Motown Spotlight - June 2018

Motown Spotlight – June 2018

She never sang a note or wrote a lyric, but she was as essential to Motown as any of the label’s artists and producers. Who am I talking about?  Yup, you guessed it – Mrs. Maxine Powell.

“She was such an important, integral part of what we were doing at Motown” said Smokey Robinson in 2013.  “It didn’t matter who you became during the course of your career, how many hits you had, or how well your name was known around the world, two days a week when you were back in Detroit, you had to go to Artists Development. You went there and learned so many things about being in show business.”

So let’s briefly reflect on Mrs. Powell’s early life and how she hooked up with Motown.  Born on 30 May 1915, Maxine Blair was raised by an aunt in Chicago. As a teenager she started acting, eventually appearing with the Negro Drama League, a black repertory company there. From this, she worked as a model, before training as a cosmetologist and manicurist at Madam C.J. Walker’s School of Beauty Culture.  During 1958, the 43-year-old black American etiquette coach moved to Detroit to open her own Finishing and Modelling School in Detroit for African-Americans and, as a talent scout, instigated black productions in theatres, and placed black models in advertising campaigns. To this end, she had three female models, two male and two children on her books, with major clients of Packard, Dodge and Chrysler.  She hosted an annual show, and one particular year wanted to produce a souvenir programme to celebrate the occasion. The Gordy Printing Company, run by Mrs. Esther Gordy and her brother Fuller, was recommended as being the best in Detroit. This marked Mrs. Powell’s first introduction to the family.  Esther’s husband, George Edwards, was a state representative, and intended to run for a seat on Detroit’s City Council.  As Mrs. Powell had an empty office in her property, The Ferry Centre, comprising a large ballroom, private party room, bar, banquet kitchen and five offices, she offered it to George Edwards. Esther became her husband’s campaign manager and, as the Gordy family was notoriously close knit, members often popped by to help him out. Through these visits it became clear that Mrs. Bertha Gordy Snr. was interested in personal development, later signing up for one of Mrs. Powell’s courses:  likewise Loucye and Esther.  Gwen Gordy went on to become one of her models. This was, of course, pre-Motown, where friendships were cemented and working relationships developed.

Prior to Mrs. Powell joining Motown, she was introduced to fledgling artists because they were showcased in her downstairs ballroom.  Indeed, when Berry Gordy penned “Lonely Teardrops” for Jackie Wilson, she was asked to watch his performance then asked to critique it. From here, Berry Gordy asked her to open the ‘Motown Finishing School.’   Once he began signing artists to his new record label, he encouraged them to attend Mrs. Powell’s classes, but it wasn’t obligatory.   “When I met the artists, they were young. They came from humble beginnings and not all, but some of them, were rude and crude, and from the streets and the Projects” she once said. “It’s not where they came from, but where they were heading.  (They’re) gonna learn how to perform, gonna graduate and become great performers.” She called them ‘diamonds in the rough’.  Personal grooming included artists being taught how to walk, the proper way to smoke a cigarette, the graceful way to walk up and down stairs, to jump on a piano, and the correct way to enter and alight from a vehicle without showing a bare leg or underwear. She was quick to point out that she had nothing to do with voice – “I teach them to smile and be beautiful, because every time you smile, every muscle in your body is relaxed for that split second.  And some of them turned out to be rubies and emeralds.”

Each act was also trained to perform an original stage show, with dances and dialogue worked out for them. Even the adlibbing was rehearsed.  Their choreography was painstakingly thought out, right down to holding the microphone, and the many ways of using it effectively.  “Nobody was forced to do anything” Mrs. Powell told the Respect programme.  “I was there only to enrich their life and help them skip to the bank…if they weren’t interested in that, then that was OK.” However, those artists who recognised the value in her classes were told to listen and follow the positive guidelines she offered, saying – “…You’re getting a basic finishing background to do anything you want to do in life…..When I told them you’re going to travel to appear in number one places around the country, and even before the King and Queen, they didn’t believe it.  All they wanted was a hit record. ”

The School was the only one of its kind offered at any record company, and Berry Gordy often joked that he still remembers Mrs. Powell’s aphorisms like – “Do not confuse me with your parents.  They’re stuck with you, I’m not” and “Do not protrude your buttocks.”

However, Marvin Gaye was one artist who believed he didn’t need any training in what he called ‘the charm school’. Mrs. Powell agreed that he may not need her help as much as others, but his biggest failing was singing with his eyes closed, giving the appearance he was singing in his sleep.  She told him – “You can close your eyes for a certain gesture but your eyes are the mirrors of your soul….so we (had) to work on that.”  She also suggested he could improve his walk because he led with his shoulders and head.  His ears should be straight with his shoulders, she told him.  So they worked together until she was satisfied.

She also recalled Diana Ross being a dedicated hard worker, claiming, no other artist matched the hours she put in.  However, when The Supremes sang “Baby Love”, Mrs. Powell told them they were making faces, while Diana opened her mouth so wide it appeared she was about to swallow the microphone.  “We worked on expressing….looking pleasant and with a smile and maybe a gesture.  How to handle the mic (ensuring) the mic didn’t handle you…..All a singer needs is voice and expression.  Anything else you have is an asset to your profession.”  She also encouraged Diana not to look or lean forward, rather push her hip bones forward – “like pushing them up under your chin.”  This created the correct posture. Next on the agenda was how to walk – one foot in front of the other, and further, she said – “The torso of the body should never move.  All you need to walk is to lift your feet and let the action carry the body.”  In later years Diana Ross acknowledged – “Mrs. Powell was the person who taught me everything I know.”

