Tag Archives: Motown

Celebrate Black Music Month

This month, Black Music Month, is as profound to the African America Diaspora as Black History Month. We are the inventors and creators of 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 with us the rhythms that dictate our souls. It is a fact that African American people are responsible for the great music known as Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear that featured and directly speak to the 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.

This brings me to 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 white radio. The music we enjoyed was called “race music” and it 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 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. 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 anytime.

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. Form 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 I could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

JUST A SEASON


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”

Black History: The Temptations

11(2)Some tunes stand the test of time, like “My Girl” and the same can be said about some groups. When you hear the melodies and incomparable classic of the Temptations today you immediately think of the greatest group of voices that ever sang a song.

The Grammy-Winning Temptations achieved their legendary fame as one of the most successful acts to record for Motown Records. It’s rare for someone to change the course of time but this group changed the face of music. Often imitated but rarely duplicated!

The original group included second tenor/baritone Otis Williams, first tenor Elbridge “Al” Bryant, bass Melvin Franklin, first tenor/falsetto Eddie Kendricks and second tenor/baritone Paul Williams (no relation to Otis). Among the most notable future Temptations were lead singers David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards both of whom became successful Motown solo artists after leaving the group. Other members included Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Theo Peoples, G.C. Cameron and about fifty members total over time.

The history of the Temptations started in Detroit the home of Motown Records around 1961 as the Elgins. Overtime, as members came and went the new members carried the torch with finesse for decades. I would say this was accomplished because of the group’s mantra was “no one member is bigger than the group” and although the lineup frequently changed their impeccable sound did not.

A Motown-centric biography on the Temptations would start pretty glumly. Success eluded the group at first. Working at Motown was a “Dream Come True,” but even that song didn’t bring lasting fame. In 1963, a violent scuffle between Elbridge Bryant and Paul Williams preceded “Al’s” exit. Enter David Ruffin whose weathered tenor injected intriguing angst into the sweetest songs.

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The Temptations with David Ruffin and new tunes by Smokey Robinson was the injection of magic and the just kept coming. The Kendricks led song, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” broke pop’s Top 20 and “My Girl,” 1964 became their signature. Meanwhile, Ruffin switched off with Kendricks at lead was like nothing that has come before or since.

Norman Whitfield, a rival producer, offered brawnier hits than Robinson’s, like “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” By the late ’60s, his collaborations with Eddie Holland, and Barrett Strong, had earned him exclusive control over the music of the Temptations.

The group developed its own recognizable style. The Temptations wardrobe ran the fashion gamut: tuxedos, capes, leather, linen, blues, limes, you name it. But the Tempts always looked sharp and fun in their costumes. Eddie Kendricks held some sway over this easy sophistication.

Under the direction of Broadway hoofer Cholly Atkins, the Temptations became renowned dancers, as well. Daily two-hour rehearsals ensured their movements were precise and spectacular enough to rivet fans from bare stages. Paul Williams’ choreography, including the Temptation Walk, oozed sheer erotic energy.

Onstage, group harmony ruled. Offstage, conflicts abounded, particularly between Ruffin and the others. Too much ego and flakiness cost him his membership in 1968. Though he released his own smash, “My Whole World Ended,” solo super-stardom was not meant to be.

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Enter, ex-Contour Dennis Edwards’ convincing vocals, new songs by the Temptations re-emphasized the ensemble. Whitfield’s ambitious “psychedelic soul” phase fused denser grooves with sociopolitical observations, helping fans dance and think at once. Commercially, the Tempts stayed put on “Cloud Nine.”

In 1971 brought both returns and departures after “Just My Imagination,” a throwback to their tender ballads. Exit Eddie Kendricks for a solo career and the disco-esque hits, “Keep on Truckin'” and “Boogie Down.” Exit Paul Williams died as a result of suicide. Two new tenors, Richard Street and Damon Harris gamely met the challenge and held their own against the older classics.

In 1975 things shifted from Harris to Glenn Leonard. Then from Dennis Edwards to Louis Price to Dennis Edwards (who’d leave and come back several times). Then from Motown to Atlantic in 1977, then back to Motown in the early ’80s. Just in time for a reunion tour with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks!

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Enter the great Ali Ollie Woodson who played an integral part in keeping the Temptations from becoming just a nostalgia act. I would refer to him as the Temptations Temptation. I mean this in the sense that by the early 1980s, the Temptations were no longer posting hit after hit as they had in the 1960s and ’70s with songs like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “My Girl,” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” They soared once again with Ali!

In 1989, in flesh and in spirit, the six classic members shared the stage once more at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Smooth spokesman Otis Williams, beloved Batman fanatic Melvin Franklin, ethereally elegant Eddie Kendricks, dynamic David Ruffin, and hard-hitting Dennis Edwards all accepted the award post harmoniously for the late Paul Williams.

