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SHARON DAVIS' MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT - JANUARY 2016
What a dreadfully sad start to this new year it’s been. Shock waves were sent through the music world and we’re staggering to deal with the unexpected passing of artists we’ve loved for a long time. ……

However, as difficult as it is, it’s not to be dwelt on because we need to look to the present and the future, and for Motown fans a major happening is about to take place in February with the opening of “Motown:The Musical” in London. The place to be is at the Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8DP, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. A little aside here. On 5 October Berry Gordy attended the official launch of the musical in London. The evening was hosted by Lenny Henry and they were joined by members of the show’s creative team – Broadway producer Kevin McCollum, and director Charles Randolph-Wright. Guests not only enjoyed an exclusive interview with Berry but also had performance previews. “I’ve had a love affair with the UK since I first came here” sayeth Berry Gordy. So, of course, it’s only right that the musical makes its mark in London’s West End. Previews are due to start on 11 February, with the press night on 8 March, while the performances are booked at the theatre through to October 2016. As you know, the musical premiered at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York, in April 2013 where I was fortunate enough to catch it – my debut Broadway show! It appears it recouped its $18 million investment by the end of the following year, and the first US national tour opened in Chicago last spring, grossing $20 million during its sixteen week run. Phew – that’s some going! As far as I can gather, it continues to do great business by playing to packed houses across America. Anyhows, back to London. Ticket prices at the Shaftesbury Theatre seem to range from £120 to £49.50 although they will, I’m sure, be available on the day from the various agencies tucked away on London’s streets. So, will it be as wonderfully successful here? I don’t see why not but the public will decide.

While writing this I’m listening to a promotional album “Sample The Magic Of Motown” (PR – 35) issued during 1978. Yes, I’ve dusted down the stylus and cranked up my turntable to play this valuable slice of vinyl that previews six singles lifted from albums due for release during that year. Without going into too much detail (which I’m prone to do) the included titles are – “You Got It” from Diana Ross’ “Baby It’s Me” where she teamed up for the first time with producer Richard Perry and experiments with composers like Bill Withers and Melissa Manchester. “Mind Pleaser” from “The 1st Cuba Gooding Album” where the former leader of Main Ingredient worked with Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter. “Castles In The Sand” extracted from “Frontiers” from Jermaine Jackson, his 6th solo album, where he shared production credits with Michael McCloiry, and got to work with the Tower Of Power horn section. “Warm Ride” from Rare Earth’s “Band Together” housing nine group original tracks and featuring The Hudson Brothers, The Waters and Lenny Macaluso as support vocalists. “Star Love”, one of the tracks on the Three Ounces Of Love eponymous album which offered a wide range of sounds with each Ounce trading off lead vocals. “Just How Does It Feel”, a title from Fresh’s “Feelin’ Fresh” debut album, one of the newer groups to join the Prodigal label. The group built up a solid reputation by touring with the likes of The Jacksons and Brass Construction. “There’ll Never Be” from Switch’s self-named album brought to Motown’s attention by Jermaine and featuring in its membership Bobby and Tommy DeBarge. Finally, Major Lance’s “I Never Thought I’d Be Losing You” and Kenny Lupper’s “Passion Flower” singles round off the package. It’s interesting listening to these tracks again because it brings home just how much talent never got started in the UK despite some pretty heavy promotion by Motown/EMI. Diversifying musically was always a struggle for the company because whenever its name cropped up, the sounds of the sixties always came to mind. People seemed to be disappointed when that solid back beat was missing from singles, and artists who didn’t fit into established soul circles, well, that was disloyal, and selling out. Anyway, these sample albums were a great idea; they encouraged feedback from radio and club DJs which gave a much needed insight into what people were listening to, and would later buy. In this case, apart from healthy sales with Diana’s album which was, by the way, nowhere near her selling potential, the other artists struggled at this time, with, perhaps, only Jermaine surging forward with Stevie Wonder’s help on “Let’s Get Serious” in 1980. Let’s move on…

By the time you read this, Thelma Houston will be on her way to the UK to take part in the Legends Of Soul weekender at the Butlins Resort, Skegness, Lincs, PE25 1NJ. Spanning 29 January to 1 February, joining her for this fun packed time are Jaki Graham, Sheila Ferguson, Gwen Dickey, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, Mary Wilson, and all the groovy DJs who round off these weekenders so nicely. Sadly, I won’t be joining them this time around. Boo hoo.

