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  • STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE: THE SUPREMES

    The Supremes - EMI Archive - Photo

    The Supremes in London, October 1964.  On their first promotional trip to the UK, the group poses for pictures in the garden opposite the headquarters of EMI Records in Manchester Square.  From left are Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross.  Their single, “Baby Love,” becomes Motown’s first No. 1 in Britain the following month.

    The autumn of ‘64 lifted the spirits of Motown Records in Detroit and of EMI Records in London.  Not only were The Supremes enjoying their second, successive chart-topper at home with “Baby Love,” but it was also apparent that there was an overseas appetite for their music.  The British company was particularly thrilled, since Mary Wells’ “My Guy” was a Top 5 UK success in the summer, following initially lacklustre sales of the Motown output.  EMI made its deal the previous year to release the Detroit firm’s music in Britain.

    Arriving in London early in October, The Supremes embarked on a tightly-packed schedule of promotional work, beginning with the BBC Light Programme’s Pop Inn and Top Gear shows, followed by television’s Top of the Pops, Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars.  Diana, Mary and Florence also appeared on the Eamon Andrews TV talk-show, and performed for the Light Programme’s Saturday Club.  The Top of the Pops team also agreed to film “Come See About Me,” The Supremes’ intended follow-up to “Baby Love,” for use at a later date.

    The Supremes were first American female group to have a No. 1 record in the UK during the 1950s and early ’60s.  In addition, “Baby Love” was one of only four U.S. tracks to reach the top in 1963-64 – such was British music fans’ appetite for home-grown music by the Beatles and many others in the so-called “beat boom” of the time.

    “Baby Love” may have been the first Motown recording to reach the summit in Britain, but it was the previous October when the first of the Detroit company’s songs hit No. 1:  Brian Poole & the Tremeloes’ version of “Do You Love Me.”  That was written by Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and originally cut by the Contours.

    Click here to see this and many more newly uncovered Motown images – part of Proud Gallery’s London exhibition, Classic Motown: The Invasion Begins!

  • ALBUM OF THE WEEK: MICHAEL JACKSON – GOT TO BE THERE

    MICHAEL JACKSON – GOT TO BE THERE

    Months before Motown Records left Detroit for Los Angeles, the company released Michael Jackson’s first solo album in January 1972:  Got To Be There.

    Michael was already there:  California, that is.  Berry Gordy had shipped him and his siblings out west soon after the company finalised their recording contract in 1969.  Now, more than two years after their breakthrough hits, the Jackson 5 remained one of the hottest attractions in entertainment, consistently powered by Motown’s blue-chip songwriters and producers, including Hal Davis, Willie Hutch and The Corporation.

    The youngsters were also basking in the reflected glory of their own Saturday morning cartoon series, The Jackson 5ive, on ABC-TV, and a network special, Goin Back To Indiana, aired in September 1971.  Meanwhile, the inner sleeves of the group’s LPs of the time featured a cornucopia of merchandise, such as “Michael’s Personal Soul-Mate Kit” and “Michael’s Giant-Size Photo Poster,” both $2.25 apiece, including postage.

    Into this environment came the 13-year-old’s solo set, amid talk of Motown striving to replicate Donny Osmond’s success outside the Osmonds, who were also hugely popular at this time.  The title track arrived first as a single, a pitch-perfect ballad polished to a high sheen by Davis.  “Berry said, ‘Hal’s the only one who’s able to take funk and put class with it, with the strings, and yet keep that pulse,’ ” the late producer once claimed.  “Got To Be There” proved him right, although it was held out of No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 by Sly & the Family Stone, Isaac Hayes and the Chi-Lites.

    What’s notable about most of this album is Michael’s habit of beginning a song quietly – almost immaturely – but then driving it to a climax of adult desperation.  “Dont leave me, girl, he cries at the close of “Girl Don’t Take Your Love From Me.”  “Come on back, he pleads towards the end of “Maria (You Were The Only One),” before the song vamps into a blistering chorus of “You Keep Running Away,” first recorded by the Four Tops.

    The mood is brighter on “Rockin’ Robin,” reviving a 1958 hit by Bobby Day.  It’s also a brotherly match with another Day remake, “Little Bitty Pretty One,” which was released by Jackson 5 soon after Michael’s birdsong.  Both were produced by Mel Larson and Jerry Marcellino, who were later responsible for the group’s chrome-plated “Dancing Machine.”  When the Jackson 5 were in London in 1972, Michael performed “Rockin’ Robin” with his brothers – not alone – on TV countdown show Top of the Pops.

    The Brits were partial to still another track on Got To Be There:  Michael’s calm-then-desolate interpretation of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  Bill’s original was not a UK hit, so Jackson’s note-holding tour de force became a Tamla-Motown single – and a Top 10 success – there in September 1972.

    In America, the third and final single from the album was “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” with Michael soaring above a compelling fusion of strings and rhythm, devised by James Anthony Carmichael.  The mix anticipated arranger Gene Page’s work with Barry White, as did (according to Hal Davis) the track’s opening notes played on a rocksichord.  Davis felt he never received the credit for that foresight, but more importantly, he delivered a solo Michael Jackson to sales charts worldwide.  Got to be there.

    BUY NOW: www.itunes.com/motown

  • STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE: STEVIE WONDER

    Stevie Wonder - EMI Archives

    Stevie Wonder at the Cumberland Hotel, London, January 1966.  The 15-year-old is in the UK to promote his current release, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” and to play a number of concert dates.

    The onetime “12-year-old genius” has been travelling abroad since he was 13.  Over the past 51 years, in fact, Stevie Wonder just may be the Motown superstar with the most miles logged to London and other parts of the UK.  The snapshot above finds him in the Cumberland Hotel, near the headquarters of EMI Records, Motown’s British licensee.  On Thursday, January 20, 1966, EMI held a press reception for the visitor.

    In fact, it was Stevie’s second stay at the Cumberland.  The previous year, he and a caravan of other Motown stars – including The Supremes, The Miracles and Martha & the Vandellas – were accommodated there at the start of the Tamla-Motown Revue’s 1965 tour of England, Scotland and Wales.

    The visit in ’66 evidently paid off.  “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” became Stevie’s first British chart success, and Tamla-Motown’s first Top 20 hit of the year.  Since then, the musician has toured and visited consistently.  During his 1969 UK itinerary, he was supported by the Foundations, the Flirtations and the Coloured Raisins.  In 1970, he played a two-week season at London’s Talk of the Town nightclub, which was recorded and released as an album.  In 1980, he came to perform songs from his Hotter Than July album (that time, he stayed at the hipper Montcalm Hotel, not far from the Cumberland).  Other tours occurred in 1992 and 2005, while in 2014, he headlined the Calling Festival on glamorous Clapham Common.

    Stevie Wonder’s first U.K. trip occurred in December 1963, when he was passing through London after a two-week stint at the Paris Olympia, on a bill with Dionne Warwick and the Shirelles, among others.  Before heading home for Detroit, he appeared on TV’s Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars.

    Click here to see this and many more newly uncovered Motown images – part of Proud Gallery’s London exhibition, Classic Motown: The Invasion Begins!

  • ALBUM OF THE WEEK: THE TEMPTATIONS SING SMOKEY

    temptations-the_temptations_sing_smokey-front

    Shortly, a caravan of stars will join Smokey Robinson on his brand new album, to perform some of the most-loved songs of the past 50 years with their creator.  His duet partners range from modern marquee names such as John Legend and Jessie J to heritage hitmakers such as Elton John and James Taylor.

    But a half-century ago, there was The Temptations Sing Smokey.

    David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams – The Temptations – were arguably the most sublime interpreters of Smokey’s work.  This album is the evidence, offering Kendricks’ feather-light falsetto as doppelganger of Robinson’s own peerless tones, and Ruffin’s honey-and-sandpaper delivery as the epitome of rhythm, blues and soul.

    The album is actually rather like a college graduation celebration, beginning with care-free exuberance (“The Way You Do The Things You Do”) and closing with the slow, emotional realisation that the night’s end means parting company with friends who will never again gather like this.  And yet, as five voices round on that final, melancholy note, everyone in the room is reminded that “(You Can) Depend On Me.”

