Motown Spotlight, April 2017

Motown Spotlight, April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT (March 2017)

MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT (March 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2017: Reissues and New Music Reviews

March 2017: Reissues and New Music Reviews

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

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

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

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

manhattansoul3416VARIOUS ARTISTS: MANHATTAN SOUL 3 (KENT)

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

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

northernsoulreimagined415PAUL STUART DAVIES: NORTHERN SOUL REIMAGINED (PSD)

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

Motown Spotlight - February 2017

Motown Spotlight – February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Motown Spotlight - January 2017

Motown Spotlight – January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Motown Spotlight - November 2016

Motown Spotlight – November 2016

Wow! Amazingly wonderful news to start with this month which is quite a treat these days. On behalf of us all at soulmusic.com, many congratulations to Diana Ross who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from the current President Barak Obama! She is one of 21 recipients of America’s highest civilian award which represents admirable contributions to the security or national interests of the US, world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours. Much like our honours system methinks; wonder when I’ll become a Dame which is my wildest wish. Anyway, the President said “It’s a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better. From scientists, philanthropists and public servants to activists, athletes and artists, these twenty-one individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.” “I am so deeply humbled to be one of the recipients….and I am truly grateful and appreciative of such a great gift” Diana responded. Other recipients included Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Hanks and the other boss, Bruce Springsteen.

chris-clark-and-stevie-wonder

And more hugely great news, this time concerning Chris Clark! Remember last month I mentioned her song “The Ghosts Of San Francisco” featured in the movie “When The World Came To San Francisco”, was in the official selection at New York’s Jazz Festival? And a video was also posted alongside the story? Well, it won its category of Mixed Genre Jazz Festival Award! So congratulations to all concerned and especially to the lady herself who told me the people attending were from around the world, and that the intention behind this Festival is to create a place for jazz musicians and film makers to network and interact. There’s another planned for next year in New York at the Adam Clayton Powell Building. Needless to say, Chris is over the moon and then some….and so are we.

Just a little something slightly off the wall now. It probably comes as no surprise to my regulars that among my all-time musical wonders of the world is Terry Lindsey’s “It’s Over” (have now got it uploaded on to my HailshamFM playlist thanks to a like minded soul presenter Paul Orr). Well, I was reading up on said Terry, born in Romulus, Michigan, and when she decided singing was for her, she headed for Detroit where she signed with Correc-tone because she couldn’t see herself settling at Motown. “I had been there, not as an artist, but I was there” she once said. “I just decided uh-uh. The artists would go on the road and they would have no place to stay. Not only did they have no place to stay, but the company would get paid before them. They were scratching to survive and I couldn’t go through that.” To cut a long story short, when that label folded, Terry hooked up with Golden World, Motown’s biggest local rival, where under the name Theresa Lindsay she recorded “Daddy-O”/”I’ll Bet You” in September 1966. As you know, Berry Gordy purchased Golden World, whereupon Terry was offered a contract with Motown. She refused. “I didn’t want to go with (them) as all the female acts they had, the only one they were running with was Diana. I didn’t want that, just to be on the shelf, sitting there. And I wanted to study show tunes and Broadway tunes. So I went to New York. I studied stage presentation, television, how to breathe again, phrasing, everything.” And it was while she was there that producer Ed Lubunski approached her to record “It’s Over”, released by President Records during 1969. “He felt I could do something with it” she said. Do something with it? My, my, the lady turned her soul inside out and that of the listeners to deliver a passionate, awesomely emotional few minutes following a haunting introduction that’s so persistent it’s difficult to shake. Just think, if Terry had signed to Motown “It’s Over” might never have been, or would it? Interesting little tale isn’t it? Not too sure of its origin, but my thanks to whoever conducted the interview with the lady. Let’s move on….

temptations-001

Although the original report about this was first announced a couple of years ago, it’s once again galloped into the public forum, so maybe this time there’s some credence to the news circulating the music business. The Temptations’ Musical based on the 1998 television mini-series about the group’s public life, with a smattering of personal stuff thrown into the mix. Suzanne de Passe was the producer of this, by the way. The only original group member Otis Williams said when the musical was first mooted that the television series was still popular and much loved. “I never would have imagined the possibilities of the Tempts’ life story going to Broadway. But it’s wonderful.” From the news available this month, it would appear casting is about to start, and Suzanne is involved in the new project. And that’s about as much as I know, so it’ll be a case of watch this space.

hitsvillekc

No Motown fan can have escaped the news that the Hitsville studio which stands proudly in its white and blue overcoat along West Grand Boulevard is to undergo a massive $50 million expansion that aims to transform it into a world-class tourist destination. A 50,000 square-foot project will rise around the existing museum which was, as you know, founded during 1985 and has been visited since then by countless fans, including myself. As the existing building only houses a fraction of Motown’s memorabilia, the expanding museum will doubtless showcase exhibitions drawn from private collections. Y’know, as much as I welcome change, I just so hope none of the magic will be taken from the humble little house with its “Hitsville USA” sign hanging out front.

