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SHARON DAVIS' MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT - MARCH 2016
I didn’t know what to play while writing this month’s page, so chose at random another Motown sampler titled “Serious Grooves From The Masters Of Soul” from 1994. This little baby, and others like it, were used as tools for radio, in store and nightclub promotion. Marvin’s “Inner City Blues” is playing now, to be followed by “Anger”. “If I Should Die Tonight”, “Trouble Man” and “This Love Starved Heart Of Mine” are also included. Teena Marie’s up next with “Behind The Groove”; Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip”; Mary Jane Girls’ “In My House”; Rick James’ “You & I”; Diana’s “Upside Down”; Stevie’s “Superstition”; Rare Earth’s “I Just Want To Celebrate”; The Jazz Crusaders’ “Way Back Home”; Jr Walker/All Stars’ “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”; The Temptations’ “Ball Of Confusion”; Smokey/Miracles’ “The Tears Of A Clown”; Diana/Supremes’ “Reflections”; Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll be There”; Brenda Holloway’s “Every Little Bit Hurts” and The Funk Brothers’ “Winter Wonderland”. As you can see, quite a pot pourie of material from the Motown, Mojazz and Master Series labels. It’s almost like dipping my finger into a large sweet jar with my eyes closed, not knowing what’ll come out. Let’s move on….

Due any time now is the second in the series from Ace Records to feature the lovely Motown guys. “One Track Mind! – More Motown Guys” with the front cover featuring The Temptations, this is another release heavyweight in exclusives. Eight of the titles have been available as mp3 downloads only, while the remaining sixteen are previously unreleased in any format. Another thing, all but a couple of the tracks were recorded at Hitsville, and here’s a taster of the gems included this time around, so check these out. Frank Wilson’s “I’ll Be Satisfied”; “Marv Johnson’s “One Track Mind”; Marvin’s “The Touch Of Venus”; Edwin Starr’s “Head Over Heels In Love With You Baby”; Earl Van Dyke/Soul Brothers’ “Heart To Heart”; “The Hit Pack’s “Didn’t I” and Four Tops’ “Can’t Stop This Feelin’”. It’s almost mind blowing to imagine where all these songs are coming from, particularly when back in the day, Motown/UK were begging for material to release because certain acts weren’t recording any more. The Four Tops were a prime example here. And, all the while, there they were captured on tape, hidden away somewhere, until now. Am I thinking we could have enjoyed this music years ago, or, more to the point, why weren’t these songs released when recorded? There’s bound to be a hundred answers to these questions, I know, so really put this down to me thinking out loud. Well done Ace!

Jimmy Levine, who among other things worked with Anna Gordy Gaye, phoned me to say that Berry Gordy and other members of his family read our words about Anna, and very much liked what they read. Am totally thrilled, naturally, that they took time out. I’m wondering though if I could approach Mr Gordy for an interview now. Mmm..stranger things have happened methinks.

I know he doesn’t need the advertising here but last summer Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic started daily flights from Heathrow to Detroit Metropolitan, making it the only UK airline to fly to the city direct. There was talk about this when I was in Detroit last June, but it seems that after Richard had met local businesses and so on, he believed the city to be on the verge of a re-birth. Certainly this is hugely wonderful news for Detroit which had slipped from being America’s fourth biggest city to its 18th; plus the news that areas once derelict or those with dilapidated buildings which were tourist attractions – believe it or not – are being earmarked for re-development. Let me tell you, some of those areas were just awful to see but, perhaps in hindsight, no different to some of our own ghost town eye sores. Thanks to Lynne Pemberton for this information: wonder what she’ll come up with next month….

Just a reminder here – the Motown Black & White Exhibit will premiere on 21 April at Detroit’s Historical Museum in midtown. As you know, it’s a homecoming to celebrate the teenagers of Motown and their acceptance of each other. This update has just arrived from Nancy Abrams, wife of the late – and much missed for sure – Al, Motown’s first press officer. She added that entertainment for the evening premiere will include Bobby Wilson (Jackie’s son), Chris Hutka, Drew Schultz and Tony Mantor who is responsible for co-ordinating the evening’s entertainment. “Motown music will be reverberating throughout the Detroit Historical Museum that evening” she told me. “The opening event and Detroit exhibit is being sponsored by Rock Ventures, Detroit.” She hopes to send me some exclusive visuals of the evening which, of course, I’ll pass on.