The Temptations’ debut at New York’s Copacabana proved to be a logistical problem for the group until Mrs. Powell came up with the solution.  As there was no stage and restricted space for them to perform in the way that they usually did at other venues, like the Fox Theatre for example, she suggested – “I want all five of you to stand and touch fingers. Stretch your arms out and touch your fingers together, that’s all the space you need to perform. If you cover every inch of where your fingers are, you’ve done (it)”.

Mrs. Powell said Martha Reeves was adorable to work it.  She didn’t only concentrate on herself but also her Vandellas, always teaching them what she had learned.  “(Martha) wasn’t into the real glamour clothes….(but) they always looked nice. “  Mrs. Powell remembered that when the trio was part of the Motown Revue, Martha wasn’t as secure as she wanted to be and often did not feel good about herself.  “So it would take her, maybe, until twelve o’clock to …get herself together where she could feel relaxed and talk to people.”  The two worked together and in time Martha overcame her fears.  Years later in an interview with The Observer newspaper, Martha acknowledged her gratitude: “Everything I do and every move I make has to do with her teachings…She also taught us how to dance with our feet. Today, a lot of women in this business dance with their bodies.  The camera strikes them at the pelvis first, then goes to their faces.  Mrs. Powell showed us how to use our feet, which moved our bodies with elegance.  What she taught me was class and self-worth.”

In another interview with The Guardian during 2013, Martha remembered that as black artists they had to overcome all aspects of racial discrimination, including being denied the use of a toilet or not being allowed to eat in restaurants. “She taught us how to tolerate, to sustain and to persevere.  And she was right.  I survived.”  When Mrs. Powell was in her nineties, they hung out as friends with Martha, once elected to Detroit’s City Council, hiring her to assist her at council functions and charity events. –“(Mrs.. Powell) knew a lot about politics and Detroit. How it ran. She was very aware of everything, a font of information, and a well respected figure in the city.”  Mrs.. Powell also helped Martha write speeches, make connections, while becoming her confidante.  She also refused to tell her real age, at ninety-two, because “people think you’re useless”. All told, Martha continued, Mrs.. Powell served four years doing community liaison by visiting retirement homes, encouraging old folks to get up and dance, and to schools where the young people might have disapproved of two elderly ladies telling them what to do.  “But, she’d have them up and walking, showing them how to be proud and walk without a swag.”

The Miracles’ Bobby Rogers warmly remembered Mrs. Powell as a stickler for positive behaviour – “She deserves all the credit and admiration she gets.  What a wonderful addition to Motown she’s been.”  The Four Tops’ Duke Fakir said, “She taught us all etiquette, class and what you are supposed to do.  That’s artist development.”  And, Berry Gordy told her, “You have style.”

Mrs. Powell insisted she was overwhelmingly proud of all the performers she worked with, telling journalist Jeff Karbour that “This has been a blessing.  I thank God for allowing me to be here….I’m very proud of them because you don’t hear a lot of negative things about Motown artists.”

Mrs. Maxine Powell always radiated a natural dignity and grace, delicately mannered and primly dressed from her shoes to her obligatory hat.  And this is how we remembered her up to her death in October 2013 in Southfield’s Providence Hospital.  Her actual cause of death was said to have been associated with her declining health following a fall on 31 May.  Her passing was peaceful, surrounded by close friends and her Motown family.

Berry Gordy – “The Motown legacy would not be what it is today if not for her.”

Motown Spotlight - May 2018

Motown Spotlight – May 2018

As the sun is shining and all is good with the world, let’s dispense with the usual banter to revisit the excellent “Baby I’ve Got It! More Motown Girls” CD, which I started talking about last month, giving overviews of the featured artists.  So, in no particular order, here’s a similar few random words about the remaining ladies, starting with Ann Bogan, who, as you know, replaced Gladys Horton in The Marvelettes.  A native of Cleveland, she was a member of The Challenger III group with whom she recorded three singles for Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi label, including “Honey Honey Honey” in June 1962, followed by “Every Day” credited to the Challengers 3 featuring Ann Bogan. She also duetted with Harvey on “What Can You Do”.  When Tri-Phi was absorbed into Motown, Ann became a company artist, and before replacing Gladys Horton sang lead on The Andantes’ 1964 single “(Like A) Nightmare”.  Marlene Barrow-Tate recalled in the book “Motown From The Background” that Harvey – “brought her from Cleveland to record in Detroit.  We needed a lead voice and she was the strong lead singer.  We had wished and hoped for a record.  She sang lead on ‘(Like A) Nightmare’ but our dream never materialised.  There was no real effort to put us out there or promote us.  The song was recorded and that was it…..We were happy with it and it was a good sound we had with Ann.”

Gladys Horton told author Marc Taylor in “The Original Marvelettes” book, that when she first heard Ann sing, “Her voice was just so dynamic…Ann had that gospel voice.”  The first post-Gladys release was “My Baby Must Be A Magician”, another written and produced for the ladies by Smokey Robinson, and by 1968 Ann was elevated to lead voice on “I’m Gonna Hold On As Long As I Can”.  However, it’s thought there are still several unreleased tracks featuring Ann on lead, but, for now, featured on this compilation is her version of “There Are Things”, also recorded by Tammi Terrell using the same backing track.

