Motown Spotlight, July 2020

Martha Reeves

Happy Birthday Martha Reeves!  Motown's legendary singer and greatest ambassador recently celebrated her 79th birthday and I do so hope she had a wonderful day despite being in lockdown.  Of course, this tragic pandemic meant many full-stops to our way of life.  Entertainment took a hammering as, among other things, live performances were prohibited, so Martha and the girls won't be touring the UK this year unless, of course, the restrictions are lifted.  The annual visits are a much-loved way of life for Martha and fans alike, so, I'm afraid, all we can do is kick our heels until the wait is over.  

And this introduction brings me nicely into a short interview that Martha gave in 2010 with Sunday Mail reporter, Billy Sloan, when she spoke about meeting Stevie Wonder for the first time.  Martha was secretary to A&R director, Mickey Stevenson, when she faced a 'pesky kid' using her upturned litter bin as a bongo drum, scattering rubbish over the office floor.   She introduced herself, whereupon, she told Billy, "He began touching my face with his hands and replied 'You sound like a nice person…let me see what you look like.'  It was then I realised he was visually challenged."  Stevie then began looning around.  For starters, he picked up a telephone and began playing a tune by pressing the dial buttons which made little beeping sounds.  "I was terrified he was calling Russia and we'd get a huge bill."  Martha's typewriter was Stevie's next victim, as he hammered out a rhythm track on the keys.  "He then found the piano in the corner (of the office) and began playing the theme of the tv show Mighty Mouse.  ….. He played so well we all looked at each other in disbelief."  Next was the drum kit where his timing, she recalled, was perfect.  "I stood with my mouth aghast.  He moved on to the xylophone and for the finale, pulled a harmonica out his pocket and played the blues.  Berry Gordy said 'this kid is a wonder', and that's how he got the name - Little Stevie Wonder."  The rest is history. 

Here's a thing.  While searching through my Motown archives I stumbled across a box of cassettes (remember them?) and a cassette player.  So, of course, I had to listen to a few which was not only a trip into my past, but took more time than I'd planned. A series of cassettes caught my eye: promotional ones that Motown produced monthly to highlight forthcoming albums or those already on release that needed an extra push.  Using a well-known DJ of the day, who would introduce each track and mention its origin, the cassettes became a handy-sized promotional tool which could be played on the move.

Motown Cassette

The cassette highlighted here covers April-May 1981 with Roger Day doing the honours. From the chosen tracks, the albums this month included Diana Ross' "To Love Again", Marvin Gaye's "In Our Lifetime", Rick James' "Give It To Me Baby", Smokey Robinson's "Being With You" and Billy Preston's "The Way I Am".  A handful of tracks from Syreeta were snuck in, like "Love Fire" and "Just A Little Piece Of Me", plus a solitary offering from the Four Tops', "Standing In The Shadows Of Love".  I should imagine these are rather valuable now because they were limited in number, being distributed to radio and club DJs only.  Listening to it this week, it came across as a unique mini-compilation of eighties' Motown, which of course was an absolute delight!  Let's move on….

I was flicking through Aretha Franklin's autobiography From These Roots recently – a glorious, honest read – and came across the chapter where the Queen talks about disco music and her 'run-in' with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.  To be honest, I can't remember whether I knew about this or not, but in case we were unaware, here goes.  Aretha met up with Nile and Bernard because she loved Chic's music, particularly as it was burning up the international charts. She wrote - "They presented me with material that I liked.  Good songs, in-the-pocket grooves and cute lyrics." However, problems set in at pre-production when she became aware of their recording practices, as she explained in her book.  "Their idea for me was 'just come in and sing impromptu and we'll take it from there.'  ….. I'm an interpreter and I need to be involved with the total musical environment….my relationship with Rodgers and Edwards ended before it began.  There were unmentionables concerning their attitudes which just didn't fly with me."  The tracks the duo gave her to record included "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out".  "They took those songs…to Diana Ross" she concluded.   "I had no regrets."

And talking of Diana, she's an addition to the 2020 makeover of the 1969 compilation "Marvin Gaye And His Girls".  Now titled "Marvin Gaye – The Classic Duets", it's available on vinyl this month, with additional tracks like "You're A Special Part Of Me" (with Diana), plus "The Onion Song" and "California Soul" (with Tammi Terrell).  I guess this will appeal to newer Motown fans because us of a certain age will already have either the original compilation or the material on other releases.  A bit of a swizz is this. It's also packaged in a revised sleeve – well, Diana  is added to the original album's artwork in a shot taken from the "Diana & Marvin" project - so do check the listing if you're tempted.

J5 booklet

 

Last month I included a couple of interviews plucked from my collection of Motown news clippings. This seemed to go down rather well with you, so here's another from Superstar magazine with Michael Jackson following the group's first visit to the UK in 1972.  Journalist is unknown, I'm afraid (although I'm now wondering if it was Robin Katz who headed up the group's British fan club before touring the UK with them) but what follows has been liberated from a transatlantic phone call.  "We still haven't recovered. From that Sunday morning at six-twenty it was non-stop from the word go.  What really amazed us was just how so many fans were able to get up that early and trail all the way out to London airport," the very young Michael explained.  "Randy and I were so overwhelmed that we just looked at each other and burst into tears.  We didn't expect such a welcome…the scenes at the airport just knocked us out completely." 

