When Gloria Jones hosted her “An Evening With..” for Paul Stuart Davies at the Alta in Whalley just recently, it got me thinking that perhaps it was about time we spent a few minutes with this talented lady; my friend for over three decades, and someone who played an important part in my life during the seventies.  At the time, my knowledge of Gloria was somewhat limited because, although I loved “Tainted Love” and everything that surrounded the release, and her work at Motown with Pam Sawyer, I knew very little about her as a person.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisaged that I’d play a part in her life in London.  Mind you, as I played and danced to the Four Tops’ taped music on my reel-to-reel machine (yes, I know!) in my bedroom at home in Uckfield, East Sussex, little did I realise the future would include working for Motown.  The Universe certainly had plans for me.

Born Gloria Richetta Jones on 19 October 1945 in Cincinnati, Ohio, she moved to Los Angeles at the age of seven.  While still a school girl, Gloria formed the COGIC Singers, whose history has been well documented over the years.  “I always wanted to be a school teacher, if only because I love working with young people.  In fact, I went to college for three years and studied psychology….I studied classical piano for ten years and picked up my voice from my mother’s side. The gospel choir I later kicked around with, I first met in church. We all had the gospel feel so a group seemed natural.  We had people like Blinky Williams, Edna Wright and Billy Preston in it.  We did session work, demos, gigs, and had fun.”

Darlene Love became a friend which led to Gloria singing on the “Silent Night” track on the Phil Spector Christmas album, followed by a couple of tracks on “Dylan’s Gospel Brothers And Sisters Of Los Angeles”.  Gloria continued, “And I’ve worked with Barry White and Gene Page.  That was with Brenda and Patrice Holloway.  And before Motown.  One day, the group was called in to do some demo work and ‘Heartbeat’ was the result.  I never realised I’d be remembered for that song.”

What follows are some random reminders of my time and conversations I’ve had with Gloria “Glo” Jones over the years, with thanks to Paul Stuart Davies for initiating the inspiration.   My thoughts are obviously varied but, for some reason, they led me to think about the accident in which her man, Marc Bolan was killed  I’ve never really opened up about this before, but perhaps the time has come for me to share what happened.

However, before getting into that, let’s talk Motown: “I was happy there,” Gloria told me during a 1976 afternoon chat in my Bayswater apartment.  “They treated me well, and I can’t say anything against them.  All that happened was my contract ran out, so I came to London.”  It was while Gloria was session singing with the Holloway sisters, that Pam Sawyer came into her life. They quickly became friends and working buddies.  “I must tell you about this writing thing.  I’ve always been into theatre and when writing with Pam, I was performing really.  In my heart of hearts, I didn’t want to be a writer full-time.  I’d be touring around while Pam was in Detroit, and I was getting more interested in the theatrical world but it meant having to be on Broadway. That’s where I was when Pam called me and said to go to Detroit. So I did, and I suppose that’s where I got into writing seriously.  The theatre never left me.  I’d love to go back one day.  I always thought I’d make a better Carole Burnett than she herself!”

They signed to Motown as freelancers until 1972, when they inked an in-house contract: “The biggest thrill of my life was when we wrote ‘If I Were Your Woman’ for Gladys Knight, and it was nominated for a Grammy.  I wrote the music, Pam the lyrics.  Usually the songs are combined feelings at the time because we work together. Because ‘If I Were Your Woman’ turned out so well, Pam and I wrote another eight songs for a concept album.  They all stemmed around that one song, like ‘I Ain’t That Easy To Lose’, ‘It’s Bad For Me To See You’,  and ‘Is It Really Over’.    We actually wrote ‘It’s Bad…’ for Gladys Knight as the follow-up to ‘If I Were Your Woman’ but she was working with Clay McMurray at the time. So we took the demo to him but he couldn’t get Gladys into it.  If we’d been able to get together with Clay and Gladys, we’d have had one fantastic album.”

