Motown Spotlight - November 2017

Motown Spotlight – November 2017

While typing this month’s MS thought I’d re-visit Scherrie Payne’s “Vintage Scherrie” CD which I haven’t played for awhile but which is always close at hand. As you know a couple of tracks were extracted for single release – “Remember Who You Are” and “Crumbs Off The Table” – both exceptional in different ways. The first is warmly soulful, sheer beauty, while the second is rather hard edged and decisive, you don’t mess with this gal. Both stylings are handled with total ease of course. However, it’s “Hope” that I get drawn to every time plus her take on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Aw, well, will just let it play through in its entirety until I’m done here. And talking of mountains….

I suppose it was to be expected that, following Diana Ross receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent American Music Awards, an album would be released to coincide with the event. Well, I say ‘album’ but what I really mean is a digital 15 track release under the title “Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection”, a selection of her biggest titles like “The Boss”, “It’s My House”, “I’m Coming Out”, “Love Hangover” and “Endless Love” with Lionel Richie. However, the carrot that’s being dangled here for stalwart fans is a new dance club, the Anmhe remix of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. It’s alright I suppose, but the whole essence of the Ashford & Simpson composition was the merging of melody and lyrics. A love song of considerable emotion which should, perhaps stay as was intended, and as much as I love the drama attached to Diana’s epic six minutes-plus version on her debut solo album, the 1967 original, produced by Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, and recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell just can’t be matched. Let’s stay with the song for a moment. Composed by Ashford & Simpson prior to their joining Motown, Dusty Springfield longed to record it, as Valerie recalled, “We played (her) that song but wouldn’t give it to her, we wanted to hold that back because we felt it could be our entry to Motown. Nick called it the ‘golden egg’. Dusty, recorded a similar verse melody in ‘I’m Gonna Leave You’”. Undeterred, the British singer, faithful to the original arrangement, included the song in her stage act usually as part of a soul medley, and actually performed it twice on television as a duet, with Engelbert Humperdink during 1970, and with Michael Ball in 1995.

In the wonderful book “The Real Tammi Terrell: My Sister Tommie” penned by Ludie Montgomery and Vickie Wright (published by Bank House Books 2005), they tell of a nervous, slightly intimidated twenty-two-year-old Tammi recording her vocals for the song on 6 January 1967, leaving Marvin to dub in his vocals later in that month. Valerie felt the song was the perfect vehicle for the two singers although it wasn’t conceived as a duet, as Nick said, “..it turned into (one). Everything kind of fell into place. They saw what was necessary and we were there to change up anything they needed and we all worked together. Marvin would tell me that Tammi was his favourite to sing with. She would cuddle up to him like she belonged to him. It was just beautiful what they had.” Johnny Bristol took this one step further when he was quoted about their mystical blending because Marvin felt her deeply when he sang to her pre-recorded track – which was, apparently, the norm on several of their duets. “Their respect and love for each other …transcended the presence and they both didn’t have to be there to capture the feeling. (The song) really sticks out in my mind because they blended so well on that recording. Nick and Valerie were great writers so they made it a spiritual connection for everyone.“ Incidentally, the Four Tops’ Duke Fakir was one of the backing vocalists on the song, “I remember sitting around during the time Marvin and Tammi were recording it and Marvin says, ‘hey man, come in here and help me sing the song because I can’t make it alone.’”

In one of my interviews with Nickolas Ashford, I wondered why he never recorded the song with Valerie, believing as I did, they were the perfect mouthpieces for their compositions. “I don’t think we even thought about it. When you have an artist like Marvin Gaye, who was just a phenomenal singer, it’s just a dream. We were real writers then and we had this voice that we could do something with, and that was all the glory we needed.”

So, returning to Diana Ross’ 1970 album version for just a second, and then we’ll move on, it seems Berry Gordy wasn’t happy with the song, hating the spoken word passage. He wanted the climactic chorus/bridge to start the song rather than be a feature within it. However, he backed down when Ashford & Simpson persuaded him to release an edited three-minute single to combat radio stations editing their own versions. By cutting the playing time, the fullness of the song was hampered of course, allowing listeners to enjoy a mere musical snapshot of the classical string element from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Andantes’ warm vocals supported by Johnny Bristol, Brenda Evans and Billie Calvin (from The Undisputed Truth), Jo Armstead and Ashford & Simpson themselves. Nonetheless, the edited “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” earned Diana her first number one single, and a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The full glorious version was, of course, included on her album: good marketing ploy that. Good Lord, how one thing leads to another when all I intended to do was mention her new digital album! Let’s move on….

