Motown Spotlight, November 2020

Kim Weston Live

As I was preparing this month’s Motown Spotlight, an exclusive news item from Paul Stuart Davies has literally just landed in my inbox which I've been asked to share with you about Kim Weston's "Live In Detroit 1978" extended play single.  So, in his words,  here goes..

"A decade on from her time at Motown Records, this newly unearthed recording of Kim Weston 'live' from Detroit’s Paradise Theatre demonstrates just why she is so highly revered as one of the greatest vocalists the city (and arguably, the world) has ever produced.

Here we hear Kim continuing to show us the jazzier sound that she adopted after leaving Motown, with tributes to the great Dinah Washington, as well as performances of two of her mid 1970’s releases:  ‘Nobody Had To Tell Me’ which was released with The Hastings Street Jazz Orchestra in 1976, and her own composition, ‘Detroit (That’s My Home Town)’, released as a single on her own Rahkim label in 1975.

This 1978 Easter Day performance comes from a time where Kim’s focus was on giving back to her community.  Two years prior, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young had declared July 18th 1976 as “Kim Weston Day” in honour of her voluntary work and countless appearances at benefit concerts in the city.  “I’m called the benefit queen!” jokes Kim after her first number on this set, before thanking the promoters for a paying gig.  “I’m only serious” she laughs, but it's true that, like many unsung heroes of black music, Kim has never been particularly well paid for her incredible talents.  Her records that continue to sell, don’t benefit Kim financially, so this is the reason 100% of the money from sales of this new live EP will benefit Kim directly.

It will be available to order on CD from 1st December 2020 at £7.99 / $9.99 plus P+P.  It will come with the download code for a free digital copy in an effort to please both collectors and the more modern music fan.   To grab your copy visit Facebook and search the Kim Weston Appreciation Group where you'll also find updates and order information.  Click the link.  Thank you,  Paul Stuart Davies."

Now, with the evenings drawing in, I felt the need to travel back in time to find a happy place where I could spend a few hours away from the present.  Without paying too much attention to the decade, the year 1977 came up, but more precisely March and April of that year. What I thought would be a lightning visit led to me lurching from one thing to another; being sidetracked as I found myself immersed in seventies Motown, a trip that eventually took me three days to compile into some sort of order to type this. I've promised my filing system a total overhaul one day because I spend a ridiculous amount of time shifting pieces of paper from one box to another, while swearing blind someone's been meddling with my shambolic system that's served me for decades.

Here’s part one of my trip back to the spring of 1977.  Part two will appear in next month’s Motown Spotlight…

Let's TCB …..

Syreeta One To One

Shortly after her marriage to Curtis Robertson and the birth of their first son, Jamal, Syreeta released her "One To One" album in March 1977 which was a totally different and more intense release from her work with her ex-husband Stevie Wonder.  Influenced by a three-month course studying transcendental meditation in Ethiopia, and her divorce from Stevie, the sojourn helped her healing process.  "The courses gave me calmness and I returned with the ability of seeing me in a different way." Taking up yoga to complement her spiritual re-awakening, she said her outlook on life had taken on a new dimension.  Then, for some reason,  she spoke of the need for parents to take responsibility for having children.  "Making love isn't a game anymore. It should be taken seriously as an expression of genuine affection.  Sex is great as long as the people involved know what they're doing…."  I'll admit, I didn't know what to make of this project; it was so alien to her previous one "Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta" which despite the underlying angst and heartache of separation, was commercially slanted, sometimes upbeat, often heartbreaking, yet totally immersive in lyric and music, earning it a place in the top ten of my Motown album chart.

To be honest, there wasn't much I liked on "One To One". However it had a life line – Stevie Wonder's "Harmour Love" which hit the UK top forty.  If I'm correct, the original intention was for him to work with Syreeta on the whole album but as he was immersed in probably his most ambitious project to date, "Songs In The Key Of Life", Leon Ware and her husband Curtis were the main producers. The lady told David Nathan (writing for “Blues & Soul” magazine at the time), "I've written songs that I believe people will be able to get into easily, like 'One To One' that's about how your heart cannot divide love….. while 'Rest Yourself' is about doing just that."  Another thing, the photo shoot for the album sleeve was delayed as Syreeta was being fastidious in styling her hair into braids.  When it became obvious this would have a knock on affect to the album's release slot, a graphic artist was hired to paint her image instead.  Incidentally, SoulMusic Records reissued the album during 2012.  Moving on…

