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Issue 1084

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Feature

Cal Street (Velvelettes): She is really sayin' something (part 2)

Cal Street (Velvelettes) @bluesandsoul.com
Cal Street (Velvelettes) @bluesandsoul.com The Velvelettes @bluesandsoul.com The Velvelettes @bluesandsoul.com The very best of The Velvelettes

In the first part of this interview, Cal Street spoke of her family life and her first introduction to Motown. Now, as lead singer of The Velvelettes, she took me down memory lane with the artists she worked with and her impressions of being a Motown artist...

The girlsâ first recordings were with in-house producer/writer Mickey Stevenson, and these early recordings included their first 'There He Goes' single, featuring Little Stevie Wonder on harmonica. However, the flipside to this - 'Should I Tell Them?' - is classed as their earliest work because it represents the very beginnings of the style that would become popular with fans. A sound that was a cross between Martha and the Vandellas and The Supremes, epitomising the purest of Motownâs earliest music, as seen by Norman Whitfield. Prior to this release, Betty Kelley left the line-up to replace Annette Stirling in the Vandellas.

The Velvelettesâ debut American hit â 'Needle In A Haystack' released via Motownâs VIP label â shot into the top fifty on the Billboard chart. This was followed three months later by 'He Was Really Sayinâ Somethingâ. 'Lonely Lonely Girl Am I' was next in May â65, and 'A Bird In The Hand (Is Worth Two In The Bush)' followed. Their last outing represented a change in label to Soul with 'These Things Will Keep Me Loving You' in 1966. This was also a British top forty hit in 1971. And to all intents and purposes that was it! However, we all knew the girls had recorded more tracks than these releases, but how did we get our hands on them. It was a long wait but in 2004 âThe Motown Anthologyâ was issued, a 2-cd pack containing all their recorded work, including the quirky 'Ainât No Place Like Motown'. Prior to this Motown released fifteen tracks on 'The Very Best Of The Velvelettes', and in 2001 nineteen tracks on 'The Velvelettes: The Best Of'. In 2006 they joined others like Freda Payne and Bobby Taylor on the 2-cd package 'Masters Of Funk, Soul And Blues Present A Soulful Tale Of Two Cities' released by Philadelphia International. The Velvelettesâ contribution was a re-make of The Spinnersâ 'One Of A Kind Love Affair'.

Anyway, I digress. Letâs take up my conversation with Cal Street which begins with her influences at Motown. âI can honestly say that I was in awe of everyone - singles and groups. I thought Mary Wells, The Marvelettes, and Martha and The Vandellas were super cool! Marvin Gaye was not only very handsome, but he also crooned. Boy could he croon! Smokey was an awesome talent, with admirable poetic prowess. The Temptations were amazingly charismatic, and five handsome guys that had beautiful harmony and they moved like one. The Four Tops were outstanding vocalists who had great training in jazz harmony. Plus, they had a head start having gone on the road in the U.S. and to Europe will Billy Eckstine in the late fifties. This was way before they came to Motown. The person that I totally admired on stage was Gladys Knight. She and The Pips came to Motown from Georgia much later than other Motown artists. I first saw Gladys and the Pips perform at the Royale Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. I was all of 19 years old. She was the ultimateâ¦.I was mesmerized by her voice, technique and her stage presence! Gladys was, and still is, a classy lady. I also admired Diana Ross, and I looked up to both of them, as they were excellent performers and entertainers that I tried to pattern after.â


Cal firmly believed that Motown was so successful â âbecause Berry Gordy had a vision, and for the most part he viewed the artists as family, along with his own biological family. He reminded us that we were in friendly competition with each other, therefore, we didnât plot and scheme against each other. Each group and individual had their own style, and once that was identified and further developed, it was brought out and polished by musical coaches and consultants. We were trained by Maxine Powell at Artist Development. She was dedicated to creating positive images and poised entertainers. Other record companies didnât have a component that focused on creating and enhancing appeal and developing images that were family friendly, and could be embraced by people of all ethnicities.â


Motown life during the sixties and early seventies was easy, she said, full of fun and excitement. They were living the dream! Yet, she insisted â âWe didnât realize the impact our music would have on the world until much later in life. Once I/we matured and allowed ourselves to look back and reflect, I realized how blessed and lucky I was to be a part of the Motown legacy. And it has been a great honour being a product of Motown. Some entertainers who didnât have the opportunity to be a Motown artist have said they âmissed outâ, and can only admire the artists that came out of that Motown Sound!â