Jackson 5

The high spot of the visit, the youngster gushed, was opening the second half of the Royal Variety Show in the presence of the Queen Mother at the London Palladium the day after they arrived (30 October). They sang "I Want You Back", "ABC", Rockin' Robin", "We Thank You" and "The Love You Save". "We were tremendously excited about actually getting to meet members of the Royal Family,,,,the great thing was that Diana Ross and the Supremes had also done the Show, so we had lots to talk about when we saw Diana recently."

Of British fans, he was surprised at how they knew their whereabouts during the visit, recalling one event in particular when they appeared at London's Talk Of The Town before members of the media. "That event wasn't publicised anywhere but sure enough when we got there, fans had turned out in their hundreds to greet us. I believe that some journalists were physically attacked as they left that day.  Luckily they didn't seem to mind that much."  Well, dear boy, this girl did.  In the absolute chaos of fan frenzy, and despite rough assistance from the attending police, my J5 press kit was snatched from my hands and my J5 tee shirt practically ripped off my back.  It was torn in so many places that I couldn't wear it again.  It was scary.  It was only thanks to a patient, and brave cabbie  – God bless London taxi drivers – that I managed to jump into the safety of his vehicle without totally losing my dignity.  (The picture of the Jackson 5 performing at the Royal Variety Show is from the Royal Variety Performance Facebook page) 

Supremes Booklet

From one iconic group to another. When Carl Feuerbacher ran the Mary Wilson International Fan Club during the eighties and nineties, he compiled a commemorative booklet to celebrate twenty years since the release of "Where Did Our Love Go" on 17 July 1964.  Carl said it was a labour of love putting the 1984 project together that included personally written letters from Cindy Birdsong, Scherrie Payne, Susaye Greene and Mary Wilson, alongside tributes and personal stories from fans. "It brings back fond memories to look at this booklet today," he said. "And see how that one song and the journey of The Supremes impacted on so many people around the world." 

In her handwritten note, Susaye included - "It seems like only yesterday when I pulled up my bobby socks and put 'Where Did Our Love Go' on the record player. … What teenage joy! .. ..Being a member of The Supremes will always be a special memory for me.  I met so many lovely, loving friends and I will always feel blessed to have worked with such special ladies."  Cindy also put pen to paper to write a lengthy letter, including the following:  "When I look back, it is always with fondness and love, for it was a fairytale dream come true. Most of all, I am grateful for the friendships I've made, for many of them are lasting.  I love Diana and Mary – they taught me so much, and we shared many 'golden moments' together that I will always cherish….Jean Terrell is another person I love.  She came into the group when we really needed her and brought a new energy and that beautiful voice which helped to bring us lots more hits…." .

Scherrie Payne's words recalled the tough and happy times in her life, kicking off with her upbeat first paragraph:   "Sometimes I have to make myself remember that I was once a 'Supreme'.  But like Diana said during her concert in Vegas after she asked me to sing with her, 'once a Supreme, always a Supreme'….Mary and Cindy were great people and still are. Although we don't have the same close contact because we've gone our separate ways, I still feel a nearness…In retrospect, those Supreme years were some of the most exciting in my lifetime."  While Mary Wilson's extended contribution covered her professional and personal life, ending with "….The ladies I've worked with over the years are all special to me. They are all talented in their own right.  Each lady brought something special to The Supremes…The fans, or should I say friends, have been terrific.  I cannot express the happiness that many have brought me over the years.  Thank you all for being a part of it."

Alongside messages from the group's fans, including many a familiar name, this very special commemorative booklet is lovingly crammed with black/white pictures to highlight certain periods during the trio's career. Such was the popularity of the booklet that Carl has now been persuaded to print more copies for those who missed out the first time around.  Should you be interested do contact him at carlcprez@aol.com. for details. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Paul Stuart Davies contacted me recently. A friend of his over in Norway is writing a book about Motown.  Dag Kjetil Stranabo is reaching out to fans for help and, although he hasn't specified in what area, I'm thinking he needs visuals, preferably non-copyrighted ones. Dag told me, "I am paying for everything myself and have worked with this book for four years.  Motown isn't huge here in Norway and has never been, sadly. But the music is played on the radio and in the last few years some Norwegian singers have done Motown shows." I'm in email contact with Dag, having answered a few questions which were nagging him, and will help further where I can.  If you're in a position to come to Dag's rescue, do please check into his Facebook page.

All that's now left for me to say is - please continue to take great care out there as the world slowly opens up to a 'new' normal.  And I'd also like you to know, your support and love is, as always, very dear to me.  And I honestly mean that.

Sharon Davis

 

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