It seems ages since I wrote this page so won’t waste time with preambles except to say have just finished listening to the “ Dusty Sings Classic Soul” CD, and I’d quite forgotten she’d recorded “Needle In A Haystack” which she recorded for her second album “Ev’rythings Coming Up Dusty”. For some reason or other it was excluded at the time which was a huge pity because it also featured Madeline Bell and Doris Troy. In hindsight, if it had been included, the girls giggling at the end of the song would probably have been deleted. Not so here! Let’s TCB…
Mountains of congratulations to Diana Ross who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s American Music Awards. She’s a seven-time award winner and hosted the actual show in 1986 and 1987. This Award will recognise her artistic contribution to the entertainment industry and pop culture in general. “I have endless memories of all the years that I’ve appeared on the American Music Awards” said the lady. “It started with Dick Clark, and The Caravan of Stars and American Bandstand. It was Dick Clark who said ‘music is the soundtrack of our lives’. So true. I am so excited to be receiving this honourable award.” Yay for Diana! And there’s more. I’ve just been told that she’s hoping to launch her own perfume “Diamond Diana” for the Christmas market this year…..
When Norman Whitfield left Motown in 1975 he turned his back on one of the most creative periods in the company’s history. Not only was he, with Barrett Strong, credited with defining a Motown sound, but in the late sixties, he was the forerunner into psychedelic soul, using acts like The Temptations and Edwin Starr as his musical mouthpieces. Generally speaking, an album track could span 15 minutes plus, as Whitfield multi-tracked and multi-layered musical epics, distorting vocals when not disguising them. It was his psychedelic baby, and he manipulated the musical notes to create his indelible mark into the new genre that would last a few years yet before self destructing, following a glutton of sounds that attempted to blow minds with the support of mother’s little helpers, of course. Here’s a little overview of history in the making….
Before spearheading this colourful, crazy time, Norman Whitfield had worked with The Velvelettes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Marvelettes, among others, quite often recording the same song on two or more different acts. However, as innovative as Norman was, it’s not him who’s the subject this time (maybe we’ll re-visit some day) but rather a group of people he hand picked to work with – The Undisputed Truth, comprising Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans. The ladies, hailing from Los Angeles were members of The Delicates and introduced to Motown by Bobby Taylor. My, didn’t that man have an eye and ear for spotting talent! They worked as session singers on The Four Tops’ “Still Waters” project, Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Edwin’s “Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On”. Then when The Delicates disbanded, Norman recruited Joe Harris from The Preps, to form his new trio.
After much deliberating, The Undisputed Truth’s debut single “Save My Love For A Rainy Day” was released during June 1971. Originally recorded by The Temptations as a track on their “With A Lot O’Soul” album during 1967, it was a tentative toe dipper into the massive pond known as the music business. Failing to create commercial waves, Norman sanctioned the release of “Smiling Faces Sometimes” which instigated a mini tsunami. “They represented a challenge to me” Norman told journalists at the time. “People were saying Motown had become stagnant so I set about making a new group with completely new ideas.” However, he said he later felt his efforts for The Truth were in vain because, “the company simply was never into what the group meant.”
“The Undisputed Truth” album quickly followed, containing their first two singles, plus the extraordinary “You Got The Love I Need”, using the same 1965 backing track on The Temptations’ “I Got Heaven Right Here On Earth”, an outtake from the group’s “With A Lot O’Soul”. It was also the only original track on The Truth’s debut, as others included their takes on “Like A Rolling Stone” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. Anyway, “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, recorded by (you’ve guessed it!) The Temptations on their “Sky’s The Limit” album as a monstrous 12 minute plus musical melee, was given a more down to earth treatment by The Truth, and it was undoubtedly this that attracted record buyers to give the trio their first serious seller. And yet again, a Temptations track was re-visited by The Truth for their third British release, “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” released in June 1972, but it did little to progress their career beyond a solid Motown fan base. Extracted from The Truth’s second album “Face To Face With The Truth”, the title wasn’t American released, and it took a further two years for the single to be followed-up in the UK. Other tracks on the album were mixed, switching to “What’s Going On”, through to “Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me”, to the terrifically exciting “What It Is?” – an all time favourite of mine. It has to be said, all credit to Motown’s London office for persevering with these and future releases, believing as they did, in the trio’s potential selling power and, of course, trusting their instincts.
