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DEEP # 1/2020 (January)

  Since we’ve entered the single song era again as opposed to full-length concept albums, the number of new CD album reviews in this column and, as it seems, also elsewhere has dropped. Moreover, last year I skipped quite a few CDs because of their substandard or at their best routine quality. Luckily they still publish interesting books on our music and the two, which are reviewed here, are both Detroit related.

  Just before the New Year I received an inspiring CD by the adorable Ruby Turner, and below she tells more about it. I conclude the column with my customary list of Top-10 records of last year.

New CD release reviews & interviews:

Ruby Turner: Love Was Here

Book reviews:

Lamont Dozier: How Sweet It Is
Barbara J. Henderson: Still Spinning


RUBY TURNER  *

  It’s always a thrill to attend one of Ruby’s concerts or to listen to new and exciting recorded music from her. January the 24th is the official release date of Love Was Here (RTR012; www.rubyturner.com), which was cut in Sheffield and mastered at Abbey Road Studios. Ruby is backed by a 4-piece rhythm section, consisting of Nick Atkinson on guitar, Joe Glossop on keys, Jeremy Meek on bass and John Blease on drums and percussion. Nick also produced the set.

  The actual power unit behind this album is the trio of Ruby, Nick and Kat Eaton, and she’s also a co-vocalist in the background. A married couple, both Kat and Nick are songwriters and recording artists in their own right, too. Ruby (on January the 2nd): “I was introduced to Kat and Nick by a mutual friend as a singer/song-writing team. They sent me a song that Nick had produced for Kat, very polished and a great production. I knew they had something special and more importantly a great attitude, so I was happy to meet and talk with them.”

  “We talked about collaborating on some tracks and over a few weeks I sent them a few of my ramblings and sketches of song ideas I had languishing in my note books, over the months and years. We spoke at great lengths about my vibes, what I liked and loved listening to myself, music and people that inspired me. They were amazing and understood me, and so the process began.”

  The ten songs the threesome created and recorded are all melodic “old-fashioned” songs in terms of having a clear and precise structure. Mostly they are rhythmic, 3-4 minutes long and very easy on the ear. There are either smooth ones like Won’t Give You My Heart to Break and the melancholy Why Didn’t We Try, or more rolling and playful numbers, such as Make You Happy, Runaway and A Better Way. There are also songs that have an inspirational feel, that take you to church – Got to Be Done, Don’t Cry over Yesterday and Time of Your Life. “Gospel music is in my soul and so it was bound to colour the lyrics, the sounds and the vibes of this album.”

  Under Your Sky is a sunshiny ballad that has a strong Caribbean feel to it. “Under Your Sky was written in part in Jamaica whilst visiting my father and taking some time out. In the moment I was chilled and just reminiscing, giving praise and letting the warmth of the island feed my soul. Looking at the clear blue Caribbean sky I was inspired to write this song.”

  The title tune is a wistful and beautiful ballad. “I played a very big part in collaborating this album. The songs were very much my ideas and so as a team we came up with in my humble opinion some great songs. The title track, Love Was Here, I have to say was the catalyst for me making this album. I had a sketchy version of the song for about two years. I think it was the 4th or 5th song we completed. I knew I had something special, an album to put out after six years based on the song Love Was Here.”

  The final track, a thrilling and dramatic ballad titled Chasing Love, was produced by Wan Pin CHU in Hong Kong, and he also co-wrote it together with Ruby. “Chasing Love was a collaboration with Wan Pin Chu for the film The Host. It was written in an afternoon and presented on the film set around 6pm that evening to be in the scene they were shooting. It was quite an achievement and I really surprised myself writing the lyrics so quickly. Wan is simply a musical genius, a huge talent.” Wan also plays Erhu, a spike fiddle on the track. “I did have a small part in the film, but time ran out so it had to be cut. But it was preformed in one of the scenes, so there you have it! I’m in the film.” The Host premieres in January 2020.

  “This is my 20th solo album and I’m just so excited about it. I love the songs and I love the challenge of putting new material out there after such a long time. So far it’s received some wonderful feedback and that’s just great. You have to trust yourself, serve your purpose and believe you can do it! I’m touring with the wonderful Jools Holland all over Europe in the next coming months and working with my own unit on shows in the U.K. Ronnie Scott’s is one of my favourite venues, so catch us there end of January/beginning of February 2020. So looking forward to seeing folks at the shows and I hope people will enjoy the album too.”

