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!

 

Motown Spotlight February 2018

Motown Spotlight February 2018

Before taking care of business this month, I’d like to thank those of you who contacted me regarding my piece about Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell last time. Your positive comments have inspired me to write about Marvin and his other duettists some time in the future.  Meanwhile though, one reader who asked me to share her comments was none other than Motown’s very own Chris Clark, so here goes…

“Tammi was a cheeky, spontaneous, good hearted pleasure! I ran into her at a couple of Berry Gordy’s parties, hanging out at the studio between sessions and backstage for hours between performances at the Fox shows. What I was most aware of is what she wasn’t – she wasn’t judgemental.  She had this wild, warm – I don’t know how to say it, – but it was a spiritedness.  There was a spiritual aspect to it as well. Just like Brenda Holloway.  With Tammi there was this sense of energy.  It wasn’t challenging nor competitive.  It was there, and you were open to join it, no questions asked. It’s possible different people had different reactions to it.  It’s also possible men felt compelled to tame or contain it, and they might have run into different aspects of it.  I always had the sense that she was someone I’d want in the trenches with me if the shit hit the fan.  That she was the kind of girl who would have your back, but also have that kind of ‘Mash Squad’ humour that can almost make the trenches bearable.  And she was such a talent! That should have been my very first sentence.  She had a gift from the Gods and the courage to express it.  And I think she did give Marvin the love he needed, in the only place he’d felt safe enough to accept it, and not self-defeatedly sabotage it – on the stage and also in their music.”

Let’s TCB some more…if you’ve loads of cash to spare and you’re a Mr Robinson fan you might want to visit his store at http://smokeyrobinson.storenvy/com/ because alongside signed pictures, he’s selling a custom made black suit for a cool $1,200 which was designed for him for the Disney television programme “The Magic Man”.  I’ll give you the details as taken from his website – the black suit features a vest, suspenders (what!) and cape. There are silver rhinestones on the collar and cuffs, vest and down the side of the trouser legs.  The item will be signed and accompanied with a Smokey Robinson Collectables Certificate of Authenticity.  Now, this item may have been on offer for some time, but it’s the first time I’ve noticed it, and honestly wonder why such an iconic artist is selling such a personal article unless – and I’ve just thought of this – he’s raising money for one of his charities.

You may remember that Smokey is the executive music producer for a Netflix animated series for children based on the Jobete catalogue of songs.  Apparently each episode in the series draws inspiration from the music of  Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5 and, of course, Smokey, among others.  And it is this musical backdrop that revolves around the adventures of a shy eight-year-old Ben, who is gifted with an artistic ability to bring street art to life.  Living in the imaginary city of Motown, Ben and his friends discover that creativity is magic, bringing vibrancy to their city.   “I’m thrilled to be a part of this wonderful new series that will embrace the magic of Motown and present our songs to a whole new generation of fans and their families.” Smokey said at the time of the press launch. “I’m so impressed with the creative vision for the series and can’t wait to play my part in bringing it to the world.”   Sounds a hugely interesting project, but unfortunately I’ve been unable to discover more current information about it.   Moving on…

Former Supreme, Scherrie Payne is one of the artists involved in a new music project titled ”La La Peace Song” , the brainchild of producer Rick Gianatos. He explained his reasoning behind the song to Pump It Up Magazine. “I was watching riots take place in Ferguson (after police officer Darren Wilson shot dead Michael Brown in 2014). It reminded me of the riots in my home down, Wilmington, Delaware, after Martin Luther King was killed. I felt a strong sense of déjà vu.”  Written by Johnny Bristol and recorded earlier by both Al Wilson and O.C. Smith,  “La La Peace Song” came to mind as a vehicle to raise funds for all victims of violence. Rick and Johnny had met previously in Detroit during Ian Levine’s Motorcity Reunion sessions. “I co-produced several tracks with Johnny.   He was a wonderful talent and a gentleman of a human being.”  (Yes, I agree – he was an ace guy; ultra friendly, easy going, and a delight to be with)

Anyway, “La La Peace Song” is centred around a trio of lead voices, Pam Vincent, Jim Gilstrap and Joyce Vincent, with additional voices that included  Jessica Williams and Scherrie.  Instead of copying the original version which was styled around Johnny’s “Hang On In There Baby”, Rick injected a seventies flavour akin to Faith, Hope And Charity.  With this release he’s hoping to accomplish an awareness to violent crimes, while addiitionally protesting against the current political climate, which, he said, “seems to condone racism, prejudice, separatism and hatred…Music can teach and it also can heal.  I hope ‘La La Peace Song’ can do both.”  There’s two/three different versions of the song – which is so deliciously catchy that it’s almost impossible to get the hookline out of your mind, while the persuasive vocals push home the important message of love  – so suggest you visit the various sites to hear more.  Thanks guys!