This planned development is part of a community revitalisation in the area, alongside neighbourhood projects that includes a $110 million Henry Ford Health http://premier-pharmacy.com/ System cancer centre and a retail-residential complex. The HFHS sold a vacant plot of land on Holden Street to the Hitsville board and is expected to become a key connection road to the planned hospital. Thomas Habitz, who is the urban planning specialist working with the Henry Ford complex said “We’re overwhelmingly supportive of Motown and have been collaborating with them in the planning. There’s a co-operative synergy between the two institutions, as different as they are.” This month, Ford boosted the Motown fund with an investment of $6 million, with the company’s president Joe Hinrichs saying “We are thrilled to play a role in the next chapter of a global music icon. The enhanced museum will not only upgrade the visitor experience, it also fits with our commitment to investing in the cultural heritage of Detroit and southeast Michigan.” While the Hitsville spokeswoman, Robin Terry said “Motown and Ford Motor Company have wide and deeply connected roots. As two Detroit-born brands, they have had, and continue to have today, a transformative and profound impact on creativity and innovation around the world.” Detroit is on the up and not before time too!

Alongside all this great news, comes sadness I’m afraid. The first I heard about it was when Gloria Jones contacted me saying – “we lost Ray Singleton. She was an incredible woman.” Known as Mother Motown, I’m sure you don’t need me to elaborate but Raynoma Gordy Singleton was a pioneer of Motown’s formation. In 1958 she fell in love with ex-boxer and – I quote her words – a small-time agent named Berry Gordy, ‘a raggedy bum with a bad hairdo’. Together, they formed the Rayber Music Writing Company, followed by Tamla (their first record label), Jobete publishing and later in 1961, the Motown label itself. A multi-talented lady for sure as she wrote arrangements, sang back up vocals, fine-tuned harmonies and prepared the all-essential professional lead sheets for copyright and recording schedules. Raynoma was all things to loads of people because not only was she a hot business-minded manager and ace trouble-shooter, but was the essential creative spark and mother confessor to the fledgling record company. Her marriage to Berry Gordy produced one son, and when that ended in divorce, she married Eddie Singleton, a successful writer, producer and artist during the late fifties/early sixties working with names like Barbara Lewis. As Mrs Singleton Raynoma, she became the cornerstone of his Shrine Records label, a byword for quality soul releases.

Both Berry and Eddie credit her as being the biggest influence behind Motown’s success, as the latter told me. “The company started in her little apartment. She also plays fourteen instruments. The Motown Sound in essence stemmed from her, she even trained all the arrangers. She was the musician.” Later on, in 1970, Eddie married Motown singer Barbara Randolph, and I was lucky enough to meet them both in London during April 1989: in fact, spent a lot of time in their company which was a huge thrill for me. Sadly both are no longer with us. Anyway, in 1990 Raynoma wrote her autobiography “The Untold Story: Berry, Me And Motown” and I have to say, it’s probably the most honest read about the company and its personnel and artists that I’ve chanced to read. Certainly a lot of questions are answered and it’s a compelling read from start to finish. Don’t know if it’s still available though. Naturally, our sincere condolences go to Raynoma’s family and friends at this sad time. Also we would also like to thank her from the bottom of our hearts for her young ambitions that assisted, or spearheaded, the birth of one of the most significant record companies of our age.

Motown Spotlight October 2016

Motown Spotlight October 2016

(With apologies to Sharon Davis for being a couple of days late in adding this to the site)

A note of sadness to start – with the passing of Robert Bateman at the age of eighty years. The founder member and bass singer of The Satintones and, of course, a composer of considerable note because he co-wrote and produced the company’s first trail blazing number one US single “Please Mr Postman” for The Marvelettes. Robert was born in Chicago, Illinois but Detroit became his home. Being one of the first handful of staff Berry Gordy signed to his fledgling company, he was, like the others, involved in all manner of behind scenes activities, including session singing and studio engineer, when he purchased their first set of recording equipment in the form of a tape machine discarded by the Detroit radio station, WJLB.

