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SHARON DAVIS' MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT - APRIL 2016
First off, I must say what fun I had joining in the soul chats with David Nathan and Clive Richardson on the latter’s Solar radio show just recently. It was our annual Soul Summit when we put the world to rights, or tried to. My thanks to both gentleman for an extremely enjoyable couple of hours.

As vinyl is once again hitting the headlines – an amazing thing to report and I for one couldn’t be happier – have dusted down the 1979 release “Diana Ross:20 Golden Greats” (EMTV 21), one of several in the EMI Records’ series that included, among others, The Shadows, Beach Boys, Nat ‘King’ Cole and, of course, Diana with the Supremes where the front album cover showed three bright red lips atop a trio of microphones against a black background. The artwork conjured up all sorts of connotations and many were aired publicly! Anyway, this glorious collection of ten tracks starting with “Theme From Mahogany”, takes in the wonderful “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “The Boss”, “Surrender”, “Sorry Doesn’t Always Make It Right” and, naturally, her first solo outing “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”. A solitary duet with Marvin Gaye is included “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)”. You may realise that the running times of some of the tracks were altered, edited slightly or had fade out endings because of the time limitations of this vinyl release. It probably goes without saying that due to concentrated television advertising and in-house promotion, the “Golden Greats” series was hugely successful for all the involved acts, and this one was no exception as it soared to no 2 in the UK chart, passing platinum status with sales of 300,000 plus. To date the album hasn’t been re-issued on CD either but was, at the time of the vinyl’s release, available on cassette. Remember them? (Oops, a couple of the tracks must have been scratched as there’s a lot of clicking going on between “All Of My Life” and “I’m Still Waiting”. Well, this vinyl baby is over twenty years old after all, and yet only worth about £4 when buying from the internet. I bet the framed, opened out album sleeve is selling for a whole lot more – and I gave mine away! If only I knew then what I know now aye? Before leaving this lady, she narrowly escaped injury recently when an SUV (sport utility vehicle) ignored a red light and crashed into her limousine which was on its way to Pennsylvania where she was performing that evening. Diana complained of neck and head pain after the accident, was treated by paramedics at the scene but went on stage that night. The driver of the other car was given a traffic citation. Let’s move on….but not that far because…

The Former Ladies of the Supremes are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence have been friends of this page and ‘yours truly’ for some years now – but thirty years! Wow! That’s some going. To remind folks who may not be aware, there are only eight true Supremes – Florence Ballard, Susaye Greene, Mary Wilson, Cindy Birdsong, Jean Terrell, and, of course, Diana, Scherrie and Lynda. (Joyce Vincent performs with the trio now but, never once, has the lady referred to herself as a Supreme. In fact, quite the opposite) So if any other lady lays claim to this huge honour, then they’re not telling the truth. Actually, if you check out the front sleeve on Diana Ross and the Supremes’ “Superstar” album, issued as part of Motown’s 20th Anniversary” celebrations, you’ll see them all. Some years ago I wrote a review of either one of the FLOS’ shows or CDs and coined the phrase, they were “authentically keeping the legend alive” and that, I’m really chuffed to say, is still highlighted on their website. More importantly, the original meaning still holds strong as well. It’s been in the pipeline awhile, but Scherrie did assure me new material from the trio would be issued this year. So when there’s more, I’ll pass it on. Meantime, many congratulations ladies: may there be loads more.

Just a little aside here, I’ve been talking to my pal Marilyn Ashford-Brown in the last couple of days, and am still pushing her to record a Motown song as a possible single. Anyway, she’s about to release “Sassy Lady” penned by Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs. To promote this and other worthy material throughout her illustrious career, she’s performing at the Bowie Centre For The Performing Arts in Maryland on 14 May. So my American friends, why not check her out: tickets via her website I’m thinking.

