Motown Spotlight - June 2019

Motown Spotlight – June 2019

Well, if you’d asked me a year ago would I attend a Northern Soul Weekend I’d have given a negative response, sighing that those days were over for me. But no, here I am going to an event “The Northern Soul Survivors” in Skegness, Lincolnshire, kicking off on 20 September for three nights. I’ll give you the line-up as it stands at present – Chris Clark, Brenda Holloway, Gloria Jones, Bobby Brooks Wilson, Tommy Hunt, Dean Parrish, Eddie Holman, Angelo Starr and The Team, Lorraine Silver, and Ritchie Sampson.  Alongside these are British acts like Signatures featuring Stefan Taylor, Paul Stuart Davies and Johnny Boy.  I’m told other artists are yet to be announced, so more when I know.

The place to be is Butlin’s and the event covers five venues.  Thirty legendary DJs are booked, with a dance competition (that’s me out for sure!), meet and greets, record and memorabilia stalls, silent disco, dance workshop, spa, water world and a host of other attractions.  More information can be gleaned from bigweekends.com or 0330 1009750.  All I can say is the three girls are back in town and personally speaking I can’t wait to meet them again. Hope my accommodation is next to theirs as we’ve years of catch-up to take care of!  I’ll pass on more details when they arrive courtesy of Russ Winstanley, who is organising the event.  Meantime, I’ve one nagging question: how on earth do I get to Skegness from East Sussex!

I’m not going to dwell on the CBS television special “Motown 60: A Grammy Celebration” which aired Stateside on Easter Sunday – where Berry Gordy closed the show with his speech about his dreams coming true and where he thanked people who helped make his company “a legacy of love” – but rather wanted to make mention of a short interview Martha Reeves gave to The Daily News. As you know, her performance was axed from the two-hour show which included her colleagues Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, alongside non-Motowners. Martha said she was originally asked to sing “Nowhere To Run” and not her signature song “Dancing In The Street”. Then when the programme was edited, there was nothing at all. As always, she proved what a Motown ambassador she is, when she told the newspaper, “I’ve learned to handle the decisions that Motown made from the early beginnings.  The history of Motown is in my heart and I guess I’m one of the best people to express it because I’m one of the only people living who can.”  To be honest, I don’t know that I’d have been that gracious.  Let’s move on….

I’m grateful to my colleague Adam White for mentioning this book a few months ago in his West Grand Blog.  I knew I’d got it, but took a few exasperating hours to locate it! Anyway, what am I talking about? Janie Bradford’s Rolling! Take One! Lyric, Rhyme & Prose published in 1996 by Mountain Goat Press. The book is a little worst for wear and well thumbed but extremely enjoyable as an insight into her writing talent.  When Janie first met Berry Gordy, she gave him a notebook filled with her poems, passing them off as song lyrics. He saw through her ruse but believed they could be structured into commercial songs. “I’ve always felt a kinship to rhyme” she wrote. “I guess that is why I have been writing poems as far back as I can remember….It was while I was attending Lincoln High School …that I began to amass the notebook filled with poems.”

Born in June 1939, in Charleston, Missouri, Janie was known for her quirky sense of humour, which she wrote, was inherited from her minister father “who would preach a hell-fire and brimstone sermon that brought his audience to their feet, then he would tell the most unrelated joke and lay them in the aisles with laughter.” She had two siblings, brother Joe and sister Clea who, when older was a respected jazz singer. She  relocated to Detroit, so Janie joined her.  Clea often worked with Jackie Wilson, who lived a short distance away from them, and who often fell asleep on their floor in front of the television. It was through Jackie that Janie met Berry Gordy, and from that, the two began writing together, where one of their first collaborations was “Lonely Teardrops” for the before mentioned Mr Wilson.  In between composing, Janie was Motown’s first receptionist, but I’m assuming she left that role when writing took up all her time. So, next of note was “Money (That’s What I Want)” first recorded by Barrett Strong and subsequently covered over two hundred times.  From here, she moved on to work with Smokey, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, among others, notching up hits like “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”, “Your Old Standby”, “Contract On Love”, “Hip City Part 11”, “Honey Bee Keep On Stinging Me”, “My Smile Is Just A Frown Turned Upside Down”, “Share My Love” and so many others.

Being so engrossed in writing songs, Janie’s first love of writing poetry was relegated to the back burner. However, they were regularly retrieved when she was asked by some of the guys working at Motown to compose a love letter to win the heart of a potential lover. She wrote – “Granted most of them were songwriters and producers themselves, but I guess they could not muster up that something extra special needed to create a…speciality letter.” By doing this she knew who was dating who, yet never told because “they paid me very well!”  Enterprising lady. The bubble burst for Ms Bradford when Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. When told she had to be a credited producer or performing artist to ensure her work was recorded, it was the close of an era for her.

