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Derek Martin

Interview at Porretta Soul Festival, 2015

Derek Martin at Porretta Soul Festival, 2015 (Photo courtesy of Dave Thomas)

  The first song on Saturday night was a hilarious and scat-peppered version of Hit the Road, Jack, which was followed by a fierce rocker called Daddy Rollin’ Stone.  Then the tempo dropped down and the mood was adjusted for the dreamy You Better Go, and a few moments later we were taken still deeper with I’ve Been Loving You too Long.  Next we heard a new song called Let’s Talk about It, with a nice mid-tempo groove to it, and as an encore we were treated to another rocker titled Don’t Put Me Down Like This.  On Sunday we could still enjoy three of those songs – Daddy Rollin’ Stone, Let’s Talk about It and Hit the Road, Jack.

  The performer was Mr. Derek Martin, and the shows took place on July 25 and 26 at the Porretta Soul Music Festival in Italy this year.  Indeed, the catchy Let’s Talk about It is a new song written by Derek, and he’s currently in the process of recording it.


  Derek Don Martin was born in Detroit on July the 2nd in 1938, which makes him 77 today.  Derek: “My mother could play the piano and my father could play the piano.  We always had the piano in the house.  Both of them played the blues and those old-time melodies.” 

  Gospel never played an important role in Derek’s musical upbringing.  “I never did gospel, until I got to Paris (about twenty years ago).  I didn’t know what to do, so - when I did it then - I just copied the rest of them and they automatically assumed that I come from gospel.  I was born Baptist, and then became Catholic.  The church I went to was not loud gospel, but everything was more or less very quiet and soft... Second Baptist Church on Monroe in Detroit.” 

  “One of my earliest memories of Detroit is being with Little Willie John.  We went to the same school.  We were called bad boys.  We weren’t really bad boys, but there was a school called Moore School for boys.”  Moore was a school for boys with disciplinary problems, and Willie went to that school in 1951 – ’52. 

  “We went to the same school, and we all started to sing in a choir.  Mr. Ervin taught us kids a lot.  He was a black man originated from Detroit.  He was more than a school teacher.  He was our choir teacher – Little Willie John was in that choir - and took us to concerts in schools and also outside to parties.  There were also many different theatres where, before the theatre opened, they used it for amateur shows.  With Little Willie John, we did those amateur shows.  Sometimes Marvin Gay – before he became Marvin Gaye – and some of the old Temptations – before they were Tempts – were there.  We did those amateur shows for Homer Jones.  He gave us a little bit of money for it, but we enjoyed mostly doing that show.  When we were finished, we usually cleaned the theatre up, because we just had so much fun.”

  “Little Willie John was like any other kid.  One day we stole a car.  I said ‘don’t touch that cigarette lighter, because you’ll leave your fingerprints on there’.  Little did we know, they got the fingerprints at the police station.  So Little Willie John was one of us, who used to get into trouble like that.  In those days nobody was really getting hurt with gangs.  Those days only the two leaders would meet and fight.  The two gangs on either side stand back and watch.  Little Willie John was a little guy, so nobody really bothered him, and nobody bothered me either.”

  “I think Levi Stubbs was there at the same time.  There were a lot of kids that came over to the school but didn’t go to that school, we all hung together.  We were getting into trouble together.”


  A doo-wop group called the Pearls was at different times and in various line-ups also known as the Fabulous Pearls, the Five Pearls and to a degree even Howie & the Sapphires.  “They changed names a lot.  I remember the Fabulous Pearls, and I remember the Five Pearls.”  However, according to Derek, the Five Pearls never used the name the Five Jets.

  Under the name of “Five Pearls”, this Detroit group released its first single on Aladdin in 1954, a tender and sweet ballad called Please Let Me Know - written by Patti Anne, who actually is Aladdin’s Eddie Mesner - backed with a rocking doo-wop number named Real Humdinger, which features a relevant sax solo in the middle.  These songs were recorded in New York, and Real Humdinger was written by Ninny Winley - alias Ann - the wife of Paul Winley, who is the owner of the New York based Winley Records that released music on the Paragons, the Jesters, Baby Cortez and the Clovers, among others.