BLACK BOOKCASE

HOW SWEET IT IS

“Brian usually worked on music, while I worked both on lyrics and music. [- -] Once we had a title or a chorus lyric or a framework mapped out, we’d hand off the song to Eddie to finish the lyrics.” This is how Lamont Dozier describes the division of labour between him and Brian and Eddie Holland in his autobiography titled How Sweet It Is, subtitled A Songwriter’s Reflections on Music, Motown and the Mystery of the Muse (www.bmg.com; ISBN: 9781947026315; 320 pages + 16 with photos). The vital index is included, and the co-writer of the book is Scott B. Bomar, a researcher and reissues producer, who has earlier written for instance Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock and co-authored a book on Wanda Jackson.

  Lamont was born in Detroit in June 1941 and grew up in a poor and tough area called Black Bottom with his brother Reggie and three sisters. His mother Ethel was fifteen when she gave birth to Lamont. Besides music, Lamont fell in love with cinema early on and later he became a good cook, too. He’s good in painting literary pictures of many of the incidents in his childhood and youth and of the many problems in his personal life those days. After quitting the school in 1957, music became the main motivator in Lamont’s life as he became more and more involved in Detroit’s music scene and made valuable acquaintances.

  The very first release that we can hear Lamont’s singing voice on came out on Fox in 1957. Gone Gone Get Away is a busy doo-wop dancer backed with a pleading ballad called Let’s Be Partners. These rather primitive sides were recorded by the Romeos with Lamont leading and his friend Ty Hunter being one of the backing members. The follow-up, a ditty called Fine Fine Baby, was even leased to Atco. The next group Lamont and Ty joined was the Voice Masters, co-managed by Berry Gordy and Billy Davis. Their recording home was Anna Records, and that’s where Lamont’s first solo single was also released in 1960. Let’s Talk It Over – by Lamont Anthony – was a bluesy Ray Charles type of a ballad, whereas Popeye on the flip was a busy dancer. Besides writing songs, Lamont’s main aspiration was to become a noted singer and the next concrete step in that direction was taken one year later, when the laid-back mid-tempo Just to Be Loved and the poppy and lively I Don’t Know (What a Good Thing I Had) were released on Check-Mate, by La Mont Anthony this time.

  Soon after Lamont started working with Berry Gordy at Hitsville U.S.A., Robert Bateman suggested that Lamont and Brian Holland form a team. Subsequently in the summer of 1962 the twosome had its first charted song released, Someday, Someway by the Marvelettes. On that song Freddie Gorman was still the third composer, but already in the fall of 1962 Eddie Holland joined and completed the staple Holland-Dozier-Holland triumvirate. From that moment on this songwriting “assembly line” manufactured material, first mostly for the Marvelettes and Martha & the Vandellas, then for the Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye and – most importantly – for the Supremes and the Four Tops. One of the appendixes at the end of the book is a “list of Lamont’s charting singles as a songwriter” with as many as 122 entries. In that appendix notable cover versions are also listed.

  Still in the beginning of his stint at Motown, Lamont kept alive his singing career dream, but his only solo single in that company appeared on the Mel-O-Dy subsidiary in June of 1962. Dearest One is a lilting, mid-tempo pop song, while Fortune Teller Tell Me is a more routine mover. That was Lamont’s last solo effort in ten years, although he tried to save How Sweet It Is for himself but gave it to Marvin in the end. Incidentally, one interesting detail: Come and Get These Memories was written with Loretta Lynn in mind.

  I really enjoyed reading about the early and mid-60s Motown period and especially how the songs came about, where the ideas popped up. I would have loved to read more about the very artists and recording sessions, but of course you must confine yourself to certain boundaries in terms of the number of pages. Lamont writes that after 1965 in the company there were changes in the family atmosphere and occasionally jealousy and pettiness stepped in. Halfway in the book we come across the first dramatic episode: lack of appreciation and insufficient financial compensation for all those huge hits caused HDH (Holland-Dozier-Holland) first to go on strike in 1967 and finally leave the company with lawsuits flying around in the summer of 1968.

  HDH’s new companies, Invictus and Hot Wax, were established in 1969 and big hits kept on coming, now with the Honey Cone, the Chairmen of the Board, Freda Payne etc. However, in the early 1970s the atmosphere of brotherhood and comradeship started to die out, and it was almost uneasy to read about the reasons why Lamont decided to leave the brothers and carry on by himself. He felt isolated and thought that they had passed on too many opportunities to attract potential artists. He also talks openly about his health problems, such as anxiety and panic attacks.