With the promise of a new album during 1973, Motown fans and group alike were hoping for original material, and indeed this did appear to be the case. However, Mr Whitfield had other ideas! The Truth’s “Law Of The Land” album, slotted between Diana Ross’ “Touch Me In The Moring” and “The Best Of The Detroit Spinners”, represented the last from the group’s original membership. Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans left after its release, leaving Joe Harris to form a quintet with Tyrone “Big Ty” Douglas, Calvin “Dhaak” Stephenson, Virginia “V” McDonald, and Tyrone “Lil Ty” Barkeley, ex-members of the Detroit group, The Magictones. Incidentally, this line-up remained unchanged until they split from Motown.
Once again “Law Of The Land” followed its predecessors with versions of further Temptations’ cuts including “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” (although I believe The Truth recorded the original of this) and “Just My Imagination”, which were slotted between Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, Al Green’s “Love And Happiness” and Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By”. By all accounts, this was one of the last albums to be recorded in Detroit. Motown had moved to Los Angeles, of course, and despite his better feelings, Norman Whitfield had little choice but to follow if he wanted to remain with the company. A move of location might result in a musical change perhaps? Yes, it did – to a certain extent.
I think it’s fair to say, that fans were being deprived of The Truth’s real talent and, I for one, pined to hear them sing tailor made material, and when news filtered through this could happen on their next album “Down To Earth” in 1974, I counted my blessings. The expanded group recorded the first six tracks, including the fabulous “Help Yourself” released as a single in May ’74, (the long overdue follow-up to “Superstar”) while the remaining four were re-issues. Although the album sold well in R&B circles, it failed to cross over into the mainstream chart, although “Help Yourself” was their most successful mainstream American single since “Smiling Faces Sometimes” three years earlier. “I’m A Fool For You” was lifted as its follow-up to become an R&B hit only. Of the other two tracks, “I’m A Fool For You”, British released in September ’74, was another dancer, and another poor seller. It was so disheartening as nothing seemed to work; thankfully, the London office wasn’t about to give up just yet.
For some reason, in the year when the Tamla Motown label celebrated its 10th anniversary, “Law Of The Land” was issued. It was a different mix to the American release, and I’m thinking this rather unique, albeit belated UK release ensured The Truth was included in the anniversary releases. And so we move on to their next elpee “Cosmic Truth” in February 1975 which, I recall, was totally off the beaten track with the overall feel of Rick James clashing with Jimi Hendrix – but in a good way. An interesting, yet complex project, highlighting Norman Whitfield’s darker side, conjuring up images of hallucination and dodgy trips. The futuristic “UFO’s” bumped into the heavy metal tinged “Earthquake Shake”, while the soulful delivery on “Down By The River” is rather refreshing. One reviewer noted – “you couldn’t take enough drugs these days to make something this wild”. Then, the inevitable happened, their Motown relationship hit stoney ground with their sixth and final album “Higher Than High” seven months later in America, and British release in November 1975. The title track was extracted for single release, and followed the fate of the others. Many felt “Higher Than High” took a giant step further into Whitfield’s complex imagination, following an almost tentative step with “Down To Earth”. With titles like “I’m In The Red Zone” (where sex meets drugs); “Life Ain’t So Easy” (a ballad warning of the perils of big city life) and “Poontang” (with its naughty chorus), the album was considered to be an acceptable parting shot.
