusted Brenda and her instincts because she was focused and regimented. Staying out all night partying wasn’t her way – “I didn’t believe in that because I knew I had to get up the next day.” And then when she was cranky, he’d tell her to stay in her room – “Just like a little kid!…but he loved me, he wanted me on his label. He enjoyed my singing and enjoyed me as an artist.” Her contributions here, “Without Love You Lose A Good Feelin’” and the CD’s title “Baby I’ve Got It”, are as different as chalk and cheese. The first title was, seemingly, one of 150 tracks Brenda recorded but canned, while the second, is her version of the flipside of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted”, while a version by Little Lisa lingers in the vaults.
Talking of Patrice, her final remaining song from the vaults is included here, “In Your Heart”, although the recording date is not known. Frank Wilson once said – “Patrice was beautiful. She was sassy. She was extraordinarily creative and way ahead of her generation. I loved her very much”. While Sherrie Matthews commented – “…Her personality was always so cheerful….She had one of the best voices I ever had the pleasure to sing with.” Born in Los Angeles, shortly after her family relocated from Atascadero, she joined Motown shortly after Brenda, where she worked with Smokey Robinson. However, her name was etched in the history books when she co-wrote the iconic “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, among other titles. However, one Patrice single did sneak out, her tribute to Little Stevie Wonder, “Stevie”/”He Is The Boy Of My Dreams”, penned by Frank Wilson, released on the VIP label during 1964, where she, as a twelve-year-old played the role of a much older woman. Apparently, there are other tracks credited to her, like, Smokey’s “For The Love Of Mike”, a cover of The Supremes’ “Those DJ Shows” and a duet with Brenda titled “Come Into My Palace”. Given that Motown’s promotion of her sister lacked direction and enthusiasm, Patrice didn’t stand a chance, and she became an early casualty in 1964 but her time would arrive by signing with Capitol Records.
Katherine Anderson told a radio presenter on WRDV-FM that Berry Gordy chose the name Marvelettes. When he first saw them perform he apparently said – “Those girls are marvellous.” However, there’s been several stories handed down through the years about the name, but I’ve opted to stick with this one (for now!). Their association with Berry when they first signed was tight, but she added – “As the company grew he became more distant because he had to spread himself in different directions. Primarily a lot of things came from within ourselves.” Although Smokey Robinson had a huge influence over them, that didn’t restrict them from working with other writers and producers. “Everybody pretty much knew that Smokey was Berry’s boy, therefore he was able to get things (done) and he did very well for us….It’s always been said that when we came along, girl groups didn’t last that long, and I never knew the reason. Thank God we made it for ten years.”
With the one-time membership of Katherine, Gladys Horton, Juanita Cowart, Georgeanna Tillman, Gladys Horton and Georgia Dobbins (who was replaced by Wanda Young) the ladies enjoyed Motown’s first number one crossover hit with “Please Mr Postman”. To celebrate the achievement, Berry bought each girl a diamond ring, and worked with them as they catapulted into teenage idols, releasing a further run of hit singles as they climbed. The ladies topped the first national Motown Revue in 1962, and by the time they returned to Detroit, Gladys had hooked up with Hubert Johnson, and Georgeanna with Billy Gordon, both from The Contours, and Wanda with The Miracles’ Bobby Rogers. Love bus indeed! Then Juanita decided to leave the line-up, whereupon The Marvelettes continued as a quartet. Katherine remembered – “In those days we had a very demanding schedule (sometimes) performing up to seven shows a night. Juanita found it hard and decided to pursue other interests.” The last time the group worked together was early in 1969 at Detroit’s Twenty Grand Club. An era had ended, but their legacy continues thanks to compilations like this, where the first version of “Playboy” is included, alongside “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”, their take on The Chiffon’s smash and, actually featuring Wanda with the ladies and not The Andantes, which was sometimes the case with other recordings.
When asked what her favourite song is, Martha Reeves always says every tune is special to her. And further – “Every song that I’ve sung I’ve had to place myself in a situation so that I can believe in it.” In particular she cited “My Baby Loves Me” where uninvited tears spring into her eyes, and – “I get a special warmth when I feel ‘Come And Get These Memories’ coming on. ‘Jimmy Mach’, I’ll find him one day, while ‘Dancing In The Street’ means that you can get a group of people together to enjoy music and dancing and just let yourselves go.” Marvin Gaye, Mickey Stevenson and Ivory Joe Hunter wrote the track when the Detroit riots were scourging the city and, she said – “It was an effort to get everybody to dance and sing. Basically, to spread music, because music has always been what soothes the souls of the world.”
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas represent all that is good about Motown, and as their lead singer, she has always been the ideal ambassador to promote the company. Their popularity, particularly in the UK, is as solid and strong as it’s ever been, proven by their regular visits to sold out venues. Two tracks here have caused huge interest; for starters, check out “Mr Misery (Let Me Be)”, where the group has added their vocals to the backing track used by The Miracles, and, secondly, the “Come And Get These Memories” soundalike with “I’m Willing To Pay The Price”. One thing I didn’t know until now was that Martha appeared in “Fairy Tales”, an x-rated movie, although she hastened to add she kept her clothes on! “I’m seen coming out of this cauldron bubble which is my first time singing on the large screen”, she explained in a 1981 interview. “It was quite different because I’m just basically a singer (but) I see now though that if you open your mind and you study, you can do anything.”
Phew – we’ve made it! I’m just hoping I’ve not run out of space this month to round off this wonderful “Baby I’ve Got It” release, and, of course, that these quirky notes have brought some of the tracks alive.