Diana Ross now.  Many fans across Europe have flown to Las Vegas to catch her very special and intimate showcase at The Wynn Encore Theatre.  Firstly, Keith Russell reported back to me last year that Diana was on top form, that her voice was faultless, and the incredible evening was one to be remembered.  He saw her three times, if my memory serves me correctly, but Las Vegas itself wasn’t for him.  I’ve also kept track of other fans making the trip, and was recently contacted by Jim Hegerty who saw her perform this month.  After the thoroughly entertaining show, presented in the lady’s impeccable style, Jim presented Diana with an award from her European fans.

Unclear what this was about and how many fans were involved in organising this award, I caught up with him last week, and he told me the award was his idea because he felt the star had received all the major industry accolades and trophies but, to his knowledge, she’d never actually received one from her fans.  “I designed it and paid for it because I’m hoping that as it’s from her European fans it may prompt her to tour here again” he told me. “Diana is testament to longevity.  Her voice is incredible and her stage presence is awesome.”  Incidentally, Fredy Rimando filmed the short question/answer session after the show – although answering questions appears to be something Diana doesn’t do easily, particularly when asked about her RCA days – so used the ‘get out of jail card’ by singing “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” instead. Anyway, you can check out Fredy’s short film on  It’s doubtful at this time that Diana will tour outside America though, unlike her former label mates, Lionel Richie, and the Four Tops and The Temptations.

In June, Mr Richie will be performing at venues he’s never been to before, like the County Cricket Ground in Hove, East Sussex, on 23rd, which is about an hour from where I live. Couldn’t believe my eyes!!  Also included is a pair of headlining dates at London’s Hampton Court Palace Festival on 5th and 6th.  The tour starts on 1st at Northampton’s Franklin Gardens, then moves on to Perth, Lincolnshire, Shrewsbury, Leigh, Carlisle, Scarborough, Chesterfield, ending on 24th at Holkham Hall, near Wells-next-the-Sea.  Tickets were haemorrhaging out the door on the first day of sale, so should imagine the tour is now more or less sold out.  Speaking about his return Lionel said. “I’ve been missing the UK and can’t wait to make my long-hgxaawaited return and to see parts of the country I’ve never made it out to before. The fans are always incredible and they make the atmosphere at every show electric, so I look forward to singing along with them soon.”

As for the Four Tops and The Temptations (and having visited several sites for confirmation) I think the dates are as follows for their arena tour in November.  Kicking off in Glasgow’s SEC Armadillo on the 18th, the two groups move through Leeds, Manchester, Gateshead, Birmingham and Liverpool.  Then switch to a somewhat smaller venue at Southend-On-Sea, before hitting London’s 02, with  closing performances at Bournemouth and Nottingham. Again, for this and Lionel’s tour do please check out the relevant sites, particularly as new dates could be included in the future.

Before leaving this subject, and without being controversial, over the years I’ve been contacted by older fans of both groups saying they would prefer to remember them as they were and not as they are now with Duke Fakir and Otis Williams being the only remaining member in the Tops and Tempts respectively.  I fully appreciate their comments and must add that when I first saw these two current groups, I didn’t connect with them either.  So, like many of those who were with the guys from the outset, I likewise, sadly, said my farewells to them and haven’t been back, preferring to remember the two groups in their original format. God bless them.

Finally,  it has been announced that Ace Records are to release the CD package “Baby I’ve Got It – More Motown Girls”  next month.  Of the twenty-four tracks, it seems sixteen are previously unissued, and the remainder being first available on “Motown Unreleased” downloads between 2014 and 2017.  All tracks on this pending release were recorded between 1961 and 1969, and include Brenda Holloway’s “Baby I’ve Got It” (of course!), Kim Weston’s “So Long”,  Little Lisa’s “Keep Away”, Martha and the Vandellas’ “Mr Misery (Let Me Be)” and Barbara McNair’s “You’ve Got Possibilities”, among others. By the way, it took a year to get clearance for these songs and quite possibly this will be the last in the series.  But who knows…..

