Just recently I was a guest on the highly respected Clive Richardson’s Solar Radio programme. “Soul Summit” is an annual affair, and I was, naturally, delighted to be invited along again to have a chat. In the studio with Clive was Adam White, author of “Motown – The Sound Of Young America”, and, although I didn’t join the programme until it was part-way through – I was on air at Hailsham FM – did manage to get my selected tracks included. As you know, I’ve known Clive for the longest time, and talking to Adam reminded me that I probably first met him during the sixties in The Clifton Record Shop in Bristol, run by Bill Francis. The shop specialised in Motown and soul music, and, if my memory serves me well, Adam later wrote and distributed a regular newsletter, crammed with must-have information about new Motown releases. This would have been prior to my moving to London, so I’ve no idea how I travelled up country but am guessing it was with Phil Symes and Pete McIlroy, who ran the Jimmy Ruffin fan club. What stuck out in my mind particularly about this trip, was hearing Diana Ross and the Supremes’ “Reflections” played through the shop’s several powerful wall speakers. Adam pointed out while the song was playing that the music actually shifted from one speaker to the other, particularly the introduction. What an amazing experience it was for this country gal who relied on her parents’ hi-fi to play singles, often so loud that they became rather distorted. But, hey, that was part of the whole experience. Thank you Clive for your kind invitation; it’s always a fun experience, although I know sometimes I do push you to the limit with risqué comments. Keep the soul flag flying my friend. And, thank you Adam, for fuelling my appetite for Motown over the years.
Let’s TCB some more with Anna Records. As you know, Gwen Gordy had the photo franchise at the Flame Show Bar in Detroit, and with her sister Anna became celebrities of the city’s nightlife. Through her contacts, Gwen introduced her brother Berry to the Bar’s manager, Al Green, who also managed LaVern Baker and Jackie Wilson. Other hook-ups included a life-changing one for Berry with fellow songwriter Roquel “Billy” Davis who, although not a hit maker as yet, did have valuable connections with Chess Records. The two decided to work together. “Roquel and I made a solid writing team” Gordy wrote in his autobiography “To Be Loved”, “I was the active go-getter, the extrovert. He was more passive and had a patient way about him. I’d watch how business and creative people seemed to feel comfortable dealing with him.”
When it was suggested that Berry, Roquel and Gwen form an alliance to open a new label, Anna Records – which Gwen had already registered and named after her sister – Berry declined, having had his cheque book burned by a previous business arrangement. Even a national distribution deal with Chess Records, failed to sway his decision. Berry’s all-consuming ambition was to be his own boss but he promised to help them in whatever capacity needed. “We had taken separate paths and for the first time I was really on my own and really, really happy.”
Gwen and Roquel rented a downstairs room in the record store that Berry once used to sell the Blues to a limited buying audience, as their company headquarters. Gradually the Anna label gained local momentum, while Berry struggled independently. When he wrote “Money (That’s What I Want)” with Janie Bradford for his Tamla label, he wanted national exposure for the single by Barrett Strong. Following its release in Detroit, he sent it to the Washington-Baltimore and the Cleveland-Cincinnati areas, with plans to promote it further afield. The idea worked well but there was a downside; orders came in so quickly that he was swamped and totally unable to press sufficient records to match demand. Gwen had the answer: release “Money (That’s What I Want)” on her label, which she did in August 1959. “I liked the idea” Berry Gordy wrote. “(It was) a good opportunity to fulfil my promise to her and Roquel to help them in any way I could.” Yet still the plan backfired as Gordy quickly realised he had made more money working directly with his independent distributors. “(They) had to pay Chess. Chess had to pay Anna Records, and then Anna paid me. I was the furthest away from the money.” He stuck to his original plan in future to go it alone.
Anyway, all this preamble is to introduce a 2-CD package that arrived last week – “The Complete Anna Records Singles – Volumes One and Two”. Am I right in thinking that our Graham Betts and Paul Nixon had a hand in this, because certainly the latter is mentioned in the short CD notes? So, to the music…..
The first disc kicks off with both sides of The Voice Masters’ first two singles “Hope And Pray”, “Oops I’m Sorry”, “Needed” and “Needed (For Lovers Only)” from May 1959. Evolved from the Five Jets and Five Stars, they were the first outfit that Berry Gordy used as session singers. Passing through its membership were future Temptations’ Melvin Franklin and David Ruffin, plus Henry Dixon and Walter Gaines who went on to become members of Motown’s best kept secret, The Originals. These are followed by a pair of tracks, namely, “Hit And Run Away Love” and “Advertising For Love”, from the Detroit-based Hill Sisters. It appears Carol, Lynne and Beverly were session singers prior to joining Anna, but it was a short-lived career, as following their unsuccessful venture into the music business, they abandoned all ideas of becoming recording artists.
Also of note on this disc is Bob Kayli with “Never More” and “Peppermint (You Know What To Do)”, also released mid-1959. Kayli, as you know, is Berry Gordy’s younger brother, Robert, who would later record two further singles “Small Sad Sam” on Tamla, and “Hold On Pearl” which, although scheduled for that label, ended up on Gordy instead for November 1962 release.
The eleventh Anna outing was the afore-mentioned “Money (That’s What I Want)”, with “Beatnik Beat” and “Scratch Back” from Paul Gayten, his follow-up to the earlier hit “The Hunch”. Already an established artist before linking with Anna, having enjoyed five top ten R&B hits between 1947-1950, Paul later rejected an offer from Berry Gordy to join Motown. The talented pianist, composer and producer died in 1991, aged 71 years. The first CD of 26 tracks closes with (another future Originals’ member) Ty Hunter and the Voice Masters’ “Orphan Boy” and “Everything About You”, released during July 1960.
