Motown Spotlight - April 2018

Motown Spotlight – April 2018


Here come the girls! More Motown ladies to be precise, courtesy of the new CD release “Baby I’ve Got It!” from Ace Records, offering a grand twenty-four tracks from names we’re familiar with and some we’ve missed on the way. This month and next they’ll all get a mention, with our thanks for their contribution to laying the foundation of what was to become “The Sound of Young America.” And, like most things I write about, there’s no particular order here because The Lollipops kick off the proceedings. Signed to Harry Balk’s Impact label in Detroit, the group became Motown artists rather by default when Balk sold his label to Berry Gordy in 1967. While Harry became a producer, The Lollipops – Arenita Walker (lead and songwriter), Joyce Walker and Angela Allen – cut nine tracks while signed. The VIP outing “Cheating, Is Telling On You”/”Need Your Love” in October 1969 was originally scheduled for the Gordy label, but here we have the doo-wop inspired “There Was”. Incidentally, on the previous UK compilation “Love And Affection”, their “Go For Yourself” track, which was left incomplete, got its first outing on this CD. I’m thinking that could be it from this relatively unknown trio which is annoying to a Motown writer like myself!

Ashford and Simpson’s “It’s Been A Long Time Happenin’” was recorded as the follow-up to their “I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” for Rita Wright. Despite the fact this latter single bombed at the time – but later became a much wanted gem – the composing duo were given the green light to work again with Rita, even though Tammi Terrell had already stored her version of the song in the “pending release file”. By the way, Blinky Williams also recorded the song using the same backing track. Rita’s recording of “It’s Been A Long Time Happenin’” wasn’t completed until it was unearthed for this new CD – and it’s brilliant. Ms Wright once said she had rebelled against Motown’s executives’ plans of pushing her into a jazzier direction, preferring to stick with the styling of the Ashford and Simpson compositions. “If I had listened, especially to Mr Gordy, I would have had a more successful run at Motown fame.” So, when Berry suggested a name change to Syreeta, saying it sounded more glamorous, she readily agreed. Life began to change for the young singer: from working with, and later marrying, Stevie Wonder, she took giant steps towards becoming a respected composer and singer. In between times, she recorded demos, including The Supremes’ “Love Child” and Diana Ross’ “Something’s On My Mind”, and when Diana left the trio Berry Gordy considered replacing her with Syreeta instead of Jean Terrell. The move was vetoed by Mary Wilson. Solo success did find Syreeta in the early seventies thanks to hits like “Spinnin’ And Spinnin’”, “Your Kiss Is Sweet” and the biggest selling of all, “With You I’m Born Again”, her duet with Billy Preston. Her sister Kim said at the time of Syreeta’s death in 2004, “She was a totally incredible person. She was always searching, always looking for, I’d like to say ‘enlightenment’ but it sounds too ‘woo-woo’. She was always trying to find out what was right and what was true.”

Tracks by LaBrenda Ben have been featured on the previous “Motown Girls” collections, including “Fugitive”, a heavyweight tune, and here she is again. The singer worked with George Fowler, who introduced her to Motown in 1962. They later married, and when he left the company to become a minister, she went with him. But here, on “Bad News”, LaBrenda Benn recorded with Mickey Stevenson and Jo Hunter as producers, which was originally available during 2014 as a digital download, but due to pressure from fans, it’s now released on CD for the first time. Her second track, “It’s All Right” is her take on The Impressions 1963 R&B hit. It’s so frustrating not to have information about artists like this lady because, like you, I’m a stickler for a complete story. However, what I do know is that the first single credited to LaBrenda Ben and the Beljeans, issued on the Gordy label in 1962, was “Camel Walk/The Chaperone”. The A-side was also credited to Saundra Mallett and the Vandellas on the Tamla label, while “Chaperone” was re-issued on the Motown label to satisfy Northern Soul fans. This was followed by LaBrenda Ben’s solo “Just Be Yourself/I Can’t Help It, I’ve Got To Dance” a year later. It’s not clear who comprised the Beljeans although one suggestion was they were the Andantes. Whatever and whoever, LaBrenda Ben and her group became early roster casualties.

Formerly known as Lisa Miller, Little Lisa was 11 years old when she recorded “Keep Away” with the Funk Brothers. Daughter of Kay of the gifted Lewis Sisters, who were already composing and recording for Motown, Lisa recorded at least twelve sides including the solitary single “Hang On Bill” – a re-working of “Hold On Pearl” by Bob Kayli (Robert Gordy) – issued on the VIP label in 1965. Records show that the young girl also recorded versions of “Sweeter As The Days Go By”, “Baby, I’ve Got It”, and “Honey Boy” released by The Supremes and Mary Wells, a rendition of The Marvelettes’ “Daddy Knows Best”, and “Choo Choo Train” which was added to “A Cellarful Of Motown -Volume 2”. Her mother, Kay, said in the notes for “The Complete Motown Singles Volume 5” – “I really had no idea she could sing. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time, so I always took her with us when we went on Motown dates.” She also remembered her daughter needed to climb up on a box to reach the microphone, and that the intention was for Lisa to record demos for other artists. Still as a teenager and now known as Leeza Miller, she did voiceovers on the Fantastic Four series, playing principally Frankie Ray and Nova. From Motown, she hooked up with Trident Records to release “Does She Know”, before switching to Canterbury Records, owned by Mattel Toys. The operation was overseen by Ken Handler, the real life model for Barbie doll’s partner! It appears her aunt and mother were the label’s A&R directors, writing and producing for Joanie Sommers, Alex Valdez and Yellow Balloon, among others. As Lisa Miller, she worked with the Lewis Sisters to record the “Within Myself” album, from which a Christmas single “The Loneliest Christmas Tree” was lifted in 1967. Cyclone Records were next, where she recorded “Castles In The Sky”, again working with the Lewis Sisters. Then during the late eighties, Motorcity Records’ Ian Levine recorded Lisa as Leeza Miller, on a two tracks “Tomorrow Never Comes” and “Sign Of A Heartache, while her biggest achievement of all was working with Sergio Mendes in 1983 where she sang lead on “Never Gonna Let You Go”.

I’ve mentioned the Lewis Sisters, Helen and Kay, and of course they’re featured on this CD with their self penned “Honey Don’t Leave Me” with – check this out – Gloria Jones, Blinky Wiliams and Edna Wright on backing vocals. Edna, by the way, was working as a secretary in Motown’s West Coast office at the time. The Sisters’ talent gradually came into the public domain as, alongside their two singles, it was surprising, yet gratifying, to learn just how much backroom work they achieved for other acts. Working as writers and recording demo tracks for the likes of The Supremes, it seems they also recorded forty plus songs themselves. Of course, the classic, all-time diamond we know and love, “You Need Me” remains high on any soul fans’ list of favourites; mine included. Atmospherically exciting with echo-bathed vocals, or as one reviewer put it, the song was given “a cavernous uptown sound, with sumptuous strings rising and falling”, it was so untypical of the Motown sound. Kay Lewis said Berry Gordy produced the session – and it was frightening! “He was wonderful. Berry became a really close friend of ours too, but at the time it was a little scary. The added reverb happened when Helen and I went back to Detroit. He wanted it to sound like the Righteous Brothers.” This was the final single although they continued to write for Motown through to 1966, and, of course, they played a cameo role in the 1972 movie “Lady Sings The Blues”, starring Diana Ross playing the lead role of Billie Holiday.

In the extremely informative booklet accompanying “Baby I’ve Got It!” Thelma Brown contacted the compilers to talk about her stay at Motown, and, if I may, I’ll liberate a few words here. In 1963, when she was 12 years old and performing at the Elks Club in her home town of Lockport, New York, she was heard by Harvey Fuqua and his wife Gwen Gordy. They liked what they heard and invited her to stay with them at their Detroit house for the summer to “do some singing”. This later led to her recording four tracks at Hitsville, with talk of her duetting with Stevie Wonder, which, for some reason, never happened. Thelma’s recordings – “Dear Parents”, “Cookie Boy” and “Dance Yeah Dance” (which appeared on the “Finders Keepers – Motown Girls 1961-67”) were among Harvey and Gwen’s first productions, and when their Harvey and Tri Phi labels amalgamated with Berry Gordy, Thelma became a Motown artist. “Cookie Boy”, included here, was recorded in August 1963, and once the summer holiday with Harvey and Gwen was over, Thelma returned home. She subsequently heard nothing from anyone at Motown and certainly remained in the dark as to the fate of her recording sessions. That is, until she heard “Dance Yeah Dance” had been released on CD. Apparently, Thelma never professionally performed again and contented herself with being a wife, mother and grandmother. However, she said, what a great way to spend a summer holiday.

Berry Gordy signed the big-voiced and big-haired Liz Lands to crack the R&B market. With her six octave vocal range, he felt she was the ideal vehicle to give Motown the presence it needed. Of the 100 or so songs she recorded between 1963-64 only a handful were released. Mostly were spirituals or standard tunes, with the exception of “It’s Crazy Baby”, included here. Recognised from her promotional pictures as the lady with the beehive hair atop her head, Liz was born in 1939 in the Georgian Islands and relocated to New York City when she was five years old. Studying classical music, she was tethered to Dr Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference when she first met Berry Gordy in Detroit. This led to her debut single, “We Shall Overcome” being issued on Motown’s short-lived Divinity imprint during 1963. The inspiriting gospel performance was later re-issued on Gordy with the flipside of Martin Luther King’s resounding speech “I Have A Dream”. Also released in the December was a tribute to the fallen President John Kennedy titled “May What He Lived For Live”. Berry Gordy had supported the young, handsome President and intended to use this song, which he co-wrote, as a means of his respect and love. Copies of the single were actually sent to the White House, whereupon it appears Jackie Kennedy wrote back with her thanks. Berry Gordy needed to push Ms Lands into the mainstream market, so opted to record the above-average pop song “Midnight Johnny” with The Temptations and The Andantes as support vocalists. Using The Temptations was a wise move as “The Way You Do The Things You Do” was rapidly climbing the American chart. “Midnight Johnny” was later covered by Connie Haines, while its flipside “Keep Me” was re-done by The Originals. In hindsight, Liz’s single didn’t stand a chance because she was sandwiched between Motown’s A-team that included Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing In The Street”, The Contours’ “Can You Jerk Like Me?”, and, of course, the quickly rising Temptations. With her career a non-starter hit-wise, it ended before it had really started, so she left Motown to join the Chicago-based One-derful Records during 1967 to issue “One Man’s Poison” in particular.

Finally in this month’s tribute to some of Motown’s pioneering ladies of song – Miss Oma Page, sister of Gene and Billy, respected composers and producers. In between his duets with Mary Wells and Kim Weston, it transpired Marvin Gaye had recorded with Oma Heard. However, further investigation led to her surname generating a mystery, to put it mildly. So, let’s see if I can get this right. Oma Heard was introduced to Motown when Mary Wells left with the intention of replacing her. Marvin recorded five duets with her, four of which appeared on the 1990 “Marvin Gaye Collection” box set where she was credited incorrectly as Oma Page. According to “The Complete Motown Singles Volume 4” notes, the confusion arose when their duet tapes, recorded in Los Angeles, were transferred to Detroit, and were filed incorrectly under Oma Page. The situation worsened because there was a genuine Oma Page recording already in the can, a version of Carolyn Crawford’s “When Someone’s Good To You”, and that’s included here. Berry Gordy then made the decision not to sign Oma Page so no further recordings were made with her. Phew, hope that’s right now. But it does prove that a typing error can lead to all sorts of bewildering speculations. (Oma Heard’s Motown releases included “Lifetime Man”/”My Lonely Heart” in September 1964 on the VIP imprint, and in November 1969 as part of the girl group Dorothy, Oma & Zelpha on “Henry Blake”, via a licensing deal with Chisa.)

