Motown Spotlight - December 2016

Motown Spotlight – December 2016

Tell me, why is it that colds, sniffles, coughs and sneezes last so much longer when Christmas Day is looming? Now in my third week, it really is a pathetic, sickly creature writing this but, hey, the show must go on – and Motown is the show! I know what I’ll do, play some Festive songs. “The Ultimate Motown Christmas Collection” is just the job. In between some of the tracks like The Supremes’ “White Christmas”, Stevie Wonder’s “Someday At Christmas”, Four Tops’ “Merry Christmas Baby” and The Miracles’ “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, there’s spoken word greetings from some of the contributors. They’re all young voices of course, but the sentiment is there. A splash of tinsel on the grooves! Feeling better already…let’s TCB

The other day I decided to play the “Magic Lady” CD first released in the late eighties and was surprised to hear it’s stood the test of time. And the music reminded me of a chat with Linda Stokes during the time of its release, and the first single “Betcha Can’t Lose (With My Love)” which reached the UK top forty, following its American success. Sadly, it was the only one but, hey, for a new act, it was a brilliant result. So, I dug out that interview printed in Blues & Soul, thinking it might be interesting to re-visit my chat and also remind ourselves how the duo got together. Hope you’ll join me on our journey…

Michael Stokes, producer and composer, was the key to Magic Lady: he was also Linda’s husband. It appears his first break came when he was a mere thirteen years old because his mother’s restaurant was opposite Spector Records in New York, and its employees were regular visitors there. “It was part of my life” Michael told a 1988 edition of Voices From The Shadows magazine. ”One day Marvin Schlachter (owner of Prelude Records) came in and I told him I was working on some songs. He fobbed me off for a couple of weeks, but then decided to listen. He thought (they) were very good.” One thing led to another, resulting in Michael being offered a job writing material for him. Moving on to the late sixties, he moved to Detroit to hook up with Eddie Kendricks’ EJK Records, before returning to New York. Long story short, Michael had carved a niche for himself in the business and was subsequently in demand as a producer during the seventies and eighties. Now based in Los Angeles, he successfully worked with Creative Source, Shirley Caesar, Rose Royce and Smokey Robinson, among others.

Let’s backtrack a bit. Hailing from Palmer Woods, Detroit, Michael never knew his biological father because he was murdered while on a visit to the hospital where his son was born. However, as his mother owned a string of restaurants, their future was thankfully financially stable, helping to closet him from the racial tensions that plagued America while he was growing up. He mentioned this in the same interview with the before mentioned magazine. “I went to white schools, and I lived in a Jewish neighbourhood so people weren’t black and white to me. It was only my later education that opened my eyes to what was really going down. I decided my music was the best way I could give people something to alleviate their suffering in whatever small degree.”

Back to the plot. Magic Lady – Linda Stokes, Kimberley Ball and Jackie Steele – was Michael’s brainchild, first signed to Arista Records in 1980. From here they switched to A&M where they enjoyed a US R&B hit “Hot And Sassy”, and a UK specialist soul hit with “Hold Tight”. Then came Michael’s licensing deal with Berry Gordy via his MS International Productions set up, where Magic Lady, now minus Kimberly Ball, was one of several acts included in the deal.

I had in fact spoken to Michael prior to chatting with Linda, and he told me Magic Lady’s eponymous album was a women’s album for women. When it was in the embryonic stages, Linda, Michael and Jackie had actually discussed the project at length, as Linda told me “We have a democratic attitude when we work. Jackie and myself both think alike…it’s almost as if our brains are locked into each other.” When they all came up with identical ideas, they knew they were onto a winner. However, working and living with her husband must cause problems I thought, but not so, because they never took their work home and, she laughed, she let him win their arguments. “But basically, we think alike, so arguments don’t happen that often!”

Linda and Jackie are Detroiters. Linda caught the singing bug in high school, while Jackie’s father was a minister, so was raised in a gospel environment. However, both were avidly aware of Motown and dreamed one day of joining the company. “It’s such a great feeling being with (them). I believe we have a good union and hopefully that relationship will work for us both. Everything seems to be going to plan right now and we’re excited about what’s happening. Performing comes easily because it’s fun.”

