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The Spinners: While the City Sleeps

Reviewed by Heikki Suosalo

Rating: 8/ 10

An interview with G.C. Cameron,

& earlier comments from the other members of the group

  George Curtis Cameron was born in McCall Creek in Mississippi on September 23 in 1945, so he recently turned 73. In Mississippi George was first introduced to music in a local church and later he sang for a short while with the Jackson Southernaires.  At ten he moved to Detroit, where in 1961 he became close friends with Philippe Wynne and a bit later with Dennis Edwards.  Dennis worked in a small club in Detroit, and George and Philippe tried to steal a little spot in the show, to impress the girls. 

  George joined the Marines in 1963, spent his duty in Vietnam but also visited numerous other countries like Italy, Spain, Malta, Germany, the Bahamas and Japan.  G.C. Cameron: “When I came home in 1967, my brother David had called, because Dennis Edwards had called him and asked him, if I was interested in singing professionally, because the Spinners were in need of a singer --- The Spinners were at the rehearsal hall at West Grand Boulevard, across from Hitsville, and I met them there.  Harvey Fuqua and Marvin Gaye came in for the audition.  The Spinners were scheduled to open up for Marvin Gaye at the Apollo Theater, but they were short of one singer.  Marvin heard what I had to offer and he said ‘he’ll do’.”  The first released song that you can hear George’s voice on is a pulsating finger-snapper titled Bad, Bad Weather (Till You Come Home). 

  In this extended review of a CD by the Spinners called While the City Sleeps (Kent, CDTOP 481; https://acerecords.co.uk/while-the-city-sleeps-their-second-motown-album-with-bonus-tracks; 25 tracks, 73 min.), I utilize comments from the members of the group in my 5-part Spinners story in 2002-03, as well as recent reminiscences from G.C. Cameron, especially on the previously unreleased tracks.  There are as many as 10 previously unreleased songs and three that were not released at the time.  The booklet to the CD contains Keith Hughes’ detailed track-by-track annotations.




1) It's A Shame
2) I've Got To Find Myself A Brand New Baby
3) Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music
4) Bad, Bad Weather (Till You Come Home)
5) Pay Them No Mind
6) My Lady Love
7) Souly Ghost
8) O-o-h Child
9) In My Diary
10) My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)
11) (She's Gonna Love Me) At Sundown
12) Can Sing A Rainbow / Love Is Blue
13) Mental Telepathy
14) Satisfaction Guaranteed
15) Sunshine Train
16) While The City Sleeps
17) I Can't Let You Go
18) Your Sweet Love Is All I Need (Your Love Is Sufficient)
19) Don't Take Your Love Away I Can't Stand It
20) That's What Girls Are Made For
21) Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love
22) Sadder Words Were Never Spoken
23) Just A Little Part Of Your Life
24) When It Starts To Rain It Pours
25) Why Don't You Try It

IT’S A SHAME

  Bobbie Smith: “The Spinners were mostly available all the time and we would hang around studio every day trying to get on the back scene, background, whatever they needed us to do to make some money.  So we became real good friends of Stevie Wonder and Stevie liked the way G.C. sings with a high-voiced falsetto and all of that.  So we talked Stevie into doing a song on us.”  G.C.: “The Spinners were not a priority at Motown, and – as we all know – promotion and marketing is the most important thing in selling and moving a thing --- It just so happened that It’s a Shame was so powerful that the moment anyone heard it they knew instantly that it was a hit.”

  It’s a Shame is the opening song on the Spinners’ second album titled 2nd Time Around, which is the nucleus of this recently released CD.  The song stayed in the can for close to six months – Bobbie: “even Stevie Wonder couldn’t get it out” – but evolved into the biggest hit for the group till that date (# 4-soul, # 14-pop). 

  It’s a Shame was recorded in January 1970, released in June and four months later they put out the 12-track 2nd Time Around album.  Other tracks on the album include a nice and easy-going, mid-tempo I’ve Got to Find Myself a Brand New Baby, a melodic floater titled Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music and a catchy dancer named (She’s Gonna Love Me) At Sundown.  There’s also one rather messy, semi-psychedelic funk number called Souly GhostHenry Fambrough: “I didn’t like that much either.  We did whatever the producer at the time wanted to produce on us.  It was their decision.”  In this case the producers were George Gordy and Lawrence Brown, who also co-wrote the song.


On the pic above: G.C. Cameron

MY LADY LOVE

  A haunting ballad called My Lady Love (by Harvey Fuqua, Arthur Scott and Vernon Williams) is a hidden gem on the album.  There are also some nice outside songs, such as a pleading toe-tapper named Pay Them No Mind – originally by Nina Simone -, which features some intense vocalizing from G.C.  A couple of other outside tunes – O-o-h Child and I Can Sing a Rainbow/Love Is Blue – are not quite on a par with the 5 Stairsteps’ and the Dells’ hit versions, whereas My Whole World Ended is best known by David Ruffin and the slow In My Diary derives from the 1950s.  G.C.: “It was Harvey Fuqua’s idea to record it.  It was a Harvey Fuqua/Johnny Bristol production.  It’s an old Moonglows song.”

  G.C. ”Those days we worked with the whole Motown machine --- but all of the acts were top of the Spinners.  Only the small clubs we headlined ourselves, like the Sugar Shack in Boston, where we were more popular.  We had a club act opposed to a big auditorium act.  Our act was structured to please 200-300-400 capacity crowd.  With Smokey Robinson we would play places like colleges, where they would have 3000-5000 people, a lot more.  It’s a Shame opened up an avenue that would allow the Spinners to make more money and it opened the door to a different venue.  But Motown was determined not to allow the Spinners rise to a certain level.”

