Motown Spotlight: August/September 2017

Motown Spotlight: August/September 2017

Yay! It has arrived! And reading the excitement gushing across many Facebook pages, there’s not a negative vibe to be read. You know what I’m talking about – Brenda Holloway’s “Spellbound”, which is one of the most exciting compilations this year. I know I’ve been involved from the outset which was, and still is, a tremendous thrill for me because Brenda is one helluva artist and one feisty lady who so graciously chatted to me for ages for the CD notes. The worst part was keeping it a secret! Anyway, there’s no need to detail the tracks included as Paul Nixon, who, with our very own David Nathan, produced the project, does an admirable job, also explaining the origin of the music, but I must say the ballads are totally captivating like “Don’t Compare Me To Her”. There’s a mixture of composers and producers ensuring a huge diversity in Brenda’s ability to easily manage all styles proving, as if she needed to, that she’s the total consummate artist, who, sadly, was categorised in the ‘overlooked’ section of Motown. Compilations like these issued by SoulMusic Records involve many people at the offset, responsible for all the aspects of ensuring the final release is beyond excellent, which is why they can’t be rushed. Believe me, writing the notes was probably the easiest part! All I can say is, thank you guys for bringing us the music, and to Brenda herself for recording such gems in the first place. Maybe here is the right place to mention other SMR Motown CDs just in case they’ve slipped your mind, and a few I’ve been involved with – Thelma Houston’s “Any Way You Like It”, “Billy Preston & Syreeta”, “Syreeta”, G.C. Cameron’s “Love Songs & Other Tragedies”, and The Dynamic Superior’s “Dynamic Superiors”/”Pure Pleasure”. Obviously, we hope there’ll be plenty more to fulfil our Motown dreams. Let’s TCB…

The entire Hotel St Regis in midtown Detroit has been booked to accommodate visitors attending Detroit A Go Go, a five day Motown and Soul Festival booked to start on 18 October. I don’t know too many details, apart from the fact that I’m not going, but I understand performing acts include The Velvelettes, Kim Weston, The Elgins, The Contours, Pat Lewes, JJ Barnes among the advertised list. According to what I’ve read it seems the event will provide an insight into the enduring phenomenon that’s been observed from affar, like the overseas fascination with Motown and its obscure musical cousins. Yorkshire resident, Phil Dick – DJ, record label owner and longtime fan – is the Festival’s organiser, who said that Motown in particular really resonated with the English in the sixties, and “DJs began looking for more records with that sound, looking further afield for more obscure labels. It was that music that really resonated predominantly with the white working class in England; the sound, the beat, but mostly the lyrics. Most of the songs are about love and hope and happiness.” He also acknowledges the huge importance of our Northern Soul Scene, citing that many followers have never been to Detroit that bred this wonderful music, “Detroit has always been right in the centre of the northern soul movement, particularly because of the Motown connection, but also because so much other great music was being made there in the sixties and seventies……I felt that rather than just bringing one or two artists to England, let’s take fans to the US and have lots of them performing for us.” British DJs like Phil himself and Neil Rushton will be spinning the sounds. Y’know what? Sounds like great fun, and I really hope it all comes together for everyone concerned. Click here for more information about tickets, etc.

Flipping over the coin now, the situation doesn’t look that good for the 40th annual Kennedy Centre Honours ceremony in December this year. Due to the political moves undertaken by the Trump administration, one of the announced attendees Lionel Richie may sideline the event. He told the New York Daily Times, “I’m not really happy with what’s going on right now with the controversies….But I think I’m just going to wait it out and see where it’s gonna be by that time.” Apparently, he’s the third to indicate a no-show, and this month President Trump and his First Lady said they won’t be attending either. At this rate, there’ll only be the CBS network television crew there filming, um, nothing much. Moving on….

“The music industry has lost one world class voice, and I’ve lost a long and cherished friend. A piece of my history goes with him. We recorded together, and his band The Vancouvers backed me at the Eden Rock in Miami, and we went to the UK and played some gigs together.” So sayeth Chris Clark about Bobby Taylor who we lost last month. The 83-year-old named lead vocalist with The Vancouvers, had been living in Hong Kong for the past fifteen years or so, and had been undergoing treatment for tumours in his spine and leukemia in his throat. Sadly, he lost the battle. Motown fans will be aware of his musical history, so won’t go into great biographical detail, but thought a few highlights would be of interest. The first, of course, is the single that launched the group into the American crossover chart – “Does Your Mama Know About Me” which was born as a poem by the song’s co-writer Tommy Chong. Keyboardist and composer, Tom Baird read it and put it to music. “It was about a black guy asking his girlfriend if her mama knew about him” wrote Tommy in his book “Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Biography”. “The song was about my own experiences with white women. Being half Chinese, there had been times – actually, many of them – when I had to drop a girl off at the end of the block so her parents wouldn’t see who she was dating. That experience saddened me.” Pressed in red vinyl and released in February 1968 (UK – May 1968), the single was followed by a pair of US hits: “I Am Your Man” (Ashford and Simpson) in June ‘68 and “Malinda” (Smokey Robinson and Warren Moore) in the October. All three releases were lifted from their solitary eponymous album issued August 1968 (the same month as Edwin Starr’s amazing “Soul Master” album), with its British release the following year in the February. It also now appears that both “I Am Your Man” and “Malinda” were originally intended to be solo Bobby songs but ended up being credited to the group as well. Probably as insufficient tracks had been recorded for their debut album.

Anyway, let’s back track. Born in Washington DC, Bobby’s parents were of Native American and Puerto Rican descent, and he lived in the same neighbourhood as Marvin Gaye when they were kids. He said his mother sang with the great opera singer, Marian Anderson, and her best friends included Billie Holiday, which allowed him to hang out with Nat King Cole, Miles Davis and other A-listed names while he was growing up. “My family knew all the musicians around, and every time somebody would come to town, they’d stop by the house. I always knew when somebody was coming because we’d have big pots of chitterlings and cornbread piled up to the ceiling.” Bobby also served as a cook during the Korean War, later performing with a variety of groups like Little Daddy and the Bachelors, before meeting guitarist Tommy Chong, who would later partner fellow comic “Cheech” Marin. They went on to form The Vancouvers (Wes Henderson, Ted Lewis, Robbie King, Eddie Patterson, Tommy, with Bobby on lead), and supported Motown artists on tour, earning themselves a name to be watched. While supporting The Supremes, Berry Gordy caught their act which included them singing Motown material, and as Tommy wrote, “We could cover any tune we felt like because Bobby could sing them all……Bobby had a range that exceeded Patti LaBelle…. He used to do ‘Danny Boy’ and make everybody cry in the audience. He would hit notes that were unbelievably high and he could sound like anybody he wanted to sound like – Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder. I’ve been with a lot of singers, but nothing like Bobby.” They also dipped into The Impressions’ songbook which included the little-known “I Wonder”, the very first song Tommy heard Bobby perform in San Francisco. It later became their most requested song. As well as enjoying their performance, Berry Gordy was also taken by “Does Your Mama Know About Me” and it was probably this that instigated him signing the multi-cultured unit to Motown. “Everybody was just kids” Bobby Taylor told journalist J. Douglas Allen-Taylor during 1998. “We didn’t know business. So Berry Gordy had us sign everything away: even gave them power of attorney. They said they needed it so they could put our cheques in the bank for us if we… were on the road.” When their single began selling, Bobby and the group toured with Diana Ross and the Supremes. Tommy takes up the story, “We opened the show and performed part of our club routine, which eventually pissed off Diana Ross so much that she had the tour manager tell us to stop doing it.” It appeared she was offended by the lyrics of a Parliament song they performed, which the group amended to sing “oh, white girls, you sure been delicious to me.” Diana’s sentiments were also shared by the tour promoters who were not prepared for an unknown band from Canada singing about white girls in this way, particularly as they formed a huge part of the audience!

An outspoken, no-nonsense guy, prone to wearing purple suits, Bobby’s reputation for straight talking, hit Motown. So much so that when he arrived at the studio, the switchboard would alert everybody and they would lock their office doors. “There was no filter on Bobby’s mouth” Tommy said. “He would tell Berry Gordy ‘Nappy-headed little n*****, what’s happening?’ He would talk to Berry like he would talk to me.”


Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers also supported Chris Clark when she performed at the Saville Theatre in London during November 1967, supporting Gladys Knight and the Pips. During an add-on club date while in the city, Chris remembered a vision in tight white leather, white hat with a huge feather, jumping on stage, grabbing a guitar and tearing the place down. It was Jimi Hendrix, and although he subsequently took a while for his star to rise, she immediately recognised a huge talent in the making. Touring with Chris was a regular occurrence in America, where her road manager was Johnny Bristol. However, this touring arrangement came to an end when Tommy and Wes Henderson had to attend an immigration meeting to sort our their green cards on the same date as they had agreed to support Ms Clark. During a verbal altercation, Johnny Bristol sacked both from the group, which eventually led to it breaking up.

During 1968 Bobby left his group to record as a soloist where his limited releases switched labels. His first “Oh, I’ve Been Blessed”/”Blackmail”, was originally scheduled on the Gordy label, but transferred to VIP for early 1970 release. A year later “My Girl Has Gone” carried the Gordy label, while “Hey Lordy” was a Mowest single in November 1971. In between times, he released “Taylor-Made Soul” in July 1969 on Gordy; British release was six months later. Nothing worked, despite the high calibre of the material, so Bobby and Motown parted company by 1971, although a financial disagreement was said to be the real reason. Bobby later successfully sued Motown for unpaid royalties.

Despite the hype at the time that Diana Ross had discovered the Jackson 5, it was, of course, Bobby Taylor who brought them to Berry Gordy’s attention. The Vancouvers were sharing a bill with Jerry Butler at Chicago’s Regal Theatre, with the Jackson 5 as support act, performing a gruelling five shows daily for ten days. The brothers stole the show the minute they took to the stage. “I saw this little kid spinning and stuff and said ‘dang, send him upstairs when he finishes. I want to talk to that kid’” recalled Bobby in one interview, and in another, said “Michael was about eight. In between sets he used to go to sleep on my lap.” So excited was he, that he invited the brothers and their father Joe to Detroit where, during July 1968, they auditioned for Suzanne de Passe. She instantly signed them to a seven-year contract, and Berry Gordy assigned Bobby to work with them. “I had them come live with me that summer while they were auditioning” Bobby said. “….I was living in a white apartment building at the time, and the other tenants, they didn’t want these little black kids around the place. They didn’t do any bad stuff, they were just normal kids running around. But the other tenants didn’t like it, so it got us all kicked out.”

Becoming the Jackson 5’s first producer, they recorded Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You”, among other titles. Working with Michael Jackson was comfortably easy for Bobby because of the youngster’s ability to grasp the recording process. “He’d go in and do it. Everything I gave him to sing, he could sing right back at me.” It was the perfect relationship but, one time, when Joe Jackson attempted to interfere with a session, Bobby pulled a gun on him. However, Berry Gordy considered the songs Bobby produced for the brothers were old-fashioned, and not the way he wanted them to be presented to the public. So, he side stepped him and formed The Corporation, a group of his top composers/producers to deliver original, blue-eyed soul music. In the notes for the 1995 Jackson 5 “Soulsation” CD set, Bobby said, “I’m not an ass-kisser. I’ll tell you what I think. I was running things my way and didn’t want any interference. I was turning the Jackson 5 into a classic soul act. Berry Gordy didn’t like that. He had ideas of his own. He wanted Michael doing more bubblegum material. He sent me packing.” Tommy Chong, on the other hand, fervently believed Bobby’s greatest talent was teaching people how to sing. “’Come on m*****f*****, you can hit that note. Come on, just hit it! That’s the way he was.” Although he went on to supervise most of their debut album “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5”, Bobby received little or no credit for working alongside The Corporation on their early singles like “I Want You Back” and “ABC”..

