Motown

DuranDuran

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There's another thread that has the music and songs that came from Motown and its various labels. This one is about the different acts that were on the label. There's many acts that don't get much recognition or the endless compilations & re-releases like the usual Temptations, Supremes, Stevie Wonder, etc.
 

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Rare Earth

Rare Earth is an american rock band affiliated with Motown’s Rare Earth record label (which was named after the band) who were particularly famous in the late-1960s and 1970s.

The group formed in 1961 as The Sunliners, and, after changing their name to “Rare Earth”, after the “rare Earth hypothesis,” were signed to Motown in 1969. The band was the first act signed to a new Motown imprint that would be dedicated to white rock acts. The record company didn’t have a name for the new label yet, and the band jokingly suggested Motown call the label “Rare Earth.” To the band’s surprise, Motown decided to do just that.

The main personnel in the group included Gil Bridges (saxophone and vocals ), Pete Rivera a.k.a. Peter Hoorelbeke (lead vocals and drums), John Parrish a.k.a. John Persh (bass guitar, trombone and vocals), Rod Richards (born Rod Cox, guitar), Edward “Eddie” Guzman (congas and assorted percussive instruments) and Kenny James (born Ken Folcik, keyboards). The personnel lineup changed considerably over the years, with three members of the group dying during the 1980s and 1990s, and the only original member currently left in the group is Bridges.

Rare Earth had a number of Top Ten hits in the 1970-1971 period, including covers of The Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You” (which was used in the documentary video It’s Time) and “Get Ready”. The cover of “Get Ready” was their biggest hit, peaking at #4 on the US pop charts, a better performance than the original. They did not chart significantly after 1971, although they continued to record into the 1980s. Their 1973 album Ma, written and produced by Norman Whitfield, is considered their best overall work, and features their version of “Hum Along and Dance”.

The group gained a bit of notoriety when it was mentioned dismissively in the lyrics to Gil Scott-Heron’s landmark 1970 poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which included the line, “The theme song [to the revolution] will not be written by Jim Webb, Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Engelbert Humperdinck, or the Rare Earth.”

Rare Earth, which continues to perform at corporate events and on the oldies circuit, appears to have had the last word, however; bits from their recordings have been used as samples on recordings as diverse as Beck’s “Derelict”, Black Sheep’s “Try Counting Sheep”, Peanut Butter Wolf’s “Tale of Five Cities”, Scarface’s “Faith”, NWA’s “Real N****z Don’t Die” and Eric B. and Rakim’s “What’s Going On”. Their hit “I Just Want to Celebrate” was also used in a major national advertising campaign by Ford Motor Company.

Rare Earth began as an R&B band called the Sunliners in Detroit in 1961. Of the musicians who would be part of the band dubbed Rare Earth, only sax player Gil Bridges and drummer Pete Rivera were present. John Parrish joined on bass in 1962. Rod Richards became a guitarist with the group in 1966. Keyboardist Kenny James came into the fold the same year. After years of doing the club circuit, the group changed their name to Rare Earth and released Dreams/Answers on Verve. The album received little reaction and the group was picked up by Motown Records as the first act on their yet-to-be-named new label. Rare Earth suggested to Motown that the label name their new subsidiary after the band and Rare Earth Records was born.

When they set out to record their first album, they essentially ran out of material and did a 21-minute rendition of the Temptation’s “Get Ready” to fill out the space. The album was making no headway on the charts for a long period of time. So they took the first three minutes of “Get Ready,” released it as a single and it made its way into the U.S. Top Ten list, peaking at number four. Pulled along by the success of the single, the album also began to sell, breaking the Top 20, and Rare Earth’s career was officially on its way. The second album, Ecology, was released in June of 1970, a couple months short of a year after “Get Ready” had been put out. Interestingly enough, Ecology was not really the group’s second album, but their third. An album entitled Generation was recorded as the soundtrack to the film of the same name. When the film stalled at the box office, the album was shelved. Still, Ecology would yield not one, but two hit singles. The first was “(I Know) I’m Losing You” (another Temptations cover), which also broke the Top Ten. The second single, “Born to Wander,” did not fare quite so well, but did make the Top 20. The album was catapulted to number 15.

Not wanting to lose momentum, One World followed almost exactly a year after Ecology, and yielded another hit single in a longtime classic, “I Just Want to Celebrate.” The song peaked on the pop charts at number seven and the album broke the Top 50. They released a live album in December of the same year. For the next album, Willie Remembers, the group insisted on doing all originals, a move that was not common around the Motown camp. Unfortunately, for a band trying to prove a point, the album never reached the type of sales of previous records. Indeed, it stalled out at number 90, and the single “Good Time Sally” didn’t even break the Top 50.

Motown tightened the creative grip on the group and original producer Norman Whitfield, who had worked with the group on earlier albums, was brought in to save the day. The resulting album, Ma, was released in May of 1973 and fared just a little better than Willie Remembers, peaking at number 65. The label was not pleased and sent the group into the studio to record with Stevie Wonder. That pairing did not really gel, though, and only two tracks were recorded, neither of which were released. Instead, the label sought to release another live album, trying to regain the spark that Rare Earth had had. That project also fell by the wayside, though.

What followed was a series of lineup changes and legal battles, and the group stopped touring altogether in 1974. The following year Rare Earth, in a new lineup, released Back to Earth. The album did a bit better than the previous one, reaching number 59 on the charts. The single, appropriately entitled “It Makes You Happy (But It Ain’t Gonna Last Too Long)” stalled just outside the Top 100. A disco-oriented excursion entitled Midnight Lady was released in 1976, but failed to really go anywhere. To make matters worse, Rare Earth Records was discontinued altogether. The band had broken up by this time.

As fate would have it, though, this was not the end of Rare Earth. Instead, Barney Ales, who had presided over Rare Earth Records, started his own label Prodigal Records. He talked the group into reuniting to record the label debut. The resulting album, Rare Earth, was released in 1977 and made no real waves in the music business. Rare Earth got things together again for a marathon recording session the following year. That session yielded not one, but two albums. The first was Band Together, released in April of 1978, with Grand Slam following in September. Neither of those albums every really took off, either. The group essentially broke up in 1978, although a version of the original lineup was touring all the way into 1983. A different incarnation of the group, with just two original members, still makes the circuits.
 

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The Andantes

Like any new business, cash flow problems plagued Motown; Raynoma Liles, aka Miss Ray developed the Rayber Music Writing Company as a remedy. Rayber, a combination of Ray and Berry Gordy's first name, charged anybody who wanted to make a record. They advertised on a local radio station and caught the ear of their first client, Louvain Demps. Raynoma Liles and Berry married. Louvain, along with Jackie Hicks and Marlene Barrow, formed the Andantes, who historians say appeared on more than 20,000 recording sessions. At first they took a back seat to the Rayber Singers, who consisted of Raynoma, Berry, Robert Bateman, Brian Holland, and anyone else hanging around. When running Motown escalated, Louvain took Miss Ray's place in the Rayber Singers, who disbanded around 1962 when the Temptations and the Supremes started doing sessions. The Supremes, as the Primettes, had worked for Lupine Records; at Motown, they're featured on Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Sammy Ward, and Bob Kayli recordings, among others. Kayli was Robert Gordy, Berry's brother; the Supremes sing on Kayli's "Small Sad Sam," a take-off on Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John." The Temptations added excitement to Stevie Wonder's "Contract of Love" and Mary Wells' "Everybody Needs Love," and both sing on Wells' "You Lost The Sweetest Boy."

When the Supremes ignited, the Andantes became the number-one studio rats. Like the Funk Brothers - Motown's rhythm session - they moonlighted on other labels in Detroit and other cities. They were in Chi-town when Mickey Stevenson needed girls to back Marvin Gaye on "Stubborn Kinda Fellow." Martha Reeves, Stevenson's secretary, called the group, who added magic to Gaye's first hit, and soon broke out on their own. Good background singers are expected to create, which the Andantes did on Mary Wells' "My Guy," Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life," and other sessions. They backed Diana Ross on "Love Child," and Martha Reeves on every Martha & the Vandellas' recording after Annette Beard left. Holland-Dozier-Holland used the Andantes to smooth the Marvelettes' infectious but shaky harmony; they also used them on the Four Tops for high end, a technique Thom Bell employed with the Spinners and others in the '70s. Their smooth, quality, chorale sound was so valuable that Motown never gave them a chance to record on their own. A scheduled single, "Like a Nightmare," was never released. Motown didn't want the Andantes out promoting a record when Motown's studios operated around the clock. Ian Levine recorded the Andantes for his Motorcity series. The tracks include a remake of the Fascinations' "Girls Are Out to Get You," as well as "Two Sides to Love," "Hurricane," "Lightening Never Strikes Twice," and a new "Like a Nightmare." Levine also recorded Louvain solo. They accompanied Kim Weston on "Just Loving You," on The Motortown Revue Live, Vol. 2. Louvain's brother, Larry "Squirrel" Demps, sang with the Dramatics.
 