    The college metaphor extends to the graduation of these five young men, because The Temptations Sing Smokey did mark the Temptations’ transition to the real world.  After the commercial failure of their first seven singles for Motown, Smokey Robinson wrote (with fellow Miracle Bobby Rogers) and produced the breakthrough with “The Way You Do The Things You Do.”  It’s an irresistible sequence of similes – Robinson’s trademark – powered by a swinging band track, topped by Kendricks’ compelling lead.

    No wonder this was their first bona fide hit, an R&B No. 1 in 1964 and a pop crossover triumph.  Welcome to the future, to the demanding round of hit records and follow-ups, of showcase gigs and sell-out tours, of media demands, irreconcilable itineraries and personal challenges.  Welcome to stardom.

    Even so, there are marvellous reminders in this album of the Temptations’ origins, of five mellifluous voices, forged in doowop (“Baby, Baby I Need You”) and sometimes an older, unadorned style (“What’s So Good About Good Bye”).  The ballad “You’ll Lose A Precious Love” is also a throwback to 1950s street-corners, wherein David Ruffin’s lead tears out the listener’s heart while Melvin Franklin’s impossible bass pleads, “Don’t destroy this precious love.”

    Much of this album was recorded at Motown in 1964, as the momentum of record sales gave the group – and Smokey – fresh confidence.  Robinson refits several songs that he recorded with the Miracles (“Way Over There,” “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”) and Mary Wells (“You Beat Me To The Punch”), and in all cases, the Temptations shade them a little deeper.  With “Who’s Lovin’ You,” none can outshine the Miracles’ anguished original, but Ruffin’s religious take comes close, complete with his glide up the register at the song’s end. This is the version, after all, which inspired Michael Jackson’s astonishing revisit five years later.

    And so to the touchstone, the ticket to ride, Smokey’s – and Motown’s – monument for the ages:  “My Girl.”  He brought the song to New York’s Apollo Theatre, where both The Miracles and The Temptations were performing that October.  An iconic photo captures the writer briefing his messengers backstage, with David Ruffin reading what appears to be a lyric sheet.  Later, back in Detroit, Robinson assembled all the elements:  James Jamerson’s opening bass line, Robert White’s ascending guitar figure, sweeping strings shaped by arranger Paul Riser and, above all, the rich cohesion of The Temptations.  Hallelujah!

    The stars were aligned and a future of unlimited opportunities beckoned, just like on graduation night.

    BUY NOW: www.itunes.com/motown

  • STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE: THE MOTOWN MINI

    Motown Mini-1

    To promote Tamla-Motown’s latest LP releases in the UK during January and February 1969, EMI Records launches a competition with a British Motor Corporation Mini as the first prize.  To qualify, contestants must buy one of the new releases and compile a British Motown Chartbusters LP.  The winner is Bert Smart of Rayleigh, Essex.

    Motown Records enjoyed a prosperous 1968 in Britain, its strongest market outside the US.  The hit factory had opened the year with Top 10 UK chart ratings for the Four Tops’ “Walk Away Renee,” and closed it with an eight-week Top 10 run for the Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You),” the reissue of a single first released two years earlier.  In addition, “Greatest Hits” by the Tops and Diana Ross & the Supremes were among the country’s best-selling albums in ’68.

    To keep up the momentum into 1969, EMI launched a competition for music fans:  “Buy a new release Tamla album, Win a Motown Mini.”   The car came with radio and tape machine, and there were 20 consolation prizes of five Tamla-Motown albums of the winners’ choice.  Contestants received an entry form when they bought one (or more!) of the company’s January and February releases, which included titles by the Four Tops, The Marvelettes, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & the Supremes, and Marvin Gaye.  The competition called for contestants to compile a 12-track Motown Chartbusters LP from a choice of 20 tracks.

    First prize winner Bert Rayleigh not only drove away with the Motown Mini that March, but he also got to meet Stevie Wonder, who attended an EMI reception in London to make the presentation.  There was even a prize (a portable TV set) for the retailer who sold Bert the LP which made him eligible for the contest.  That lucky record dealer was the late Ken Whitmarsh, manager of HMV’s Oxford Street store, and Stevie made the prize presentation to him, too.

    Unfortunately, the list of 12 chartbusting Motown tracks which netted the Mini are lost to the mists of time.  Where are you now, Bert Rayleigh?

    Click here to see this and many more newly uncovered Motown images – part of Proud Gallery’s London exhibition, Classic Motown: The Invasion Begins!

  • ALBUM OF THE WEEK: GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS – EVERYBODY NEEDS LOVE

    GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS – EVERYBODY NEEDS LOVE

    Back in the day, when two sides of black-as-night vinyl made up a long-playing record, Gladys Knight & the Pips opened the first side of their debut Motown album with “Everybody Needs Love.”  It is one of the two most seductive songs they have ever recorded.  They chose the other, “Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me,” to open the second side.

    Gladys glides into “Everybody Needs Love” on a simple bed of bass, drums and finger snaps, decorated with a gentle guitar figure, and the message is soon clear.  “You need someone like me by your side,” she sings, sensuously, over a track which is soft at one moment, soaring the next.  The object of Gladys’ desire in the song seems immune to her charms, but record buyers were not.  “Everybody Needs Love” became the group’s first major hit at Motown, a Top 3 R&B chart-rider and their biggest success since “Letter Full Of Tears” for another record company, six years earlier.

    “Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me” had a similar effect across the ocean, with Gladys and the Pips capturing the British (perhaps helped by the harpsichord heard throughout).  When she told them to “kiss me long,” they did:  the single became the quartet’s first Top 20 pop hit – anywhere – since joining Motown.

    There would have been sighs of relief at the record company.  Gladys and her Pips – Merald “Bubba” Knight, Edward Patten and William Guest – had signed up in ’66, and their first single stiffed.  Heard here as the album’s last track, “Just Walk In My Shoes” is all rhythm and little melody, but there is so much jet propulsion, so much zest, in the performance that the cold-shoulder is hard to fathom.

    Producer Norman Whitfield tripled the rocket-fuel for this album’s most celebrated track, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” which lifted the quartet into the stratosphere of the Billboard Hot 100.  He had previously laboratory-tested the song on three other Motown acts – The Miracles, the Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye – but none was released.  When he enlisted Gladys and the Pips, they made it their own.  The testimony is here, soon after the drums-and-bass opening, pushed on by the piano stabs of Earl Van Dyke, leader of the band.  When the group leads the song to its middle-eight and Mike Terry’s sax blows the roof off the church, the congregation is in full flow:  “Yes, I heard it!”

    And that’s the gift of Gladys Knight & the Pips:  their innate ability to take tempos up or down, to be exhilarating or intimate, to offer listeners a choice between the pew or the boudoir.  “My Bed Of Thorns,” for example, is pure pathos, a Smokey Robinson tale which recalls his early songs of heartbreak with the Miracles.  By contrast, “He’s My Kind Of Fellow” swings like some of the first sides which its producers, Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, cut with Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, while “I’ll Be Standing By” flows into the peaks and valleys which songwriters Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson often carved out to dramatic effect, melodically and lyrically.

    Gladys’ sensuous voice commands attention throughout Everybody Needs Love, but the Pips are no less essential.  This is evident in a stomping “Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone,” where their doowops flavour the groove, and on “Just Walk In My Shoes,” where they create an ethereal quality in the upper register, as if they’re close to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere.

    There’s one other remarkable thing here:  how Motown’s master of the bass, James Jamerson, accompanies the group, taking Gladys by the hand as if a fourth Pip:  strong, dependable…like family.  This is especially true of “Since I’ve Lost You” and “You Don’t Love Me No More” – listen at him! – but apparent elsewhere, too.

    It’s said that the Pips originally outvoted Gladys three-to-one about signing to Motown.  On the evidence of this album, everyone was a winner in that election.