As I started drafting this, news came through that the world had lost another outstanding, priceless and innovative artist – Prince. What the hell is going on this year? His mark and vision in the industry is undisputed, and it got me thinking about Rick James, how the two almost stood hand in hand musically and as performers. So, I re-visited his “Memoirs Of A Super Freak” autobiography and true enough he wrote of Prince often, and how he had been influenced by the work that Rick was producing. There was even a tenuous link with Teena Maria as both artists developed the talents of previously unknown artists. I don’t know whether you were aware or not, but Mr James was due to work with Diana Ross; the two actually got as far as discussing the future project, leading to him penning “Sucker For Your Love” for her, which they would ultimately record as a duet. Rick even had the concept for the album cover of Diana being pictured in ripped up jeans and leather, dressed as a Supreme, lying in a coffin. Obviously the project didn’t happen when Rick discovered he was only signed to compose a handful of songs for her, and not a whole concept album. All or nothing he apparently told Berry Gordy. So, Teena recorded the intended songs instead, and, of course, Rick’s Diana artwork was modified wasn’t it. Anyway I digress.

With the release of Rick’s platinum album “Fire It Up” in 1979, he decided to hit the road and invited Prince to be his support act. The tour was the most elaborate and expensive yet, with Rick designing the stage himself which was white throughout. Stairs criss-crossed the stage, supported by moveable lights and forty foot lifts for Rick and his drummer, part of The Stone City Band. Rick and Prince didn’t meet until the tour’s opening night; I use the term loosely because when Rick walked towards him, Prince walked away. Reading through the chapter about this tour, it became so clear that Prince learned the basics of his performing art from Rick; he would watch the star’s show from the wings then swipe what he wanted to use for himself. The situation became so awful that by the middle of the tour audiences believed Rick had swiped ideas from his opening act! I can’t print much of the actual text because the words are pretty ripe (yeh, even for me!) but here’s a few I can safely pass on. “I used to do all these tricks with the microphone – flip it, catch it backwards, you name it. It was a trademark of mine. I also used a lot of crowd chants. I’d have my hand on my ear while I called these funk chants to the audience.” Anyway, things really came to a head, tensions rose to such a peak that both artists’ managements locked heads hoping for a solution, with Rick writing – “He acted like a little b**** while his band and mine patched up their differences. After that confrontation, things went back to normal, me kicking his ass every night”.

However, Prince had the last laugh. He had “Purple Rain” - the film! Released in 1984, Prince debuted as an actor to play the semi-autobiographical character The Kid. It was an amazing success, grossing $68 million-plus and elevated the singer into another much sought-after market. Needless to say, Rick was furious a thousand times over – his rival had beaten him to the big screen. By now, though, the Motown star had a heavy drug dependency which, among other things, meant he was an unreliable artist to work with, and certainly not a trustworthy contender for the big screen. In fact, Chaka Khan told him – “Don’t you know Prince knows you’re always f***** up on coke? That’s why he’s beating you these days.” It was the ultimate humiliation for Mr James, and one, I’m afraid, he never got over. Then, as time went on, Rick and Prince shared the same record company – Warner Brothers – but the two were never destined to become buddies, despite their careers running a parallel of sorts. For example, their music was revolutionary albeit too sexually explicit on occasions. They each headed up a roster of artists. Rick ruled The Stone City Band, Mary Jane Girls, Val Young, Process And The Doo Rags, while Prince governed The Revolution, Sheila E, Vanity 6 (who recently died as well) and Apollonia 6, among others. A huge stable of talent, led by a couple of artists who achieved more during the eighties than most do in a lifetime. For sure, it’s a very sad and sorry world without them both. I realise this is just an brief overview of the Rick and Prince saga but anyone who’s interested in reading more (and beware of the language lurking within the pages) the book’s full title is “The Confessions Of Rick James: Memoirs Of A Super Freak” published by Colossus Books, and published after his death. Let’s move on…

Finally, I received the “Recorded Live: Motortown Revue In Paris” CD, which seemed to take forever to arrive. Alongside the original sleeve notes in the accompanying booklet, you’ll find an essay by Adam White, co-author of “Motown: The Sound Of Young America”. Terrific memories, of course, but not the best of recordings, in places. However, just think of its great age, so allowances can be made don’t you think! Nonetheless, a valuable addition to Motown fans’ collections methinks.

Oops, time to go and I’ve only just got started too. So until next month, take good care and Motown rules!


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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