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 - January/February 2019

Motown Spotlight – January/February 2019

[Site owner David Nathan note: ‘This Motown Spotlight should have been published at the end of January – so apologies to Sharon and all for the delay.”]

Happy 60th birthday Motown!  And a Happy New Year to you – even though it’s now the first week of February! Both belated I know, but, I can assure you, the sentiments are exactly the same. So let’s TCB…Over the past few weeks information has filtered through about plans to celebrate this extremely significant event so I’ll run them past you now and, needless to say, if you know of  others, do please let me know.

So, first off. As part of a year long celebration, the Motown Museum announced plans to run an online video series, “Archive Dives”, bringing into the public arena unseen items from its treasure trove of artifacts.  If I’m right, this started the day before the actual anniversary on Saturday, 12 January, and will continue on a regular basis via its Facebook page, tying in key dates in Motown’s history.  The revealed items will then go on display in Hitsville. The anniversary ball also got rolling with a digital playlist of 70 vintage songs and I think Spotify is the site to check out to hear these.  Robin Terry, Museum chairwoman and CEO told the Detroit Free Press “We have this tremendous collection of artefacts and many aren’t seen by the public.  We’re taking the anniversary year as an opportunity to showcase some of these unique items.”

Motown Museum Facebook Page

Kicking off the series is the actual Ber-Berry Co-op savings account book owned by Berry Gordy Sr, which, among other things, shows the organizational structure put in place by members of the family; minutes from the Co-op meeting dated 8 February 1959, providing a glimpse into how the family conducted their business at this time, and the archival document that was the official accounting ledger certifying the re-payment of Berry’s $800 loan.  “What’s really exciting for us, and for all Motown fans, is that this is just the beginning,” Terry said. “It’s a privilege for us to continue to share more Motown history and artifacts from our vast collection with fans and to tell new stories in new ways.” This stockpile of unseen treasures is also one of the driving forces behind the non-profit Museum’s $50 million fundraising campaign to expand the complex with 40,000 square feet of exhibits, meeting and performing areas, among other things, with expectations of quadrupling the complex’s footprint. These guys don’t do things by half do they?!

Other events planned by the Museum include a 60th anniversary exhibition in early spring and a party in the grounds with live music, free Museum tours and food trucks, which has been tagged as a beefed-up edition of the annual Founder’s Day event that’s held in commemoration of Berry’s late sister Esther, who, as you know, took on the challenge of opening the Museum to the public during 1985. What a stroke of genius that was too!  I have to say, it was a huge thrill and personal ambition to get the chance to meander through the smallish rooms where history was made: in fact, if it wasn’t for the photos I took at the time, can’t believe I was actually there. And from what some other folks have told me, they felt exactly the same although putting into actual words the overwhelming feelings of being there, was somewhat difficult. Only one gripe though was the shop where prices were sky-high and beyond the reach of my pay packet for sure.  I wonder how the former first lady Michelle Obama felt when she wandered around in December? Judging by the video I’ve seen, it was smiles all round. Anyhow, I’m digressing…

So, according to the Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum, the keystone event will be Motown’s 60th birthday celebrations covering 21-23 September on sites across Detroit, opening with a black-tie concert dinner “Hitsville Honors”. A Motown-infused gospel concert in partnership with local churches is planned for the next day, with the weekend closing on a high note with the “Soul-In-One Motown Golf Classic.”  Robin Terry further said the plans were geared to include everyone in the local community because “This is obviously a tremendous milestone year. Our approach is to celebrate six decades of not only phenomenal music but these artists who came out of Detroit.”

We’re used to Motown’s anniversaries aren’t we?  Some are true to the dates while others, well, adopted a certain amount of poetic licence.  Actually, I’m thinking in particular of the award-winning  “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” staged at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, California, on 25 March 1983. Broadcast by NBC and later available commercially, didn’t we all sit open-mouthed as Marvin Gaye played at the piano, Michael Jackson moonwalked, Smokey Robinson rejoined The Miracles, Stevie Wonder sang with Wonderlove, the Four Tops and The Temptations performed the “battle of the bands”, and Diana Ross returned to the Supremes to the strains of “Someday We’ll Be Together”.  Thirty second spots were afforded to Martha Reeves, Mary Wells, Jr Walker, among others, which did not sit at all well with them or Motown fans, yet it was those who were omitted or not actually invited that caused the most upset. We won’t go there now, but suffice to say the album “The Motown Story: First 25 Years” narrated by Lionel Richie and Smokey, followed.  Now long out of print, it did receive a Grammy nomination for Best Historical Recording.