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James Jamerson

Many great jazz men were born in the southern states. James Lee Jamerson was no exception, born on January 29, 1936, in Charleston, NC, to the union of James Lee Jamerson Sr. and his wife Elisabeth. His father worked in shipyards and his mother was a domestic worker. When his parents divorced, Jamerson divided his time between his grandmother who played piano, an aunt who sang in the church choir, and practicing piano at his cousin's house. He began developing his innate musical talents while incessantly listening to gospel, jazz, and blues stations. I will mention before we get too much into the music, James' second love was karate, which he practised throughout his life... mainly in his backyard at home!!

After a bicycle accident, he spent a year in a wheelchair. Forced to wear high-topped shoes in order to walk, the incident left Jamerson with a slight limp and a gnawing self-consciousness that would haunt him for his entire life. In 1953, Jamerson's mother moved to Detroit to find work. A year later, she sent for her son. At Northwestern High, Jamerson picked up an upright bass that was lying on the floor in the music room and "found" his instrument. His music teacher said it would be ideal for him as he had such large hands. Never a solitary play-the-scales-millions-of-times type of musician, the budding young bassist honed his skills at jam sessions, in the high school jazz band, and by playing with some of Detroit's top jazz musicians like Kenny Burrell, Yusef Lateef, and Hank Jones. As his reputation grew, Jamerson began playing at dances, weddings, and frat parties with schoolmates Richard 'Popcorn' Wylie (piano) and Clifford Mack (drums). Years later, 1967, Jamerson played on a hit record of a song written by Wylie, "With This Ring" by the Platters.

Jazzman Jamerson was becoming a neighborhood hero, driving around Detroit with his upright bass sticking out of his car window. Still a minor, the Detroit police department gave him a permit to play in clubs that served liquor, enabling him to get more work. Just before graduation, he married Annie Wells, and turned down a music scholarship from Wayne State University, reasoning that he was already working in the music field. He had a growing family to support. His greatest love was his children, he was a devoted Father and Husband.

After graduation, he began playing with Washboard Willie and the Supersuds of Rhythm. The experience was both a blessing and a curse. By playing with the blues-based band, Jamerson learned how to play the blues, while on his other gigs he played all kinds of jazz. But he also began drinking alcohol, something he had abstained from up to that point.

In 1958, Johnnie Mae Matthews, owner of Northern Records heard Jamerson at a Supersuds club gig and asked him to play on sessions for the label. His unique style came to the attention of other Detroit-area labels, and the 22-year-old Jamerson began cutting sides for Fortune, Tri-Phi, Anna Records, and others. In 1959 Joe Hunter spotted James "When I first saw him or heard him play, it was with a group called Washboard Willie. This cat used to play a washboard, like drums. Jamerson was playing with him. I think Jamerson developed his style playing with Washboard Willie. Later on, I took him over to Motown. They heard Jamerson play, they knew that was something else. It was exactly what we needed" . So Joe invited Jamerson into Joe Hunter Band band, which led to sessions at a small basement studio in a converted house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, which eventually became the recording base of Motown Records.

In 1961, Jamerson switched to the newly created electric Fender Precision bass. The move made his bass lines stand out more on records. On some tracks he started out recording the bass line with his trusty acoustic and then doubled the bass line with the Fender to give the bass part an extra punch. His playing was so precise that it was difficult to hear that there were two basses on the record. When the bassist wasn't touring with Jackie Wilson or recording for Motown or touring with their acts, Jamerson would travel to nearby Chicago to cut sides for VeeJay or Brunswick. He can be heard on John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" (number 16 R&B chart, summer 1962). The musician became so crucial to Motown's hits that recording dates would be postponed until he was available. In the very early days James toured endlessly with Jackie Wilson, Marv Johnson and The Miricles. Berry became tired of holding recordings up, put Jamerson on a retainer, so it was full time in the snakepit for James.

Though Motown wasn't too keen about Jamerson and the rest of the Funk Brothers recording for other labels, the Detroit music community and several music entrepreneurs, local and otherwise, took advantage of the situation, offering the band more money, leading to the Funk Brothers being heard on a lot of "backdoor sessions." For the local Golden World and Ric-Tic label owned by Twenty Grand Club owner Ed Wingate, the band can be heard on "Agent Double-O Soul" (number eight R&B chart, 1965) and "Stop Her on Sight" (number nine R&B chart, 1966) by Edwin Starr, and "I Just Wanna Testify" by the Parliaments (number three R&B chart, 1967). For Ollie McLaughlin's Karen label, there was "Cool Jerk" by the Capitols (Top Ten R&B chart, number seven pop chart, July 1966). The band can also be heard on records issued by the numerous labels that sprang up in the wake of Motown's phenomenal success.

Making the trips to nearby Chicago, they cut several hits for producer Carl Davis and Jackie Wilson. "Whispers (Gettin Louder)," recorded on August 8, 1966, and released September 1966, went to number five R&B chart and number 11 pop chart in the fall of 1966. "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" set the stage for Wilson's mid-'60s comeback and was his second number one R&B single (pop chart number six) on October 7, 1967. Other hits included "Since You Showed Me How to Be Happy" (number 22 R&B chart, November 1967), "I Get the Sweetest Feeling" (number 12 R&B chart, June 1968), and "(I Can Feel Those Vibrations) This Love Is Real" (number nine R&B chart, November 1970). The success of these records, both commercially and aesthetically, suggest that if Wilson had been signed to Motown he would have had a more consistent career. It's even more ironic given that Gordy's first big break came as one of Wilson's early songwriters in the late '50s. The band also traveled south to record in Muscle Shoals and Atlanta, among other cities. By 1968, Jamerson asked for and received a salary increase of $1000 a week, bringing his yearly income up to $52,000 a year. That's not counting moneys earned from bonuses, club dates, and "backdoor sessions." But the following year, things began to change. Jamerson lost one of his closest friends, Motown drummer Benny Benjamin, to heroin addiction. Because of high demand, Motown hired another bassist Bob Babbitt in an effort to keep up with the ever-expanding recording schedules; Jamerson couldn't be in two places at once. The label's music became more dependent on written musical arrangements and less on the Funk Brothers' "off the cuff" interplay. It was hard for Jamerson to adjust to the seemingly more rigid way of doing things.

Despite his alcoholism, and the opinion of some Motown staffers, Gordy refused to fire Jamerson. He believed that the bassist still had the music in him. The loyalty paid off, as Marvin Gaye enlisted Jamerson to play on his 1971 multi-platinum What's Going On. In 1973, Motown moved to Los Angeles and Jamerson followed shortly after. However with his strict contract finished Jamerson had more freedom. The following year, the bassist's work schedule seemed to be his busiest ever as he toured with Marvin Gaye, Joan Baez, and Maria Muldaur, and recorded jingles, movie scores, TV themes (Starsky and Hutch), the Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat" (number two R&B chart for two weeks, number one pop chart, spring 1974), the Sylvers' "Boogie Fever" (number one R&B chart, number one pop chart, late 1975), "Theme From S.W.A.T." by the studio group Rhythm Heritage (number 11 R&B chart, number one pop chart, late 1975), and Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.'s "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)" (number one R&B chart, number one pop, fall 1976). He can also be heard on Robert Palmer's "Which of Us Is the Fool" from his 1976 Island LP Pressure Drop.

Another gold hit that featured Jamerson was "Then Came You" by Dionne Warwick and the Spinners (number two R&B chart, number one pop chart, 1974). As far as Warwick was concerned, this was a continuation of a long collaboration. During the '60s, Warwick's songwriting/producing duo, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, would have clandestine rendezvous with the Funk Brothers.