  Fortunately Lamont makes a comeback on vinyl, first on Invictus as Holland-Dozier - Why Can’t We Be Lovers – and finally as a solo artist on ABC. His first solo album in 1973, Out Here on My Own, was cut in California and he wrote all eight songs on it, contrary to what reads on the album jacket. His first solo single hit, Trying to Hold on to My Woman, is a big favourite in this corner. Next he switched over to Warner Brothers, and another appendix in the book lists all his 13 solo albums, including his three revival CDs in the 2000s. Lamont also produced first-rate albums for many artists including the Originals, Clarence Carter, Z.Z. Hill, Margie Joseph, Ben E. King, Edwin Starr and Aretha Franklin.

  Towards the end of 1900s there were still some drawbacks, such as financial problems and depression, but today Lamont appears to be a happy man, who’s in peace with himself and everybody else and who still composes twenty songs a month. How Sweet It Is was published in November 2019 and just prior to this book they published memoirs from the Holland brothers titled Come and Get These Memories, which makes a good complementary read.

STILL SPINNING!

  The writer of Still Spinning! (126 pages, 16 with photos; ISBN: 978-1-64424-708-2) is Barbara J. Henderson, the wife of William “Billy” Henderson, who sang second tenor in the Spinners. There are some peculiarities in the layout, e.g. there are only two chapters in the whole book and not any of the 31 photos is accompanied with text specifying who, where and when.

  One thing has to be made clear: this is not a book about the group, the Spinners, or their music but primarily of Barbara, the wife of a renowned group member, and her life. Actually, she never mentions the line-up of the group but only makes passing references to Pervis, Henry, Bobby (= Bobbie Smith) etc.

  Barbara and Billy first met in Detroit in 1948, twenty years before they started dating again and finally getting married in 1972; Barbara for the fifth and Billy for the second time. In the late 40s they both went to school in Ferndale, Michigan. Barbara was also inclined to music, as she took piano lessons, wrote songs and at school was a member of the very local Paraders. Later in the 1980s she also took to acting in a touring ensemble of a play titled Selma.

  Their marriage wasn’t smooth sailing all the time and in 1981 Barbara filed for divorce but stopped the proceedings after the two found a mutual understanding. In the book she doesn’t mention that year 1981 but gives a hint that at that time the Spinners had just released a song called You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine. Frankly, if you prefer chronological order, this book isn’t one of the easiest for you to read.

  We can read quite a bit about meeting with famous persons – name dropping, to a degree – fashion, dresses and decorations, cooking and exotic dishes, shopping and visiting such places as the U.K., France, Germany, Caribbean Islands, Zaire etc. Here you also get some idea of how an American reacts to different cultures.

  I wish somebody had proofread the book. Some of the inaccuracies that I spotted: The Spinners were originally known as the Domingoes – instead of the Domingos - a cross between the Dominoes and the Flamingos. Truly Yours and For All We Know were released on Motown, not on Tri-Phi, and the latter one wasn’t hit. It didn’t even chart. Dick Clark didn’t produce an album on the Spinners but Ollie Brown produced one on Dick’s Click label in 1999.

  I was hoping to read more about the music, the very group the Spinners and their fellow artists, but I think that right from the outset Barbara’s main purpose was to describe the life of the wife of a celebrity... and only from her perspective. Of the Motown period she writes shortly that “Billy struggled with his career at Motown” and “it was a frustrating decade for them.” She also writes that “he (Billy) started the group”, and he really was one of the founding members. C.P. Spencer told me in 2002 that “Pervis and I became very, very good friends. I remember once, when we were sitting with Billy Henderson in my living room watching the American Bandstand. We were influenced by that. Dick Clark had those groups on and doowop was becoming very popular on 8 Mile Road, in Ferndale, where we lived, so we started just street-harmonizing.”

  Barbara writes that when leaving Motown, Billy negotiated with the help of her attorney the name the Spinners for himself and later on added the names of the rest of the members to the contract. Henry Fambrough remembers that “we brought the union in on it, because the union wanted to get in and see what’s going on with the recording at Motown.” Billy: “Soon as we left Motown, I went and registered the name downtown to have that protected.” (Both quotes from Soul Express: The Spinners Story, part 3). In Barbara’s book, on Thom Bell there are practically three small paragraphs of text.  Incidentally, Barbara discovered John Edwards to replace Philippé Wynne.