  Managed at that point by Don Angelo, “Five Pearls” was discovered by Aladdin’s Leo Mesner at the Apollo Theater talent contest.  Derek: “I wasn’t in the group then.  I wasn’t the first singer in the group.  We were all very young, so some of the mothers had their kids quit and come home.”  Derek is not singing on Please Let Me Know, but the flip, Real Humdinger, is the first song Derek’s voice is on.  “I don’t know the writer personally.  The song was there, when I got in the band.  It was one of the most successful Pearls songs.”

  The group picked Derek up when stopping over in Detroit on their tour.  Derek became one of their tenor singers, and the other members of the line-up those days included Howard Guyton (lead), David Cortez Clowney (tenor), George Wilson Torrence, Jr. – spelt also Torrance - (baritone), Coley Washington (bass and tenor!) and a high tenor called Max.  “Unfortunately, I don’t remember Max’s last name.  He had a beautiful high voice like the Irish have – clear and high.  That was his falsetto, not his natural voice.  Max was from Detroit.  Max was the first high tenor in the group, long before Coley.  I made Coley sing up there (high tenor).  We met George Torrence in Washington, D.C., and he took the place of Max.”  Besides Howard, David, Derek and Max, in the very first line-up there was also a singer named Rosco.  “Rosco was our bass singer, a very tall guy.”

The pearls 1956 from left to right Rosco, Howard, Max, Derek, Baby Cortez


  Similarly to Derek, also David Cortez was born in 1938 in Detroit, Michigan.  He is Howard Guyton’s cousin, and after about two years with the Pearls, he joined first the Valentines in 1956, then the Jesters, until finally making his mark with two memorable instrumental hits, The Happy Organ on Clock in 1959 (# 1-pop) and Rinky Dink on Julia/Chess in 1962 (# 10-pop).  Already prior to that – but after his Pearls stint - under the name of the David Clowney Band, he had released a single on Ember 1010 – Movin’ and Groovin’/Soft Lights – in late 1956.  Derek: “I haven’t been in contact with David in years, but the last time I saw him we had some nice time together.  It had to be somewhere around the 70s.”  In 2011 Dave made a comeback album, With Lonnie Youngblood and his Bloodhounds on Norton Records.

  Long after the Pearls had broken up, Howard Guyton, their lead singer, released on Verve in 1965 a fast solo number called I Watched You Slowly Slip Away, produced and co-written by Teddy Randazzo.  Howard died in Buenos Aires of a heart attack in 1977, at the age of 39, while touring Argentina as the lead singer of one of the many Platters. 

After the Pearls, George Torrence has worked with such groups as the Caribbeans in 1958, the Dippers and the Naturals in the 60s - - and these days he is still singing and also pastoring.

  A Harlem, N.Y. group called the Cadillacs was formed in 1952 and it had numerous singles released in the 1950s on Josie Records – including Speedoo in 1956 – but Derek Martin never was a member of the group, as stated elsewhere.  “I wasn’t in the group, but we did a lot of gigs together.  Esther Navarro was the manager of the Cadillacs.”  Esther was an agent, as well as a writer and producer with the Shaw Agency.  “Esther should never have pottered round in music at all.  She put her name on our songs” (see later).  Derek never worked with the Skyliners, either.

  There’s also a group out of Norfolk, Virginia, called the Five Sheiks, who under the name of the Sheiks released a single – Walk that Walk / The Kissing Song (Sweetie Lover) – on Cat 116 in 1954.  Due to the fact that they initially were called the Five Pearls, they get mixed up to our Pearls, but they are an altogether different group.


  With a voice that bears a resemblance to that of Clyde McPhatter, Howard Guyton leads again on the Pearls’ second single, which this time was released on Atco, a division of Atlantic Records, in October 1955.  Shadows of Love (Guyton-Clowney-Angelo) is a doo-wop ballad and it’s backed with an uptempo dancer called Yum Yummy (Clowney-Angelo-Calhoun).  This time on the label it reads simply “the Pearls”, instead of “Five Pearls” as on their debut.