  After one more song that Stevie produced and co-wrote with Syreeta Wright - We’ll Have It Made (not on this CD) - Thom Bell picked up the Spinners and made the group one of the most celebrated ones in the 1970s on Atlantic.

  Billy Henderson: “--- after we got with the Atlantic Records the whole style of our singing and the tunes that were being produced on us totally changed.”  Henry: “We were with Motown for a long time.  We signed the contract that we didn’t read.  We were young at the time.  During the time we were there we didn’t have the producers like the Temptations and the Four Tops.  We didn’t have a producer to concentrate on the Spinners sound and to produce strictly for us.  When we put out the album, there were two or three different producers, different songs, different sound.  We got lost in the shuffle.”  Bobbie: “Ivy Hunter was a good producer, but he wasn’t that popular.  So he chose to stick with the Spinners --- Ivy did more things on the Spinners at Motown than anybody.  My theory about Motown was like going to college and coming out A1 student.”

  Pervis Jackson: “The Motown period was okay.  Things just weren’t happening for us there.  I guess they had their hands full with a lot of the other artists.  By the time our contract expired, we felt it was just time to go to another company, and that’s what we did.”


WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS

  The last time I talked to G.C. was already nine years ago, when his Enticed Ecstasy CD was released (http://www.soulexpress.net/deep409.htm#gccameron).  Since he’s the leading vocalist on most of the tracks on 2nd Time Around as well as those unreleased tracks, it was only appropriate to contact him again. 

  G.C.: “I was a little over twenty years old, when I recorded those songs, but I love the music because all the original Funk Brothers are playing on that album.  That speaks for itself.  It’s a great piece of musical history, singing on the last album that they did with the Spinners, when I was with the group.”

  Among the unreleased tracks, Mental Telepathy is a raw funky number produced and co-written by Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua.  “Harvey Fuqua, Johnny Bristol, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Hal Davis, William Stevenson... all those people were producing us.  We had a lot of great producers.”

  Tom Baird’s quick-tempo dancer Satisfaction Guaranteed is followed by another funk track, Sunshine Train, produced and co-written by Ricky Matthews aka Rick James.  “I didn’t meet Rick until 1973, I think.  I love all of those tracks so much, because it was the beginning of my career and you can relate to that music.  That’s old-school Motown.  I love it for that.”

  Bobbie is the lead singer on next two tracks.  While the City Sleeps (new mix) is a beautiful, neo-doowop type of a ballad deriving from 1964, whereas I Can’t Let Go is Ivy Jo Hunter’s 1966 nice toe-tapper.  Two poppy 1967 dancers – Your Sweet Love Is All I Need and Don’t Take Your Love Away I Can’t Stand It – are led by Chico Edwards.  “When Chico left in 1967, I came in.”

  In February they decided to cut an aggressive, mid-tempo, almost funky version of the Spinners very first recording in 1961, That’s What Girls Are Made For.  “Harvey Fuqua decided that.  He wrote it, and when I got into the group, he just felt we should redo it on me.”  Most music lovers know Gonna Keep on Tryin’ Till I Win Your Love by Jimmy Ruffin, although many other Motown versions exist.  Produced by Norman Whitfield, the Spinners’ cover was left in the can until today.  “I believe it was Suzanne De Passe’s idea to record it.  She also did I’ve Got to Find Myself a Brand New Baby.”  Suzanne was one of the co-writers of Baby along with Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua and Marv Johnson


SADDER WORDS WERE NEVER SPOKEN

  One of the cream cuts among those unearthed tracks is a wistful ballad called Sadder Words Were Never Spoken, produced and written by Ivy Jo Hunter and William Stevenson.  “Ivy Hunter is a great producer.  He was the go-to man for the Spinners, when Harvey Fuqua wasn’t there.  I have much respect for him.  He did a lot of good songs even before I got there and during the time I was there.  We were blessed to work with him.”

  Just a Little Part of Your Life is another psychedelic scorcher and this time produced and written by none other than Edwin Starr.  “Edwin was a friend of mine, and he was a good writer.  When they heard that there’s a new guy with the Spinners – which is me – everybody wanted to produce us.” 

  Al Cleveland produced and co-wrote the driving When It Starts to Rain It Pours.  “Al was also a great producer and writer.  I spent as much time with the producers as I could, and he was always very attentive to me.  These guys were older than me, and the Spinners were all 6-to-10 years older than me, and I tried to fit in where it counted and do what they needed me to do.  At that age I was learning as much as I could.”

  Al and Smokey Robinson produced and co-wrote with Marv Taplin a punchy dancer titled Why Don’t You Try It.  “That is a protest song about conditions.  It’s a situation like we’re in right now, where the world’s gone mad.  Al said ‘why don’t you try to be more compassionate, try to reach out to your fellow man.’  It sounds like a love song, but it’s also a social message about what was happening in our country at that time also.”

  After George launched his solo career in the early 1970s, he returned to the Spinners in 2000, then worked with the Temptations for about four years since 2003, formed his own group, has recorded reggae and now concentrates on solo projects again.  Currently he’s living in Raleigh, NC.  “I’m writing and I’m working on a project that’s going to be bigger than anything I’ve ever done.”

(Interview conducted on September 28, 2018; acknowledgements to G.C., Peggy Brown, Lori Edwards and Rickey Poppell).

© Heikki Suosalo

P.S. If you think you’re entitled to royalties in music, please check the following link

https://www.afmsagaftrafund.org/index.php


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