MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT - September 2019

MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT – September 2019

Photo credits: Gerry Constable)

(Photo: Sharon Davis, Chris Clark, Gloria Jones, Brenda Holloway)

As you know, some months ago, founder and organiser Russ Winstanley invited me to the “Northern Soul Survivors Weekender: Celebrating 60 Years Of Motown” in Skegness last weekend, and to take part in a question/answer session with a trio of Motown ladies who were performing throughout the Saturday. I agreed in a heartbeat. To be in the company of Chris Clark, Gloria Jones and Brenda Holloway was irresistible. To mingle with the likes of, and see performances by, Bobby Brooks Wilson, The Flirtations, Paul Stuart Davies, Tommy Hunt, Johnny Boy, Eddie Holman, Stefan Taylor and The Signatures was certainly an added bonus. Besides I was a NS ‘virgin’ and had no idea what experiences lie ahead. A brief back story: I believe I last saw Gloria in 1977/78, while Brenda and Chris I caught up with after the “Divas Of Motown” show at the Hammersmith Apollo in November 2009. However, the week before setting off on my adventure, I was invited to attend the European premiere of “Hitsville: The Making Of Motown”. Such bad timing for sure and, although I was naturally thrilled to be included in this prestigious occasion, I knew I had to be in Skegness because friendship comes first. The film is, however, due to be screened locally and of course will be available on DVD within a few weeks, so I won’t miss out entirely. >With Gerry Constable and Lynne Pemberton, I travelled the long road to Skegness, and upon arrival late Thursday afternoon, texted Chris Clark. After unpacking, headed to her apartment in Minnows Way, where she and the ladies were staying; in fact, Chris and Brenda were opposite each other. As we left, The Flirtations arrived at the apartment block, so catch- up time was spent with Pearly, Shirley and Ernestine. Anyway, moving on…

At 10.30am on Friday, Chris Clark was booked in for rehearsal time in the Reds venue with Stefan Taylor and The Signatures – the coolest bunch of musicians and singers I’ve yet to meet – and once the first song was under her belt, the music fell into place. The balance of lead singer, support vocalists and music was perfected, which was an extraordinary achievement, bearing in mind this was the first time they had worked together this week. Brenda and Gloria also attended as a show of support to their friend – their rehearsals had, I believe, been the previous day – before The Flirtations arrived for their run through. Prior to this, while walking to Minnows Way, I chanced to meet Paul Stuart Davies for the first time; what a fabulously talented guy, having played his music regularly on my radio show and exchanging messages via FB. I felt the vibes were good and getting better.

After the rehearsal, we headed for coffee, diet coke, juice and snacks in the Pavilion, the huge area where stalls selling NS memorabilia, records and merchandise were being hastily erected, and where, in the centre was a dance floor overlooked on one side by the large DJ console on stage, and seating area on the other. It never occurred to me until the first time it happened – the ladies now belonged to their fans in the nicest possible way. Sitting back to watch the warm interaction between them all was touching as they exchanged easy conversation, signed autographs and posed for photos. We sat there until around 3pm before heading off, planning to meet up again two hours later for dinner in the artists’ section of The Deck restaurant.

While eating that evening, Gloria explained the three were the sisterhood, looking out for each other and, indeed, when they later switched and swopped stage clothes, it was indeed ‘family’. Like Motown in the early days, she continued, when they were Berry Gordy’s favourites because he could always rely on them. Later they became the “Los Angeles Girls” and talked over the blessed times on the West Coast, where the Mowest label was born. Working with The Commodores was a wonderful experience Gloria added; working with Pam Sawyer on their debut single “The Zoo (The Human Zoo)” lifted from the group’s debut album “Machine Gun” on which they also produced several tracks. She now lives in Sierra Leone where she tirelessly runs a children’s school in her late partner Marc Bolan’s memory.

Chris drew on her memories of touring the States with fellow artists and the audience reactions when she walked on stage: one white singer among a host of black groups. She worked hard to win them over. Talking about Michael Jackson’s envy when she introduced him to her big cat, a cougar, led to her re-telling her audition with Berry Gordy. She was eighteen years old and he kept her waiting outside his office for hours, adding to her anxiety levels. Once inside, he made it clear he wasn’t interested in signing a white singer. Undeterred she sang “All I Could Do Was Cry” accompanying herself on the piano, not realising at the time Gordy had penned the song! The rest is history. This evening Brenda was eating elsewhere with her husband, Sam, in another section of the restaurant. They joined us later.

Meal times had never been more entertaining and this was to continue: if you had told me a year ago my eating companions would be three of Motown’s most legendary artists I’d have laughed in your face. Leaving The Deck, Chris inadvertently dropped some papers where upon I bent down to retrieve them. My age kicked in as Gloria had to help me back up again! As if that wasn’t bad enough, I then accidentally knocked a small picture frame off its stand and watched in horror as it smashed to pieces, glass shattering everywhere. Chris laughed “You’ve been taking lessons from Dusty”, referring to the British singer’s love of smashing up crockery. Gloria said it was a good luck omen. Immediately, a member of the Butlins’ staff was on hand to clear it up, while a mortified me apologised profusely. By 9pm we were in our individual apartments readying to watch Martha Reeves on Celebrity Masterchief when sadly, she was voted out.

Saturday was ladies day. Brenda at 2.30pm; Gloria at 11.15pm, leaving headliner Chris to walk on stage at 00.45am, with Bobby Brooks Wilson, The Signatures, and non-stop music in between. Following our breakfast, Chris headed for another quick rehearsal with The Signatures at Reds because she was unhappy about her opening song. In the end, it was ditched to be replaced by the emotive “Rock Me”.