  Reading gets sadder and sadder towards the end, as Billy goes through the quadruple heart bypass, and later his kidneys fail and require dialysis and diabetes led to the amputation of his both legs. In 2004 Harold Bonhart took Billy’s place in the Spinners, but still in 2005, when I last spoke to him, Billy was overseeing a project called Spinners Part Too! Billy: “My oldest son, Charles F. Ross Henderson, was the choreographer for the Spinners for over twenty years. And my son next to him, William Sterling Henderson, plays keyboards and guitar and he sings.” Besides those two, the three other members in the group were Harold Montgomery, Linwood Peacock and Johnny Hodges.

  Billy passed away on the 2nd of February in 2007 at the age of 67. Among the songs that the Spinners recorded, both Barbara’s and Billy’s favourite was The Winter of Our Love (1981). If you wish to read the complete story of the group, there are still five printed papers of Soul Express available, 50 pages of closely printed text with dozens of interviews:


HEADS UP FOR GOSPEL JUBILEE

  All you fans of traditional and authentic gospel, be on the alert, because on January the 17th Time Life will release a streaming-only album of 36 songs from the 1960s TV concert series, Jubilee Showcase, extracted from the original video files. Below you can find the track list with such performers as the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Staple Singers, the Soul Stirrers, Otis Clay etc.:

1. Help Me Jesus (9/28/69) – The Staple Singers 2. Jesus Will Fix It (10/19/68) – The Caravans 3. Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep (1/23/66) – The Caravans 4. Shadrack (3/8/69) – The Norfleet Brothers 5. He’s Getting Me Ready for That Great Day (4/5/64) – Rev. James Cleveland 6. Pray on My Child (6/1/66) – The Staple Singers 7. Oh, What A Meeting (1/11/69) – The Soul Stirrers 8. Ain’t Got Long Here (4/5/64) – The Mighty Clouds of Joy 9. It’s A Long Hard Way (8/14/71) – The Barrett Sisters 10. Willing to Wait (3/5/67) – The Caravans 11. Got to Be Some Changes Made (3/8/69) – The Staple Singers 12. When the Gates Swing Open (8/14/71) – The Soul Stirrers 13. Where Is Your Faith? (1/23/66) – The Caravans 14. There Won’t Be No More Ghetto for Me (9/28/68) – The Staple Singers 15. Tell It Like It Is (6/28/69) – The Salem Travelers 16. Wait on Jesus (6/28/69) - The Jessy Dixon Singers 17. Why Am I Treated So Bad? (6/11/66) - The Staple Singers 18. Amazing Grace (1/26/64) – Albertina Walker 19. Be With Me Jesus (8/14/71) – The Soul Stirrers 20. Wish I Had Answered (5/9/64) – The Staple Singers 21. Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone? (5/9/64) - The Soul Stirrers 22. Thank You, Lord (10/4/75) – Andrae Crouch & The Disciples 23. Walk and Talk with Jesus (8/14/71) – The Barrett Sisters 24. Take Me Back (10/4/75) – Andrae Crouch & The Disciples 25. Jesus in Me (1/23/66) – Shirley Caesar & The Caravans 26. Gambling Man (5/9/64) – The Staple Singers 27. Free at Last (1/12/64) – The Soul Stirrers 28. Help Me, Run this Race (4/19/64) – Otis Clay & The Gospel Songbirds 29. Just Like He Said He Would (10/4/75) – Andrae Crouch 30. Resting Easy (1/11/69) – The Soul Stirrers 31. Toiling on (1/11/69) – Inez Andrews 32. The Family Circle /Will The Circle Be Unbroken? (4/5/64) - The Mighty Clouds of Joy 33. Looking Back (5/9/64) – The Soul Stirrers 34. Jesus is the Answer (10/4/75) – Andrae Crouch 35. Lord, Don’t Move the Mountain (1/11/69) – Inez Andrews 36. Peter, Don’t Be Afraid (1/11/69) – Inez Andrews, The Soul Stirrers and The New Friendship Choir


Dr. Martin Luther King & Sid Odower

MY TOP-10 in 2019

(full-length, new official releases)

  1. The O’Jays: The Last Word
  2. Ruby Turner: Love Was Here (2020)
  3. Carlton Jumel Smith: 1634 Lexington Avenue
  4. Lee Fields: It Rains Love
  5. Stan Mosley: Soul Resurrection
  6. Billy Price: Dog Eat Dog
  7. Willie Clayton: Excellence
  8. Jaye Hammer: Double Trouble
  9. Annika Chambers: Kiss My Sass
  10. O.B. Buchana: Face Down

© Heikki Suosalo


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