In the late fifties, The Satintones and The Miracles were Gordy’s only working male groups, and as Mr Bateman recalled “We had our record out (on the Tamla label) ‘Motor City’ and it seemed like we were getting some airplay until The Miracles had a record out.” So he tackled Berry about this, and was told that as there was only one label radio stations would play a limited number of its releases. “I suggested another label. So the next thing I know is we recorded ‘My Beloved’ and Berry came up with Motown as his new label. To me, that name came off ‘Motor City’.” “My Beloved” was the first official release on the new subsidiary in September 1961, and this plus 25 other titles have been made available for a while now on the Ace Records compilation “The Satintones Sing!” (The quotes printed here have been lifted from the booklet accompanying this release) When the hitless group disbanded in 1961, Robert and Brian Holland formed the writing/producing partnership, Brianbert, and one of the first songs they worked on was to re-write “Please Mr Postman” which had been partly written by William Garrett, a friend of The Marvelettes. This led to them writing other tracks for the ladies, including “Twistin’ Postman” and “Playboy”. When it was time to move on in 1962, Robert joined the Correc-Tone label, before moving to New York to for a successful tenure with Capitol Records. He was never far away from the music scene, and upon returning to Detroit in 1970, worked in local studios, among other things. Then this year he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall Of Fame in Detroit, and was an honoured guest at the HAL Awards Ceremony in September. It was shortly after this that he suffered a cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma from which he sadly didn’t recover. His nephew Tony Stovall told the Detroit Free Press that his uncle was just an adventurous guy. “He did it all – producing, writing and discovering artists. From A to Z he could do anything in the music business.” Rest in peace Mr Bateman….

Although I’ve mentioned this in the review section, I’d like to say a little bit more about the recent Ace release “Let It Be – Black America Sings Lennon, McCartney and Harrison”. Alongside other acts’ versions of The Beatles material, four Motown acts are included, as follows. The Temptations’ “Hey Jude” from their psychedelically friendly album “Puzzle People” released in 1969. The song has been covered over forty times apparently, with The Temptations’ version not the first for Motown. They were beaten to the microphone by The Miracles and The Supremes, but their take was issued first. The Four Tops recorded several Beatles’ tracks during their Motown stay, including “Michelle” and “The Long And Winding Road”, but their contribution here is “The Fool On The Hill” lifted from the 1969 “Now” album which also holds the wonderfully compulsive “The Key” and “What Is A Man”, a pair of songs that shine with the group’s brilliance. Extracted from the trio’s “With Love (From Us To You)” from 1964, The Supremes are included with “A World Without Love”, and it’s interesting to remember, the ladies also recorded “I Saw Her Standing There” at the same album sessions, but this wasn’t issued until much later as a CD track. And last but certainly not least, a track from a seventies’ signing to Motown who are again gradually causing a stir among fans – The Undisputed Truth and “With A Little Help From My Friends” from 1972, one of several versions with, I guess, Joe Cocker winning top spot for his emotionally evoking rendition. Not bad for a song that started its commercial life as a little ditty from solo Ringo Starr who was thrown a musical bone by the group members every now and again. That reminds me. Some years ago I penned the notes for a Reader’s Digest exclusive 3xCD compilation titled “The Ultimate Motown Collection – Motown Makeover”. I don’t know if it’s still available but it’s a blockbuster of a collection of the company’s artists paying homage to others, like The Originals’ “Wichita Lineman”, Kiki Dee’s “Walk On By”, Marvin Gaye’s “Yesterday”, Blinky’s “Rescue Me”, “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me”, and…well you get the message. A super collection at any level.

After recovering from her terrific success at the Northern Soul Weekender in Skegness, Chris Clark contacted me to say she had recorded “The Ghosts Of San Francisco”, a song written for her by John Thomas Bullock and R. Christian Anderson. It’s from the movie “When The World Came To San Francisco” and the music video, which can be seen on Youtube, is an ‘official selection’ at the New York Jazz Festival this year. Think you’ll agree with me, Miss CC does a brilliant job as she oozes the blues with a jazz edge, with just a piano to accompany her. Fingers crossed for all concerned that you’ll win. And, before I forget, here’s a message she sent – “Thank you so much to my Northern Soul family who never fail to make me feel loved and welcomed. I have no words to tell you how much your respect and devotion to the music we made, makes us feel. And how rich the experience when you have us over to share it once again between us. And that dang place is massive. Eight thousand people showed up (for the weekend) so thank you for letting me be part of it.”