Thank you for being with me this month, and I promise  there’s plenty more to come, so do stay on board.

Motown Spotlight - November 2017

Motown Spotlight – November 2017

While typing this month’s MS thought I’d re-visit Scherrie Payne’s “Vintage Scherrie” CD which I haven’t played for awhile but which is always close at hand. As you know a couple of tracks were extracted for single release – “Remember Who You Are” and “Crumbs Off The Table” – both exceptional in different ways. The first is warmly soulful, sheer beauty, while the second is rather hard edged and decisive, you don’t mess with this gal. Both stylings are handled with total ease of course. However, it’s “Hope” that I get drawn to every time plus her take on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Aw, well, will just let it play through in its entirety until I’m done here. And talking of mountains….

I suppose it was to be expected that, following Diana Ross receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent American Music Awards, an album would be released to coincide with the event. Well, I say ‘album’ but what I really mean is a digital 15 track release under the title “Diamond Diana: The Legacy Collection”, a selection of her biggest titles like “The Boss”, “It’s My House”, “I’m Coming Out”, “Love Hangover” and “Endless Love” with Lionel Richie. However, the carrot that’s being dangled here for stalwart fans is a new dance club, the Anmhe remix of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. It’s alright I suppose, but the whole essence of the Ashford & Simpson composition was the merging of melody and lyrics. A love song of considerable emotion which should, perhaps stay as was intended, and as much as I love the drama attached to Diana’s epic six minutes-plus version on her debut solo album, the 1967 original, produced by Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, and recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell just can’t be matched. Let’s stay with the song for a moment. Composed by Ashford & Simpson prior to their joining Motown, Dusty Springfield longed to record it, as Valerie recalled, “We played (her) that song but wouldn’t give it to her, we wanted to hold that back because we felt it could be our entry to Motown. Nick called it the ‘golden egg’. Dusty, recorded a similar verse melody in ‘I’m Gonna Leave You’”. Undeterred, the British singer, faithful to the original arrangement, included the song in her stage act usually as part of a soul medley, and actually performed it twice on television as a duet, with Engelbert Humperdink during 1970, and with Michael Ball in 1995.

In the wonderful book “The Real Tammi Terrell: My Sister Tommie” penned by Ludie Montgomery and Vickie Wright (published by Bank House Books 2005), they tell of a nervous, slightly intimidated twenty-two-year-old Tammi recording her vocals for the song on 6 January 1967, leaving Marvin to dub in his vocals later in that month. Valerie felt the song was the perfect vehicle for the two singers although it wasn’t conceived as a duet, as Nick said, “..it turned into (one). Everything kind of fell into place. They saw what was necessary and we were there to change up anything they needed and we all worked together. Marvin would tell me that Tammi was his favourite to sing with. She would cuddle up to him like she belonged to him. It was just beautiful what they had.” Johnny Bristol took this one step further when he was quoted about their mystical blending because Marvin felt her deeply when he sang to her pre-recorded track – which was, apparently, the norm on several of their duets. “Their respect and love for each other …transcended the presence and they both didn’t have to be there to capture the feeling. (The song) really sticks out in my mind because they blended so well on that recording. Nick and Valerie were great writers so they made it a spiritual connection for everyone.“ Incidentally, the Four Tops’ Duke Fakir was one of the backing vocalists on the song, “I remember sitting around during the time Marvin and Tammi were recording it and Marvin says, ‘hey man, come in here and help me sing the song because I can’t make it alone.’”

In one of my interviews with Nickolas Ashford, I wondered why he never recorded the song with Valerie, believing as I did, they were the perfect mouthpieces for their compositions. “I don’t think we even thought about it. When you have an artist like Marvin Gaye, who was just a phenomenal singer, it’s just a dream. We were real writers then and we had this voice that we could do something with, and that was all the glory we needed.”

So, returning to Diana Ross’ 1970 album version for just a second, and then we’ll move on, it seems Berry Gordy wasn’t happy with the song, hating the spoken word passage. He wanted the climactic chorus/bridge to start the song rather than be a feature within it. However, he backed down when Ashford & Simpson persuaded him to release an edited three-minute single to combat radio stations editing their own versions. By cutting the playing time, the fullness of the song was hampered of course, allowing listeners to enjoy a mere musical snapshot of the classical string element from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Andantes’ warm vocals supported by Johnny Bristol, Brenda Evans and Billie Calvin (from The Undisputed Truth), Jo Armstead and Ashford & Simpson themselves. Nonetheless, the edited “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” earned Diana her first number one single, and a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The full glorious version was, of course, included on her album: good marketing ploy that. Good Lord, how one thing leads to another when all I intended to do was mention her new digital album! Let’s move on….

