Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Scherrie Payne: Supreme reflections

Scherrie Payne
Scherrie Payne Scherrie Payne Tour de 4Force: Joyce & Pam Vincent, Jim Gilstrap, Scherrie Payne & Theresa Davis Diana Ross, Scherrie Payne & Lynda Lawerence: 'Return to Love Tour' in 2000 The Supremes: He's may man 1975 Scherrie & Susaye; Partners The F.L.O.S (Former ladies of The Supremes) Lynda Lawerence, Scherrie Payne & Freddi Poole F.L.O.S (Former Ladies of The Supremes) Scherrie Payne, Lynda Lawerence &  Freddi  Poole F.L.O.S (Former Ladies of The Supremes) Scherrie Payne, Lynda Lawerence &  Freddi  Poole The Supremes; Cindy Birdsong, Mary Wilson & Scherrie Payne The Supremes; Cindy Birdsong, Mary Wilson, Scherrie Payne The Supremes: You're My Driving Wheel...  Mary, Scherrie, Susaye Greene The Supremes 1976; Mary Wilson, Scherrie Payne & Susaye Greene The Supremes; Schrrie Payne, Susaye Greene and Mary Wilson 1976

I’m sure there’s not many of you reading this who hasn’t heard of this lady, either as a member of the group Glass House, of Motown’s Supremes, the former ladies of The Supremes or more recently Tour de 4Force. Oh, and there’s stuff in between like performing as a soloist and duettist; composing and… so on - the list is exhaustive and quite awesome for an artist known as “the little lady with the big voice”. Personally speaking, Scherrie is approachable and friendly, with certainly none of the diva attitude you’d expect from such a successful artist.

So, first things first. Born in November 1944 in Detroit, Michigan, Scherrie the youngest sister of Freda Payne, was lead singer with the Glass House signed to the mighty Invictus label opened by Eddie and Brian Holland, and Lamont Dozier. While signed, Glass House recorded a pair of albums and nine singles of which the wonderful “Crumbs Off The Table” in 1969 was their biggest hit. Joining The Supremes in 1973 as their lead singer, with support vocalists Cindy Birdsong and Mary Wilson, was Scherrie’s first serious stab at success. The trio wasn’t as popular as the Diana Ross or Jean Terrell fronted line-up yet they continued to attract a devoted, loyal following the world over. When Cindy left the group during 1978, Susaye Greene replaced her, whereupon the final membership was Scherrie, Mary and Susaye. By 1986 The Former Ladies of The Supremes (FLOS) was formed, authentically keeping the legend alive, and with the current line-up of Scherrie, Lynda Laurence and Freddi Poole, they are in demand as performers. The trio also recorded together with albums released on Altair, and, of course, Motorcity Records, formed by Ian Levine.

Well, that’s a very brief resume of Scherrie’s career – in fact, it doesn’t touch the tip of her many talents, but if I continued the walk down memory lane, there wouldn’t be room for the interview. And that’s what this is all about. However, before getting down to her newest project, Tour de 4Force, I kinda hoped she would put the record straight about the Return To Love US tour in 2000 where she appeared on stage alongside Lynda and Diana, following public enmity from Mary Wilson, who spoke not only for herself but also Cindy Birdsong, when negotiations reputedly broke down between the two camps. Diana said at the time – “The tour is not about me. It’s not about individuals. It’s about the music and what we (The Supremes) represented.” The tour kicked off in the June at the First Union Spectrum, Philadelphia, to a packed house and rave reviews. But, sadly, things went wrong and Diana, Scherrie and Lynda only managed to play eleven of their contracted twenty-eight dates. There were so many rumours, so many untruths about this tour which was should have been a glorious, ground breaking landmark in the history of the group (my claim to fame in all of this was to write the tour programme!), that I asked Scherrie her views. “…I couldn’t believe it. I was nervously excited when I got the call from Scott, the producer of the tour. I was just elated. I couldn’t believe it and I said ‘me?’. And he said ‘yes’. Diana asked for you. ‘What about the others?’ I asked, and he said ‘ who are they?’ So of course I named the other Supremes and said in fact I was just on the phone talking with Susaye when you called. A couple of times later during the day when he called back, I mentioned it again - about the other Supremes. I thought it would be great if we all could be on the tour, and he took their numbers and the next morning he called back. He said he had run it by Diana and she loved the idea of having all the Supremes. My real intention was to make sure that Lynda was on there, that was my foremost intention. So anyway, that’s how it all started…it was supposed to have been all of us. Then that following Tuesday when we were all going to fly into New York they had a tremendous snow storm and the airports were closed. We couldn’t go - and it was all downhill after that. That’s when (apparently) they couldn’t get negotiations to a conclusion with Mary and Cindy. Everything changed after that.”