Coming from the small town of Kalamazoo, the transition to Detroit gave Cal a full dose of professionalism. It also opened her mind and world to much greater and exciting things. She cited Motown as her greatest influence because â âit was very professional, in that Berry Gordy hired professional consultants and trainers to polish all the Motown artists. We were revered all over the United States, and among fellow artists at competitive companies. We had this precision choreography that was taught by âUncleâ Charlie Atkins, and noticeable etiquette that was taught by Ms. Maxine Powell. Artists from other record companies took notice of Motown artists because we had that extra something that they didnât have. Having received training at Motownâs Artist Development School, the goal was to prepare and polish our skills and vocals to perform before kings and queens, yet humble ourselves to perform for the less fortunate as well.â

When their Motown stay came to an end, the girls still performed, while working day jobs and bringing up a family. They recorded for Ian Levineâs Motorcity label and enjoyed Motown re-issuing their material. What of the future I asked her? âItâs my hope that The Velvelettes move into tv work. I hope to help create a sitcom either in the US or UK. I can see us doing a weekly comedy like âThe Golden Girlsâ, only weâd be known as âBronze âSistahâ Pillarsâ or something like that. The Velvelettes can be very funny (and intense) during our practices, rehearsals and back stage in our dressing room. Iâd also like to be a part of management with the soon to be launched Sonz of Motown, which consists of four sons of former Temptations. My son, Richard Allen Street, Jr. being one (Cal was married to Richard Street), along with David Ruffin Jr., Paul Williams Jr. and âNikkausâ Melvin Franklin Jr. More information is forthcoming on the Sonz of Motown, so stay tuned .â
We then talked about Motownâs 50th gala celebration in Detroit last November. What a gas! âWe had an absolutely wonderful time! Itâs always a good feeling whenever Motown alumni have the opportunity to get together. For the most part, we love each other and feel a part of a very special entity in the world of music. It warms my heart to see those that are still with us, yet it is heartbreaking to see the list acknowledging those that have left this life and transitioned to another lifeâs journey. Being on stage with Stevie Wonder (who admits to once having a crush on me), The Temptations, Martha Reeves, and other Motown alums, always gives me chill thrills. I felt very fortunate, indeed.â She then spoke of a recent concert in in Kalamazoo, at Western Michigan Universityâs student centre for the anniversary of Berthaâs credit union. Continued Cal - âThis was a special event, in that the Bernhard Centre is the first venue The Velvelettes performed at in the early sixties. Weâre also slated to do a show at the Lincoln Centre, in New York City at the end of July. This is an âunsung heroâ concert with other artists. And, weâre now negotiating a return trip to the UK to do a show in October at the Pontinâs resort near London. We love our fan base in England very much, and we are so look forward to returning to England. Iâm sure that other engagements will be added to our performance schedule as time goes on.â

When not looking out for her family or working, how does she like to relax? âNowadays, I chill out with a good book, along with some cappuccino and Kamora or some other coffee liqueur; or a glass of Merlot wine. I also love listening to music by some of my favourite artists, and spending quality time with my 16 month old grandson, Ashton Carl Street. He is a source of great joy for me. My son, Richard (aka Ricky), and his wife Carlie did well with Ashton, and I hope they have more grandchildren for me to love and spoil!â Sheâd also like to write her autobiography. âPeople often tell me that my life has been very interesting and would be a great story to tell, not only as a member of The Velvelettes, but also as the wife of a former member of the Temptations. While I certainly agree, I must set aside some time to get this done, probably after I retire from my âstraightâ gig.â

Thatâs got me going Cal! Certainly would love to read your life story because with this interview weâve only touched the surface, not even made a scratch, and I know thereâs mountains more to tell. I also hope The Velvelettes make it over here this year because itâd be just great to chat with them all again. The future continues to look positive for one of Motownâs most remarkable girl groups whose recorded output may have been limited, but whose talent is not.

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Go to Cal Street interview part 1

Cal Street will be appearing with the Velvelettes at the Prestatyn Legends of Motown & Soul weekender between 15th - 17th of October. To find out more please go to soul-weekenders.co.uk

Win tickets and a chalet to the Legends of Motown & Soul Weekender in Prestatyn CLICK TO WIN
Words SHARON DAVIS

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