    BUY NOW: www.itunes.com/motown

  • STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE: THE TAMLA-MOTOWN U.K. REVUE

    Motown Invasion - Tamala - Britain

    The Miracles, The Temptations, Martha & The Vandellas and The Supremes in London, March 1965.  They are pictured at Marble Arch a few days before the start of the Tamla-Motown concert tour of the U.K.  The Temptations are not part of the roadshow, but have come to town to promote their latest single, “It’s Growing.”  From left are Rosalind Ashford, Betty Kelley, Martha Reeves, Claudette Robinson, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin (hidden), Smokey Robinson, Pete Moore, Otis Williams, Bobby Rogers, Melvin Franklin, Ronnie White, Paul Williams, Florence Ballard, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson.  Stevie Wonder and the Earl Van Dyke Six are on the tour, but not shown here.

    With 1964 as the year when Motown Records made its international breakthrough with hits by Mary Wells and The Supremes, Berry Gordy Jr. wanted to raise awareness of his company’s brand and unique sound, as well as its artists.  Up to then, Motown’s music was released in Britain on the Stateside label, part of EMI.  Gordy persuaded EMI to set up the Tamla-Motown label, combining the names of two of Gordy’s U.S. imprints, and the launch was set for March 1965.

    To support the unveiling of Tamla-Motown, Gordy arranged for a U.K. concert tour of four of his prime acts – Martha & the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, The Miracles and The Supremes – to play in 20 cities in England, Scotland and Wales during March and April 1965.  Backing the stars were the Earl Van Dyke Sextet, and British hitmaker Georgie Fame was added to the line-up for extra boxoffice appeal.

    The tour was a critical success, but a commercial disappointment.  However, it proved to be an important milestone in Motown’s international rollout, raising awareness of the label and its extraordinary stable of talent, and laying the groundwork for the years ahead, when audiences in Europe and elsewhere would come to know – and buy – the music of Hitsville U.S.A.

    Click here to see this and many more newly uncovered Motown images – part of Proud Gallery’s London exhibition, Classic Motown: The Invasion Begins!

  • ALBUM OF THE WEEK: MARY JANE GIRLS – Mary Jane Girls

    Mary-Jane-Girls-1983-Mary-Jane-Girls-

    Think Miley Cyrus, to the power of four.

    Back in 1983, even before Madonna chose to be explicit, there were the Mary Jane Girls.  The video for “Candy Man,” the opening hit from this, their debut album, leaves little to the imagination.  But there is artistry on offer – lead singer Joanne (JoJo) McDuffie’s inviting, soulful voice – as well as the candy:  Cheri (the “valley girl”), Candi (the “vamp”) and Maxi (the “dominatrix”).

    The father of MJG was Rick James.  His first album for Motown Records contained “Mary Jane,” a song praising the virtues of…well, you know.  Once he became a major star, Rick assembled a stable of artists to his specifications, including MJG.  “I didn’t think there were any black female ensembles that made any sense,” he told Billboard, contending that since the Shirelles, the Chiffons, the Ronettes and the Supremes, there was a void.

    Less of a void, more of an opportunity – and one which George Clinton had also noted.  In 1978, Parlet and the Brides of Funkenstein were girl-funk detachments from his Parliament/Funkadelic army.  And from the Prince camp in ’82 came Vanity 6, to Rick’s irritation.  According to his newly published autobiography, Glow, he mentioned his idea to a Prince associate, only to see it given shape in Vanity 6.

    Nevertheless, Rick James was proud to groom, polish and unwrap Mary Jane GirlsThis is fine confectionary, full of fun and funk.  Anchoring the album is JoJo (plus backup queens Maxine and Julia Waters), mixed with sugar from Cheryl Ann Bailey (Cheri), Candice Ghant (Candi) and Kimberly Wuletich (Maxi).  At the hard centre of the eight-song set are the musicians of Rick’s own band, notably Levi Ruffin Jr. on synthesizers, Tom McDermott on lead guitar, and Danny LeMelle on sax.  That Rick wrote, arranged, produced and played on the entire album is clear – he sings on “Prove It,” too – but in a manner which allows MJG their own identity.

    There are sweet harmonies throughout, whether on the “party side” (as the first four songs were called on the original vinyl) or the “cool out side” (the second four).  Lyrically, the most mature is “On The Inside,” with a musical mood recalling 1960s R&B hitmaker Billy Stewart channelled by GQ, the rhythmic harmony group popular at the dawn of the ’80s.

    The most memorable flavour?  “All Night Long,” thanks to JoJo’s seductive vocals and the undulating bass of Oscar Alston (or perhaps that’s Rick himself).  It scored in the U.S. on the R&B and dance charts, and was a Top 20 pop hit in the U.K.  To make sure that any reserved Brits got the message, the Mary Jane Girls performed on the nation’s top-rated Top Of The Pops TV show with semi-naked, caged male dancers, writhing in rhythm.

    Moreover, the “All Night Long” groove developed into “one of the most-sampled I’ve ever done,” declares Rick in Glow.  Among those who made the flavour last were the Black Eyed Peas, Jennifer Lopez, Jay Z and another Mary Jane:  Blige, that is.

    BUY NOW: www.itunes.com/motown

  • ALBUM OF THE WEEK: BOBBY M – BLOW

    rickjames.bobbymilitello-blow

    From Buffalo, Rick James roamed across the landscape of rhythm, rock and soul in the 1980s, with a prodigious output of his own soulful work as well as that of associated talent:  the Stone City Band, the Mary Jane Girls, and Val Young, all signed to Motown Records.  Rick’s stature after the double-platinum success of his Street Songs album was such that he was also able to work with artists signed to competing labels, such as harmony vocal combo Process & the Doo Rags and comedian-cum-singer Eddie Murphy.

    In 1981, Rick’s patronage extended to Bobby Militello, a musician he once called “one of the best tenor sax players living,” who also came from Buffalo, New York.  “I would go to see Bobby whenever I could,” Rick said, namechecking Mulligan’s (what else would a jazz club be called?) where Militello jammed in his hometown.  Soon, the punk-funk master persuaded Motown of those virtues, and the outcome was this ’82 album, Blow, which was doubly branded Rick James Presents Bobby M.

    Militello was musically sophisticated and versatile, playing clarinet, flute and all manner of saxophones: alto, tenor, soprano and baritone.  His talent is clear in this eight-track set of (mostly) jazz-fusion, a combination born at the dawn of the 1980s.  Indeed, Rick brought on board one of the genre’s founding fathers, drummer Lenny White of Return To Forever, to co-produce Blow with Militello, and invited some of his friends to play, including Marcus Miller on bass and Bernard Wright on keyboards.

    Bobby M storms out of the gate on “Alto Man,” the album’s blow-hard opening number, and maintains the pace on its title track, with a vibe reminiscent of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.”  Bernard Wright’s moog glows during “How Do You Feel Tonight,” complementing Militello’s punchy sax and Kelly Curtis’ sparky vocals, and then Bernard turns to acoustic piano for the mellow mood of “A Little Song For You.”  Perhaps with an eye to radio airplay, graceful Jean Carn is recruited to sing Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” over Bobby’s fluid sax.  (As a single, it hit the R&B charts.)  On “Redliner,” Militello picks up the flute to further display his proficiency.

    Rick James, whose own musical upbringing was deep and wide, said that Bobby M reminded him of jazz saxman Cannonball Adderley, perhaps the ultimate tribute.  “But to hear him blow – he’s in a class all his own,” said Rick, even disclosing his own band’s saxophonist, Danny LeMelle, started practicing again after hearing Militello.

    Bobby appreciated all of Rick’s rooting for him, not least the showcase at upscale Beverly Hills club Daisy’s, to which the Motown superstar invited Stevie Wonder, Robin Williams and O.J. Simpson, among others.  Bobby’s first love may have been bop, but he owed one to the master of punk-funk, and Blow he did that night.

    BUY NOW: www.itunes.com/motown

  • STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE: MARY WELLS

    Mary Wells - Proud - EMI Archives

    The singer of “My Guy” had many fans in Britain, not least the Beatles, but perhaps the most devoted was Dave Godin, a telephonist from Bexleyheath who started the Mary Wells Fan Club & Tamla-Motown Appreciation Society (TMAS) in 1963.  He even saved stamps from members’ letters in aid of a muscular dystrophy charity, because Mary Wells was diagnosed with a similar condition when young.  Godin’s passion was recognised at Motown in Detroit, and TMAS played a key role in helping Berry Gordy understand how his artists’ popularity was extending beyond American borders.