By 1979 things began to sour for Jamerson as chronic alcoholism, emotional problems, and medication-related mishaps plagued the bassist, leading to his eventual exclusion from the A-list of first-call session players. But the main root problem being emotional and a very deep depression. He found it very differcult to adjust to the differences between Detroit & LA methods of recording and most of the classic Motown artists had left the Motown Label. Another reason, new producers wanted him to use different strings, to alter his sound, they were writing music and not letting James put his soul into it. Everyone wanted him to sound different. They were gradually sapping him. It got to a stage where James would sit for hours listening to his old motown records where he played his funky bass lines, and remembering the freedom of his wild jamming nights, it was stressful and painful for him and for his family watching such a great musician so broken. As James Jamerson Junior said "Imagine someone going up to Dizzy Gillespie or Hendrix or some other inventive musician and demand that they play like everyone else. They were telling my Dad to stop being James Jamerson, It's not that he couldn't do it, he wouldn't". When the Funk Brothers came down to record with him late 79 they said he was a shadow of himself , it was as if someone had taken out his heart.

Much of the last 2 years of Jamerson's life was spent in and out of hospitals and mental institutions, though in the last few months he managed to produce some sides for singer / songwriter Kenny Koontz. She recalls how kind he was "With all his problems he was still trying to help everyone else, the grandad of the block. When my grandma died he drove me the 2000 mile round trip for her funeral" Strangely the last song title James ever played bass on was Kenny Koontz' "LA Is The Place". ( I think we will all agree LA helped killed him) Within weeks James was bed ridden, one final evil blow struck this amazing soul, someone came into his home and stole his friend of 21 years, his 1962 Fender Precision. Two days later he sadly slipped away, almost forgotten and still unknown to the world. Slipped away just four months after the May 1983 NBC-TV broadcast of Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, in which neither James or the Funk Brothers, never got even one tiny mention, James Jamerson died from complications due to cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure, and pneumonia on August 2, 1983, at the University of Southern California County Hospital. More than 600 people paid their last respects to Jamerson in churches in Detroit and LA.
 

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Willie Hutch

A versatile figure during Motown's "golden years," Willie Hutch penned hits for other artists, as well as issuing albums on his own. Born Willie McKinley Hutchinson during 1946 in Los Angeles, CA, Hutch was raised in Dallas, TX, where he began signing as a teenager (as a member of an outfit called the Ambassadors). It was also during his teenaged years that Hutch began penning his own songs, and in 1964 issued a debut solo single, "Love Has Put Me Down." Soon after, his songwriting talents attracted the attention of the soon to be renowned '60s pop-soul outfit the 5th Dimension, for whom Hutch penned several tracks, as well as earning a co-production credit for the group's 1967 debut full-length Up, Up and Away. In 1970, producer Hal Davis asked Hutch to help finish off a song he desperately needed completed for the Jackson 5, "I'll Be There." Hutch delivered; the band recorded Hutch's version the next day, as it eventually became one of the 5's biggest early hits, and led to Motown head honcho Berry Gordy hiring Hutch to act as a songwriter/producer for other Motown artists on a regular basis.

Hutch then produced albums for Michael Jackson and Smokey Robinson during the early '70s, during which time Hutch penned the soundtrack to the 1973 blaxploitation flick The Mack on his own. The soundtrack is often considered to be one of the era's finest, as it spawned such funk-soul classics as the title track, "Brother's Gonna Work It Out," and "Slick." Hutch continued to issue solo releases for Motown, including such titles as Fully Exposed (1973), Foxy Brown, (1975), The Mark of the Beast (1975), Concert in Blues (1976), and Color Her Sunshine (1976), among others. After briefly relocating to the Whitfield record company for a few releases, Hutch returned back to Motown, where he issued further solo albums and worked with others, including a duet between the Four Tops and Aretha Franklin (1983's "What Have We Got to Lose"), Sammy Davis, Jr.'s "Hello Detroit" (1984), and a soundtrack album for the 1985 movie The Last Dragon. Hutch sporadically issued further solo sets in the '90s (1994's From the Heart and 1996's The Mack Is Back), before returning six years later with 2002's Sexalicious. He passed away on September 19, 2005, at his home outside Dallas, TX.
 

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High Inergy

High Inergy was a briefly popular girl group from Pasadena, California. Initially consisting of Michelle Martin, Linda Howard and sisters Vernessa and Barbara Mitchell, the quartet was discovered by Berry Gordy's sister Gwen and was signed to Motown in 1976. Their debut album Turnin' On was a success on the strength of their popular, if rather insubstantial, single "You Can't Turn Me Off (In the Middle of Turning Me On)." Unfortunately that would be the quartet's high point.

High Inergy never landed another hit in either the Soul or Pop Top 40, though it wasn't for lack of trying. They released an amazing eight albums in a six year period, the last half dozen of which were made without Vernessa, who left for a successful solo Gospel career. They hit the lower end of the Soul charts with "Lovin' Fever" and "Shoulda Gone Dancin" and had a very nice, if underappreciated, final release, the pop/dance number "He's A Pretender," before splitting in 1984.

Vernessa went on to score a number of Gospel and Dance hits over the 80s and 90s, the biggest of which was the Gospel stepper "This Joy," and came back in 2004 with a popular club hit, "You Took My Life." She now heads Higher Ground Ministries and continues to record and perform around the U.S. in Gospel shows.
 

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Mel-o-dy Records was established in 1962 as a secondary R&B/soul music subsidiary, Mel-o-dy later focused on white country music artists. Notable Mel-o-dy artists include Dorsey Burnette. The label was dissolved in 1965.
 

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Motown's jazz subsidiary, active from 1962 to 1964. Notable Workshop Jazz artists included the George Bohannon Trio and Four Tops (whose recordings for the label went unissued for 30 years).
 

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A Spoken word subsidiary which focused mainly on albums featuring progressive political and pro-civil rights speeches/poetry. Black Forum issued recordings by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Elaine Brown, and others from 1970 until 1973.
 

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Yvonne Fair

Born as Flora Yvonne Coleman in Richmond, Virginia, Fair got her start as a latter-day member of the re-formulated Chantels and the James Brown Revue. Whilst performing with Brown she recorded the song "I Found You," which he later re-worked into his own signature hit "I Got You (I Feel Good)." Signed to Motown in the early '70s as a result of her work with Chuck Jackson, she appeared in a minor role as a chanteuse in the film Lady Sings the Blues before hooking up with producer Norman Whitfield for a first-rate series of singles: "Love Ain't No Toy," "Walk Out the Door If You Wanna," what is perhaps the definitive version of "Funky Music Sho' 'Nuff Turns Me On," and a stunning remake of the Kim Weston/Gladys Knight semistandard "It Should Have Been Me," which dented the lower end of the pop charts in 1976. Yvonne died, aged 51, from undisclosed causes, in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 6, 1994.
 

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Dynamic Superiors

The Dynamic Superiors were one of Motown's most unique acts for a couple of reasons: they were from Washington, D.C. instead of Detroit, and their lead singer, Tony Washington, was an unabashed, flaming homosexual man who occasionally did concerts in drag. They were noted for their energetic live performances. The group formed in 1963 with members Tony Washington (lead), George Spann (1st tenor), George Peterback, Jr. (2nd tenor), Michael McCalpin (baritone), and Maurice Washington (bass). After a ten year wait, they received their first recording contract in 1974. Once signed to Motown, they were immediately assigned to Ashford and Simpson, who wrote and produced the bulk of their early material. It was a winning combination, as "Shoe Shoe Shine" and "Leave It Alone" both went top 20. They later wrote "Nobody's Gonna Change Me" for the group, where Tony Washington was able to boldly declare his gay pride several years before the high-profile Sylvester broke onto the national scene.

While their chart singles were usually ballads, they made an impression on the underground circuit through dance cuts. Starting with "Face the Music" in 1975, the Superiors gradually increased the disco quotient until by the point of Give and Take and Nowhere to Run, they were primarily a dance outfit, getting major play in the clubs. Their Motown catalog is currently out of print, but their LPs can occasionally be found in second hand shops.

The group recorded material with producer Tony Camillo ("Midnight Train To Georgia," "Dynomite" by Bazuka) in the 1980s that was pressed in very limited quantities.
 

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While Smokey Robinson and The Miracles aren't an overlooked group, I think several of their songs in the 70's were underrated. "Oh Girl" is an amazing track on an amazing album I wish they'd put out on CD.
 

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Chris Clark

At first glance, young 17-year-old Chris Clark - a tall blue-eyed California import - seemed an unlikely candidate for membership in Detroit’s closely-knit Motown family. It wouldn’t be the first time looks were misleading where she was concerned.

Booked at 13 into a series of summer concerts featuring the current big names in Pop (Jan & Dean, Dick & Dee Dee, & The Ventures), Chris was rebooked the next summer - but this time with the Coasters, The Olympics, Dobie Gray & Bobby Freeman.

