GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS
From left: Edward Patten, Merald and Gladys Knight, William Guest.
- The clouds in the sky behind Gladys Knight & the Pips may have been an omen: that the photo shoot for the cover of the group’s first Motown album would not go entirely to plan. The location was the General Motors automobile factory outside Detroit, and the record company’s art director, Harry Webber, had organized everything with photographer Frank Dandridge. Gladys and the Pips – her brother Merald (better known as “Bubba”), cousins Edward Patten and William Guest – were informally but smartly dressed, ready for their close-ups. All they needed to do was to pose around some of GM’s latest models, looking as fresh and polished as the vehicles, to reflect the proposed title of the album, Just Arrived.
- The quartet had signed to Motown in the spring of 1966, but their first hit took longer to achieve than expected. “Just Walk In My Shoes” was their debut 45, released on the Soul label that June – but it missed the charts. So did their next, “Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me,” although spirits were lifted when the record became a Top 20 success on the U.K. pop charts. Gladys and the Pips continued to work with producer Norman Whitfield, whose own stature within Hitsville was improving day by day. And while waiting for a best-seller, they hit the road with fellow Motown stars such as the Four Tops and Jr. Walker & the All Stars. Naturally, the bookings included the Motortown Revue’s annual Christmas show, where they performed in ’66 for audiences at Detroit’s Fox Theater in the company of the Temptations, Martha & the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, and Jimmy Ruffin. There was, of course, a gala New Year’s Eve show.
- The New Year brought new determination, and the photo shoot for the album that was to be released later in 1967. Frank Dandridge snapped Gladys, Bubba, Edward and William running through lanes of parked cars by the GM factory, and also sitting on three levels of a rail truck stacked with still more autos. But when Webber wanted the truck at another nearby location, he thought that the rail crew had finished their shift. Since he had prior experience driving trains, Webber figured to move it himself – and accidentally smashed it into a low-level overpass, ripping the roofs of a batch of new Cadillacs. His Motown career was almost knocked off the rails right there and then.
- Gladys and the Pips’ career, meanwhile, was moving up a gear. In August ’67, their third single, “Everybody Needs Love,” cracked the Top 3 of the Billboard R&B charts, and even crossed onto the Top 40 of the pop rankings. That same month, the group’s first Soul album (logically titled Everybody Needs Love) was released and they performed at Motown’s first-ever national sales convention, held in Detroit. The company’s nationwide distributors got to see first-hand the sass ’n’ style for which the Atlanta foursome was now well-known. When time came for their fourth 45 to be released in September, everything was in place – and by year’s end, it accelerated to become their biggest hit: “I Heard I Through The Grapevine.” Even Harry Webber couldn’t derail that one.