  The second Atco single in March 1956 follows the same pattern.  Bells of Love (Hart-Angelo-Calhoun) is a slow love song, and on the flip there’s a swinging mid-to-uptempo number titled Come on Home.  The song was composed by Walter Spriggs, who was a recording artist in his own right, too - both solo, and as a member of the 5 Echoes.  Later he recorded under the name of Ray Scott.  Unfortunately, none of these three Pearls singles charted on a national level.

  Herb Abramson was one of the founders of Atlantic Records in 1947, but after he was drafted, in 1953, Jerry Wexler replaced him in terms of production and succeeded, both commercially, and taking the music in a different direction.  Herb returned two years later, and as some sort of compensation they created in 1955 a subsidiary named Atco for him and his own further productions.  The Pearls recorded for Atco under Herb’s wings, but soon things turned sour in the company and the group switched labels, to Onyx Records.

  “Onyx came after we left Atlantic.  I think Howard found out about Onyx and we went there, sang for them and they took us right away.  When Herb was gone, Atlantic put Jerry Wexler in that position and he went big time ever since.  He was even saying that he started rock ‘n’ roll, but Jesse Powell is the original starter of rock ‘n’ roll.  Herb also had an affair with a woman, and his wife found out about it and took him to court.  That’s when he started another label, Atco, and we were some of his first artists.”   Herb finally sold his stake to his ex-wife, left Atlantic for good in December 1958 and formed first Triumph and Blaze labels and later Festival.

  Jesse Powell (1924-82) is a tenor saxophone player out of Texas.  Starting in blues and jazz, he played with Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, and switched over to rhythm & blues in the early 50s on his recordings for Federal and Josie, where he worked tightly with the above Cadillacs.  For the general public his best-known solos probably are on the BobbettesMr. Lee in 1957 and Solomon Burke’s Cry to Me in 1962, both on Atlantic.


  The next five singles by the group in 1956 and ’57 were all released on Onyx Records out of New York.  Onyx was Jerry Winston’s label and during its two years plus existence it put out twenty singles by the Velours and the Miller Sisters, among others, but the Pearls was their main act.  By this time David Cortez Clowney had left the group, but he came back later.

  The arranger Sammy Lowe and his orchestra are featured on these Onyx sides, which mostly are uptempo dancers.  It’s Love, Love, Love and Yuz-A-Ma-Tuz are quite poppy ones, whereas Zippidy Zippidy Zoom and My oh My worked best on stage.  Also Hank WilliamsYour Cheatin’ Heart is turned into a swinging mid-tempo number.  The Wheel of Love and Tree in the Meadow are the only ballads, and the latter one was first recorded in 1948 by Billy Reid’s Orchestra with Dorothy Squires as vocalist.  Billy also wrote the song.

  All the Pearls recordings in the 1950s are compiled on a CD entitled Here Come the Pearls, which was released in 1998 on Onyx 2003 and later re-released in 2010 as Doo Wop Classics.  Among those 22 tracks there are two previously unreleased, a tender ballad called The Vow and an uptempo number named You’re not in Love with Me, recorded for Josie in 1959.


  Surprisingly, Howard Guyton next appeared on a 1958 single by Jesse Powell & the Majors on Josie 845.  Derek: “They tried to record Howard by himself.  I don’t know anything about this.”  Oh, Baby is a swaying ballad, while String Along is a jump tune, peppered with Jesse Powell’s ripping sax solo.  Both sides were written by Esther Navarro and Jesse Powell.  “How did she get her name on there?  She never did a damn thing.”

  Even more, Howard was the lead vocalist on Howie & the Sapphires’ 1959 single, More than the Day Before / Rockin’ Horse, on Okeh 7112.  Jesse Stone directed the orchestra both on the emotive ballad on the A-side, and on the pounding flip.  Jesse also co-wrote both sides with Mark Lewis.  Derek: “Howie did that very secretly.  He did the Sapphires business, and nobody knew anything... but I didn’t care.”  Derek is not on those two singles.