One of the songs I regularly play on my Saturday evening soul programme is the Northern Soul Survivors’ charity single, a cover of Frank Wilson’s “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”. Featuring Tommy Hunt, Chris Clark, Dean Parrish, Pat Lewis, Sidney Barnes, Johnny Boy and The Signatures, and, last but by no means least, Paul Stuart Davies, who masterminded the whole thing. Released on vinyl and as a download single, it was, as you know, recorded to raise funds for Jon Bates, a Wigan DJ who is wheelchair bound and in need of money to pay for an operation that could see him walk again. “As someone who listens to soul music daily, recording this song has been like being part of soul music history” Paul explained. “I’m very lucky and I loved every minute making the record.” So, let’s spend some time with the young man behind the single. Born in Manchester in 1982, Paul Stuart Davies began professionally performing as a teenager, and following an introduction to a local agent, was soon performing in clubs and pubs across Lancashire. From here, he attended music college which lead to a career as a vocal coach, and as co-creator of the Darwen School Of Music. However, it was his love of Motown that prompted him to front The Soul Train, a 9-piece group, where their popularity grew following performances in Blackpool and Blackburn clubs.

During 2015, and following an endorsement from Marvin Gaye’s second wife Janis, he took to the solo spotlight where he performed alongside Kim Weston, Brenda Holloway, The Velvelettes and The Contours at The World’s Biggest Northern Soul Weekender staged at Butlins in Skegness. Event organiser, Russ Winstanley, was so impressed with the young man’s enthusiastic talent that he invited him to regularly perform at his events, often alongside Motown and Northern Soul legends, many of whom he befriended. “Like the majority of soul fans, I just love Paul’s incredible voice” said Russ. “The quality and purity left me staggered.” Paul’s career escalated when, in May this year, he flew to Detroit to record “Tomorrow’s Love” (based around a 1965 instrumental by Billy Butler) at the renowned United Sound Systems studio. “I haven’t touched the original instrumental” he explained. “What I wanted to achieve was authenticity. This is a Northern Soul record recorded in 2017. I’m not sure when the last original Northern Soul record was recorded in Detroit but it would have been many years ago.” With him in the studio were Kim Weston, Pat Lewes, Tobi Legend, and Rosalind and Betty, the original Vandellas. “When I told them I was going to Detroit to record (it) they all said ‘we’ll be there’. It was just a wonderful experience. I’m lucky enough to be able to call these great artists friends as I have got to know them over the past few years, both from performing with them and also by speaking to them regularly.”

Then during the last two weeks, Paul contacted me saying he’d returned to that Detroit studio to cut the follow-up to “Tomorrow’s Love”, titled “Baby, It’s Yours” with The Fantastic Four providing support vocals. The song is an absolute delight; upbeat, energetic with the catchiest hook I’ve heard in a long while. By the way, it’s flipside “That’s The Truth” was recorded at the same time. Available now on download and, thank goodness, both titles will be available on vinyl by visiting www.paulstuartdavies.co.uk/shop as, of course, was his first single.

Somewhere in between these trips to Detroit, Paul recorded a live performance at the Darwen Library Theatre and issued some of it as an extended play single/CD (not sure what to call it) titled “Northern Soul Reimagined”. Here he was joined by his friends covering tracks like “Long After Tonight Is All Over” and “Because Of You”, together with studio versions of “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)” about which the Vandellas said, “It was 53 years ago when we first recorded (the song) with Marvin Gaye at Hitsville USA. What a thrill to once again provide backing vocals on the same song with Paul…with his smooth, clear voice, offering a wonderful, fresh vocal treatment to this truly sentimental song.”

