Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Sharon Davis' Motown Tracking column (April)

Sharon Davis' Motown Tracking (April 2011)
Sharon Davis' Motown Tracking (April 2011) Marvin Gaye and Sharon Davis The Lewis Sisters @bluesandsoul.com Loleatta Holloway @bluesandsoul.com The Four Tops: Love Enough To Care (Soul Intention) Ian Phillips: Diana Ross - Queen Of Motown The True Story Of Florence Ballard @bluesandsoul.com F.L.O.S. @bluesandsoul.ocm Tata Vega @bluesandsoul.com

Today is 2 April, and Marvin Gaye would have been 72 years old today. And I’m sitting here listening to Let’s Get It On and a selection of greatest hits compilations. A day for remembering, I think, and a day to celebrate his life and music. Let’s TCBâ€Â¦

MY FAVOURITE TRACK... NOW THAT'S A MYSTERY!?

Those guys who’ve known me for the longest time, will know how gooey-eyed I go when I hear a certain Motown track. No, it’s not by the Four Tops, Martha Reeves or any of the company’s A list artists, but by a couple of white ladies from Michigan who probably never sold enough sides to warrant a royalty cheque. I think it’s fair to say this duo fell under the heading Mystery because few people outside Motown actually knew who they were. Anyway, back to the plot. The single is You Need Me and the artists, The Lewis Sisters. Ah, I can hear you sigh – I remember now. The song – recorded inside a tin can (not literally!) – is extremely basic, with its jogging beat merging with a high powered ballad, so untypical of Motown in 1965. It was released as a single on the VIP label in the August; in the UK in the October, and quite possibly, more promotional copies were distributed than discs actually sold. Nonetheless, it’s lived the life and we’re still talking about it today. So, the ladies in question are Kay and Helen Lewis who studied the classics at the Michigan State University and UCLA, and were, apparently, teachers for a time prior to taking a chance in the music business. In 1955 Kay moved to California to join her sister Helen, where they met jazz pianist Les McCann who introduced them to Liberty Records where their debut album in ’62 was the jazz inspired Way Outâ€Â¦Far. It was a collection of standards like S’Wonderful, Love Letters and Day By Day, featuring Les McCann on piano. From Liberty, the sisters switched to Chess/Checker to record Come On Let’s Stroll, among other titles. Then, during 1960, after moving to Verve Records, they adopted the role of violins on the Russ Garcia produced Voices, Strings And Percussions dedicated to the work of Tchaikovsky.

Chancing to meet Hal Davis, and through him Marc Gordon, who in turn hooked them up with Motown, Kay and Helen were signed up as singers in 1963 – where they provided support vocals for other artists in the West Coast Studios. However, their turn was to come when they recorded their debut single He’a An Odd Ball, a mid-tempo, nothing-much sort of song, released on the VIP label in May 1965. When that nosedived into oblivion, the quirky, haunting classic which got me totally hooked after one hearing, was issued. Written and produced by Berry Gordy, You Need Me crossed the boundaries with its haunting melodies. By the way, it was also recorded by fellow Motowner Brenda Holloway, but not issued at the time. The company’s promotion people renamed the sisters The Singing School Teachers in an attempt to secure radio spots and print space, but nothing worked. So, unfortunately, it was at this juncture that Berry Gordy lost interest in them as a recording entity. All wasn’t lost though, because they next appeared with Chris Clark on her first single (on VIP!) titled Do Right Baby, Do Right, where they provided backing vocals – giving rise to the rumour that Chris was actually one of the Lewis Sisters all along. It had me fooled for a time I can tell you because, for one, there’s a picture of them together with Mrs Esther Edwards out front of the Hitsville Studios, and for two, nobody denied it! More material was recorded by The Lewis Sisters, including I’m Losing You, Balloons and Baby Tell Me. However, it’s probably true to say their real talent was song writing, notably for Motown artists (some were written under their married names, Helen Mastor and Kay Miller) and included Happiness Is Guaranteed (Martha Reeves and the Vandellas), Where Were You and My World Is Crumbling (Brenda Holloway), Just Walk In My Shoes (Gladys Knight and the Pips), Baby, Baby (The Miracles), Many Good Times (The Supremes) and Marvin Gaye’s This Love Starved Heart Of Mine (It’s Killing Me) among others.

And there’s moreâ€Â¦.Kay’s young daughter Lisa also recorded for Motown. As an eight year old and billed as Little Lisa, she released her debut single Hang On Bill during August 1965 onâ€Â¦you’ve guessed it!...the VIP label. The song was a take-on of an earlier release by Robert Gordy (under the name Bob Kayli) titled Hold On Pearl in 1962 released on theâ€Â¦Ă˘€Â¦Gordy label!

