Of all the labels associated with Motown, I reckon the subject of this month’s blog must be the one that got away.  It was only when I was checking through a file on a totally unrelated matter that I came across an act by the name of Tiggi Clay.  Um..that rang a bell with me (strange the things your brain throws up!) so I looked further and discovered other acts, and for what it’s worth here’s the result of search.

Morocco Records was a short-lived Motown rock imprint which lasted about a year, deriving its name from a truncated version of Motown Rock Company. It was launched at Hollywood’s Dar Maghred Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in February 1984.  The label’s signings of afore-mentioned Tiggi Clay, with Paul Sabu and The Coyote Sisters, attended the swish launch with two hundred others, including Berry Gordy, Jay Lasker, Howard Rosen (Motown’s director of pop promotion) and Stevie Wonder. Why him I wonder – no pun intended? It seems that all Morocco’s signings were also contractually guaranteed video promotion.  Phil Caston, the label’s international manager, told Billboard, “We still believe radio airplay is what makes a record but video contributes more and more.  If you’re looking at a total artist budget, you’ll find there’s less tour subsidy and more video investment.”

However, that thinking backfired when Tiggi Clay’s video for “Flashes” failed to be shown on MTV because the group was considered to be – wait for it –  ‘too black’, yet it was happily screened and enjoyed on local stations.  On the other hand, new signing Duke Jupiter, a white group, had no problem in securing regular screenings for their “Little Lady” video. I won’t elaborate further, except to say, it was suggested at the time that as the Morocco label was a Motown subsidiary it was difficult to break the racial barriers to gain mainstream radio and television exposure.  “If we worried about a racial trip we wouldn’t have been in the business for twenty years.” added Phil.  “By opening our mouths and screaming about it, we’ve been able to change the face of MTV.”

“Flashes”, the first single from Tiggi Clay hit the street in early January 1984.  With the group membership of Fizzy Quick (real name Debravon Lewis), Dewayne Street (aka Romeo ‘Breath’ McCall) and Hilary Thompson (aka William Peaches), their eponymous album was totally their responsibility.  They wrote and produced all tracks that included “Top Of The World”, “Ali Baba” and “Roses For Lydia” and their debut British single “The Winner Gets The Heart” which went on to become their second American outing. Motown/BMG had high hopes of a crossover hit due to its European sound.  It didn’t happen as hoped, and the group became an also-ran. As an aside here, Fizzy Quick went on to record her own self-named album in 1986, where tracks included  “Young, Single And Tough”, “Cupid” and the single “Hangin’ Out”.

Let’s move on to Paul Sabu, where the success rate was marginally more encouraging after positive review feedbacks. Born in January 1960 in Burbank, California, Paul was raised in San Francisco Valley.  He was the son of American actress Marilyn Cooper and actor Sabu Dastagir who starred in films like “The Elephant Boy”, “The Thief Of Baghdad” and “Jungle Book” during the late thirties and early forties. Paul learned to play the guitar following his obsession with Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, and after learning the art formed several local groups before touring with the likes of The James Gang, Guess Who and The Undisputed Truth.  During 1979 he signed a recording deal with Arista Records where his band recorded the top five European hit “Loose Lucy” before joining MCA Records in 1980.

While working with the group, he wrote and produced albums for Debbie Jacobs and Ann-Margaret on MCA, after which he engineered Handshake Records’ releases by Johnny Bristol and Amii Stewart.  From there, this talented guy worked with Linda Clifford and The Jones Girls, as well as composing songs for films like “Vice Squad”, “Deadly Force” and “Spring Fever”.  For some reason Paul’s debut album “Killer Instinct” was released under the name Kidd Glove in April 1984. Written by the singer and Daniel Walsh and produced by Steve Barri and Tony Peluso, the album featured musicians Jeff Steele on bass; Bobby Sandstrom and Michael Omartian, keyboards, and drummer Mike Baird. The lifted single “Good Clean Fun”/”Street Angel” was issued the same month, while other tracks included “Fade To Black”, “Spirit Of The Night” and “Secrets”.  Neither releases sold that well, much to the obvious dismay of the artist  and the over-confident reviewers.

Renee Armand, Marty Gwinn and Leah Kunkel were three white girls known as The Coyote Sisters, so named because according to American Indian legend, coyotes are special animals in harmony with the world around them.  Renee had worked with John Denver: “I was getting crazy after spending five years on the road with thirty men.  The only women I ever saw were airline stewardesses and I was getting desperate to sing with other female voices.”