One of the songs I regularly play on my Saturday evening soul programme is the Northern Soul Survivors’ charity single, a cover of Frank Wilson’s “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”. Featuring Tommy Hunt, Chris Clark, Dean Parrish, Pat Lewis, Sidney Barnes, Johnny Boy and The Signatures, and, last but by no means least, Paul Stuart Davies, who masterminded the whole thing. Released on vinyl and as a download single, it was, as you know, recorded to raise funds for Jon Bates, a Wigan DJ who is wheelchair bound and in need of money to pay for an operation that could see him walk again. “As someone who listens to soul music daily, recording this song has been like being part of soul music history” Paul explained. “I’m very lucky and I loved every minute making the record.” So, let’s spend some time with the young man behind the single. Born in Manchester in 1982, Paul Stuart Davies began professionally performing as a teenager, and following an introduction to a local agent, was soon performing in clubs and pubs across Lancashire. From here, he attended music college which lead to a career as a vocal coach, and as co-creator of the Darwen School Of Music. However, it was his love of Motown that prompted him to front The Soul Train, a 9-piece group, where their popularity grew following performances in Blackpool and Blackburn clubs.

During 2015, and following an endorsement from Marvin Gaye’s second wife Janis, he took to the solo spotlight where he performed alongside Kim Weston, Brenda Holloway, The Velvelettes and The Contours at The World’s Biggest Northern Soul Weekender staged at Butlins in Skegness. Event organiser, Russ Winstanley, was so impressed with the young man’s enthusiastic talent that he invited him to regularly perform at his events, often alongside Motown and Northern Soul legends, many of whom he befriended. “Like the majority of soul fans, I just love Paul’s incredible voice” said Russ. “The quality and purity left me staggered.” Paul’s career escalated when, in May this year, he flew to Detroit to record “Tomorrow’s Love” (based around a 1965 instrumental by Billy Butler) at the renowned United Sound Systems studio. “I haven’t touched the original instrumental” he explained. “What I wanted to achieve was authenticity. This is a Northern Soul record recorded in 2017. I’m not sure when the last original Northern Soul record was recorded in Detroit but it would have been many years ago.” With him in the studio were Kim Weston, Pat Lewes, Tobi Legend, and Rosalind and Betty, the original Vandellas. “When I told them I was going to Detroit to record (it) they all said ‘we’ll be there’. It was just a wonderful experience. I’m lucky enough to be able to call these great artists friends as I have got to know them over the past few years, both from performing with them and also by speaking to them regularly.”

Then during the last two weeks, Paul contacted me saying he’d returned to that Detroit studio to cut the follow-up to “Tomorrow’s Love”, titled “Baby, It’s Yours” with The Fantastic Four providing support vocals. The song is an absolute delight; upbeat, energetic with the catchiest hook I’ve heard in a long while. By the way, it’s flipside “That’s The Truth” was recorded at the same time. Available now on download and, thank goodness, both titles will be available on vinyl by visiting www.paulstuartdavies.co.uk/shop as, of course, was his first single.

Somewhere in between these trips to Detroit, Paul recorded a live performance at the Darwen Library Theatre and issued some of it as an extended play single/CD (not sure what to call it) titled “Northern Soul Reimagined”. Here he was joined by his friends covering tracks like “Long After Tonight Is All Over” and “Because Of You”, together with studio versions of “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)” about which the Vandellas said, “It was 53 years ago when we first recorded (the song) with Marvin Gaye at Hitsville USA. What a thrill to once again provide backing vocals on the same song with Paul…with his smooth, clear voice, offering a wonderful, fresh vocal treatment to this truly sentimental song.”

By way of an early Christmas present for Motown fans, Paul has even more recently recorded “Lovin’ Me Stronger”, a realistic reminder of the company’s early work. Having played it a few times, I can honestly say it certainly is a grower and one that gets the fingers tapping. Yes, like this a lot. And check this out – he’s offering it free of charge on his website – so what are you waiting for? Go get and enjoy.