Aw, have run out of space this time, so we’ll continue next month, visiting the tracks by the more heavyweight artists, like Brenda Holloway, Kim Weston, Patrice Holloway, Martha and the Vandellas, Mary Wells, The Marvelettes, and Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Thank you again for your continued support, and hope you’ve found some interest in my overview of one of this year’s most significant releases so far which, once again, has gone a long way to completing our collections and, probably more importantly, reminding us of the unsung heroines who often go unnoticed, yet their contributions to the fledgling company was so momentous.

 

April Reissue & Recent CD Reviews

April Reissue & Recent CD Reviews

CROWN HEIGHTS AFFAIR DANCE LADY DANCE-SURE SHOT-THINK POSITIVE (ROBINSONGS)

So here’s the deal: three albums across two CDs crammed with dance, funk and ballads. Some have full blown group vocals while others the lead singer with sympathetic support voices, but all melting together in the style so significant in the late seventies/early eighties when competition was fierce. Founded by Donnie Linton in 1967, the group from New York City had a sketchy start until their “Dreaming A Dream” in 1975 registered them as crossover US hit makers. The opening cut on this set, “Dance Lady Dance” shot into the US top twenty and hit the UK top fifty, marking their third chart entry. The guys bought to the table their own brand of disco; a rich, all-inclusive sound, almost on the verge of overflowing with horns, percussion and keyboards. Amidst the dance, the occasional ray of eloquent soul shines through. “Empty Soul Of Mine” is a good example. A strongly flavoured ballad of emotional moments that gently tug at the heart. “Heart Upside Down” is another, with its impassioned vocals against a warm, comforting musical backdrop.

To be fair, the uptempo cuts are on the ball, of the minute, bringing home a healthy blend of decisive beats and attractive hook lines that often are quite inspiring. Check out “Think Positive”, a hard hitting rap track where the repetitious, grinding pace is highlighted by vocal breaks, while “You’ve Been Gone” jogs along like a train travelling over railway tracks. Then there’s the tempo change in “I See The Light” which reminded me of Earth Wind & Fire, and “Use Your Body & Soul”, with a rap section midway through, interrupting blistering vocals over a clipped disco beat. And last but certainly not least, classic Crown Heights Affair with “You Gave Me Love”, their biggest selling UK title, hitting the top ten. Heavy, meaty dance where the high spots are the repetitive ‘whoo hoo, whoo hoo’, and I can just imagine a dancefloor crammed with jumping dancers imitating this chorus. Think I’ll join them.
Rating: 8

M.F.S.B.: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (ROBINSONGS)

I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally receive this Collection because my love for this orchestra is on the same level as my feelings for the Salsoul Orchestra, which, of course, is totally reasonable. Why? Well, when M.F.S.B. fractured due to financial disagreements with Gamble & Huff, several musicians actually switched to the Salsoul Orchestra, spearheaded by Vince Montana Jr. Anyway, back to this review. A pool of thirty-plus hand-picked studio musicians who worked with Gamble & Huff in the Philadelphia Sigma Sound Studios, M.F.S.B. (an acronym of Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, in line with the spiritual views of Gamble & Huff, although another meaning was given to the initials by musicians when complimenting another’s musical expertise) were legendary in providing lush and sumptuous music for artists like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The Stylistics and The Spinners. Comprising a mixture of multi-talented musicians of all ages, some self-taught or classically trained – like Norman Harris, Bob Babbitt, Earl Young, Vince Montana Jr and Bobby Eli – who became household names, unlike, say, Berry Gordy’s inhouse unit because he insisted they remained nameless, despite them being responsible for the very foundation of what is known as ‘The Motown Sound’. Then, in the early seventies, M.F.S.B. thankfully became recordings artists in their own right when their second single, the theme to the US groundbreaking music show “Soul Train” was released under the title “T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)” with the added attraction of The Three Degrees. This timeless slice of sophisticated dance tore the international charts apart, selling over one million copies in America alone. The same combination was used again on “Love Is The Message”, another beautifully orchestrated piece, perfect in every respect, and a true legacy of the Philadelphia sound which would grow into a musical giant across the world. The song became one of the first to be inducted into the newly formed Dance Music Hall Of Fame in 2004.

So, this first “Double Definitive Collection” includes full-length versions of their biggest tracks, including “Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto” featuring the Philadelphia International All Stars. This was a project initiated by Gamble & Huff to support a five-year inner city programme, with all profits earmarked for this cause. What else? There’s “K-Jee” featured in the film and soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever”; a semi-funk “Backstabbers”; an earthy delivery on “Family Affair”; a spiced up “Philadelphia Freedom” which go hand-in-hand with a mellow “South Philly” and a powerful disco based “Get Down With The Philly Sound”. The entire 2-CD package overflows with a musical elegance, enhanced with a dusting of classy melodies and hook lines that extend far and beyond the confines of session musicians. Whether the track is dance orientated, pulsating up tempo or dreamy ballad, the unique orchestral styling of M.F.S.B. is immediately recognisable, and it’s faultless in presentation. They are the very soul of Philadelphia. OK, I realise I’m biased but can’t help myself.
Rating: 10

HAYWOODE: ROSES: REMIXES & RARITIES (CHERRY RED RECORDS)
The gal with the crazy hairstyle and floppy straw hat! Hey, but that was the eighties. One of our precious homegrown singers, Sid remained the girl-next-door, a fab friend and a great talker, and this never changed when her star began rising with crossover hits. We met regularly, and her CBS press agent discovered it was best for our interviews to be at the close of the day because Sid and I like to party afterwards. Anyway, that aside. Released as the companion to the top selling “Arrival” reissue, Sid’s music on this double CD package has been re-mastered from original CBS tapes, and bring together a selection of her most sought after re-mixes. All from the eighties, these cover some rare sides and previously unreleased titles spanning her stay at the record company. It’s wall-to-wall dance music – pop, hi- energy, hard funk meets classic eighties disco – re-mixed by a host of influential names of the decade, like Mike Barbiero and Steve Thompson, who would later work with Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin, among others. And their mix of “Roses”, her third single, starts this sometimes frenetic journey. “It’s funky pop and the lyric of not having a man mess me around resonated with me” she said. Her debut single “A Time Like This” here mixed by Nick Martinelli (both 7” and 12”) is quite amazing. Recorded in Philadelphia for her debut US market outing, the track was canned in preference to “Roses”. Bypassing, her second single “Single Handed”, a Detroit extended mix of “I Can’t Let You Go” – which I’ve always loved – has an amazing driving beat. “…totally re-recorded in Detroit with Bruce Nazarian and Duane Bradley it gives the song a more ‘live’ jazzy band feel” said Sid. “(Together with) the sax and piano flavoured pop-soul-funk elements that I was personally vibe with.” Interestingly, there’s a couple of groovy instrumentals here too, “You’d Better Not Fool Around” and “I Can’t Let You Go”, a pleasant diversion for sure.

Talking about “I’m Your Puppet”, Sid’s take on the James and Bobby Purify classic, she explained it was her father’s favourite tune which inspired her to record it. “Music was like food in our house…I was uber-delighted when I found out I was to record it in the home of Philly Soul and work with Nick. These memories of that trip stand out for me.” All credit to her, the song is beautifully constructed and delivered. Sid co-wrote “My Kind Of Hero”, a welcoming ballad sung with a certain commitment – “It does have a Tina Turner feel to the backing track which wasn’t intentional on my part, although she is an inspirational stage goddess for me.” Stock, Aitken and Waterman were the power behind “You’d Better Not Fool Around” which was partly re-recorded and re-mixed before hitting the public as a single. “I like the vocal melody and ‘man, get ya act together’ lyric.” It’s another full-on slice of dance, with a scorching feel and atmosphere. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the CD, in its eye-catching packaging, closes with The Haywoode Mega-Mix comprising five belting tracks that take no prisoners. Summing up, this package is overflowing with energy, youthful enthusiasm and Sid’s total commitment to her music. And there’s more to come as a new album is in the planning stages for release this year, with a promise of UK dates. What more could we want? “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your interest and support of my music over the years. It truly means the world to me.”
Rating: 9

NORMAN BEAKER BAND: WE SEE US LATER (WEINERWORLD)

Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame during 2017 as a legendary blues artist, Norman Beaker wrote and produced this studio album, which I believe has previously been available digitally, and features sixteen tracks covering different styles – but all with a deep rooted blues feel. I’ve seen the Norman Beaker Band perform at my local theatre several times, both as support to Chris Farlowe and as a separate unit, where their music bounces from the stage into the standing room only audience. They really are party nights. Although Norman is deadly serious about his music, he performs with a sense of humour which he believes is a good balance between the music and old comedy, like that delivered by Tony Hancock, whom he also loves. This is openly apparent when the group perform with Chris Farlowe because they’re for ever scoring points off each other. Seriously though, Norman and the guys have toured extensively with the likes of Graham Bond, Chuck Berry and Van Morrison, and worked as session musicians for James Booker and Jack Bruce, among others. The opening track here, “Only I Got What The Other Guys Want”, sets the pace, and the journey into the world of the blues according to Norman begins. Particular highlights are “Time And Tide” featuring Steve Ellis on vocals, and “I Don’t Want A Lover” with Larry Garner supporting on vocals and guitar. Also highly recommended – the earthy “Hard To Be Somebody” and the tormented “Cheating Love”. Norman Beaker has been at the forefront of British blues for over four decades, and although the genre isn’t a particular favourite of mine, I’m grateful to him for educating me through his visits to my town.
Rating: 7

 

 

 

March Reissue & New CD Reviews

March Reissue & New CD Reviews

MICHAEL HENDERSON: TAKE ME I’M YOURS: THE BUDDAH YEARS ANTHOLOGY  (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

Compiled by SoulMusic Records’ founder David Nathan, this is another in the celebrated anthology series, so respected by serious collectors of soul music. Here we enjoy Michigan-born Michael Henderson, talented bass guitarist of both the fusion and jazz/soul eras who – citing Motown’s James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt as his prime influences – has a history steeped in varying musical achievements.  Briefly, he paid his dues working with The Detroit Emeralds and a young Stevie Wonder after meeting the latter at Chicago’s Regal Theatre, before contributing to recording sessions at Motown with Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and David Ruffin, among others.  Probably best known for working with the renowned jazz artist Miles Davis during the early seventies, after a chance hook up at New York’s Copacabana, Michael and Miles spent seven years together before Michael embarked upon a solo career at Buddah Records.  So, with the first track and hit “You Are My Starship”, featuring jazz drummer Norman Connors, the adventure began in establishing Michael as a bankable artist in his own right.  We’re then introduced to tracks spotlighting major singers, Phyllis Hyman, Roberta Flack and Jean Carn, which are, of course, an absolute delight. On the other hand, the pace changes as Michael hits the funk/dance market with “Wide Receiver”, with its passing reference to smoking dope, while he pulled on his working with Marvin Gaye to record “In The Night-Time”, and paid tribute to Jackie Wilson with “To Be Loved”, penned by Berry Gordy, and featuring Philadelphia International’s wonderful MFSB.  This release offers all fifteen of Michael’s US hit singles – the top five R&B charter “Take Me I’m Yours”, and crossover titles including “Be My Girl” and “I Can’t Help It” – and represents a compelling retrospective of this multi-talented guy during his tenure at Buddah Records between 1976 – 1983, where the music ranges from blistering rhythms, graceful melodies and mellow, sympathetic vocals, and all from the man who learnt to play the bass guitar because he loved James Jamerson.
Rating: 9