What am I playing right now? “Something On My Mind: The Rita Wright Years 1967 – 1970”. Not for the first time either as I expect you’ve realised, and as much as I, and hundreds others, welcomed this with open arms, I can’t help but think that maybe the lady was right when she said in 1972 she hoped that Motown wouldn’t release what she called “those old tapes”. Being the ultimate perfectionist she was with her art – probably some of this rubbing off from working with Stevie Wonder – I’m not sure, had she lived, that releasing what sounds like unfinished tracks would have sat well with her. For sure, the completed work is amazing and worthy of release during the seventies, but maybe items like “Love Child”, Syreeta wouldn’t have been happy about. Anyway, I’ll not bang on about it anymore because, as I say, it’s a much valued release – and my guilty pleasure.

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Let’s move on and to an event that’s happening in December. Most of us have been aware that Keith Rylatt had been working on a book based on a box of photos which had been forgotten about for over fifty years. Here’s the story… Dave Godin, helped by Clive Stone, set up the first British Tamla Motown Appreciation Society, which they ran from Dave’s bedroom in Kent. (Hah, some time later I ran the Four Tops fan club from my bedroom. Must be something to do with the music!) Dave contacted Berry Gordy which resulted in him visiting Detroit to be shown around the studio and meet the artists. By the time Dave left the city, Berry, believing the Society’s fan base was http://buytramadolbest.com/ambien.html larger than it actually was, decided to send one of his Revues here to coincide with the launching of the new Tamla Motown label with The Supremes “Stop! In The Name Of Love” (TMG 501) in March 1965 was the first release. This followed a licensing deal with EMI Records, whereupon the newly created label was lovingly used in the UK and Europe, but not America. Over the years that association included the addition of other labels like Motown, Rare Earth and Mowest, until the two major companies parted in the early eighties. Motown moved its operation to RCA Records, as it was known then, and the rest is history.

Anyway, Dave Godin launched a huge publicity campaign to celebrate the pending Motown Revue, organised events where fans and artists could meet, and so on. But sadly, at some venues the artists on stage outnumbered members of the audience. Never mind because the fact that we’re still talking about it today, means it was successful for us. Anyhows, I’ll quote from the publicity blurb sent to me yesterday about the box of goodies which was recently discovered in Clive Stone’s loft. “ (It) contains an array of Motown-related ephemera and artefacts, ranging from a novelty key to the Motor City to an autographed programme for the 1964 Motown Company Christmas party, held at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit. There were also three Kodak photograph wallets and four folders of negatives in the bottom of the box, many of them covering the untimely first tour of 1965. These unique photos had been briefly shown to family and friends at the time, with a few being given to Dave for the fan club’s magazine, but were never actually published, let alone seen, since the day they left the developers.” Keith’s much-awaited book titled “Hitsville”, which chronicles the entire story from Steve Wonder’s fleeting visit in 1963 through to the Four Tops’ sell out concert at London’s Saville Theatre three years later, is to be launched at an Exhibition featuring these unpublished visuals, on 2 December 2016. It will then run from Saturday 3 December through to Thursday 22 December, plus Saturday 12 December, at The Horse Hospital, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1JD. If you’d like more information just go into the venue’s website, it’s all there.

Check out tickets for the event right here

As you probably know, I host a Motown/Soul programme on HailshamFM every Saturday between 6pm – 8pm. Well, one single I unearthed to play – and one which I’ve loved from the first day of hearing – was Debbie Dean’s “Why Am I Lovin’ You” released February 1968 on the VIP label, just after The Elgins’ “It’s Been A Long Long Time” and before R Dean Taylor’s “Gotta See Jane”. If my information is right, this fast moving, chirpy song was her fourth release after “Everybody’s Talkin’ About My Baby”, “Itsy Bity Pity Love” and “Don’t Let Him Shop Around” , an answer record to The Miracles’ “Shop Around”. Not considered to be typically Motown, “Why Am I Lovin’ You” was very well received, so will play it again at every opportunity. As you know, Debbie was Motown’s first white female solo artist to be signed but when success wasn’t forthcoming, she was dropped from the artist roster. Some years later, she met up with Deke Richards to rejoin Motown as a composer/singer and later worked with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Edwin Starr, The Temptations, among other big names. Oh, and she also co-wrote my little 1968 slice of magic. Born in 1928, Debbie Dean, who also recorded under the names Penny Smith and Debbie Stevens, died in February 2001. Just thought I’d mention it in passing.