Several years after leaving Motown, Bobby Taylor discovered he had throat cancer, and relocated to Ohio to live with his mother. He dismissed traditional treatment and sought a herbal cure which was successful to a point, because the polyps returned, prompting Bobby to comment at the time – “I’m not going to do chemotherapy. I came into this life with all my hair and I’m going out with it.” However, this didn’t prevent him from recording, as he released singles on Sunflower, Tommy Zs7, Playboy and Philadelphia International. Then, during the early nineties, Bobby was signed by Ian Levine to record an album for his innovative Motorcity Records label based in London. Titled “Find My Way Back” it featured among its tracks re-works “Does Your Mama Know About Me”, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “Down To Love Town”.

From here, Bobby Taylor moved to Beijing, before relocating to Hong Kong, where he continued to sing, mostly in friends’ nightclubs. I’m told his last known recording was “Humanity” a tribute to the late rock guitarist Dick Wagner. In one of his later interviews, Bobby told the South China Morning post, “I have twelve kids, met three presidents and, in general, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Before closing this, Chris Clark said she heard a demo of Bobby and the Vancouvers singing the Frank Wilson/Pam Sawyer song “Evening Train” which was headed her way to record. However, Diana Ross stepped in, recorded it with a different arrangement to include it on the group’s “Love Child”. “After hearing Bobby’s version, I personally wouldn’t have even dared to try and match it”, said Ms Clark. ”Please Motown, release his track as his swan song, because my Northern Soul family will adore it.”

The very last word goes to Tommy Chong, “St Peter’s going ‘Bobby Taylor’s in Heaven now, notify everybody!’”

(My thanks to J Douglas Allen-Taylor; Tommy Chong and his book “Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorised Autobiography” and others I was unable to identify. The visuals included here belong to Chris Clark and are reprinted with her permission. They must not be reproduced elsewhere)



Motown Spotlight: July 2017

Motown Spotlight: July 2017

Just as I started planning this Spotlight, an email hit my inbox advertising a hot August night at the Ford Amphitheatre, Hollywood, Los Angeles with Thelma Houston.  Wow!  How amazing she looks – beautiful, quirky and overflowing with fun.  The planned show features ninety minutes of twenty-plus Motown songs that are the backdrop to Thelma’s life, and a little peek-see is available via her website www.thelmahouston.com  and it’s so good. Berry Gordy loves her show, saying “It needs to be everywhere”, while the owner of the jazz club glowed, “I have owned this club for twenty-five years and I have never seen a show like this before.”  The actual hot night is 27 August and the booking office is now open. You lucky Americans: Thelma is a phenomenal entertainer, with a voice to move mountains, and she’s gorgeous. Let me tell you, ladies born during the forties were made to last! Any chance for us in the UK I wonder?

One of the most regularly requested singles on my Saturday evening radio programme on Hailsham FM isn’t by one of Motown’s A-line acts, but rather from an unassuming singer who bypassed the general public through no fault of her own.  I’m talking about Debbie Dean who I’ve mentioned before and who, among other things, recorded the wonderfully upbeat “Why Am I Lovin’ You”, released in February 1968 which bears as much resemblance to the Motown Sound, as chalk does to cheese.  I think it was because of this that it grabbed me, and, of course, in later years, the attention of our beloved Northern Soul fans.  But, who was this Debbie Dean?  Well, during her stay with Motown, information was scarce, and no matter how much journalists like myself scratched around for a few titbits, even asking other artists for a snippet or two about her, nothing was forthcoming. Thankfully that has now changed, and if it’s alright, would now like to spend some time with this lady who really deserved more than she received.  To ensure the composing credits are correct, have consulted two volumes of “The Complete Motown Singles” , while other details I’ve collected over the recent past.

Born Reba Jeanette Smith in February 1928 in Corbin, Kentucky, she moved with her family to Chicago during the fifties. She was the fourth child of Alma and Walter. It’s unclear what persuaded her to pursue the business of music but she performed with  Ralph Marterie and his orchestra early on in her career.  It seems she first started working with Berry Gordy in 1958, so pre-Motown,  when he wrote songs for her, as Penny Smith, and as her group, Penny and the Ekos, signed to Argo Records, including the title “Give Me What You Got”.  Using the name Debbie Stevens, she also recorded “Jerry” for Roulette Records, and in 1959 a version of Rick Nelson’s “If You Can’t Rock Me” for the Apt label, a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount. On the personal front, Debbie married celebrity DJ Jim Lounsbury, host of a popular rock ‘n’ roll television show based in Chicago.

At the age of thirty-two, the red haired Reba Smith joined Motown, becoming Berry Gordy’s first signed white artist. Many believed that Mike Powers, and Nick and the Jaguars, the surfing rock group from Pontiac, Michigan, were his first white act but that was a one-off deal to release “Ich-I-Bon”, a previously recorded instrumental on the Tamla label in May 1959.  As the single bombed, no contract was offered them.  As for Yugoslavian-born Mr Powers, the credits on “Teenage Sweetheart” read a Rayber Production which Berry placed it on the Zelman label, a name he’d made up, and a label he presumably owned. I am digressing…. back to the lady in question. Her first recording was an ‘answer’ record to The Miracles’ “Shop Around” titled “Don’t Let Him Shop Around”. This was the brainchild of Berry’s sister Loucye,  penned by her, Berry and Smokey Robinson, and featured The Miracles on support vocals no less! Released, under the name Debbie Dean, on the Motown label in February 1961, and despite its novelty angle, it failed to catch record buyers’ attention but did have longevity, representing a small niche in the company’s growth.  Next out was the  much misspelt “Itsy Bity Pity Love”, featuring Marvin Gaye on drums, and influenced by the hit-making pop singer Brenda Lee.  Penned by Janie Bradford and Popcorn Wylie, it was issued August 1961, but followed the same fate as its predecessor.

It’s assumed Debbie didn’t really fit in with the other female acts on the roster being that much older, but Berry Gordy persevered because he felt she could carry Motown into the lucrative pop world, thereby opening the door for his other acts.  A little misguided perhaps, but at least it got Debbie into the recording studio.  Her final single “Everybody’s Talking About My Baby”, written by Berry and featuring the only recorded performance of The Paulette Singers, was released in November 1961.  Again, it followed the fate of her predecessors, so a despondent singer left Motown in 1962.  However, Ms Dean was destined to return.

From Motown, she returned to the public arena, moved to Los Angeles and started performing in Southern California. She recorded “Don’t Bug Me Baby”, in a one-off deal with Sue Records during 1964. For this she chose the name Debra Dion. Two years later, using the same moniker, she recorded “Take My Hand” for Treva Records.  She hooked up with Deke Richards who, I believe, performed with The Deacons, and occasionally supported Ike and Tina Turner.  More importantly, he was the key to Debbie returning to Motown. As a member of the company composing/producing team known as The Corporation or The Clan, he was always on the look out for new writers.  When he learned her past history with the company, he persuaded her to re-join them. Although the intention wasn’t for Debbie to record again, when she co-wrote “Why Am I Lovin’ You” with Deke Richards (Dennis Lussier), they decided to cut it on her but, for some reason, a year passed from recording it to releasing it during February 1968 on the VIP subsidiary.  Once again, the single caused only a minor flutter sales wise, but thank god for us in the UK.  We adopted the song as a Northern Soul item despite only a few DJs owning a copy.  Stock copies were limited, the promotional discs even less – and the single wasn’t British-released.  I’m thinking that whoever owns a copy (including myself) they should wrap it in cotton wool and place in a vault.  Now, of course, it’s in the public domain on one of “The Complete Motown Singles” box sets.  It appears a second single, “You Asked Me” was scheduled but canned. However, that wasn’t the end of her Motown career because she flourished as a songwriter, usually with Deke Richards, to pen “Why Did You Leave Me Darling” for The Temptations,  “I Can’t Dance To That Music You’re Playing”, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Edwin Starr’s “Backyard Lovin’Man”, among other titles.  Unfortunately, this appears to be the end of my research, except that it has a sad ending because Debbie Dean died during February 2001 in Ojai, Ventura County, California.  Had hoped I’d find more to share with you, but sadly couldn’t.  Still, better than nothing aye.

I’m delighted to say “Chasing Motown” written by M. J. Critchley is now available. It’s his personal view of the company, lavishly presented in full glossy colour where many of the featured pictures are personal so not seen before in the public domain.  As I’ve known Mike since the sixties, it was a huge thrill for me to follow his journey involving meeting a whole host of artists like Brenda Holloway, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye (well nearly!), Edwin Starr, Bettye Lavette, The Velvelettes, Kim Weston, Gloria Jones, and so many more.  Alongside his chats with artists, he allows us into his personal life, his extensive travelling often in pursuit of the acts he loves so dearly – many of whom adopted him as a personal friend and a welcome guest to their homes –  and the upsets and highs that accompany this crazy world of music.  Early Motown is extensively covered, and discovering those glorious sounds from Detroit is well documented. So, yes, Mike’s book is a rare gem. Now you need details – via email, mikecritchley@talk21.com or his website, mjcritchley-chasingmotown.com.  Price £22 + p/p £3.40.   On a personal note, thank you Mike for the name checks, and we did share a few adventures didn’t we?

Well, that’s the lot for this month. Thank you for your continued support because without you, there wouldn’t be me.

 

 

Motown Spotlight, June 2017

Motown Spotlight, June 2017

It occurred to me the other day that on 6 June 1936 a very special guy was born in Detroit, a man who was destined to front one of soul music, and perhaps the world’s most recognisable of groups. And this got me thinking: talking about my favourite group ever and its main man is long over due. But where to start without repeating much published biographies which can easily be read elsewhere? Dipping into their British musical achievements and milestones appealed, so let’s talk Four Tops – Obie Benson, Duke Fakir, Lawrence Payton, and of course, their main man, Levi Stubbs. All Detroiters; all true to the group until death they did part and, a point to mention, never once did it cross Levi’s mind to ditch his friends for a solo career, or insist that his name be upfront of them – “we enjoy singing together but we’re friends first!” he said.

With his laughing eyes and wide smile, Levi was the boss or leading force in the group. His influence over audiences during their performances was unique, although he one time quipped, “It’s not like being their God or anything like that, but it’s a beautiful feeling.” Levi was a strikingly attractive figure of a man, and like his friends, was always sharply dressed whether front stage or back. He was sophisticated, and although sometimes intimidating, his calming effect on fans and journalists alike warmed him to them. Hah, and I’ve not mentioned his voice yet: a natural golden baritone, that he often strained when reaching the tenor range which some of the songs demanded. Often the veins in his neck stood out, with sweat pouring down his face, as the pleading urgency in his voice captured the very essence of Holland, Dozier, Holland’s compositions. “His bold, dramatic readings of their material set a high standard for contemporary soul in the mid-sixties”, a journalist once wrote.