JONATHAN BUTLER: SARAH, SARAH: THE ANTHOLOGY (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

Put on your pjs and settle down for a relaxing couple of hours with this highly acclaimed South African singer/composer and this anthology of his work that divides itself from scorching upbeat to deep soul ballads. And, of course, it’s the latter that instantly grabbed my attention, so with that in mind, I wrapped myself around the second CD’s music. Easing in with “One More Dance”, brimming over with undiluted soul that’s both gentle and persuasive, followed by “Say We’ll Be Together” offering a simple yet strong melody, I was basking in a glorious world of make believe. Both songs are intensely satisfying to this lady’s soul. A crass slice of synthesised funk, “There’s One Born Every Minute (I’m A Sucker For You)” interrupted my love train, but then, bam, in comes the biggie “True Love Never Fails” featuring Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Strong, intoxicating, with a vibrant blending of voices, bring home most dramatically the power of love. Draining, of course, but in a bewitching way. Thankfully, the following tracks “Melodie”, an instrumental, and “It’s So Hard To Let You Go” with its sumptuous sax break, soothe away all the previous drama and passion. Soft calypso flows through “All Grow’d Up” where the climax is a welcomed burst of support voices, and this mood follows into the little busier “Heal Our Land”; a potent statement song. Let’s not forget either the emotionally charged “Sarah, Sarah”, one of Jonathan’s biggest hits. Turning to the first CD now, where a highlight is his duet with Ruby Turner “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”, their take on the Staple Singers’ classic, although the emotionally charged “Love Hurts So Bad” is my personal favourite here. With a tempo change in “I’ll Be Waiting For Your Love”, and the atmospheric and compelling “Afrika” and “7th Avenue South”, this is a well-rounded CD. The Anthology covers Jonathan’s best between 1985 – 1990 released via Jive Records, a company he joined in 1977. Combining instrumentals, with sweet soul ballads to die for, and a handful of fast hitting movers across thirty-plus tracks, this is the most satisfying afternoon I’ve spent in a long while.
Rating: 9

KAY-GEES: KEEP ON BUMPIN’ & MASTERPLAN/FIND A FRIEND/KILOWATT (ROBINSONGS)

Being protégés of Kool & the Gang, these guys were a spin-off group that forged a place for themselves in the funk/R&B singles chart. Although not nearly as successful as their mentors, the Kay-Gees did make respectable strides to generate excitement and sales in this somewhat exclusive market. Until now, my knowledge of them was next to little, so was pleasantly surprised to be treated to acceptable, occasionally outstanding music. The driving force behind the Kay-Gees was Kevin Bell, younger brother of Robert and Ronald who co-founded Kool & the Gang, so similarity between the two groups is to be expected. This double CD package covers their first trio of albums plus bonus tracks including two 12” mixes of “Kilowatt”, a mighty, powerful cannon of sound. The US R&B hits are all here, starting with their first, the party-themed “You’ve Got To Keep On Bumpin’”, the part-title of their debut album issued on the Gang label, set up by Kool and the guys to cater for their side projects, under the mother company De-Lite. The second hit, with its chanting vocals, “Master Plan” peaked in the top sixty, much lower than their first placing, while “Get Down” returned the group to the top forty, earning them their biggest selling item. The theme from the US television show “Party” was next – “Hustle Wit Every Muscle”, while the catchy, hypnotic “Waiting At The Bus Stop” was, ironically, one of their poorest sellers. Yet its striding, stimulating beat is so immediate thanks to the repetitive chorus, just begging to be bought and played over. However, it’s not all dance floor material with relentless funk beats because the semi-paced “On The Money”, preceded by a peaceful “Find A Friend (Prelude)” breaks the mood. Likewise, “Be Real”, an upbeat soul injection of sound, while “Thank You Dear Lord” has pure, layered harmonies from the band, Tomorrow’s Edition and Something Sweet. Obviously, Kool & the Gang’s influence is noticeable throughout: masses of brass, synthesiser interludes, tight harmonies, choppy guitars and mountains of likeability. It’s the group’s razor sharp approach to funk that enabled them to make a huge footprint on the dance floor, without dropping the rawness that launched them. So, if Kool & the Gang are for you, then this release will sit easily in your record collection. Me? I’m funked out!
Rating: 7

DIANE SHAW: SECOND CHANCE (MECCA RECORDS)

It’s been a long three year wait but Diane’s second album wasn’t simply released – it exploded like cannon fire into the public domain. Such was the anticipation for this album that her management was badgered for sneak previews from the day she announced she was in the studio recording it. Me included! Tell me, can there be a soul fan who hasn’t heard of Diane Shaw – our very own, home grown soul stylist who, modestly, has eclipsed many boasting the same title? I doubt it. So, how do you follow “Love, Life And Strings”, easily one of the best releases of 2015? Well, you don’t do you. You move gracefully forward with sights set upon delivering another landmark album, and by all things emotional, Diane has cracked it again. Already dominating most respected soul charts across the country, this collection of material is high octane – from the choice of songs, the music arrangements bringing out the very best from tight, sympathetic and well-honed musicians, and of course the obligatory support vocalists. The opening track “Remember Me” is cleverly paced as it strums along side stepping a deep unobtrusive rhythm, while “Through The Rain” gently weaves itself around sweeping melodies and plaintive voices; the calm feeling is almost contagious with its familiar sound. Cherry picking songs from the American soul songbook, Diane’s faultless presentation in voice and lyric interpretation is unique to her individual persona and the recognisable timbre of her voice, as she switches from ballad to uptempo with ease. Already lifted as a single, “The Day I Found Myself” gave a little insight into the pending album while not preparing us for “Shall I Wait For You” as it slowly manifested itself into a top rate soul track, nor the sultry, yet gracious “All Or Nothing”, with its impeccable sax work. This made way for a meaty, funky “I’ve Got To Feel It” complete with that recognisable rhythm which Diane loves so much, leaving the full, upbeat and brassy “Love Has No Right” – complete with hot blooded vocals – to deliver the punchiest of hook lines. With its relentless beat, the album’s title “Second Chance” easily becomes addictive, while…..Hah, I’m thinking now there’s little point in highlighting individual tracks because, quite simply, they’re all flawless – and that’s rare for someone like me with an inbuilt cynical system to admit. So, has Diane Shaw successfully followed her 2015 album? Hell yes – and then some!
Rating: 10

VARIOUS ARTISTS: THE VERY BEST OF TAPPAN ZEE RECORDS (ROBINSONGS)

Founded by keyboardist Bob James, the Tappan Zee label was named after the bridge he regularly drove over spanning the Hudson River, connecting Westchester County with the Metropolitan New York area. That aside, disc one is a welcoming mixture of blistering passion and sedate, easy listening with each track holding committed hook lines and melodies. Yet I felt the music failed to reach that ‘wow’ factor we’ve come to expect from such an articulately talented man. However, Richard Tee’s cool and soulful “Tell It Like It Is” brought a smile, likewise Mark Colby’s “On And On”. The second disc is a tad more adventurous, where mellow hits upbeat more aggressively, like Mr Tee’s funky “Jesus Children Of America” which perfectly flatters his gospel-tinged vocal cut “Every Day”. Mark Colby hits the funk edged road again with “Skat Talk, leaving “Peace Of Mind” to quieten the pace. Of Bob James himself, there’s six titles, including the somewhat reflective “Angela”, the theme from the television series “Taxi”, for which he provided all the music; “Brighton By The Sea” featuring Grover Washington Jr’s sax work, and “Westchester Lady” from his much acclaimed “Bob James 3” album. Wilbert Longmire’s “Black Is The Color” is the full length version, and his “Love’s Holiday” is a very convincing version of the Earth Wind & Fire track. Mr James is, of course, steeped in music history, from being discovered by Quincy Jones, who signed him to Mercury Records to release his first tentative step into jazz with the album “Bold Conceptions” in 1963. From here, he worked with Sarah Vaughan, Creed Taylor, and later Stanley Turrentine, among others. Cutting a long and productive story short, Bob James opened his own label, Tappan Zee, to produce some incredibly classy music, which, I’m afraid, failed to capture my interest.
Rating: 6

 

 

 

Motown Spotlight - January 2018

Motown Spotlight – January 2018

As I mentioned “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the last couple of months, it got me thinking about Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell again. So I dug out my vinyl copy of the emotionally charged “You’re All I Need” to play in the background as I put those thoughts into notes, and which led me to this….

With Marvin’s duet success with Mary Wells and Kim Weston still ringing in his ears, Berry Gordy needed to find another singing partner for him. A move Marvin would later claim to be “another money making scheme on BG’s part.” Nonetheless, when new Motown signing Tammi Terrell was introduced to Marvin, he liked her on sight. “It was a pleasure for me” Marvin said at the time. “I wanted to work with (her)…she was pretty, nice. She was soft, warm and sweet, yet misunderstood. Yes, I enjoyed working with her.“ From that first meeting, he realised Tammi was a worldly woman who had lived life in the fast lane, yet once they started singing together, she changed “into a warm, special and hopeful woman.” This musical combination resulted in top selling singles that delighted lovers the world over. It seems so ironic that while they epitomised the perfect couple, each had suffered from abusive partners, either physically or mentally. Marvin’s marriage to Anna Gordy had soured, and Tammi had escaped from a series of unsuitable relationships. Yet from the ashes that were left, the perfect musical partnership rose, inspired by another duo, writers Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, who wrote of the real love Marvin felt was missing in his failed marriage. The fact that the lyrics they sang were an extension of the writers’ love for each other, or an imaginative play on words, didn’t cross the singer’s mind.

Tammi’s sister, Ludie Montgomery believed that teaming up with Marvin was a liberating move for her. Tammi, she said, felt creative and free, enabling her to forge an emotional connection with Marvin, Valerie and Nickolas. Her relationship with producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol was by now solid anyway, so the future promised fulfilment and success for the young, shy singer and the angry, hurt sex idol. With everything in place, the musical adventure began in January 1967 when Tammi recorded her vocals for the song (Marvin recorded his a month later) that was earmarked to launch them into the extremely lucrative duet market. Aptly titled “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, it was the perfect signature tune for their future career together. Berry Gordy noted in his autobiography “To Be Loved” that Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol’s production – “added a new sophisticated and dramatic element to the overall sound. When their first production on Marvin and Tammi was brought into the Friday meeting, there was no debate.” In June 1967 the single shot into the US mainstream top twenty, and top three in the R&B listing. Shamefully, the UK didn’t share their American colleagues’ enthusiasm. Not only did it burn up the US charts, but the song was also nominated for a Grammy award, and, of course, went on to be re-recorded several times, including the magnificent, re-working by Diana Ross which ingenuously mixed ballad, drama and dance.