Like myself, Scherrie believes that if the tour had kicked off in the UK or Europe, perhaps a different, more successful story, would have evolved. Maybe there would have been more staying power due to the legions of loyal fans over here, and, of course, more selfishly, what happened Stateside denied us the opportunity of seeing the three Supreme ladies on stage. “Yes, I think it would have been better because there was so much negativity over here. They were just poised and waiting to pounce on Diana, to make her the villain, and it was so unfair because she didn’t really have anything to do with the ultimate decision …the press hype everything up for sensationalism. Diana was not getting the money that was being reported in the press. They were just embellishing upon that, stoking the fire, fuelling the flames. Actually, it wasn’t all of Mary’s barking that caused everything to crumble (either). Maybe she would have liked to have thought so, but that wasn’t the case. It was actually the promoters themselves who were pressuring Diana into signing something that she didn’t want to sign..They were holding that over her head. If she didn’t sign then they were going to pull the tour. So there was just a lot of negativity and everybody out for themselves, trying to get what they could, and get their own way. She stood tall and strong for as long as she could, until she couldn’t stand any more. She told us that she’d try to hold out for as long as she could – to breaking point – and when she couldn’t any longer, she offered to do the last five concerts which were here in California, and then Vegas, for free. Just pay everyone else, she said.

“The public doesn’t know that, but Diana was a workhorse. I mean she did everything she could, and was so happy that she had ninety-four people working. She thought that it was just so fantastic. She was kind and gracious to everybody on the tour.”

Well, that’s sorted that so let’s hope the squabbling ends now.

Scherrie has several strings to her musical bow, so to speak. Her path has taken her from soul to disco to ballad; Invictus, Motown, Motorcity, Superstar International and others. I wondered if there was a particular period in her life/career that she enjoyed more than others. “Of course (being with) Glass House was at the very beginning, and it was wonderful playing the legendary Apollo Theatre twice. Once we did it with Stevie Wonder and we had a great time. Then, of course, with The Supremes. I got to tour the world. That was the highlight of my life.” On a more personal level, she said “ I’m so glad my parents got to see me perform with The Supremes, but I just wish my mother could have seen me perform with Diana. She would have been so proud. My natural father didn’t get to see me perform with Diana either. He died in ’87, but my step-father whom I call ‘daddy’ – he died in 2001 – got to see me.” More upbeat, she admitted she had also enjoyed the disco era when she was working by herself. “I had a great time doing all those disco songs. ‘I’m Not In Love’ is my all time favourite. I love singing that. Let’s see what else? Oh yes, ‘One Night Only’. I love that too.”

So then Ms Payne, by the same token, was there anything that was regretted or could have been changed? “Yes, I do have regrets. I wish I’d a little bit more forceful. I won’t say aggressive because that has a negative kind of sound to it. But I wish I could have had someone who would have pushed me. Someone in my corner, some type of manager, as sometimes I always thought I was, like, out there on my own. I never had anyone to actively act on my behalf, to open doors for me. And I just wish that during my Supreme days I had made more use of it, been a little bit more aggressive. I mean, I did make some bad decisions, and even my mother would tell me (to do something) and I didn’t do it. Those are my regrets.”