Out of loyalty to his friends, he dismissed all offers of a solo career, even to the extent of refusing to play Louis McKay opposite Diana Ross in “Lady Sings The Blues”. He would never overshadow the others, he said. However, he did lend his voice to Audrey, a carnivorous plant in the 1986 musical “Little Shop Of Horrors”, and three years later to the evil Mother Brain in the television series “Captain N:The Game Master”.

Levi was the defining sound of the Four Tops, although he modestly said in 1994, “I’m rather loud and raw. I don’t really have a style. I just come by the way I sing naturally. When I learn a song, I try to live it as best I can.” On the other hand, Duke Fakir was more emphatic, saying, “He was a master performer and had a terrific voice. He could touch you by just singing about a stone. I look at him as one of the finest lead singers in the world.”


So let’s dip in and out of their UK career, using Levi’s quotes, and I promise with not a mention of my association with them, running their fan club or Motown Ad Astra that followed. He told a now unknown American reporter the group was born in 1954 when they were kids fresh out of high school. They all left with diplomas with ambitions to make an impression on the world. Music though was their common denominator, “We decided we wanted to become professional singers. We taught ourselves four-part harmony and rehearsed every single moment we could. For a while we inflicted ourselves on people at church socials and school functions. They seemed to like what they heard, so it encouraged us a lot. From there, we went on to win a succession of amateur talent contests and after that we just found ourselves wrapped up in show business.”

Choosing to name themselves The Four Aimes (because they were aiming for the top!) they took their smooth style and mellow, tight harmonies to parties, colleges and a few Detroit nightclubs for a couple of years. Singing a mixture of standards and jazz they attracted a following which culminated in their first professional engagement at the Ebony Lounge, Cleveland, Ohio, where for a week they earned the princely sum of $329. However, it only took a further year for them to move up a groove when Billy Davis, cousin of Lawrence, offered them a recording contract with Chess Records. Changing their name to the Four Tops (not The Four Tops) to avoid confusion with the already established Ames Brothers, their stay at the company, although a learning curve, was unsuccessful, resulting in one single released in 1956 titled “Kiss Me Baby”. Once again, they turned to the club circuit, travelling distances to work, including hooking up with the Larry Steele Revue in 1958 to criss-cross America, performing four shows a day, all week. Later, they opened for Della Reese on an eight week tour, then BB King, before supporting the rising star Jackie Wilson (Levi’s cousin) and, of course, Billy Eckstine, where they fronted his touring revue and learned their craft.

In between times, another recording contract was dangled before them. This time with Columbia Records but, before the ink had dried on the document, the Four Tops had released “Ain’t That Love” – and were dropped! From here, more short tenures followed with the Detroit-based labels Red Top, Singular and Riverside Records, where they issued “Pennies From Heaven” and “Where Are You” late in 1962. Positive help thankfully was on the way, and to cut another story short, Berry Gordy signed them. This actually took him two years to pull off – he’d wanted them at Motown much earlier and to this end had given them a recording contract to sign, but for some reason the move failed to happen. Once under Motown’s umbrella, the Tops became session singers for the likes of Mary Wells, and Holland & Dozier. In between times, they continued to work local clubs, and with Billy Eckstine, to boost their income. Then it was the Tops turn to record in their own right, recording nearly thirty tracks for their debut album “Breaking Through” destined for release in 1964 via Motown’s subsidiary Workshop Jazz, as Berry Gordy wanted to attract adult jazz enthusiasts to expand his buying market. The album wasn’t released at the time, unlike others by Earl Washington, Paula Greer and Pepper Adams, among others. Workshop Jazz lived for a year, with no hint of the desired success.

To be fair, Berry was at a loss where to place the group, and didn’t want to lose them. He then hit on a plan: he sought out Holland, Dozier and Holland who had made such great strides with The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas. The ploy, he believed, might just work but it was a difficult transition period for the group because it needed Levi’s voice to be out front, which was something never considered previously. From the first tentative recording steps that included experimenting with “Baby I Need Your Loving” in 1964, it was decided this would be the recording formula for the future. Interestingly, Levi couldn’t warm to the song, and suggested Lawrence be lead. No chance, was the feedback. The recorded version had such hit potential that Berry Gordy was convinced it would kick start their career. He was spot on. However, any chance of them enjoying a British hit was scuppered at the time by The Fourmost’s version which soared into the top thirty. And, unfortunately, this practice would dog Motown artists – and of course American acts generally – for years, denying them hits in their own right – and that’s another story! It was left to “I Can’t Help Myself” on the Tamla Motown label to introduce the Four Tops as a new UK charting name in July 1965, followed by “It’s The Same Old Song”, both top thirty hits. “Those guys were phenomenal” enthused Mr Stubbs about Holland, Dozier and Holland. “After ‘Baby I Need Your Loving’ we had a solid hit run.” Indeed, the Four Tops were on their way. “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” was their third British hit, and at its release Levi spoke to Alan Smith. “We spent years trying to improve our act. Every performance we give, we try to be that little bit better. Some people think of us as specialising in one type of music, but we don’t. That would put us in a rut. We’re inspired by anyone who has talent…and we sing everything from pop, country and western, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and progressive music.”

Then Holland, Dozier and Holland electrified the groove. Motown’s music exploded in a way it never had before, prompting UK journalist Penny Valentine to write, “If you have ever been lonely, if you have any soul or any heart at all, you must go and buy this record now. After you’ve heard it you will never need to listen to another record for as long as you live.” No guesses needed – “Reach Out I’ll Be There” shot to the top of the UK chart in 1966, Motown’s second to do so (The Supremes’ “Baby Love” in 1964 was the first). With its introduction of teenager Danya Hartwick’s flute, galloping percussion, and the improvised recording technique of hands tapping on a wooden chair, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” was so untypical of the Motown sound created by H-D-H. It was the jewel in the crown, rapidly progressing from a landmark release into a Motown anthem, worlds apart from anything heard previously. Ironically, Levi wasn’t happy with the song, saying he was a singer not a talker (in view of comments made over previous singles where he was accused of shouting on record rather than singing) yet the line “just look over your shoulder” was his spontaneous addition! H-D-H also had their reservations; in fact they didn’t want the song released at all, claiming it to be an experiment using the Tops, The Andantes and Funk Brothers. Berry Gordy thought otherwise and issued it, saying “we’re releasing the biggest record you’ve ever made.” Once the overwhelming success of the single had sunk in, Levi was rather blasé, “We’re naturally thrilled at the success….but we don’t have to let off steam over it. I think we’ve been around long enough to know the ups and downs of this business without becoming overcome when something like this happens….We knew at once that it was a big hit sound. It was a unique combination of ballad and rock.”

In November 1966, the Four Tops – who by now toured endlessly – performed two sell out concerts at London’s Saville Theatre, with hundreds of fans unsuccessful in getting tickets. The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, stunned at the riotous welcome the group received there, booked the Royal Albert Hall for them in January, with two shows before 14,000 people. A special sound system was fitted in the Hall to reflect the Motown sound, which was a first for the venue. With Madeline Bell among the support acts, the audiences (including myself) were hysterical from start to finish. There was something in the air; the atmosphere was electric; it was just the place to be at that time. One reviewer glowed, “It was the Saville Theatre twenty times over. It was a spectacle on a scale you wouldn’t have expected outside a mammoth film production…the incredible enthusiasm of a World Cup football crowd. And that was before the Four Tops stepped on stage.” Four Tops fever had hit the UK, and this red hot reception was repeated throughout the tour. “That was one of our greatest moments” Levi said of the London date.

Touring the UK would now be an annual event and although the initial hysteria may have dampened, the group continued to perform before packed audiences. Levi – “I like an audience that lets itself go, and the people who come to see us to do whatever they feel. You can always tell when someone is into what you are doing. I think we have some regular fans and we seem to be getting younger ones too….English audiences are so loyal. They’ve been good to us and we know they don’t drop you just like that.” After several years of visits, Levi remarked that they had been so fortunate. “We can’t say ‘it’s because of that producer or that..’ because we’ve had various producers on our records. Personality-wise, we don’t clash very often as a group. We’ve been around each other so long we’ve got to the stage where the right hand knows what the left hand is going to do…Touring the UK is like a mad house!”

Mad house it might have been, but a dangerous one also, as he remembered a particular concert at the Finsbury Park Astoria with a 2,000 audience at fever pitch. The Tops had reached finale time when Levi threw his hanky into the air. Of course, the inevitable happened; fans thronged forward at the same time as the curtain dropped to the stage with an unaware Levi standing there. While the other three Tops were hauled to safety, police and security wrenched Levi clear of the falling curtain weighing several tons. “I just didn’t realise (it) was coming down. I can remember moving towards the edge of the stage and hearing it touch. When I realised what had happened it made my head spin. I was very lucky.”

Touring dominated their lives. The group rarely spent time with their families because when not on the road, they were in the studio, which of course, was the same for all Motown’s A-list acts. “Sometimes I feel like we’re non-stop machines. Don’t ask me how we stand up to it, but somehow we do.”

“Standing In The Shadows Of Love” followed “Reach Out I’ll Be There”. The spine tingling excitement in “Bernadette” was next, with “Seven Rooms Of Gloom”, “You Keep Running Away” and “Walk Away Renee” rounding off 1967. Motown/UK took the initiative to extract the latter track from the “Reach Out” album which was almost top heavy with cover versions (“If I Were A Carpenter”, “Last Train To Clarksville”, “I’m A Believer”, “Cherish”) and their fans were far from happy. Levi was quick to respond that the tracks weren’t newly recorded, “(and) to be honest we just haven’t had the time to get into the studios to cut new material. The album was experimental because it was the first time we’d tackled really successful pop songs from other writers. And it came off. Maybe not so many people really dug ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ but that was just us trying to give a new approach to the original rather than just copy the arrangement and style of The Monkees.” At the time of this interview, Levi confirmed they had recently been in the studio trying to stockpile material and they had plans to work again with Holland, Dozier, Holland .“because they’re great writers and our approach fits so well. It’s like a marriage” As it turned out, “I’m In A Different World” was their last official release with the trio in 1968, the follow-up to “Yesterday’s Dreams”, but others came to light in later years. “We were hurt, shattered and a bit confused…suddenly we weren’t getting all those custom-written songs” Levi said when H-D-H left Motown due to unresolved issues. “And we started having to look around for material.” It was also at this time that questions were asked about them retiring from live performances, but that was a move Levi would not entertain. “The day we decide to do that will be the day we’ll probably give up the whole thing. Working in the studios is a kick but we still believe that if people buy the records then it’s a pleasure for all of us to communicate on stage.”

The somewhat haphazard – yet successful – trait of releasing cover version singles continued until the Four Tops hooked up properly with Frank Wilson, although one or two did slip in. Their first commercial collaboration resulted in the “Still Waters Run Deep” album, a wonderfully warm collection of material, creating a whole different sound for the group, including the two lifted singles “It’s All In The Game” (a Tommy Edwards’ original) and “Still Waters (Love)”; top five and ten respectively. However, prior to this alliance, the Tops took several months out for personal reasons. Or as Levi put it, the group “ran out of gas”. The years of touring had taken their roll on them. “We were off almost nine months and I’m not sure it did us any good. It’s an uphill fight getting back to the top (but) we wanted to get back to our fans and really get things moving again….We’re very fortunate to have Frank Wilson as a producer because he’s really into us. He’s into a smooth sort of stuff, and I guess that’s been our bag just lately.”