As noted previously, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” wasn’t born as a song for two, but working with Marvin and Tammi, its composers realised it could easily be adapted. As with several of their duets, Tammi laid down her vocals first, although in this instance, it was done because she hadn’t learned the lyrics. However, when Marvin heard the pre-recorded track, he said he could feel her presence which, in turn, made him more alive, and as Johnny Bristol told Ludie Montgomery for her book “My Sister Tommie”, it cemented the singers’ respect and love for each other – “Friendship transcended the presence and they both didn’t have to be there to capture the feeling.” Johnny also felt the song established a spiritual connection for everyone associated with the song. and that when Marvin later joined them in the studio, “He had a fun time and everyone felt the same about the sessions. It was a great environment working with Tammi and Marvin. They did what they did naturally.” All worked comfortably together, tagging themselves the ‘riff brothers’, with Tammi the ‘riff sister’. “They had a magical …. connection, and when they sang they sounded like they (had known) each other their entire lives.”

Marvin told author David Ritz in his book “Divided Soul” that Tammi was a woman who could not be controlled by men. “I loved that about (her). I knew we could be friends, but not lovers. Independent women hold no romantic interest for me.” He conceded though that when they were singing together, they were in love, but this was the result of him creating two characters – “two lovers that might have been taken from a play or a novel…. that’s how the Marvin-and-Tammi characters were born.”

With the runaway success of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came distress. Six months after its release, in October 1967, Tammi collapsed on stage during a performance before four thousand students, at Virginia’s Hampton-Sydney College. Part way through their third song, as she fell, Marvin grabbed her by the arms, and carried her off stage. Having suffered from dizziness and migraine headaches for some time, Tammi had been feeling ill before the 8pm concert, so took time out to recuperate on a couch backstage, while Marvin played poker with his musicians in a nearby room. Rumours ran amok as to the reason for her collapse. Past boyfriends, including David Ruffin, were blamed due to their violent behaviour towards her, and indeed, it is in the public domain that she was hit about the head with a hammer and, on another occasion, pushed down a flight of stairs. However, at the time, the guessing game was in first gear. Motown eventually released a press statement confirming that a slow growing malignant tumour on the right side of Tammi’s brain had been diagnosed. When Marvin realised just how sick his singing partner was, he was inconsolable, a feeling that, by the way, never left him. Thankfully, Tammi slowly recovered from surgery to continue recording, where the first sessions included “You’re All I Need To Get By”.

Meanwhile, the British market also failed to support the duo’s second release “Your Precious Love”, reminiscent of the floating Moonglows’ style, and again lifted from their debut “United” album. It sold better than its predecessor by soaring into the US top five, and narrowly missing the R&B top spot, during the September. A Valerie Simpson favourite, because it was one of the first written with the duettists in mind, and, “there was something very sexy about the way they did it.” Featuring Harvey Fuqua, Marvin and Tammi on backing vocals, Valerie acknowledged to Ludie Montgomery, Tammi’s additional input, including the ad-libs – “that’s why it was so great to have them both in the studio together because they would bounce off each other. “ During the life of “Your Precious Love”, Tammi was pictured on crutches, sneaking into The Cherry Hill Theatre/Restaurant in Camden, New Jersey, to watch Marvin perform. It was an emotional scene to witness.

With no UK action so far, sighs of relief must have been heard in Motown’s London office, when the third outing “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”, recorded in the Hitsville studio between 16 and 21 March 1967, crept into the British top fifty during January 1968, launching their musical love affair. Once again the single hovered below the US R&B top spot but peaked in the top ten.

Marvin and Tammi’s first single of 1968, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, lifted from their second album “You’re All I Need”, faired better than their previous British release by peaking in the top forty, while across the Atlantic, it managed to top the R&B chart and was their second pop top ten hit. Marvin recalled recording that particular song because they were trying different kinds of riffs and note changes to challenge each other, “and that’s how that song is as melodic and syncopated in the way that it is…. We really had fun recording that.” And the album itself re-established their vinyl love affair – they cried, rejoiced, teased, pledging unremitting emotions. It was their first hour, but recorded under the direst of circumstances due to Tammi’s failing health, as noted in the album’s sleeve notes. It seems that when “You’re All I Need” was issued, Tammi, had undergone at least six operations, and was in hospital, later recuperating in the Bahamas. “I’m feeling fine” she said in an interview at the time. Learning to knit while in hospital made her feel like a grandma, she continued, and upon returning home she started cooking and eating soul food. “I went down to ninety-three pounds in the hospital and now I weigh one hundred and twenty-five.” Her hair, shorn for surgery, was almost natural now. “But, for a while there, my father said I looked just like him.” It was also reported that she was partially sighted and had lost some of her motor functions, hence the crutches or wheelchair. However, it’s thought that Tammi’s sheer determination to return to work pulled her through, and her nagging depressive moods at missing performing with Marvin just as their star was rising, began lifting. However, despite all her best intentions, doctors insisted she stick to a limited work schedule, had daily concentrated rest periods, with live performances a no-go area. It was also disclosed that Motown paid her medical bills.

It was a tragedy. Tammi Terrell was, at last, in a position to shrug off her past struggling years, but was now unable to enjoy them. Promotional work was also difficult. With their chart success, it was obvious the public wanted to see them, and tour promoters, television shows and the media in general, flooded to feature them. Some commitments were jointly honoured, but when Tammi was unable to join him, it was a reluctant Marvin who went it alone without being able to divulge the true nature of his partner’s absence. In the end, Motown singer Barbara Randolph replaced Tammi on stage, a move she wasn’t comfortable with, as she told me. “It was very difficult working with him because these were his troubled years. For example, I was booked to appear at the Apollo with him, and it was one of the many occasions he didn’t show up. I ended up appearing there alone which was really frightening. It was scary (because) they throw hard boiled eggs. And the audience was waiting for Marvin.” Nevertheless, Barbara had nothing but admiration for him, saying she never heard him raise his voice in anger, or get into any type of loud situation. “He was extremely likeable, easy going, and a very mellow person…I admired him before I ever worked with him.” Meanwhile, Tammi concentrated on recording and, apparently, was often seen in the studio singing from a wheelchair or balanced between crutches.

“You’re All I Need To Get By”, with Ashford and Simpson on backing vocals, finally crashed the UK top twenty in October 1968, and once again Marvin and Tammi dominated the US R&B listing, this time, for five consecutive weeks, and racked up another top ten mainstream hit.

Into 1969, and with The Andantes and The Originals as session singers, another track from the “You’re All I Need” album, “You Ain’t Livin’ ‘Till Your Lovin’” hit the UK top thirty in the June, while the States opted for “Keep On Lovin’ Me Honey”; top thirty and twenty in the US pop and R&B charts respectively. Marvin’s solo status was about to drastically change when, slotted in between the run of duets, his “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” shot to the top of the UK chart, with repeat performances across the world. The game plan was changing, Marvin was now an international name and, of course, much in demand. The single’s runaway success had taken Marvin and Motown by surprise. Having been recorded early-1967, Marvin’s was the second version to be released (the first by Gladys Knight and the Pips, although the very first take was an album track by The Miracles on their 1968 “Special Occasion”). Marvin’s moody interpretation, a stroke of genius by producer Norman Whitfield, was hidden away on his “In The Groove” album. However, it didn’t stay concealed for long because it grabbed the attention of some American radio DJs who gave it serious airtime, leaving Berry Gordy no option but to release it as a single. Prior to this international chart topper, Marvin had several solo outings to his credit, including “You’re Unchanging Love”, “You” and “Chained”, while in January 1969, Tammi released her only solo album “Irresistible”, from which a series of singles were extracted.

However, both artists were committed to further duets, and were in the process of completing a third album “Easy”, when one of its tracks, the musical jewel “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy To Come By” was lifted during June 1969. Hitting the top thirty on both sides of the Atlantic, plus a top twenty placing in the R&B listing, the public was unaware of the turmoil created behind closed studio doors due to an ailing Tammi. Next out in America was another track “What You Gave Me”, while Motown in Britain chose “The Onion Song” for November 1969 release. Despite its cheesy title, the song actually reflected social consciousness although did appear to be a little slice of nonsense upon first hearing. In hindsight, the song was probably more suited to the British market, but following its unexpected top ten success, America released it during March 1970, to falter in the top fifty, and the R&B top forty.

Over the years, much as been said about their last studio album “Easy” with a somewhat shoddy, unattractive painting by Carl Owens on the front sleeve. Fans had no reason to believe that the music inside wasn’t an authentic Marvin and Tammi release. However, when it was leaked from Motown that Tammi was unable to record, doubts were cast. It’s now on public record that Marvin actually did not want to work on this album because his singing partner was too ill, and that the suggestion of a replacement singer would not only deceive the public, but destroy the special, intimate relationship he shared with Tammi. However, he changed his mind when Berry Gordy confirmed that Tammi and her family would benefit from the album’s sales and any extracted singles. After much speculation, it’s now thought that the majority of the album tracks were authentic, and when two or three titles were needed to complete the project, Valerie Simpson stepped in. A move she has both confirmed and denied, by saying she helped Tammi sing her parts. In a later interview, Marvin revealed Tammi didn’t record much on the album at all, and confirmed Valerie had recorded “The Onion Song” and “What You Gave Me”. Saying she had faithfully captured Tammi’s voice, skilfully imitating her distinctive style and only someone who had worked so intimately with her could possibly have pulled this off. And also as Valerie had probably recorded several of their demos, she was the obvious ‘culprit’. In hindsight, this is irrelevant. It isn’t the first time Motown’s marketing department has stretched the truth. Didn’t The Andantes record with Diana Ross, yet records were released showing “Diana Ross and the Supremes” on the labels? We were none the wiser back then. It’s only in recent times with the growing demand for unreleased material that studio paperwork revealed we had been misled. Having said that, with the “Easy” front sleeve being a painting, fans, like myself, did question Tammi’s involvement in the recordings, although eventually accepted, having seen pictures of the ailing singer in the American press, that a new photo shoot for the project was out of the question. This didn’t affect our enjoyment of the album, despite it being a mixture of sounds. But our hearts went out to Miss Terrell.

While the UK was celebrating Motown’s 10th anniversary in 1970 – and after two and a half years of fighting her illness which entailed several hospital stays, where Marvin was a regular visitor – Tammi Terrell slipped into a coma and died from brain cancer complications on 16 March, a month before her twenty-fifth birthday. Fourteen years later, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father on 1 April, a day short of his forty-fifth birthday.

Valerie Simpson: “The chemistry between them was fantastic and while they never had a romance in real life, when they sang together ‘wow’, they were lovers.”

As I mentioned “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the last couple of months, it got me thinking about Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell again. So I dug out my vinyl copy of the emotionally charged “You’re All I Need” to play in the background as I put those thoughts into notes, and which led me to this….