    Godin was ecstatic when Mary’s “My Guy” became the first Motown single to hit the upper echelons of the British charts in June 1964.  She travelled to the UK later that year to join her other great fans, the Beatles, as guest star on their 27-date autumn tour.  It was promoted by the group’s manager, Brian Epstein, and Arthur Howes, who later staged the Tamla-Motown package tour of England, Scotland and Wales.

    Mary Wells, interviewed by Bill Harry of Mersey Beat magazine in Manchester in October ’64, was enthusiastic about her patrons, and about the music of Dusty Springfield.  That day, Harry also spoke about Mary to John Lennon, who said he had a song to suit the Motown star.  Nothing ever came of it, although Mary did later record an album of well-known Beatles material.

    Click here to see this and many more newly uncovered Motown images – part of Proud Gallery’s London exhibition, Classic Motown: The Invasion Begins!

  • ALBUM OF THE WEEK: RICK JAMES – GLOW

    Rick James - Glow - Review

    The concept of Rick James’ eighth album for Motown was that of a boy in search of the “glow,” a fable about his trip into a dark forest.  It seems appropriate that it’s also the title of the musician’s autobiography, published this month.  Just like his work, Rick’s life was quite a trip.

    The punk-funk maestro decided that for Glow, he would record once more like a live band.  “I needed that live feeling and it gave my boys a chance to work close with me again,” he recalled some years after its 1985 release.  The “boys” included members of the Stone City Band with whom he’d made his crowning achievement, 1981’s Street Songs album:  Danny LeMelle on sax, Levi Ruffin Jr. on synthesizer, Tom McDermott on guitar.  He also recruited Val Young, the Detroit singer who had sung background vocals with him on the road, and English drummer Steve “Smile” Ferrone, formerly of Bloodstone and AWB.  “When Steve was around, I seemed to regain something that had been missing,” Rick remarked.

    That much is obvious from the music flowing through Glow, and Ferrone pounds the skins in a manner that’s closer to rock than rhythm & blues.  As usual, Rick James writes, arranges, produces and sings everything on the album, and his distinctive vocals are as fluid and compelling as ever.  The six-minute opener, “Can’t Stop,” which was featured in the blockbuster film Beverly Hills Cop 2, even has hints of Bon Jovi colouring the funk.  It’s also spiced with the stinging guitar runs of Kenny Hawkins, younger bro’ of Bunty Hawkins, lead singer of the Doo Rags, another combo in Rick’s musical menagerie.

    The funk asserts itself on “Somebody (The Girl’s Got)” and “Rock And Roll Control,” while the album’s title track – a Top 5 R&B chart hit – features horn stabs, a mesmerising trumpet solo from La Morris Payne, and even moments of scat singing from Rick.  It achieves what he said he wanted for the album:  “a beautiful live feeling.”  On the power ballad, “Sha La La La La (Come Back Home),” the big drums are back, while there’s flavourful flute from Danny LeMelle on “Moonchild,” a track now revered as a classic slow funk jam.  Even in his most difficult days, Rick knew how to recruit the best players, surely the result of an upbringing by a musically sophisticated mother.

    And so to Glow, the autobiography, written with acclaimed author David Ritz from interviews done before Rick’s untimely death in 2004.  (The musician wrote an earlier autobio, also published posthumously.)  In the new book, Rick describes himself as the engine of a crashed plane.  “When the pieces magically came back together, the engine could work again.  But the fuel was no longer cocaine.  The fuel was something I hadn’t used since I was a little boy.  I’d call it natural energy and natural drive.”  It sounds like Rick James was out of the forest for a while, glowing.

    BUY NOW: www.itunes.com/motown

  • STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE: MARVIN GAYE

    Marvin Gaye-12823-15

    Marvin Gaye in Covent Garden, London, February 1981.  His final LP for Motown, In Our Lifetime, was released the previous month.  Marvin recorded a substantial part of the album at the Odyssey and AIR recording studios in 1980, when he was living in London.

    Almost a decade after “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” Europe played a significant role in the final, fraught years of Marvin Gaye’s unique career.  U.K. concerts during the mid-1970s at the Royal Albert Hall and the London Palladium bestowed on British fans the rare opportunity to see him perform on stage.  Marvin found solace in the city when he became a troubled man at the hands of his personal demons, and the U.S. tax authorities.  There is perhaps no better illustration of that peace than the photo above, taken in a part of London where markets have existed since at least the 17th century.

    European impresario Jeff Kruger helped to support Marvin financially during this period, when the singer lived near to Marble Arch.  There, close to Odyssey Recording, he shaped and reshaped songs with members of his band, and Odyssey engineer Nick Patrick.  “It was amazing how Marvin worked while his entourage carried on conversation,” Patrick told Universal Music’s Harry Weinger years later for a special Motown reissue of material from those sessions.  “Everybody loved Marvin,” said Sharon Davis, Motown’s U.K. press officer at the time, “but every day was mayhem.”

    Marvin Gaye subsequently left London for his well-documented exile in Belgium.  In Ostend, he began crafting the songs, including “Sexual Healing,” which formed the singer’s comeback.  But the few who knew Marvin first-hand in the British capital during those days will never forget the experience.

    Click here to see this and many more newly uncovered Motown images – part of Proud Gallery’s London exhibition, Classic Motown: The Invasion Begins!

  • ALBUM OF THE WEEK: STEVIE WONDER – FULFILLINGNESS’ FIRST FINALE

    FULFILLINGNESS’ FIRST FINALE

    During the height of Watergate, the worst political scandal in American history, arrived Stevie Wonder’s seventeenth studio album, with one explicit song about promises not kept, and at least a couple of others about justice.  “The best way to get an important and heavy message across is to wrap it up nicely,” said the musician once.  “With songs, I’ve found out, it’s better to try and level out the weight of the lyrics by making the melody lighter.”

    “You Haven’t Done Nothin’ ” was the first single, the opening shot from an album released 40 years ago this month – and two weeks before Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in August 1974.  The track’s engines are synthesiser riffs and pumping brass, and Stevie’s indictment of politicians comes complete with powerful background vocals from the Jackson 5.  Associate producer Bob Margouleff remembered Michael arriving to do this at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, with his tutor.

    Messages and melodies are mixed and matched throughout Fulfillingness’ First Finale, reinforced by Stevie’s extraordinary versatility (he played most instruments).  But it has a profound, reflective mood:  no surprise, considering his near-fatal auto accident the previous August.  Even the artwork depicts levels of awareness, whether musical or spiritual, and adds retro images of Stevie’s bow-tied younger self, as well as John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the Motortown Revue tour bus.  In the album’s first track, “Smile Please,” Stevie asks:  “Why must my colour black make me a lesser man?”  In “Too Shy To Say,” a ballad underpinned by pedal steel guitar, Stevie is accompanied on acoustic bass by one of Motown’s former in-house musicians who helped to educate him as a teenager, James Jamerson.

    The sombre tone of several songs contrasts with the carefree vibe of “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” the album’s second single, with its impossibly infectious rhythms and sly harmonica blasts (“Can I play?”).  There’s also Stevie’s harmonica on “Creepin’,” and background vocals by Minnie Riperton, whose Perfect Angel album he was co-producing that same year.  Elsewhere, another singer in back is Deniece Williams, before she voiced hits of her own.  The Brazilian samba of “Bird of Beauty” is undeniably upbeat, but again the lyrics suggest a more thoughtful Stevie, post-accident:  “There is so much in life for you to feel…”

    “They Won’t Go When I Go,” the only track with a co-writer, Yvonne Wright, finds the musician in a dark, intense place, with a notably dramatic edge to his voice.  Stevie takes his art seriously, but alludes to the fragility of life, with elegiac references to sorrow, pain and destiny.

    “We spent a lot of time figuring out what would work after which song, what tempos would work, blending them together,” said associate producer Malcolm Cecil.  “Stevie had the final say.”  But the last word really went to his fans, who propelled Fulfillingness’ First Finale to the top of the album charts in September ’74, and gave Stevie Wonder his first No. 1 album since The 12 Year Old Genius Recorded Live in 1963.  Oh, and let’s not forget Grammy voters.  Stevie earned five of those statuettes for this set, including album of the year.  Smile, please.