That’s the lot for now, so until next month do keep keeping the Motown faith and as always thank you for your continued support.

Latest classic soul Reissue Reviews - September 2016

Latest classic soul Reissue Reviews – September 2016

THE DELLS: WE GOT TO GET OUR THING TOGETHER / NO WAY BACK

(CAROLINE INTERNATIONAL / SOULMUSIC RECORDS)

My first introduction to this group was with the truly exciting soul masterpiece “Wear It On Our Face” in 1968, followed by “Stay In My Corner” and “I Can Sing A Rainbow – Love Is Blue” , a top 15 UK hit in 1969. Wonderful, priceless music with no sell by date. So imagine the thrill having this double header to listen to – “We Got To Get Our Thing Together” (1975) and “No Way Back” (1976); the first never available on CD before, with the second only previously available as a limited edition Japanese reissue. Opening with the laid back, mellow single, and CD’s title, its melody change is quite inspiring. “Strike Up The Band”, a fast paced take on the Gershwin composition, is more befitting the nightclub stage than my office, yet not unattractive. Thankfully, “Reminiscing” returns me to the Dells’ groove; the drifting melody is unpretentious buy phentermine online cheap as the singers join and part in song. Another single, “Love Is Missing From Our Lives” features The Dramatics, transforming the balled into more powerhouse performance, albeit on a gentle level. With its spoken introduction, “The Power Of Love” chugs along at an easy pace, and would have befitted The Temptations as well, while the closing track on the first album, “You Don’t Care” is beautifully performed in a lazy style.

Into the second disc, “West Virginia Symphony” lifts the groove into a dance high, and the pace appears to be set. “When Does The Lovin’ Start”, mildly funky against a driving beat, leads into The Dells being introduced on stage before “I’ll Make You My Girl” oozes into life; the group at its very best, for sure. Seven plus minutes of “Ain’t No Black And White In Music” with its hard hitting lyrics, drives home the political message of gross unfairness. By comparison, “No Way Back” is barely three minutes long yet it’s packed with a lush funk feel, while “You’re The Greatest” kicks up a steady dance pace. The deliciousness returns with “I’ll Try Again” leaving “Slow Motion” to close the set, again with its spoken word introduction, that leads into another typical group ballad, crammed with voices that caress the heart and soul. Ignore at your peril!
Rating 10

SCHERRIE PAYNE: VINTAGE SCHERRIE – VOLUME ONE (ALTAIR RECORDS)
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The internet has practically boiled over waiting for the release of this solo project from ex-Supreme Scherrie Payne. When the day was looming near, the first single “Remember Who You Are” was lifted. A laid back, comfortable ballad, delivered so easily in the lady’s creamy, rich voice. It almost wraps itself around you. However, it was a song she was reluctant to record but was persuaded in the end by her daughter. Wise move. Although a taster for the pending album, the song isn’t really representative of the music within. Covering a Diana Ross classic – who herself covered the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell original, although nobody could pretend the songs were anywhere near the same – Scherrie bravely takes on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, inspired by Diana’s musical interpretation. There’s more earthiness to Scherrie’s delivery, which of course is damned near perfect, while the song slowly drifts along, gradually building until it explodes with a plethora of voices. “Hope” has to be one of my favourites with its essential soul searching and gospel feel; heartfelt and sincere. By the way, this was intended as the follow-up single to “One Night Only” and recorded at the same session. On the other hand, Scherrie whips up some sharp funk with “Crumbs Off The Table”, transferring The Glass House version on to another musical high. Whether she’s singing the disco slanted “I’m Not In Love” and “Chasing Me Into Somebody Else’s Arms”, or an a capella version of the single which is the opening track, Scherrie is fearless in her approach. It’s taken awhile but the album is finally in our hands. I take my hat off to Rick Gianatos and Ian Levine for their production skills, to the ladies whose voices support Scherrie so sympathetically, and to the lady herself. She may be slight of height but her voice is as big as her huge heart. And she treats recording as she does life by grabbing the moment!
Rating: 10