(Photo: Brenda Holloway)

A packed venue greeted Brenda when she hit the stage. Dressed in a flowing, almost see through, gown, this beautiful singer kicked off with “Just Look What You’ve Done” followed by “When I’m Gone”. She epitomised cool soul. Working every inch of the stage, the audience sang with her, while her strong, pure voice brought up soulful goose bumps. “Operator”, “You Beat Me To The Punch”, “Two Lovers” and “My Guy” were next – her tribute to the first ‘Queen of Motown,’ Mary Wells. With a short introduction and a huge smile, she launched into the haunting “Every Little Bit Hurts” before raising the roof with a NS anthem “Reconsider” which, she said, was responsible for her being at Skegness today. A dramatic take on “You Made Me So Very Happy” closed her awe-inspiring performance that left the audience crying for more. Wow!

(Photo: Gloria Jones)

The immediately recognisable strains of “Tainted Love”, so synonymous with NS fans, introduced a vivacious Gloria Jones to an adoring audience. Dressed in a white gown, her welcome was overwhelming as she acknowledged the love. Her plan was to party, so she invited The Signatures’ singers and members of the audience to share the moment, as she set the pace for the 1979 Gonzales’ dance single “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” which she penned, and co-produced with Paul Riser. “Just Let It Lay” was its flipside, a song written by them both with Gloria’s (late) brother Richard who chose the title from a phrase I regularly used at the time. Following a song I failed to note down (to my shame) as I was bouncing around trying to emulate some of the dancing audience, the hard-hitting NS diamond “Heartbeat” was next. A rousing few magical musical moments where her audience belted out the lyrics alongside her – an unashamed happy mingling of hundreds of voices, before she left the stage with a reprise of “Tainted Love”. Double wow! Could today get any better? You bet…

Just after midnight, the event’s elegant, quietly-spoken headliner slowly walked on stage: microphone in hand, to a rapturous welcome that hit the ceiling and bounced off the walls. Dressed in black, Chris Clark had arrived – epitomising cool on so many levels, her voice true and emotional. Following “Rock Me”, she moved the music to a higher pitch with the immortal “From Head To Toe” and “Do Right Baby”. Like Brenda before her with “Reconsider”, Chris performed a unique NS discovery “Something’s Wrong” where, once again, the audience joined in. So much love and respect bounced from stage to auditorium where the atmosphere was hot, hot, hot in every respect. In between songs, she modestly talked about her music before telling of her surprise to be headlining the event, saying it should really be Brenda. Moving the pace down a fraction, she introduced “I Want To Go Back There Again” while “Love’s Gone Bad” raised the temperature (if that was possible as faces already glistened). What else could this remarkable singer pull out of the musical hat? “Just My Imagination” with The Temptations on support vocals, that’s what. A master stroke for sure. All too soon, the unmistakeable riff of the finale arrived – “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”. Treble wow!

Adrenalin was pulsating through the veins as we all reluctantly stepped out into the morning air to collapse on our beds. The ladies had flown the Motown flag higher than high, they had performed and conquered, reinstating the extremely special relationship enjoyed with NS folk, whose dedicated loyalty to their music is to be applauded and cherished. A master stroke by Russ Winstanley.

(Photo: Brenda Holloway, Chris Clark, Gloria Jones, Sharon Davis, Russ Winstanley)

Late on Sunday, we collected Chris Clark on our way to watch Paul Stuart Davies in Reds at 1pm. This guy certainly knows his stuff as he performed like the true showman he is through a non-stop act of favourites before an audience that was with him from the start. What a terrific way to start the day’s entertainment, and, for myself, was thrilled to be at part of it all. An hour later, Brenda and Gloria arrived for the question/answer session. Sitting on the stage, with Russ Winstanley kicking off the proceedings, I was wondering how my presence there was credible in the presence of Motown royalty. In fact, and I’m ashamed to admit it, I froze during Russ’s introduction and was shaking so much that his thoughtful wife, Claire, helped me on stage. Brenda recalled working with The Beatles during their second American tour, and the time when Ringo Starr knocked on her dressing room door to borrow her hair dryer. Chris then related how she came to be a member of the Motown family as a singer and later the script writer for “Lady Sings The Blues”. She also holds a massive collection of Motown artwork and photographs, being taught how to utilise her unique camera skills by Berry Gordy. In fact, she carried her mobile and camera with her all the time, such is her passion for the art.

Gloria, on the other hand, talked, among other things, of the writers she had worked with, and how she, Brenda and Chris had established a lifelong bond of friendship. Talking about working with the likes of Pam Sawyer, Frank Wilson (who held a special part in their hearts), Clay McMurray, alongside the often overlooked heroes responsible for laying much of the company’s musical foundation, was of great interest with the others adding their memories. Asking me how I became involved with Motown, I told Russ it was due entirely to Dusty Springfield’s infatuation with the music, saying “what was good enough for her, was good enough for me”.

While the ladies explained the 24/7 working schedule of the studio where songs were recorded in conveyor belt style, with no knowledge of what would eventually be released, I explained how difficult it was for me to actually purchase those records in East Sussex. They then confirmed they had no idea of what was released outside America. It was only through visits to the UK that they were updated on their releases – much to their astonishment – and that there was indeed a flourishing fan base for them, led by the NS contingent who elevated them to cult stardom. The fact that their records were also officially British released also bypassed them, which, I fear, was typical of Motown at the time. They had careers they knew nothing about. It was an enlightening experience being in such a gloriously friendly environment, with easy interaction from the audience who, believe me, knew their stuff. As I had mentioned Dusty, the DJ played her “What’s It Gonna Be” for me as we left the stage; a touching moment.

From here, the ladies joined The Flirtations, Paul Stuart Davies, The Flirtations and others for a meet and greet session, while I headed for the nearest bar! Watching from the sideline as long queues formed to patiently wait to meet the artists, a feeling of ‘family’ once again hit me. NS people are gentle, friendly and respectful; no elbow pushing or raised tempers in this house. My, I was so glad I came to see this for myself and be a part of what later turned out to be the last “Northern Soul Survivors Weekender”.

