Tag Archives: Motown Records

The Great Mr. Ruffin

B6Abw9_CQAABg5qI’ve been blessed to have lived during a time when the music of our culture reached center-stage and changed the world. Of all of the great voices, I’ve heard during my time, I can say none has been more distinctive and profound than that of David Ruffin. I’ll gladly say, I feel blessed to have had my life enhanced by his music.

As we are about to celebrate Black History Month, I want to pay homage to this man whose music was a huge influence on my life, particularly my young life, to which I am grateful. In an interview after Temptation movie, something his son said struck me as profound. He said, “My daddy wanted love, but he got fame.” We know from the many talented artists to leave us of late that there is a line between triumph and tragedy. That line is often thin and frequently ends sadly. David Ruffin walked that line with tragic consequences.

Ruffin will always be remembered as the mightiest of all the Temptations’ lead singers. He was one of “the voices” that made the Temptations, and his legacy will live on in the depths of our souls as long as there is time. We will remember that sexy, gritty voice, those trademark glasses, and that stage charisma that sums up the one and only David Ruffin, and even that little crack in his voice was ok, well it wasn’t ok, but that was David Ruffin. To put his legacy into context; he achieved legendary status after only being with the Temptations for about four years.

His songs were like windows into his soul, exposing his greatest fears as a lover and a man. Even “happy” songs like “My Girl” brought out vulnerability in his voice. His relationship with the Temptations was a stormy one, but the marriage produced defining moments in 1960s soul, and his voice inspired just about every male vocalist – his influence is everlasting. We’ll never know how good he might have been, but we can rejoice in what he left behind.

Born Davis Eli Ruffin, on January 18, 1941, in Whynot, Mississippi. A sickly child inflicted with both rheumatic fever and asthma. His mother died in childbirth, and he was raised by his father, a Baptist Minister. He was a complex man and master vocalist with a gospel-trained voice that would gain him the affection of several generations of listeners, but Ruffin had more than a voice – he had a persona.

In the best of his music, there was a dark, terrible, tragic, and personal beauty. A good example would be in his self-penned composition “Statue of a Fool,” written when he was just 18 years old, in which he sees himself as a “man who lets love slip through his hands.”

My favorite line in that tune was “On his face, a gold tear should be placed to honor every tear he shed. And I think it would show, and everyone would know, concealed inside is a broken heart.” This was a powerful statement that spoke to the depth of his soul. However, as history would record he would share his most private pain in the Temptations’ biggest hits; “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and “Since I Lost My Baby”, and the chilling “I Wish It Would Rain.

All of these songs were rooted in gospel where David began, singing in The Ruffin Family and The Spiritual Trying Four with his father, his sister Rita Mae and older brothers Jimmy and Quincy. David left home at 13 following his father’s footsteps to practice the ministry but was sidetracked, singing in Memphis talent shows where he met a young Elvis Presley. He later sang with the gospel group; The Dixie Nightingales out of Memphis, Tennessee, and toured with The Womack Brothers, The Swan Silvertones, and The Staple Singers.

It was with these gospel groups that Ruffin would develop his stage personality, dropping to his knees and doing splits just like the late Jackie Wilson before him. David’s show-stopping performances within the group would be enough to get him noticed on the secular side.

Then, in 1964, when problems arose between the Temptations and group member Elbridge Bryant, David would be invited to join the group. Shortly after David’s arrival, the group would record “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” a Smokey Robinson number with Eddie Kendricks on lead. Gone for a three-week gig in Saginaw, Michigan, the group would return home to find themselves with their first hit. It is said, when David saw the chart standings, he sat down on the long chaise lounge in the Motown lobby, took off his glasses, and cried like a baby.

Ruffin would turn out be an electrifying and dynamic force and set a course for stardom with their first universal #1 hit, “My Girl,” recorded just before Christmas in 1964, a tune that would turn the group into a household word and legends. The group began turning out one hit after another, and when David took such up-tempo hits as “(I know), I’m Losing You,” to the stage, he became a magnetic field of charisma. His greatness would then shine, and his permanent mark on the pages of history was sealed.