Other notable tracks credited to Pam and Gloria include “When Your Love Hand Comes Down” and “Your Love Was Worth Waiting For”;  “My Mistake (Was To Love You)”, “I Ain’t Going Nowhere’, “Just Seven Numbers”, and others written for the Jackson 5, Eddie Kendricks and Thelma Houston, among others:  a treasure chest of musical magic. While Gloria was happy writing and producing for other artists, she pined to record an album herself.  “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”

Arranged by Paul Riser, and with most tracks self-penned, Motown released “Share My Love” in September 1973:  “At the time I was really pleased with the result.  It didn’t happen all at once because I was travelling about, so a track was cut each month, and so on.  It was an emotional experience for me, and I associated certain happenings with certain cuts.”   The album’s title track, “Try Love” and “What Did I Do To Lose You” remain my absolute go-to songs.

While working as a secetary at EMI Records at 20 Manchester Square,  during the seventies, I saw numerous artists come and go through the building.  There was only one rule, we weren’t permitted to ask for autographs but could smile and acknowledge.  This particular morning, record executive Bob Mercer’s secretary came bounding up the stairs to my office. In between breaths, she told me that Gloria Jones was downstairs in her boss’s office and wanted to meet me.  “In fact,” gasped Lyn.  “She asked me if I knew how to get in touch with Sharon Davis.  So I told her I’d go one step better and go and get her.”  I was standing at Bob’s office door within seconds.  Not only was Gloria there, but also Marc Bolan, my pixie pin up.   And that chance meeting kicked off a friendship with two people I never thought I’d meet, let alone befriend.

Gloria and I went on to become the ‘IT girls’ of the seventies, girls about London town, or whatever name we were called back then.  Invariably she drove us around in her little purple mini 1275 GT which we loaded up with cassettes and snacks, plus Gloria’s make-up and other bits.  Limiting herself to one drink only, usually a red wine, we frequented some of the best places and concerts.  For instance, in November 1976 we caught the wonderful Natalie Cole in concert, while a year later I was able to introduce her to Martha Reeves.  The two locked heads together to discuss a future recording possibility.  Life intervened, and it didn’t happen, even though Gloria had a song in mind.

We spent evenings ‘in’ either at my apartment in Bayswater, or over at Marc’s house.  Sometimes he’d join us, other times he would pop by to collect Gloria to go to some function or other. In 1977 – according to my notes – we went to a private party where Gloria was booked for the cabaret.  Her backing group, which in hindsight could have been Gonzalez, warmed up the audience before the star walked on stage.  “She sang like I’d never heard her before,” I wrote.

Erm, we both travelled to Wigan in a day, where she was performing one evening to an extremely enthusiastic crowd.  It was wild, invigorating but tiring.  Drinking in Mounkberry’s was another favourite pastime and eating seaweed in a local Chinese restaurant was a joy.   So was being invited to Newtons in the Kings Road for the christening reception of their son Rolan.  There was such an abundance of love in the air, such optimism for the future and the absolute euphoria of bringing a new life into this world, it was unthinkable that within a couple of years, tragedy would devastate this little family unit.

During 1977, while Gloria was recording tracks in a Los Angeles studio, Marc was working on his Granada television series, a welcomed weekly showcase for him and his guests.  A week before her return, I met up with him in EMI House. He was so enthusiastic about the four recordings she had sent him, and said he would decide which one would be released as a single. (Nothing new there, I thought)  Despite my goading, the so-and-so refused to divulge the title!  On 16 September, two days after her return to the UK, Marc invited a handful of friends for a reunion dinner, including Gloria’s brother Richard, who had returned from the States with her.  A giant of a man with a big heart, who I grew to love like a brother.

As night turned into morning, the happy couple left Morton’s Restaurant in Berkeley Square, for their newly-purchased home in Richmond. As Gloria drove off, she was followed by Richard and EMI Records’ promoter Eric Hall in another vehicle.  Turning from the Upper Richmond Road West into Barnes Common, Gloria lost control of the mini car, swerving off the road into a tree.  It was a notorious black spot. Marc, who rarely wore a seat belt, was found in the back seat. Richard couldn’t untangle his sister from the front of the car, so pulled Marc out and attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, tasting the residue of the fish meal on Marc’s lips.  It was no good, Marc was gone.   Gloria was subsequently cut free from the mini and rushed to Roehampton Hospital where she lay in a semi-conscious state for several days.  Next morning, media news stories were saturated with the sudden death of Britain’s best loved pop artist at the age of twenty-nine.