With Marvin’s duet success with Mary Wells and Kim Weston still ringing in his ears, Berry Gordy needed to find another singing partner for him. A move Marvin would later claim to be “another money making scheme on BG’s part.” Nonetheless, when new Motown signing Tammi Terrell was introduced to Marvin, he liked her on sight. “It was a pleasure for me” Marvin said at the time. “I wanted to work with (her)…she was pretty, nice. She was soft, warm and sweet, yet misunderstood. Yes, I enjoyed working with her.“ From that first meeting, he realised Tammi was a worldly woman who had lived life in the fast lane, yet once they started singing together, she changed “into a warm, special and hopeful woman.” This musical combination resulted in top selling singles that delighted lovers the world over. It seems so ironic that while they epitomised the perfect couple, each had suffered from abusive partners, either physically or mentally. Marvin’s marriage to Anna Gordy had soured, and Tammi had escaped from a series of unsuitable relationships. Yet from the ashes that were left, the perfect musical partnership rose, inspired by another duo, writers Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, who wrote of the real love Marvin felt was missing in his failed marriage. The fact that the lyrics they sang were an extension of the writers’ love for each other, or an imaginative play on words, didn’t cross the singer’s mind.

Tammi’s sister, Ludie Montgomery believed that teaming up with Marvin was a liberating move for her. Tammi, she said, felt creative and free, enabling her to forge an emotional connection with Marvin, Valerie and Nickolas. Her relationship with producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol was by now solid anyway, so the future promised fulfilment and success for the young, shy singer and the angry, hurt sex idol. With everything in place, the musical adventure began in January 1967 when Tammi recorded her vocals for the song (Marvin recorded his a month later) that was earmarked to launch them into the extremely lucrative duet market. Aptly titled “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, it was the perfect signature tune for their future career together. Berry Gordy noted in his autobiography “To Be Loved” that Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol’s production – “added a new sophisticated and dramatic element to the overall sound. When their first production on Marvin and Tammi was brought into the Friday meeting, there was no debate.” In June 1967 the single shot into the US mainstream top twenty, and top three in the R&B listing. Shamefully, the UK didn’t share their American colleagues’ enthusiasm. Not only did it burn up the US charts, but the song was also nominated for a Grammy award, and, of course, went on to be re-recorded several times, including the magnificent, re-working by Diana Ross which ingenuously mixed ballad, drama and dance.

As noted previously, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” wasn’t born as a song for two, but working with Marvin and Tammi, its composers realised it could easily be adapted. As with several of their duets, Tammi laid down her vocals first, although in this instance, it was done because she hadn’t learned the lyrics. However, when Marvin heard the pre-recorded track, he said he could feel her presence which, in turn, made him more alive, and as Johnny Bristol told Ludie Montgomery for her book “My Sister Tommie”, it cemented the singers’ respect and love for each other – “Friendship transcended the presence and they both didn’t have to be there to capture the feeling.” Johnny also felt the song established a spiritual connection for everyone associated with the song. and that when Marvin later joined them in the studio, “He had a fun time and everyone felt the same about the sessions. It was a great environment working with Tammi and Marvin. They did what they did naturally.” All worked comfortably together, tagging themselves the ‘riff brothers’, with Tammi the ‘riff sister’. “They had a magical …. connection, and when they sang they sounded like they (had known) each other their entire lives.”

Marvin told author David Ritz in his book “Divided Soul” that Tammi was a woman who could not be controlled by men. “I loved that about (her). I knew we could be friends, but not lovers. Independent women hold no romantic interest for me.” He conceded though that when they were singing together, they were in love, but this was the result of him creating two characters – “two lovers that might have been taken from a play or a novel…. that’s how the Marvin-and-Tammi characters were born.”

With the runaway success of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came distress. Six months after its release, in October 1967, Tammi collapsed on stage during a performance before four thousand students, at Virginia’s Hampton-Sydney College. Part way through their third song, as she fell, Marvin grabbed her by the arms, and carried her off stage. Having suffered from dizziness and migraine headaches for some time, Tammi had been feeling ill before the 8pm concert, so took time out to recuperate on a couch backstage, while Marvin played poker with his musicians in a nearby room. Rumours ran amok as to the reason for her collapse. Past boyfriends, including David Ruffin, were blamed due to their violent behaviour towards her, and indeed, it is in the public domain that she was hit about the head with a hammer and, on another occasion, pushed down a flight of stairs. However, at the time, the guessing game was in first gear. Motown eventually released a press statement confirming that a slow growing malignant tumour on the right side of Tammi’s brain had been diagnosed. When Marvin realised just how sick his singing partner was, he was inconsolable, a feeling that, by the way, never left him. Thankfully, Tammi slowly recovered from surgery to continue recording, where the first sessions included “You’re All I Need To Get By”.

Meanwhile, the British market also failed to support the duo’s second release “Your Precious Love”, reminiscent of the floating Moonglows’ style, and again lifted from their debut “United” album. It sold better than its predecessor by soaring into the US top five, and narrowly missing the R&B top spot, during the September. A Valerie Simpson favourite, because it was one of the first written with the duettists in mind, and, “there was something very sexy about the way they did it.” Featuring Harvey Fuqua, Marvin and Tammi on backing vocals, Valerie acknowledged to Ludie Montgomery, Tammi’s additional input, including the ad-libs – “that’s why it was so great to have them both in the studio together because they would bounce off each other. “ During the life of “Your Precious Love”, Tammi was pictured on crutches, sneaking into The Cherry Hill Theatre/Restaurant in Camden, New Jersey, to watch Marvin perform. It was an emotional scene to witness.

With no UK action so far, sighs of relief must have been heard in Motown’s London office, when the third outing “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”, recorded in the Hitsville studio between 16 and 21 March 1967, crept into the British top fifty during January 1968, launching their musical love affair. Once again the single hovered below the US R&B top spot but peaked in the top ten.

Marvin and Tammi’s first single of 1968, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, lifted from their second album “You’re All I Need”, faired better than their previous British release by peaking in the top forty, while across the Atlantic, it managed to top the R&B chart and was their second pop top ten hit. Marvin recalled recording that particular song because they were trying different kinds of riffs and note changes to challenge each other, “and that’s how that song is as melodic and syncopated in the way that it is…. We really had fun recording that.” And the album itself re-established their vinyl love affair – they cried, rejoiced, teased, pledging unremitting emotions. It was their first hour, but recorded under the direst of circumstances due to Tammi’s failing health, as noted in the album’s sleeve notes. It seems that when “You’re All I Need” was issued, Tammi, had undergone at least six operations, and was in hospital, later recuperating in the Bahamas. “I’m feeling fine” she said in an interview at the time. Learning to knit while in hospital made her feel like a grandma, she continued, and upon returning home she started cooking and eating soul food. “I went down to ninety-three pounds in the hospital and now I weigh one hundred and twenty-five.” Her hair, shorn for surgery, was almost natural now. “But, for a while there, my father said I looked just like him.” It was also reported that she was partially sighted and had lost some of her motor functions, hence the crutches or wheelchair. However, it’s thought that Tammi’s sheer determination to return to work pulled her through, and her nagging depressive moods at missing performing with Marvin just as their star was rising, began lifting. However, despite all her best intentions, doctors insisted she stick to a limited work schedule, had daily concentrated rest periods, with live performances a no-go area. It was also disclosed that Motown paid her medical bills.

It was a tragedy. Tammi Terrell was, at last, in a position to shrug off her past struggling years, but was now unable to enjoy them. Promotional work was also difficult. With their chart success, it was obvious the public wanted to see them, and tour promoters, television shows and the media in general, flooded to feature them. Some commitments were jointly honoured, but when Tammi was unable to join him, it was a reluctant Marvin who went it alone without being able to divulge the true nature of his partner’s absence. In the end, Motown singer Barbara Randolph replaced Tammi on stage, a move she wasn’t comfortable with, as she told me. “It was very difficult working with him because these were his troubled years. For example, I was booked to appear at the Apollo with him, and it was one of the many occasions he didn’t show up. I ended up appearing there alone which was really frightening. It was scary (because) they throw hard boiled eggs. And the audience was waiting for Marvin.” Nevertheless, Barbara had nothing but admiration for him, saying she never heard him raise his voice in anger, or get into any type of loud situation. “He was extremely likeable, easy going, and a very mellow person…I admired him before I ever worked with him.” Meanwhile, Tammi concentrated on recording and, apparently, was often seen in the studio singing from a wheelchair or balanced between crutches.

“You’re All I Need To Get By”, with Ashford and Simpson on backing vocals, finally crashed the UK top twenty in October 1968, and once again Marvin and Tammi dominated the US R&B listing, this time, for five consecutive weeks, and racked up another top ten mainstream hit.

Into 1969, and with The Andantes and The Originals as session singers, another track from the “You’re All I Need” album, “You Ain’t Livin’ ‘Till Your Lovin’” hit the UK top thirty in the June, while the States opted for “Keep On Lovin’ Me Honey”; top thirty and twenty in the US pop and R&B charts respectively. Marvin’s solo status was about to drastically change when, slotted in between the run of duets, his “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” shot to the top of the UK chart, with repeat performances across the world. The game plan was changing, Marvin was now an international name and, of course, much in demand. The single’s runaway success had taken Marvin and Motown by surprise. Having been recorded early-1967, Marvin’s was the second version to be released (the first by Gladys Knight and the Pips, although the very first take was an album track by The Miracles on their 1968 “Special Occasion”). Marvin’s moody interpretation, a stroke of genius by producer Norman Whitfield, was hidden away on his “In The Groove” album. However, it didn’t stay concealed for long because it grabbed the attention of some American radio DJs who gave it serious airtime, leaving Berry Gordy no option but to release it as a single. Prior to this international chart topper, Marvin had several solo outings to his credit, including “You’re Unchanging Love”, “You” and “Chained”, while in January 1969, Tammi released her only solo album “Irresistible”, from which a series of singles were extracted.

However, both artists were committed to further duets, and were in the process of completing a third album “Easy”, when one of its tracks, the musical jewel “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy To Come By” was lifted during June 1969. Hitting the top thirty on both sides of the Atlantic, plus a top twenty placing in the R&B listing, the public was unaware of the turmoil created behind closed studio doors due to an ailing Tammi. Next out in America was another track “What You Gave Me”, while Motown in Britain chose “The Onion Song” for November 1969 release. Despite its cheesy title, the song actually reflected social consciousness although did appear to be a little slice of nonsense upon first hearing. In hindsight, the song was probably more suited to the British market, but following its unexpected top ten success, America released it during March 1970, to falter in the top fifty, and the R&B top forty.