Anyway, back to the story. Kay and Helen switched to the Canterbury label in 1967 where they wrote for Edna Wright, who was actually recording under the name Sandy Wynns. While there, they also produced Love Is for Little Lisa, now known as Lisa Miller, and later as Leeza Miller, when she was a featured vocalist with Sergio Mendez on the mainstream title Never Gonna Let You Go. (Hope you’re keeping up with this!) Just when it seems the sister’s relationship with Motown had ended, they reappeared as composers on Blinky and Edwin’s album Just We Two with Can’t We Be Strangers Again and I See A Rainbow. And then appeared – albeit very briefly – in Diana Ross’ Lady Sings The Blues movie in 1972. Yes, methinks you’d be hard pushed to recognise them but they were there, honest! Moving into the eighties, Kay remained in the business and with her husband Bob Smith built her own recording studio, and although she still wrote with her sister, most times she wrote with other people. When Ian Levine opened his UK-based Motorcity Records, both The Lewis Sisters and Leeza Miller recorded for him. Kay and Helen finally sang their versions of Just Walk In My Shoes and Baby, Baby. They also recorded the Levine/Steven Wagner original Dance With Danger. Leeza, on the other hand, cut Sign Of A Heartache and Tomorrow Never Comes.

And today? Well, it seems Helen has retired from the business after studying for a Ph.d in psychology, while Kay teaches music and still records. And that’s about it I’m afraid. Isn’t it strange how these things happen: if I hadn’t played that quirky little song a couple of weeks ago, this article might never have seen the light of day. And yes, the song still moves me. Let’s move on...

THE END OF MOTOWN!

Just recently I’ve received several emails about a Motown Closure, a heading that conjured up horrific pictures in any language. What happened was, Universal closed down their New York Mastering Studios, and the folks who worked there, primarily on Motown projects, lost their jobs. The future of the Motown compilation seemed in the balance. So, I spoke to Harry Weinger, at Universal in New York, who told me that although there was a basis to the story, it needed clarification. To further expand the services the Universal Music Group offers clients in New York, it has completed a deal with Sterling Sound which will be handling the mastering in Manhattan. A handful of the New York staff will, apparently, also relocate there. The Mastering Studios in Los Angeles are unaffected. So it’s pretty much business as usual, he concluded, and not the end of Motown by any means. Not all doom and gloom then my friends. Oh, the forthcoming Supremes package is still on course for May, and other projects are currently in the pipeline for this and next year’s release. But I can’t tell you what just now. Sorry!

Ms LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY R.I.P

She’s not a Motown artist, but she could have been. It’s yet another month that I’ve publicly shared my grief. I worked with Ms Loleatta Holloway when she was a Salsoul artist and we had the best time. Unpredictable of course, by the very nature of the lady, but she was warm and generous with her time and friendship. And she could be down and dirty when the mood took her – God love her. A huge, huge talent, although she’ll be remembered probably as a disco diva for tracks like Love Sensation. However, do check out the angst-ridden powerhouse performance of Cry To Me – you’ll melt: trust me. Loleatta also unintentionally hit the headlines when Black Box not only sampled Love Sensation but also used her vocals on the entire song titled Ride On Time in 1989. Following a long illness, the lady died from heart failure on 21 March. RIP my love.

TATA VEGA

Now another lady I’m fond of – Ms Tata Vega. Out are extended versions of her first two Motown albums. The glorious Full Speed Ahead debut, first released during 1976, which proved what a versatile artist she was (and still is), and Totally Tata, where once again she pulled out all the stops. Both cd's offer bonus tracks, and both contain extensive sleeve notes by David Nathan, featuring interviews with the singer and Iris Gordy, the projects’ executive producer. Reviews to come.

LITTLE TRACKINGSâ€Â¦

Ian Phillips’ book “ Diana: Queen Of Motown now available in paperback â€Â¦.Tito Jackson heading for the South of France in August – a special musical journey of nostalgia and contemporary music with his 11-piece Bowler bandâ€Â¦. Check out Soul Intention Records for a mighty single by the Four Tops titled Love Enough To Care. Licensed from Ron Dunbar, it was formerly available on an obscure album/cd. This track has been remixed and revamped. If you’re interested in this and other singles available visit soul-intention.co.uk.... The Monitors’ Say You – The Motown Anthology 1963-1968 will comprise their 1968 Greetings! album (of which I have a white copy) and approximately a dozen unreleased tracks, including some as The Majesticsâ€Â¦... A very disturbing picture was painted of Detroit in a recent edition of The Daily Mirror. Written by Ben Oliver in Detroit, the article began with "if you didn’t know what had happened here, you would think there’d been a nuclear war”. He then writes about the boarded-up store fronts, deserted streets, abandoned, demolished or burnt out properties with an estimated 230,000 jobs lost in the last three years. It’s an extremely dreadful scenario for the US’s 11th largest city. I expect the full story is somewhere on the newspaper’s websiteâ€Â¦..The True Story Of Florence Ballard by sister Maxine is on sale from 3 April, priced $20. Check out maxineballard.com for more detailsâ€Â¦..The Temptations hitting the US touring trail this year, sometimes with the Four Tops. Check out Otis Williams’ websiteâ€Â¦. this year is the 25th anniversary of the FLOS, featuring Lynda Laurence and Scherrie Payne. We’ll be chatting with the ladies later in a few weeksâ€Â¦Ă˘€Â¦..Ah, Blnky’s just popped up on my screen: so will come back in a minute. All’s fine..â€Â¦.in case you forget my email address is motowntracking@sky.com.... And finally, sex, drugs and R&B has an extremely nice ring to it don’t you think? So, with that thought - til next time, keep the faith.

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