HANK BALLARD & THE MIDNIGHTERS: UNWIND YOURSELF (ACE RECORDS)
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For the first time, these are the surviving 1964-1967 King recordings in their entirety by one of R&B’s most endearing artists, Hank Ballard. This release focuses on a period where he fell under the musical radar, when soul music replaced raw R&B, and funk was being born, a revolution spearheaded by his King label mate, James Brown. And while the music scene was changing, Hank didn’t, finding it increasingly hard to get his music heard in the mainstream market place, yet the high standard of his recordings never wavered. A state of affairs that befell several artists of his ilk, and some, unfortunately, never recovered and moved into daily jobs to earn a living. This is a musical sweet shop of differing sounds, most of which have never been reissued previously, and although it’s now easy to hear why Hank fell from favour in the musical changeover, it kinda ridicules the feeling that there’s room for all out there. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Anyway, Hank and The Midnighters disbanded in 1965 as groups like The Temptations made their huge presence felt in the commercial market, enabling Hank to embark upon a solo career in an attempt to carve a place for himself. It didn’t go to plan. However, during the mid-eighties he reformed the group to play the club circuit across the world, until he died in 2003. While hit records didn’t come his way, this compilation shows he could easily have joined the A-team had the circumstances been different.
Rating: 7

DAN PENN: CLOSE TO ME (ACE RECORDS)
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Considered to be one of the greatest composers of his generation, Mr Penn enjoys a second release of tracks excavated from the Fame Records’ vaults. His early years at Fame where he cut his musical teeth during the mid-sixties, was a period of the faceless and nameless, from songwriters, producers, session musicians and, often, the singers themselves. Dan, originally lead vocalist for the Mark V, Nomads and Pallbearers, now takes the solo stage, visiting R&B in its purest form, Southern Soul, across to the Motown backbeat and uptown New York. “I liked Stax…I liked the records that were coming out of Memphis…They were a big hunk of our soul supply, along with Motown and all of New Orleans” so said the man himself. Plus, he believed black singers to be the best (song) interpreters because they didn’t, among other things, sacrifice a song to suit themselves. Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, and so on, are prime examples. So, here’s history in the making from a man behind the scenes who was responsible for some great material which we were able to enjoy from others voices. Get stuck in!
Rating: 7

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: REPUTATION – EXPANDED COLLECTOR’S EDITION (SFE)
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This was such a significant release for Dusty in 1990 because it was the long awaited ‘comeback’ album, following the top two hit “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, her collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys. This surprise uniting of musical giants was unpredicted, yet a glorious combination that injected a huge renewal in the lady’s then stagnant career (except of course, for the constant plundering of her magical back catalogue) and, of course, elevated the Pets into a different stratosphere, working with a British soul icon. In her inimitable fashion Dusty was quick to praise the duo for believing in her, and presenting her with the vehicle to return to the business she loved so dearly, even with some reservations! From this near-chart topper, Dusty returned with “Nothing Has Been Proved”, the musical tale of the Profumo Affair which rocked the British government during the sixties, followed by “In Private” written solely for her, for inclusion in the “Scandal” movie. In the end it was dropped but “Nothing Has Been Proved” remained. Both songs were personally interpreted by the singer, drifting from suggestion to power, teasing to directness, while all the time, the underlying soulful delivery could be detected. Two further hits of varying degrees followed – “Reputation”, with its dramatic introduction, leading into a heavy, meaty track with Dusty’s voice strong and true, totally in command of the busy musical backdrop. And “Arrested By You”, which is as smooth and silky as you can get, with a strong melody guiding her soft voice as she weaves and drifts through the lyrics. Dan Hartman’s “Time Waits For No One” skips along while “Born This Way” offers some Springfield rappin’ against a semi-funk support that hits the spot. Much in the same vein as “Arrested By You”, “Daydreaming” glides along, again with some soft rapping, resulting in a beautifully constructed song that conjures up pictures of mist covered fields. On the other hand, her take on Goffin/King’s “I Want To Stay Here” lends nothing to the Eydie Gorme version but rather is taken at a skipping pace and, well, Dusty-ised. This rather special 3-disc package contains various 12” versions, remixes and B-sides, plus five promotional videos – a positive ‘wow’ for Dusty fans of course, and also a wonderful introduction to those who may not have caught up with her yet. We’ll never forget this lady’s huge contribution to soul music, not only with her voice, but, among other things, standing up against apartheid in South Africa and subsequently being booted out of the country for her beliefs, and for her persuasive ways in ensuring our beloved Motown artists hit the small screen in 1965. Will say no more.
Rating: 10

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Motown Spotlight - Soul Music's regular feature - August 2016

Motown Spotlight – Soul Music’s regular feature – August 2016

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As I was thinking about this month’s Motown musings, news arrived of an exciting – let’s not be coy here, it’s a wonderfully incredible – release courtesy of Kent Records at the end of September. “The Rita Wright Years 1967 – 1970”, a fourteen track compilation, some of which were previously recorded, with the remainder taken from a pair of recently found tapes which she recorded during 1970 in Los Angeles. No, I haven’t heard it yet, but the sheer historical value of this pending release is staggering because, for one thing, it will fill in blank spaces in Syreeta’s early career. Among the unissued material like “Love’s Gone Bad”, “I Want To Go Back There Again”, “Can’t Stop”, “You” and “Save The Country”, there’s the version of “Love Child” which has been kicking around on YouTube for ages now.