Early Sunday dinner meant we missed Tommy Hunt, but happily caught The Flirtations, the last act to perform, and hell’s bells, these ladies can party. What a wise choice by Russ to close the event as their act was upbeat and joyous in the extreme. Party, party, party! However, the atmosphere really hit fever pitch with the grand finale just before midnight, where all the artists returned to the stage to sing the obvious uplifting “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” led by Paul Stuart Davies, in true Motown fashion, before a sweltering packed house. Inspiring to say the least; arms were raised in the air en masse, singing from the audience mingled with that from the stage, growing louder by the beat. The second coming sprang to mind but on a musical level. A celebration to end celebrations!

As the music faded, Russ Winstanley was called to the stage whereupon Tommy Hunt presented him with a very special award recognising his tireless contribution in organising events like this and keeping NS alive. An astonished Russ was humbly thrilled yet it was so well deserved, proving just how the artists hold him in such high esteem.

As the clock passed midnight, the NS bubble reluctantly burst and it was a weary stream of people who walked from the suffocating heat of the venue into the sharp morning air, to head for bed. For three days solid, NS music filled the air that we breathed, even in the restaurants. It was the backdrop to our stay, embracing us with a much needed respite from the outside world. However, we were in for a shock.

Rumours had circulated around the dance grooves that this was to be the last “Northern Soul Survivors” weekender at Skegness, and when Russ Winstanley issued a press statement, he confirmed the damning soul whispers. After thanking everyone for supporting him at this friendliest of events, he explained that “Due to the calendar changes at Butlin’s, I regret to say that this will be our last ever Weekender. It’s not all bad news though, we’ll be including more Northern Soul into some of the Soul Weekenders next year, starting with my Northern Soul room in Crazy Horse on Legends of Soul Weekender at Skegness 24 – 27 January 2020 with more dates to be announced….There probably won’t be a dry eye at the Finale in Reds on Sunday night….Do I Love You…Indeed I Do.”

Finally, I can only echo Russ’ final words and thank him unconditionally for the invitation. And, yes, I did love it, every emotional, musical moment, while harbouring pangs of regret that I didn’t join in the fun a helluva lot sooner. Northern Soulers are very special people and to thank them for welcoming me so warmly, for their friendship and caring ways, would full more pages, but suffice to say – ‘you made me so very happy’.

MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT - August 2019

MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT – August 2019

It’s been a sizzling bank holiday weekend in more ways than one.  Not only have we enjoyed unprecedented temperatures but we’ve had Motown music scorching the airwaves. At long last national radio celebrated the 60th birthday.  BBC Radio 2 opened its frequency with non-stop music and chatting company artists. The Motown countdown kicked off at noon today (Monday) with Craig Charles and the UK’s top one hundred, followed by Trevor Nelson – who I’m listening to now –  as he picks up the next top fifty singles. “Superstition” was the number one downloaded/streamed  song – which is a blinding track – but did surprise me a little. I’m thinking his recent concert here embedded him in the public’s mind, hence his runaway popularity in the top one hundred.  The early evening session has Ken Bruce spinning Motown cover versions, before Richard Searling highlights the company’s connections with Northern Soul. Then Lionel Richie talks to Johnnie Walker in the early hours: sorry guys, it’ll be without this gal!  All programmes are available via the BBC website though.

Other bank holiday weekend high spots included Stevie Wonder’s live 2005 concert at the Abbey Road Studios, a couple of Tony Blackburn programmes and the history of Motown narrated by Marshall Chess.   I was going to write that it’s about time the BBC acknowledged this incredible music celebration, much of which formed the backdrop to our lives.  Then stopped myself:  research for this Motown Weekend was plainly extensive, particularly with artists’ interviews linking the music.  I then also reminded myself, this was the radio conglomerate run by repressed bureaucrats, who, before pirate stations taught them a harsh lesson, wouldn’t entertain giving airtime to black artists, let alone an entire record company crammed to bursting with talent that, in some ways, changed the way music was recorded and presented.  By saying that, I certainly take no credit away from The Beatles who, it’s probably fair to say, changed the entire music industry on several levels.  So, well done the BBC – you got there in the end!

Club DJs up and down the country also paid homage during the past couple of days, while local radios, like 59.9 Hailsham FM, where I present a Motown/Soul show each Saturday evening, have taken the chance to extend the birthday celebrations, although to be honest, we’ve been celebrating since January!  Why not? A birthday doesn’t have to be confined to one day does it?  I applaud you all and only hope that by some quirk Berry Gordy gets to learn about our dedicated support.

Narrated by Ryan Mandrake and presented by 3DD Productions for Sky Arts, I had the misfortune to watch “Music Icons: Diana Ross and the Supremes” yesterday.  It is thirty minutes of my life I won’t get back. The  programme lacked enthusiasm; the handful of talking heads, whom I didn’t know, barely cracked a smile as they adopted a monotone commentary attitude about several of the trio’s releases in chronological order (with no little anecdotes that we love to hear about) while the latter part of the programme centred around Diana Ross as a singer and actress.  All rushed, particularly the visuals, and irresponsibly edited, it certainly did not befit one of the world’s most successful black female trios of all time. What a waste of an opportunity.   On the upside though…word has it that there’s at least two Marvin Gaye documentaries in the works, and that a BBC4 tv programme has recently been completed on Ready Steady Go for autumn transmission.  I’m not sure which anniversary it’s celebrating, and the person I was talking to was pretty vague, so a quick recce across the internet resulted in these dates: show pilot – 16 July 1963; series start – 9 August 1963; series end – 23 December 1966.  I’m none the wiser, but who needs anniversaries anyway!