From here, they followed in the footsteps of Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Temptations, by teaming up with The Supremes (Jean Terrell, Cindy Birdsong, Mary Wilson) for a trio of albums (“The Magnificent Seven”, “The Return Of The Magnificent Seven”, “Dynamite” – 1970/1971) and a handful of singles. The music followed no particular pattern, rather a sweet jar full of sounds, snatched at will. However, many (including myself) believed the pairing to be genius. Levi and Jean exchanging vocal dialogue was quite awesome, but they didn’t, sadly, have the edge or the high ranking material given to the previous spirited pairing. Despite the two groups being in the UK at the same time during 1971, there were no plans for them to tour together, let alone perform on the same stage. Hah, not quite! When the Tops appeared on the Save Rave concert at the Royal Albert Hall, The Supremes surprised the audience by being their special guests, probably representing at the time, the most expensive recording talent in the industry. Levi had hoped a fully blown tour would follow (they’d already done so in America) but conceded the financial implications would have been too high for any promoter.

The year 1971 was incredibly significant in the history of Motown because the Four Tops recorded in London. The first act to do so. The story goes that The Moody Blues’ Tony Clarke received a phone call from someone at Motown praising his work and invited him to stop by the Detroit studios when he was next in the city, with a view to working with the Tops and Rare Earth. During his visit, Tony was asked to deviate from the Motown sound because the music he was creating was what they wanted. It happened then, that when the Tops had spare time during their next visit to the UK they got together. To this end, Tony had already chosen “Simple Game” and had recorded the backing track with Blue Mink’s musicians with Arthur Greenslade’s string section. After playing them the track, the Tops rehearsed the song in ten minutes and were confident enough to record it. “It was a tremendous challenge” said Tony at the time. “I just couldn’t believe it. Here was I, a skinny British bloke telling one of the greatest vocal groups in the world what to sing and how.” The tapes were then shipped to Detroit for final vetting and finishing: the all clear was given with the Tops enjoying a top three British hit. However, it took fans a little time to come to terms with “Simple Game” being recorded outside their beloved Motown studios but, to be fair, the single was climbing the chart before the media interviews began. “We (had) a good feeling for that tune so we did it,” Levi told NME’s Julie Webb. “I remember the recording session took all night but we were pleased with the finished result.” “So Deep Within You” also originated from that session but wasn’t released until 1973, a year after the Tops had left Motown, because it was considered a disposable item at the time!

The time was drawing close to the end of an era. And indeed, within the space of two charting singles – “You Gotta Have Love In Your Heart” with The Supremes, and “Walk With Me, Talk With Me Darling” from the “Nature Planned It” album – the Four Tops and Motown had parted company. The group switched to ABC Dunhill Records, while Motown shed tears of disbelief, which were later dried during 1983 when they returned. In the time between, of course, the group enjoyed a spasmodic hit run, yet their much heralded return home was fraught with problems. So much so they packed their musical suitcasses once more to move to Arista, where their chart success of the sixties returned with the top sellers like “Loco In Acapulco”.

Clearly there’s so much more that could be written about Levi Stubbs and the group but this really is the briefest of overviews.. One thing that’s always struck me to be strange is, unlike other Motown acts, they’ve never written a book about their career. I came close with the help of Levi’s daughter Deborah but sadly it come to nothing.

The group that played and loved together was to be tragically broken when Lawrence Payton died in 1997, with Obie Benson following in 2005. And, Levi Stubbs was next. He was diagnosed with cancer before suffering a stroke, but this didn’t prevent him appearing with his friends in July 2004 at the Detroit Opera House to celebrate their 50th anniversary together. However, it was a losing battle. On 17 October 2008 one of the greatest voices of our age was silenced. Levi died in his sleep in his Detroit home. He was 72 years old.

“He was the greatest interpreter of songs I’ve ever heard,” said Berry Gordy. “He was lead singer of the greatest and most loving group…people all over the world (were) touched by his rare voice and remarkable spirit.”

(My thanks to those journalists who I’m unable to identify through the passage of time)

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Motown Spotlight: A Tribute to Sylvia Moy - May 2017

Motown Spotlight: A Tribute to Sylvia Moy – May 2017

“How do you stop loving the ones you loved for a lifetime – you don’t. Sylvia Moy made it possible to enrich my world of songs with some of the greatest lyrics.  But not only that, she, through her participation and our co-writing those songs, helped me become a far better writer of lyrics,” so sayeth Stevie Wonder about the quiet and gentle lady who was something of a trail blazer, being one of the first women to join the male dominated production/composing team at Motown during the sixties.

And it was with the boy wonder that she first made her presence felt, as Hank Cosby’s widow Pat remembered, “Sylvia was the nucleus.  None of (his success) would have happened if she hadn’t seen that Stevie had more in him.”  “She broke that glass ceiling for women in the music industry,” Sylvia’s brother Melvin said. “In the sixties, women weren’t encouraged to play instruments, let alone be producers.“ So, let’s delve a little deeper into this story of a star in the making, and the lady behind him who had the faith and determination to ensure he had a future.

Sadly Miss Moy is no longer with us.  She died, aged 78 years-old, on 15 April, succumbing to complications from pneumonia at the Beaumont Hospital, in Dearborn, Michigan.

Born on 15 September 1938 in Detroit to Hazel Redgell and Melvin Moy, Sylvia Rose was one of nine children. They had relocated to the city from the South for a better life, with music in their blood lines, and ambitions in their hearts. While attending the Northern High School, where, alongside academic lessons, Sylvia studied jazz and classical music, writing songs when the mood took her.  With a handful of local musicians, she recorded backing tracks for her material and, with encouragement from her teachers, travelled to New York for auditions.  Nothing materialised from these trips, but fate had another path for her nearer home when, on 12 February 1963, while singing in Detroit’s Caucus Club on Congress Street, Motown’s A&R director Mickey Stevenson was in the audience, with other Motowners like Hank Cosby,  Eddie Holland, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Ivy Joe Hunter.  “…I sang and they joined in with the rhythm, beating on the table” Sylvia recalled. “That was the beginning of it all.”   Indeed it was because she was offered a recording and songwriting contact with the company, where, somewhat ironically she said, “I sang the same songs at Motown I was playing in New York!”

In an interview with The Free Press last year, she confirmed, “Motown came forth with (the two contracts) which shocked me.  Then I was told ‘Sylvia, we’ll get to you as a singer, but in the meantime, we’ve got all these artists and they have no material.  You’re gonna have to write.  I said OK because I was kind of shy anyway, and that’s what I started doing.  I got into it, and the hits started coming.”  More importantly, despite being told ‘women don’t produce’, Sylvia was welcomed as a valued addition at Motown’s production meetings!

Clarence Paul was Stevie’s exclusive producer until the time came when he felt unable to keep up with the young Stevie’s ideas about music.  They had journeyed as far as they could creatively, and it appeared Stevie’s career was heading towards the exit door. No hits, no potential, no future – so what to do? Eventually a plan was hatched. Clarence Paul would continue to be Stevie’s touring musical director and conductor, and, under instruction from Berry Gordy, Hank Cosby would replace him in the studio, a logical move as he had been involved in writing and arranging Stevie’s music from day one. Mickey Stevenson recalled that they all liked Sylvia’s style of writing and that at the time, Motown’s sound was changing, “Clarence was an older producer and guys like Holland, Dozier and Holland were taking us in a different direction. Very swinging and happening.”  So with her singing career on hold, Sylvia Moy began forging ahead as a composer, earning respect from her colleagues, and learning of Stevie’s dilemma, put herself forward to work with Hank Cosby, or as composer/producer John Glover recalled, “Sylvia…was like a throw in.  I think she’d actually written some stuff with Stevie, so I don’t know that she volunteered to ‘take over’ writing with him as much as she already was.”

“(Stevie) was in puberty and his voice had changed,” Melvin Moy added. “Other producers couldn’t find something that fit.”  For his sister to be allowed to take on this role was practically unheard of in the sixties, he said, “Racism and sexism, that was what was going on in the sixties. And certain disciplines relative to the music business were taboo for women.”  Sylvia agreed.  “(Because) his voice had changed, he just wasn’t selling for a period. But I just believed in him.  I knew it was possible (Motown) might let him go, so I was begging ‘please give him to me.’  And that’s when I was finally told ‘well, if you can come up with a hit on him, we’ll keep him’.”

After touring with The Rolling Stones, Stevie planned to record his own song using the incessant, driving beat they used in “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, and to this end, he laid down the basics of the song, then sought out Hank and Sylvia, as she remembered, “He went through everything.  I asked ‘are you sure you don’t have anything else?’  He started singing and playing ‘everything is all right, uptight’. That was as much as he had, so I said ‘that’s it, let’s work with that’.” With Stevie’s input, Sylvia and Hank stitched together “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”.  Once the music was part-recorded, she constructed a lyrical skeleton into which she added Stevie’s phrases, and the resulting song ensured the young singer had a future with Motown, with the single laying the foundation upon which to build and expand his new musical team.  Yeah, Sylvia had successfully found her niche and, of course,  Motown was determined to keep her. Giving her the freedom to create and work, not only with the young Stevie, but also other signed acts, was their way of ensuring her exclusivity.   “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”  raced into the American top three in 1965 (peaking at number ten in Britain) –  and a new career was re-launched.

The impetus had to be guaranteed, and following any runaway hit is an awesome task for writers and producers, so the trio took the easy route.  They part-cloned the hit to release “Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby”.  The ploy backfired; it failed to repeat its predecessor’s success, prompting Stevie to vow that that would be the last time he’d release a copycat single.  When a ‘change of mood’ single “With A Child’s Heart” also sold poorly, Stevie’s team chose different, contemporary composers, like Bob Dylan and Ron Miller, for future singles. The downside was they failed to sell albums, so Berry Gordy reunited the singer with Sylvia Moy and the gang.  Their first collaboration, that also included Stevie’s mother, was the uplifting “I Was Made To Love Her” and that hit the spot – literally!  The boy genius was back where he belonged.

However, recording with Stevie wasn’t always easy Sylvia said, because it was frustrating to start with. She needed to re-educate him from the way he used to record with Clarence Paul, into a more comfortable, communicative style, while keeping him focused on the song in hand because his over active mind was gearing order klonopin online canada itself up for the next one!  Stevie, at one time, admitted he contributed little, leaving Sylvia to actually write all the lyrics, which then had to be converted into Braille for him to read, or, if pushed for time (which was invariably the case) she sang or spoke the lyrics to him through his headphones as he was recording.  “I would stay a line ahead of him and we didn’t miss a beat.”  She even grabbed people passing by the studio when his enthusiasm deteriorated saying, “If there was no one around, his vocal just died.  Stevie had to feel the presence of people.” The softly spoken lady roared with her lyrics from which Stevie benefitted, as he proudly told a packed audience in 2006 when he was a surprise guest at the ceremony where Sylvia was inducted into the 37th annual Songwriters Hall Of Fame, alongside Hank Cosby: “(Sylvia found) unique ways to take the melodies I wrote and putting them into a lyric that was incredible, that touched many hearts.”

Ms Moy worked with her emerging star through to the seventies with hits like “I Was Made To Love Her”, “I’m Wondering”, “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” and “My Cherie Amour”, with others in between, while the last released song credited to the Wonder, Moy, Cosby team appears to be “I’m More Than Happy (I’m Satisfied)”, the flipside of 1970’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” penned by Syreeta and others.  I think it’s fair to say that Syreeta replaced Sylvia in the singer’s creative team, and, indeed, looking at early photos of both ladies, there’s a spooky facial similarity.