And now Scherrie has entered another phase in her life, another exciting time with the recently formed Tour de 4Force. Would I be wrong in thinking that this new group started out as a gathering of friends who perhaps wanted to jam together, doing something they loved? “Well, Tour de 4Force evolved. It just didn’t start off being a group. It was actually a solo project that Marcia Parks (the executive producer) was going to do on me. And I said ‘you’ve got to use my friend Jim Gilstrap, and Pam and Joyce Vincent for back-up, because they are just the best. They don’t come any better. So Marcia called them in and that’s how she met them, and it just started working out … it gelled…and the group just happened. Then Marcia said she had another friend in Chicago who used to be a member of The Emotions, Theresa Davis. ‘She has this incredible voice, and I think she’ll be a great addition to the group.’ So we said ‘ok’. Then she said ‘what about Oli Woodson? Wouldn’t it be great to have him do a couple of guest spots and blah, blah, blah’.” That’s certainly one helluva line-up and the combined talent is strong, imaginative and highly compulsive on their debut cd “Quiet Moon” from which their first single “Godsend” is now available for download. Like the others in the group membership, Scherrie is on a promotional roller coaster in the quest to publicise Tour de 4Force as much as possible. With already a life that’s full to bursting, how will she fit in her new project with her commitments to the Former Ladies of The Supremes who, incidentally, are due to perform here as part of the Divas of Motown package on 12 November at the Jazz Café and 13 November at the Hammersmith Apollo. Don’t leave them I cried!! She laughed. “I’m never gonna give them up. My goodness, that’s a big part, a big chunk, of my history. Tour de 4Force, I’m very happy that it happened; it happened by chance and I’m so excited about what we’ve done. …and we are all very proud of our work. But I’ve not given up on The Supremes. I’m hoping that it will just all work out. We’ll just take it as it comes and see what happens, and so far, it’s been ok….. I’ll just weave it in between The Supremes. We’re all kept pretty busy. Jim Gilstrap goes out with another group and does work with Little Anthony. He writes songs for them and does some producing. Joyce and Pam do some things on their own, and Theresa also goes out on the road and tours with Otis Clay. So everybody has something else they’re doing, but we’ll work it out.”

And finally, before the phone line disintegrates, prior to this interview I played the “Partners” album (yes, on vinyl!) and while I was listening to Scherrie and Susaye’s voices, I noted that Jim and Joyce were also included on the sessions. As good as this album was in 1979, it suffered the fate of poor promotion and a possible disinterest by Motown executives. But, say, if “Partners” had been a runaway hit, how different would Scherrie’s life have been. Staying with Motown was an option I guessed? “Yes, of course, I’d have definitely stayed. …It was a great album and it still is. I remember first meeting Luther Vandross. We were at a session. Quincy Jones called Susaye and me into a session with Luther, James Ingram, and I can’t remember who else …Jim Gilstrap I’m sure. But Luther was so excited to meet Susaye and me, and when he said he loved ‘Partners’ and just when on and on about it, it really made me feel good.

“ When (Motown and I) parted ways, which was - I guess – in 1980, it wasn’t because I wanted to leave, it was because they didn’t renew the contract. They wanted us to go, and I was very disheartened by it…I thought that I’d have a future there but apparently someone there was just looking at dollars and cents in black and white, and they made the decision to drop us. ..We could have been soloists but I guess they didn’t need additional (ones).” She was invited to a meeting where she was asked if she’d like the name of the person who had relieved them of their recording careers at Motown. Scherrie said that was the last thing she wanted to know for fear of what she would say! At the end of the day, she said “it was a business decision.”

Well, we certainly put the world to rights, didn’t we? There’s not a lot more I can say here, except thanks Jim Saphin for his invaluable input here. Ms Scherrie Payne is an exceptionally talented lady in more ways than one; she’s an absolute delight to know and I very much look forward to seeing her this November. Just to recap here – joining her and the gang, are Mable John, Chris Clark, Thelma Houston, Brenda Holloway and Jack Ashford’s Funk Brothers.

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