Motown Spotlight - March 2018

Motown Spotlight – March 2018

Can it really be over fifty years ago that one of the most groundbreaking programmes was screened on prime time national television?  Well, indeed it is, and for people as young as myself, we settled in to watch an event that, in my opinion, was a first, not only for Motown fans, but the British public in general. As Rediffusion covered the  London area, and I lived in East Sussex, I needed to secure the indoor television aerial in just the right position to pick up a viewable signal.  Quite an art I can tell you, but possible. So, what am I talking about? The Sound Of Motown, screened at 9.40pm on 28 April 1965 on Associated Rediffusion Television.  To say it was the most exciting of programmes would be a total understatement. It was a dream come true, an ambition realised, and, although not recognised at the time, the programme made significant inroads into breaking down the barriers erected in the entertainment world.

So, how did it come about?  As years passed, different stories emerged but I think it’s fair to say that this is probably what happened. However, let’s backtrack for a second to another programme which, to all intents and purposes, was the launching pad for The Sound Of Motown.  On 9 August 1963, Ready Steady Go, a brand new, and innovative music programme was screened for the first time by Rediffusion. I won’t dwell too much on this because the series – which lasted until 23 December 1966 – has been well documented over the years, but suffice to say, it revolutionised the way in which music was presented to viewing audiences.  Originally filmed in the small Studio 9 in London’s Kingsway, where participating acts mimed to their songs, Ready Steady Go was later transferred to the larger Studio 5 at Wembley, enabling artists to perform live, with an orchestra tucked away somewhere which was difficult due to the layout of the studio floor.  Artists performed on different mini-stages, often in the middle of a dancing audience; occasionally from studio gantries, or from the top of a staircase. As if this wasn’t tricky enough, the ever present cameras were large with rotating lens turrets rather than zooms, and weaved around the audience, often careering into unsuspecting individuals.  But, hey, that was part of the fun and no serious damage was done. RSG was glorious organised mayhem, broadcast live, bringing into our living rooms some of the best soul music of the time, alongside the major names in popular music.

The best remembered presenters, Keith Fordyce and Cathy McGowan, steered the programme as best they could, often stumbling over their lines and presenting acts that weren’t ready to perform.  Joining them was the now solo Dusty Springfield, riding off her first hit single “I Only Want To Be With You”.  A regular visitor to the programme as a member of The Springfields, and as a member of the audience, Dusty was a Britain’s top female singer and a huge coupe for the RSG team. Besides she loved to party!  By now, of course, it was no secret that The Beatles and Dusty were avidly flying the Motown flag, mentioning the company in interviews and singing its material on live and television shows. What better ambassadors could Motown have had!  “I suppose I had a lot to do with promoting them,” Dusty once said. “I didn’t realise it at the time.  It’s only when people have told me that, including Motown people themselves.  (Motown was) running my motor so to speak, so it never occurred to me that I was doing PR for them.  I was just entranced.”

Due to her immense drawing power it was decided to give Dusty her own television programme and, as she and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were now best friends, -after meeting up when Dusty appeared on Murray The K’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Extravaganza at New York’s Fox Theatre with a host of American acts including a Motown contingent – they were lined up to be her special guests.  This was to change, Dusty told me, when Berry Gordy planned to send his first Motown Revue to tour Britain to celebrate the opening of the Tamla Motown label during March 1965. Following a licensing deal with EMI Records, it was deemed logical to include all the touring acts with Martha and the girls. Besides it was a brilliant marketing tool to promote the new label, marking the longest free advertisement for a relatively unknown American artist roster on black and white commercial television.   The Motown Revue was to kick off at the Finsbury Park Astoria on 20 March, before hitting venues in Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Wolverhampton, among others.  Twenty-one towns in twenty-four days, with a television programme to rehearse, film and complete before they left London.  No mean feat!