  There was also a single by Speedo and the Pearls Naggity Nag – in 1959 on Josie 865, but that was a one-off by “Speedoo” Earl Carroll, of the Cadillacs fame.  None of the actual Pearls participate on this one.

  The Pearls did come back together for one more single, though.  Even David Cortez Clowney joined them, in spite of his spring hit in 1959, The Happy Organ.  “We said ‘David, if you think you can do better by yourself, then go by yourself’, but he didn’t really want to.  That’s why he quit first and then came back.”

  The Pearls released on E. Duke Pilgrim’s On the Square label out of New York a Coasters type of a novelty number called Ugly Face, backed with a big-voiced ballad titled Band of Angels.  On the label Ugly Face is credited to ‘Proctor’, but most probably the composer is George Torrence.  The single flopped, and there were no more releases on the label, neither by the Pearls, nor anybody else.  “We did a lot of things for fun, without thinking about it.”

  These days also Tommy Hunt wanted to join the group.  “He was with the Flamingos.  He came to us with fifteen hundred, and those days that was a lot of money.  Tommy was a pretty boy, like Tony Curtis, and he could spin around two times, fall on the floor and keep on singing, and the girls were screaming.  Tommy started with us for a minute, but then he came back one day and told everybody ‘I’m the boss.  I brought the money in.  I got to be the boss’.  We said ‘no, the Pearls don’t exist on a boss status.  We all are the boss’.  And we split as friends.”


  “The big payola scandal came at that time.  They discovered that DJs were being paid money under the table to play records, and the police busted a lot of DJs.  Doctor Jive was one of them in New York, and he even took our money; not the label money, but the one that we had earned from our gigs, but he almost never played our records.  At that time the record labels stopped pushing some bands that had been played through payola, and that’s when we changed our name to the Top Notes.  We just changed the band name on the contract.”  At that point The Pearls/The Top Notes consisted of Howard, Derek, George and a black Indian guy by the name of Roy and a tenor singer called Johnny.

  The r&b world actually knows a lot of other groups by the name of Top Notes.  There was one quartet out of Philadelphia that recorded for Jubilee in the early 50s.  In the 60s more Top Notes appeared, as well as in the 70s, including Ernie and the Top Notes.

  “Howard Guyton and I stayed together.  David Cortez listened to his mother, and he left.  Max went back home to his family.  Some of them just missed mom and daddy too much.”   Contrary to one assumption, Nate Nelson of the Flamingos never was a member of the Top Notes.

  “We hooked up with Atlantic again because of the Raelettes.  Dorothy and Ethel, who I sang with at the time, were also signed to Atlantic.”  Released in the summer of 1960, the first single by the Top Notes on Atlantic was Wonderful Time, written by Howard and he’s also leading on this rousing rocker.  But the flip, a slow and swaying rhythm & blues number called Walkin’ with Love is more significant, because this is the first side that Derek Martin sings the lead on.  The arranger and conductor, Reggie Obrecht, co-wrote the song with Fred Jacobson, and the sound and the style is exactly what Ray Charles was doing those days.  Here we must remember that Atlantic had just lost Ray to ABC, and they probably tested a successor to him.  The most remarkable thing is that Derek’s singing and phrasing don’t practically differ from Ray.  “That’s when I found out I could do it.  I used to be so crazy about Ray Charles.  There were many, who could sing like him, but nobody could scream like him.  I could.  I loved that man so much!  I met him indirectly, and I was surprised.  He knew me better than I knew him, because he talked about me to some of the guys in the band.  He admired me.  I almost fainted, when I learned that.”

  There’s also a story about Derek replacing Ray once on the Ed Sullivan show.  “It’s correct, and it’s a little bit of lie also.  I did it outside and secret, because they didn’t want anybody to know.  Ray could not sing, so I performed live with the band and they put still pictures of Ray on the TV.  But I did get paid nice money, and I was on cloud nine.”