“Hurry Up And Marry Me” and “Do You Want To See My Baby” from Herman Griffin, introduces the second CD, housing 28 tracks. He was first associated with the Gordy family by recording “I Need You” on The House Of Beauty label. Switching to Anna, and later Tamla in 1960 with “True Love (That’s Love)”, Griffin worked with Mary Wells as her touring musical director, often attempting to steal her limelight with his acrobatic antics on stage. He was also (probably) responsible for Mary’s hasty exit from Motown, despite her riding high in the single’s chart with “My Guy”. The couple later married, with the unhappy liaison ending when Mary’s new career failed to ignite. The rest is history.
Ruben Fort’s “So Good” and “I Feel It” is followed by Allan “Bo” Story with his version of “Blue Moon”, a blues version of the Rodgers and Hart classic, making way for “Hoy Hoy” and “No One Else But You” from Johnny and Jackey. Johnny Bristol needs no introduction; prolific composer, producer and singer, he first duetted with Jackey Beavers, before moving to the Tri Phi label, later joining Motown. While there, he was responsible for some of the company’s most defining songs for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Edwin Starr, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Jr Walker, among others. Plus, of course, he first recorded “Someday We’ll Be Together” with Jackey Beavers, later recorded by Diana Ross, with back-up vocals by Merry Clayton, Maxine Waters, and Julia Waters, as the Supremes’ farewell single in 1969. By the way, the male voice ad-libbing on the track belongs to Mr Bristol. From Motown, this exceptionally talented man, who I had the great privilege to meet, forged a recording career in his own right with world sellers like “Love Me For A Reason” and “Hang On In There Baby.” It was a sad day when he died from natural causes in 2004, at the age of 65 years.
Jackey Beavers, on the other hand, was a gospel and R&B singer, who, following his stay at Anna, went on to record with Roquel Davis for the Checker label, a subsidiary of Chess Records. Their debut outing in 1965, “Jack-A-Rue”, was a minor local hit. Not so their follow-up. From here, Beavers unsuccessfully hooked up with several other labels before being ordained as a minister; first at the New Hope Baptist Church, then at the Glory Harvester Church. He also recorded a handful for gospel albums for the Glory label. He died at the age of 71 in October 2008.
Other tracks worth a mention here include Lamont Anthony’s “Let’s Talk It Over” and “Benny The Skinny Man” released in November 1960. He worked his way through several groups, including The Voice Masters, before recording as a soloist under various names, until he joined Motown’s top composing/producing trio Holland, Dozier, Holland. And you know the rest! Then, there’s David Ruffin with an early 1961 release, “I’m In Love” and “One Of These Days”. David actually lived with Berry Gordy’s father “Pops”, and helped him with the construction work on the Hitsville building, before packing boxes of records with another ambitious, rising star, Marvin Gaye. In time both would find their way to the recording studio. Gwen Gordy told the “Detroit Free Press” that David Ruffin was the perfect gentleman. “But the thing that impressed me about (him) was that he was one of the only artists I’ve seen who rehearsed like he was on stage.”
Finally, Joe Tex, featured here six times, closes this second CD with “Baby You’re Right” and “Ain’t That A Mess”. Joining the Anna set up during 1960 from Ace Records, he attracted a solid fan base due to his opening shows for James Brown, Little Richard, among others. Incidentally, James Brown re-recorded “Baby You’re Right”, with a lyric and melody change, earning himself a top two R&B single. By the mid-sixties, Joe Tex had joined Atlantic Records and released thirty non-hit songs. However, that was to change when success came with his particular brand of Southern Soul, with touches of gospel, R&B and funk. Another artist taken too soon, Joe died in August 1982 following a heart attack. He was 49 years old.
This is merely an overview of artists who were instrumental in keeping the Anna label afloat, earning some success on the way. With severe financial problems, the label closed and was absorbed into Berry Gordy’s operation during 1961, with its artists becoming Motown acts rather by default. Gwen Gordy was also transferred to her brother’s company to handle business affairs, before spreading her wings by co-heading artist development. She then managed acts like Shorty Long, The Spinners and Jr Walker and the All Stars. Apparently, Gwen was also responsible for signing Tammi Terrell, and later convinced her brother she should duet with Marvin Gaye. Clever lady! A vital and energetic member of the team, Gwen was widely loved, and highly respected by the acts she worked with, often guiding them into stardom. Into the seventies, she founded Gwen Glenn Productions, producing the likes of High Inergy, until she retired from the business during the early eighties. In November 1999, Gwen lost her battle with cancer and, although she lived in San Diego, was buried in Detroit. She was 71 years old. Her legacy of pioneering her brother’s future music enterprise is rightly recorded in Motown’s history books. Certainly a lady to be reckoned with!
So, if you’re interested in, or hooked on, Anna Records, then this pair of CDs will fit the bill, with all the known singles available across two discs.
All that’s left for me now is to wish you all a very Happy Christmas time. Whether you’re with your loved ones, or working in one of the vital services that we rely upon, like the medical and caring professions, the services protecting us from harm, and other essential professions, my thoughts and thanks are with you all. My heartfelt wishes and hopes for a healthy, happy and peaceful coming year – when we celebrate Motown’s 60th anniversary – are also sent your way. Thank you for supporting me again this year because without you, there’d be no me, and I’m hoping we’ll stay together for another year, at the very least!