Over the years, much as been said about their last studio album “Easy” with a somewhat shoddy, unattractive painting by Carl Owens on the front sleeve. Fans had no reason to believe that the music inside wasn’t an authentic Marvin and Tammi release. However, when it was leaked from Motown that Tammi was unable to record, doubts were cast. It’s now on public record that Marvin actually did not want to work on this album because his singing partner was too ill, and that the suggestion of a replacement singer would not only deceive the public, but destroy the special, intimate relationship he shared with Tammi. However, he changed his mind when Berry Gordy confirmed that Tammi and her family would benefit from the album’s sales and any extracted singles. After much speculation, it’s now thought that the majority of the album tracks were authentic, and when two or three titles were needed to complete the project, Valerie Simpson stepped in. A move she has both confirmed and denied, by saying she helped Tammi sing her parts. In a later interview, Marvin revealed Tammi didn’t record much on the album at all, and confirmed Valerie had recorded “The Onion Song” and “What You Gave Me”. Saying she had faithfully captured Tammi’s voice, skilfully imitating her distinctive style and only someone who had worked so intimately with her could possibly have pulled this off. And also as Valerie had probably recorded several of their demos, she was the obvious ‘culprit’. In hindsight, this is irrelevant. It isn’t the first time Motown’s marketing department has stretched the truth. Didn’t The Andantes record with Diana Ross, yet records were released showing “Diana Ross and the Supremes” on the labels? We were none the wiser back then. It’s only in recent times with the growing demand for unreleased material that studio paperwork revealed we had been misled. Having said that, with the “Easy” front sleeve being a painting, fans, like myself, did question Tammi’s involvement in the recordings, although eventually accepted, having seen pictures of the ailing singer in the American press, that a new photo shoot for the project was out of the question. This didn’t affect our enjoyment of the album, despite it being a mixture of sounds. But our hearts went out to Miss Terrell.

While the UK was celebrating Motown’s 10th anniversary in 1970 – and after two and a half years of fighting her illness which entailed several hospital stays, where Marvin was a regular visitor – Tammi Terrell slipped into a coma and died from brain cancer complications on 16 March, a month before her twenty-fifth birthday. Fourteen years later, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father on 1 April, a day short of his forty-fifth birthday.

Valerie Simpson: “The chemistry between them was fantastic and while they never had a romance in real life, when they sang together ‘wow’, they were lovers.”

As I mentioned “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the last couple of months, it got me thinking about Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell again. So I dug out my vinyl copy of the emotionally charged “You’re All I Need” to play in the background as I put those thoughts into notes, and which led me to this….

With Marvin’s duet success with Mary Wells and Kim Weston still ringing in his ears, Berry Gordy needed to find another singing partner for him. A move Marvin would later claim to be “another money making scheme on BG’s part.” Nonetheless, when new Motown signing Tammi Terrell was introduced to Marvin, he liked her on sight. “It was a pleasure for me” Marvin said at the time. “I wanted to work with (her)…she was pretty, nice. She was soft, warm and sweet, yet misunderstood. Yes, I enjoyed working with her.“ From that first meeting, he realised Tammi was a worldly woman who had lived life in the fast lane, yet once they started singing together, she changed “into a warm, special and hopeful woman.” This musical combination resulted in top selling singles that delighted lovers the world over. It seems so ironic that while they epitomised the perfect couple, each had suffered from abusive partners, either physically or mentally. Marvin’s marriage to Anna Gordy had soured, and Tammi had escaped from a series of unsuitable relationships. Yet from the ashes that were left, the perfect musical partnership rose, inspired by another duo, writers Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, who wrote of the real love Marvin felt was missing in his failed marriage. The fact that the lyrics they sang were an extension of the writers’ love for each other, or an imaginative play on words, didn’t cross the singer’s mind.

Tammi’s sister, Ludie Montgomery believed that teaming up with Marvin was a liberating move for her. Tammi, she said, felt creative and free, enabling her to forge an emotional connection with Marvin, Valerie and Nickolas. Her relationship with producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol was by now solid anyway, so the future promised fulfilment and success for the young, shy singer and the angry, hurt sex idol. With everything in place, the musical adventure began in January 1967 when Tammi recorded her vocals for the song (Marvin recorded his a month later) that was earmarked to launch them into the extremely lucrative duet market. Aptly titled “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, it was the perfect signature tune for their future career together. Berry Gordy noted in his autobiography “To Be Loved” that Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol’s production – “added a new sophisticated and dramatic element to the overall sound. When their first production on Marvin and Tammi was brought into the Friday meeting, there was no debate.” In June 1967 the single shot into the US mainstream top twenty, and top three in the R&B listing. Shamefully, the UK didn’t share their American colleagues’ enthusiasm. Not only did it burn up the US charts, but the song was also nominated for a Grammy award, and, of course, went on to be re-recorded several times, including the magnificent, re-working by Diana Ross which ingenuously mixed ballad, drama and dance.

As noted previously, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” wasn’t born as a song for two, but working with Marvin and Tammi, its composers realised it could easily be adapted. As with several of their duets, Tammi laid down her vocals first, although in this instance, it was done because she hadn’t learned the lyrics. However, when Marvin heard the pre-recorded track, he said he could feel her presence which, in turn, made him more alive, and as Johnny Bristol told Ludie Montgomery for her book “My Sister Tommie”, it cemented the singers’ respect and love for each other – “Friendship transcended the presence and they both didn’t have to be there to capture the feeling.” Johnny also felt the song established a spiritual connection for everyone associated with the song. and that when Marvin later joined them in the studio, “He had a fun time and everyone felt the same about the sessions. It was a great environment working with Tammi and Marvin. They did what they did naturally.” All worked comfortably together, tagging themselves the ‘riff brothers’, with Tammi the ‘riff sister’. “They had a magical …. connection, and when they sang they sounded like they (had known) each other their entire lives.”

Marvin told author David Ritz in his book “Divided Soul” that Tammi was a woman who could not be controlled by men. “I loved that about (her). I knew we could be friends, but not lovers. Independent women hold no romantic interest for me.” He conceded though that when they were singing together, they were in love, but this was the result of him creating two characters – “two lovers that might have been taken from a play or a novel…. that’s how the Marvin-and-Tammi characters were born.”

With the runaway success of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came distress. Six months after its release, in October 1967, Tammi collapsed on stage during a performance before four thousand students, at Virginia’s Hampton-Sydney College. Part way through their third song, as she fell, Marvin grabbed her by the arms, and carried her off stage. Having suffered from dizziness and migraine headaches for some time, Tammi had been feeling ill before the 8pm concert, so took time out to recuperate on a couch backstage, while Marvin played poker with his musicians in a nearby room. Rumours ran amok as to the reason for her collapse. Past boyfriends, including David Ruffin, were blamed due to their violent behaviour towards her, and indeed, it is in the public domain that she was hit about the head with a hammer and, on another occasion, pushed down a flight of stairs. However, at the time, the guessing game was in first gear. Motown eventually released a press statement confirming that a slow growing malignant tumour on the right side of Tammi’s brain had been diagnosed. When Marvin realised just how sick his singing partner was, he was inconsolable, a feeling that, by the way, never left him. Thankfully, Tammi slowly recovered from surgery to continue recording, where the first sessions included “You’re All I Need To Get By”.

Meanwhile, the British market also failed to support the duo’s second release “Your Precious Love”, reminiscent of the floating Moonglows’ style, and again lifted from their debut “United” album. It sold better than its predecessor by soaring into the US top five, and narrowly missing the R&B top spot, during the September. A Valerie Simpson favourite, because it was one of the first written with the duettists in mind, and, “there was something very sexy about the way they did it.” Featuring Harvey Fuqua, Marvin and Tammi on backing vocals, Valerie acknowledged to Ludie Montgomery, Tammi’s additional input, including the ad-libs – “that’s why it was so great to have them both in the studio together because they would bounce off each other. “ During the life of “Your Precious Love”, Tammi was pictured on crutches, sneaking into The Cherry Hill Theatre/Restaurant in Camden, New Jersey, to watch Marvin perform. It was an emotional scene to witness.

With no UK action so far, sighs of relief must have been heard in Motown’s London office, when the third outing “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”, recorded in the Hitsville studio between 16 and 21 March 1967, crept into the British top fifty during January 1968, launching their musical love affair. Once again the single hovered below the US R&B top spot but peaked in the top ten.

Marvin and Tammi’s first single of 1968, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, lifted from their second album “You’re All I Need”, faired better than their previous British release by peaking in the top forty, while across the Atlantic, it managed to top the R&B chart and was their second pop top ten hit. Marvin recalled recording that particular song because they were trying different kinds of riffs and note changes to challenge each other, “and that’s how that song is as melodic and syncopated in the way that it is…. We really had fun recording that.” And the album itself re-established their vinyl love affair – they cried, rejoiced, teased, pledging unremitting emotions. It was their first hour, but recorded under the direst of circumstances due to Tammi’s failing health, as noted in the album’s sleeve notes. It seems that when “You’re All I Need” was issued, Tammi, had undergone at least six operations, and was in hospital, later recuperating in the Bahamas. “I’m feeling fine” she said in an interview at the time. Learning to knit while in hospital made her feel like a grandma, she continued, and upon returning home she started cooking and eating soul food. “I went down to ninety-three pounds in the hospital and now I weigh one hundred and twenty-five.” Her hair, shorn for surgery, was almost natural now. “But, for a while there, my father said I looked just like him.” It was also reported that she was partially sighted and had lost some of her motor functions, hence the crutches or wheelchair. However, it’s thought that Tammi’s sheer determination to return to work pulled her through, and her nagging depressive moods at missing performing with Marvin just as their star was rising, began lifting. However, despite all her best intentions, doctors insisted she stick to a limited work schedule, had daily concentrated rest periods, with live performances a no-go area. It was also disclosed that Motown paid her medical bills.

It was a tragedy. Tammi Terrell was, at last, in a position to shrug off her past struggling years, but was now unable to enjoy them. Promotional work was also difficult. With their chart success, it was obvious the public wanted to see them, and tour promoters, television shows and the media in general, flooded to feature them. Some commitments were jointly honoured, but when Tammi was unable to join him, it was a reluctant Marvin who went it alone without being able to divulge the true nature of his partner’s absence. In the end, Motown singer Barbara Randolph replaced Tammi on stage, a move she wasn’t comfortable with, as she told me. “It was very difficult working with him because these were his troubled years. For example, I was booked to appear at the Apollo with him, and it was one of the many occasions he didn’t show up. I ended up appearing there alone which was really frightening. It was scary (because) they throw hard boiled eggs. And the audience was waiting for Marvin.” Nevertheless, Barbara had nothing but admiration for him, saying she never heard him raise his voice in anger, or get into any type of loud situation. “He was extremely likeable, easy going, and a very mellow person…I admired him before I ever worked with him.” Meanwhile, Tammi concentrated on recording and, apparently, was often seen in the studio singing from a wheelchair or balanced between crutches.

“You’re All I Need To Get By”, with Ashford and Simpson on backing vocals, finally crashed the UK top twenty in October 1968, and once again Marvin and Tammi dominated the US R&B listing, this time, for five consecutive weeks, and racked up another top ten mainstream hit.

Into 1969, and with The Andantes and The Originals as session singers, another track from the “You’re All I Need” album, “You Ain’t Livin’ ‘Till Your Lovin’” hit the UK top thirty in the June, while the States opted for “Keep On Lovin’ Me Honey”; top thirty and twenty in the US pop and R&B charts respectively. Marvin’s solo status was about to drastically change when, slotted in between the run of duets, his “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” shot to the top of the UK chart, with repeat performances across the world. The game plan was changing, Marvin was now an international name and, of course, much in demand. The single’s runaway success had taken Marvin and Motown by surprise. Having been recorded early-1967, Marvin’s was the second version to be released (the first by Gladys Knight and the Pips, although the very first take was an album track by The Miracles on their 1968 “Special Occasion”). Marvin’s moody interpretation, a stroke of genius by producer Norman Whitfield, was hidden away on his “In The Groove” album. However, it didn’t stay concealed for long because it grabbed the attention of some American radio DJs who gave it serious airtime, leaving Berry Gordy no option but to release it as a single. Prior to this international chart topper, Marvin had several solo outings to his credit, including “You’re Unchanging Love”, “You” and “Chained”, while in January 1969, Tammi released her only solo album “Irresistible”, from which a series of singles were extracted.