All I can say is thanks for the spirit of these great men for their contribution to the world. The Temptations will live for all times. Thank you fellas! And that’s my thought Provoking Perspective…

 


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 MJ

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What can I say about the man whose music was such a huge part of my life and growing up. Michael Jackson was no doubt the GREATEST ENTERTAINER who ever lived.

It is hard to find the words to say what he gave the world and the memories I have of the music he created still touches my heart. So I will leave you with this recorded performance to say – “I never can say goodbye”. Rest in Peace Michael Jackson.

And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


The Sound Of Philadelphia: Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff

Happy birthday to Kenny Gamble one half of 8these two giants who were equally as significant as the founders of Motown and STAX records because they created “The Sound Of Philadelphia” catapulting Philadelphia International Records into worldwide fame. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff collaborated on a number of earlier R&B songs, but the pop hits did not arrive until 1966 with the Intruders and Soul Survivors’ We’ll Be United, Together, Cowboys To Girls, and Expressway To Your Heart among others.

They also wrote and produced Atlantic hits for Archie Bell & the Drells and Wilson Pickett. But most of all, they were instrumental in reviving the career of ex-VeeJay singer, Jerry Butler in 1967 with hits like Only The Strong Survive, What’s The Use Of Breaking Up and Hey Western Union Man on the Mercury record label. In 1969, the Neptune label was founded and distributed through Chess Records. Although Neptune released only four albums, it marked the starting point for Gamble and Huff’s collaboration. Upon a recommendation by the Intruders, they brought in the O’Jays and Thom Bell to join the label as an arranger, writer, producer and musician.

By 1971, Chess Records’ involvement with Soul Music declined, so Gamble and Huff signed a national distribution, music catalog and financial deal with CBS Records then changed the company name to Philadelphia International Records. Though no longer an independent record label, with distribution and financial issues behind them, their label was free to go in the positive message artistic directions it desired. What elements lead to the creation of their musical signature?

Gamble and Huff learned that a successful record label needed a strong cache of writers, musicians, arrangers and producers to maintain a stream of hits. They had the brilliance and luck to hire Gene McFadden and John Whitehead as associate producers and arrangers. Linda Creed joined Thom Bell to form a high-impact Soul Music writing, arranging and producing tandem at the company. Next, Gamble and Huff constructed a house band from accomplished session artists.

In keeping with their mission statement to deliver positive messages, they called their session band, Mother Father Sister Brother (MFSB) comprised of Roland Chambers and Norman Harris (guitars), Vince Montana (vibes), Ronnie Baker (bass) and Earl Young (drums). With such hits from:

The O’Jays with Back Stabbers, Love Train, and For the Love of Money. They recorded the Jacksons, Jerry Butler, and other prominent acts on the label: Billy Paul (Me and Mrs Jones) and Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes (If You Don’t Know Me By Now and The Love I Lost), Blue Magic, Teddy Pendergrass, Jean Carn, Lou Rawls, The Spinners (Could it Be That I’m Falling in Love), Stylistics (Betcha by Golly, Wow), The Hustle by Van McCoy. The Three Degrees, and Delfonics (Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time), Patti LaBelle’s release of I’m In Love Again that reached gold sales status. They were hugely validated when Don Cornelius, producer and host of Soul Train asked the Three Degrees to do vocals for the show’s new theme track, with instrumentals by MFSB.

Gamble and Huff puzzled together dance rhythms, orchestral arrangements, and positive topical lyrics that established a musical signature having sophisticated soulful orchestration. Philadelphia International Records became a force in the Soul Music market and even drew praise from its rivals. With all the ingredients in place – the rest is history. Thank you guys! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


The House Of Soul

There was once a time and not too long ago when black music was rarely heard by the masses. The great music that African American performers created was not allowed to be played on the radio. It was called “race music”, however, the white performers stole this music. So many of those African American performers never made much money, if any at all as a result, and I am stopping short of calling this a crime, which is what it was.

Then came a man named Berry Gordy, who changed the face of music.  I would like to take this opportunity pay homage and say THANK YOU Mr. Gordy for Motown for your contribution to the world, our pride – as well as having the vision to know it was possible.

Most people do not know or remember that before Motown Records few black performers enjoyed anything close to crossover success. Black music was, then, called “race music” and was segregated in the same manner as the rest of America before 1959, when Motown was founded. Let me also remind you that rarely could the face of a black person be seen on an album cover before Motown’s founding. By the way, an album is what was used for music before CDs.

Motown was a company that primarily featured African American artists and its soul-based subsidiaries became the most successful proponents of what came to be known as “The Motown Sound”. This was a style of soul music with a distinct influence on all who heard it. From its Hitsville U.S.A Building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan that served as Motown’s headquarters. The label produced the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or any time.

From this tiny little basement studio, 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 graced our souls and touched our hearts making us proud.

Many of Motown’s best-known hits were written by 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 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.

Mr. Gordy did sell Motown, and it’s now in the hands of others. However, its legacy resides in a very special place in my heart, and I’m sure 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 long able to perform for us today – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. I know walking around heaven all day listening to the harmony of your souls must make heaven more glorious and wonderful than I could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


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