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SHARON DAVIS' MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT - MAY/JUNE 2016
(Note from David Nathan: Apologies to Sharon and to all our Motown admirers for the delay. due to unforseen techincal issues, we have been unable to publish articles at the site for a few weeks; we are working on correcting this as soon as possible)

It’s a Miss Davis running on empty this month as, after a two week plus holiday in Florida, suffered the most awful jet lag known to woman! However, the break in the USA was awesome and my inner child which I usually keep under wraps, reared to life as I wandered, open mouthed through the Disney parks including Universal where I re-visited my youth walking down streets from classic films. Meeting ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and ‘Lucille Ball’ was also surreal but wonderful fun. Anyway, enough of me, let’s Motown TCB…

What to play this month I wondered? Hah, didn’t take me long to pull out a 2009 compilation which I’m sure you’ve got nestling in your collections – “A Complete Introduction To Tamla Motown”. The box set of four CDs comprise a staggering 94 tracks, broken down into the sections of “Milestones & Influences”, “British Motown Chartbusters”, “Live In London And In Paris” and “Killer Bs”. It’s quite a lavish affair: sturdy packaging, beautifully presented booklet detailing the music within surrounded by colour pictures of the contributing artists. The first two discs are pretty much what you’d expect, but it’s the other couple which have grabbed my attention because the live tracks are lifted from Diana Ross & the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and The Temptations’ respective albums from “Talk Of The Town”, and the “Motortown Revue In Paris”. As you know, I’m not a lover of ‘live’ releases but the Talk of the Town ones I played regularly back in the day because I saw the performances and the records, of course, reminded me of great evenings spent in this iconic London venue. Well, we disrespectfully called it the ‘soup in the basket café’ yet it was the place to be: all the best artists performed there. Actually, the last time I was in the building, it was to see Cindy Birdsong perform, and where I ended up holding Diana Ross’ handbag, when the two met up in Cindy’s dressing room after her performance. Anyway, I’m rambling – back to the music, and the 4th CD highlighting some songs that were originally hidden away on B-sides, like, Kim Weston’s “Do Like I Do”; The Contours’ “Just A Little Misunderstanding”; Martha and the Vandellas’ “Motoring”; “Forget Me Not” and “Third Finger, Left Hand” (love these tracks!); Marvin Gaye’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)”; Brenda Holloway’s “Starting The Hurt All Over Again” ; Four Tops’ “I’ll Turn To Stone” and “I Got A Feeling” and…. That is what’s playing now. The package was compiled by Daryl Easlea and Adam White, with special thanks to Barney Ales and Dave Godin. It is still available at around £30. Let’s get this party started!

Opening this month is an exhibition saluting The Miracles! The place to be is the Grammy Museum, Los Angeles. Last year the museum featured The Supremes, and this latest exhibition continues the series about Detroit’s most famous of record labels. Original Miracles Claudette Robinson and Pete Moore will reflect on the group’s history during a question/answer session on the opening night, while the exhibition itself will display rare visuals and costumes spanning the group’s birth through to Smokey’s departure. “The Miracles, along with Mr Berry Gordy and Motown, have become part of a musical history that changed the landscape of popular music, soul and R&B to foster positive and progressive race relations in America and around the world” – Claudette. For more information, visit www.grammymuseum.org

I’ve been re-visiting Dennis Coffey’s book “Guitars, Bars And Motown Superstars” first published in 2009 by the University of Michigan Press. What caught my eye was a chapter when, for argument’s sake, he first encountered Motown full-on via a phone call from Hank Cosby (Stevie Wonder’s producer and co-writer, among other things) asking him to play guitar for a new producer’s workshop the company was putting together. Naturally, Dennis jumped at the invite which paid $138 a week, 7am – 9pm, from Monday to Thursday, with James Jamerson heading up the new venture. When the shock had worn off, he remembered the live shows he’d previously played on supporting the likes of The Velvelettes, The Marvelettes and Edwin Starr. These memories led to him recalling an incident at one venue when David Ruffin walked in with Tammi Terrell on his arm. After being introduced to them, Dennis went outside the club to smoke a cigarette and - “I couldn’t believe my eyes” he wrote. “Parked right in the middle of the street was a shiny, brand spanking new Rolls Royce! You didn’t see many of them in Detroit, at least not back then…..Here I was, in the inner city after the ’67 riots, playing in a bar for twenty dollars a night, and David Ruffin leaves a hundred thousand dollar car in the middle of the street unattended…and I decided then and there I was going to work my ass off to get my part of the action.”

Motown had opened the producer’s workshop at the Golden World building. When Dennis arrived James Jamerson was already set up. “He was…5’ 10”, 175 pounds, and sported a Fu Manchu moustache.” He was usually dressed in black t-shirts, black beret and jeans. The other workshop members were guitarist Eddie Willis, conga player “Bongo” Eddie, drummer Spyder Turner and keyboardist Ted Sheely, who had joined the illustrious Johnny Griffith and Earl Van Dyke. And this was Mr Coffey’s introduction into Motown proper, and from this he worked with R Dean Taylor who was one of the producers at the workshop. He also remembered composer/producer Norman Whitfield who always wore expensive sweaters and fashionable slacks in the studio. “He was very animated and explosive when he conducted the rhythm section.” wrote Dennis. “Norman was the master of dynamics and built up each song to match what both he and co-writer Barrett Strong had in mind when they wrote it.”

From this workshop, Mr Coffey moved to the Snakepit in Hitsville where he usually played with the very best: Spyder and Richard “Pistol” Allen on drums (high hat and cymbals, and snare drum and foot pedal respectively), Earl and Johnny on keyboards, James and Bob Babbitt on bass, Eddie Willis, Robert White, Joe Messina on guitars, Jack Ashford on tambourines, and so on. Arrangers and producers were several and varied of course, but it was the dedication and love of the music that really shone through this particular chapter in Dennis’ book, plus the loyalty and respect of the musicians. Anyway, if this is an angle of Motown you’re interested in and, certainly, it does open the door to the company’s recording process, then this book is for you. I’m sure it’s still available but the only website I have is www.press.umich.edu

Following my mention last month, I received a note from Lynda Laurence (Formerly of The Supremes). Won’t print it all but here’s a couple of things…..”I thank you so much Sharon for your well wishes to us. We plan to keep going. In fact, at the end of our anniversary show we said ‘we’re not done!’. So we will continue to go on and when we do I know that you will always be there to spur us on!...We look forward to seeing you and all our fans soon. Love always.” The idea is for the ladies to perform over here but hooking up to the right promoter is proving problematic. However, I’m sure once this has been sorted out, they will grace our stages again.

And, finally, a reminder about the box set “Motortown Revue: The French EPs 1965”. Five extended play singles which were originally released in France only to coincide with the ’65 concert. Yeh, you know the one. Anyhows, for those who may have missed it, tracks include “Soul Stomp” – Earl Van Dyke; “I’m In Love Again” – The Supremes; “Old Love (Let’s Try It Again)” – Martha and the Vandellas; “Got A Job” – The Miracles, and “Tears In Vain” – Stevie Wonder. The cover price is hefty at nearly £45 but it could just fill the gap in some Motown record collections.

That’s it for this month. Due to my holiday, my review schedule is now about two weeks’ behind but I’ll endeavour to catch up as quickly as I can. So, until next month, keep keeping the Motown 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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