“The Truth became pawns in a political situation that had nothing to do with me” Norman Whitfield once said. “I guess that this was what led to me leaving Motown. As a company they developed a lack of respect for what people were doing for them, and they lost their creative direction when certain people left.” In actual fact, two years prior to leaving, Norman had formed his own Whitfield Records, with the intention of Motown distributing its product. When negotiations between the two parties reached deadlock, Norman hooked up with Warner Brothers instead. He encouraged The Undisputed Truth to move with him, with Willie Hutch and Jr Walker following. It was, of course, his biggest non-Motown act Rose Royce (including members of Edwin Starr’s backing group) who put Whitfield Records on the international map.
Signing with the new label, resulted in The Undisputed Truth’s top selling dancer “You + Me = Love”, featuring Chaka Khan’s sister Taka Boom. A pair of albums also benefitted from Whitfield’s promotion machine – “Method To The Madness” and “Smokin’” in 1976 and 1979 respectively. The first featured the disco anthem, adding to its selling power, while the second included classic titles like “Space Machine” and “Atomic Funk”.
When Whitfield Records closed during the early eighties, it seems The Truth disbanded, with its members branching out into other areas of the business, joining other bands or recording as soloists. Moving into the next decade, Joe Harris and Brenda Joyce Evans reformed the group, adding Belita Woods to the membership. As such they joined Ian Levine’s roster of acts to record a new version of “Law Of The Land” for his Motorcity label. Billie Rae Calvin and V McDonald recorded as soloists, and all were featured on the compilation “A Tribute To Norman Whitfield”.
So, the reason for spending time with Mr Whitfield and the Truth will now become apparent because, just recently, a trio of their albums became available in one package titled “Nothing But The Truth” from the guys at Kent Records. For the first time on CD these albums – “The Undisputed Truth”, “Law Of The Land”, “Down To Earth” – plus a handful of bonus tracks, attempt to put right the neglect shown towards their catalogue. After playing the two CDs several times, I have to admit this release is long over due because it brings home just how talented and worthy of success they were. Enjoy the music, because I sure did – and will again……..
Last but not least, and I’m fast running out of space here. The secret is out, and my, it was one that I’ve kept for awhile. Lynda Laurence has left The Former Ladies, and Susaye Greene has replaced her. They’ll be known as “Scherrie and Susaye, Formerly Of The Supremes” with Joyce Vincent. In a statement, Scherrie said that back in 1978 when she and Susaye were auditioning for a third Supreme after Mary Wilson departed, Joyce was their choice. “But, unfortunately, Motown decided to retire the name since no original member was in the group. All these years later, as fate would have it, the three of us are back together again, united as one. Ironic, but wonderful!” Lynda decided it was time to put aside her Supreme gowns to pursue a different avenue, and it goes without saying, that I wish her a fabulous future.
I’ll quickly recap the history of The Former Ladies Of The Supremes using Scherrie’s words. “Ever since the F.L.O.S. were formed by Ronnie Phillips and Superstar International Records back in 1986, it has been a whirlwind trip for me. Initially, the group consisted of Jean Terrell, Cindy Birdsong and me. Cindy stayed with us for a short time and then, for the second time, as with The Supremes, Lynda took her place. For the next seven years, Jean, Lynda and I travelled and entertained audiences all over the world. Then, Jean made her departure. The group went through several metamorphoses after that, including a name change to ‘Scherrie and Lynda, formerly of The Supremes”. Lynda’s sister, Sundray Tucker, Freddie Poole and then Joyce Vincent, formerly of Tony Orlando and Dawn, joined us.” Incredibly, in April 2016 the ladies celebrated their 30th anniversary! So, now a new, exciting musical journey is about to start with the amended membership, and as Scherrie says, “(We) will do our best to continue to keep the Supreme legacy alive.” As a personal note, all the ladies have been immensely supportive of my work, so it’s the least I can do, to return that love ten fold. Scherrie, Susaye and Joyce, I wish you all every success for the future and thank you for keeping the music alive.
OK, I’m outta here as I’m sure I’ve taken up too much space this time around. Do, please remember that without you, there’d be no me – and for that I count my blessings.