Talking of The Supremes, Mary Wilson was in town recently promoting Supreme Glamour, published this month by Thames & Hudson, the same company behind Adam White’s ground breaking Motown: The Sound Of Young America.  I caught Mary on The One Show where she was animated and entertaining with her co-guest Robert Rinder, who appeared bemused most of the time. Anyway,  Mary’s coffee table book was co-penned by Mark Bego, whose work is familiar to us all with publications on Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and, of course, he co-authored Martha Reeves’ sterling autobiography Dancing In The Street, a much respected diary which isn’t far from my desk even now.  Martha’s dedication to detail is awesome, while, on occasion, her honesty is heart breaking.

With a foreward by Whoopi Goldberg – a lady who bubbles over with all things entertaining, while being a leading figure in civil rights, LGBT and other causes she believes deserve a public voice – Supreme Glamour readers enter the world of home-made frocks to designer gowns, celebrating The Supremes’ rise to fame through fashion rather than song. Alongside well publicised visuals there’s a huge amount of exclusive pictures indicating how the group’s brand was developed.  We travel through the stoic poses of the early line up, with photos taken wearing those heavy necklaces and suits, through to the frilly blouses and pleated skirts, t-shirts and slacks.  The conservative-styled dresses eventually explode into the rich, sumptuous gowns bedecked in glass beads, sequins,  pearls, and all in glorious hip hugging colour, which became their trademark. Utilising the talents of some of the top designers like Michael Travis and Bob Mackie, The Supremes were probably loved for their stage clothes as much as they were for their music.  Like Motown:The Sound Of Young America, the black/white and coloured visuals are lavishly presented with accompanying detail captions, while the story of the fashionista trio is recounted throughout.  Cover price is £29.95 but available at £18.54 from Amazon.

It’s certainly been a month for book releases as here’s another.  Although I knew my dear friend Graham Betts, who has a penchant for facts and figures, was publishing his long-researched tomes, the thrill is in the holding of the actual book.  The Official Charts: The Sixties is a massive research vehicle, so valuable to people like myself who constantly refer to these sources of information.  Briefly, this book uses the singles charts used by BBC Radio 1, Top Of The Pops and the much-loved industry magazine Music Week.  Listed weekly, they are easy to read, with the artists’ names in bold print. Moving on from these pages, you’ll find EP and album charts covering the same decade.  The Official Singles Hits Book is a companion read, crammed with data, listings of artist by artist hit singles, EPs and albums, brief biographies, awards, honours and sales.   Similar publications covering the Eighties are also available: £20 and £16 respectively.  By the way, Graham is known to us for his 2014 Motown  Encyclopedia, another useful guide to everyone and everything connected with the company.  Actually, I told him with a smile that I was miffed because he beat me to it as I had planned a similar project about the ladies of Motown.  All is fair in love and publishing, of course, and maybe something for another day eh?

Another book that arrived in the post is the revised and updated Lucy O’Brien’s The Classic Biography: Dusty published this month by Michael O’Mara Books.  I’ve got Lucy’s previous two books about the singer and this once features new interviews and photographs.  As the blurb says “Dusty Springfield was one of our greatest pop singers. She was a musical pioneer and the very essence of authentic white soul.”  However, as we know, she played a pivotal role in endorsing Motown over here. Lucy covers this from the time Dusty was a member of the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society, her friendship with Martha Reeves, working with the artists at The Brooklyn Fox, New York, and, of course, the crème de la crème, The Sound Of Motown which introduced the British public to the magic of the music in their own homes on 28 April 1965.  Dusty attended the opening night of the Motown Revue on 20 March, sitting in the audience of the Astoria, Finsbury Park, with other excited fans. It seemed every soul fan in London turned out that night to celebrate.  When Dusty was asked for her autograph, she said ‘Any other time but not tonight, because I’m here as a fan.”  In a Daily Express review, Ron Boyle applauded the new label – “To counterblast the Liverpool sound along came the Detroit sound known to the ‘in’ crowd as Tamla Motown…The punch of the big beat in a velvet glove.”  Martha Reeves has always given her British friend kudos for promoting the company in the UK. “Any chance she got she’d mention Detroit and the Motown sound.  Lots of things happened after that tour, so she introduced Motown to England.  She can take credit for that.”  The tour may have been a financial disaster but The Sound Of Motown lives on.

Lucy’s book, now with a new cover, covers the singer’s public life of beehives and black mascara, while dipping into how it really was behind the glare of the spotlight.  Using new introduction and interviews with the likes of Tom Jones and Dusty’s music arranger Ivor Raymonde, Lucy offers fresh material to satisfy most Dusty fans, with opinions that are rounded and often different about the shy, awkward convent girl who created a musical brand that crossed from pop into soul music.  Naturally, the ground-breaking album “Dusty In Memphis” is once again highlighted, a release the singer was shy to admit centred her squarely in the soul world.  Since her death, the floodgates opened about her struggle with being gay, her drugs and alcohol addiction, and the darkest secrets of her mental health issues.  I am a firm believer that some aspects of anyone’s personal life shouldn’t be exposed in the public arena, but such is the way of the world today, there’s no such animal as discretion. Besides, didn’t Dusty tell her lifelong friend Pat Rhodes that after her death she would hear things she wouldn’t like. So the singer was very aware!  Having said this, I sincerely hope I kept within the boundaries in my 2008 book A Girl Called  Dusty, but if asked to update this, would my thinking change?

Anyway, the legacy the singer left behind is awesome; her status as a pop icon and soul singer has never been stronger.  Dusty played a vital musical role on several levels, including her beloved Motown.  As Martha is quoted in the book – “Dusty had a positive enthusiasm for the music.  At the same time she didn’t pretend she was the bona-fide article. She acknowledged her roots and often said that she wished she’d been born black.”  Available from Amazon at £13.88.

And finally…one book that really excites me –  Lamont Dozier’s  How Sweet It Is co-penned by Scott B Bomar.  Strictly speaking, it’s not published until October, and I’ve not yet read it but thought I’d squeeze in a mention here. The publicity blurb states the book pulls back the curtain on studio secrets that inspired some of H-D-H’s songs.  “After exploring the struggle of growing up in Detroit and pursuing music, Lamont takes us behind the scenes of the Motown machine, sharing personal stories of his encounters with  Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Berry Gordy. He details the rise of own artistic career, his business and legal struggles, and the personal triumphs and tragedies that defined him. ”  On my bucket list for sure!