At his home-going service, Stevie Wonder told the audience: “We’re confronted with a problem that touches everyone of us. We’re confronted with the most devastating slave owner of all times.” Minister Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, who spoke at his funeral told the mournful audience, “In David there is a lesson. We should not clap our hands and mourn, for he is out of trouble now. You are still in it.” It is not my intent to rewrite history or to re-tell a story that we all know. Rather to simply to remind us that he is gone – but not forgotten. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Rest In Peace

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“Just a Season”

Happy Birthday Smokey Robinson: A Musical Genius

16266194_1576646812351280_7451924563813283492_nThe prolific singer-songwriter William “Smokey” Robinson, Jr. is the most  prolific entertainer of our lifetime. A thousand years from now you will hear Smokey’s music. To prove my point, “My Girl” first recorded by the Temptations is timeless, and the recording sounds as fresh today as it did in 1965. Smokey is also a record producer, former record executive, and one of the founders of the music label that changed the world – Motown.

Robinson is most notable for being a songwriter, sure, but he was also the founder and front man of The Miracles, for which he also served as the group’s chief songwriter and producer. Robinson led the group from its 1955 origins as The Five Chimes until 1972 when he announced retirement from the stage to focus on his role as Motown’s vice president.

Smokey was born in Detroit and raised in the city’s North End section. At one point, he and Diana Ross were next-door neighbors, which he had known since she was eight. He later told reporters when he was a child; his uncle christened him “Smokey Joe”, which he assumed was a “cowboy name for me” until he was later told that Smokey was a pejorative term for dark-skinned blacks. He once said that he remembers his uncle saying to him, “I’m doing this so you won’t ever forget that you’re black.”

In August 1958, Robinson met songwriter Berry Gordy, who had recently stopped writing songs for Jackie Wilson after getting into a royalty dispute with Wilson’s label. Gordy took an interest in Smokey and his group to which Gordy was more impressed at the fact that Robinson was a writer than as a singer. Gordy agreed to work with them and with his help the Matadors released their first single. Following this, the group changed its name to The Miracles after Claudette Rogers replaced Emerson Rogers.

After a number of failures and difficulties with money, Smokey suggested to Gordy that he start his own label, which Gordy agreed. Following the forming of Tamla Records, later reincorporated as Motown, the Miracles became one of the first acts signed to the label. In late 1960, the group recorded their first hit single, “Shop Around”, which became Motown’s first million-selling single. Between 1960 and 1970, Smokey would produce 26 top forty hits with the Miracles.

By 1969, Robinson had voiced his opinion on wanting to retire from the road to focus on raising a family with wife Claudette and their two children, and to focus on his duties as Motown’s Vice President. However, the late success of the group’s track, “Tears of a Clown”, caused Robinson to stay with the group until 1972. Robinson’s last performance with the group was on July 1972 in Washington DC.

After a year of retirement, Smokey announced his comeback with the release of the album titled “Smokey” in 1973. The album included the Miracles tribute song, “Sweet Harmony” and the hit ballad “Baby Come Close”. That same year, former Beatle George featured the track “Pure Smokey” as a tribute to his idol. In 1974, Robinson’s second album, Pure Smokey was released but failed to produce hits.

Robinson answered his critics the following year with A Quiet Storm, released in 1975. The album launched three singles – the number-one R&B hit “Baby That’s Backatcha”, “The Agony & The Ecstasy” and “Quiet Storm”. With his nearly sixty years in the music industry, he is still one of the most respected and gifted musicians to grace the stage or play the game.

Try to imagine, what the world would be like if we had never been blessed with the legend known by the name – “Smokey” – we love you and thank you for paving the way. God Bless you and that is my Thought Provoking Perspective…

 


Happy Birthday Flo: The Original Dream Girl

22Remembering Florence Ballard on the day of her birth! I thought about titling this piece “Supremely Floriffic” because she was the founding member of the original and most popular girl group The Supremes. Yet, history records her as “The Forgotten Supreme”.

Florence, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson grew up in the now demolished Brewster Projects of Detroit. To make a fascinating story short, after begging Motown Records founder Berry Gordy for work, they were hired to sing. They recorded a string of hits for Motown, which still stand as a museum on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit. Florence Ballard had a very soulful voice that added great harmony to the group.

Few Motown acts could be put into the same caliber as The Supremes. Some say the Beatles were the greatest group of that era, but I differ in that because almost any Motown act would amply fit in that category, if it were not for racism. You see most black groups of that era were restricted by their color to perform on what was known as the “Chitlin Circuit”. Until Motown, the work of black artists fell into a category called “Race Music”.

Regardless of the real reason or the reason you might believe for her dismissal. In 1967, Ballard was removed from the Supremes lineup and replaced her with Cindy Birdsong. Flo signed away, all her rights to “The Supremes”, for $139.804 in 1968, in a hush/hush meeting in the Northland Inn. After leaving the group, she signed with ABC Records in 1968 forging on an unsuccessful solo career.