Jerry Butler Suite

Also issued during this time span were Jerry Butler's concept-driven "Suite For The Single Girl" which stirred up a dozen emotions for the listener.  The combination of hopelessness, optimism and intoxicating feelings for the future, guaranteed the Ice Man delivered an absolute gem.  He slipped elegantly from the classy opening ballad taking the album's title into "I Wanna Do It For You", with the euphoric atmosphere continuing throughout the entire album. In a press handout, Jerry explained, "All the songs are relevant to a girl's world; unmarried girls who are making it on their own and who are involved with different kinds of guys. It's about some of the girls I know, and their problems and pleasures. The album takes on a mature, yet youthful sound, but the two aren't conflicting with each other." Perhaps a slight distraction with "Let's Go Get Out Of Town" with its eye on the disco market was a deliberate ploy to break the love spell.   Thankfully, it was a passing feeling though, certainly not belittling the beauty of this, Jerry's second Motown album (His first, "Love's On The Menu" was another cracking release).  Incidentally, "Love's On The Menu" and "Suite For The Single Girl" were a two-for-one package from SoulMusic Records several years later.

The Originals

The Originals' "Down To Love Town" (naturally) named after the hit single - which in itself was originally a track on the group's 1976 elpee "Communique" - looked set to become a big seller.     The established group was one of many to benefit from the advent of disco/dance music, although Motown stalwarts already held The Originals in high esteem for their breathtakingly beautiful ballads.  Having said that, disco gave their career a huge stab of adrenalin that had previously bypassed them in the mainstream record market.  One reviewer noted, "This collection of seven is built on their new found disco acceptance and sees them switch over from their usual ballad orientated album to one that is made up mainly of dance tunes."  Built around three different production units, the opening infectious title "Hurry Up And Wait" led into a full length cut of "Down To Love Town", the pace of which continued into "You Are A Blessing To Me".  Fortunately the soulful tones of  "warm and gentle" from the past returned with "Mother Nature's Best" yet the magic fell apart with "Six Million Dollar Man" intended as a single, but abandoned when the owners of the television show bearing the same name threatened legal action.  Instead, agreement was reached for the song to remain an album track.  "We worked with Frank Wilson and Mike Sutton on the album and it was our first time working with Mike" Freddie Gorman explained in a January 1977 interview.   "He and his wife Brenda had written some songs so he ended up co-producing the album with Frank.  It seems like it was a good concept, mixing the disco things with ballads."

Motown Special

 

In March 1977, while fans continued to beg for American product to be released over here,  a series of British compilations by six of the label's top acts hit the street under the blanket title "Motown Special".  The seventh was a 'taster' if you like with a couple of tracks from the featured artists in addition to a couple compilations as yet unreleased from The Supremes and the Four Tops, and Gladys Knight and the Pips.  The featured six will come as no surprise but I'll list them anyway – Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Temptations, Four Tops, Jr Walker and the All Stars, with the Jackson 5 rounding off the list. This mid-priced series, selling at £2.20 a go, was advertised as The Best Of The Greatest and was an obvious ploy to attract mainstream buyers to the magic of the Hitsville sound.  Whether it was a successful marketing ploy isn't clear, however, and because I haven't been able to find any reference to the two unreleased albums making it to record shop shelves, I guess not. For Motown fans, of course, these albums weren't that exciting although perhaps snatching some deleted items and album tracks to pad out the smattering of singles could have tempted some, particularly at such a low price.  That reminds me, I did have a gripe at the time over the Diana Ross and the Supremes' front cover artwork.  It showed Diana, Mary and Cindy when, of course, the bulk of the tracks within featured Florence Ballard. As I don't have my album to hand, I'm afraid I can't check the track listing to back up what I said back in the day.

On the singles front, the situation was a little better thanks in the main to Stevie Wonder's recent number two hit "Sir Duke" released in the March, the same month as The Supremes' "Love I Never Knew You Could Feel So Good" extracted from "Mary, Scherrie & Susaye".  Within three months of this release the trio performed their last concert together at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with an after show farewell party where champagne flowed amidst the tears. The other single in this batch I barely remember – "Do It For Me" by French vocalist Jennifer, real name Chantal Benoist.  It seems the song was a major hit across Europe on Big Box Records, and, for some reason, Motown picked it up for release elsewhere.  There was a passing interest but few sales, so the company thumbed-down her album "Walking In Space", mastered at Motown's studios.

Wow!  My intention was to bring you a quick overview of a couple of months but it seems to have grown legs as one subject led into another. So hope you've found something of interest.  If so, we'll embark on another seventies adventure in the future.   

So that's it for this month but I'll be back before you know it.

Sharon Davis

 

 

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