    BUY NOW: www.itunes.com/motown

  • THE NATION’S FAVOURITE MOTOWN SONG

    I Heard It Through The Grapevine

    Songs can live many lives, in the company of countless singers and musicians, but only a handful ever become as immortal as “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”  In the U.K., the sublime voodoo of Marvin Gaye’s interpretation has become “The Nation’s Favourite Motown Song,” at least according to a TV special of that name broadcast on 6th July.

    “Grapevine” evidently has Britons under its spell in 2014, just as it did 45 years ago, when Marvin first spent three weeks at No. 1 with the track, and again in 1986, when a reissue climbed into the Top 10.  Meanwhile, the song has been performed by artists as different as Gladys Knight & the Pips, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fairport Convention, the Slits, Roger Troutman and the Kaiser Chiefs.

    At Motown Records, the writers of “Grapevine” were Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield.  “I came up with a little idea on the piano, the bassline figure,” Barrett once recalled, “and we thought it was such a great idea.  I had thought of this title because I’d heard people say it so much – but nobody had ever written a song about it.”

    What happened next is now a familiar tale.  Whitfield produced the first “Grapevine” (by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, in 1966) but it was not released then.  The following year, he cut it with Marvin Gaye.  Motown boss Berry Gordy didn’t approve of that version, so a persistent Whitfield turned to Gladys Knight & the Pips.  Their boisterous, gospel-rooted workout of the song charged to the top of the U.S. charts.  Whitfield was grateful, but still believed in Marvin’s anguished fusion of dark and light, lobbying for it to be included in an album, In The Groove.  Game over:  in a heartbeat, radio airplay forced Motown to release Marvin’s track as a single, and America surrendered in late ’68.  The record spent seven weeks at No. 1 there, soon to be followed by the U.K.

    Whitfield said he and Strong had taken “a lot of time, a lot of pain and strain” to create their masterpiece.  “I believed every word of the song,” Marvin told biographer David Ritz, but he fought with the producer.  “He made me sing in keys much higher than I was used to.”  Adding to the magic were three masters of percussion in the Motown house band:  Uriel Jones, laying down the beat; Richard “Pistol” Allen casting a spell with his tom-toms; and Jack Ashford, rattling on a tambourine like a cobra.

    No wonder some think “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” is the Devil’s work.  And perhaps that’s why the song lives on, stealing hearts and souls across the decades.  I bet you’re wondering…

    BUY NOW: www.itunes.com/motown

  • STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE: THE FOUR TOPS

    Four Tops-1589-41583-5

    The Four Tops at the Royal Albert Hall, January 1967.  Prior to rehearsals for their concert there, the group greets Brian Epstein, promoter of their UK tour, and another London visitor, singer Del Shannon.  From left are Tops members Renaldo “Obie” Benson, Lawrence Payton and Abdul “Duke” Fakir, with Epstein, second left, and Shannon, second right.  Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs Jr. is not shown.

    It was May 1965 when the Four Tops paid their first promotional visit to the U.K., meeting journalists and disc jockeys, and plugging their new single, “I Can’t Help Myself,” on radio and TV.  But their real impact came the following year, when Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, promoted a series of Sunday-night concerts at the Saville Theatre in London.  The Tops were booked for November 13, 1966.

    Come the night, the hippest people in the capital, as well as scores of diehard Motown fans from across the country, filled the Saville.  It helped that “Reach Out I’ll Be There” was then occupying the peak of the British charts.  The Tops did not disappoint, putting on a performance to raise the roof:  soulful, charismatic, energetic, with lead singer Levi Stubbs fulfilling every expectation, delivering every electric moment of their repertoire.

    Little wonder, then, that Epstein brought the Four Tops back early in 1967 for a nationwide U.K. tour, and this time, the London venue was larger:  the Royal Albert Hall.  It was another show-stopping night, with a roaring, quasi-religious crowd showing as much love, if not more, towards the group than they were accustomed to receiving back home.  And yes, there were a couple of Beatles (Paul, George) in the audience.  They couldn’t help themselves.

    Click here to see this and many more newly uncovered Motown images – part of Proud Gallery’s London exhibition, Classic Motown: The Invasion Begins!

  • Album Of The Week: Mary Wells – Bye Bye Baby

    Mary Wells Bye Bye Baby

    “Bye Bye Baby,” the title track of the first album released on the Motown label, displays all the chutzpah of a 17-year-old girl who once sang the song in front of company founder Berry Gordy at a Detroit nightclub, when he told her to.

    It’s one of the best-known tales in the history of Hitsville U.S.A., as Motown called its Detroit HQ. Mary Wells wrote the song herself, enlisting the help of producer Robert Bateman to get it to Gordy. They met at the 20 Grand nightspot, and the Motown boss commanded her to perform it, right then and there. Mary “nearly died of fright,” as she wrote on the original LP sleeve notes (or as she told the writer of those notes, at least). Fortunately, “Bye Bye Baby” was good enough to withstand the pressure.

    This entire ten-track collection captures the essence of Motown Records’ invigorating rhythm & blues circa 1960-61, engagingly unpolished in parts. It’s quite a distance from the more sophisticated rhythms of Mary’s “My Guy,” four years later, but no less authentic. And “Bye Bye Baby” is also notable for the urgent throatiness of her performance, the result of 22 takes in the studio.

    Mary’s sound here is mature, considering the singer’s age. This adult quality is equally evident on “Come To Me,” a song Gordy wrote for and with his first successful artist, Marv Johnson. Mary hits lower notes than Johnson on another track, “I Love The Way You Love,” which he made into a transatlantic Top 40 hit in 1960.

    Two tunes anticipate Mary’s future. Both were composed by Smokey Robinson, and initially cut by his group, the Miracles. On the first, “Shop Around,” Mary retains the spoken intro and maternal advice of the original, but sings deeper than Robinson. The second, “Bad Boy,” is attractive for the stand-up bass and brushstrokes of its introduction, then Mary changes the gender of the protagonist. (The Miracles cut it as “Bad Girl.”)

    Soon, Smokey found Mary to be the perfect vehicle for his songs and growing production skills. After her second single, “I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” (included here), he turned the young singer into Motown’s first female star with hits such as “You Beat Me To The Punch” and “My Guy.” You’ll find the full story in Peter Benjaminson’s 2012 book, Mary Wells.

    This album closes with four engaging ballads, one of which (“Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide”) was also recorded by Marvin Gaye as his debut single on Tamla Records. Berry Gordy wrote it, naturally – and it’s the only song here to close cold (with a bluesy guitar flourish) rather than fade.

    “Bye Bye Baby” marked another Motown milestone:  not only was it the first success for Mary, it was also the first hit for the Motown label itself, separate from Tamla and Gordy, the company’s other U.S. imprints. And the Motown logo on Mary’s original LP sleeve featured a motor car, not the better-known map of Detroit. There was a distant time when the city was celebrated for automobiles, instead of music.

    BUY NOW: www.itunes.com/motown

  • Story Behind The Image: Martha & the Vandellas

    Martha-Vandellas-London

    Martha & The Vandellas in London, August 1970. They are pictured near the Manchester Square headquarters of EMI Records. During the visit, the trio are guests at a riverboat party on the Thames to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Motown Records. From left are Lois Reeves, Martha Reeves and Sandra Tilley.

    Martha Reeves & the Vandellas were star guests at a special party in London in August 1970, hosted by Motown’s international distributor, EMI Records. It was part of the celebrations to mark the Detroit hit factory’s 10th anniversary, and the venue was a riverboat, moored on the Thames. In addition to Martha and her Vandellas, Lois Reeves and Sandy Tilley, British Motown signing Kiki Dee was on hand to cut the anniversary cake.

    The previous year, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas had enjoyed a Top 5 success in Britain – their biggest-ever hit there – with a reissue of the trio’s 1964 anthem, “Dancing In The Street.” As a result, they became regular visitors to the UK, a habit which continues to this day.

    In America, Motown celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1970 with a splashy, “Shanghai”-themed sales convention at San Francisco’s Fairmount Hotel, hosted by company founder Berry Gordy. Among the performers were the Jackson 5, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Rare Earth, and Jimmy and David Ruffin.

