2021 Introduction: Inducted into The SoulMusic Hall Of Fame in July 2021 in the ‘Motown’ artist category, High Inergy were riding the crest of popularity in 1977 with their hit “You Can’t Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turnin’ Me On)” as David Nathan discovered when he caught up with the female quartet towards the end of their first year as Motown artists…

High Inergy: Motown’s Four Little Ladies From Pasadena

By David Nathan

November 1977

Linda, Michelle, Vernessa and Barbara, who make up High Inergy, are currently turnin’ on the charts, following extensive grooming from Mrs Gwen Gordy-Lupper who first set the Supremes on their way.

Providing Motown with one of their biggest hit records of 1977 is a lovely and talented quartet from Pasadena who have literally been turning on the pop and r&b charts with their smash, “You Can’t Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turnin’ Me On)” and their debut album, appropriately entitled “Turnin’ On”.

Already, folks are making comparisons between High Inergy’s beginnings with Motown and the start of the career of another group of ladies round about fifteen years ago! Those references have been to The Supremes who learned a great deal about grooming and presentation from the lady who’s been responsible for bringing High Inergy to Motown, Mrs. Gwen Gordy-Lupper.   It was Mrs. Gordy, who headed up the Special Projects department at Motown back in the mid-sixties and taught posture, breathing and elocution to many of the artists who first developed as stars during the early days at Motown. Using the same expertise, Mrs. Gordy is priming High Inergy for what likes sure fire stardom and the way their initial single and album have taken off suggests that once again, Motown has picked a winner.

The ladies causing all the excitement are Linda Howard, Michelle Martin, Vernessa and Barbara Mitchell all from Pasadena, California and they explain how they first got together.  “We met when we all participated in a special Bicentennial Performing Arts programme which was held in Pasadena. Altogether, there were some thirty people selected from the auditions and we just happened to be four of them!  During the programme, we did some six hundred shows in about six months — that was one of our goals! During that time, we played for convalescent homes, schools, all kinds of community projects, since we were working for the city and it was a really great experience for us.”

Barbara and Vernessa handled the singing chores as well as writing all their own material and Linda and Michelle devoted their energies to the choreography and dancing involved. “Then, after the programme was over, we wondered exactly what we’d do next.”  Fortunately, a tape had been sent to Mrs. Gordy-Lupper consisting of some of the original songs the two members of the group had written and she immediately requested an audition with the group. “She must have liked us — because before we knew it, we were signed to Motown!” the young ladies enthuse, “and we were really thrilled about that, because although we all had ambitions to get into entertainment, none of us quite expected it to happen so fast. Naturally, we’re very glad it has but it wasn’t expected, really!”

Almost immediately after signing with the company in October of ’76, High Inergy began working with various producers in the studios on their debut album set, which they finally completed July of 1977.   “Our producers — Ken Washburn and Al Willis — selected the material basically and we’re very happy with the end result. Troy Laws was responsible for working on the vocal backgrounds for us and we feel that our first album is great — we don’t have any particular favourites — we like all the songs on there!”

When the single, “You Can’t Turn Me Off” was released at the end of July, it immediately received strong airplay in many major markets throughout the States making it a definite contender for the pop stakes.  “We dug the song,” the ladies contend, “but we didn’t really think it would take off quite as quickly as it has. You know, we’ve had such a exciting year so far, just doing things that we’ve never done before. Like recording: that was really fun and very pleasant once we got used to it.  Of course, it’s different from playing in front of audiences and we were nervous at first but once we’d cut a couple of songs, we were o.k. Now we’re greatly looking forward to working on our second album which will probably be produced by the same people and should include some of our own material hopefully.”

Meanwhile, the ladies have been kept busy rehearsing and working closely with Mrs. Gordy-Lupper.  “She’s just helped us so much and we intend to stay together as long as the Supremes have — and longer than that!” the ladies laugh. They comment that the success of The Emotions may certainly have helped pave the way for their own leaps up the chart. “It would seem that The Emotions really opened up the doors again for female groups, so maybe it’s time for them to come back in full force, the way it used to be with groups like Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes and so on. We certainly hope so.’

Whilst the quartet are busy learning all they an about performing and recording, they’re all insistent that they will continue to complete their education. 16-year old Barbara is still attending high school, whilst 17-year old Michelle, Vernessa, who’s 18 and Linda, who’s one year older, are all completing their studies at college. “We’ll definitely finish off our education,” they all concur, “and if our recording career takes off to the point where we have to go out performing extensively, we’ll take a tutor out on the road with us.”

The ladies seem set that they have a great deal to accomplish as entertainers, noting that “there are just so many things to do — movies, television, whatever is out there, that’s what we want to work at because you never ever reach your peak — there’s always something left to do, a challenge waiting out there for you.”  With whatever spare time is left for them when they’re not studying or rehearsing, all four girls are active sports enthusiasts. “We all believe in staying healthy!” they claim and list several games as favourites in which they either participate or spectate, notably tennis, swimming, football, baseball and jogging.

There’s no doubt that Linda, Michelle, Vernessa and Barbara are definitely going to be fit for what looks like an exciting future and they say they’re ready “for whatever is set for us to do in the future! We want to be involved in activities too that are going to benefit the community because after all, it was through a community involvement programme that we first got together!”

With that positive frame of mind, an abundance of talent, some really strong material, the prospect os some of their own material being recorded and the strong guidance of Mrs. Gwen Gordy-Lupper working with them alongside the resources of Motown Records, High Inergy should be turning on a lot of bright lights!

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