I had a much welcomed and extremely heart warming email from Al Abrams’ wife Nancy. She had read my tribute to her late husband with contributions from Clive Richardson and Dave Randle, and wanted to say thank you. Naturally, Nancy had struggled with the Christmas period, a mixture of joy and sadness she said: the first anniversaries are always the worst, aren’t they. Actually, I’m sure she won’t mind my sharing a few of her words with you because she was overwhelmed by the kind and thoughtful responses she received from UK folks who Al had befriended. And there were quite a few to put it mildly! Al never threw anything away and that included handwritten notes from his boyhood – “Holding a handwritten note from Al written in 1960 about The Supremes or a memo about James Brown or Otis Redding or the first press release ever written for Bob Seeger, is truly an insight into Al. “ Subsequently, his music archive is phenomenal. She added that he was looking forward to the red carpet premiere of his “Motown Black & White Collection and Exhibition” in Detroit this year (www.motownblackwhite.com) and that he’d completed the follow-up book to “Hype & Soul!” which will be published this year. So, when I’ve more news about that, will of course tell all. I’ll be keeping in touch with Nancy throughout the year – she’s family and that’s what we do.

Now it’s my turn to say ‘thank you’. To Norman Scott who came to my rescue just recently. He sent me a CD of “Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz” because I kicked up such a quiet fuss that I wouldn’t listen to it any other way. Alright then, I had a hissy fit! Recorded around 1978 the intention was, as you know, to release this album on the back of the expected hit film “The Wiz”. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to expectations, so the album was dropped. Without the movie, I don’t think it would have stood a chance in hell anyway. Anyway, with the constant demand for unissued and unique Diana Ross material, I suppose it was logical this ‘lost’ project would at some point be issued, despite commercial value being limited. Diana re-recorded “Home” and “Be A Lion” for the album which also includes several unissued titles which will delight her fans. I have to say though, despite “The Wiz” originally spiralling into the darkest depths of the movie bin, interest grew in it - particularly when Michael Jackson died in 2009 because his fans purchased anything associated with his career - until it attracted a cult following which in itself continues to expand. Despite its clearly dated sound, the historical value of this release is priceless, and for those of you who might have missed out, here’s the track listing – the before mentioned two titles plus, “The Feeling We Once Had”, “He’s The Wizard”, “Soon As I Get Home”, “You Can’t Win”/”Slide Some Oil”/”(I’m A) Mean Ole Lion”, “So You Wanted To Meet The Wizard”, “Is This What Feeling Gets? (Dorothy’s Theme)”, “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News”, “Wonder Wonder Why”, “A Brand New Day” and “Believe In Yourself”. So, humbly thank you again Norman.

Before closing this first 2016 column, here’s some news about forthcoming releases. According to amazon.co.uk due for February release: Rare Earth’s “Get Ready”, Four Tops’ “Still Waters Run Deep”, Smokey Robinson’s “Smokey”, each at £8.99. Plus mention of a limited edition of Eddie Kendricks’ “People…Hold On”, his second solo album. Also, I’m hoping to catch up with Angelo Starr and Scherrie Payne very son. Hang on… I’ve just checked into Martha Reeves’ website and noticed a couple of UK dates but not until May. Anyway, with the Vandellas, she’ll be performing at the Blues Kitchen, London on 13th, and Butlins in Minehead on 14th. And finally, I’ve been reminded that 28 January is the birthday of Mrs Anna Gordy-Gaye who sadly is no longer with us. As she was such a driving force at Motown and in Marvin’s life, I think we should celebrate her life next month with a few words, don’t you?

So, let’s enjoy this year together, exchanging Motown views and comments, and, as always, thank you so very much for your continued support. We are family.


Keep on keeping the faith


About the Writer
Sharon Davis ran the Four Tops fan club before spearheading Motown Ad Astra, catering for all the Motown acts, where she edited the in-house magazine TCB. Was publicist for Fantasy, Stax and Salsoul before joining Motown Records in London. Formed her own press/promotion company Eyes & Ears, worked for Blues & Soul magazine and website, and became a full time author and researcher. To date Sharon has written eleven books (her last A Girl Called Dusty published by Carlton Books) and she’s working on her next - Divas Of Motown. As a researcher, Sharon assisted Diana Ross with her autobiography Secrets Of A Sparrow, and is now in constant demand for her knowledge about Motown and its artists.
  
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