I’ll let Chris Clark have the last word here because she believes Paul is an amazing singer. “I’d heard about him, looked him up and called to ask if he’d duet with me. We had a great time and he’s a steller talent who’s going to be on the scene a very long time.” My grateful thanks to all who contributed to this article, allowing me to join them in my admiration for a young man who is determined to keep our music alive.

Unfortunately, I have to end on a very sad note with the passing of Miracle Warren “Pete” Moore who died on his 78th birthday last week. “(He was) a fine human being and valued member of the Motown family” said Berry Gordy upon hearing the news. “He was a quiet spirit with a wonderful bass voice behind Smokey Robinson’s soft, distinctive lead vocals, and was co-writer on several of the Miracles’ hits. A gentleman, loving husband, devoted father and loyal friend. We all loved him and will miss him.” More about Pete, and his contribution to Motown’s success, next month, but, meantime, on behalf of us all at soulmusic.com, my sincere condolences go out to his family, friends and, of course, his fans. “Pete was my brother since I was eleven years old” Smokey posted on twitter. “ I’m really going to miss him.”

Motown Spotlight - October 2017

Motown Spotlight – October 2017

It seems ages since I wrote this page so won’t waste time with preambles except to say have just finished listening to  the “ Dusty Sings Classic Soul” CD,  and I’d quite forgotten she’d recorded “Needle In A Haystack” which she recorded for her second album “Ev’rythings Coming Up Dusty”. For some reason or other it was excluded at the time which was a huge pity because it also featured Madeline Bell and Doris Troy. In hindsight, if it had been included, the girls giggling at the end of the song would probably have been deleted.  Not so here!  Let’s TCB…

Mountains of congratulations to Diana Ross who will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s American Music Awards. She’s a seven-time award winner and hosted the actual show in 1986 and 1987. This Award will recognise her artistic contribution to the entertainment industry and pop culture in general.  “I have endless memories of all the years that I’ve appeared on the American Music Awards” said the lady.  “It started with Dick Clark, and The Caravan of Stars and American Bandstand.  It was Dick Clark who said ‘music is the soundtrack of our lives’.  So true.  I am so excited to be receiving this honourable award.”  Yay for Diana!  And there’s more. I’ve just been told that she’s hoping to launch her own perfume “Diamond Diana” for the Christmas market this year…..

When Norman Whitfield left Motown in 1975 he turned his back on one of the most creative periods in the company’s history.  Not only was he, with Barrett Strong, credited with defining a Motown sound, but in the late sixties, he was the forerunner into psychedelic soul, using acts like The Temptations and Edwin Starr as his musical mouthpieces. Generally speaking, an album track could span 15 minutes plus, as Whitfield multi-tracked and multi-layered musical epics, distorting vocals when not disguising them. It was his psychedelic baby, and he manipulated the musical notes to create his indelible mark into the new genre that would last a few years yet before self destructing, following a glutton of sounds that attempted to blow minds with the support of mother’s little helpers, of course.  Here’s a little overview of history in the making….

Before spearheading this colourful, crazy time, Norman Whitfield had worked with The Velvelettes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Marvelettes, among others, quite often recording the same song on two or more different acts.  However, as innovative as Norman was, it’s not him who’s the subject this time (maybe we’ll re-visit some day) but rather a group of people he hand picked to work with – The Undisputed Truth, comprising Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans.  The ladies, hailing from Los Angeles were members of The Delicates and introduced to Motown by Bobby Taylor. My, didn’t that man have an eye and ear for spotting talent! They worked as session singers on The Four Tops’ “Still Waters” project, Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Edwin’s “Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On”.  Then when The Delicates disbanded, Norman recruited Joe Harris from The Preps, to form his new trio.

After much deliberating, The Undisputed Truth’s debut single “Save My Love For A Rainy Day” was released during June 1971.  Originally recorded by The Temptations as a track on their “With A Lot O’Soul” album during 1967, it was a tentative toe dipper into the massive pond known as the music business.  Failing to create commercial waves, Norman sanctioned the release of “Smiling Faces Sometimes” which instigated a mini tsunami. “They represented a challenge to me” Norman told journalists at the time. “People were saying Motown had become stagnant so I set about making a new group with completely new ideas.”  However, he said he later felt his efforts for The Truth were in vain because, “the company simply was never into what the group meant.”