So, let’s talk music, and the “Magic Lady” album which, she said at the time, was a different type of project for Motown which, she believed, would surprise a lot of people. They worked on it for over three months because the intention was to release a concept work that carried a theme throughout. “It’s a personal album and when we were turning it around it felt we were holding conversations with music. We wanted it to reflect today’s attitude about love and chose not to bring sex or drugs into it.” Sticking to romance was better, they believed, keeping their ideas ‘clean’ and acceptable. Preaching to listeners was also not on their agenda. “We wanted stories that touched the heart. It’s hard for us to write gimmicky lyrics because our songs have to mean something to us first if we’re going to effectively convey them to people.” Anyway, I think the result speaks for itself because apart from the terrific debut single “Betcha Can’t Lose (With My Love)”, I instantly fell in love with “Misty-Eyed” and “Summer Love”. In fact, there wasn’t a lot I didn’t like and that still holds strong today. However, what caught my eye was the album’s packaging – the piercing green eyes that appear on the front cover. You feel drawn to them because they follow you around. Or is it my cold medication kicking in?! Then I also noticed that Berry Gordy was credited as executive producer; not a cosmetic title either Linda explained, because his input was invaluable. “It was a daunting prospect working with him but he is so respected by everyone that I soon lost my nervousness.”

To round off this musical re-visit, I must mention that Linda was also a dress designer, and this would have been her chosen career if music hadn’t beckoned. An example of her work can be seen on the reverse side of the album sleeve. Wherever she went, so did her sketch pad, just in case. Oh lor, as always, I seem to have written more than I had originally planned but nonetheless, hope it’s of interest and, perhaps, re-kindled a little curiosity to play the ladies’ music again. It was just by chance that I spotted the CD in my collection and thought – why not?

Just one more item before leaving. As it’s now in the public domain, and as I made mention of this project last time, there was an exclusive luncheon presentation at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Beverly Hills, California, just recently to officially announce plans for the Motown Museum Expansion project due to open in 2019. Among the VIP guests was SoulMusic.com’s own David Nathan, who, as a member of the panel of experts, spoke about the profound impact Motown made on the world. “Motown is one of the best imports this country has produced,” he said in his speech. Hosted by company vice president Iris Gordy, she introduced her cousin Robin Terry, chairwoman and chief executive officer of the museum, after taking over the role from her grandmother (the late) Esther Gwen Gordy. Over time, Robin transformed Hitsville USA into a world-class museum attraction for Motown fans the world over. Although Berry Gordy wasn’t in attendance, many of the seventy or so guests spoke about him and the music empire he created, including members of his family, Suzanne DePasse, and other industry figures. Motowners in attendance included Scherrie Payne, Betty Kelley, Janie Bradford, Mable John, Mary Wilson, Claudette Robinson, Eddie Holland, Brenda Holloway and Charlene. So now you know. Fabulous, just fabulous!

Well, the Christmas CD has been re-played a couple of times since I started this and I must say it’s cheered me immensely. Marvin Gaye singing “Christmas In The City” to be followed by The Temptations’ “Silent Night”. No better way to close this last column of 2016 than with the beautiful voices of these guys.

So, all that’s left for me to say is a very Happy Christmas to you all, where I’m hoping you’ll spend time with your family and closest loved ones. For all those people who are working over the Festive period in a variety of jobs, keeping us safe, and tending to the sick and less fortunate, thank you so much for your dedication. To wish you a successful and healthy 2017 goes without http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/topamax/ saying, and I’d like to think there will be peace on earth for us all as well. Although it seems grossly inadequate, thank you for keeping the Motown faith this year; you really are a treasured bunch of people and it’s been a real treat for me to have met so many of you during the past twelve months.

Motown is yesterday; Motown is today, and Motown is tomorrow.

Motown Spotlight - November 2016

Motown Spotlight – November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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