    Back in London, another attendee at the ’70 anniversary party was Motown UK label manager John Reid, who later became the manager of Elton John – with whom Kiki Dee duetted on the 1976 worldwide hit, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”

    Click here to see this and many more newly uncovered Motown images – part of Proud Gallery’s London exhibition, Classic Motown: The Invasion Begins!

  • Motown’s Maxine Powell Dies at 98

    MaxinePowell

    Photo: Andre Smith/AP/Motown Museum

    Statement from Berry Gordy:

    Maxine Powell was not only a very special lady, she was unique in every way.  She brought something to Motown that no other record company had.   She was a star in her own right – an original. She will always be remembered for her style and class, and she instilled that into the Motown artists by teaching them how to walk, talk and even think with class.

    She was tough, but when she got through with them, they were poised, professional…and very thankful.

    I love you all,” she’d say, “but don’t confuse me with your mother–she’s stuck with you, I’m not!  Ladies, remember your gloves, walk with class like you were taught — and always remember, do not protrude the buttocks. One day you will perform for the Kings and Queens of Europe, but for now we must make the best of it on the circuit of the Chit-ter-ling.”

    She was not only smart, but very funny.

    Maxine Powell will always be a great part of the Motown family and legacy.   We miss her and will always love her.

     

    Berry Gordy

    Founder of Motown

    October 14, 2013

     

  • MOTOWN THE MUSICAL ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST RECORDING TO BE RELEASED JUNE 4, 2013!

    The original Broadway cast recording of “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL,” a show nominated for four TONY@ Awards, is to be released June 4, 2013, by Motown/Universal Music Enterprises (UMe). Co-produced by multi-GRAMMY® Award winner Frank Filipetti and TONY® Award nominee Ethan Popp, the album features a supremely talented cast performing exciting new versions of Motown classics including “Dancing In The Street,” “My Girl,” “You’re All I Need To Get By,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “I Want You Back,” and many more. Among the album’s 14 tracks are two new songs, “Hey Joe (Black Like Me)” and the showstopper “Can I Close The Door (On Love),” co-written by Berry Gordy, Motown Records’ founder as well as the writer and co-producer of the show. Included in the album’s CD booklet are one-of-a-kind cast photos and two essays, by Mr. Gordy and the director Charles Randolph-Wright.

    With a sound that has become one of the most significant musical accomplishments and stunning success stories of the 20th century, the timeless music of Motown continues to be embraced by every generation. Last month, “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL” opened to great fanfare at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, with major media coverage, record-setting box office sales, and strong word-of-mouth endorsements from early show-goers, making it Broadway’s hottest new arrival.

    “These performers are obviously not appearing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, where Broadway’s latest jukebox musical opened Sunday night. Instead, their indelible styles are being effectively recreated by a blazing cast of gifted singers impersonating this crowded pantheon of pop-chart immortals.” - The New York Times

    “More than a Broadway show, a celebration of music that transformed America!”- CBS Sunday Morning

    MOTOWN THE MUSICAL” is the real story of the one-of-a-kind sound that hit the airwaves in 1959 and changed our culture forever. This exhilarating show charts Motown founder Berry Gordy’s incredible journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and so many more. Featuring all the classics you love, “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL” tells the story behind the hits as Diana, Smokey, Berry and the whole Motown family fight against the odds to create the soundtrack of change in America that shattered barriers, shaped our lives, and made us all move to the same beat.

    Motown, of course, stands for more than just its historic music. The label and its remarkable legacy is a reflection of the hard work of dedicated individuals overcoming incredible obstacles to achieve great success. On January 12, 1959, a young African-American songwriter named Berry Gordy founded Tamla Records with a loan of $800 from his family, marking the birth of the “Motown Records Corporation.” A man of vision, drive, talent and determination, Gordy was also a producer, innovative entrepreneur, and teacher. Motown’s phenomenal success is a tribute to all that Gordy embodies and all of the artists he discovered and nurtured to stardom. Under his leadership, and through determination and support of the Motown family of creative artists, Gordy forged new ground for minorities and made the “Motown Sound” a worldwide phenomenon beloved by millions and the Motown brand a true global cultural icon.

    Directed by Charles Randolph Wright, with a book by Berry Gordy, “MOTOWN THE MUSICAL” features choreography by Patricia Wilcox (Blues in the Night) and Warren Adams (Toy Story The Musical), scenic design by David Korins (Bring It On: The Musical, Annie), costume design by TONY® Award nominee ESosa (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, “Project Runway”), lighting design by TONY® Award winner Natasha Katz (Once, Sister Act), sound design by TONY® Award nominee Peter Hylenski (Rock of Ages, The Scottsboro Boys), and projection design by Daniel Brodie (Jekyll and Hyde).

    MOTOWN THE MUSICAL” features arrangements and orchestrations by Ethan Popp (Rock of Ages), who supervises the show’s 18-piece orchestra to reproduce the classic “Sound of Young America” for the Broadway stage, with co-orchestrations and additional arrangements by Bryan Crook (Smash), dance arrangements by Zane Mark (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), and music direction by Joseph Joubert (Nice Work If You Can Get It).

    MOTOWN THE MUSICAL Original Broadway Cast Recording

    THE SONGS:

    1.   Battle Of The Stars: Papa Was A Rolling

          Stone (Prologue) / I Can’t Help Myself

    (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) / Ain’t Too

    Proud To Beg / Baby I Need Your

    Loving/ I Can’t Get Next To You / Reach

    Out I’ll

    Be There / (I Know) I’m Losing You

    Performed by the Orchestra, Four Tops and the Temptations

    2.   Hey Joe (Black Like Me)

    Performed the Ensemble and Young Berry Gordy

    3.   Get Ready

    Performed by Berry Gordy and Ensemble

    Dancing In The Street

    Performed by Martha & the Vandellas and Ensemble

    4.   The Motortown Revue:

    Please Mr. Postman

    Performed by the Marvelettes /

    You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me /

    Performed by the Miracles /

    Do You Love Me

    Performed by the Contours

    5.   Where Did Our Love Go / Stop! In The

    Name Of Love

    Performed by the Supremes

    6.   My Girl

    Performed by the Temptations and Berry Gordy

    7.   You’re All I Need To Get By

    Performed by Berry Gordy and Diana Ross

    8.   War

    Performed by the Ensemble /

    What’s Going On

    Performed by Marvin Gaye and Ensemble

    9.   I Heard It Through The Grapevine

    Performed by Gladys Knight & the Pips and Marvin Gaye

    10. I Want You Back / ABC / The Love You

    Save

    Performed by the Jackson 5

    11. Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s

    Hand)

    Performed by Diana Ross and Ensemble

    12. Happy Birthday / Signed, Sealed,

    Delivered I’m Yours

    Performed by Stevie Wonder

    13.   Can I Close The Door (On Love)

    Performed by Berry Gordy

    14.   Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

    Performed by Diana Ross, Ensemble

    THE CAST

    Berry Gordy: Brandon Victor Dixon

    Diana Ross: Valisia LeKae

    Smokey Robinson: Charl Brown

    Marvin Gaye,: Bryan Terrell Clark

    Michael Jackson, Young Berry Gordy, Young Stevie Wonder: Raymond Luke Jr.