By the time she came to Motown’s attention, she had been on the road nearly two years - working nightclubs and after hours joints with various Blues/ Jazz groups, often barely two steps ahead of the Vice Squad - which frowned mightily on underage performers.

“I beat down their doors”, said Chris. “Believe me, when the Berry Gordy Express steamed by - it was pure instinct. You grabbed hold with all your might and asked questions later. I didn’t care where we were going, I just knew I wanted to be part of the commotion that got us there.”

And so she proved to be.

Thanks to Gordy’s renowned genius at spotting and developing raw talent, she went on to become not only the first White album artist on the label - but an integral part of his creative team as the Motown Sound stormed the doors of White America to make its place in history.

Though its first seeds were nurtured in a tiny building on Detroit’s West Grand Blvd., once it took root, Motown branched quickly in the wake of its sudden fame. Hit records were the first step for not only its shining stars - but the growing wave of talent being developed in support of them.

The United States' answer to Dusty Springfield, Clark, who also dated Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., managed to have only one hit; it was on the R&B singles chart. "Love's Gone Bad" made #105 pop, and #41 R&B in 1966.

In 1967, Clark released an album called Soul Sounds on the Motown label. The LP's cover art showed the singer wearing a black dress against a black background, in striking contrast to her fair skin, blue eyes and blonde hair. The album featured twelve songs including a rare Motown ballad called "If You Should Walk Away" (Berry Gordy, Jr.) which was slated for release as a single, but never was. Clark recorded one more album for Motown on its newly created rock label Weed called C.C. Rides Again (1969), but the album failed commercially because it was not promoted by Motown. Today it is considered a rare collectable. It remains the only album ever released on the label.

The multi-talented Chris soon branched off into composing music (for herself and others), editing video, taking up still photography (eventually chronicling more than 16 years of Motown history), writing special material, and serving as Motown Productions VP of Creative Control as she trailed Gordy thru nightclubs, into television, onto concert hall stages, and finally to Hollywood’s very door where Motown secured a solid foothold with its first film: Lady Sings The Blues.

True to form, Diana Ross was not the only talent Gordy had pulled up through the ranks. Chris also found her way into the mix once again when she was called in to rewrite the script, eventually garnering her own Academy Award nomination as screenwriter.

Though she worked in many arenas, it was in photography that she began to personally explore and define her own place in the world. Harboring a grudge against posing for pictures, Chris honed her skills in the field of candid photography - developing an eye for capturing the unguarded moments & emotions of the surrounding flurry.

For the most part, the product of these early years served as learning tools, seldom seeing the light of day. The exceptions were pieces she shot that found their way into Gordy’s private collection, or onto the walls of his various homes in the form of collages.

Stifled by the limitations, Chris soon began to expand the forms and uses of the images she took. Supplied with a darkroom, she spent all her off hours trying to absorb its many possibilities - but realized her lack of technical knowledge was too overwhelming to overcome on her own. The computer, however, was not.

Intrigued by the accidental double exposures she’d encountered, Chris contrived to cross the process over into the digital realms, where she could better take control of the resulting images. It was a short jump into the early graphics software, such as Adobe.

Essentially self taught, she found ways to use the computer like a paintbrush, fragmenting & filtering the images in miniscule increments as they wound their way toward unknown destinations.

For the first time, she began to experiment with color - having honed her skills entirely in Black & White. She followed her instincts in manipulating the images, often reaching back to recoup early work & set it on experimental new paths.

No longer bound by a single image, she was able to incorporate her familiarity with the subjects into pieces of work that shaded and highlighted the facets of their personalities.

It was the early results of this ‘capture’ process - which inspired Gordy to allow her access to the Motown photo archives and the eventual 6 years in a cabin in the backwoods of Arizona to nurture the process. What soon followed was a push to more fully expand the limitations of the media at hand. Frustrated with the one dimensional end product on canvas, Chris began to experiment with a combination of polymers, resins, varnishes & home made jams (that's a joke) with which to coat the flat surfaces of the artwork in order to give it depth & texture – much like hand painted oils. It was a short jump from there to begin accenting and embellishing the end result with acrylics.

The artwork represented the first time Motown images had been created at the hands of an insider, rather than at the mercy of photographers hired to come in and shoot their idea of what image the public should see. Chris was commissioned to design a series on the Motown Artists by Hidden Dreams, a company run by Gordy's son, Berry Gordy 4th, then struck out on her own in August of '05.

Armed with photographs she'd taken during a two month trip to Africa in '90, Chris was able to generate enough of a body of work to attract the interest of collectors, as well as catch the eye of some performers on the current market who have begun to commission her work.

She currently resides in California.
 

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The Originals

While spending most of their existence in the shadow of Motown's biggest acts, the Originals had a brief shining moment and a couple now-classic songs that will forever secure their place in Soul Music history.

At their prime consisting of bass singer/songwriter Freddie Gorman (most noted for his composition "Please Mr. Postman" for the Marvelettes), falsetto singer Tyrone Hunter, tenors C.P. Spencer and Hank Dixon, and baritone Walter Gaines, the group broke out in 1970 after several years as a 2nd tier Motown group. Their vehicle was an absolutely beautiful ballad written by labelmate Marvin Gaye, "Baby I'm For Real." The song's arrangement and the group's performance were both perfect, and it became an instant soul classic that quickly topped the Soul charts. Gaye helped the following year with a successful sequel, the similarly strong "The Bells." However, while similar help from Stevie Wonder ("It's a Shame") gave the Spinners the foundation for a sterling 20 year chart career, the Originals' star fell quickly after the two hits. Their visibility within Motown decreased when the label moved to Los Angeles and the Originals chose to stay in Detroit. Though they landed a couple more Soul top 20 hits in 1971 ("We Can Make It Baby" and "God Bless Whoever Sent You"), it would be a half decade and a move to the West coast before the Originals would again have a hit, as the group reemerged as a disco act in 1976 with the hit "Down to Love Town." They left Motown in the late 70s and signed with Fantasy Records, where they scored a minor dance hit with a remake of the 50's hit "Blue Moon."

The Originals ceased recording by 1981 and, after a brief comeback in Europe as part of Ian Levine's Motorcity Recordings project in 1982, broke up. Hunter died, but the remainder of the group reunited from time to time to play the oldies circuit, mostly in Europe. Gorman died on June 13, 2006 at age 67.
 

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The Commodores

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The Commodores

The story of the Commodores began in 1967, when Lionel Richie met Thomas McClary in the registration line at The Tuskegee Institute. Richie played sax, McClary was a guitarist and together they formed The Mystics, a group that also included William King on trumpet. Their worst rivals were The Jays, another school-band, from where keyboardist Milan Williams was drafted when The Jays disbanded. A new name for the group was needed and during a rehearsal, William King was blindfolded and selected the word "commodore" at random from a dictionary.

The Commodores now comprised seven members: Lionel Richie (sax), Thomas McClary (guitar), William King (trumpet), Milan Williams (who died in July 2006) (keyboards), Jimmy Johnson (sax), Michael Gilbert (bass & lead vocals) and Andre Callaghan (drums). As the Commodores' reputation spread around their home town and nearby Montgomery, The Tuskegee Institute sent them to perform at a benefit talent-show in New York. There, they were spotted by Benjamin "Benny" Ashburn, a Harlem-native with a background in public relations. Ashburn, who at the time worked as a representative for a liquor wholesaler, was a shrewd businessman. He didn't make any offers, but let the Tuskegee boys know that he saw a great potential in them. About a year later, The Commodes returned to New York. After struggling hard while trying to make it on their own, they turned to Ashburn for guidance and he took them under his wings. The Commodores signed a management contract with Ashburn and he booked them on every club and showcase he could. Ashburn became the Commodores' mentor, manager and friend and was to play an integral part in the great future that awaited the group.

Benny Ashburn arranged an audition for Atlantic Records in 1969 and there, the Commodores recorded an album's worth of material from which Atlantic released the Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams-produced single "Keep On Dancing". It's an irresistible, catchy song and had been a huge R&B hit for Alvin Cash the previous year. The "Swamp Dogg" Williams-penned B-side, "Rise Up", sounds very similar to The Bar-Kays' "Soul Finger". The tapes from those early sessions have re-surfaced -at least in Europe- and are available on CD from various small labels. It mainly consists of cover versions, such as Sly & The Family Stone's "Sing A Simple Song", Intruders' "Cowboys To Girls", Temptations' "I Know I'm Losing You" and Johnnie Taylor's "Who's Making Love".