Let’s move away from the printed word to the musical note and a quick reminder. As you know, earlier in the year, and using the slogan “Motown Did It First!”, a huge re-issue programme of physical titles were released by Universal Japan to mark the 60th anniversary. A series of new playlists are to be unveiled during the course of the year, alongside further albums.  So, without listing them all, suffice to say it’s a real pot pourie of artists who hit the market place last March, like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (“Heat Wave”/”Dance Party”);  Grover Washington Jr (“Mister Magic”); “Odyssey”; Edwin Starr (“War And Peace”);  Leon Ware (“Musical Massage”) and others from Earl Van Dyke, The Temptations, Syreeta, The Supremes, Nolen & Crossley and The Spinners. All releases replicate original artwork and album sequences. Yeah, it was quite a list!  Further details, of course, from the “Motown Did It First!” website.  If Japan can admirably steer this incredible collection, why not the UK I wonder?   Anyway, what we have got is “Motown: Greatest Hits”, available this month on vinyl (yay!) and a 3-CD box set. There are 27 tracks on the first, 60 on the second.  No surprises here I guess as it features the hit-making artists – Stevie Wonder, Four Tops, Jimmy Ruffin, Marvin Gaye and so on. Unless Motown fans want to mark the birthday with this, sales will come from  the curious record buyer, while connoisseurs will be satisfying their souls with the items like the  “Unreleased” compilations available online only.  I use Spotify, it costs nothing and is easily accessible but, to be honest, nothing replaces the physical vinyl/CD.  No wonder, Universal cops for the cheaper method of getting music to the public.

Next month will be devoted to my visit to the Skegness Motown/Northern Soul Weekender where hanging out with Brenda Holloway, Chris Clark, Gloria Jones, among others, will be the name of the game.  That’s if I survive the three days, as it’s been &^%$$ years since I attended such an event – and that was with Gloria and Dave Godin –  whereupon I recall sleeping for a week afterwards!

 

 

Motown Spotlight - April/May 2019

Motown Spotlight – April/May 2019

Just when you think all is well with the world, the gremlins get into your computer and gobble up a morning’s work.  And that’s exactly what happened with the result that this Motown Spotlight covers two months. So let’s TCB before anything else happens!

While rifling through my collection the other day, I came across a CD I’d forgotten about, probably because it was mis-filed.  Anyway, that aside, it got me thinking, and here’s what I came up with….

As you know, in 1970 Berry Gordy entered the American political arena with his spoken-word Black Forum label, giving a public platform to leading black activists and intellectuals. He initially had grave reservations about dipping his record company into such a volatile and violent market because it worried him that if Motown became too political it would damage the almighty success of groups like Diana Ross and the Supremes.  After all, Motown was the top international black recording company, steering street artists into global stars and turning over millions of dollars annually as it did so.  The music was aimed at all races, but by now, to mostly white record buyers due to its commercial slant. The early raw ‘race music’ or R&B aimed at black audiences was gone, replaced by lush productions over blue-eyed soul presentations. Yet, it can’t be disputed the music benefitted all as it broke down racial barriers in its quest for unification. However, digging deeper into the formation of Black Forum, it appeared Ewart Abner and Junius Griffin were instrumental in convincing Berry Gordy  it was the right move to make.  The time was right to make a stand.

Further research revealed that radio and television broadcaster, Alvin Hall, wrote a half-hour programme about the label for the BBC, and indicated that both Abner and Griffin were actually involved  in aspects of the civil rights movement, either with Dr Martin Luther King or C.O.R.E. (Congress of Racial Equity). “They saw the need to educate the public, to give the public more information about what was going on nationally – and they were the ones who convinced (Gordy).”

Two years after Dr King was assassinated, Black Forum debuted with his “Why I Oppose The War In Vietnam”, recorded in 1967 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta. Showing Dr King in the foreground of the  album sleeve, fighting soldiers in the background, and with the words “Black Forum” boldly prominent down the right-hand side, it was a stark black and white drawing on haunting blue.  The sleeve was both dramatic and somewhat poignant, while the actual album within was powerful in the extreme, and as I played it back in the day, recall I could have actually been in Dr King’s presence.  The record went on to win a 1971 Grammy for Best Spoken-Word Album, Motown’s only winner that year.

Incidentally, during 1963, two Dr King albums were issued on the Gordy label, namely, “The Great March To Freedom” and “The Great March On Washington”, followed five years later by “Free At Last”.  When Berry Gordy suggested royalties earned from these albums should be split between King’s family and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King refused.  “(He) told me, ‘There is enough confusion out there right now, as it is.  I cannot allow the perception of personal gain, right or wrong, to confuse the message of the cause.'” Gordy wrote in his “To Be Loved” autobiography.  “Not since Pop (Gordy’s father) and the Reverend William H Peck (his family’s pastor) had any man’s words aroused such deep feelings within me.” He also touched upon the significance of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) which was in the forefront of the fight for civil rights, by writing – “As a kid I remembered them always taking up some unpopular fight for freedom and justice. Now some thought (they) had done too little.  I often said if it hadn’t been for them we would never have come this far.”

He also compared Motown to the world Dr King was tirelessly fighting to achieve, where people of different religions and races worked together harmoniously for one goal.  “While I was never too thrilled about that turn-the-other-cheek business, Dr King showed me the wisdom of non-violence.” Tragically, King’s death was the result of the violence he wanted to eradicate.