Also worth a mention is the two-part anniversary special “Motown 40: The Music Is Forever” screened by ABC in 1998.  The four-hour documentary featured interviews and performances by Smokey, Diana, Lionel, En Vogue, James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt, among other A-line names. Also “Motown 50” in 2009 when a variety of artists returned to Hitsville during January to officially launch the year’s celebrations.  Duke Fakir was joined by the likes of Rosalind Ashford, members of the Funk Brothers, Bobby Rogers, Gil Bridges, Mrs Maxine Powell and Paul Riser.   “Fifty years is a wonderful anniversary” Duke told Billboard magazine. “You’ve got to give credit to the songs but, of course, you’ve got to give credit to Berry Gordy for the vision. He had the whole vision, and he made it come true. It’s just great to be part of that legacy and still be alive to talk about it.”

Several discs were issued with the special 50th logo attached, while us Brits were treated to the “Divas of Motown” tour in the November, featuring Chris Clark, Brenda Holloway, the Former Ladies of the Supremes, Thelma Houston, Mable John and Jack Ashford’s Funk Brothers Band.  Wow!  What a concert that was! So what concerts for 2019, I wonder?

This year will also honour Motown’s artists who have passed and those, happily, still with us, like Martha Reeves (who has to be the company’s finest and truest ambassador), Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Otis Williams, Duke Fakir and Mary Wilson. However, I’m not sure as I write this, just what part they will play, maybe over the September weekend.  Anyway, watch this space.

From the musical note to the written word or, to be more precise, colourful pictures. Mark Bego (who you may remember assisted Martha Reeves with her terrific autobiography “Dancing In The Street”) announced on his Facebook page that he helped Mary Wilson compile a 240-page coffee table type book “Supreme Glamour” due to be published this year by Thames & Hudson, the same company behind Adam White’s glorious “Motown:The Sound Of Young America” tome now available in soft back. In a press statement the publisher said, “Marrying sumptuous fashion with insightful biography, ‘Supreme Glamour’ charts the glittering story of  Motown’s most successful act and original pop fashionistas.”

And, let’s not forget either the many hints thrown at us during the past few months about “Hitsville: The Making Of Motown” docufilm which focuses on the birth of the company through to its relocation to Los Angeles in 1972.  It will feature new and exclusive interviews with Berry and several of his top artists and creative figures, rare performances and behind-scenes footage from Berry’s personal archives and items discovered in the company’s vaults. Check out https://classic.motown.com/ for more information.

Finally, if you’re planning a trip to New York this year, do try to get tickets for the Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life And Times Of The Temptations” based on Otis Williams’ informative autobiography which, I have to say, spares no punches.  The jukebox musical has had a series of regional productions and is expected to hit Broadway next month with previews from the 28th, before the opening night on 21 March.

So, what of the UK and what plans for celebrations here?  Well to be honest, so far, I know of only one very special CD release which hopefully I can talk about next time, likewise a Motown/Northern Soul weekender in Skegness during September featuring three much revered and loved Motown ladies. I’m so happy to read about nightclubs and pubs up and down the country devoting evenings to Motown; tribute groups and shows keeping the sound alive, while radio stations have done the same, with more coming during the year I expect. Actually, on that subject, if anyone cares to spend a little time celebrating with me, do please visit  https://www.mixcloud.com/HailshamFM/sharon-davis-12012019/

Well, that’s about it for now.  Needless to say, will keep you updated as items hit me but, as mentioned before, if you know of any celebrations going on, do let me know and I’ll be happy to share.  We’re in this together remember, so do hope we’ll be holding hands through this year because, to be honest,  it’ll be lonely without you.

Final words then from Robin Terry;  “This year the whole of  Detroit will salute its legacy. The world is going to be celebrating Motown throughout this 60-year anniversary but no other city can claim the birthplace.”