Later that year, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Gilbert and Andre Callaghan left the Commodores (two were drafted for the Vietnam war, the third left because he didn't think the group could make it). The trio was replaced by bassist Ronald La Pread from Tuskegee blues outfit The Corvettes and Walter "Clyde" Orange who had his own band, The J-Notes. Orange both played drums and sang lead, a duty he continued in the Commodores. Lionel Richie was too shy and was more than happy to just blow his sax and sing back-up.

At show at an attorney's convention, set up by Ashburn, the Commodores made such an impression on Motown executive Suzanne DePasse that she hired the Commodores to be the warm-up band for The Jackson Five on a world wide tour. That tour eventually lasted nearly three years and gave the Commodores stage experience, or rather arena experience. But what they really wanted was a record contract and in 1972, the Commodores were signed to MoWest, Motown's new subsidiary, started after the labels' move from Detroit to Los Angeles. Little did Motown know that they'd just got their hands on what would be one of their biggest act of the Seventies.

The Commodores naturally wanted to be self-contained, write and produce their own material, but Motown's policy for all newcomers was to set them to work with company staff. The Commodores weren't exactly considered a priority and were therefor tossed around between Hal Davis, Willie Hutch, Norman Whitfield and Jeffrey Bowen. In addition, the new arrivals discovered that it was hard to get studio time, as the recording facilities were constantly occupied by Motown's big names, like The Four Tops, Jackson Five, The Supremes or Gladys Knight. But this was a period of change for Motown and soon several of the label's key artists departed. The Commodores were handed to Pam Sawyer and Gloria Jones who wrote and produced their debut single on MoWest "The Zoo (The Human Zoo)", released in March 1972. It failed to chart and so did their second MoWest single, "Don't You Be Worried" (backed with the funky "Determination", produced by Willie Hutch). The Commodores' first single on the "real" Motown label was "Are You Happy". It was also the first song where Lionel Richie handled the lead vocals all by himself. The record passed unnoticed, but Milan Williams' frenetic, synthesizer-laden instrumental "Machine Gun", issued in April 1974, became a huge hit, landing at #7 R&B and #22 Pop, even charting at #20 in the U.K. That particular track was produced by James Anthony Carmichael, who from this point on became the Commodores' permanent producer. Carmichael worked with the Commodores on every album that followed, until he chose to go with Lionel Richie, when he opted for a solo career in 1982. The Commodores' debut album, also entitled "Machine Gun", went into the top one hundred and sold gold in Japan and the Philippines, countries where the Tuskegee group had toured with The Jackson Five.

The second single to chart from "Machine Gun" was a typical, bottom-heavy, Jeffrey Bowen production called "I Feel Sanctified" (from which Bowen borrowed a substantial part for The Temptations' "Happy People"). It reached #12 on the U.S. R&B chart in October 1974. The Commodores then spent the next two years touring the United States and opened for The Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder. In April 1975, they released their first number one R&B hit "Slippery When Wet", taken from their sophomore album, "Caught In The Act". The Commodores were by now rightfully established as one of the funkiest bands in the land, but felt that in order to reach a bigger and more diverse audience, they'd have to try something new. And their next effort was indeed very different from its funky predecessors. For the first time, a Lionel Richie penned ballad was chosen as the single. "This Is Your Life" (August, 1975) climbed to R&B #13, but it was with Lionel's "Sweet Love" (from "Movin' On" 1975), that the Commodores found their winning formula. The single shot to R&B #2 and Pop #5 and the mellow follow-up "Just To Be Close To You", taken from the Commodore's first platinum-seller "Hot On The Tracks (1976), repeated the success. For the second single from that LP, the Commodores returned to the funk and it's obvious that The Ohio Players served as the inspiration for Richie and Ronald LaPread when they wrote "Fancy Dancer".

That same year, 1976, the Commodores supported the O'Jays on a huge, 42-city American tour. It's been said that the Alabama youngsters virtually stole the show and from here, the Commodores no longer were a warm-up band, but the headline act. In 1977, they headlined their own American tour, giving 85 concerts in some 72 cities and embarked on their first, own world tour. It coincided with the March-release of their "Commodores" LP (re-named "Zoom" in the U.K.). The concerts were allegedly highly spectacular, with lots of audience participation, smoke and cannon-fired confetti. Sadly, the tour was cut short, due to the tragic death of bassist Ronald LaPread's wife Kathy, who succumbed to cancer in 1977.

Every band member contributed to the albums, but Lionel Richie, who by now was the group's primary lead vocalist, was responsible for writing the majority of the singles. However, the Commodores returned to their funky roots after Lionel's country-flavored ballad and mega-hit "Easy". On "Brick House", Walter "Clyde" Orange, who had handled both the skins and the lead vocals during the group's beginnings, did his thang. "Brick House" came out in August, 1977 and got to R&B #4 and Pop #5. "Clyde" was also the lead vocalist on the uptempo stomper "Too Hot Ta Trot", (R&B #1, Pop #24 1977). That track was later edited and included on the soundtrack to the 1978 disco-movie "Thank God It's Friday", where the Commodores co-starred with Donna Summer.

The full studio version of "Too Hot Ta Trot" was issued on "Commodores Live", recorded during the massive 1977 U.S. coast-to coast tour. This double album, issued in October 1977, is arguably one of the finest live albums ever made and has left a powerful testament to the Commodores' unique showmanship.

May 1978 saw the release of the Commodores' fifth album, "Natural High", which sold platinum and spawned their largest cross-over hit. "Three Times A Lady", written by Lionel Richie, rose to #1 on both the R&B and Pop charts in June 1978 and became Motown's biggest single ever. "Flying High", (R&B #21, Pop #38) released in August 1978, was the second single from "Natural High". It was followed by a "Greatest Hits" LP.

In 1979, "Three Times A Lady" gave the Commodores several international awards, plus the Peoples Choice Award for "Best Song" and the American Music Awards for "Most Popular Single". That same year, the Commodores released the "Midnight Magic" album, which did extremely well in Britain. The hit singles, emanating from Lionel Richie's pen, continued with the 1979 singles "Sail On" (R&B # 8, Pop #4) and "Still", which simultaneously topped both the R&B and Pop charts in the U.S.. Milan Williams wrote the third single "Wonderland" (R&B #21, Pop #25). Also in 1979, bassist Ronald LaPread (together with Harold Hudson from the Commodores' back-up band The Mean Machine) produced, wrote and arranged the entire side B of fellow Tuskegee, Alabama-based 7th Wonder's "Climbing Higher" album. It was time to cross the Atlantic again. The Commodores performed at the Saarbrücken Festival in Germany, which was the starting-shot for their second European tour. They were greeted with open arms and sold out houses virtually everywhere they went.

In 1980, the Commodores were voted "Favorite Soul Group" at the American Music Awards and won the Peoples Choice Award for "Best Song" with "Still". Surprisingly enough, the highly spiritual "Heroes", the Commodores' tenth LP, released the same year, was a poor seller in the U.K., at least compared to their previous albums, but went platinum in the United States. The singles "Old-Fashion Love" (R&B #8, Pop #20) and the title track "Heroes" (R&B #27, Pop #54) were obviously hits, but not big enough to end the malicious media speculations about the Commodores' heydays being over. The third single "Jesus Is Love" only made it to a disappointing R&B #34.

By now, Lionel Richie was of course a much sought-after songwriter, but had resisted all outside requests until Kenny Rogers approached him. Richie wrote "Lady" for the country star, which became a top ten hit, sold sixteen million copies and earned Richie several prestigious awards. It's been suggested that the other members of the Commodores weren't too happy about the situation, since the song had originally been written for them and they desperately needed a hit. Rumors that Lionel Richie was leaving the group were naturally fueled by all of this, but in every interview, Richie was persistently denying having any such plans.

In 1981, while working on what would become the Commodores' third U.S. platinum seller; "In The Pocket", Richie wrote, produced and duetted with Diana Ross on "Endless Love", the Academy nominated theme song from the movie of the same name (which, hardly to anyone's surprise, also went platinum). Once again, rumors of Richie departing the Commodores spread like wild fire. Officially Lionel said he wasn't, but behind the scenes he was growing increasingly tired of not having free hands to record and write outside of the group. Three singles were issued from "In The Pocket": "Lady You Bring Me Up" (R&B #5, Pop #8), "Oh, No" (R&B #5, Pop #4) and "Why You Wanna Try Me" (R&B # 42, Pop #66). 1981 was also the year that Lionel Richie became the first artist in American history to simultaneously appear in the top ten as a composer, performer and/or producer of three different records: "Endless Love", Kenny Rogers' "I Don't Need You (which Lionel produced) and the Commodores' "Lady, You Bring Me Up".