When talking about “My Cherie Amour” Sylvia recalled that Stevie had approached her with a song about a girl he was involved with.  “Every song he had at that time had a girl’s name attached to it. He had a little idea and it was ‘Oh my Marsha.’” The lyricist transformed Marsha into “My Cherie Amour”, one of Stevie’s biggest and most endearing hits. (This song also held a special significance for Sylvia: so much so that she used its opening bars of music as a symbol on her personal stationery).  Pat Cosby told the media after Ms Moy’s passing that although Stevie received most of the credit on his material, she believed Sylvia, “was the beginning of so many of those songs. Between the three of them, Sylvia with her imaginative mind was just groundbreaking.  If she were a man instead of a woman, there would have been a lot more you’d have heard from her. But once her work became known, the resistance waned away, and the producers started looking at her differently and could see the value of what she was trying to do.”


Stevie Wonder wasn’t the only artist to benefit from Sylvia’s talented pen and imaginative mind.  For instance, in 1966 she wrote with Holland-Dozier-Holland, one of the company’s anthems, “This Old Heart Of Mine”, highlighting her favourite themes of love and heartache.  With Mickey Stevenson she penned “It Takes Two”, with Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston in mind, and with Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol wrote one of The Velvelettes’ signature tunes – “These Things Will Keep Me Loving You”.   Martha Reeves and The Vandellas also benefitted.  Songs included their 1967 single “Honey Chile” (the first to show Martha’s full name) full of Southern connotations, “Love Bug (Leave My Heart Alone)” and “(We’ve Got) Honey Love”, all from the trio’s “Ridin’ High” album.  There was also “Forget Me Not” a year later.   As a point of reference, there are fourteen pages on the Songwriters Hall Of Fame website listing all the songs Sylvia penned alone or with others, and those she wrote at Motown were, of course, re-recorded by several artists, each giving a different take on the song.  During her stay at the company, Ms Moy earned fifteen+ gold and platinum records for herself and Motown – not bad for a woman who was told she would never be a composer!

Detroit was Sylvia’s home and there she wanted to stay, so when Motown relocated to Los Angeles, they moved without her.  While the company settled into their new home, she embarked upon another adventure by signing with 20th Century Records as both writer and singer.  One of her first projects was to record and release “And This Is Love” during 1973, a song penned by herself and Frederick Long, arranged by Paul Riser, which is now considered to be a much-valued addition to any soul collection.  Placing her recording career on hold again, Sylvia went on to write theme music for films like “Mr Holland’s Opus” and “Dead Presidents”, and theme songs for several television series, including the popular “The Wonder Years” and “Blossom”.  From here, she expanded further by founding the non-profit organisation, the Centre for Creative Communications, her own studio named Masterpiece Sound, and rehearsal room, on the West Side of Detroit, where she mentored underprivileged young folks.  Her intention was to give back what she was offered while growing up, “to encourage children to live a good life…because that’s how are parents were.”

Then during 1989, alongside a host of ex-Motowners, Sylvia was persuaded by Ian Levine to once again hold a microphone to record “Major Investment” for his innovative Nightmare Records, later Motorcity Records. While there, she also recorded her versions of “My Cherie Amour” and “I Hear A Symphony”.  All entirely credible recordings from the lady with the delicate smile and warm personality, who, despite her shyness, hugged the ambition as a young girl to sing for a living.

At her funeral at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, officiated by Bishop Charles Ellis III, family and friends mingled with Motowners like Martha Reeves, and city officials. A statement from Berry Gordy was read by his great niece Robin Terry (head of the Motown Museum) that included the words, “At this moment we are all sharing a tremendous loss.  In addition to her early work with Stevie, Sylvia went on to do other great things at Motown, gaining the respect of fellow songwriters and opening the door for other women.”

Although in Ireland, performing at golfer Rory Mcllroy’s wedding, Stevie paid tribute in a taped video….”I loved Sylvia from the moment that I met her.  Her heart and passion, her desire to not only do great music, but to do great things with my music.  Even in these later years, I longed for us to collaborate again, yet who am I to fight with the Most High in His decision to making her one of His angels for song for eternity.  Maybe someday in eternity, at its given time and space, we will write together again.  I love you, Sylvia.”  He then ended the video with a personalised version of “My Cherie Amour”.

Survived by two brothers and five sisters, Sylvia Moy, who never married, was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, on 1200 Elmwood Street on Detroit’s East Side, one of Michigan’s most important historic sites.  It goes without saying, she will be missed dreadfully but happily her work will live on through the voices of others.

The final words here belong, of course, to Stevie, “You know that we learn at an early age that we are not meant to be here forever.  So please, even through the pain of it all, celebrate this wonderful African-American woman’s life, for she was another example of one of God’s greatest creations.”

(credits: “Signed, Sealed And Delivered” – Mark Ribowsky/wwwtelegraph.co.uk/www.freep.com/www.rollingstone.com/www.washingtonpost.com)

Sylvia Moy – Digital Downloads (Amazon UK)

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Motown Spotlight, April 2017

Motown Spotlight, April 2017

It’s all happening this month for Supremes’ fans. Just in case the news has escaped you the much talked about extended version of “The Supremes A Go-Go” has been released. It seems ages ago when this was first mooted, with lots of information bites but nothing concrete. But, hey, here it is at about £28 a copy – and with a slight colour change on the front cover, plus an added apostrophe after “A”. Originally issued in 1966, it was Motown’s first album to top Billboard’s popular music chart, and the first from a girl group during what’s considered to be the rock era. Alongside their seventh chart topper “You Can’t Hurry Love”, there’s the top ten title “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart”, but what will interest Supremes’ fans more are the mono and stereo mixes of the original twelve tracker, their versions of other acts’ songs like “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “Money (That’s What I Want)”, and outtakes including The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”. What did catch my eye, though, was the girls’ duet with the Four Tops on “Shake Me Wake Me (When It’s Over)”, but I don’t know that that’s enough for me to part with my pocket money. Anyway, there’s a massive 53 tracks across two CDs, with an accompanying booklet, one of which recreates The Supremes’ 1966 tour book, while the other offers the album’s production notes and so on.

The second release is the 1980 album “diana”, originally produced by the Chic guys Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. It’s a double album release on pink vinyl, but that’s not all – instead of being 33rpm, it’s 45rpm for maximum fidelity, the blurb says. I re-read that, just to check it wasn’t a typo. Anyhows, when Diana first heard Chic’s finished work on the original project she was unhappy because she felt it sounded too much like Sister Sledge and Chic themselves, with too much disco added to the mix. Plus, she believed, as the guys had only been in the music business for a couple of years or so, they didn’t have the experience to Diana Ross-ize the work. So, she pulled in her engineering team and worked with them until she considered it to be a more commercial album for release. Needless to say, Nile and Bernard were furious initially, but after hooking up with the artist, accepted where she was coming from, saying they were happy with the album because she was. I have to say, I worked on this while at Motown, and it was a glorious experience as the product was high class, with not a bum track, and, of course, we had a large budget to work with. So we pulled out all the stops to promote it knowing it was to be her last for the company. On top of the usual promotion, we produced life size 3D cut outs of her for instore display (I had one standing in my office for a while intending to use it as a competition prize. Then it was gone and I never discovered what happened to it, bearing in mind it couldn’t have walked out by itself!) and practically covered London in posters and flyers. However, the biggest promotional tool we could have wished for was Diana herself, who willingly cut short a private holiday in London with Gene Simmons, to film a promotional video for “My Old Piano” which was a bit of a fiasco to arrange, then agreed to attend an invitation only reception at the Inn On The Park Hotel. This is where I officially met her for the first time; a great thrill for me. As I was working my professional face remained on public show, but inside I was as wildly excited as a fan can be. Peter Prince (who we talked about last month) presented Diana with several silver discs. So heavy were they that she had to lean against a wall behind her while photographers clicked away. Once she had left, with her discs being carried this time by a colleague, I had the largest alcoholic drink I could lay my hands on!

The album (originally titled “Friend To Friend”) went on to sell one million copies in the UK alone, after giving birth to several runaway hits including “I’m Coming Out”, “My Old Piano” and “Upside Down”, re-establishing the lady as an international selling power, paving the way for her lucrative deal with Capitol Records. For years buy clonazepam 2mg after this release, Ross fans were pining to hear the original mixes, so in 2003 they were issued as part of a CD deluxe edition, and it’s now available again as a 2-album set. For vinyl collectors only methinks. Apparently, there’s a couple more items due for re-issue and re-mastering including “The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland”.

Actually, if I may, I’ll digress for a moment but still with Diana. A reader sent me a note to say that there’s talks to upgrade her playground in Central Park West. Having visited it with Keith Russell a few years back – we took a long stroll around the Park checking out Strawberry Fields and others places of interest, and it was long trek too – he showed me where it was. Pretty understated by comparison to what’s on offer for children these days, but that could change as the singer told the New York Post this month. “Every time I’m in the city I always go by and peek, and see how it’s doing. To watch the children playing, it really warms my heart. We have been in conversations about refurbishing the playground and updating it, which I would like to do very much.” Positive thinking there, so perhaps it will renovated by the time I return to New York whenever that’ll be as the dates keep changing. In the same interview, Diana spoke of being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by the then President Obama. She sat next to Robert Redford, alongside Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen and others. “I do not take my freedom or the freedom that we all have in our country for granted.” Mmm, I wonder what her feelings are about the new president?!

Back to the music again. “Motown Funk” has also been issued. A 2-album set in red vinyl, holding 22 tracks highlighting the immense talent of Motown’s in house band, the mighty Funk Brothers. Not only were these guys the very heartbeat of the company, but they can be heard on thousands of records where their presence was played down for years. However, not so now – they are shining brightly in their own right. Participating artists include Barbara McNair, Willie Hutch, Sisters Love, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Temptations, among others, and as I write this it’s not clear to me whether this is a re-issue – “Motown Funk” from 2003 springs to mind – or a compilation of previously issued Funk albums. Time will tell.

Anyway, to round off this music talk: next month, the fourth “The Motown 7s Box” is to be released, and once again offers rare and unreleased items to delight us. Compiled by Richard Searling, artists featured on the seven singles include Rita Wright, Marvin Gaye (“Sweet Thing”), Brenda Holloway (“Can’t Hold The Feelin’ Back”), David Ruffin (“That World I Lived In”), Shorty Long (“Baby Come Home To Me”), The Monitors (“Share A Little Love With Me”), Tammi Terrell, Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Ain’t You Glad You Chose Love”) and Thelma Houston, among others. By the way, like the previous releases, this set includes a voucher to download MP3 versions of the singles by logging into www.backtoblackvinyl.com. You’ll need to dig deep as these sets aren’t cheap.

Like so many, I was so deeply saddened by the death of our Sylvia Moy just recently, and plan to spend some time reflecting on her great contribution to music next month. However, on behalf of myself and the guys here at soulmusic.com, am sending our condolences to Sylvia’s family, friends and fans across the world. A wonderful lady who will be missed like hell.