It is presumed the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls that chronicles a fictional group called “The Dreams” had a number of plot components that paralleled events in the Supremes’ career. The central character of Effie White, like Florence Ballard, is criticized for being overweight, and is fired from the group.

The film version of Dreamgirls released in 2006 features more overt references to Ballard’s life and the Supremes’ story, including gowns and album covers that are direct copies of Supremes originals. Jennifer Hudson won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for her portrayal of Effie White. In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Hudson dedicated her win to Florence Ballard.

As a member, Ballard sang on sixteen top forty singles with the group, including ten number-one hits. After being dropped from the label, Ballard struggled with many of life’s problems for a period of three years. Ballard was making an attempt for a musical comeback when she died of cardiac in February of 1976 at the age of 32. Ballard’s death was considered by one critic as “one of music’s greatest tragedies”. Ballard was posthumously inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Supremes in 1988.

On Friday, Feb 27th, almost 5000 people lined the street in front of the New Bethel Baptist Church to say goodbye to her. Diana Ross arrived and was booed by the crowd. The Reverend C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s dad) presided over the service. Members of the Four Tops, Marvin Johnson and Thearon Hill served as pallbearers and Stevie Wonder was an honorary one.

In the spirit of Black History I will not dishonor Flo’s memory with innuendo or any of the rumors that have circulated during and since her death. However, I will say this, not unlike many artists who live a soap-opera type career. She as well as many of Motown’s successful group lends credence to the old belief that great art comes from troubled lives. But even in the face of hardship their legend remains for all of eternity.Sleep well and rest in peace “Dream Girl”. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

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Black History: Siedah Garrett

siedah garrettWhile thinking about someone in the music industry to pay homage to for their tremendous contributions to Black Music and Black History. I decided upon Siedah Garrett because she does not get the recognition she so rightly deserves. Now, I have a confession to make before I go further – I got chills thinking about this amazing lady who in my view is one of the most unsung female artists of our time Siedah Garrett.

Siedah is a Grammy Award Winning, and twice Oscar-nominated songwriter and recording artist. As I began writing this article, I was astounded by her accomplishments that included writing songs and performed backing vocals for many of the legends in the music industry. Such as Michael Jackson, Dennis Edwards, Brand New Heavies, Quincy Jones, Tevin Campbell, Donna Summers, Madonna, and Jennifer Hudson to name a few of the many great artists.

What further amazed me was that she has had huge hits singing duets but not one hit of her own. Most notably with Michael Jackson and she co-wrote Jackson’s #1 single “Man In The Mirror” as well as touring with him on his tours. She also had a number one hit with Temptations great Dennis Edwards “Don’t Look Any Further”.

She has been nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and has won a Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media for co-writing “Love You I Do” performed by Jennifer Hudson for the 2006 musical film Dreamgirls. Garrett was involved In 1987 Michael Jackson’s Bad album, singing a duet with Jackson on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”. The association with Jackson enabled her to sing on several Quincy Jones albums.

She co-wrote his hit songs “Tomorrow A Better You, Better me” on the “Back On The Block” and “The Secret Garden” albums. She forayed into the world of acting starring in a TV sitcom pilot for NBC called “Wally and the Valentines” as well as other television appearances. She hosted the show America’s Top 10. In another association with Maysa Leak’s (of the group Incognito) debut solo album as co-writer of the track “Sexy” in which she also sang backing vocals.

A few years later, she joined the Brand New Heavies, collaborating on their Shelter album. As part of the band, she co-wrote their top 5 hit “Sometimes” and enjoyed a minor hit with Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend”. Garrett worked with Madonna as a backing singer and dancer on The Re-Invention Tour in 2004.

Garrett’s professional involvement with Madonna goes back some years as she previously supplied backing vocals on some of Madonna’s earlier material including True Blue, and Who’s That Girl. She represented America in the opening ceremony of 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games singing the song “I Know I Can”, and in the opening ceremony of Expo 2010 Shanghai China, singing the song “Better City, Better Life” with Jonathan Buck, both songs which she co-wrote with Quincy Jones.

Few artists have maintained such esteemed longevity with so many of the greats as Siedah. Whether she knows she’s great or not – I for one want to give props to this very special lady who gave so much to her craft and in my eyes “amazing” and not unsung at all. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


A Salute To Motown Records

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We are the inventors and creators of the sounds that changed world cultures. If we were to begin way back in the cradle of civilization centuries ago, it all began with the drum. When we were captured and brought to the so-called New World, we brought the drum that dictated the rhythms souls. It is a fact that Black people are responsible for the great music known to the world as Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear speaks directly to our glorious past.