Janie’s book – where the foreword is a collection of quotes from Claudette Robinson, Chuck Jackson, Levi Stubbs, Brian Holland, Mable John and Mary Wilson – is split into sections. For example, there’s Poems That Make You Go Mmm prefaced by Janie noting “Erasers were put on pencils for mistakes made on paper. Words spoken cannot so easily be erased from the mind”.  While others include Identity, Friendship, Black Heritage, Music and Growing Through Changes. Dotted about are pictures of her family and her professional life, and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my little insight into the talents of this remarkable wordsmith.  However, that’s not all this lady is known and respected for, as Motown fans will know. …read on….

Janie created The Heroes And Legends Scholarship Programme (HAL) to help talented young people in the community to shape their careers in one of the performing arts. HAL also spotlighted positive role models from many diverse backgrounds, including leaders in the fields of theatre, music, films and business, who have utilised their celebrity status to benefit the community.  In September 1990 Janie and her team launched the first HAL Awards black tie ceremony in Los Angeles’ Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to raise money for their Scholarship Fund which, I understand, helps those promising students who have achieved at least a 2.0 grade average.  The Fund provides financial assistance to enable them to complete their education, later being honoured at the star studded annual Awards event.  Nine Awards are presented annually, including Legacy, Icon, Theatre and TV/Film and The Unsung Hero sections, and past recipients cover Smokey, the Four Tops, Della Reese, Thelma Houston, Tyne Daly, The Temptations, Ray Parker Jr, Gladys Knight and Berry Gordy. HAL also recognised the talents of producers, composers and industry figures like Universal executive Andy Skurow, and so well deserved too.  Last year the event was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where honourees were Deniece Williams, the Undisputed Truth, Suzanne de Passe and Switch, among others.  Brenda Holloway, Brenda Lee Eager and The Dennis Edwards Review provided the entertainment, while Martha Reeves, Freda Payne, Claudette Robinson and Ms Houston, wore the presenters’ hats. Will there be an awards ceremony this year I wonder?

And that’s not all as Janie Bradford went on to open Twinn Records with fellow-Motowner, writer/producer/singer Marilyn McLeod.  Born in Detroit, Marilyn came from a musical family as her parents were singers, and her pianist mother composed music. According to www.twinnrecords.com, her five siblings were musical, particularly her older brother Ernie Farrow who played upright bass with the noted jazz musician Yusef Lateef, while her late musician sister Alice was married to the legendary saxophone player John Coltrane and recorded several albums as a keyboardist and harpist.  Long story short, Marilyn joined Jobete as a songwriter during 1968 where she stayed for fifteen years. Her compositions are no strangers to Motown fans, as she pitched songs for the likes of Diana Ross with “Love Hangover” which won the singer her fourth US chart topper in 1976.  Co-penned with Pam Sawyer, it was earmarked for Marvin Gaye, but its producer Hal Davis believed it suited the sensual Diana better, as it weaved between ballad and dance. In fact, once Diana heard the backing track, she stamped her mark on it, with the result launching her as a major player in the disco market. First heard as a track on her self-named album, it was rush-released when the 5th Dimension issued their version, thereby killing her “I Thought It Took A Little Time” which had charted.

Other McLeod written and co-written tracks include Jr Walker’s “Walk In The Night”, Marvin Gaye/Diana Ross/Stevie Wonder/Smokey Robinson’s “Pops We Love You”, the Four Tops’ “Body And Soul”, Marvin and Diana’s “Love Twins” and “Include Me In Your Life”. “The World Is Rated X” for solo Marvin, and High Inergy’s “You Can’t Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On)”.  These are just the ones that spring to mind.  Then, it seems she moved on to record with Nu Page for the Mowest label, and as a member of Pure Magic.  From Motown, Marilyn released “(I Don’t Wanna Dance Tonight) I Got Love On My Side” for Fantasy Records in 1979, before co-writing numerous tracks for Ian Levine’s great Motorcity Records, and recording her own album “I Believe In Me” in 2010 for Twinn Records, which she kindly sent to me at the time. Phew! That was a long sentence. It was an excellent release, co-written with Janie Bradford, with a handful of top songs including “What Would Marvin Say”, “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Day” and “About U”.  The CD is certainly a worthy addition to any soul fan’s collection.

Yeah, I did digress a bit this time, as the intention was to tell you about Janie’s book, but one thing led to another, and here we are, nearly at the close of this month’s offering.  However, I can’t close yet without mentioning “Motown: The Complete No 1’s” box set, due at the end of this month.  Released as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations (what?! I must have missed them – thank goodness though for the wonderful Jr Walker & the All Stars’ box set “Walk In The Night – The Motown 70s Studio Albums”)!

This 11-CD is, I presume, identical to the one I bought in 2008, but with an added CD.  If this is the case, fans like myself, who have the original, will be forking out around £120 for the following handful of  tracks:  The Miracles and the Jackson 5’s “Who’s Lovin’ You”, the Jackson 5’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”, Stevie Wonder’s “For You Love”, and Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (2017 remix), “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down” (2018 mix).  Well, if that’s so, here’s one gal who won’t be buying it.

Thank you for being with me this month, always love your company, and I’ll be back before you know it.

MARILYN McLEOD’S YOU TUBE CHANNEL

Motown Spotlight - December 2018

Motown Spotlight – December 2018

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!