The pioneering black singer and actress, Barbara McNair is featured here with “You’ve Got Possibilities” from the short-running Broadway musical “It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman”, which is a beautiful contribution here from an equally beautiful lady. Born in Chicago and raised in Racine, Wisconsin, Barbara’s first break came when Max Gordon, owner of The Village Vanguard Club, offered her a spot on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show.  Moving on a few years, she signed to Coral Records, and as an actress played a minor singing role in the 1963 film “Spencer’s Mountain” starring Henry Fonda. Two years later, with ambitions to break the adult listening market, Berry Gordy secured her because he believed she would add a sophisticated Hollywood touch to his roster of artists. During her tenure she was credited with a pair of official albums “Here I Am” and “The Real Barbara McNair” in 1966 and 1969 respectively. However, she further recorded with Smokey Robinson but it seems Berry was rather reluctant to release the results. Thankfully, in later years, several of the tracks were liberated. One of her most talked about films was “If He Hollers Let Him Go” during 1968, not due to her acting expertise but rather her nude sequences.  She promoted the film by posing for a Playboy spread which she said – “helped my career immensely.” Then the lady also starred as Sidney Poitier’s wife in the 1970 film “They Call Me Mister Tibbs” and its sequel “The Organisation”.  A year earlier, she played a nun in the Elvis Presley movie “Change Of Habit”, when she told The Washington Post – “I find movie acting a more rewarding kind of work than singing.  When I’m working in a club I must go from one song to another rapidly and I don’t have much time to express myself emotionally.  In a movie, you can concentrate on one scene at a time.”  In between times, she hosted her own television variety programme “The Barbara McNair Show” from 1969-1972.

“I spent a long time trying to get Norman Whitfield interested in producing me., but he was always tied up working with The Temptations, Gladys Knight and The Undisputed Truth”. So sayeth Yvonne Fair in a seventies interview.  In the end he succumbed, agreeing to record the single “Funky Music Sho’ Nuff Turns Me On” on her. So pleased was he with the result that he went on to record the “Bitch Is Black” album, containing her immortal version of “It Should Have Been Me” and the delicious “It’s Bad For Me To See You.”  Aside from the music, the album’s artwork also raised eyebrows because it showed the singer brandishing a whip. In fact, when I first saw it I wondered “what the hell?” The whip, she said, was only significant to the album’s actual title – “People think of me as being a little bitchy on stage and that’s where the title came from originally.  I’m not into that way-out stuff.  I don’t dress like Labelle, for example, but I like to think of my music as having a little of their style and quality about it, with a bit of Tina Turner thrown in.” However, included here isn’t a Norman Whitfield track but rather Yvonne’s take on the Barbara George track “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More)”, recorded prior to her first outing “Stay A Little Longer”.   Born in Richmond, Virginia, Yvonne was an established artist before she hooked up with Motown, having sung with The Chantels and James Brown, with whom she had a child Venisha, and recorded “I Found You” which James later re-worked into “I Got You (I Feel Good)”.  It seems that between 1962 – 1966 Yvonne recorded a total of five singles with the James Brown Band including the beforementioned title, “Say So Long” and “You Can Make It If You Try”.  Despite being a singer to be reckoned with, Yvonne was overlooked as a Motown artist.

“I started out as a writer, but once I got into recording it took all my time to get into learning how to perform,” Mary Wells told Wayne Jancik in 1980. “I learned how to walk on and off stage….and got more into being an artist.” When she was auditioned by Berry Gordy, only the Tamla label was in existence and she dearly wanted to join it as it was making itself heard in Detroit.  However, Berry had other ideas; he planned to open another, Motown, and wanted Mary to be one of its first new artists. “I was kinda disappointed about it because Motown wasn’t anything then.”  Berry won out because after a staggering 22 takes, “Bye Bye Baby” was her debut release.  “During that time they had one-track recording.  No-one could make any mistakes.  The singer and musicians had to come out perfect. …I was pretty hoarse but it came out great, more churchy and bluesy.”  From here, Mary was slowly elevated into the position of Motown’s first Queen, thanks to the unprecedented success of “My Guy”, written and produced by Smokey Robinson.  Detroit-born into a poor but hard working family, Mary was shy to the extreme, with no ambition to become a professional singer. Her intention was to work behind the public spotlight, writing songs for other artists, but fate had other plans for her, because within a few months this typical Detroit teenager was the biggest-selling black female artist.  The included remake of “She Don’t Love You” with strings was recorded in an outside studio, date unknown, and has only recently been liberated, gradually filling in the recording gaps in Mary’s somewhat checkered career.

Featured twice on this CD is the multi-award winning musical family who, I think it’s fair to say, has carved a place in our hearts, thanks to the run of platinum music driven by Gladys Knight. Here we have “Is This Why (I Gave My Love To You)”, co-written by Debbie Dean, and the CD’s opening track, “In My Heart I Know It’s Right”, a Marvin Gaye, Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua composition. In her autobiography “Between Each Line Of Pain And Glory”, she wrote that prior to Motown, Gladys Knight and the Pips were already a successful group with selling power, and she mulled over whether joining them was right for them. Would they be promoted as a priority act or, as she put it, be a stepchild in that environment?  In other words, what could the company do for them that they couldn’t do for themselves?  Being a group ahead of its time by having formed their own corporation with a profit-sharing plan and a pension and being experienced in booking and money management, they were confident they could avoid future pitfalls the company might throw at them. So a group vote was taken and they signed a seven-year contract with Berry Gordy because, they decided, they wanted his hit making power.  However, it became apparent from day one that they were not going to be Berry Gordy’s priority – “We were relegated to the lower tier of Motown acts with The Monitors and The Spinners. Some of their members had to do odd jobs around Hitsville in order to keep their pay cheques coming.” They doubled as chauffeurs and go-fers until it was their time to record but, she insisted, her group carried nobody’s coats. Their ground level status was further evident she wrote – “(When) we’d hear about parties at Berry’s house and company picnics after they happened, which is usually a clear sign that we weren’t on the A-list.”