During the despicable era’s of slavery and segregation, prior to the Civil Rights Movement the hallowing sounds of gospel music delivered an in-your-face sound that fed the souls of a people, and that outlet produced some of the most timeless music ever created. Before I go further, it was not unlike the days when they called our music “race music” and radio would not play it for white audiences; let’s remember that it was Michael Jackson whose music video was the first black music to air on MTV.

This brings me to the historic, game-changing, record label Motown and its founder Mr. Barry Gordy. Let’s be honest, can you imagine a world without “The Motown Sound”. For many who don’t know or have forgotten, prior to Motown Records rarely did you see the face of an African American on the cover of an album or black music heard on white radio. The music was segregated in the same way America was prior to 1959 when Motown was founded. Prior to Motown Records, few black performers enjoyed anything close to crossover success. By the way, an album is what was used to play music before CD’s.

Motown was the first record label owned by an African American to feature black artists, and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, which was a style of soul music with a distinct influence. From its Hitsville U.S. housed in a tiny building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan that served as Motown’s headquarters producing the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or any time.

The music produced by Motown made a nation of people living in this nation without a nationality proud with its awe-inspiring run of hits that spoke to the essence of our souls.

It was from that tiny little basement studio where the world was introduced to Michael Jackson, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, the Commodores, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rick James, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Teena Marie, DeBarge, the Jackson Five, Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and Motown’s Funk Brothers studio band; just to name a few of the artists that touched our hearts making us proud. Oh, even Dr. Martin Luther King recorded and album at Motown!

Many of Motown’s best-known hits were written by Smokey Robinson, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who became major forces in the music industry. For example, it’s a known fact in the music industry that in order to get a number one hit song someone would have to write more than thirty songs. Holland-Dozier-Holland had a string of more than fifty hits in a row with some becoming number one with several different artists like the hit “I heard it through the Grapevine”. This is profound and will never happen again. No songwriter will ever achieve this feat – guaranteed.

Although Mr. Gordy sold Motown, and it’s now in the hands of others, its legacy resides in a very special place in my heart, as I am sure with you and millions around the world. So again I say, thank you, Motown for the music, the love, the magic, and the many great memories.

Lastly, to the legends that are no longer able to perform for us today – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. My guess is that they are walking around heaven all day singing with gleeful harmony the same way as it touched our souls when they were with us in this earthly realm. It must make heaven more glorious than I could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Soul Survivor Dennis Edwards

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On this day, I have decided to dedicate and pay homage to one of the voices of my favorite group of all-time – The Temptations. Come along as I stroll down memory lane remembering the sweetness of harmony that is realized when we think of the Temptations. We know the classic lineup change often, but the music remained true to the “Temps” style.

Those who know the group, know that the great David Ruffin was only a member for about four years. In that short period of time, he became a legend, and that classic lineup became virtually immortal. After his departure, they needed a replacement, and they turned to the perfect compliment. Dennis Edwards, an ex Contour, is truly underrated for his work taking the group in a different direction and to another level. Imagine, if you can, replacing a living legend. We could say that it was the Dennis Edwards era of greatness.

Dennis Edwards came to Motown in search of a solo career. Motown signed him on a retainer, in order to keep him from signing with another label. He was eventually slotted into the rough and rowdy Contours. Meanwhile, Otis Williams and Eddie Kendricks, having seen him as he dominated a Contours performance, figured he would be a perfect replacement for David Ruffin, whose showboating had gotten on the groups last nerve.

With the addition of Dennis came a whole new sound, thanks to the genius of Norman Whitfield. “Cloud Nine” would give Motown and the Tempts their first Grammy. For the next six years Dennis’ soulful shout would be heard on hit after hit, including “I Can’t Get Next To You”, “Don’t Let The Jonses Get You Down”, “Ball Of Confusion”, and, of course, Grammy winner “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”.

By 1975, the group became tired of the social conscious “message” songs and wanted to return to the love songs they so enjoyed. The Tempt’s left Motown for Atlantic and Jeffrey Bowen took over production, and as a result, A Song For You would turn out to be one of the group’s most satisfying albums, as well as proving the versatility of Edwards.

Longevity is something that is rare in the music business. The Detroit-raised Edwards, who moved to St. Louis in the 70s to be close to his mother, remarked in a recent interview “I never imagined I’d be one of the last ones standing, me and Otis… We really got caught up in the times, and how the heck did I make it? … I had a mother who prayed for me, and prayer changes everything.”