During our many conversations, Syreeta told me her version was never seriously considered for single release, and this was also backed up a few years ago by one-time UK Motown product manager, Gordon Frewin, despite the singer’s fans begging to purchase it. Syreeta recorded many demo songs for Motown’s A-list acts and “Love Child” was one of them, providing as she did guide vocals for lead singers. That’s the real purpose behind demo versions, apart from there (then) being a Union requirement that an artist has to be at the microphone when a band track was laid down. Syreeta, who died too soon in July 2004 after a battle against cancer was a loyal Motown artist, enjoyed her life with the company and the artists, and never once spoke out against either. She once told me “I learned all the way up and now have experience in a little bit of the business side because I used to sit in on Mr Gordy’s meetings sometimes and learned how to manoeuvre things.” It was only when Motown was sold that she was told she didn’t fit into the company’s new image. “..I fought for my own identity and freedom for a number of years so I don’t want to be anywhere where they’re going to put me in clothes that are slit from my toes up to my neck, and where I’m not wearing underclothes because it’s fashionable. That’s not me”. Oh lor, this planned short mention has gone on a bit, so my apologies to those who’ve nodded off.

You’ll never guess what I’m playing while I tap away at the keyboard. “Big Motown Hits & Hard-To-Find Classics Vol 2” but check this out. It’s on cassette!! Yup, and, apart from the occasional click, plays like it did in 1986. No sleeve notes of course, but track listing is pretty wonderful with Brenda Holloway’s “When I’m Gone” kicking off. Eddie Holland’s “Jamie”, The Supremes/Four Tops’ “River Deep, Mountain High”, Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, Tammi Terrell’s “I Can’t Believe You Love Me” and R Dean Taylor’s “Indiana Wants Me” following on side one. Get up, walked to the player and turn cassette over. First track is Shorty Long’s “Function At The Junction”, with The Velvelettes’ “He Was Really Sayin’ Something”, Isley Brothers’ “I Guess I’ll Always Love You”, Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been To Me”, Rare Earth’s “Born To Wander” following. Leaving Billy Preston/Syreeta’s “With You I’m Born Again” as the closing track. Enjoying every second!

News has also reached me that legendary Motown press man, Al Abrams will be inducted posthumously into the 4th annual Rhythm & Blues Music Hall Of Fame. The ceremony took place on 21 August at the Ford Performing Arts Theatre, Dearborn, Michigan. (I must have driven pass this when in Detroit a couple of years ago without realising it – doh!). You may not know, but also this year Al was the recipient of a Detroit Music Award for his special achievement within the music industry, and inducted into the Ohio Senior Citizen Hall Of Fame as a transplanted Michigan Wolverine for his international contribution to music. It goes without saying, of course, that for Al to be inducted into this year’s Rhythm & Blues Hall Of Fame is an honour indeed when bearing in mind other notables included Smokey Robinson, Prince, Dionne Warwick, The Supremes and the like. He would have been really chuffed and humbled for sure, and so very sad he couldn’t receive it in person. Al’s widow Nancy accepted the award on his behalf. Bet she was beside herself too during what could only have been an extremely emotional ceremony.