Marvin Gaye once said – “Kim Weston’s a great gal and we became very close friends. Working with her (on their ‘Take Two’ album) fulfilled my need to do something different.  It was acting.  It was an escape for me. I could imagine with Kim, for instance, that we were innocent young lovers.” While the lady herself told Susan Whitall – “He was a very shy person when I knew him; very gentle, very sweet and concerned, and very protective of me.” In actual fact, Kim and Marvin had travelled together prior to recording their duets.  Following the release of her “Love Me All The Way”/”It Should Have Been Me” on Tamla in February 1963, she toured as his co-star. “So we did that for three/four years before we recorded together. He was recording with Mary Wells while I was travelling with him.  Unfortunately, we never did any duets together (on stage).” Hence, she was the obvious choice to partner him on vinyl when Mary left the company. Meanwhile, Mickey Stevenson also told Ms Whitall that Kim was his best singer ever – “(She) had a great voice, an absolutely great gift. It was like steel sometimes. She’d hit certain notes, and it could shatter a house.”  Kim’s featured with a pair of titles, “So Long”, the closing theme of the Russ Morgan Orchestra, and “I Up And Think Of You”, one of fifty Robert Hamilton productions in Motown’s vaults, originally recorded by Linda Griner which, by all accounts, is still waiting to surface.

When Brenda Holloway was sixteen-years-old, she worked with Barry White, and on the Donna label with her sister Patrice. “Patrice had a hit when I was eighteen and she was twelve called ‘The Del-Viking’…I used to do the dancing because she was kind of chunky at twelve.”  The sisters also earned a living as background singers for the likes of Tina Turner, The Blossoms and Johnny Rivers. Brenda said her relationship with Berry Gordy was totally unique, likening herself to his adopted child – “…As far as being part of the (Gordy) family, I was adopted and wanted.  And I didn’t come there (Motown) broke…I was refined, I’ve always been refined.” It appears Berry trusted Brenda and her instincts because she was focused and regimented.  Staying out all night partying wasn’t her way – “I didn’t believe in that because I knew I had to get up the next day.”  And then when she was cranky, he’d tell her to stay in her room – “Just like a little kid!…but he loved me, he wanted me on his label.  He enjoyed my singing and enjoyed me as an artist.” Her contributions here, “Without Love You Lose A Good Feelin’” and the CD’s title “Baby I’ve Got It”, are as different as chalk and cheese.  The first title was, seemingly, one of 150 tracks Brenda recorded but canned, while the second, is her version of the flipside of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted”, while a version by Little Lisa lingers in the vaults.

Talking of Patrice, her final remaining song from the vaults is included here, “In Your Heart”, although the recording date is not known.  Frank Wilson once said – “Patrice was beautiful.  She was sassy. She was extraordinarily creative and way ahead of her generation.  I loved her very much”. While Sherrie Matthews commented – “…Her personality was always so cheerful….She had one of the best voices I ever had the pleasure to sing with.”  Born in Los Angeles, shortly after her family relocated from Atascadero, she joined Motown shortly after Brenda, where she worked with Smokey Robinson.  However, her name was etched in the history books when she co-wrote the iconic “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, among other titles. However, one Patrice single did sneak out, her tribute to Little Stevie Wonder, “Stevie”/”He Is The Boy Of My Dreams”, penned by Frank Wilson, released on the VIP label during 1964, where she, as a twelve-year-old played the role of a much older woman.  Apparently, there are other tracks credited to her, like, Smokey’s “For The Love Of Mike”, a cover of The Supremes’ “Those DJ Shows” and a duet with Brenda titled “Come Into My Palace”. Given that Motown’s promotion of her sister lacked direction and enthusiasm, Patrice didn’t stand a chance, and she became an early casualty in 1964 but her time would arrive by signing with Capitol Records.

Katherine Anderson told a radio presenter on WRDV-FM that Berry Gordy chose the name Marvelettes. When he first saw them perform he apparently said – “Those girls are marvellous.”  However, there’s been several stories handed down through the years about the name, but I’ve opted to stick with this one (for now!). Their association with Berry when they first signed was tight, but she added – “As the company grew he became more distant because he had to spread himself in different directions.  Primarily a lot of things came from within ourselves.”  Although Smokey Robinson had a huge influence over them, that didn’t restrict them from working with other writers and producers. “Everybody pretty much knew that Smokey was Berry’s boy, therefore he was able to get things (done) and he did very well for us….It’s always been said that when we came along, girl groups didn’t last that long, and I never knew the reason. Thank God we made it for ten years.”

With the one-time membership of Katherine, Gladys Horton, Juanita Cowart, Georgeanna Tillman, Gladys Horton and Georgia Dobbins (who was replaced by Wanda Young) the ladies enjoyed Motown’s first number one crossover hit with “Please Mr Postman”.  To celebrate the achievement, Berry bought each girl a diamond ring, and worked with them as they catapulted into teenage idols, releasing a further run of hit singles as they climbed. The ladies topped the first national Motown Revue in 1962, and by the time they returned to Detroit, Gladys had hooked up with Hubert Johnson, and Georgeanna with Billy Gordon, both from The Contours, and Wanda with The Miracles’ Bobby Rogers. Love bus indeed! Then Juanita decided to leave the line-up, whereupon The Marvelettes continued as a quartet.  Katherine remembered – “In those days we had a very demanding schedule (sometimes) performing up to seven shows a night.  Juanita found it hard and decided to pursue other interests.”  The last time the group worked together was early in 1969 at Detroit’s Twenty Grand Club. An era had ended, but their legacy continues thanks to compilations like this, where the first version of “Playboy” is included, alongside “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”, their take on The Chiffon’s smash and, actually featuring Wanda with the ladies and not The Andantes, which was sometimes the case with other recordings.