Shortly after 7am on Monday, 15 March 1965, the Motown contingent arrived at London Airport on their chartered Boeing 707.  Berry Gordy’s artists were accompanied by lawyer George Schiffer, Maxine Powell, chaperones Evelyn Johnson and Ardena Johnson, road managers, assistants and hairdressers, while Berry Gordy brought his three oldest children (Hazel, Berry and Terry), his mother and father.  Carrying customised B.O.A.C. Cunard flight bags advertising the Tamla Motown label, they were all enthusiastically welcomed by members of Dave Godin’s Tamla Motown Appreciation Society.  Prior to the visit, Berry had written to Dave confirming that 15 March was a red letter day because his new label would be launched on that date. “It is as a result of such loyal and devoted efforts as yours that such an historic event is possible. All the artists and entire staff join me in thanking you for your loyal and unwavering support of Tamla Motown and its artists.”

Once everyone was settled in the Cumberland Hotel in Marylebone, meeting up with The Temptations was first for obligatory photo shoots around London’s tourist attractions. This was supervised by Motown UK’s Peter Prince and, my, how those historic visuals have remained relevant through the decades.  Almost magical. Next was free time where they explored the West End. Incidentally, The Supremes were the only group to occupy the penthouse suite next to the Gordy family, confirmed by the ladies in later press interviews. They also talked of the gifts Berry lavished on them, including diamond rings.

Anyway, back to the plot, and following hasty meetings between Dusty and Vicki Wickham, producer of Ready Steady Go, Rediffusion were asked to approve the  revised plan for the television programme.  Dusty was now to host a Motown show featuring Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, The Miracles, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and The Earl Van Dyke Sextet, whose membership was the company’s finest – Jack Ashford, Eli Fontaine, Robert White, Bob Cousar, Tony Newton, led by their leader, keyboardist Earl Van Dyke.  Not surprisingly, Berry Gordy wouldn’t allow his two most valued musicians, drummer Benny Benjamin and bassist James Jamerson, to tour. They stayed in Detroit to head up the remaining musicians, to keep recording sessions flowing in the artists’ absence. Martha Reeves was happy with this new concept. She still had an ace up her sleeve.  By the way, The Temptations, who weren’t on the Revue, were already in Britain on a promotional trip, and returned to Detroit following the show’s taping. Stevie Wonder was also in town prior to the Revue arriving, while Gordy’s most in-demand soloist Marvin Gaye was unable to join them due to a serious viral infection.

Originally, called Dusty Springfield Presents The Sound Of Motown, it was during production abbreviated to The Sound Of Motown, although the concept remained untouched.  Music journalist, Bob Dawbarn, who attended the rehearsals at the Wembley studio wrote “It was the usual shambles as the fast-moving show was assembled. With artists streaking like greyhounds in and out of dressing rooms for quick costume changes and sweating cameramen given only seconds to switch from one group to the next.”   Supremes, Florence Ballard told him – “We’ve brought fourteen changes of costume on this trip. The big problem is sizes.  Finding something that we all liked, that will look right in all our sizes.”  However, Bob’s immediate impression was one of complete and polished professionalism of the participating artists which, he wrote, “makes some of our miming monsters look the rank amateurs they really are.”

The acts worked for twelve hours solid at the studio, with no retakes, singing live to pre-recorded tracks although upon viewing it did seem Earl Van Dyke’s musicians were also playing in the moment.  The studio itself was more like a large industrial yard and looking at a picture of it now, showing all the acts for the finale, there was scaffolding to one side of the studio, the audience seated on the other, with a backdrop of the artists’ names littered across the skyline of Detroit. Immediately in front of the backdrop was a raised area for the dancers which stretched from one side to the other; in front of this, the musicians, who looked out onto the huge space in front of them. On this particular picture, Martha and the Vandellas were next to The Temptations and Dusty on one side, in the middle The Miracles and Stevie Wonder, and on the other side The Supremes.  Scattered around them were cameramen, steering cumbersome equipment, varying in size.