As a soloist she recorded two albums “The Rain Book” and “In Time”, and as a composer enjoyed an American top ten country and western hit with “Boney Fingers” by Hoyt Axton. She also scored lucky with Michael Jackson’s “One Day In Your Life” which she penned with Sam Brown III. Actress Marty Gwinn originally studied at the East Coast Repertory Theatre and appeared in productions at the Yale Repertory Theatre, Joe Papp’s Public Theatre and Café La Mama.  She also appeared in a Robert Altman production Keeping It Off The Streets before writing and singing on film soundtracks. Prior to settling in Massachusetts with her child, Marty recorded with Jackie De Shannon, Johnny Rivers and John Mayall.

And finally, Leah Kunkel, an established soloist and session singer, performed with Graham Nash, Jimmy Webb, Art Garfunkel among others. Also a prolific songwriter with Cass Elliott and others recording her work, Leah recorded with Jackson Browne and James Taylor. Also, like Marty, she was also a single parent living in Massachusetts.  The story goes that the pop/rock trio, The Coyote Sisters was formed by accident, as Marty once explained. “I had met Terry Kirkman of The Association and he suggested I should think about a female trio.  About three days later I got a call from Leah.  Her car had broken down near my house and she needed help.  I didn’t know her very well because we’d only done one Dirt Band session together, but she remembered my number. So I picked her up and we went out for breakfast.”

Over that meal the two decided to form a group and asked Renee to join them.  After working on their act, the trio contacted an old friend composer/arranger Tony Berg to work with them, and from there came Morocco where their first single “Straight From Your Heart (Into Your Life)” was extracted from “The Coyote Sisters” album in July 1984. Other highlights were “I’ve Got A Radio”, “Floating World” and “Echo”. Even though the single hit the top 100 Billboard chart, the Sisters disbanded not long afterwards. However, that wasn’t totally the end because during 2001 Leah and Marty unexpectedly released a follow-up album as a duo, with Renee’s blessing.  Titled “Women And Other Visions” it was issued via Wannadate Records and two years later hooked up a distribution deal with BBN Music to re-release all their previous work online.  I’m afraid there’s not much else I can tell you about these ladies that’s relevant to their Morocco days but if you’re interested in their future work, do check out their website www.coyotesisters.com.

Here’s a couple more signings. Wolf & Wolf debuted with their eponymous album in May 1984.  Peter Wolf, a native of Vienna, studied classical piano for ten years.  At the age of eleven, he developed an interest in American jazz and five years later left his classical roots to join The Art Farmer Quartet in Europe.  In 1976 he moved to South California to record with Frank Zappa’s band, later playing with Survivor and Grace Slick, among others.  Prior to his Morocco debut, Peter recorded five European instrumental albums.

His singing partner  Ina Ganahl was born in Western Australia and sang and studied folk music with her parents from an early age. Upon leaving high school, she moved to Vienna to study opera for five years at the Academy of Performing Arts.  During these studies, Ina (pronounced ‘eena’) recorded a couple of solo albums under the name Christina.  She met Peter Wolf in Vienna during 1975 and the two married four years later.  Their first public performance was as opening act for The Rolling Stones in Vienna, and when the Morocco label opened, Wolf & Wolf’s brand of ‘Bohemian pop’ was considered suitable for the subsidiary’s image.   The public thought otherwise and the project, including their first single “Don’t Take The Candy” flopped big time.  Artists constantly struggled for airplay, particularly those singles released in the UK.  Nevertheless, the power behind the label fought on.

Koko Pop from Columbus, Ohio, was formed by Chris Powell, an ex-member of Rick James’ Punk Funk Horn section.   He went in search of writers and players to help out in one of his own recording projects and chose bassist/lead singer Recco Philmore, keyboardist Eric O’Neal, and guitarist Keith Alexander, while he played saxophone and sang lead vocals. They produced a demo tape which sufficiently impressed Motown’s A&R chief to sign them.  “Baby Sister” was their first single in May 1984, extracted from their self-titled album also issued in May, on which other titles included “Serious Side”, “Make You Feel Better” and “On The Beach”. Another track “I’m In Love With You” was the follow-up which became a minor hit. The guys didn’t rest on their laurels either because in between their own recordings, Recco, Eric and Keith played for Teena Marie on her 1983 album “Robbery”, while Chris appeared on albums by The Temptations, Willie Hutch and Rose Royce among others.  During 1985, Koko Pop had another stab at stardom with their follow-up album “Secrets Of Lonely Boys”.  Like their debut, this sold poorly.

This really is sounding like the ‘Mary Celeste’ of record labels, isn’t it?  Maybe being associated with Motown was a drawback in the public arena that was used to the company’s music being R&B/pop.   Whatever the reason, back in the day, when the Morocco albums were first issued, I did religiously listen to them simply because they were Motown related.  However, if my memory serves me correctly, the only act I was mildly interested in were The Coyote Sisters but I’m thinking that interest didn’t last too long.