    THE ARTISTS (in order of album appearance)

    The Temptations: Maurice Murphy (Dennis Edwards), Jawan M. Jackson, Jesse Nager, Ephraim Sykes, Donald Webber, Jr., and Julius Thomas III (David Ruffin, on “My Girl”)

    Four Tops: Ryan Shaw (Levi Stubbs), Nick Christopher, Grasan Kingsberry, Eric LaJuan Summers

    Martha & the Vandellas: Saycon Sengbloh (Martha Reeves), Rebecca E. Covington, N’Kenge

    The Marvelettes: Rebecca E. Covington (Gladys Horton), Andrea Dora, Tiffany Janene Howard, Sasha Hutchings, Marielys Molina

    The Miracles: Charl Brown, Sasha Hutchings, Jawan M. Jackson, Maurice Murphy, Ryan Shaw

    The Contours: Eric LaJuan Summers (Billy Gordon), Grasan Kingsberry, Jamal Story, Ephraim Sykes, Daniel J. Watts

    The Supremes: Valisia LeKae (Diana Ross), Ariana DeBose (Mary Wilson), Sydney Morton (Florence Ballard)

    The Jackson 5: Raymond Luke, Jr. (Michael Jackson), Grasan Kingsberry, Eric LaJuan Summers, Ephraim Sykes, Julius Thomas III (Jermaine Jackson)

    Gladys Knight & the Pips: Marva Hicks, Ryan Shaw, Milton Craig Nealy, Julius Thomas III

    Stevie Wonder: Ryan Shaw

    The Ensemble

    Timothy J. Alex, Michael Arnold, Nicholas Christopher, Rebecca E. Covington, Ariana DeBose, Andrea Dora, Wilkie Ferguson III, Marva Hicks, Tiffany Janene Howard, Sasha Hutchings, Jawan M. Jackson, Morgan James, John Jellison, Grasan Kingsberry, Marielys Molina, Sydney Morton, Maurice Murphy, Jesse Nager, Milton Craig Nealy, N’Kenge, Dominic Nolfi, Saycon Sengbloh, Ryan Shaw, Jamal Story, Eric LaJuan Summers, Ephraim Sykes, Julius Thomas III, Daniel J. Watts, Donald Webber, Jr.

  • Deke Richards

    LEGENDARY MOTOWN SONGWRITER AND PRODUCER DEKE RICHARDS (AKA DENNIS LUSSIER) HAS DIED AT THE AGE OF 68

     As Leader of Motown’s Songwriting and Production Team, “The Corporation,” Richards Wrote Hits for the Jackson 5, Diana Ross, and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, among many others

    Bellingham, WA – March 25, 2013 – Legendary Motown songwriter and producer Deke Richards (a.k.a. Dennis Lussier), passed away at the age of 68 on Sunday, March 24 at 6:15am at the Whatcom Hospice House in Bellingham, Washington. Richards was surrounded by his immediate family. Until his recent hospitalization, he had been cared for at his Bellingham home during his battle with esophageal cancer.

    Richards, born April 8, 1944, is survived by his loving wife of 26 years, Joan Lussier, his brother Dane Lussier of Huntington Beach, California, and two nephews, Chris Lussier of Bellingham, Washington and Cory Lussier of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

    As leader of the “The Corporation,” Motown’s songwriting, arranging and producing team, which also included Berry Gordy, Alphonzo Mizell and Freddie Perren, Richards wrote and produced many hits for the Jackson 5, among them their first three No. 1 hits – “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” and “The Love You Save” – as well as “Mama’s Pearl,” “Maybe Tomorrow,” “Goin’ Back To Indiana” and others. He also co-wrote the No. 1 smash hit “Love Child” for Diana Ross & The Supremes, as well Ms. Ross’ No. 1 U.K. solo hit, “I’m Still Waiting.” Bobby Darin, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Bonnie Bramlett and Ginette Reno are among the many other recording artists for whom Richards produced and/or wrote songs.

    Richards’ love of music kept him involved with a variety of projects throughout his life, including the production of the Jackson 5’s Come And Get It: The Rare Pearls, a 2012 release that featured dozens of rare and unreleased tracks by the group. His final project was the mixing of eight unreleased tracks by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, for the 3-CD box set 50th Anniversary: The Singles 1962-1972, to be released April 5 of this year.

    Richards’ father Dane Lussier was a screenwriter, who instilled a love of movies that inspired Deke to collect film memorabilia and subsequently create posterpalace.com, a successful vintage movie poster business.

    Deke Richards’ impact on contemporary music is such that his influence continues to resonate today. He will be missed dearly by his family, his many business associates, and fans around the world.

    A private family celebration of Richards’ life is planned.  In lieu of flowers, the family would like to recommend support and sponsorship of music education, honoring Richards’ tradition of nurturing and guiding new musical talent.  To lend your support, visit the HAL Awards’ site at www.halawards.com/howyoucanhelp.html and help to sponsor a musical education.

    * * *

    CONTACT:

    Sujata Murthy, UMe – (310) 865-7812 / sujata.murthy@umusic.com

    Jennifer Ballantyne, UMe – (310) 865-2350 / jennifer.ballantyne@umusic.com

  • MOTOWN UNRELEASED 1962: GUYS, Vol. 1 Track list and more . . .

    Check out the track list and writers/producers of MOTOWN UNRELEASED 1962: GUYS, Vol. 1

     The Contours

    1.   Love I Need You (William Robinson)

    2.   You Don’t Love Nobody But You (Andre Williams-George Gordy-Fred Walker)

    3.   Trust In Me (Billy Gordon-Sylvester Potts)

    4.   Why Don’t You Stop (Berry Gordy)

    5.   You’ve Got To Love Me (Clarence Paul)

    6.   Come To Me (Marv Johnson-Berry Gordy)

    7.   Mighty Good Lovin’ (William Robinson)

    Track 1: Produced by Smokey Robinson

    Track 2: No producer listed

    Tracks 3, 4, 6, 7: Produced by Berry Gordy

    Track 5: Produced by Clarence Paul

    The Creations

    8.   Going To A Party (Andre Williams-Robert Williams-Charles Holman-Juan Wingard)

    9.   Let’s Mash Potatoes (Andre Williams)

    10. Special Touch (Charles Holman-Nathaniel Snell)

    11. I’m Not Alone (Michael McFarland-Tommy Lipkins)

    12. What’s Your Reason (Robert Williams-Charles Holman-Michael Farland-Juan Wingard-Thomas Lipkins)

    13. Remember Me (Berry Gordy)

    Track 8: Produced by Faye Hale

    Track 9: No producer listed

    Tracks 10-13: Produced by Berry Gordy

    Marvin Gaye

    14. The Good Has To Suffer With The Bad (George Fowler-Joe Hunter)

    15. Just For You (A Growing Love) (Dale Warren-Stanley Ossman)

    16. Past Time Lover (Brian Holland-Lamont Dozier-Freddie Gorman)

    17. A Lot Of Living To Do (Lee Adams-Charles Strouse)

    18. Out Of This World (Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen)

    19. Just In Time (Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Jule Styne)

    Track 14: Produced by George Fowler

    Track 15: Produced by Dale Warren

    Track 16: Produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier

    Tracks 17-19: Produced by William Stevenson

    Freddie Gorman

    20. A Living Dream (Called A Girl) (Marvin Gaye-William Stevenson-Harold Edwards-Brian Holland)

    21. Connie (Marvin Gaye-William Stevenson-Lamont Dozier-Elizabeth Dozier)

    22. Just Friends (Janie Bradford-Brian Holland)

    23. Tell All Your Friends (Berry Gordy-Freddie Gorman-Barrett Strong)

    24. Throw A Farewell Kiss (Norman Whitfield-Edward Holland Jr.)

    25. Genuine Love (Lamont Dozier-Janie Bradford-Brian Holland)

    Produced by Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland

    Track 20: Produced by William Stevenson

    Track 21: Produced by Lamont Dozier and William Stevenson

    Track 22: Produced by Brian Holland

    Track 23: Produced by Berry Gordy

    Track 24: Produced by Norman Whitfield

    Track 25: Produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier

     

     

     

  • Come & Get These Memories: UMe Releases 120 Vault Recordings from the Motown Archives

    On December 18, 2012, UMe/Motown issues in six digital-only bundles 120 unreleased recordings from the Motown vault. Motown Unreleased 1962 features tracks recorded at the now-legendary Hitsville studio by a wide variety of artists, under the headings “Guys—Vols. 1 & 2,” “Girls,” “Jazz—Vols. 1 & 2” and “Gospel.”

    Fifty years ago, Motown was beginning to rise with hits by Mary Wells, the Miracles and the Marvelettes, as well as debuts from the Temptations, the Supremes and Martha & the Vandellas. The company’s small studio in the West Grand Boulevard office’s former garage was humming around the clock, producers and artists crammed side-by-side looking for the next breakthrough hit. This Motown Unreleased 1962 series collects 10 albums’ worth of great material that had been left behind as the Detroit-record-company-that-could took off. All tracks are sourced from the original Motown mono masters.