However, both artists were committed to further duets, and were in the process of completing a third album “Easy”, when one of its tracks, the musical jewel “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy To Come By” was lifted during June 1969. Hitting the top thirty on both sides of the Atlantic, plus a top twenty placing in the R&B listing, the public was unaware of the turmoil created behind closed studio doors due to an ailing Tammi. Next out in America was another track “What You Gave Me”, while Motown in Britain chose “The Onion Song” for November 1969 release. Despite its cheesy title, the song actually reflected social consciousness although did appear to be a little slice of nonsense upon first hearing. In hindsight, the song was probably more suited to the British market, but following its unexpected top ten success, America released it during March 1970, to falter in the top fifty, and the R&B top forty.

Over the years, much as been said about their last studio album “Easy” with a somewhat shoddy, unattractive painting by Carl Owens on the front sleeve. Fans had no reason to believe that the music inside wasn’t an authentic Marvin and Tammi release. However, when it was leaked from Motown that Tammi was unable to record, doubts were cast. It’s now on public record that Marvin actually did not want to work on this album because his singing partner was too ill, and that the suggestion of a replacement singer would not only deceive the public, but destroy the special, intimate relationship he shared with Tammi. However, he changed his mind when Berry Gordy confirmed that Tammi and her family would benefit from the album’s sales and any extracted singles. After much speculation, it’s now thought that the majority of the album tracks were authentic, and when two or three titles were needed to complete the project, Valerie Simpson stepped in. A move she has both confirmed and denied, by saying she helped Tammi sing her parts. In a later interview, Marvin revealed Tammi didn’t record much on the album at all, and confirmed Valerie had recorded “The Onion Song” and “What You Gave Me”. Saying she had faithfully captured Tammi’s voice, skilfully imitating her distinctive style and only someone who had worked so intimately with her could possibly have pulled this off. And also as Valerie had probably recorded several of their demos, she was the obvious ‘culprit’. In hindsight, this is irrelevant. It isn’t the first time Motown’s marketing department has stretched the truth. Didn’t The Andantes record with Diana Ross, yet records were released showing “Diana Ross and the Supremes” on the labels? We were none the wiser back then. It’s only in recent times with the growing demand for unreleased material that studio paperwork revealed we had been misled. Having said that, with the “Easy” front sleeve being a painting, fans, like myself, did question Tammi’s involvement in the recordings, although eventually accepted, having seen pictures of the ailing singer in the American press, that a new photo shoot for the project was out of the question. This didn’t affect our enjoyment of the album, despite it being a mixture of sounds. But our hearts went out to Miss Terrell.

While the UK was celebrating Motown’s 10th anniversary in 1970 – and after two and a half years of fighting her illness which entailed several hospital stays, where Marvin was a regular visitor – Tammi Terrell slipped into a coma and died from brain cancer complications on 16 March, a month before her twenty-fifth birthday. Fourteen years later, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father on 1 April, a day short of his forty-fifth birthday.

Valerie Simpson: “The chemistry between them was fantastic and while they never had a romance in real life, when they sang together ‘wow’, they were lovers.”

(With sincere thanks to Ludie Montgomery/Vickie Wright’s “The Real Tammi Terrell: My Sister Tommie”. Published by Bank House Books 2005)

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December 2017: Reissue Reviews

December 2017: Reissue Reviews

PHYLLIS HYMAN: DELIVER THE LOVE: THE ANTHOLOGY (SoulMusic Records)

Following on from a trio of her re-issued albums on SoulMusic Records, here’s the next, focusing on the Pittsburgh-born Ms Hyman’s Buddah and Arista Records era, a rich period in her recording career, lovingly encompassing two CDs. It’s a totally biased review this time because there’s very little not to like here from a lady who was taken from us far too early, yet whose voice and music continues to make her presence felt in our lives, and through compilations like this, new audiences will be attracted to rejoice in her sophisticated vocal styling that elevated her well above others.

From the opening track “Baby (I’m Gonna Love You)”, you realise you’re in for a very special musical journey.  The title track from her third album, “You Know How To Love Me”, a dancer with a Quiet Storm feel, was one of her several hits, likewise her version of Exile’s “Kiss You All Over” – a cheeky little number from a sensual woman with love in her voice. A song I never tire of listening to since its original outing, having the wow! factor tenfold.  The same feeling envelopes the epic “Loving You, Losing You” featured here in its full 12” single format.  Another that’s never far from my turntable – yup, still playing the vinyl when I can – and, of course, the dynamic,  commanding “Riding The Tiger”, with the final track on the compilation, a take on The Spinners’ “I Don’t Want To Lose You” which is pure magic to these ears.

Alongside the solo hits, there’s a selection of stunning duets and pairings, like the awesome “Can’t We Fall In Love Again” and “We Both Need Each Other” with Michael Henderson;  the utterly irrepressible “Betcha By Golly Wow” with Norman Connors, and their often overlooked “Just Imagine”.  From the Broadway musical “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies”, the standard “In A Sentimental Mood” which earned Phyllis a Tony nomination during 1981, stands tall next to the dance hits.  What more can I say?  Pure perfection from start to finish.

Rating: 10

RUBY TURNER: LIVIN’ A LIFE OF LOVE – THE JIVE ANTHOLOGY 1986-1991  (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

Released alongside Phyllis Hyman’s magnificent “Deliver The Love:The Anthology” comes this compilation from Ruby Turner, one of the UK’s most celebrated of soul stylists. Focusing on her stay with Jive Records, where her debut album, “Women Hold Up Half The Sky” in 1986, here’s the sultry, smooth duet with Jonathan Butler, a take on the Staples’ “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”, her first UK top thirty entrant.  Among the three extracted singles from this album was her amazing interpretation of “I’d Rather Go Blind”, a resounding highlight in her live performances.  Both are included here, likewise six tracks from her second album from 1988, “The Motown Songbook” which, upon its original release, I treated quite warily yet grew to enjoy. A brave move by anyone, but recruiting the help of the Four Tops on “Baby I Need Your Loving” was a stroke of genius.  Their warm support voices just naturally melted with the lady’s soulful delivery.  Then the blissful unions of The Temptations with her on “Just My Imagination”, and Jimmy Ruffin for “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted”, were inspiring.  This latter title and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” both dented the chart, while the mother album shot into the top thirty, once again re-affirming Ruby’s selling power as an A-line artist. Born in Montego Bay, as a child she moved with her family to Birmingham during 1967. Raised on music, she secured her Jive recording contract after a stint as a backing vocalist for Culture Club – and never looked back.  Her third album, “Paradise” launched in 1989, is also represented here via seven tracks including the stylish “It’s Gonna Be Alright” which, incidentally, hit the top of the American R&B listing, making her one of the few British acts to do so.  Four other titles followed, with the album’s title from the “Dancin’ Thru The Dark” movie, being one.  And finally, half a dozen songs have been liberated from Ruby’s last Jive album “The Other Side” to round off this extremely compelling compilation.  On a personal note, more so than usual,  I absolutely love her version of “Only Women Bleed” – the song itself is awesome, thought provoking, and, oh my,  those lyrics….

As well as singing, Ruby’s unique talents have been recognised on television and in films, like “Hotel Babylon” and “Love Actually” respectively.  She’s also trod the boards in London’s West End, being nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for her role in “Simply Heaven”.  Musically speaking though, she’s found the perfect niche by working with Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra – a job for life I’d have thought.  Having said that, I’ve a feeling this Anthology may surprise some folks who, perhaps only associate Ruby with Mr Holland, not realising she has per own catalogue behind her.  My, aren’t they in for a satisfying, exciting musical adventure!

Rating: 9

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: A BRAND NEW ME:THE COMPLETE PHILADELPHIA SESSIONS  (REAL GONE MUSIC)

A very late review here as somehow the CD got lost in the pile of paperwork on my desk.  But, hey, better late than never, as they say: whoever ‘they’ are. Knowing the bulk of the songs inside out from listening to the original versions back in the day on vinyl release, one now wonders why tamper with perfection?  Anyway, when I first played “ A Brand New Me” , one track always skipped over was the album’s actual title because I loathed it, and even Dusty couldn’t change my mind.  So how sad is that.  However,  the remaining lazy paced material, with her warm, soulful vocals easily followed her groundbreaking “Dusty In Memphis”. Not to out do it, of course, as that was an impossibility, but rather to show that teaming up with Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, who would later mastermind the Sound of Philadelphia, was a brilliant move.  The first ten tracks here epitomise the best of that coupling, while the seven extra titles, destined for a second album which Dusty couldn’t fulfil due to other commitments, appeared to have been abandoned at birth until the CD era began in earnest. From “Never Love Again” and “Bad Case Of The Blues” we’re transported back to the day when Dusty was at her very finest, as she effortlessly and emotionally sang her way through sweeping, sympathetic melodies, leaving a slight change of tempo to take over with the upbeat “Lost” and its compelling chorus. With “Joe” she meanders into a mellowness that is almost poignant to listen to, leaving “Let’s Get Together Soon” – which originally closed side one of the vinyl release and included Dusty coughing (and in tune) – to show a buoyant singer, despite her feeling ‘she could have done better’.

Tracks not featured on the 1970 release, are confusing.  “I Wanna Be A Free Girl”, where Thom Bell partnered Linda Creed for the first time to write, the mood changes to a more biting sound against positive lyrics of being free to see the world. The complex “Something For Nothing” would worry any singer, but Dusty did it, against a backdrop of swirling orchestra, later lending itself as an instrumental for MFSB.  It’s clear why Dusty intended to re-cut her vocals on “Summer Love” but perhaps even that wouldn’t have saved this mundane track, likewise “Cherished” and “The Richest Girl Alive”. The former being rather jumpy with chord changes and, of course, high notes don’t become her, while the latter skips along and is far too twee for the likes of this fan.  The closing track here, the previously unreleased “Sweet Charlie” is softly presented, haunting even, lacking that midas touch associated with the recording sessions for “A Brand New Me”.  I’m sure Dusty would have preferred it to remain unissued. Anyhow, as the song was never finished, it appears the backing track was later utilised on Jackie Moore’s version.

Although not of the same high calibre as “Dusty In Memphis” from a song viewpoint, “A Brand New Me” easily stands on its own merit, showing as it does, her ability, albeit initially rather shakily, to be ranked alongside others in the exclusive soul market. A position she always felt she didn’t deserve. Thom Bell remembered her as “…a very sensitive girl…an angel”.  Kenny Gamble agreed, adding, ”I’m so proud that I was able to work with her…I loved her.”   They should know!

Rating: 8

RAY PARKER JR AND RAYDIO: FOR THOSE WHO LIKE TO GROOVE  (BIG BREAK RECORDS)

Apart from being one of the grooviest guys on this planet, I can’t believe Ray Parker Jr is celebrating 40 years in the business.  My, it seems only like yesterday….