So, let’s jog on to another group signing – Jakata (pronounced ‘jer-carter’ and an amalgam of sound to convey a feeling – so boasted the press release) with the membership of Jimmy Felber, keyboardist and signed to Motown as a songwriter; Steve Kragen, lead vocals/horns; Chuck Coffey, bass/vocals and Chris Myers, drums/percussion/guitar. The group got together in Long Beach, California in Jimmy’s home studio and spent 1983 preparing demo recordings with British producer and ex-Jobete Publishing employee Patrick Sherlock.

Jimmy Felber, the son of a navy officer, studied classical piano and organ as a child, and at the age of eighteen wrote songs for and played with Ike and Tina Turner.  As a songwriter he wrote the fabulous Jermaine Jackson “Burning Hot” track on his “Let’s Get Serious” album.  Steve Kragen, also from a naval family, grew up in San Diego, California.  By the age of six he was studying the alto sax and listened to jazz musicians like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley.  In his later life though, Steve became more interested in the mainstream music market.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Chuck Coffey spent his early life travelling with his musician father.  By sixteen years old he was proficient enough to be a session musician and a solo artist, which led to him playing the role of Paul McCartney in the soundtrack to the early seventies film “The Birth Of The Beatles”. While he didn’t appear in the film, all vocals and bass guitar parts were his.

Finally, Chris Myers, the son of an immigration officer and born in Miami, Florida, was raised in Southern California.  A drummer from an early age, he toured with the Quicksilver Messenger Service during the mid-seventies, before recording and touring with The Sanford Townsend Band.  “Hell Is On The Run” was Jakata’s debut single in October 1984, taken from their “Light The Night” album released the same month.  “Racing For The Dawn” and “Shadows Of The Night” were among the other tracks. A further single “Golden Girl” followed six months later but, while the releases were potentially hit material, their second album “Designs Of The Heart” remained unreleased.

The last act to grab my attention was a rock band from Rochester, New York calling themselves Duke Jupiter, taking their name from a sax player they knew.  The group’s membership that joined the roster of Morocco artists comprised Marshall Styler, keyboards/lead vocals; Greg Walker, guitar/vocals; Rickey Ellis, bass/vocals, and David Corcoran on drums, percussion and vocals. Their first album “White Knuckle Ride”, produced by Glen Kolotkin,  in October 1984 spawned the single “Little Lady”.  Other tracks included “Rescue Me”, “Top Of The Bay” and “Work It Out”.

Duke Jupiter began their professional life as an instrumental unit in 1973 playing the club circuit in their native Rochester, when the line-up was Marshall, Greg, George Barajas and Earl Jetty.  Two years on they released the instrumental single “Days Between Us” on their own label which caused some local interest.  From here, they signed with Mercury Records to record a trio of albums, and by 1977 with several line-up changes, no success and with the untimely deaths of two group members, George Barajas and Earl Jetty, Duke Jupiter was on the verge of abandoning the career they loved so much.  However, they ended up giving it another shot by recording a four-track extended play single “Begin Again” on their own Powerglide label, which in turn led to a contract with CBS’s Coast-to-Coast label a year later, where they were relatively successful.  This had a knock-on effect.  They started touring with big-name groups including Foreigner and REO Speedwagon; Marshall Styler began writing songs for other acts between times, while Eddie Ellis appeared in the film Joey before they got together again to record a demo tape to tempt record companies to sign them.

A Motown executive fell under their spell and apparently signed Duke Jupiter to a recording contract within thirty-six hours of hearing the demo.  Following the release of “White Knuckle Ride” the group toured for three months with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Huey Lewis. They then collaborated for the first time in their career on the material in their second album “The Line Of Your Fire” released in September 1985.  But by this time Motown had no interest in the group or, to be honest, in the label.   So that was that!

In between these releases, a soundtrack compilation for the musical comedy “Get Crazy” was also issued featuring acts like Bill Henderson, Lou Reed, The Ramones, with the double A-sided single “Get Crazy” by Sparks and “Hot Shot” from Malcolm McDowell released as a single to promote the album and film;  plus a UK-released promotional 12″ single that featured Duke Jupiter’s “She’s So Hot”, Tiggi Clay’s “Top Of The World”, Wolf & Wolf’s “The Water’s Full Of Sharks” and “Hellzarockin'” from Kidd Glove.

I apologise if I’ve missed out any acts on what appears to be such an ill-fated label which is often overlooked in the history of Motown.  That sorry state of affairs has now been rectified.  The story needed to be told.

Sharon Davis