Talking of Smokey, he’s branched out again, following his food range marketed by SPGL Foods Inc, back in 2006 or thereabouts. With the logo “the soul is in the bowl”, the dishes were inspired by the food he discovered while on the road. Apparently, food is one of Smokey’s life passions, and was never far from his mind as he sought out the famous and the lesser-known chefs throughout America. Subsequently, each of the four dishes that went on sale had its own special story. So, marketed under the banner “Smokey Robinson Food”, he offered Down Home Pot Roast, Seafood Gumbo, Chicken & Chicken Sausage, and Smokey’s Red Beans & Rice. How successful this venture was I don’t know, but they’re no longer available. Anyway, I’ve digressed because this new venture, where advertising proclaims he is the personification of the mantra “black don’t crack” (a phrase, by the way, Martha Reeves imparted to me years ago and I’ve always remembered it), has been launched Skinphonic, a company born when Smokey and his wife Frances were disappointed in the quality of skincare products available. It appears they sought out the help of some of America’s top skincare formulators to find a solution, whereupon a team of interested parties took up the challenge and after over two years of research developed a product the couple tested and later approved. Maintaining a healthy http://www.ourhealthissues.com/product/synthroid/ and active lifestyle were instilled into him as a child, Smokey told journalists, which has led to him pursing his love of music by touring at the age of 76 years. “I used to run marathons” he told Nicole Evatt of The Associated Press. “Do things that I thought were going to be beneficial for me at this time in my life. When I got to this point in my life I didn’t realise how beneficial it was going to be because I feel great.” As well as practising yoga for 35 years plus, Smokey has also been a vegetarian for longer. “I’m only going to get this one body so I want to be healthy as long as possible.”

Touring these days is, of course, hectic, tiring and often draining, physically and mentally. It also includes lots of rest, he further explained to Nicole Evatt. “Someone will be like ‘OK Smokey, where’s the party?’ I just had a party for two-and-a-half hours. I was onstage, that was the party for me.” Once off stage, he invariably headed for his hotel room, to watch television until he fell asleep. No partying for this guy! Anyway, Mr and Mrs Robinson have launched two products: the twice daily cleanser “My Girl” at nearly $30 for the ladies, and “Get Ready – Cause Here I Come” for the gents. This comprises the twice daily cleanser, AM Hydration and PM Treatment Complex (whatever that means) at around $90. I can’t actually believe I’m writing this but, hey ho, that’s Smokey for you! Back to the music…

It can’t have escaped your notice that there’s another Motown-related law suit simmering away that involves Ed Sheeran, echoing the recent one where Marvin Gaye’s estate successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over their “Blurred Lines” runaway hit. It was alleged the song borrowed some of Marvin’s “Got To Give It Up” (and other influences from Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways”) although the couple insisted they didn’t deliberately infringe any of the material. In a lot of cases where this happens, the cases are either settled out of court or dropped entirely, with no case to answer. However, this time Marvin’s estate wouldn’t back down, and once a Californian judge decreed he found the songs similar enough, the trial got underway. It’s interesting to know that as Marvin’s estate doesn’t own his music rights, only that of the sheet music, the jury only heard a stripped-down version of the questionable piece, but it was obviously sufficient to pass judgement that a $7.4 million pay out was in order. In the court documents, Robin Thicke said Pharrell Williams had written almost every part of the song, and that, at the time, he (Robin) was high on alcohol and the pain killer Vicodin. And – here’s a thing – the single earned them $16.7 million, with $5.7 million to Thicke, $5.2 million to Pharrell, leaving $704,774 to other relevant companies. I don’t know whether they paid the amount the judge decreed, because I can find no reference to it across the internet.

Anyway, is this then what’s in store for our Mr Ed Sheeran who has been sued by the estate of Ed Townsend, co-writer of “Let’s Get It On” in a court action that indicates he lifted fundamental elements from the composition, in his “Thinking Out Loud” single. Part of the suit included: “The melodic, harmonic and rhythmic compositions of ‘Thinking’ are substantially and/or strikingly similar to the drum composition of ‘Let’s’. The Defendants copied the ‘heart’ of ‘Let’s’ and repeated it continuously throughout ‘Thinking’.” Ed Townsend’s family who filed the complaint in the Southern District of New York’s federal court, have requested the suit goes to trial. This will be the second time this year Ed Sheeran has been involved in a court action like this. Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard sued him for $20 million claiming his song “Photograph” lifted major elements from their composition “Amazing”, recorded and released by Matt Cardle. Oh dear, all I can say is – watch this space.

And finally, I’m ending on a very sad note because quite out of the blue I received an email from my pal Larry Kimpel, GVR Records boss, which began – “I regret to be the bearer of bad news, but I have just received word that our mutual friend and colleague, Jimmy Levine has passed on. He apparently had been secretly battling pancreatic cancer.” To say I was devastated was an understatement. I shall so miss the dear, sweet, lovely man, with a heart of gold and, who, among other things, introduced me to Anna Gordy. Next month, I’d like to add my comments to his memory. Meantime, Jimmy, have a safe journey into your next life. And on behalf of David, Michael and myself, our heartfelt condolences go to Jimmy’s family, friends and fans across the world. He was quite a guy!