“The Undisputed Truth” album quickly followed, containing their first two singles, plus the extraordinary “You Got The Love I Need”, using the same 1965 backing track on The Temptations’ “I Got Heaven Right Here On Earth”, an outtake from the group’s “With A Lot O’Soul”.  It was also the only original track on The Truth’s debut, as others included their takes on “Like A Rolling Stone” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”.   Anyway, “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, recorded by (you’ve guessed it!) The Temptations on their “Sky’s The Limit” album as a monstrous 12 minute plus musical melee, was given a more down to earth treatment by The Truth, and it was undoubtedly this that attracted record buyers to give the trio their first serious seller.  And yet again, a Temptations track was re-visited by The Truth for their third British release, “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” released in June 1972, but it did little to progress their career beyond a solid Motown fan base. Extracted from The Truth’s second album “Face To Face With The Truth”, the title wasn’t American released, and it took a further two years for the single to be followed-up in the UK. Other tracks on the album were mixed, switching to “What’s Going On”, through to “Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me”, to the terrifically exciting “What It Is?” – an all time favourite of mine. It has to be said, all credit to Motown’s London office for persevering with these and future releases, believing as they did, in the trio’s potential selling power and, of course, trusting their instincts.

With the promise of a new album during 1973, Motown fans and group alike were hoping for original material, and indeed this did appear to be the case. However, Mr Whitfield had other ideas!  The Truth’s “Law Of The Land” album, slotted between Diana Ross’ “Touch Me In The Moring” and “The Best Of The Detroit Spinners”, represented the last from the group’s original membership.  Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans left after its release, leaving Joe Harris to form a quintet with Tyrone “Big Ty” Douglas, Calvin “Dhaak” Stephenson, Virginia “V” McDonald, and Tyrone “Lil Ty” Barkeley, ex-members of the Detroit group, The Magictones.  Incidentally, this line-up remained unchanged until they split from Motown.

Once again “Law Of The Land” followed its predecessors with versions of further Temptations’ cuts including “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” (although I believe The Truth recorded the original of this) and “Just My Imagination”, which were slotted between Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, Al Green’s “Love And Happiness” and Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By”. By all accounts, this was one of the last albums to be recorded in Detroit.  Motown had moved to Los Angeles, of course, and despite his better feelings, Norman Whitfield had little choice but to follow if he wanted to remain with the company.  A move of location might result in a musical change perhaps?   Yes, it did – to a certain extent.

I think it’s fair to say, that fans were being deprived of The Truth’s real talent and, I for one, pined to hear them sing tailor made material, and when news filtered through this could happen on their next album “Down To Earth” in 1974, I counted my blessings. The expanded group recorded the first six tracks, including the fabulous “Help Yourself” released as a single in May ’74, (the long overdue follow-up to “Superstar”)  while the remaining four were re-issues. Although the album sold well in R&B circles, it failed to cross over into the mainstream chart, although “Help Yourself” was their most successful mainstream American single since “Smiling Faces Sometimes” three years earlier.   “I’m A Fool For You” was lifted as its follow-up to become an R&B hit only.   Of the other two tracks, “I’m A Fool For You”, British released in September ’74, was another dancer, and another poor seller. It was so disheartening as nothing seemed to work; thankfully, the London office wasn’t about to give up just yet.

For some reason, in the year when the Tamla Motown label celebrated its 10th anniversary, “Law Of The Land” was issued. It was a different mix to the American release, and I’m thinking this rather unique, albeit belated UK release ensured The Truth was included in the anniversary releases.  And so we move on to their next elpee “Cosmic Truth” in February 1975 which, I recall, was totally off the beaten track with the overall feel of Rick James clashing with Jimi Hendrix – but in a good way. An interesting, yet complex project, highlighting Norman Whitfield’s darker side, conjuring up images of hallucination and dodgy trips. The futuristic “UFO’s” bumped into the heavy metal tinged “Earthquake Shake”, while the soulful delivery on “Down By The River” is rather refreshing. One reviewer noted – “you couldn’t take enough drugs these days to make something this wild”.  Then, the inevitable happened, their Motown relationship hit stoney ground with their sixth and final album “Higher Than High” seven months later in America, and British release in November 1975.  The title track was extracted for single release, and followed the fate of the others. Many felt “Higher Than High” took a giant step further into Whitfield’s complex imagination, following an almost tentative step with “Down To Earth”.  With titles like “I’m In The Red Zone” (where sex meets drugs);  “Life Ain’t So Easy” (a ballad warning of the perils of big city life) and “Poontang” (with its naughty chorus),  the album was considered to be an acceptable parting shot.

