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!