  Released in November 1960, the follow-up single was a fast rhythm & blues rocker titled Say Yes, and again it brings Ray Charles and especially the song Mary Ann to your mind.  Written by Derek together with Ethel McCrea, Derek is naturally leading again.  On the flip they revived an old Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters ballad from 1953, Warm Your Heart (by Dowd-Ertegun-Wexler), which suited Howard Guyton’s voice well.

  Cut in August 1960, there’s one Derek’s duet with Terry Lynn titled I’ll Never Be the Same Anymore, but it remained in the can.  “I remember that very faintly.”

  On their third Atlantic single, Derek is leading on both sides.  Released in March 1961, the group covered an old Jewels song from 1954, Hearts of Stone (Eddy Ray-Rudy Jackson), and this driving number – with strings and sharp sax solo – is cast in the What’d I Say mould.  The Basic Things (Derek Martin-Esther Navarro) on the flip is a very slow, string-laden song in a Drown in My Own Tears vein.  On this record the singers were were Howard and Derek along with Dorothy Jones, “Ethel” Darlene McCrea and Beulah Robertson.  All three ladies sang first in the Cookies, then the Raelettes.

  Historically there are a couple of noteworthy facts to go with this record.  It was produced by the young Phil Spector, arranged by Teddy Randazzo and among the players you can spot such names as King Curtis on saxophone, Ernie Hayes on piano and Panama Francis on drums.  This is the first time Derek worked with Teddy Randazzo.


  “Phil Spector was a very young boy that was in the position to record other singers, and he liked the Pearls very much.  He used to go and buy us hamburgers.  I remember how he had a hard time with his girlfriend – before Ronnie – and it almost destroyed him.”

  The Top Notes’ fourth Atlantic single was the original recording of Twist and Shout.  “The original title, as we know it, was Shake it up, Baby.  Howard led that.  We did it the Latin style.”  Released in August 1961, the recording session of this Bert Berns-Phil Medley song led to a disagreement between Bert and Jerry Wexler.  Bert was of the opinion that Phil and Jerry had ‘fucked it up’.  “Bert Berns was a duke.  He was in and out of love.”

  A year later the Isley Brothers turned the very same song into a hit (# 2-r&b / # 17-pop) on Wand, and their cover was produced by Bert Berns.  On the flip of the Top Notes single, there was a soft and soothing ballad called Always Late (Why Lead Me On) (Guyton-Navarro-Martin), led by Howard, and it actually bears a resemblance to the Teddy Bears’ gold hit in 1958, To Know Him, Is to Love Him.  Phil Spector was a member of the Teddy Bears.

  After four uncharted singles, the Top Notes left Atlantic.  “Every year we used to go to the Atlantic Records to sign a new contract and get advance money.  When everybody started to leave and only Howard and I stayed together, as an automatic thing we took this girl named Barbara Wells, then we took Dionne Warwick and Rosco again.  So we didn’t bother to go back to Atlantic to sign again, because we were too busy trying to live and gig.  We just forgot about it.”  Dionne Warwick was in the group only for a short while, and already at the end of 1962 her first solo hit, Don’t Make Me Over, was released. 

Derek and the Turps


  Surprise, surprise!  The group next hooked up with Herb Abramson again.  They had worked together on Atco five years earlier.  Herb had recently launched his Festival label and would record such artists as Gene Pitney, Jimmy Ricks, Tommy Tucker, the Flirtations, Charles Lattimore and Irene Cara in the 60s and still Lee Fields in 1971.

  The A-side of the first reunion single in 1961, Wait for Me Baby, is a driving and catchy scorcher, sure-fire dance-floor filler.  Written and produced by “Derek Ray, Guy Howard & Co”, behind those names you simply find Derek Martin and Howard Guyten.  The B-side, Come Back Cleopatra, is a sentimental ballad, again influenced by Ray Charles doing country & western, so Derek is the natural lead on this one.  The song was written by Eddie Curtis, who among others co-wrote Lovey Dovey, and Herb Ramson, who has to be Mr. Abramson himself.