Dennis always wanting a solo career, left the group and cut a solo album for Motown. The album never materialized and after a short and humbling stint as a construction worker, Dennis rejoined the group, who had returned to Motown, for the triumphant release of Power, a Berry Gordy produced album.

During all this, Dennis finally did release his first solo album, Don’t Look Any Further, in 1984. It was a great album, the title song with Siedah Garrett being one of the great duets of the decade, but Dennis began having problems with drugs. A second album, Coolin’ Out, was released the next year but proved to be far inferior to the first. The title track was a moving and autobiographical piece on which Dennis sings about trying to put his life back together.

In 1987, Dennis would again return to Motown for the appropriately titled, Together Again. But in 1988, embattled by personal crisis, he left the group for good. In 1989, after talking with friends and former group mates Ruffin and Kendricks at the Temptations R&R Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. He united with the pair and the trio set off on a historic US tour. A couple of years later, the unexpected deaths of his good friends, Ruffin and Kendrick, left Dennis alone.

After those tragic events, he formed several groups attempting to use varying forms of the name “Temptations” that he had to battle in and out of court for use of some form of the name. Now, seventy years old, he continues to perform as Dennis Edwards and the Temptations Review pleasing audiences all over the world. No matter what the result, Dennis Edwards is a true “Soul Survivor”, and one of the most gifted singers of our time. He still has his sensuous and soulful voice, and no one can take that away.

By the merciful grace of God, he is the only one of the classic Temptations lead singers alive to continue the legacy and we are so blessed. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Twitter @ John T. Wills

Black History: Hitsville USA

2014-09-18_21-53-42_1Black History Month continues to be relevant mainly because “there is nothing close to the truth about black history taught in schools and sadly, in many cases, in the church or in the home. Music which a world all to itself and something everyone can relate.

Therefore, we cannot have a discussion about black history without including black music and the many greats who entertained us. None is more significant than Motown Records. It all began in a small building that became known to the world as Hitsville USA because of the vast number of hits and stars produced by Motown that changed that world.

If we were to begin way back in the cradle of civilization centuries ago it all began with the drum. When we were captured and brought to the so-called New World where we brought with us the rhythms that dictated our souls. It is a fact that African American people are responsible for creating the great music genres known as Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear that directly speaks to our glorious past.

During the despicable era of slavery and segregation prior to the Civil Rights Movement the hallowing sounds of gospel music delivered an in-your-face sound that fed the souls of a people and that outlet produced some of the most timeless music ever created. Before I go further, let’s remember that it was Michael Jackson whose music video was the first black music to air on MTV just a short while ago.

This brings me to the historic and game-changing record label – Motown and its founder Mr. Barry Gordy. Let’s be honest, can you imagine a world without “The Motown Sound”? For many who don’t know or have forgotten, prior to Motown Records rarely did you see the face of an African American on the cover of an album or black music heard on mainstream radio. The music we enjoyed and others stole was called “Race Music.” As strange as seems it was segregated in the same way America was prior to 1960s when Motown was founded. Prior to Motown few black performers enjoyed anything close to crossover success. By the way, an album is what was used to play music before CD’s and MP3’s.

Motown was the first record label owned by an African American to primarily feature African-American artists and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, which was a style of soul music with a distinct influence and soul touching flavor. From its Hitsville U.S.A building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan that served as Motown’s headquarters produced the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or any time.

From a tiny little basement studio we were introduced to Michael Jackson, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, the Commodores, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rick James, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Teena Marie, DeBarge, the Jackson Five, Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and Motown’s Funk Brothers studio band; just to name a few of the artists that graced our souls and touched our hearts making us proud.

Many of Motown’s best-known hits were written by Smokey Robinson, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland who became major forces in the music industry. For example, it’s a known fact in the music industry that in order to get a number one hit song someone would have to write more than thirty songs. Holland-Dozier-Holland had a string of more than fifty hits in a row with some becoming number one with several different artists like the hit “I heard it through the Grapevine”. This is profound and will never happen again. No songwriter will ever achieve this feat – guaranteed.

Although Mr. Gordy sold Motown, and it’s now in the hands of others, its legacy resides in a very special place in my heart. I’m sure with you and millions around the world as well. So again I say, thank you, Motown for the music, the love, the magic, and the many great memories.

Lastly, to the legends who are no longer able to perform for us today – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. My guess is that they are walking around heaven all day singing with gleeful harmony the same way as it touched our souls when they were with us in this earthly realm. It must make haven more glorious and wonderful than one could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

 


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