As she lay in her hospital bed, her jaw tightly wired up, Gloria pleaded with the nurses to ring a phone number she had tucked away in her bag.  It was my number. She knew something was wrong with Marc and wanted to know the truth.  The medical staff had decided she wasn’t strong or stable enough to be told of his death, nor that he would be buried within days.  The nurse phoned my number.  I was out of London for two weeks, staying with my family, so I never got the message.  Like everyone else I heard the news over the radio, later seeing the smashed up car on the one o’clock news with the identifiable number plate FOX 661L.  Prior to my leaving the city, we had been to a couple of evening receptions and I’d left personal items in the vehicle, some of which I recognised from the television coverage.

Marc’s blood stained clothes were burned because his brother Harry Feld didn’t want anyone to profit from Marc’s death. He destroyed a fluorescent green jacket, black t-shirt, red socks and glittered orange trousers which the funeral director, Larry Mitchell, said he planned to sell for charity.  Within twenty-four hours of Marc’s death, his home was looted by souvenir hunters.  The outfit in which he was to be buried, his favourite black velvet trousers and silk top bearing the legend Marc, were stolen.  Instruments were also lifted and I suspect, much of his impressive collection of soul records, grew legs and walked.   Confined to a hospital bed, Gloria was powerless to stop the thieving. We cried together.

As soon as I heard the dreadful news, I phoned the afore-mentioned Bob Mercer, desperate to get a handle on the event.  Of course, I had to see Gloria but he forbade it, saying that because her extensive injuries excluded any form of sedation, he was told the shock would kill her.  Subsequently, Marc was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, following a funeral that took on the guise of a circus.

With the funeral over, Gloria with her wired jaw and leg in plaster, was told the news by her brother, and when I was  at last able to travel to Roehampton to see her, I was bombarded with her written notes that went something like “I thought you were my friend, you should have told me.”  I still have a couple of those notes safely stored away.  Anyway, as she got stronger, I explained how/why/what and she recognised the dilemma I’d been faced with.  In time, she left the hospital to recuperate with her brother at Alistair McLean’s London apartment, where his wife lived – and what a place that was. Wealth dripping from the walls!  I spent every spare moment there with them, helping where I could.

“I lost my man. I lost the will to go on.  The only reason I ended up living was for my two boys.” (Her first son, Walter Thurmond Jnr, was from the marriage before she met Marc.)  After the accident Gloria’s voice was badly damaged as she explained:  “I was never able to sing with the same intensity and power as before.  It was tough but I’ve had to deal with it.”  It showed remarkable courage on her part because the steering column split her pharynx and just missed piercing her brain.

While grieving over her loss and her painful confinement to bed, the police notified Gloria that she was to be charged with manslaughter.  However, before she could be arrested, further examination on the car  revealed that, following a service by a Sheen garage three days prior to the crash, a tyre had been replaced.   Two nuts on the front off-side wheel were barely tightened, while the tyre pressure was too low.  This caused the vehicle to become uncontrollable and there was nothing Gloria could have done to prevent the accident.  The charges were subsequently dropped, following a verdict of accidental death at the inquest. Gloria then faced a further trauma with Marc’s family who believed she was incapable of raising Rolan, and told her they intended to keep him. And it was because of this, and the constant media hounding, that Gloria, Rolan and Richard flew to Los Angeles, to live with her family.

All this now seems like a lifetime ago, yet it was a period in my life that has always stayed with me.  Gloria did return to the UK, she recorded again, and later began a new life adventure in Sierra Leone.  While we kept in regular contact, I never really expected to be in her personal space again, but once more, the Universe had other ideas.  Or rather, my dear Russ Winstanley did, when he invited Gloria and her Los Angeles ladies, Chris Clark and Brenda Holloway, to Skegness in 2019.  And, unlike what you’ve just read, that’s a story I’ve told too many times!

Sharon Davis

(Photos: Sharon Davis, personal collection)

(The last clip from December 1965 features Billy Preston on organ and The Blossoms singing background vocals)