  The second Festival single is not credited to the Top Notes, but to Derek & Howard only.  “I remember that one.  Everybody in the group was gone and we didn’t get the new members yet.  Howard and I just decided to keep something going and we recorded together.”  I Love You So Much (Derek-Guyten-Abramson) is an impressive big-voiced and deep ballad.  Both Derek, and Howard share vocals and they’re backed by a loud girl group.  This is actually a very good fledgling soul record.

  After the “second” Top Notes - Howard, Derek, Barbara, Dionne and Rosco – ended, Derek gigged and did soul covers with a band named Derek D and the Turps.

  Herb still leased I Love You So Much and It’s All Right to ABC Paramount, which put it out in early 1963.  There’s also another Top Notes single from 1963, the Lyrics with the Top Notes on The Side Wind / So Hard to Get Along (Goldwax 105 -> ABC 10560), but that’s another group and the lead singer is Percy Milem.


  “Jerry Wexler mentioned the possibility of a solo career to me, but he didn’t encourage me.  At the same time Teddy Randazzo was saying ‘come on, Derek, come on...’, but I didn’t want to hurt Howard.  All our parents knew each other, and his mother was like kin to our parents at home.  I didn’t want to offend that by leaving Howard by himself, because Howard was gay and he held on to me.  That’s why we did a duet” (I Love You So Much).

  Eventually, however, Derek embarked on a solo career and had his first singles released on Juggy Murray’s Sue and Crackerjack labels out of New York.  Crackerjack was Sue’s subsidiary, and on that label Juggy had Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm, Pearl Woods, the Lyrics and the Dramatics, among others.  This Dramatics, which recorded Toy Soldier in 1963, is not the famous one, but another Detroit group led by Harry Lee Gates on that one-off single.

  “Teddy Randazzo had me with Sue Records.  I had a contract with Teddy.  I didn’t sign anything.  He did it.  My producer would put me wherever he wanted me to be.  At the same time Ike & Tina Turner signed with him also, and we were very happy about that.”

  “Oh boy, do I remember Juggy Murray.  In New York in record companies they had a very nasty habit with these young kids.  They would record an elaborate session on you, spend all kind of money and then, after your session is finished, they put you on a shelf without releasing the record.  They would take the artists that they really wanted and they would put out and push them to the public, but we would stay on the shelf, calling them ‘when is our record coming out’, and they would ignore us all the time.  Atlantic would do that, too.”

  “These guys led their business their own private ways.  They had three different accounting books:  they had books for the Government, and they had books for the mafia, and they had their own books.  So when the Government came, they were all ready ‘this is how much I lost money on this last record’, which was our record that was on the shelf and never came out.  That way many of them got away with thousands and thousands of tax and mafia dollars.  We all knew this.  And they were really having us on a leash.  So one day Ike took a baseball bat and went to Sue Records and told Juggy Murray ‘give me a release’.  ‘I don’t give releases’.  Ike took a baseball bat, and he gave him a release” (laughing). 


  Derek’s solo debut was still produced by Herb Abramson.  Released on Crackerjack in June 1963, Daddy Rollin’ Stone is a loud rocker, like a relic from the golden period of shouters and, again, something Ray Charles might have recorded.  The song was written by Otis Blackwell and originally cut by him in 1953 on Jay-Dee.  “Coley (Washington) was one of the guys in the group, and he had this fine mama – oh, she was beautiful!  I wanted her so, so I put it on my record that I’m taking her, Coley.  ‘I got a friend named Coley / he’s got a girl named Chris / gotta steal that girl though she’s twice my size / cause I know how to do it like this’.”  On Otis’ original recording instead of Coley there stands Cody.  King Curtis plays saxophone on Derek’s single, and on the flip there’s another fast dancer called Don’t Put Me Down Like This, written by Danny Taylor.  Coley Washington had worked with Derek until these days, but after Daddy Rollin’ Stone he left.

