(With apologies to Sharon Davis for being a couple of days late in adding this to the site)
A note of sadness to start – with the passing of Robert Bateman at the age of eighty years. The founder member and bass singer of The Satintones and, of course, a composer of considerable note because he co-wrote and produced the company’s first trail blazing number one US single “Please Mr Postman” for The Marvelettes. Robert was born in Chicago, Illinois but Detroit became his home. Being one of the first handful of staff Berry Gordy signed to his fledgling company, he was, like the others, involved in all manner of behind scenes activities, including session singing and studio engineer, when he purchased their first set of recording equipment in the form of a tape machine discarded by the Detroit radio station, WJLB.
In the late fifties, The Satintones and The Miracles were Gordy’s only working male groups, and as Mr Bateman recalled “We had our record out (on the Tamla label) ‘Motor City’ and it seemed like we were getting some airplay until The Miracles had a record out.” So he tackled Berry about this, and was told that as there was only one label radio stations would play a limited number of its releases. “I suggested another label. So the next thing I know is we recorded ‘My Beloved’ and Berry came up with Motown as his new label. To me, that name came off ‘Motor City’.” “My Beloved” was the first official release on the new subsidiary in September 1961, and this plus 25 other titles have been made available for a while now on the Ace Records compilation “The Satintones Sing!” (The quotes printed here have been lifted from the booklet accompanying this release) When the hitless group disbanded in 1961, Robert and Brian Holland formed the writing/producing partnership, Brianbert, and one of the first songs they worked on was to re-write “Please Mr Postman” which had been partly written by William Garrett, a friend of The Marvelettes. This led to them writing other tracks for the ladies, including “Twistin’ Postman” and “Playboy”. When it was time to move on in 1962, Robert joined the Correc-Tone label, before moving to New York to for a successful tenure with Capitol Records. He was never far away from the music scene, and upon returning to Detroit in 1970, worked in local studios, among other things. Then this year he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall Of Fame in Detroit, and was an honoured guest at the HAL Awards Ceremony in September. It was shortly after this that he suffered a cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma from which he sadly didn’t recover. His nephew Tony Stovall told the Detroit Free Press that his uncle was just an adventurous guy. “He did it all – producing, writing and discovering artists. From A to Z he could do anything in the music business.” Rest in peace Mr Bateman….
Although I’ve mentioned this in the review section, I’d like to say a little bit more about the recent Ace release “Let It Be – Black America Sings Lennon, McCartney and Harrison”. Alongside other acts’ versions of The Beatles material, four Motown acts are included, as follows. The Temptations’ “Hey Jude” from their psychedelically friendly album “Puzzle People” released in 1969. The song has been covered over forty times apparently, with The Temptations’ version not the first for Motown. They were beaten to the microphone by The Miracles and The Supremes, but their take was issued first. The Four Tops recorded several Beatles’ tracks during their Motown stay, including “Michelle” and “The Long And Winding Road”, but their contribution here is “The Fool On The Hill” lifted from the 1969 “Now” album which also holds the wonderfully compulsive “The Key” and “What Is A Man”, a pair of songs that shine with the group’s brilliance. Extracted from the trio’s “With Love (From Us To You)” from 1964, The Supremes are included with “A World Without Love”, and it’s interesting to remember, the ladies also recorded “I Saw Her Standing There” at the same album sessions, but this wasn’t issued until much later as a CD track. And last but certainly not least, a track from a seventies’ signing to Motown who are again gradually causing a stir among fans – The Undisputed Truth and “With A Little Help From My Friends” from 1972, one of several versions with, I guess, Joe Cocker winning top spot for his emotionally evoking rendition. Not bad for a song that started its commercial life as a little ditty from solo Ringo Starr who was thrown a musical bone by the group members every now and again. That reminds me. Some years ago I penned the notes for a Reader’s Digest exclusive 3xCD compilation titled “The Ultimate Motown Collection – Motown Makeover”. I don’t know if it’s still available but it’s a blockbuster of a collection of the company’s artists paying homage to others, like The Originals’ “Wichita Lineman”, Kiki Dee’s “Walk On By”, Marvin Gaye’s “Yesterday”, Blinky’s “Rescue Me”, “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me”, and…well you get the message. A super collection at any level.
After recovering from her terrific success at the Northern Soul Weekender in Skegness, Chris Clark contacted me to say she had recorded “The Ghosts Of San Francisco”, a song written for her by John Thomas Bullock and R. Christian Anderson. It’s from the movie “When The World Came To San Francisco” and the music video, which can be seen on Youtube, is an ‘official selection’ at the New York Jazz Festival this year. Think you’ll agree with me, Miss CC does a brilliant job as she oozes the blues with a jazz edge, with just a piano to accompany her. Fingers crossed for all concerned that you’ll win. And, before I forget, here’s a message she sent – “Thank you so much to my Northern Soul family who never fail to make me feel loved and welcomed. I have no words to tell you how much your respect and devotion to the music we made, makes us feel. And how rich the experience when you have us over to share it once again between us. And that dang place is massive. Eight thousand people showed up (for the weekend) so thank you for letting me be part of it.”