When asked what her favourite song is, Martha Reeves always says every tune is special to her.  And further – “Every song that I’ve sung I’ve had to place myself in a situation so that I can believe in it.”  In particular she cited “My Baby Loves Me” where uninvited tears spring into her eyes, and – “I get a special warmth when I feel ‘Come And Get These Memories’ coming on.  ‘Jimmy Mach’, I’ll find him one day, while ‘Dancing In The Street’ means that you can get a group of people together to enjoy music and dancing and just let yourselves go.”   Marvin Gaye, Mickey Stevenson and Ivory Joe Hunter wrote the track when the Detroit riots were scourging the city and, she said – “It was an effort to get everybody to dance and sing. Basically, to spread music, because music has always been what soothes the souls of the world.”

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas represent all that is good about Motown, and as their lead singer, she has always been the ideal ambassador to promote the company.  Their popularity, particularly in the UK, is as solid and strong as it’s ever been, proven by their regular visits to sold out venues.  Two tracks here have caused huge interest; for starters, check out “Mr Misery (Let Me Be)”, where the group has added their vocals to the backing track used by The Miracles, and, secondly, the “Come And Get These Memories” soundalike with “I’m Willing To Pay The Price”. One thing I didn’t know until now was that Martha appeared in “Fairy Tales”, an x-rated movie, although she hastened to add she kept her clothes on!  “I’m seen coming out of this cauldron bubble which is my first time singing on the large screen”, she explained in a 1981 interview. “It was quite different because I’m just basically a singer (but) I see now though that if you open your mind and you study, you can do anything.”

Phew – we’ve made it!  I’m just hoping I’ve not run out of space this month to round off this wonderful “Baby I’ve Got It” release, and, of course, that these quirky notes have brought some of the tracks alive.

 
 

Motown Spotlight February 2018

Motown Spotlight February 2018

Before taking care of business this month, I’d like to thank those of you who contacted me regarding my piece about Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell last time. Your positive comments have inspired me to write about Marvin and his other duettists some time in the future.  Meanwhile though, one reader who asked me to share her comments was none other than Motown’s very own Chris Clark, so here goes…

“Tammi was a cheeky, spontaneous, good hearted pleasure! I ran into her at a couple of Berry Gordy’s parties, hanging out at the studio between sessions and backstage for hours between performances at the Fox shows. What I was most aware of is what she wasn’t – she wasn’t judgemental.  She had this wild, warm – I don’t know how to say it, – but it was a spiritedness.  There was a spiritual aspect to it as well. Just like Brenda Holloway.  With Tammi there was this sense of energy.  It wasn’t challenging nor competitive.  It was there, and you were open to join it, no questions asked. It’s possible different people had different reactions to it.  It’s also possible men felt compelled to tame or contain it, and they might have run into different aspects of it.  I always had the sense that she was someone I’d want in the trenches with me if the shit hit the fan.  That she was the kind of girl who would have your back, but also have that kind of ‘Mash Squad’ humour that can almost make the trenches bearable.  And she was such a talent! That should have been my very first sentence.  She had a gift from the Gods and the courage to express it.  And I think she did give Marvin the love he needed, in the only place he’d felt safe enough to accept it, and not self-defeatedly sabotage it – on the stage and also in their music.”

Let’s TCB some more…if you’ve loads of cash to spare and you’re a Mr Robinson fan you might want to visit his store at http://smokeyrobinson.storenvy/com/ because alongside signed pictures, he’s selling a custom made black suit for a cool $1,200 which was designed for him for the Disney television programme “The Magic Man”.  I’ll give you the details as taken from his website – the black suit features a vest, suspenders (what!) and cape. There are silver rhinestones on the collar and cuffs, vest and down the side of the trouser legs.  The item will be signed and accompanied with a Smokey Robinson Collectables Certificate of Authenticity.  Now, this item may have been on offer for some time, but it’s the first time I’ve noticed it, and honestly wonder why such an iconic artist is selling such a personal article unless – and I’ve just thought of this – he’s raising money for one of his charities.

You may remember that Smokey is the executive music producer for a Netflix animated series for children based on the Jobete catalogue of songs.  Apparently each episode in the series draws inspiration from the music of  Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5 and, of course, Smokey, among others.  And it is this musical backdrop that revolves around the adventures of a shy eight-year-old Ben, who is gifted with an artistic ability to bring street art to life.  Living in the imaginary city of Motown, Ben and his friends discover that creativity is magic, bringing vibrancy to their city.   “I’m thrilled to be a part of this wonderful new series that will embrace the magic of Motown and present our songs to a whole new generation of fans and their families.” Smokey said at the time of the press launch. “I’m so impressed with the creative vision for the series and can’t wait to play my part in bringing it to the world.”   Sounds a hugely interesting project, but unfortunately I’ve been unable to discover more current information about it.   Moving on…

Former Supreme, Scherrie Payne is one of the artists involved in a new music project titled ”La La Peace Song” , the brainchild of producer Rick Gianatos. He explained his reasoning behind the song to Pump It Up Magazine. “I was watching riots take place in Ferguson (after police officer Darren Wilson shot dead Michael Brown in 2014). It reminded me of the riots in my home down, Wilmington, Delaware, after Martin Luther King was killed. I felt a strong sense of déjà vu.”  Written by Johnny Bristol and recorded earlier by both Al Wilson and O.C. Smith,  “La La Peace Song” came to mind as a vehicle to raise funds for all victims of violence. Rick and Johnny had met previously in Detroit during Ian Levine’s Motorcity Reunion sessions. “I co-produced several tracks with Johnny.   He was a wonderful talent and a gentleman of a human being.”  (Yes, I agree – he was an ace guy; ultra friendly, easy going, and a delight to be with)