By way of an early Christmas present for Motown fans, Paul has even more recently recorded “Lovin’ Me Stronger”, a realistic reminder of the company’s early work. Having played it a few times, I can honestly say it certainly is a grower and one that gets the fingers tapping. Yes, like this a lot. And check this out – he’s offering it free of charge on his website – so what are you waiting for? Go get and enjoy.

I’ll let Chris Clark have the last word here because she believes Paul is an amazing singer. “I’d heard about him, looked him up and called to ask if he’d duet with me. We had a great time and he’s a steller talent who’s going to be on the scene a very long time.” My grateful thanks to all who contributed to this article, allowing me to join them in my admiration for a young man who is determined to keep our music alive.

Unfortunately, I have to end on a very sad note with the passing of Miracle Warren “Pete” Moore who died on his 78th birthday last week. “(He was) a fine human being and valued member of the Motown family” said Berry Gordy upon hearing the news. “He was a quiet spirit with a wonderful bass voice behind Smokey Robinson’s soft, distinctive lead vocals, and was co-writer on several of the Miracles’ hits. A gentleman, loving husband, devoted father and loyal friend. We all loved him and will miss him.” More about Pete, and his contribution to Motown’s success, next month, but, meantime, on behalf of us all at soulmusic.com, my sincere condolences go out to his family, friends and, of course, his fans. “Pete was my brother since I was eleven years old” Smokey posted on twitter. “ I’m really going to miss him.”

March 2017: Reissues and New Music Reviews

March 2017: Reissues and New Music Reviews

a-woman417ROZETTA JOHNSON: A WOMAN’S WAY – THE COMPLETE ROZETTA JOHNSON 1963 – 1975 (KENT)

This compilation seems to have slipped through the net and for that my apologies. However, as they say – better late than never. The lady from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who carved a place for herself in music history through her slices of southern soul, is more than amply represented here with her releases from the sixties and seventies. I was surprisingly impressed at the way Rozetta effortlessly wanders through the hopelessness of unreturned love, stirring up a gamut of emotions, while, on the other hand, ruthlessly persuades her listeners that she’s not to be messed with. Or, perhaps she’s a blank canvass that can be coloured in from track to track. Anyway, it seems her first documented single “I Understand My Man” b/w “Willow Weep For Me” was released under the name Rosetta Johnson and the Organettes on NRC, before she switched to the Jessica imprint with “That Hurts”, a more mainstream sound, and “It’s Nice To Know You”. She then left the recording scene behind her to concentrate on live dates until signing with Moonsong/Clintone to score a pair of top three R&B hits with her first two releases, namely “A Woman’s Way” and “Who Are You Gonna Love (Your Woman Or Your Wife)”, written by Sam Dees, with whom she recorded her best work. Alongside regular releases, there’s the extended version of “I’ve Come Too Far With You” complete with alternate vocals, plus previously unheard support and lead vocals on “I Can Feel My Love Comin’ Down”. The fact that Ms Johnson is no longer with us, makes this compilation more vital to her fans, and connoisseurs of authentic soul music.
Rating: 8

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pied-piper419 VARIOUS ARTISTS: PIED PIPER FINALE  (KENT RECORDS)

This is the last in the trilogy of this Pied Piper series, and we have Jack Ashford to thank because the titles come from his  personal collection. Among the gems here is the previously undocumented Lorraine Chandler song “Ease My Mind”, co-penned by the aforementioned Funk Brother and the singer. And it’s quite something too. Jack recruited members of the Funk Brothers to play on these sessions, and, I believe, many of the Pied Piper releases.  Wonder what Berry Gordy made of this!  However, their involvement does make this compilation that more interesting.  I instantly zoned in on the tracks by the Pied Piper Players, notably “The Bari Sax”, with its total funky groove, which kick starts this compilation. The Hesitations’ “Soul Superman”, a much-needed R&B top fifty hit, is equally compelling, plus the couple from The Metros, namely “No Baby” and “Sweetest One”.  Add into the mix Reggie Alexander’s “It’s Better” and Freddie Butler’s “Deserted”; both are prime exponents of a kindred soul spirit.  Then there’s “Gambler’s Blues”, another diamond in the mine. Although this song by Nancy Wilcox was included in the first of this series, the ungraded version here was discovered on master tape in Mr Ashford’s collection.  Ady Croasdell wrote in his excellent CD notes – “The rare soul world is indebted to Jack Ashford, Shelley Haims and the Pied Piper singers, musicians, arrangers, producers and songwriters for making such enthralling and inspiring soul music.”  And so say all of us!
Rating: 8

manhattansoul3416VARIOUS ARTISTS: MANHATTAN SOUL 3 (KENT)