I’ve spent days with this project and each time I delve into its pages I find something new. Yup, I’m talking about Adam White and Barney Ales’ book “Motown The Sound Of Young America” published recently by Thames & Hudson. It’s been a much anticipated tome and certainly worth the wait. With over 1000 visuals, both colour and black/white, the guys cover the whole gamut from the company’s birth to the US political situation, civil rights and the battle to promote “The Sound of Young America” across the country and beyond. Some visuals are old friends, others exclusively inviting with a whole selection of album sleeves and record labels portraying the vastness of Motown in full glorious colour. They not only remind us of the ‘hit’ sounds but also those tentative, and perhaps misguided steps into rock, politics and so on via labels like Rare Earth and Black Forum. Even the starkness, futility and horror of the city riots and Vietnam take on another, somewhat, fascinating curiosity. There’s promotional pictures alongside intimate personal shots, posters next to album inner sleeves, contact sheets nestled with portraits. A true visual experience.

The story is well known, of course, and has been well documented over the years. Little ol’ me can hold her hand up here! But this time with Barney Ales’ invaluable input, and the resources available to him, we’re invited into the whole machinations of the company’s workings from the inside out. This immediately puts a different perspective on the music we’ve lived with and loved during our lifetime. The whole story, the full circle, and the answers to nagging questions – this is as complete a story as you can get. How Motown was promoted in the UK by dedicated folks like Dave Godin (so lovely to see how he’s been recognised for the tireless work he undertook, and often without much credit), Dusty Springfield, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. How UK cover versions snatched hits from the US originators making their UK breakthrough that much harder; the huge significance of “Ready, Steady Go!” and later “The Sound Of Motown” itself, breaking down the barriers in British television. Documented thoroughly is the way records eventually found their way into record stores, and how the staunch cult following slowly cascaded into mainstream music, albeit very tentatively at first and then only with the more ‘pop’ sounding singles. But, hey, baby steps turn into giant ones. Radio exposure was another mountain to climb, and climb it they did – eventually. However, the tide really turned with the historical pairing of Motown and EMI Records, who, to be fair, took a huge chance licensing the label, but which later proved for them to be a multi-million pound pay day. Hah, I used to work with EMI’s Len Wood (who is noted in the book) and, of course, Sir Joseph Lockwood. I remember that if a member of staff was waiting to get into the lift in EMI House and he arrived, they had to stand back, let him take it because he didn’t want anyone in it with him on his way to the top floor. I’m not joking, honest.

As with any book about Motown, there’s huge chunks on their A-listers like The Supremes, Diana Ross, Smokey and the Miracles, Marvin and Stevie – and of course the Jackson 5. It’s human nature – well mine anyway – to remember those not included and, while not wanting to make a meal of this, Tata Vega and Syreeta, eek, I can’t find. Plus, what I did see on The Marvelettes and The Velvelettes wasn’t much. But that’s just me being picky. Anyway, without a doubt, this is an all consuming read; a heart warming salute to our music, the artists who recorded it, and the composers, producers and the musicians who made it possible in the first place and who are acknowledged in text and visuals. I could easily go into more detail but, honestly, don’t want to spoil your enjoyment as you turn the pages to visit and re-visit a company that’s meant so much for so long. My congratulations to Adam, Barney, Andrew Loog Oldham (who penned the forward) and everyone involved in putting this literary milestone together.

And, on this high note, my time is up. Only room to wish you – each and all – a safe and very Happy Easter. If you get the chance, do pop by my Hailsham FM programme on Good Friday when I hope to play sixties sounds that relate to “Ready, Steady Go!” from 6pm – 8pm. On Saturday, the same time slot for the best of Motown-plus, and Easter Monday from 10am for two hours, when anything can happen because I’m usually not let out in daylight. www.hailshamfm.uk

Keep on keeping the Motown faith, and thank you for being you.


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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