“The Truth became pawns in a political situation that had nothing to do with me” Norman Whitfield once said. “I guess that this was what led to me leaving Motown. As a company they developed a lack of respect for what people were doing for them, and they lost their creative direction when certain people left.”  In actual fact, two years prior to leaving, Norman had formed his own Whitfield Records, with the intention of Motown distributing its product. When negotiations between the two parties reached deadlock, Norman hooked up with Warner Brothers instead. He  encouraged The Undisputed Truth to move with him, with Willie Hutch and Jr Walker following. It was, of course, his biggest non-Motown act Rose Royce (including members of Edwin Starr’s backing group) who put Whitfield Records on the international map.

Signing with the new label, resulted in The Undisputed Truth’s top selling dancer “You + Me = Love”, featuring Chaka Khan’s sister Taka Boom.  A pair of albums also benefitted from Whitfield’s promotion machine – “Method To The Madness” and “Smokin’” in 1976 and 1979 respectively.  The first featured the disco anthem, adding to its selling power, while the second included classic titles like “Space Machine” and “Atomic Funk”.

When Whitfield Records closed during the early eighties, it seems The Truth disbanded, with its members branching out into other areas of the business, joining other bands or recording as soloists.  Moving into the next decade, Joe Harris and Brenda Joyce Evans reformed the group, adding Belita Woods to the membership.  As such they joined Ian Levine’s roster of acts to record a new version of “Law Of The Land” for his Motorcity label.  Billie Rae Calvin and V McDonald recorded as soloists, and all were featured on the compilation “A Tribute To Norman Whitfield”.

So, the reason for spending time with Mr Whitfield and the Truth will now become apparent because, just recently, a trio of their albums became available in one package titled “Nothing But The Truth” from the guys at Kent Records.  For the first time on CD  these albums – “The Undisputed Truth”, “Law Of The Land”, “Down To Earth” –  plus a handful of bonus tracks, attempt to put right the neglect shown towards their catalogue. After playing the two CDs several times, I have to admit this release is long over due because it brings home just how talented and worthy of success they were.  Enjoy the music,  because I sure did – and will again……..

Last but not least, and I’m fast running out of space here.  The secret is out, and my, it was one that I’ve kept for awhile. Lynda Laurence has left The Former Ladies, and Susaye Greene has replaced her.  They’ll be known as “Scherrie and Susaye, Formerly Of The Supremes” with Joyce Vincent.  In a statement, Scherrie said that back in 1978 when she and Susaye were auditioning for a third Supreme after Mary Wilson departed, Joyce was their choice.  “But, unfortunately, Motown decided to retire the name since no original member was in the group. All these years later, as fate would have it, the three of us are back together again, united as one.  Ironic, but wonderful!”  Lynda decided it was time to put aside her Supreme gowns to pursue a different avenue, and it goes without saying, that I wish her a fabulous future.

I’ll quickly recap the history of The Former Ladies Of The Supremes using Scherrie’s words.  “Ever since the F.L.O.S. were formed by Ronnie Phillips and Superstar International Records back in 1986, it has been a whirlwind trip for me. Initially, the group consisted of Jean Terrell, Cindy Birdsong and me.  Cindy stayed with us for a short time and then, for the second time, as with The Supremes, Lynda took her place. For the next seven years, Jean, Lynda and I travelled and entertained audiences all over the world.  Then, Jean made her departure.  The group went through several metamorphoses after that, including a name change to ‘Scherrie and Lynda, formerly of The Supremes”.  Lynda’s sister, Sundray Tucker, Freddie Poole and then Joyce Vincent, formerly of Tony Orlando and Dawn, joined us.”  Incredibly, in April 2016 the ladies celebrated their 30th anniversary!  So, now a new, exciting musical journey is about to start with the amended membership, and as Scherrie says,  “(We) will do our best to continue to keep the Supreme legacy alive.”    As a personal note, all the ladies have been immensely supportive of my work, so it’s the least I can do, to return that love ten fold.  Scherrie, Susaye and Joyce, I wish you all every success for the future and thank you for keeping the music alive.

OK, I’m outta here as I’m sure I’ve taken up too much space this time around.  Do, please remember that without you,  there’d be no me – and for that I count my blessings.

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