Civil Rights activist and member of the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael’s “Free Huey!”, and political writers Langston Hughes and Margaret Danner with “Writers Of The Revolution” followed Dr King’s Black Forum debut.  In February 1972, the Black Fighting Men Recorded Live In Vietnam’s  “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”, narrated by Wallace Terry, was issued.  Next up were Ossie Davis and Bill Cosby’s “The Congressional Black Caucus; Emamu Amiri Baraka and The Original Black Poets’ “Black Spirits”; Emamu Amiri Baraka’s “It’s Nation Time – African Visionary Music”, and Elaine Brown’s eponymous album, rounded off the releases on this short-lived label that opened in 1970 and closed three years later. According to Alvin Hall, it was simple economics.  When distributors ordered a healthy quantity of, say, The Temptations’ albums, the order for Black Forum records failed to reach double figures. “There was never the demand or distribution for the records like they anticipated. So after losing money, Berry Gordy closed the door on it.”  Nevertheless, Black Forum provided a solid representation of the most radical thinking of their era on record and, to be fair, Gordy should be applauded for taking on such a non-commercial venture which, if it had gone horribly wrong in the political arena, could have had a disastrous financial effect on Motown’s future success.

Based on this, it’s easy to see why Berry was concerned when Marvin Gaye steered his “What’s Going On” project into the political quagmire of war and social issues.  Stevie Wonder too, when he publicly ventured into African-American consciousness, with his tenuous approach to political and spiritual statements. Several other Motown artists also flexed their political music muscles and Edwin Starr immediately springs to mind with his version of Whitfield/Strong’s “War”. Previously recorded by The Temptations, this anti-Vietnam protest was released in preference to the group’s less intense version, to become one of the most popular protest singles of all time.

However, there’s more tracks….and they are included in a special 2-CD compilation named ” Power To The Motown People! Civil Rights Anthems And Political Soul 1968 – 1975″ (Universal-Island Records/ M980 090 2) which I unearthed from my collection and which, to be honest, inspired me to re-visit the Black Forum label.  I do urge you to check this out if you haven’t already done so.  However, before moving forward with this, I’ve just been reminded of the “Love Child” album in 1968. Discarding the glamorous gowns,  coiffured hair and pouting poses to dress in cut-off jeans and sweatshirts, Diana Ross and the Supremes wore little make-up with their hair in the afro style popular at the time, on the album sleeve.  The aim was probably to show they were streetwise and one of the gang.  The music was a markedly different sound for the trio – who were used to Holland, Dozier, Holland compositions – as writers and producers like Ashford & Simpson, R Dean Taylor, Pam Sawyer, Smokey Robinson and Gordy himself, were pulled together across tracks like the album’s title, “I’m Livin’ In Shame” and their version of “Does Your Mama Know About Me”.

The single “Some Things You Never Get Used To” was released prior to the album and the intention was to use this as the album’s title. However, when the single failed to rack up big sales, the plan was scrapped, and it was relegated to “Love Child”  instead.  “Love Child” the single, co-penned by Pam Sawyer, was released to rejuvenate the trio’s selling power to become their 11th US chart topper, propelling the album into a top selling item. On her Facebook page, Pam had nothing but praise for Diana Ross. “I was lucky to be allowed to work directly in the studio and I was thrilled (Diana) was so co-operative. We actually went into a small bathroom adjacent to the studio where she could listen privately, where she wrote signs and underlined words in her own writing….as she couldn’t read my badly written handwriting.  She is the consummate artist.”  The single was a mere toe dip into the urban, socially conscious whirlpool because the remainder of the album was devoted to rather sweet soul tracks, with moments of inspiration.

Anyway, I’ve digressed.  “Power To The Motown People!”  includes Detroit mixes of Marvin’s “What’s Going On, “What’s Happening Brother” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”, with the unexpected inclusion of “You’re The Man (Pts 1 & 11). The Undisputed Truth’s magnificent ten minute version of “Ball Of Confusion”, “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” and “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, stand proudly next to David Ruffin’s “Flower Child” (lifted from his “My Whole World Ended” elpee).  Naturally, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers’  “Does Your Mama Know About Me” is included.  Diana Ross and the Supremes’ haunting “Shadows Of Society”, “The Young Folks” and the disturbing “I’m Livin’ In Shame”, sit happily with Syreeta’s distressing history of African-Americans in “Black Maybe”, and Stevie Wonder’s “Do Yourself A Favour.”

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ emotional “I Should Be Proud” is another co-penned by Pam Sawyer, with lyrics highlighting the devastating news of Private Johnny C Miller losing his life in the Vietnam War.  With Martha as the narrator, she tells the story of people around her gushing how proud she should be because he fought and died for his country, while all she wanted was her lover safely back home. Due to the anti-war message, Martha said the single was pulled from many radio stations’ playlists, but more importantly, it was personal to her as one of her brothers lost his life in a Vietnam War related incident. To this day, it remains one of the most upsetting of releases although Ms Sawyer again indicated on her Facebook page that she felt creatively restricted because some of the original lyrics dealing with drug addiction were changed. “The lyric at the end originally said ‘now he can’t live without a needle in his arm’.”  The intention was to tell the story of the young boyfriend being an innocent when he went to war but due to his injuries, returned a broken man hooked on heroin.  Regrettably, or thankfully, Motown’s Quality Control committee gave it the thumbs down.

The Temptations are obviously featured on this special 2007 compilation with “Masterpiece”, “War”, “Plastic Man”, the hard-hitting “Slave” and the George Clinton-inspired “Message From A Black Man”, while Edwin Starr is present with “Stop The War Now” and “Cloud Nine”.  Welcome additions here are Reuben Howell’s “Help The People” and Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” and “Life’s No Fun Living In The Ghetto.” The CD is then rounded off with Smokey Robinson’s passive “Just My Soul Responding”; Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Friendship Train”; The Miracles’ “Ain’t Nobody Straight In LA”, Eddie Kendricks’ “My People…Hold On”,  and Jr Walker and the All Stars’ “Right On Brothers And Sisters”.  All these message songs are, of course,  heightened by Motown’s  constantly evolving recording techniques, where producers’ imaginations were adventurously exploited.