Before enjoying the public spotlight as an artist, Ray was an in-demand guitarist, and was mentored by Stevie Wonder, who invited him to join his band on The Rolling Stones 1972 American tour. (And still the live album hasn’t been commercially released) Writing for Rufus and Chaka Khan, later Barry White, led to Clive Davis offering Ray a contract with Arista Records to record in his own right. He  formed the group Raydio, whereupon  “Jack And Jill” was the first single, followed by “Is This A Love Thing” and “You Can’t Change That” – a trio of gold plated sounds, with dynamic harmonies, solid driving grooves, all wrapped up in a full sophisticated production. Didn’t get much better than this, but, of course, it did when, with a name change to Ray Parker Jr with Raydio during 1980, the hits intensified with “Two Places At The Same Time”, and the R&B chart topper “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)”, among the titles.

Two years after forming Raydio, Ray took the solo trail to release one of the best selling pop singles ever – “Ghostbusters” from the movie of the same name, and debuting here in the rare 12” “Searchin’ For The Spirit” remix.  The song was instantly catchy, memorable and carried a chugging hypnotic beat that wouldn’t let up, elevating Mr Parker Jr into the stratosphere. Even today, once the opening bars are heard, people sing out loud and dance the silly steps; what incredible staying power!  However, soul fans knew there was more to the man than ‘spiritual’ gimmicks because they basked in the soulful glory of his catalogue and his last hits under the Arista umbrella –  “Jamie” and the endearing “Girls Are More Fun”.  Switching to  Geffen, the hits continued, first with “I Don’t Think That Man Should Sleep Alone” in 1987 (a top twenty UK hit), followed by his duet with Natalie Cole “Over You”.  As this CD’s title indicates, this is the essential collection for any fan. Covering 35 tracks and an interview with the man himself, the many aspects of Ray’s talent spanning dance, soul and funk, have been given a new lease of life.  And what a joy it is!

Rating: 9

JACKIE MOORE: I’M ON MY WAY  (BBR)

Produced by Philly main man Bobby Eli, this debut set by Southern Soul songstress Jackie Moore, for Columbia Records kicks off with the top fifty 1979 UK hit “This Time Baby”.  Sadly, it was her only one, but the driving dance floor favourite is crammed with hit ingredients and for a time introduced Jackie to the British mainstream record market.  The album, also issued during 1979, also housed another couple of memorable disco titles, “How’s Your Love Life Baby” and “Wrapped Up In Your Lovin’”. The former pulsates a strong dance delivery, while the latter adds some cheeky funk into the mix, with each holding a catchy chorus.  The only version of “Joe” I’ve heard is Dusty Springfield’s poignant take, but here’s the original with a different, more plush feel. However, both hold that certain magic. Upon its first release, this album charted in the R&B top fifty, and as such would surely qualify for a worthy re-issue as it stood. But no, the BBR guys have gone the extra mile to include six bonus tracks including a 12” remix, single version and instrumental of “This Time Baby” to attract buyers.  It has to be said that Jackie’s warm, soulful voice is so very easy to listen to, adapting as it does effortlessly through disco and ballad – the harder edged tracks and the smooth stylings – which, of course, makes it all the more annoying that her British success was so limited.

Rating: 8

VARIOUS ARTISTS: NORTHERN SOUL’S CLASSIEST RARITIES:VOLUME 6 (KENT)

It’s incredible to believe that songs adopted by a particular market are still relevant today some forty-plus years later. And this record label is a forerunner in the field, dedicated to keeping the sound alive, delivering as it does now a mix of beat and ballad. It’s nearly three years since the last volume in this series, so this 24 track package will, undoubtedly, be welcomed by Northern Soul fans. Kicking in with Peggy Woods’ “Love Is Gonna Get You” (being, I’m told, the correct brass-filled version),  into “You Won’t Say Nothing” from Tamala Lewis, co-penned by George Clinton, and also recorded by The Parlettes, the mood is set.  There’s also a few previously unissued items here, like, the Gene Page arranged “I Only Cry Once A Day Now” from The Fidels, and an alternate version of Maxine Brown’s “One In A Million”. I won’t go into too much detail about the tracks here as this is excellently covered in Ady Croasdell’s accompanying notes.  Although some of the time I’m out of my depth, not having heard of the artists (shame on me) so it’s quite a relief to hear early tracks from later established names like The Detroit Emeralds, J.J. Barnes and, of course, Carla Thomas, who closes the set with “Little Boy” which she remembered was her third single – but was canned.  These compilations are an education for me and, although I may not like all I hear, it’s musical history and as such should be respected.  Or, as Ady noted – “it’s a collection of treasures”.

Rating: 8

JAMES CARR: THE BEST OF JAMES CARR  (GOLDWAX RECORDS – ACE RECORDS)

This twenty tracked CD houses all James’ charting singles, with one in particular at the top of the pile.  His original version of “The Dark End Of The Street”, recorded during 1966,  and later much covered, introduces this collection of songs.  Often revered as one of the greatest vocalists the Southern Soul scene produced, James Carr struggled to enjoy the success of his contemporaries like Otis Redding, yet his limited material recorded for Goldwax is considered to be the musical blue print for the label. Son of a Baptist preacher, James was born in Mississippi, then moved with his family to Memphis.  As a six year old, he sang solos in church, and three years later became a member of the gospel group, The Harmony Echoes.  From here, he branched out as a solo artist, later hooking up with Goldwax Records in 1965.  “You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up” was his debut R&B hit, followed by “Love Attack” and “Pouring Water On A Drowning Man”.  However, it’s said James was difficult to work with due to health issues which reflected on his complacent attitude towards his career, perhaps sabotaging his rise to stardom. Another thing, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the somewhat iconic “The Dark End Of The Street”, so what better way to celebrate than with this selection from the underrated, yet pivotal, soul man in the development of Southern Soul.

Rating: 7

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.”

Motown Spotlight - October 2017

Motown Spotlight – October 2017

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.

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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)



August 2017: Soul Music Reissue Reviews

August 2017: Soul Music Reissue Reviews

WILSON PICKETT: WILSON PICKETT SINGS BOBBY WOMACK (KENT)
Now this is interesting, for me anyway, because I just love Wilson’s voice. It’s so rasping, almost on the raw side, and, my, can he turn a song into something else. And this CD is a fine example of his immense talent that perhaps is overlooked sometimes. From the blurb, the material here covers 1966 – 1968 when he recorded 17 songs by Mr Womack, then a rising composer/singer. Of course, he was destined to bask in his own public spotlight but that would take a while yet. So, it could be argued, that Wilson Pickett helped Bobby on his way. Anyway, I’m bouncing across the tracks, loving as I do the high octane ballad “People Make The World (What It Is)”, followed by a chunky “I’m A Midnight Mover”, saturated in brass, interrupted by shrill support vocals, portraying the man at his finest. Wilson’s ability to whip up a whirlpool of R&B emotion, whether tackling a fast mover or sweeping ballad is, to be honest, rather special. “It’s A Groove” and “I’m Sorry About That” fit the latter. However, “I’ve Come A Long Way” ups the anti to beat both mentioned ballads hands down! He wails and moans, telling the story against a full background of musicians and vocalists. Extremely inspiring. A song that’s high on my list of all time greats is “Bring It On Home To Me”, and here Wilson pays respect to its creator, Sam Cooke. It’s an easy and relaxing version too. Also included, as a bonus, are both sides of Bobby Womack’s solitary Atlantic single “Find Me Somebody”/”How Does It Feel”. This CD has been a long time in the making. Cliff White conceived the project in 1984, and the journey took in record company rejections and…..well, it is all explained in the accompanying booklet by consultant Bob Fisher. To hell with it; there’s absolutely nothing to dislike here. It is the perfect combination of the voice and the writer. Resist at your peril!
Rating: 10

VARIOUS ARTISTS: MAINSTREAM MODERN SOUL 2 1969 – 1976 (KENT)
Seventies soul from Mainstream’s family of labels, headed up by Bob Shad, a jazz producer but a man who knew how to cash in on the growing R&B market. Vocal groups were his preference, where Terry Huff and Special Delivery were the most profitable. To introduce the CD is the rather low-keyed funk sounding “Grass Ain’t Greener”, the first single from Charles Beverly. Its solid beat and robust vocals sustain the regular dance rhythm. Nia Johnson’s “You Are The Spice Of My Life” is a top shelf ballad that drifts along with plenty of back up vocals. Its instant hook is hard to shake. On the other hand, a clipping beat that drops a key, forms the basis of Ellerine Harding’s “I Know Something You Don’t Know”. A little on the busy side for me. An extremely laidback, part singing/talking track “I’ve Got To Tell You” from the flamboyantly named Count Willie with LRL & The Dukes, left me cold. However, love the cute and quaint “Everyone Has Someone”, where Linda Perry has swiped all the ingredients from a fifties’ songbook of also-rans. Yet it has a compelling charm nonetheless. Marking the final single release from Terry Huff, “Where There’s A Will (There’s A Way)”, the song holds a lively rhythm that’s perfect for dancing. Likewise, the pounding Chocolate Syrup’s “You’ve Got A Lot To Give” and Chapter Three’s “I’ll Never Be The Same Pt 1” – a slice of early disco from a female trio who should have done better. Meanwhile, the all male quartet, McArthur, take their “I’ll Never Trust Love Again” to another level, with smooth vocals backing an angst-ridden lead vocalist. Poor love. All the tracks are important in their own way in contributing to the growth of soul music, although there are some that fall below the high standard this specialist market dictated. Nonetheless, for historians, this compilation is a must.
Rating: 7

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VARIOUS ARTISTS: NOTHING BUT A HOUSE PARTY: THE BIRTH OF THE PHILLY SOUND 1967 -71 (KENT)
What a way to kick off this exciting compilation with The Showstoppers taking the CD’s title into their vocal grasp, as the introduction to classic music from the City of Brotherly Love, recorded before the Philly Sound stretched across the world. It’s a sweetshop of multi coloured sounds waiting to be tasted. Executive Suite’s “Christine” holds the promise of a worthy ballad against a chugging beat. Falsetto lead blends easily into a full vocal chorus. Plenty of luscious brass introduces “Love Is All Right” from Alabama-born Cliff Nobles, a soft hitting dancer that allows the drummer plenty of skin time, while Honey & the Bees’ “Help Me (Get Over My Used To Be Lover)” – what a mouthful! – falls directly into the sound category of a seventies girl group. A powerful slice of Archie Bell & the Drells’ magic with “My Balloon’s Going Up” (another strange title) offers a sound that doesn’t let up. Against an intermittent beat, Brenda & the Tabulations saunter through the slow moving “That’s The Price You Have To Pay”. Instantly attractive: Peaches & Herb’s “Let’s Make A Promise”, with its positive melody, is held together by a tight percussion. Then there’s a strong, yet plaintive vocal from Barbara Mason on “You Better Stop It” (a song she also composed) which, in all honesty, is one of the better slower tracks on this set. A familiar, tried and tested, highly danceable “Standing In The Darkness” courtesy of The Ethics, closes the musical journey. It’s fair to say this compilation features some of the earliest recordings from the fledgling Philly company of labels which would, in time, become Motown’s most aggressive competitor. Yet, as was proven, there was plenty of room for both, with space to spare.
Rating: 9

 

 

 

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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