Anyway, “La La Peace Song” is centred around a trio of lead voices, Pam Vincent, Jim Gilstrap and Joyce Vincent, with additional voices that included  Jessica Williams and Scherrie.  Instead of copying the original version which was styled around Johnny’s “Hang On In There Baby”, Rick injected a seventies flavour akin to Faith, Hope And Charity.  With this release he’s hoping to accomplish an awareness to violent crimes, while addiitionally protesting against the current political climate, which, he said, “seems to condone racism, prejudice, separatism and hatred…Music can teach and it also can heal.  I hope ‘La La Peace Song’ can do both.”  There’s two/three different versions of the song – which is so deliciously catchy that it’s almost impossible to get the hookline out of your mind, while the persuasive vocals push home the important message of love  – so suggest you visit the various sites to hear more.  Thanks guys!

Diana Ross now.  Many fans across Europe have flown to Las Vegas to catch her very special and intimate showcase at The Wynn Encore Theatre.  Firstly, Keith Russell reported back to me last year that Diana was on top form, that her voice was faultless, and the incredible evening was one to be remembered.  He saw her three times, if my memory serves me correctly, but Las Vegas itself wasn’t for him.  I’ve also kept track of other fans making the trip, and was recently contacted by Jim Hegerty who saw her perform this month.  After the thoroughly entertaining show, presented in the lady’s impeccable style, Jim presented Diana with an award from her European fans.

Unclear what this was about and how many fans were involved in organising this award, I caught up with him last week, and he told me the award was his idea because he felt the star had received all the major industry accolades and trophies but, to his knowledge, she’d never actually received one from her fans.  “I designed it and paid for it because I’m hoping that as it’s from her European fans it may prompt her to tour here again” he told me. “Diana is testament to longevity.  Her voice is incredible and her stage presence is awesome.”  Incidentally, Fredy Rimando filmed the short question/answer session after the show – although answering questions appears to be something Diana doesn’t do easily, particularly when asked about her RCA days – so used the ‘get out of jail card’ by singing “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” instead. Anyway, you can check out Fredy’s short film on  It’s doubtful at this time that Diana will tour outside America though, unlike her former label mates, Lionel Richie, and the Four Tops and The Temptations.

In June, Mr Richie will be performing at venues he’s never been to before, like the County Cricket Ground in Hove, East Sussex, on 23rd, which is about an hour from where I live. Couldn’t believe my eyes!!  Also included is a pair of headlining dates at London’s Hampton Court Palace Festival on 5th and 6th.  The tour starts on 1st at Northampton’s Franklin Gardens, then moves on to Perth, Lincolnshire, Shrewsbury, Leigh, Carlisle, Scarborough, Chesterfield, ending on 24th at Holkham Hall, near Wells-next-the-Sea.  Tickets were haemorrhaging out the door on the first day of sale, so should imagine the tour is now more or less sold out.  Speaking about his return Lionel said. “I’ve been missing the UK and can’t wait to make my long-hgxaawaited return and to see parts of the country I’ve never made it out to before. The fans are always incredible and they make the atmosphere at every show electric, so I look forward to singing along with them soon.”

As for the Four Tops and The Temptations (and having visited several sites for confirmation) I think the dates are as follows for their arena tour in November.  Kicking off in Glasgow’s SEC Armadillo on the 18th, the two groups move through Leeds, Manchester, Gateshead, Birmingham and Liverpool.  Then switch to a somewhat smaller venue at Southend-On-Sea, before hitting London’s 02, with  closing performances at Bournemouth and Nottingham. Again, for this and Lionel’s tour do please check out the relevant sites, particularly as new dates could be included in the future.

Before leaving this subject, and without being controversial, over the years I’ve been contacted by older fans of both groups saying they would prefer to remember them as they were and not as they are now with Duke Fakir and Otis Williams being the only remaining member in the Tops and Tempts respectively.  I fully appreciate their comments and must add that when I first saw these two current groups, I didn’t connect with them either.  So, like many of those who were with the guys from the outset, I likewise, sadly, said my farewells to them and haven’t been back, preferring to remember the two groups in their original format. God bless them.

Finally,  it has been announced that Ace Records are to release the CD package “Baby I’ve Got It – More Motown Girls”  next month.  Of the twenty-four tracks, it seems sixteen are previously unissued, and the remainder being first available on “Motown Unreleased” downloads between 2014 and 2017.  All tracks on this pending release were recorded between 1961 and 1969, and include Brenda Holloway’s “Baby I’ve Got It” (of course!), Kim Weston’s “So Long”,  Little Lisa’s “Keep Away”, Martha and the Vandellas’ “Mr Misery (Let Me Be)” and Barbara McNair’s “You’ve Got Possibilities”, among others. By the way, it took a year to get clearance for these songs and quite possibly this will be the last in the series.  But who knows…..

Thank you for being with me this month, and I promise  there’s plenty more to come, so do stay on board.