I was, however, a little surprised that one track in particular was overlooked; that by Tom Clay released on the Mowest label.  Titled “What The World Needs Now Is Love”/”Abraham, Martin And John”, it is a thought provoking compilation of clips from the song, interspliced with speeches by John and Bobby Kennedy, Dr King, among other items. This ground-breaking single went on to sell over one million copies and prompted the release of a follow up “Whatever Happened To Love”, and the album “What The World Needs Now.”  Alas, one can’t have it all!

Compiled and annotated by Peter Doggett, “Power To The Motown People!” is an extremely potent selection of songs.  While it doesn’t condone or condemn what was happening in America and the world at the time, it does go to show Motown was aware and cared in a non-violent manner.  And I, for one, salute them!

It was with a heavy heart that I read of the passing of Lilian Kyle, known to so many people in the business.  Lilian was Edwin Starr’s manager, later that of The Team, featuring Edwin’s younger brother Angelo.  I’ve known the dear lady for years and admired and respected her tremendously. She was tireless in promoting her artists but never let business get in the way of having a chat in her inimitable warm way.  I’ll miss her regular contacts via social media and, of course, not meeting up with her at concerts.  She loved life, fought the battle but sadly lost. My sincere condolences go out to her family, friends and fans – Lilian Kyle was one helluva lady and I was honoured to have her in my life.

Now there’s time to mention three fabulously exciting releases.  First out is Scherrie Payne’s magnificent “The Man That Got Away”, her version of the Judy Garland song from “A Star Is Born”.  Produced by Rick Gianatos and taken from her forthcoming album “Vintage Scherrie: Volume Two”, the ex-Supreme throws her heart and soul into this moving ballad. Her voice is breathtakingly emotive as she weaves through the lyrics and melody, tugging at the emotions on several levels. I have to say, it’s such a joy hearing her like this; nothing fancy or distracting, just pianist Garrett Miller and Scherrie – the voice. Pure magic!   Available in a gate-fold package housing the CD and DVD, it’s released by Altair Records and available from most reputable sites.

Second out is a Kiki Dee three CD set “Gold”, which sneaks in here thanks to her Motown connection.  Firstly though, I was disappointed that no notes or booklet were included with this major release from a singer who was the first from Britain to record for the company.  Anyway, there are 45 tracks included on this Demon Music Group release including Kiki’s soul and/or Northern Soul treatments on “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”, “I  Second That Emotion”, “Walk On By”, “Why Don’t I Run Away From You”, “The Day Will Come Between Sunday And Monday”, “How Glad I Am”  and with Elton John “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever”.  “I was approached by (Motown) and went over there for eight days to look round” said Kiki in a 1970 interview. “I met the producers and writers, and generally got to know what was going on. I signed the contract on the day I left, and then returned …for two months recording.  They taught me about my voice and how to use it.  In fact I learnt so much in such a short time I couldn’t believe it.”  By all accounts, there were plans for her to duet with Marvin Gaye but, for some reason, the project was shelved. However, during her American stay, she recorded the “Great Expectations” album and performed –  “so that the people who were working with me would have some idea of what I was capable of and to give them a chance to decide what material would suit me best. The idea wasn’t for the producers to turn me into a soul singer but rather to record me on material to which I’m most suited.”  Sadly, the album wasn’t the hit it should have been, despite the critically-acclaimed debut single “The Day Will Come Between Sunday And Monday”, which I personally loved.

After Motown, Kiki drifted in and out of the British charts, “Amoureuse” and “I’ve Got The Music In Me” being the most successful, until she enjoyed a worldwide hit with Elton titled “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, originally intended to feature Dusty Springfield, for whom Kiki once sang as a session singer.  I have to say, I love this type of compilation and being such a fan of the lady anyway, means I can play my favourite tracks without searching for the original albums.

And the third project is one I’ve kept a secret for the longest time, released on our very own SoulMusic Records – “Walk In The Night: The Motown 70s Studio Albums” from Jr Walker & the All Stars. A timely release to celebrate the company’s 60th anniversary, don’t you think?  The highly colourful and eye-catching box set contains three CDs featuring six albums – A Gasssss”, “Rainbow Funk”,  “Moody Jr”, “Peace & Understanding Is Hard To Find”,  “Jr Walker & The All Stars” and “Hot Shot” – in their entirety, spanning 1970-1976.  I should mention here, that the 1974 eponymous album was only issued in the UK and Europe, and all are debuting on CD for this worldwide release.

A backbone musician with the All Stars, Jr Walker’s rousing, often raw, sax playing and identifiable gruff vocals, elevated him into stardom.  Sure, his start in life was awful yet his determination to bring his music to the world spurred him on when others would have said ‘what the hell’.

So a quick summary coming up:

Disc One:  “A Gasssss” and “Rainbow Funk” were both produced by Johnny Bristol, and include noted tracks like “Do You See My Love (For You Growing)”, “Carry Your Own Load” and “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready”.

Disc Two:   The Johnny Bristol produced “Moody Jr” and “Peace & Understanding Is Hard To Find” produced by Hal Davis, Willie Hutch, Gloria Jones, Pam Sawyer and Jr Walker,  include charted titles like “Way Back Home”, “Groove Thang” and “Walk In The Night”.

Disc Three:  “Jr Walker & The All Stars”, produced by Clarence Paul, known for his work with the young Stevie Wonder, who guests on a couple of tracks, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” and “All In Love Is Fair”.  Then the final album “Hot Shot”, produced by Brian Holland and Lawrence Horn, features that haunting “I Need You Right Now” with Thelma Houston on vocals.

On a personal note, I was extremely honoured to be associated with this extremely significant release, returning Jr Walker & the All Stars to the public stage, and it’s with fingers crossed that I hope this lovingly prepared and mastered work, leads the way for more releases in the future.