In 1982, although officially still a member of the Commodores, Lionel released his debut single as a solo artist. "Truly", which was produced by James Anthony Carmichael. It sky-rocketed to the top of the U.S. charts, presented Lionel with his first Grammy for "Best Pop Male Vocal Performance" and an array of other awards. The eponymous LP sold some four million copies and became Motown's third biggest selling album.
 
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The Commodores (part 2)

The Commodores (continued)

On August 17, 1982, the Commodores' long-time manager and dear friend Benjamin Ashburn died from a heart attack. Shortly thereafter, Lionel publicly announced his departure from the Commodores. This was naturally a terrible blow to the group, but they decided to continue, realizing it was what Benny - who had been the first to believe in the Commodores- would have wished.

Lionel Richie followed up the success of "Truly" with "You Are" which shot to R&B #2 and Pop #4. A third single, "My Love", reached R&B #6 and Pop #5 in April 1983. Lionel was on his way to super-stardom. Meanwhile, the Commodores released "All The Great Hits", which in addition to the familiar classics contained two new tracks. The lead vocals on the first Richie-less single "Painted Picture", were handled by co-writer Harold Hudson, who was a member of The Mean Machine, the Commodores' back-up horn and keyboard section on live performances. "Painted Picture" was issued in late 1982 and made it to #19 on the American R&B charts. The follow-up "Reach High" came out in January 1983 and there's a little mystery attached to it. According to A. Scott Galloway's liner notes to the double-CD set "The Best of the Commodores" (Motown, 1995) "Reach High" was sung by Kevin Smith, who hailed from Montgomery, Alabama and had been chosen to replace Lionel Richie during an audition held in Atlanta. However, Jeffrey Singleton, a vocalist and songwriter from Montgomery, Alabama, sent an intriguing E-Mail to this author in July '97, where he explained that he in fact sang on "Reach High", not Kevin Smith. Jeffrey, who co-penned the Reddings last hit "Call The Law", shared that both he and Smith were auditioned at Web 4 Studios in Atlanta to compete for the part and recalls learning the song "in the parking lot in Clyde's Winnebago, right before I had to audition". Whereas Kevin Smith (who came from Los Angeles, not Alabama) was a seasoned pro that had sung in the Broadway musical "Dreamgirls", Jeffrey had at the time not done "anything bigger than nightclubs around Alabama". Not only does Jeffrey claim to be the lead singer on "Reach High", he also says he was given a contract to replace Richie, but for various reasons, this would be his only recording with the group. Surprisingly, the funky and bubbly single (which happens to be one of my favorite post-Richie recordings) didn't chart, but was used as the theme song to the short-lived NBC sitcom "Teachers Only", starring Tim Reid and Lynn Redgrave.

"13" landed on the shelves in late September, 1983. The album were, like the two previous singles, produced by the Commodores themselves, as James Anthony Carmichael now worked with Lionel Richie.

Lionel Richie's sophomore album "Can't Slow Down" was issued in October 1983. The single "All Night Long (All Night)" not only shot to the top of the U.S. charts, but held that position in eighteen countries, except in Britain where it landed at #2. Further singles pulled from "Can't Slow Down": "Running With The Night", "Hello", "Stuck On You" and "Penny Lover" were all top ten international hits. "Hello" sold a staggering eight hundred thousand copies in the U.K. and the album sold well over four million copies within the first ten weeks of release. The total sum was 15 million units worldwide! It is the biggest album in Motown' s history. Lionel now embarked on his fist solo tour, with the Pointer Sisters as his support. In November 1983, the plane that Lionel and his entourage traveled in, nearly crashed in Arizona. The party was heading for a concert in Tucson, when the plane's wheels collapsed. The first media reports suggested that Lionel had died in the crash. His reply was "I'm ten times more famous since being assumed dead".
In 1984, Lionel wrote "Missing You" for Diana Ross which was a tribute to the late Marvin Gaye. The record was an American number one R&B and top ten pop hit. On the 12th of August, Lionel performed the Olympics in Los Angeles, an event watched by some 2.6 billion people.

In the Commodores' camp, further personnel changes were taking place. In August 1984, guitarist McClary followed Lionel Richie's example and opted for a solo career. McClary recorded a self-titled album on Motown, from where the singles "Thin Walls" and "Man In The Middle" were drawn. (Lionel Richie sang background vocals on the first-mentioned, which also was the only single to chart). J.D. (James Dean) Nicholas, who replaced Johnny Wilder in Heatwave, met the Commodores during a taping of the American TV show "Soul Train". Nicholas came on board on what looked like a sinking ship, but in late 1985, the Commodores proved beyond a doubt that they still had what it takes to write a hit record. "Nightshift" was produced by Dennis Lambert (the man responsible for ex-Temp's Dennis Edwards' smash "Don't Look Any Further") and was to be the final Commodores' LP to sell gold in the United States (at least to date). The microphone was shared on the title track by Orange and Nicholas and the single raced to number one R&B and three on the Pop charts. Just as the group collected their first and only Grammy award for "Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group", they announced their departure from Motown and signed with PolyGram.

In 1985, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson wrote "We Are The World" for the USA for Africa project, where 46 major artists united to help the suffering people of Africa and The United States. The single was a number one hit and sold more than two million copies. On July 13, Lionel performed the track at the Live Aid gala. The theme song from the "White Nights" movie, "Say You Say Me" was Lionel's first own single that year. Released in October, it became his ninth, consecutive, self-penned number one hit (beating The Rolling Stones by one, a group that has been making records approximately twice as long as Lionel). This is an achievement only matched by Irving Berling. Lionel won a host of honors, including a Grammy for "Album Of The Year" and "Award Producer Of The Year", plus six American Music Awards, ASCAP "writer of The Year", ASCAP "Publisher Of The Year", The Golden Globe Award "Best Song" and The Tuskegee Institute Honorary Doctor of Music Degree. He was also Academy nominated for "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)", which Lionel co-wrote with Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton for Steven Spielberg's movie "The Color Purple".

In June 1986, Lionel delivered his long overdue "Dancing On the Ceiling" single and album."Love Will Conquer All" was the second, chart topping single. After "Ballerina Girl", issued in November, Lionel embarked upon a Pepsi Cola-sponsored American tour. His support was Sheila E and the show was titled "Lionel Richie's Outrageous Tour". The staging was highly spectacular, with ten feet high modular hydraulic units that moved around during the performance. Add some twenty tons of equipment: one hundred and fifty computerized swiveling lights, six hundred stationery lights and to top it off, a motorized piano.

The humorous "Goin' To The Bank"¨ was the Commodores' first effort on PolyGram. It did much better than the last Motown singles and landed comfortably at number two on R&B charts in September 1986. Once again, the Commodores headed for Europe to back up the single and the subsequent album, entitled "United". The LP was an, at least temporary, reunion with James Anthony Carmichael, who co-produced "Talk To Me" with William King and "I Wanna Rock You" with Milan Williams. The follow-up single "Take It From Me" struggled to R&B #38 in January 1987. The group was dissatisfied with the way PolyGram handled them and blamed the wavering sales on poor interest in marketing on the labels' account.

After "Dancing On The Ceiling", Lionel didn't record a new album until "Back To Front", a "greatest hits" CD with three new tracks, which was released in 1992. The single "Do It To Me" was a #1 R&B hit (#21 Pop) in the States. The follow-up "My Destiny" charted at R&B #56, but never entered the Pop charts. In the U.K., the situation was reversed, as "Do It To Me" landed at a modest #33, whereas "My Destiny" was a top ten hit. "Back To Front" sold 9 million copies worldwide and platinum in the U.S. A third single, "Love, Oh Love", was released in November, 1992 and made it to #52 in Britain. For some reason, none of the new songs that had been recorded for the set were produced by Richie's brother-in-arms James Anthony Carmichael, but by Stewart Levine, who had previously worked with Womack & Womack, among others. "Back To Front" was to be the last album Lionel recorded for Motown.

The death of his father, a divorce and the loss of a friend to AIDS, brought on a four year period of silence, but in 1996 Lionel re-surfaced with "Louder Than Words" on Mercury Records. The majority of the album was produced by Lionel and James Anthony Carmichael. Lionel also worked with Jam & Lewis (on three tracks) and with David Foster. The first single was the Jam & Lewis collaboration "Don't Wanna Lose You". A meeting between two great writers took place when Babyface and Lionel teamed up and wrote the second single "Ordinary Girl". A third and final single, the Carmichael-produced "Still In Love", was issued in late October 1996. March 1998 saw the release of a greatest hits set on Motown entitled "Truly-The Love Songs". In the summer of 1998, Lionel released a new album entitled "Time".