Motown Spotlight - December 2017

Motown Spotlight – December 2017

Two months ago I mentioned Diana Ross was launching her own brand of perfume, Diamond Diana. Well, it arrived in a blaze of publicity on 5 December, marketed as a fragrance that is true to the balance of beauty, femininity and confidence, emanating the inherent essence of one of the most recognisable women in the world. Phew! Not my words, I hasten to add – and not sure what it all means either. Anyway, to take advantage of the Christmas market, this fragrance is luxuriously packaged in a glistening glass-diamond bottle designed by Diana: a 100ml design with sixty facets forming a pointed cap with an internal Diamond Diana monogram. Presented in a black velvet jewellery box, and decorated with a silk black and Bordeaux ribbon, it’s embossed with 24k glittery gold dust. Again, not my words, but sounds rather exotically expensive. And, finally, included in each box is a message from Diana which I assume is as follows – “This personal fragrance is inspired by the powerful connection between music and sensual memories. Sensual scene vibrations are carried from heart to heart like music. Everyone should have a diamond.” That I agree with because as Marilyn Monroe once said, “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” However, I’m afraid you won’t be able to buy Diana’s perfume in the high street, but only via the Home Shopping Network (HSN), one of the leading entertainment and lifestyle retailers, where the price is approximately £71. The perfume coincides nicely with the CD release of “Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection”, the 15-song hit collection with a new dance mix of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, which I’ve now discovered can be purchased from HSN with the perfume and a special bonus Seasonal CD featuring tracks like “Let It Snow”, “Silent Night” and “Winter Wonderland”. In case you’re wondering, I won’t be asking Father Christmas for this as I’m strictly a Chanel No 5 gal, which I fear is more expensive. Let’s move on….


Last month we lost one of the pivotal members of The Miracles, Mr Warren “Pete” Moore from diabetes complications; sadly Pete died on his birthday, 19th November. As mentioned last time, I’d like to take time out to remember this guy who Berry Gordy remembered as, “a gentleman, loving husband, devoted father and loyal friend.”

So, here’s an overview of Pete Moore, the guy who Smokey Robinson had known since he was thirteen years old and who was in the first line-up of the future Miracles. Known as The Five Chimes and singing their versions of doo-wop material first recorded by groups like The Moonglows, Pete and Smokey were joined by Clarence Dawson, James Grice and Donald Wicker; the latter soon to be replaced by Ronnie White. When Clarence departed, his place was taken by Emerson Rogers. Then James quit, to be replaced by Bobby Rogers. “It was an amazing time”, Pete Moore told Michael Sangiacomo. “We were just kids and there was music everywhere in Detroit.” Renaming themselves The Matadors – Smokey, Pete, Ronnie, Emerson and Bobby – they began rehearsing seriously for their future career in the music business. However, in 1957, before they could audition for Jackie Wilson’s manager – who was searching for new bands to represent – Emerson was drafted into the Army, whereupon his sister, now Smokey’s girlfriend, Claudette Rogers took his place. (In later years, Berry Gordy gave Claudette the official title of the “First Lady Of Motown” because she was the first female artist to be signed to a Motown-affiliated label Tamla). The group failed the audition: “They didn’t like us” said Pete Moore. “They said we were too much like The Platters, but there was another guy in the room who caught up with us and said he liked us a lot. His name was Berry Gordy.” As composer of some of Jackie Wilson’s singles, it was natural that Berry should be in attendance – and wasn’t it fate that he was! One thing led to another, which has been well documented over the years, the group renamed themselves The Miracles and teamed up with Berry Gordy to open the Tamla label, the first in a series which would later balloon to become the mighty Motown Records. It’s probably true to say here that without Smokey and his group, there would be no Motown, because Berry Gordy needed encouragement, support and dedication to put into reality his dream of owning his own record company. Going it alone was an awesome prospect but with the guys behind him, much of the pressure was taken off.

After a shaky start with “The Feeling Is So Fine” and “Way Over There”, The Miracles’ “Shop Around” was the first release in the early sixties to zoom to the top of the US R&B listing, where it spent a staggering eight weeks. Said to be the group’s and Motown’s first million selling title, it naturally attracted, among other things, an answer record “Don’t Let Him Shop Around” by Debbie Dean (who, of course, went on to record one of my all-time loves “Why Am I Loving You”). And as a soloist, Smokey later recorded the sequel “It’s Time To Stop Shopping Around” on his 1987 album “One Heartbeat”. Pete Moore mentioned their single in a WVUD-FM interview, saying, “The record came out on 17 December. Everybody was shopping. When they heard ‘Shop Around’ on the radio, that’s what they were doing. Buying dresses and toys for the kids, and that record exploded!” That explosion launched The Miracles with big selling – “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”, “Mickey’s Monkey”, “Ooo Baby Baby”, to name a few. It also introduced Pete Moore as a prolific songwriter, mostly working with Smokey. However, we’ll stay with “Ooo Baby Baby” for a second, a song that Pete said was their national anthem. “That song is responsible for a lot of babies! We had to play that every time we performed (because) everybody loved it.” The song was the result of a concert in Charleston, South Carolina. “After our finale, we were still singing, and Smokey starting singing just the ‘ooos’ and ‘baby baby’. We fell in love with the harmony, and the crowd went crazy. We went back to our (dressing room) and said we got to write a song to go with that”. And so, their signature track was born.

Another time, when they desperately needed new material and inspiration was failing them, Smokey hit upon an idea, picturing in his mind a guy who had cried so much that, he said, “it looked like tears had walked over his face – the tracks of my tears.” While Pete recollected the song was born from a guitar riff played by Marv Tarplin, “It coincided with a desire to write a song inspired by the tragic Italian opera ‘Pagliacci’ (written by Ruggero Leoncavallo), whose central character is a sad clown. So we wrote a song about a guy who appeared to be happy on the outside but always sad on the inside.” This happened on a Friday, so the group worked on the demo track over the weekend to be sure it was ready for Motown’s weekly meeting of producers and writers with Berry Gordy in the chair. Once they had heard it, Berry shouted, “You got a hit!” He wasn’t wrong either. “Tracks Of My Tears”, first issued during 1965, has lasted several lifetimes and revered as a milestone in soul and Motown’s history. “I can recall doing shows like Dick Clark and ‘Hullabaloo” and every time we sang that song people in the audience would cry” recalled Pete. As an aside, Smokey re-visited “Pagliacci” in 1970 with “The Tears Of A Clown”, a UK/US chart topper and international high earner.