This compilation is the ninth of Scepter/Wand and Musicor/Dynamo recordings issued by Kent, and the standard never slips. The two New York labels were linked by Luther Dixon who put Scepter on the success path with the likes of The Shirelles and Dionne Warwick, before switching to Musicor to work with Tommy Hunt and The Platters, among others. So, the resulting compilation covers most musical genres, for instance I’m listening to Johnny Moore’s “Haven’t I Been Good To You” which, for the world, sounds like The Temptations’ “I Know I’m Losing You”. The CD opens generic of klonopin with Dan and The Cleancuts’ “Open Up Your Heart (And Let Me In)”, a super smooth, intense soul sound, while the previous unreleased Shirelles’ “Two Stupid Feet” is so cute – and two twee for the ladies who made such a huge name for themselves on the R&B scene. Still smiling! Van McCoy’s “What’s The Matter Baby” is also heard here for the first time. Yet again, it’s a strange one. Lots of galloping music and a piano break. Thankfully, Melba Moore returns to normality with a traditional ballad formula in the shape of “Does Love Believe In Me”. Add these to tracks from Big Maybelle, which sounds a little off key but hey; Billy Adams, Tommy Hunt and Brook Benton, it’s an extremely credible compilation and one that I’ve enjoyed playing, although when I first started out I had a few reservations. Persistence is the key!
Rating: 8

random418RETROSPECTIVE FOR LOVE: RANDOM ACTIVITIES OF A HEART (WORMFOOD RECORDS)
Um, wasn’t quite sure what to expect when this CD arrived as I reckoned it could well be outside my comfort zone. However, there’s something about this new sound that’s captured me, and wanting more. Hailing from Sicily, Davide Shorty (vocalist, musical director and producer) wanted to bring back the love, and to do this gathered around him a family of similarly soul-centric musicians from his homeland, together with others including Parisian co-vocalist Leslie Phillips. The group is now based in London, the obvious place to be seen and heard, and this, their debut release embraces a wide range of genres, from smooth smouldering soul, into a little jazz and slices of hip-hop. I also spotted a smattering of Coldplay melodies in the mix too. Honest. The pace is set with the opening track “The Picture You Show Me”, an easy, almost moody sound, then it goes a little haywire into “Water N Dust” and “Wanna Get To Know Ya”. What follows though is a mass of changing music, covering love lost and found, with some of the music stripped down only to be built up again. The promise of better things to come is so relevant as the listener is lifted into another musical world that’s so easy to get lost in, while enjoying the isolation. No doubt about it, the music is unique, often raw yet crafted with considerable thought, with the sole aim of pushing home a pot pourie of sounds. Well done to all concerned, and this debut is certainly one I’d highly recommend.
Rating: 8

northernsoulreimagined415PAUL STUART DAVIES: NORTHERN SOUL REIMAGINED (PSD)

With support vocals from Annette and Rosalind, the original Vandellas, and the Voice of Africa, Paul Stuart Davies revisits the very heart of the music heaven lovingly tagged by Dave Godin as Northern Soul, with the release of his “Northern Soul Reimagined”. With his interpretations of “Long After Tonight Is All Over” and “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)”, a couple of high ranking soul slices, Paul adds a positive, clear attitude as his voice takes command of these classics. Recording live is, I’ve discovered, a rather dicey procedure, but he’s got this covered as well with resulting excitement and atmosphere. Check out “You Don’t Love Me” and, of course, that almighty NS favourite “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” which, of course, is the title of the charity record spearheaded by Paul and featuring, among others, Chris Clark and Tommy Hunt. Recently released, their aim is to raise much needed funds for the Jon Bates appeal. Anyway, back to the subject in hand, “Northern Soul Reimagined” is a brief – yeh, too short Paul! – but, my, did fond memories of my too-rare visits up North return. Am still smiling! (Available from Paul Stuart Davies)
Rating: 7