After the Commodores' debut on PolyGram "United", released in 1986, Ronald LaPread found a new wife and moved to Auckland, New Zealand. Now down to four members, the Commodores went back to Europe to tour in 1988 and PolyGram released "Grrrip", a single lifted from the "Rock Solid"album. A British company used "Easy" in a commercial, which temporarily boosted the public's interest in the Commodores. Regrettably, the acclaim was short-lived.

Rumors of a reunion of the original Commodores began floating in 2008, fueled by statements made by Richie. Despite a number of false reports (some apparently started by former group members) the reunion has not happened.
 

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Dazz Band

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Dazz Band

With a name derived from the 1977 hit song by Brick ("Dazz" or disco-jazz), Kinsman Dazz burst onto the scene in 1978 with their own brand of Ohio funk. Their first two albums, on 20th Century Fox Records, resulted in a couple minor hits and began to gather a small following for the group. In 1980 the group, then consisting of leader Bobby Harris, Mike Calhoun, Michael Wiley and his brother Isaac Wiley, singer/trumpeter Skip Martin, Eric Fearman, Ken Pettus, Kevin Frederick and Pierre DeMudd, shortened its name to The Dazz Band and signed with Motown Records.

The Dazz Band's first two Motown albums didn't do much better than their earlier releases, hitting the middle of the R&B charts. But that all changed with 1982's Keep It Live, a funkier, club friendly album that included the uber-infectious dance hit "Let It Whip." That single instantly turned the group into stars, topping the R&B and Dance charts and winning for The Dazz Band a Grammy for Best R&B Performance. It also began a half decade of chart strength, mostly consisting of upbeat hits that followed the template of "Let It Whip." "Joystick," "On the One for Fun" and "Let It All Blow" all hit the top ten and the accompanying albums were equally successful.

By 1986 the group's sound began to sound predictable and lose its appeal. Despite switching from Motown to to Geffen and then to RCA, as well as attempting to move to more of a rock feel in their music, the Dazz Band never again achieved the level of success they hit during the peak years of 1982-85. The group split for a period in the early 90s, but reunited for a couple albums on Intersound Records in 1997-8 (which barely charted) and independently released their last album, Time Traveller, in 2001.

A version of the group continues to tour sporadically in multi-artist funk shows, while individual members also have their own projects (the most notable of which are CDs by Skip Martin and Mike Calhoun).
 

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Smokey Robinson acting

Here's Smokey Robinson in an episode of Police Woman.
[youtube]DnrZWCw70gw&fmt=18[/youtube]
 

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Divinity Records

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Divinity was Motown's gospel label. Berry Gordy started Divinity late 1961. Only four singles were released. In the summer of 1963 the label was closed down.
 

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Ecology

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A very short-lived label owned by Sammy Davis, Jr. and distributed by Motown. Only one single was released: In My Own Lifetime/I'll Begin Again, by Davis in 1971.
 

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Tammi Terrell

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Tammi Terrell was born Thomasina Montgomery, the first daughter of Jennie, a former actress, and Thomas, a barbershop owner, on April 29, 1945, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She began singing and winning talent contests at Philadelphia's Earle Theater at age 11, and was opening club shows for such headliners as Gary "U.S." Bonds and Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles by the time she was 13 years old. Discovered at age 15 by producer Luther Dixon, Terrell was signed to New York's Scepter/Wand record label. Under the moniker Tammy Montgomery, she made her debut on Scepter with the single "If You See Bill," in 1961, which was followed in 1962 by "The Voice of Experience."

After the "Godfather of Soul" saw her perform live, Terrell recorded on James Brown's Try Me label in 1963. She released the single "I Cried" on Try Me in 1963 and toured with the James Brown Revue. It has been suggested that Brown claimed the two were romantically involved and that she left the tour because of her parents' objections. She released "If I Would Marry You" on the Checker record label a year later. She also took premedical school courses at the University of Pennsylvania for two years during this time.

After releasing "If I Would Marry You" from Checker, she changed her surname to "Terrell." Not because she wed boxer Ernie (brother of future Supreme Jean), but probably because it was shorter and sounded less country and more R&B-worthy.

So it was Tammi Terrell that Berry Gordy wanted at Motown in 1965, following her performance with Jerry Butler at Detroit's Twenty Grand Club.

Producers Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua worked with her first. "I Can't Believe You Love Me" did well at #25 R&B. Without pop action, though, Motown could have very well cut its ties. It stayed patient throughout "Come on and See Me," a cover of "This Old Heart of Mine," "Hold Me, Oh My Darling," and other nonstarters.

Time to meet the second-most prominent figure of the Tammi Terrell biography. When Marvin Gaye ended up partnerless (again, after Mary Wells) with Kim Weston's departure in 1967, Fuqua thought a certain female solo singer could do well with him.

Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye, lyricist Nickolas Ashford, and composer Valerie Simpson made a peerless R&B team. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." "Your Precious Love." "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing." "You're All I Need to Get By." Etc.!

Fans loved the duets as much as the singers loved each other (platonically, by most accounts). Those songs also finally brought Terrell the fame she'd been dreaming of since childhood.

Yet that same year, a nightmare had begun to unfold. First, the terrible migraines. Then, her collapse during a Hampton University show in Virginia. Then, the discovery of a malignant brain tumor.

More "thens" would get us to the unhappy end of this Tammi Terrell biography quickly. The songstress herself had no such option. This funny, attentive free spirit weakened slowly and painfully--unbeknownst to the public.

By 1969, with deteriorating memory and motor functions, Terrell could no longer sing live. Yet the hits--including some of the ones above--were still rolling off the conveyor belt. Motown released two more albums following the duo's debut on United. (Terrell's discography appears here.)

How? Engineers overdubbed Gaye's vocals onto some old Tammi tracks for You're All I Need. More ghoulishly, Valerie Simpson impersonated Terrell on Easy's songs, which included "Good Lovin' Ain't Easy to Come By," "What You Gave Me," and "The Onion Song."

The setup appalled Gaye. But as Motown contended, an album under his partner's name meant income for her family.

Fans knew nothing about this ploy. They did, however, suspect that something was amiss about Tammi Terrell's condition. The rumor mill churned so furiously that Temptation David Ruffin had to come out to assuage them.

What he didn't address--and what remains unclear to this day--was whether he, as her boyfriend, or a Motown executive had caused her head traumas. Terrell's affairs with men were reportedly quite volatile. With her own alleged drinking problem, she was no sheltered mouse. But no one deserved to endure extremes in weight, partial paralysis, and eight operations that ultimately failed.

Especially someone so young. That youth is forever part of her tragedy--frozen at age 24 after March 16, 1970.
 

DuranDuran

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Temptations' Otis Williams Proclaims He's 'Still Here' After a Half Century of Stardom

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It's often said that the Temptations did for soul music what the Beatles did for rock 'n' roll. From post-doo-wop ballads such as 'My Girl' and the psychedelic soul of 'Ball of Confusion' and 'Papa Was a Rollin' Stone' to an '80s collaboration with Rick James, these Hall of Famers span generations.

The Temptations' most recent album, aptly titled 'Still Here,' is a prelude to the group's 50th anniversary celebration in 2011. Like Paul McCartney, 68-year-old group leader Otis Williams (sometimes called Big Daddy) is still touring and recording, keeping the group name alive. Spinner spoke with him about life, death and mobbed-up nightclub owners.

The new song 'Change Has Come' recalls the Temptations' great social-justice songs.

That was a husband-and-wife team out of Birmingham, Alabama. And when it was presented to us, I fell in love with it. It's so apropos to what we are going through as a country, with the first African-American president.

It's a tough job, isn't it?

Well, you know, he knew what it was before he got into it. Clinton got it – all our presidents get hammered. And President Obama probably knew he'd get hammered even more so because of the color of his skin. I think he's doing a good job. He just inherited a bad situation.

When the group started recording more socially conscious songs in the late '60s, I'm curious whether you had to persuade Berry Gordy to let you go in that direction, as very commercially driven as he was.

Berry didn't bother us in that sense. Of course, we started having hits with Smokey [Robinson as songwriter and producer]. And then when Norman [Whitfield, Motown songwriter-producer] started working with us on 'Ain't Too Proud to Beg' and the songs after that, I guess Berry said, "Well, leave them alone." He never did step in and say, "I don't want you guys recording that." Which he could have, because every Friday they were having quality-control meetings.