Pete Moore’s composing credits are seen on many record labels, including “It’s Growing”, “Since I Lost My Baby”, “Ain’t That Peculiar”, “I’ll Be Doggone”, “Going To A Go-Go” and “My Girl Has Gone”, but alongside his professional achievements Smokey remembers him as a friend, “We called (him) ‘Pee Wee’ because he was short and stocky. Pete idolised the gamers – the pimps and pool sharks – but he wasn’t like that. He had a good heart, and excelled at sports. He’d play us at pool with one hand and kick our ass. He was also a walking sports almanac. He had his women but he wasn’t as girl aggressive as me and Ronnie.” And when Smokey married Claudette Rogers at the Warren Avenue Baptist Church, Pete was his best man, but that didn’t go exactly to plan, as the (then) groom remembered, “We’re in the Hawk, a block away from the church, when he realises he forgot the ring. I U-turn on a dime, tyres screeching, rubber burning, race home, grab the gold and speed back to the church.” By all accounts, thoughts of being stood up at the alter had crossed his bride’s mind.

As you know, Smokey eventually decided he needed to spend more time with his family, so intended to give up touring and concentrate on his position as Motown’s vice president. The move took a few years to materialise, but towards the end of his tenure as a performing Miracle, his relationship with Pete Moore had disintegrated. Despite being inseparable since youngsters, the rot set in when Pete married. It appears he was goaded by his wife to question the money he was earning as Smokey’s cut was more. “…I resented the fact that he let his wife poison his mind…I was shocked. He’d known his wife briefly, but we’d been friends since childhood. Male friendships are sacred to me.” Smokey confronted Pete but the damage was deep rooted. There was also some animosity between the membership when the name change occurred – Smokey’s name was put upfront the group name on record labels. This was, of course, Berry Gordy’s decision and had nothing to do with Smokey, but it did add fuel to his decision to leave them. This was in 1969. However, it took until 1972 to put on his walking shoes due to unexpected situations like “The Tears Of A Clown” busting through the global charts, and subsequent touring commitments on the back of that release, and the following singles. “We had twelve farewell engagements playing it sold out houses,” Pete once noted. “It was amazing!”

Billy Griffin stepped into the vacant spot to enjoy a career that wouldn’t match that of the Smokey-led group, but which would celebrate one of the biggest selling singles of 1975 – “Love Machine”. Penned by Pete Moore and Berry Gordy, and taken from their “City Of Angels” album, the single shot to the top of the American chart; top three in Britain, with runaway success across the world. The song grew legs and was used in films like “Chicken Run”, “Monsters, Inc” and “Planes”, while Thelma Houston recorded the first cover version in 1979. Popular with US club jocks and hitting the top spot in Japan, Thelma’s “Love Machine” prompted the release of her “Ride To The Rainbow” over there via the Japanese P-Vine label. Also, the song was featured on Wham’s first album “Fantastic” in 1983, replacing George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” which the duo decided to hold over for their second one. This meant that, as Pete Moore and Billy Griffin held the rights to the single via their publishing company, Grimora Music, they (reputedly) earned a cool $15 million.

During 1986 Pete decided it was time to leave, mostly because he grew weary of all the travelling. “My wife said I was getting older and that I should take it easy. I didn’t need the money because I had my own publishing company. I thought it was time.” The remaining Miracles continued, with Bobby Rogers recruiting new members until 2014 or thereabouts when he retired through ill health.

In 2006 Pete was reunited with Smokey and Bobby Rogers for an interview on the Motown DVD “Smokey Robinson and The Miracles: The Definitive Performances”, where, among other things, Pete revealed he was the group’s uncredited vocal arranger. A year later he joined Bobby, Smokey and Claudette on stage to celebrate the group’s 50th anniversary, and during 2009 The Miracles were given their own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame (where Claudette laid flowers following Pete’s death). Three years later, Pete and the other Miracles were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, overturning a decision in 1987 to only induct Smokey. “It was long overdue” said Pete, when the decision was finally made to include the entire membership. “…We were there before Motown. We set the pace for all the other artists to come after us….They looked up to us. How could we not be in there?” Then, during 2015, as a founding member of The Miracles, Pete was inducted into the R&B Music Hall Of Fame in his hometown of Detroit. I’m sure there are many other accreditations I’ve omitted, so please forgive me.

Pete Moore is survived by his wife Tina of forty-plus years, his twin daughters Monette and Monique, and his sister Winifred. Of course, his passing also means that there are only two surviving members of the original Miracles – Smokey and Claudette, who said, “Pete was a prolific and award-winning writer, singer and friend…he will be missed by myself and many others.” (Some of the quotes are taken from Smokey Robinson’s autobiography “Inside My Life” and an interview with Michael Sangiacomo, while others aren’t credited)…and finally..

Playing softly in the background as I wrote this was the “More Christmas Classics” CD containing all the well known titles relevant to this time of year. Kicking off with Diana Ross and The Supremes’ “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, there’s a trio of Miracles’ tracks – “Christmas Every Day”, “Noel”, “It’s Christmas Time” – and contributions from The Temptations, Stevie Wonder plus Michael Jackson with the Jackson 5. Mmm, interesting name change there. Anyway, as “Silent Night” is gently filling the office, all that’s left is for me to wish you, one and all, a very Happy, Safe, Healthy and Peaceful Christmas and New Year. The thought that we will be starting 2018 together thrills me, but I do need you to take good care wherever you go because I’d like you with me for always.

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 generic klonopin yellow 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!