However, although the running order was planned in advance, it became apparent that as rehearsals progressed Berry Gordy was calling the shots. Martha Reeves, who was Dusty’s first choice, noticed these changes, as she recalled in her autobiography “Dancing In The Streets”. “I took offence when Berry began moving acts around until The Supremes were in a co-starring position.  The Supremes didn’t even know Dusty but suddenly they were incorporating a cover version of Sam Cooke’s ’Shake’ to supply them material for an additional spot.”  She also commented that The Supremes’ records were just starting to sell in Britain, while she and the Vandellas had toured once before, cementing a solid fan base, therefore her group should have been awarded the extra spot.  She told Berry of her feelings and balked at his response which went along the lines of that The Supremes were on the top rung of the ladder and Martha and the Vandellas were on the lower one. “My disappointment showed clearly on my face and in my voice. As we lined up for the finale, I was directed by the producers to a spot where the camera did not reach.  Standing off to the sidelines for the finale, I must have looked real ugly because I was so sad and hurt.”

However, what Martha didn’t realise at the time, because the comments came from the television viewers, her duet with Dusty on “Wishin’ And Hopin’” was voted as one of the programme’s highlights, even to this day.  “I could see Diane in the wings eating her heart out because she hadn’t been chosen to do it,” Martha further wrote in her book. “On another number (‘Can’t Hear You No More’) we also sang backup for Dusty.”  I’ve just watched a video of “Wishin’ And Hopin’” and smiled because  Dusty is gooning around part way through the song, which I suspect, is a reaction to being plagued by nerves.  In her book “Dreamgirl”, Mary Wilson wrote that she enjoyed working with Dusty.  “Her and the crew treated each one of us like a star, but it was clear that Martha and the Vandellas were their favourites.  That was okay. I always thought there was room for all of us at the top.”

Once the cameras had rolled for the last time and the programme was in the bag, the Motowners  headed for a party hosted by singer Dana Valery in Holland Park.  There they joined Vicki, Dusty and her brother Tom, members of the Rolling Stones, Madeline Bell, Sandie Shaw, Goldie and the Gingerbreads, among others. A who’s-who in British music, all wanting to bask in Motown’s magic.

So, it’s now the evening of 28 April and The Sound Of Motown is about to start.  And one by one, we’re introduced to the Sound of Young America on a whistle-stop tour of classic songs, iconic dance routines and lifetime memories.  We salivated to Martha and the Vandellas with “Heatwave”, “Nowhere To Run”, “Dancing In The Street”;  The Supremes and “Baby Love”, “Stop! In The Name Of Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go”.  We loved The Temptations impeccable choreography while performing “My Girl”, “It’s Growing”, “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, while soaking up The Miracles’ smooth deliveries on “Ooo Baby Baby”, “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”. Little Stevie’s “I Call It Pretty Music But The Old People Call It The Blues” and “Kiss Me Baby” was compulsive viewing as, in one instance, he performed on top of a pedestal without falling off.  Then, before you can catch your breath or believe your eyes, the finale “Mickey’s Monkey” with all acts singing and dancing, rounded off this once-in-a-lifetime programme, in true Motown style!   “The actual sound of Tamla Motown is always distinctive and unmistakable” said Dusty at the time. “The music is light, lifting but strong..and never boring. The songs are excellent and because of this many have become standards.  The artists are as exciting as their records. All professional and knock-out performers. There’s the phenomenal Supremes, and Martha and the Vandellas.  Their ‘Heatwave’, ‘Live Wire’ and my all-time favourite ‘Dancing In The Street’ make them one of the most exciting acts I’ve ever seen.”

As time passed fans were desperate to own a copy of the programme, but nothing seemed to be available either legally or not. Dave Clark International bought the rights to the programme and it appears refused, for some reason, to make it commercially available. Then in 1985, “Ready Steady Go! Special Edition” was released, featuring The Sounds Of Motown including a clumsy insert of Marvin Gaye singing two songs, “How Sweet It Is” and “Can I Get A Witness”.  Until 2018, Dave Clark retained the rights, whereupon it was announced that BMG Rights Management had acquired ancillary rights to the whole Ready Steady Go series which I’m assuming, includes the Motown special.  Could it be a re-issue is on the horizon?

There’s much more that could be written about this extraordinary time in Motown’s British history, and the programme that’ll always remain a highlight, but I just thought an overview of how/where/when it came about might be of some interest. Sure, I realise I’ve neglected the actual Revue, so maybe we’ll get to this another time.

As always, thank you for being with me this month and, believe me,  there’s loads more coming your way this year.

Watch the entire show on YouTube…

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.