  “Jimmy Ricks said ‘that’s a good song Daddy Rollin’ Stone and I said ‘okay, you can do it then’.  So he recorded it.  Everybody thought he was the first one, but I did before him.”  Derek may have preceded Jimmy on stage, but Jimmy Ricks & the Raves’ (sic) recorded version, however, was put out on the market earlier.  Produced by Herb Abramson, it first came out on Festival 25004 in December 1961 and was re-released three months later on Atco 6220.  There are numerous cover versions of Daddy Rollin’ Stone.  Hank Ballard recorded it in 1964, and in the rock world at least the Who and Johnny Thunders covered it, in 1965 and 1978, respectively.

  The next single under Derek Martin’s name was released two years later on mother label, Sue.  However, Derek says that Howard was singing on Too Soon to Know, whereas Cha Cha Skate (by Guyton-Martin) on the flip has a nice groove tempo to it.  So these recordings derive from Derek’s pre-solo period.


  Alessandro Randazzo was born in 1935 in Brooklyn.  He joined a white harmony group the Three Chuckles in 1954, released singles and also an album with them before launching a solo career in 1957.  After numerous singles on many labels, Teddy, however, decided to concentrate on writing, arranging and producing in the early 60s.  He’s best remembered for his many impressive and fully orchestrated recordings with Little Anthony & the Imperials and the Royalettes in the 60s and the Manhattans in the 70s.  After living in Hawaii for a long time, he passed away in New York in 2003.

  Arranged and produced by Teddy and released in the summer of 1965 on Roulette Records, You Better Go turned into the first and only nationally charted record for Derek Martin (# 25-r&b singles / # 78-Hot 100).  There’s a rhythm section and also five horns backing Derek up on this ethereal and atmospheric ballad... but no strings!  The female voice belongs to Leslie Miller, a New York session singer.  The song was covered by Nancy Wilson on Capitol in 1969 (# 44-r&b / # 111-pop) and Darrell Banks.  On the b-side there was a swinging mid-tempo, horn-heavy number named You Know, written by Teddy and Bobby Weinstein

  Today You Better Go is Derek’s signature song.  “Teddy Randazzo wrote it (with Lou Stallman and Bobby Weinstein).  It was so fabulous, and it was one take.  Teddy took me to Roulette.  Mostly it didn’t work, because Teddy was making an album for me and he wanted to do some of the tunes that Dinah Washington left just before she died (in December 1963).  He fought with the company and I was in the middle of that, and everything just stood still after You Better Go.”

  As a follow-up, in late 1965 they released Teddy Randazzo’s and Bobby Weinstein’s melancholic ballad titled Your Daddy Wants His Baby Back, which again remotely echoes the Ray Charles sound.  “That’s what they wanted.  Everybody asked me to do it, and I enjoyed doing it.”  Backed with a sentimental ballad from the past – Little Jimmy Scott recorded it originally in 1951 – called I Won’t Cry Anymore (by Fred Wise-Al Frisch), the single unfortunately flopped.


  After two misty and beautiful ballads, for some strange reason they put out a hammering dancer named Bumper to Bumper, clichéd and mediocre.  “I didn’t like it.  I wanted an album, and they just kept doing me on single records all the time.  But I was thinking ‘what the hell, if I keep singing another single record, we will put it all together and make an album.  Everybody else was making albums.  I kept doing single records.  Bumper to Bumper – I hated it.”  As a song, Don’t Resist (Teddy, Bobby and Bill Barberis) on the flip is quite close to You Better Go, although it gets bluesier towards the end.

  Back to the mother label for a minute, in October 1966 they released on Sue an uptown, big ballad called Count to Ten.  “A Juggy Production” and arranged by Richard Tee, Mr. Murray was also one of the composers.  “George Kerr was the producer on that.”  Count to Ten really is a soulful single, and two years later it was covered by Frankie & the Spindles on Roc-Ker 101 in a slightly slower tempo.  On the flip there was Derek’s own stomper, If You Go, which later turned into a Northern favourite.