That always seemed like a funny idea, having "quality control" for music.

It definitely worked for Motown. Berry would gather the producers and the songwriters -- everyone but the artists. Sometimes I'd stand outside the door and really hear them going at it.

Another new song I want to ask about is 'Soul Music,' which has such a sweet, nostalgic tone but also sounds contemporary. It's well-timed, since we seem to be in the middle of a classic soul revival.

Well, not only has Motown been here for 50 years but Philly International, Stax Records... Great music will withstand the test of time. The amazing thing about younger people, people in their late teens, early 20s – I was in L.A. a while ago, walking down the street, and these two young guys stopped me and said, "Mr. Williams, we don't mean to bother you, but we know who you are, and we just want to say that you guys made better music than what we have today." And I've heard that enough times to know that, you know – 'My Girl,' 'Ball of Confusion,' 'Just My Imagination' – these are songs that anybody and everybody can relate to.

You had great songs from both of those early phases of the group, with Smokey and then with Norman Whitfield. Can you characterize how their personalities differed?

Well, Smokey was just a complete producer-songwriter. He came to us with 'My Girl,' 'Get Ready,' and he had everything fit. He would always allow us to have our input, but he was just a very confident producer and songwriter. Now, Norman laid some dynamite tracks and wrote some great lyrics, but he left a great percentage of everything else to us, as far as the harmonies and things. So it was like night and day. It was great working with both of them.

Your group has had plenty of high times, but you've also experienced more than your share of tragedy. You've lost so many members.

Well, that's life. Most recently, we just lost [Ali-]Ollie Woodson. But you just have to continue on, just like when you lose a family member. You just have to continue on.

Is there a particular moment in the group's history when you remember the highs far outweighing the lows?

Oh, sure. Next year is the 50th anniversary, and we've quite naturally had a lot of historical moments. I could rattle off so many – wow! Especially when I walk around my home, so many gold and platinum albums, Grammys and awards and citations. I never would've imagined when we started out that we would achieve so much.

What was it like to play the legendary Manhattan nightclub the Copacabana? I've heard all the stories about owner Jules Podell and how unpleasant he could be.

Oh! Well, Jules Podell was wonderful to us. You know, we broke all the existing records at the Copa, for any act. We played there in 1967, and the lines were all the way around to Central Park, and the police were there on horses trying to control the crowd. Our manager told us that Mr. Podell wanted to speak with us, and he came in and told us that we should let him know if anyone tried to mess with us. "Nobody gonna mess with my Temptations!" So, yeah, he was a character.

Did you get to have last words or mend fences with each of the departed members of the group before they died? Any regrets?

I regret that we lost so many talented guys. But you know, Eddie Kendricks, we talked a few days before he passed. I told him I loved him, and he said, "Same here." I told him we made history together. We made something really great that would outlive us all. Unfortunately for Paul [Williams, no relation], he committed suicide, but we had always communicated with Paul. Even when he was no longer in the group, he still did our choreography. I didn't see David Ruffin when he passed -- we were on the road, and you know what happened to him in Philadelphia. But from time to time before he died, we'd see him, and it was always cordial. Melvin [Franklin], him and I were still together when he had a seizure and passed. We were friends to the end. And I sat and talked with Ollie a week or two before he passed. I'm happy to say that, all in all, we did get a chance to mend fences with those who we needed to do so with.

For five decades you've been the spokersperson for the group. Did you fall into that, or are you by nature a take-charge kind of guy?

You know, it goes back to when we worked with Johnnie Mae Matthews [the Detroit label owner who signed Williams' group the Distants, precursors to the Temptations], when she would call rehearsal at her house. I always made a point to get there a little before time. And one day she said, "Otis, you're never late. That's a good quality to have. You be the group leader." When we got to Motown, we met with Mickey Stevenson, then the A&R man. He said, "If you want to make Mr. Gordy mad, be late." And we said, "We don't play late." So that's how I became the leader. All I wanted to do was sing, but the late Johnnie Mae Matthews put that yoke on my back and, well, here it is 50 years later.

http://www.spinner.com/2010/06/25/temptations-otis-williams-still-here/
 

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Tammi Terrell Come On And See Me: The Complete Solo Collection

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LIMITED EDITION QUANTITY: 5000

Tammi Terrell, the lovely ingénue who became best known as Marvin Gaye’s duet partner, the female voice in the Motown classics "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough," Your Precious Love" and more, also had a budding solo career – one cut tragically cut short by her premature death at age 24.

In 2010, as we mark the 40th anniversary of Tammi’s death and celebrate what would have been her 65th birthday, the singular person behind those immortal duets is being rediscovered. Come On And See Me: The Complete Solo Collection brings together for the first time all of Tammi’s solo recordings, from her earliest releases for Scepter/Wand, when she was still in high school, to her brief time with James Brown, her stint with Checker/Chess and, finally, her blossoming at Motown. That’s a total of 50 tracks on 2 CDs: every single, B-side, album track and stray cut from posthumous releases – plus an amazing treasure trove of newly discovered tracks: 10 unreleased recordings direct from the Chess and Motown vaults, including Tammi’s only known live recordings. And 11 songs previously available in mono are presented in brand new stereo mixes; most of those are extended as well.

Two of the unreleased tracks aren’t strictly solo: we found a duet version of Tammi’s otherwise solo Chess single, "If I Would Marry You," in which she is paired with triple-threat Jimmy Radcliffe, more than three years before she worked with Marvin Gaye; and "Kissing In The Shadows," a never-before-heard Motown track in which she is supported vocally by producer Johnny Bristol.

Additional unreleased tracks include two Chess recordings co-written by Radcliffe – "I Can’t Hold It In Any More," a bluesy cover of an Etta James B-side, and "I’ve Got Nothing To Say But Goodbye." On the Motown side, there are two previously unheard Ashford & Simpson compositions and productions, "Beware Of A Stranger" and "It’s Been A Long Time Happenin’." Then there is the live set.

Tammi Terrell was, in September 1966, a 21-year-old rising star at Motown with two minor hit singles; her duets with Marvin Gaye were not yet a notion. She was tapped to open for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles at one of the company’s "Motown Mondays" performances at Detroit’s swanky Roostertail nightclub, the same venue where the Four Tops’ and the Temptations’ live albums were recorded. In a stirring 13-minute set, Tammi showcased her versatility, performing spirited versions of her two solo singles and a smartly arranged medley in which she sang snippets of songs associated with her favorite singers: Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson and the Supremes. It’s the only live recording of Tammi anywhere.

This unprecedented collection also features a beautiful booklet with rare photos, detailed annotations and an essay by Princeton professor Daphne Brooks.

Disc 1​
1. If You See Bill
2. It’s Mine
3. Voice Of Experience
4. I Wancha’ To Be Sure
5. Sinner’s Devotion
6. Make The Night Just A Little Longer
7. Big John
8. I Cried
9. If You Don’t Think
10. If I Would Marry You*
11. This Time Tomorrow*
12. I’ve Got Nothing To Say But Goodbye**
12. I’ve Got Nothing To Say But Goodbye**
13. I Can’t Hold It In Any More**
14. If I Would Marry You duet with Jimmy Radcliffe**
15. I Can’t Believe You Love Me
16. That’s What Boys Are Made For
17. Come On And See Me
18. What A Good Man He Is
19. Tears At The End Of A Love Affair
20. This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)
21. He’s The One I Love
22. Can’t Stop Now (Love Is Calling)
23. Just Too Much To Hope For
24. Hold Me Oh My Darling
25. I Can’t Go On Without You
26. Baby Don’tcha Worry
27. There Are Things
Disc 2​
1. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
2. All I Do Is Think About You
3. Slow Down
4. I Gotta Find A Way (To Get You Back)
5. Oh How I’d Miss You
6. Lone Lonely Town
7. You Ain’t Livin’ ’Till You’re Lovin’*
8. Give In You Just Can’t Win*
9. When Love Comes Knocking At My Heart*
10. Memory Chest*
11. That’s How It Is (Since You’ve Been Gone)*
12. More, More, More*
13. Two Can Have A Party*
14. My Heart*
15. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely*
16. Kissing In The Shadows**
17. Beware Of A Stranger**
18. It’s Been A Long Time Happenin’**
19. Almost Like Being In Love (Live)
20. Stage dialogue with emcee Scott Regan
21. I Can’t Believe You Love Me (Live)
22. Medley: What A Difference A Day Makes/Runnin’ Out Of Fools/Tell Me The Truth/Baby Love (Live)
23. Come On And See Me (Live)

 
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