Finally, this item has popped up in my intray today about “Needle In A Haystack”, the story of The Velvelettes. This is all I know for now. Being staged at the New McCree Theatre, billed as Michigan’s most exciting venue, it’s a musical by Charles H Winfrey. The group don’t appear in it, but it seems it centres around their Motown recordings; their significant, yet understated musical presence at a time when the company was growing but concentrating on other artists. I smiled at the musical’s advertisement because the pose used has been liberated from their Motorcity Records single’ “Pull My Heartstrings”. Hope whoever is responsible has got clearance from Mr Levine. More when I know it, but can confirm “Needle In A Haystack” runs from 4 – 27 May 2017.

That’s it for this month, and as always, my thanks for supporting me and long may we be together.

Motown Memories:  Adam White on Sylvia Moy (Renowned Songwriter/Producer)

Motown Memories: Adam White on Sylvia Moy (Renowned Songwriter/Producer)

Songwriter and producer Sylvia Moy has penned many of the classics that are at the very heart of the vast Motown catalogue  including “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, “My Cherie Amour”, “I Was Made to Love Her”, and “Never Had a Dream Come True” by Stevie Wonder; and “Honey Chile” and “Love Bug Leave My Heart where to buy clonazepam Alone” by Martha and the Vandellas;  and co-wrote “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” with Holland-Dozier-Holland for the Isley Brothers; and “It Takes Two” with William “Mickey” Stevenson for Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston.

Author and medicines4all.com Motown historian Adam White blogs about Sylvia….

http://www.adampwhite.com/new-blog/2017/4/9/sylvia-and-stevie-inspiration-and-influence

 

 

 

MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT (March 2017)

MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT (March 2017)

First off this month, a very happy 73rd birthday to Miss Diana Ross, who, as I write this, is pulling in the crowds in New York. Undoubtedly a remarkable woman who will, among other things, always be the Queen of Motown. So, to celebrate her birthday, am playing her 1981 compilation “To Love Again”. Why this one? Well, apart from being produced by Michael Masser, it holds some glorious material, probably considered rather twee now of course, like “One More Chance”, “Stay With Me”, “Cryin’ My Heart Out For You”, an alternate version of one of my favourite songs “Touch Me In The Morning”, and the theme from the 1980 film “It’s My Turn”, starring Michael Douglas and Jill Clayburgh. Ironic title really, as this could have been written for her pending departure from Motown following a reputed $20 million deal with Capitol/RCA. As you know, the album was re-issued during 2003, with additional tracks, including a pair of previously unissued titles “Share Some Love” and “We’re Always Saying Goodbye”. So, as the music gently flows in the background, let’s TCB…

While I was looking through Keith Rylatt’s “Hitsville!” book, I noticed a picture of a serious looking young guy standing next to Earl Van Dyke. Also in the picture were smiling faces from Dave Godin, Robert White, Jack Ashford, Uriel Jones and TMAS member Steve. This reminded me of the man I knew when I flew Motown’s publicity flag working out of EMI Records’ London offices, and he was vice president of the Motown International Division also based in the city, a short walk away. Yeh, I’m talking about Peter Prince!

So, I thought I’d re-visit a chat I had with him which covered not only what his job entailed, but how he got into the business in the first place. I recall it was meant to be an hour’s session to contribute to Motown’s 30th anniversary promotional activities, but it lasted three and, I suspect, could have extended beyond that. As the purpose of the Division he headed up was relatively unknown outside their offices, he explained he worked closely with Motown/USA, reporting directly to Lee Young Snr, and was responsible for all territories outside the States. The offices could have been situated anywhere in the world, he said, but as the UK was closest to Europe, London seemed the most appropriate place to be. “As we’re responsible for doing licensing deals outside America, my job is to make sure everything is in accordance with our agreements, and to ensure artists and records are released and marketed correctly” he told me. He added that sometimes it was necessary to push local companies to encourage them to do the very best for his artists, but, generally speaking, he enjoyed a great working relationship with all licensees. On top of ensuring releases were overseen, Peter’s office also co-ordinated artist visits and phone interviews, which often became complicated, when different countries wanted different artists. And this was on top of me putting in requests for the same thing. So, imagine the pressure when an A-list artist released a new album across the territory – we were all vying for the same person!

Born in London, but living in Essex at the time of the interview, Peter grew up with music, mastered playing the drums, with ambitions to become a jazz musician. He left school to work as an office boy in the publicity department of the film company, Republic Pictures, where he stayed until he joined the RAF as a gunner. Three years on, he was demobbed and joined EMI Records’ press office, but all the while supplemented his income by playing the drums. From EMI he switched to Pye Records, before returning to EMI as a promotion manager. Then came the Motown connection, as Peter gradually built up a solid working relationship with Mrs Esther Edwards. To prove this he showed me letters from her including one about The Supremes who had recently visited London, thanking him for taking care of them during their stay. The letters also made reference to the fees from the BBC for two screenings of the “Baby Love” promotional film totalling £39 7s 6d for each showing, and, as the Top Of The Pops studio was in Manchester in those days, the plane fares were £22 for two people. From the paperwork, 1964 was indeed a busy year because The Miracles visited London and stayed at the President Hotel, Kim Weston appeared with The Beatles on Ready, Steady, Go, Martha and the Vandellas charted in the New Musical Express listing with “Dancing In The Street”, and Record Mirror presented The Supremes with an award for “Baby Love” which had topped the UK chart. “I worked with all the artists at that time…they were a great example for Motown. There were no problems and they were always on time.” They were also well organised, keen to do anything that was asked of them to promote their music and the company – “I wouldn’t say they were ordinary people because they were exceptionally groomed on stage and off, and were real professionals even though most of them were at the beginning of their generic form of klonopin careers.”

The sixties were the perfect learning curve for Peter, for not only was he on hand at the start of the Motown’s gradual breakthrough in the UK, but his hard work and dedication paid off when he was offered the position of vice president of the international office – “Being offered (this) was something I’d always dreamed of because of my early association with the company.” He went from strength to strength, moving with Motown as it lost its newness to become a major player in the music business. One of the biggest changes that he later noticed though was the company’s lack of control over its acts. “When I was first here, (Motown) had its own management which worked really well, and I think it was beneficial for new artists because they were groomed and trained to become good performers.” However, times changed, and with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye not only taking control of their careers, but also their music with the release of concept albums, an unheard of phenomenon at the time, and new signings being self-sufficient, Motown had little choice but to bow down to the new demands.

In time, Motown International took over responsibility for Jobete about which Peter confirmed, “If we didn’t have it our publishing would have to be handled by another company. Now we hold a catalogue of fifteen thousand working titles. The songs seem timeless…and record producers are regularly made aware of Jobete’s wealth by sample albums featuring one minute of all the songs available.” Out of the one hundred albums in the national chart, he said, at least twenty hold a Jobete title. Big business indeed, and one he didn’t want to let go!

One thing that had bugged me was – what happened when, say, the UK didn’t want to release a single Motown/US had, and wanted to choose a title of its own. Well, this is where Peter stepped in to agree or not, an alternative release, while citing it had a massive drawback. “If a territory wants to release a different single it puts extra pressure on that territory to make it a hit. If it doesn’t happen, I try to treat it as an occupational hazard.” On the other hand, if the UK, or any of the territories, followed the American lead, and didn’t chart the music, it was so frustrating. Giving examples of Smokey Robinson’s “Just To See Her” and Stevie Wonder’s “Skeletons”, Peter felt both were hit titles but really needed the artists to visit to give them the push they needed. When that didn’t happen, the singles were lost and, of course, the knock on effect meant lower album sales. “I get worried when records are not successful, but that’s part of this business, and something I have to live with.” When Marvin Gaye left the company, Peter was devastated, because he’d built up a great working and personal relationship with him. “As a person I got on with him very well and got to know him better when he recorded his ‘In Our Lifetime’ album over here. …His talent outshone any discrepancies in his character.” He was also upset when Diana Ross left for pastures new, although was thankful Motown had a huge catalogue of her work, some of which was, at the time, unreleased.

I could go on and on, but with limited space, hope these few words about Peter Prince has shed some light on what the Motown International Division was all about during the eighties, and although there’s more to this marathon session with him, hope I’ve selected the more interesting parts. Incidentally, some of the quotes were published in B&S 502. Sadly, Peter passed away on 18 January 2011, at the age of 73 years, in Florida. He had been frail following extensive cancer treatments, then fell and broke his hip. A memorial service was held at St Patrick’s Church in London’s Soho Square, on 16 June, followed by the wake at Ronnie Scott’s Club. A move he clearly would have approved of, don’t you think? This quietly spoken, unflappable man, was a delight to work with, and, boy, did he know his business. Motown was so lucky to have him taking care of their business.

And last but not least, just to give you the heads up about Peter Benjaminson’s new hardback book “Super Freak: The Life Of Rick James” published this month. This follows the singer’s own 2007 autobiography “The Confessions Of Rick James – Memoirs Of A Super Freak” which was a fascinating read but probably one-sided according to Peter, as, for instance, Rick left out several incidents that reflected badly on his character. So, for his new book, Peter has pulled on court records, newspaper archives and interviews with Rick’s family, friends, lovers and group members, to present a more rounded story. Can’t wait to read it. Priced around the £24.99 figure on most websites, this is the author’s third book about Motown artists (Mary Wells and Florence Ballard), not forgetting his much respected “The Story of Motown” from 1979.

That’s it for this month, so do join me again in a few weeks’ time when we’ll keep the Motown flag flying as high as we can.

Motown Spotlight - February 2017

Motown Spotlight – February 2017

My apologies for being late this month – blame it on the boogie, that’s all I can say.  So let’s TCB……. I was astonished to learn that in its first year in London Motown:The Musical has recouped its £5.5 million costs in a mere twenty-eight weeks. Not only that, bookings are being taken through to February next year. Does this mean, the musical has performed better in London than New York?  Well, according to some critics, the UK production is slicker and, in some instances, better cast.  This has slightly confused me, as with hand on heart, would have said it was the other way round. At least that’s what I felt when I saw the British show on 27 February last year. Anyhows, I’m planning to see Dreamgirls next month at the Savoy Theatre, which, I’m told will blow me away, so watch this space, because it’ll take a mighty big wind to do that!  Although this show – very (very) loosely based around the story of The Supremes –  is packed to the gunnels for most performances so it doesn’t seem to have affected ticket sales for Motown:The Musical, proving, of course, the sound of Young America never dies. Let’s move on..i_cant_help_myself_label_jpeg

It wasn’t difficult to choose the music this time – as will become apparent as you read on –  because I’ve loved this album from the first day of its release in January 1965.  It’s the group’s first official Motown release – “Four Tops” written and produced in the main by Holland, Dozier, Holland.  Kicking off with “Baby I Need Your Loving”, released in July 1964 as a single: that wonderful, hypnotic ballad so full of love and warmth.  We move into the equally mesmerising “Without The One You Love (Life’s Not Worthwhile), another single in the November, followed by “Where Did You Go?”. This leads into the third single on the trot “Ask The Lonely” penned by Ivy Jo Hunter/Mickey Stevenson, with a single release in January 1965.  In between, there’s “Your Love Is Amazing”,  “Love Has Gone” and “Call On Me”, with two further Hunter/Stevenson compositions “Don’t Turn Away” and “Tea House In China Town”, ending with Marv Johnson’s “Left With A Broken Heart”.   Adding support vocals are, naturally, The Andantes, and that all important music from the Funk Brothers. Motown at its mighty best!  My original album is rather worn from constant plays over the decades, but happily it was re-issued a few times so have back up copies when this one finally disintegrates.