What am I playing right now? “Something On My Mind: The Rita Wright Years 1967 – 1970”. Not for the first time either as I expect you’ve realised, and as much as I, and hundreds others, welcomed this with open arms, I can’t help but think that maybe the lady was right when she said in 1972 she hoped that Motown wouldn’t release what she called “those old tapes”. Being the ultimate perfectionist she was with her art – probably some of this rubbing off from working with Stevie Wonder – I’m not sure, had she lived, that releasing what sounds like unfinished tracks would have sat well with her. For sure, the completed work is amazing and worthy of release during the seventies, but maybe items like “Love Child”, Syreeta wouldn’t have been happy about. Anyway, I’ll not bang on about it anymore because, as I say, it’s a much valued release – and my guilty pleasure.
Let’s move on and to an event that’s happening in December. Most of us have been aware that Keith Rylatt had been working on a book based on a box of photos which had been forgotten about for over fifty years. Here’s the story… Dave Godin, helped by Clive Stone, set up the first British Tamla Motown Appreciation Society, which they ran from Dave’s bedroom in Kent. (Hah, some time later I ran the Four Tops fan club from my bedroom. Must be something to do with the music!) Dave contacted Berry Gordy which resulted in him visiting Detroit to be shown around the studio and meet the artists. By the time Dave left the city, Berry, believing the Society’s fan base was larger than it actually was, decided to send one of his Revues here to coincide with the launching of the new Tamla Motown label with The Supremes “Stop! In The Name Of Love” (TMG 501) in March 1965 was the first release. This followed a licensing deal with EMI Records, whereupon the newly created label was lovingly used in the UK and Europe, but not America. Over the years that association included the addition of other labels like Motown, Rare Earth and Mowest, until the two major companies parted in the early eighties. Motown moved its operation to RCA Records, as it was known then, and the rest is history.
Anyway, Dave Godin launched a huge publicity campaign to celebrate the pending Motown Revue, organised events where fans and artists could meet, and so on. But sadly, at some venues the artists on stage outnumbered members of the audience. Never mind because the fact that we’re still talking about it today, means it was successful for us. Anyhows, I’ll quote from the publicity blurb sent to me yesterday about the box of goodies which was recently discovered in Clive Stone’s loft. “ (It) contains an array of Motown-related ephemera and artefacts, ranging from a novelty key to the Motor City to an autographed programme for the 1964 Motown Company Christmas party, held at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit. There were also three Kodak photograph wallets and four folders of negatives in the bottom of the box, many of them covering the untimely first tour of 1965. These unique photos had been briefly shown to family and friends at the time, with a few being given to Dave for the fan club’s magazine, but were never actually published, let alone seen, since the day they left the developers.” Keith’s much-awaited book titled “Hitsville”, which chronicles the entire story from Steve Wonder’s fleeting visit in 1963 through to the Four Tops’ sell out concert at London’s Saville Theatre three years later, is to be launched at an Exhibition featuring these unpublished visuals, on 2 December 2016. It will then run from Saturday 3 December through to Thursday 22 December, plus Saturday 12 December, at The Horse Hospital, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1JD. If you’d like more information just go into the venue’s website, it’s all there.
As you probably know, I host a Motown/Soul programme on HailshamFM every Saturday between 6pm – 8pm. Well, one single I unearthed to play – and one which I’ve loved from the first day of hearing – was Debbie Dean’s “Why Am I Lovin’ You” released February 1968 on the VIP label, just after The Elgins’ “It’s Been A Long Long Time” and before R Dean Taylor’s “Gotta See Jane”. If my information is right, this fast moving, chirpy song was her fourth release after “Everybody’s Talkin’ About My Baby”, “Itsy Bity Pity Love” and “Don’t Let Him Shop Around” , an answer record to The Miracles’ “Shop Around”. Not considered to be typically Motown, “Why Am I Lovin’ You” was very well received, so will play it again at every opportunity. As you know, Debbie was Motown’s first white female solo artist to be signed but when success wasn’t forthcoming, she was dropped from the artist roster. Some years later, she met up with Deke Richards to rejoin Motown as a composer/singer and later worked with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Edwin Starr, The Temptations, among other big names. Oh, and she also co-wrote my little 1968 slice of magic. Born in 1928, Debbie Dean, who also recorded under the names Penny Smith and Debbie Stevens, died in February 2001. Just thought I’d mention it in passing.
That’s the lot for now, so until next month do keep keeping the Motown faith and as always thank you for your continued support.