Phew!  That’s it for now. I’ll be back again on track next month if those blessed gremlins have moved on to pastures new.

(selected visuals courtesy of Motown Museum’s FB page)

JR. WALKER & THE ALL STARS: WALK IN THE NIGHT 3-CD SET – LOWEST PRICE ONLINE AT CHERRY RED WEBSITE!

 

MARVIN GAYE:  Celebrating A Pioneer - YOU'RE THE MAN 1972 Album Release

MARVIN GAYE: Celebrating A Pioneer – YOU’RE THE MAN 1972 Album Release

In celebration of Marvin Gaye’s 80th birthday on April 2, Motown/UMe has released his never-issued 1972 Tamla/Motown album, You’re The Man, in 2-LP gatefold vinyl and digital editions.  You’re The Man features all of Gaye’s solo and non-soundtrack recordings from 1972, with most of the album’s tracks making their vinyl release debuts.

In 1972, Marvin Gaye was on top: or so it seemed. “What’s Going On,” “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler”),” the three singles from his universally acclaimed album What’s Going On, had each hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles chart (since renamed Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs) and Top 10 Pop the year before. His new single, “You’re The Man” – a percolating, sarcastic riff on political non-action issued as the U.S. presidential campaign was kicking off – reached No. 7 on Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles chart. He saw Motown schedule a You’re The Man album (catalog number Tamla 316). But when the lead single didn’t cross over Pop, stalling at No. 50, Marvin retreated. Ambivalent about recording, stubborn about moving to Los Angeles with Berry Gordy and Motown, Marvin by his actions proclaimed no more new Marvin Gaye music.

Or so it seemed.

In this singular and transitional year for the late music legend, Gaye recorded more than an album’s worth of music in Detroit and L.A. He produced himself, creating a suite of aching ballads; he worked with songwriters-becoming-producers Willie Hutch, then known mainly for the Jackson 5 smash “I’ll Be There,” but soon to be lauded for his film scores to The Mack and Foxy Brown; and with Pam Sawyer and Gloria Jones, whose “Piece of Clay” for Marvin decades later became a smash in the 1995 film Phenomenon. He cut two sought-after tracks with Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell, half of the hit-making machine behind the Jackson 5; he got together with Hal Davis, who was preparing a Marvin Gaye-Diana Ross album, to cut another topical gem, “The World Is Rated X.” And Marvin funnelled his anger over the Vietnam War, and his brother’s experiences there, into a sequel of sorts to “What’s Going On,” the poetic holiday ballad, “I Want To Come Home For Christmas.” He even re-cut “You’re The Man” as an eerie funk jam, perhaps for the LP as a bookend to the single.

None of these tracks or any other on the LP, except the single, were issued at the time.

Three tracks from the album are newly mixed by SaLaAM ReMi, the songwriter and producer long associated with Nas, the Fugees, and Amy Winehouse: “My Last Chance,” “Symphony,” and “I’d Give My Life For You.” Also included is the rare, long LP version of Gaye’s cancelled 1972 Christmas single, plus an unreleased vault mix of its instrumental B-side. Over the years, songs from You’re The Man have been included on several CD releases but 15 of the album’s 17 tracks have not been released on vinyl until now.

You’re The Man’s 2LP vinyl edition includes new liner notes by Marvin Gaye biographer David Ritz. In his essay, Ritz delves into Gaye’s deeply personal internal conflict as a source of creative vigor and emotional burden as he experienced What’s Going On’s massive success and all that came with it. “Now I could do what I wanted,” Gaye told Ritz in an interview that first appeared in Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye. “For most people that would be a blessing. But for me the thought was heavy. They said I’d reached the top, and that scared me because Mother used to say, ‘First ripe, first rotten.’ When you’re at the top there’s nowhere to go but down. No, I needed to keep going up – raising my consciousness – or I’d fall back on my behind. When would the war stop? That’s what I wanted to know – the war inside my soul.”

Despite his inner turmoil, that same year Gaye recorded a duets album with Diana Ross, and he accepted an offer to write what became his landmark Trouble Man film score. A year later, he released Let’s Get It On, the biggest hit of his career.

In addition to You’re The Man, Motown/UMe will release a new expanded edition of Marvin Gaye’s 1965 album, A Tribute To The Great Nat King Cole, digitally on March 15. Honoring what would have been Cole’s 100th birthday, the album’s original mono mix makes its digital debut with the new edition, which also adds more than a dozen bonus tracks, including six alternate takes from the studio sessions.

Marvin Gaye: You’re The Man [2LP vinyl]
Tracklisting:

Side 1
Produced by Marvin Gaye (1), Hal Davis (2), Gloria Jones and Pamela Sawyer (3), Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell (4)
1. You’re The Man 5:45
2. The World Is Rated X 3:50
3. Piece of Clay 5:10
4. Where Are We Going? 3:53

Side 2
Produced by Willie Hutch
1. I’m Gonna Give You Respect 2:55
2. Try It, You’ll Like It 3:55
3. You Are That Special One 3:35
4. We Can Make It Baby 3:20

Side 3
Produced by Marvin Gaye except *Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell.
Mixes for tracks 1-3, by SaLaAM ReMi, and track 5, by Art Stewart, are previously unreleased.
1. My Last Chance 3:40
2. Symphony 2:52
3. I’d Give My Life For You 3:31
4. Woman of the World* 3:30
5. Christmas In the City (instrumental) 3:48

Side 4
Produced by Marvin Gaye
1. You’re The Man Version 2 4:40
2. I Want to Come Home For Christmas 4:48
3. I’m Going Home (Move) 4:38
4. Checking Out (Double Clutch) 4:50

SOULMUSIC GLOBAL (SoulMusic.com’s Official YouTube Channel)

DAVID NATHAN’S SPOTIFY PLAYLIST – CELEBRATING MARVIN GAYE