Last week a film crew from a London university came to my house in East Sussex so’s I could contribute my bit to a documentary Charlene Campbell is shooting about early Motown in the UK.  Due to the ongoing train problems in my area, getting to London is still very hit and miss, so Charlene and her three assistants drove to me, which I thought was really above and beyond. Lynne Pemberton, who ran The Temptations fan club, joined us. Anyway, after chatting away about my involvement with Motown during the sixties, it got me thinking about how I actually came across the music that inspired a generation of youngsters at the time, and how that same sound has continued to live through future generations and decades. As far as I know, it was Dusty Springfield who opened my eyes to this new kind of soul music, and with her influence, and that of Dave Godin who spearheaded the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society, I was hooked. What my actual first Motown record was now escapes me, but am thinking I started my collection with the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself” in 1965, which in turn led me to investigate other artists from this mysterious label in Detroit.  So I started my journey with a successful act and then worked my way back to those acts nobody – outside cult or underground fans – had heard of, much to our shame. As record shops in my locality didn’t stock any type of black music, let alone Motown, I placed a repeat order at my local shop for any disc carrying the Tamla Motown label. So that was in 1965: my, I had a lot of catching up to do!  Later on, I’d travel to London on the train (yup! steam trains weren’t prone to strikes) to shop in Soul City where a large stock of imported Motown records could be found, blowing my hard earned money in one fabulous musical fest.

Anyway, that got me thinking about the Four Tops fan club which I started on 20 January 1968, the same year, I believe, as individual clubs opened up across the UK for several other acts, like Jimmy Ruffin, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and so on.  With Hitsville’s Margaret Phelps’ help in sending over photos and bits and pieces which were reproduced for club members, the annual membership fee of 5 shillings, I believe, in hindsight, the club was pretty good for what it was. No coloured visuals though: way too expensive! Believe it or not, sitting on my desk is a copy of my first newsletter: one of those stencil-type thingies which I ran off at my place of work once everyone had gone home.  Here’s the first paragraph – and it’s so twee, but, so me!  “This is a great buy brand klonopin online occasion for Levi, Duke, Larry, Obie and myself, as this is the first newsletter of the official Four Tops Fan Club of Great Britain.  We welcome you all with open arms and hope you enjoy your stay! We also want to thank you very warmly for your support. Every member will be a part of the huge Motown Family and, with your help, I want to spread the name of the Four Tops all over the country – then everyone will know of our tremendous, exciting and fantastic foursome!”  Then there’s some blurb about how much needed to be done before getting to the first newsletter, and the promise that I was dealing with memberships as quickly as I could.  This meant I didn’t have time to answer individual letters (remember I had a full time job) so I recruited the assistance of Bernadette from Dartford, Kent, who was well known to the group.  Also my mum helped me collate and staple the newsletters together, and then carry the few hundred bulging envelopes to the nearby box which must have delighted the postman no end!

I was able to thank my mum sometimes for her help because should the Four Tops, or any other group/act for that matter perform in Brighton (which was the nearest town to Uckfield where we lived) I’d get tickets.  I recall one show in The Dome, Brighton where, after the group had left stage, mum and I hi-tailed it to the stage door, where, after flashing our fan club cards, we were ushered into their dressing room. The guys made such a wonderful fuss of us, shared their champagne and chatted away like we’d known them for years.  I was so proud and pleased and, I think, deep down so was mum.  Then we realised my dad was waiting in the car outside the theatre to take us home.  Hell’s bells, did we get it in the neck: he wasn’t happy.  We were though – full of champagne and Four Tops love!

When the individual fan clubs closed, and with the blessing of the guys in Detroit and EMI Records in London, Motown Ad Astra was born in 1969, the year several of the secretaries, including myself, moved to London to live at 34B Sherborne Gardens, Ealing, W13. So, with our very own stencil printer in the lounge, the industry of promoting Motown began in earnest.  Once again, we all had full time jobs, so evenings, weekends (and sick days!) were crammed with Motown – answering letters, writing our little TCB magazine, listening to records (many of which were mailed directly from Detroit until the import duty was higher than the cost of the actual vinyl). Financing MAA was through an annual membership fee but also we contributed a percentage of our salaries to keep us afloat. Aw, devotion way and above eh? However, EMI Records were overly generous with merchandise, records and concert tickets, on the understanding that when any act arrived in London, they were given our contact details.  We either met them at the airport, or, if they hadn’t touched base beforehand, contacted them within a couple of days of their landing. It was through this unofficial path that we were so lucky to befriend a lot of artists like Jimmy Ruffin, Martha and her Vandellas, The Temptations, The Supremes (although Diana Ross was rarely with Mary and Cindy).  Then, in the years that followed with Blues & Soul, I was so lucky to continue those friendships, plus make new ones, every one I cherish.

maa414I’ve also found in my treasure trove of goodies, an interview Jackie Lee, Lynne Pemberton and myself gave to one of the magazines during the late sixties. It’s now sepia in colour, rather dog eared but still readable (thank goodness I had the foresight to stick it to a piece of cardboard).  Under the title “Pete Meets The Fan Club Secretaries”, the journalist claimed “MAA is a fan’s best friend”.  In case you’re interested in what the article was all about, here’s a few lines from the opening paragraph, when we said, “When The Temptations were over here recently, Otis came round to the flat for a cuppa.  We also set out a plate of biscuits.  Otis proceeded to take a bite from each biscuit until he found one that suited his taste.”  What!!!!  I laughingly remembered when I first met Mary Wilson, which I assume was after the trio’s performance at Talk of the Town. “I was talking to her through the window of her car, then she began rolling up the window, not knowing that my hand was inside. It wasn’t so funny at the time though.”  I can explain why my hand was where it was. I had a small arrangement of flowers to give to her, while another two in my party had similar flowers each to give to Diana and Cindy.  They had no problem – and no sore hand!

And on that note, that’s it for this month.  Isn’t it ironic how so many memories can flood back from an interview in my dining room?  Oh sure, there’s plenty more, but another time, or maybe I will get serious about writing an autobiography of sorts. Who knows.

Thank you for your continued support and do keep on flying the Motown flag.

 

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Motown Spotlight - January 2017

Motown Spotlight – January 2017

Welcome to the first column of the new year and, needless to say, hope we’ll spend the next twelve months together talking Motown and related issues. In the aftermath of suffering from this awful cough lurgy, I decided I needed to ease my way into this  2017 debut, so unearthed a CD I’d long forgotten – “Strung Out” from Gordon Staples and the String Thing.  First issued on the Motown label in September 1970, the version I’m playing is the Reel Music 2009 reissue and I have to say, it focuses on ‘old school’ musicianship delivered by the finest exponents of Motown inspired music, all under the directorship of the wonderful Paul Riser, about whom Berry Gordy once said – “(He) is one of the great unsung heroes of Motown.  His string arrangements, creativity and warmth, on so many songs, created a unique flavour that helped the Motown sound become the Motown Sound.”   As a whole, it’s an easy listening journey which was just what I needed today, covering tracks like “Toonie”, “Sounds Of The Zodiac”, “The Look Of Love” and “Someday We’ll Be Together”.  Jackie Hicks, Louvain Demps and Marlene Barrow provided their oh-so distinctive vocals to several tracks, including the last named title, while the musicians, of course, were Motown’s finest, like James Jamerson, Dennis Coffey, Earl Van Dyke and Jack Ashford, joined by violins, violas, cellos and harps, with the resulting rich, full sound that ebbs and flows, easing tensions in an unhurried fashion. And that’s just the job this afternoon.

Gordon Staples penned the album’s original sleeve notes to mention the following – “In a symphony orchestra of 105 musicians, 65 are string players. There is hardly a musical composition that is not enhanced by a string section.  The sound of strings has a wide range of colour that is without boundaries – all the way from Mahler to Leroy Anderson.   Come along with us and get ‘Strung Out’, for the sound you will hear in this album is yet another example of our ‘String Thing’”.  And, he’s so right: strings do sing!  Together with playing for Berry Gordy, Gordon was, as you know, the concert master of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and of course was much in demand.  Anyway, this Reel Music release was dedicated to his memory, as Gordon died in 1990, and what made this an even more special release was the involvement of his widow, Beatrix, who provided visuals and anecdotes. Do check it out if you’ve missed it…  Let’s move on…

With every new year, Motown fans – me included – start speculating about what the next few months have to offer. What I’ve read so far is that “The Early Motown EPs – Volume 2” box set will be available from Universal this month, featuring discs from The Contours, The Marvelettes, The Temptations, Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Stevie Wonder and The Supremes.  Check out the relevant websites for further information including price.  It seems Spectrum could have five further classic albums available during March; well, according to Amazon that is, while Ace/Kent have yet to make any announcement.  Meantime, we’ve been treated to “Motown Unissued 1966” but as a digital release only – darn it.  Anyway, have been listening to the trio of Chris Clark tracks included, namely, “Never Trust A Man”, “I Still Love You” and “Never Stop Loving Me” which are remarkably vital and so typically Motown.  A valid trip into the past and one I know she’s rather pleased about.

That reminds me, as I’ve mentioned Ms Clark, she’s involved in a charity single organised by Paul Stuart Davies sleeve-front-small-copyfinale-copy5-big-white-n-lil-white-copytitled “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”. Other contributing artists are Tommy Hunt, Dean Parrish, Sidney Barnes, Pat Lewis, Johnny Boy,  The Signatures and, of course, Paul.  A rousing, happy live recording bursting with enthusiasm, and wrapped in love, with sale proceeds earmarked for  Wigan DJ Jon Bates, who is wheelchair bound and desperately needs to raise £30,000 for a life-changing operation that’s only performed in America.  So, a very worthy cause for sure. “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” can be downloaded now but those of you who’d like to own a vinyl copy, here’s the link http://thesignatures.co.uk/product/northern-soul-survivors-single/    It’s a terrific version and I wish all concerned the best in raising much needed funds to help Jon become whole again.

Now some belated sad news… Our thoughts are with the family of Sylvester Potts, a member of The Contours from almost day one, who recently died in a Detroit hospital following a battle against cancer and alzheimers.  He joined the group around 1961, following the release of their debut single for Motown. The Berry Gordy penned “Do You Love Me” elevated The Contours into US R&B stardom, but, due to the nature of the record buying market, that was their biggest seller despite following it with cracking sounds like “Can You Do It” and (my all-time favourite) “Just A Little Misunderstanding.”  If you need reminding of their music, do check out Kent’s compilation of unissued material on “Dance With The Contours 1963-1964”, you’ll not be disappointed I promise.  From is generic klonopin as good as brand name recorded music to live performances…

Moving on to October this year, there’s a planned five day event titled “Detroit A-Go-Go”, celebrating the best in Northern Soul and Motown, at the St Regis Hotel, Detroit, a spit away from the Hitsville building.  Participating artists so far include The Velvelettes, The Elgins, Ronnie McNeir, Spyder Turner, The Dynamics and Pat Lewis.  It appears top DJs pharmacy-no-rx.net from the UK, Europe and America have also been booked, and there’s a guided tour of the city,  a visit into the Hitsville studio, and a record fair,  included in the package.  That’s all I know for now, but for more information, visit www.detroitagogo.com. However,  be aware it’s rather expensive and air fares aren’t included in the prices as far as I can see.