    The series features:

    • Never-before-heard tracks by Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, the Temptations, Martha & the Vandellas and more
    • Great early Motown cuts from “team-builders” Mike & the Modifiers, Lee & the Leopards, Singin’ Sammy Ward, Hattie Littles, Freddie Gorman and others
    • A slew of unreleased Motown Jazz, from the great instrumentalists Beans Bowles, the Johnny Griffith Trio and the George Bohannon Quartet
    • More than two dozen unreleased Motown Gospel tracks, from local Detroit messengers Rev. Columbus Mann, the Burnadettes, the Gospel Stars, the Pronouns and Rev. Chas Glover

    The series will be available to all digital partners.

  • New Jackson 5 Music!

    The Jackson 5 burst on the music scene like a ray of sunshine in late 1969, reeling off four consecutive No. 1 hits, inspiring worldwide Jacksonmania. To stay hot they kept recording, and a treasure trove of newly discovered and previously unreleased recordings by Michael, Jermaine, Jackie, Marlon and Tito are being released for the first time on Come And Get It: The Rare Pearls (Motown/Hip-oSelect/UMe). Produced by Deke Richards, leader of “The Corporation™,” the Jackson 5’s original hit songwriting-production team, the extraordinary 32-track, 2-CD set — enough songs to fill three Jackson 5 albums — will be available digitally August 28, 2012, in honor of Michael’s birthday (August 29). The retail version will be released September 18, 2012, and housed in a special box with deluxe packaging.

    “Motown maintained a level of quality that remains unparalleled,” said Bruce Resnikoff, President/CEO, UMe. “The Jackson 5, like many of the Motown greats, recorded more material than they could ever release. There’s something in this set for every fan, from their bubblegum-pop beginnings to their more mature years. Every song on this set is a ‘Jackson 5 classic’ and we are thrilled that they were discovered and we can make them available to the public for the first time.”

    Producer Deke Richards added, “When I listened to the very first tracks that were uncovered, it was almost like scratching my way through the darkness, with only a small torch to guide me. Then all at once a glow appeared, like discovering King Solomon’s Mines…. There were sapphires, diamonds, rubies, and then there were those gorgeous pearls, those unmistakable ‘rare pearls.’ They sound as good today as they did when they were recorded 40 years ago. Michael and his brothers are truly remarkable. I knew when I heard their songs again, it was my destiny to give each of these songs some TLC and share them with the rest of the world. Pound for pound, this is some of their best music ever.”

    Come And Get It: The Rare Pearls is rich with gems. “If The Shoe Don’t Fit” is a “Corporation classic” that coulda-woulda-shoulda been the follow-up to the J5’s No. 1 hit “The Love You Save.” “Our Love,” led by Jermaine, is destined to become a new wedding favorite. “If You Want Heaven” updates the classic Motown sound, while “Iddinit,” “If I Can’t Nobody Can” and “Would Ya Would Ya Baby” hint at a new funk direction for the brothers. “Love Trip,” a ballad, points in the direction a solo Michael would take in the next phase of his career.

    There are also striking covers done J5-style, including “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” a No. 1 hit for Three Dog Night; Jackie DeShannon’s “Movin’;” the pop/soul perennial “Up On The Roof;” a Stax nugget, “I Got A Sure Thing;” Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright,” in a stompin’ studio version of a song previously best known performed live by the J5; and new versions of Motown chestnuts “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Keep An Eye,” “I’m Your Sunny One (He’s My Sunny Boy)” (all originally by the Supremes); “Since I Lost My Baby” (Temptations); “Lets Go Back To Day One” (Eddie Kendricks); and “Label Me Love” (Different Shades Of Brown).

    Bonus tracks are: producer Deke Richards’ original unedited version of “That’s How Love Is,” a rarity which first appeared on 2009’s I Want You Back!: The Unreleased Masters; Richards’ original extended mix for “If I Have To Move A Mountain,” an LP track issued in 1972; and a super treat for J5 fans, the demo for “Mama’s Pearl,” previously hidden deep in Deke’s personal vault.

    Come And Get It: The Rare Pearls is housed in a unique package: a 7-inch square box packed with the discs in their own sleeves; an oversized booklet featuring detailed annotations, rare photos, and essays by Deke Richards and author/professor Mark Anthony Neal; and an actual 45-rpm, 7-inch vinyl single in a slick picture sleeve – “If The Shoe Don’t Fit” b/w “Feelin’ Alright.” It’s a perfect birthday celebration for one of the greatest groups of all time.

  • GET READY….To star on Broadway!

    Music legend Berry Gordy is looking for a super-talented African-American young man (age 8-11) to play the multiple roles of young MICHAEL JACKSON, little STEVIE WONDER and pre-teen BERRY GORDY in MOTOWN The Musical, coming to Broadway in 2013.

    The nation-wide search begins today with the launch of an audition website where Berry Gordy tells you what he is looking for in the young man who will get to play these iconic characters on the Broadway stage.

    Easy as One, Two, Three

     To qualify, the right actor/singer/dancer will need a phenomenal high tenor singing voice and be able to move and sound like Michael Jackson in his Jackson 5 days.

    Full details are on the MOTOWN The Musical website casting page:

    www.MotownTheMusical.com/Casting

    Producers Kevin McCollum (Rent, Avenue Q, In the Heights, The Drowsy Chaperone), Doug Morris (Chairman and CEO of SONY Music Entertainment) and Berry Gordy are proud to announce that MOTOWN The Musical, based on the life of iconic Motown founder Berry Gordy, will open in the Spring of 2013 on Broadway at a Nederlander Theatre to be announced.

    Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, MOTOWN will feature a book by Berry Gordy and music and lyrics from the Motown legendary catalogue, featuring dozens of hit songs made famous by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five and many more.

    MOTOWN is a gripping story about the protégés and stars of a uniquely talented musical family who, under Berry Gordy’s guidance, began as “the Sound of Young America” and went on to become some of the greatest superstars of all time.

    www.MotownTheMusical.com

     

  • Motown: The Musical. Coming to Broadway Spring 2013!

    Producers Kevin McCollum, Doug Morris and Berry Gordy are proud to announce that MOTOWN The Musical, based on the life of legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy, will open in the Spring of 2013 on Broadway at a Nederlander Theatre to be announced.

    Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, MOTOWN will feature a book by Berry Gordy and music and lyrics from the Motown legendary catalogue, featuring dozens of hit songs made famous by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five and many more.

    MOTOWN is a gripping story about the protégés and stars of a uniquely talented musical family who, under Berry Gordy’s guidance, began as “the Sound of Young America” and went on to become some of the greatest superstars of all time.

    On January 12, 1959 a young African-American songwriter named Berry Gordy founded Tamla Records with a loan of $800 from his family, marking the birth of the “Motown Records Corporation.”

    Berry Gordy’s legendary Motown Records made its mark not just on the music industry, but society at large, with a sound that has become one of the most significant musical accomplishments of all time.  Motown communicated and brought together a racially divided country and segregated society, touching people of all ages and races around the world.  No other music company in history has exerted such an enormous influence on both the style and substance of popular music and culture.  With more than 180 No. 1 hit songs worldwide and counting, that influence is still being felt today.

    Motown founder Berry Gordy said “Broadway is the pinnacle of live theater and provides a challenging and exciting opportunity to tell my story and share the magic of Motown.  I’ve discovered that Motown and Broadway have a lot in common—a family of wonderfully talented, passionate, hard-working young people, fiercely competitive but also full of love and appreciation for the work, for each other and for the people in the audience.  I can’t wait to feel that same Motown spirit come alive on stage every night.”

    Producer Kevin McCollum (Rent, Avenue Q, In the Heights, The Drowsy Chaperone) said “Motown and Berry Gordy’s influence on music and our culture is unparalleled.  I’m thrilled to have the chance to produce the story of the rise of Motown on Broadway.”

    Producer Doug Morris, Chairman and CEO of SONY Music Entertainment, said “Berry Gordy is a true American pioneer.  This is an amazing opportunity for everyone to experience the Motown phenomenon through the eyes of the man who lived it, and to hear some of the greatest pop songs of all time on a Broadway stage.”

    Casting, additional creative team, dates and theatre will be announced shortly.

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