Now thitsville412o the written word, and Keith Rylatt’s much talked about book “Hitsville – The Birth Of Tamla Motown”, recently published by Modus, the first title in the company’s publishing arm. You know the story behind the book I’m sure, but briefly, it’s come about following the discovery of a carrier bag of photos and memorabilia dating back to the early sixties, which had been hidden for nearly fifty years, following the passing of Clive Stone, one of the founding members of Dave Godin’s Tamla Motown Appreciation Society. And, my, wouldn’t they have been so chuffed to see this book, packed full of historical data that’s treasured by stalwart Motown followers.  By the way, I popped by the preview exhibition of the book’s launch in London, briefly met Keith (whose work I’m familiar with having read and reviewed his “CENtral 1179” about the Twisted Wheel Club,  which he co-penned with Phil Scott), but due to a mishap with the publisher’s computing system, have only recently received “Hitsville”.  However, have now had plenty of time to give it a dedicated, uninterrupted read, and was instantly transported to the early sixties when Motown was testing the musical water in the UK.  I won’t go into great detail as you know the early history as well as I do, but what struck me immediately was the all consuming enthusiasm and fired determination, spearheaded by Dave Godin and the TMAS, to promote this young new sound from Detroit.  With no internet, it was purely word of mouth, letter by mail, or talk via the phone, and with a relentless energy, Dave and others left no stone unturned to spread the word with Berry Gordy’s blessing.

I’m thinking “Hitsville” is almost the UK equivalent to Al Abrams’ wonderful tome “Hype And Soul!” published in September 2011 by Templestreet Publishing, because Al generously shared his tireless hustling to secure news coverage in a white dominated media system. With so much material to choose from, Keith Rylatt has wisely used the book’s pages to the full, while retaining the historical beauty and significance of the originals.  For example, there’s personal letters to and from Dave Godin, newspaper cuttings, advertisements, readers’ letters and reviews, snuggling up with Clive’s breath taking selection of exclusive visuals, many of which are on public show for the first time.   All credit then to Stuart Russell, the book’s designer.

As a member of the TMAS, I welcomed the addition of pages from the actual magazines which I’m sorry to say, I no longer have as they, like so much of my memorabilia, got waylaid in my several London moves.  Something I’ve always regretted and that’s putting it mildly! Anyway, from the book’s opening chapter “1955 – 1962 From Bexleyheath To Detroit” I knew I was destined for a glorious read through the history of my beloved Motown, and within seconds, was lost in those days of this fledgling company making its first tentative steps on UK soil and the struggle that was to come.  From the first concerts and tv appearances, through to the UK Revue and, of course, “The Sound Of Motown” programme which crossed all barriers in British home entertainment, by presenting a black-based prime time music show, hosted by our top girl, Dusty Springfield, herself such a pioneering force for the sound she adopted and adored.

Of course, when the TMAS folded, individual fan clubs were allocated across the UK with myself securing the Four Tops, and when it was decided by Motown US to drop these also, Motown Ad Astra (MAA) was opened, run primarily by myself, Lynne Pemberton, Jackie Lee and Geraldine Jones, from our flat in London’s Ealing.  Aw, more memories, trials and tribulations, but all wonderfully good!

Well, what more can I say?  “Hitsville! – The Birth Of Tamla Motown” is an all consuming read, an important document of events for fans and curious alike, and shows that without the unmoving commitment and driving tenacity of a few dedicated folks, Motown may have taken healthordisease.com just a little longer to cross the British drawbridge.  We applaud them with our thanks and love, while thanking Keith and the team for getting it all together for public consumption.

That’s it until next month.  Thank you for your continued support and very much look forward to spending this year in your company.

 

Motown Spotlight - December 2016

Motown Spotlight – December 2016

Tell me, why is it that colds, sniffles, coughs and sneezes last so much longer when Christmas Day is looming? Now in my third week, it really is a pathetic, sickly creature writing this but, hey, the show must go on – and Motown is the show! I know what I’ll do, play some Festive songs. “The Ultimate Motown Christmas Collection” is just the job. In between some of the tracks like The Supremes’ “White Christmas”, Stevie Wonder’s “Someday At Christmas”, Four Tops’ “Merry Christmas Baby” and The Miracles’ “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, there’s spoken word greetings from some of the contributors. They’re all young voices of course, but the sentiment is there. A splash of tinsel on the grooves! Feeling better already…let’s TCB

The other day I decided to play the “Magic Lady” CD first released in the late eighties and was surprised to hear it’s stood the test of time. And the music reminded me of a chat with Linda Stokes during the time of its release, and the first single “Betcha Can’t Lose (With My Love)” which reached the UK top forty, following its American success. Sadly, it was the only one but, hey, for a new act, it was a brilliant result. So, I dug out that interview printed in Blues & Soul, thinking it might be interesting to re-visit my chat and also remind ourselves how the duo got together. Hope you’ll join me on our journey…

Michael Stokes, producer and composer, was the key to Magic Lady: he was also Linda’s husband. It appears his first break came when he was a mere thirteen years old because his mother’s restaurant was opposite Spector Records in New York, and its employees were regular visitors there. “It was part of my life” Michael told a 1988 edition of Voices From The Shadows magazine. ”One day Marvin Schlachter (owner of Prelude Records) came in and I told him I was working on some songs. He fobbed me off for a couple of weeks, but then decided to listen. He thought (they) were very good.” One thing led to another, resulting in Michael being offered a job writing material for him. Moving on to the late sixties, he moved to Detroit to hook up with Eddie Kendricks’ EJK Records, before returning to New York. Long story short, Michael had carved a niche for himself in the business and was subsequently in demand as a producer during the seventies and eighties. Now based in Los Angeles, he successfully worked with Creative Source, Shirley Caesar, Rose Royce and Smokey Robinson, among others.

Let’s backtrack a bit. Hailing from Palmer Woods, Detroit, Michael never knew his biological father because he was murdered while on a visit to the hospital where his son was born. However, as his mother owned a string of restaurants, their future was thankfully financially stable, helping to closet him from the racial tensions that plagued America while he was growing up. He mentioned this in the same interview with the before mentioned magazine. “I went to white schools, and I lived in a Jewish neighbourhood so people weren’t black and white to me. It was only my later education that opened my eyes to what was really going down. I decided my music was the best way I could give people something to alleviate their suffering in whatever small degree.”

Back to the plot. Magic Lady – Linda Stokes, Kimberley Ball and Jackie Steele – was Michael’s brainchild, first signed to Arista Records in 1980. From here they switched to A&M where they enjoyed a US R&B hit “Hot And Sassy”, and a UK specialist soul hit with “Hold Tight”. Then came Michael’s licensing deal with Berry Gordy via his MS International Productions set up, where Magic Lady, now minus Kimberly Ball, was one of several acts included in the deal.

I had in fact spoken to Michael prior to chatting with Linda, and he told me Magic Lady’s eponymous album was a women’s album for women. When it was in the embryonic stages, Linda, Michael and Jackie had actually discussed the project at length, as Linda told me “We have a democratic attitude when we work. Jackie and myself both think alike…it’s almost as if our brains are locked into each other.” When they all came up with identical ideas, they knew they were onto a winner. However, working and living with her husband must cause problems I thought, but not so, because they never took their work home and, she laughed, she let him win their arguments. “But basically, we think alike, so arguments don’t happen that often!”

Linda and Jackie are Detroiters. Linda caught the singing bug in high school, while Jackie’s father was a minister, so was raised in a gospel environment. However, both were avidly aware of Motown and dreamed one day of joining the company. “It’s such a great feeling being with (them). I believe we have a good union and hopefully generic clonazepam vs brand that relationship will work for us both. Everything seems to be going to plan right now and we’re excited about what’s happening. Performing comes easily because it’s fun.”

So, let’s talk music, and the “Magic Lady” album which, she said at the time, was a different type of project for Motown which, she believed, would surprise a lot of people. They worked on it for over three months because the intention was to release a concept work that carried a theme throughout. “It’s a personal album and when we were turning it around it felt we were holding conversations with music. We wanted it to reflect today’s attitude about love and chose not to bring sex or drugs into it.” Sticking to romance was better, they believed, keeping their ideas ‘clean’ and acceptable. Preaching to listeners was also not on their agenda. “We wanted stories that touched the heart. It’s hard for us to write gimmicky lyrics because our songs have to mean something to us first if we’re going to effectively convey them to people.” Anyway, I think the result speaks for itself because apart from the terrific debut single “Betcha Can’t Lose (With My Love)”, I instantly fell in love with “Misty-Eyed” and “Summer Love”. In fact, there wasn’t a lot I didn’t like and that still holds strong today. However, what caught my eye was the album’s packaging – the piercing green eyes that appear on the front cover. You feel drawn to them because they follow you around. Or is it my cold medication kicking in?! Then I also noticed that Berry Gordy was credited as executive producer; not a cosmetic title either Linda explained, because his input was invaluable. “It was a daunting prospect working with him but he is so respected by everyone that I soon lost my nervousness.”

To round off this musical re-visit, I must mention that Linda was also a dress designer, and this would have been her chosen career if music hadn’t beckoned. An example of her work can be seen on the reverse side of the album sleeve. Wherever she went, so did her sketch pad, just in case. Oh lor, as always, I seem to have written more than I had originally planned but nonetheless, hope it’s of interest and, perhaps, re-kindled a little curiosity to play the ladies’ music again. It was just by chance that I spotted the CD in my collection and thought – why not?

Just one more item before leaving. As it’s now in the public domain, and as I made mention of this project last time, there was an exclusive luncheon presentation at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Beverly Hills, California, just recently to officially announce plans for the Motown Museum Expansion project due to open in 2019. Among the VIP guests was SoulMusic.com’s own David Nathan, who, as a member of the panel of experts, spoke about the profound impact Motown made on the world. “Motown is one of the best imports this country has produced,” he said in his speech. Hosted by company vice president Iris Gordy, she introduced her cousin Robin Terry, chairwoman and chief executive officer of the museum, after taking over the role from her grandmother (the late) Esther Gwen Gordy. Over time, Robin transformed Hitsville USA into a world-class museum attraction for Motown fans the world over. Although Berry Gordy wasn’t in attendance, many of the seventy or so guests spoke about him and the music empire he created, including members of his family, Suzanne DePasse, and other industry figures. Motowners in attendance included Scherrie Payne, Betty Kelley, Janie Bradford, Mable John, Mary Wilson, Claudette Robinson, Eddie Holland, Brenda Holloway and Charlene. So now you know. Fabulous, just fabulous!

Well, the Christmas CD has been re-played a couple of times since I started this and I must say it’s cheered me immensely. Marvin Gaye singing “Christmas In The City” to be followed by The Temptations’ “Silent Night”. No better way to close this last column of 2016 than with the beautiful voices of these guys.

So, all that’s left for me to say is a very Happy Christmas to you all, where I’m hoping you’ll spend time with your family and closest loved ones. For all those people who are working over the Festive period in a variety of jobs, keeping us safe, and tending to the sick and less fortunate, thank you so much for your dedication. To wish you a successful and healthy 2017 goes without http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/topamax/ saying, and I’d like to think there will be peace on earth for us all as well. Although it seems grossly inadequate, thank you for keeping the Motown faith this year; you really are a treasured bunch of people and it’s been a real treat for me to have met so many of you during the past twelve months.

Motown is yesterday; Motown is today, and Motown is tomorrow.