  Another Northern favourite is a big-voiced, quick-tempo dancer titled Breakaway, which also is Derek’s last Roulette single in 1967.  The song was written by Teddy, Leo McCorkle and Teddy’s girlfriend, Victoria Pike.  “They were ready to get married, but Victoria had an ego trip.  She was a beautiful woman, but she wanted Teddy to do what SHE wanted Teddy to do.  I told him in the beginning ‘you two are Taurus and you’re going to clash an awful lot.  You got to look into the horoscope to understand each other more’.”  Derek verifies that on Breakaway Johnny Copeland did background vocals, high tenor.  On the B-side there’s a very good, big and dramatic ballad called Take Me like I Am, written by Ritchie Adams, Larry Kusik and Teddy himself.

  In the 60s the members of the Top Notes used to play in Canada as the Fabulous Platters.  “My first time in Canada was around 1967.  The occasion to go to Canada was in my late twenties for work.  That’s when I met my wife, a Canadian lady named Evelyn.”

  The next single was again recorded in New York, but leased to a Detroit label.  Produced by Teddy and co-written by him with Victoria, the funky and rocky Soul Power is like listening to Parliaments’ ’67 hit (I Wanna) Testify all over again.  The song was coupled with another funky dancer named Sly Girl.  Those songs were released on Marv Jacobs’ Tuba label, which also had Hank Parker, Dee Edwards and Clara Ward in its roster.  “Marv committed a suicide, unfortunately.  I was so stupid to not take him, when he offered me to be my manager.”  The single was leased to Volt in Memphis, but it didn’t make any big waves.

  Contrary to one assumption, Derek didn’t sing on the Flirtations single Change My Darkness into Light on Josie in 1966.  In some Derek’s discographies they also list a single - Don’t Leave Me / Stoned out of My Mind, on Arctic 201/202 (in 1969) – but that’s a contentious issue.  Arctic stopped at 160 in 1969, and in their complete 6-CD box set named Cooler than Ice/The Arctic Records Story, no such titles are included.  Also Derek himself doesn’t recognize that single.  According to BMI, Derek Martin, Howard Guyten and Rick Lovejoy, however, have written an uptown type of a song titled Don’t Leave Me Behind, which Rick recorded for ABC in 1965.


  On Roulette they had Derek’s album called Sincerely scheduled for a release, but it was withdrawn due to the fact that after You Better Go no hits emerged.  It was supposed to include the both sides of those four Roulette singles above plus four other tracks, including two uptempo cuts (I Can’t Take It No More and Come on in), one remotely Motown-influenced pounder (Baby What Changed Your Mind) and a gorgeous, heavily orchestrated big ballad called Hold on to Someone.  “I agree that it’s a good song.  On that album there were some shitty songs, but some were immaculate songs.”

  In late 2007 EMI released an exhaustive, 25-track compilation of Derek’s work with Teddy Randazzo entitled Take Me Like I am/The Roulette Recordings.  It contained not only the twelve tracks above, but also four later single sides from the early 70s and as many as nine canned tracks, and there were some real gems among those.  If you can find it, please grab it.

  “We recorded a lot of tunes.  One tune was so immaculate.  It was way before its time, Voices of Stone.  It’s talking about New York.  It had about 40 – 50 musicians on it.  The Ray Charles Singers were on it.  It would scare you, and it could make you cry.  Vickie owned a publishing firm, and she wrote a lot of stupid, kiddie songs, but I wanted an album so bad that I just recorded whatever she wrote.  Teddy and she broke up because of that, and she went and sold the publishing firm without telling Teddy, and I could never get that song.  I called her and wrote letters, but she never answered.  She wouldn’t let Teddy have it.  He married another woman, and they had five kids.  She got so upset that she had a heart attack, and it was a very serious thing... and I was in the middle of that shit.”

  Among those nine shelved tracks there are four quite melodic up-beat numbers – such as the poppy On a Magic Carpet Ride – and five powerful, big ballads, including After All Is Said and Done, Hold on, What Greater Love – “immaculate” – and We Have Lived Before; “I wanted to change the name to Reincarnation.”

  All those songs were written by Teddy, Victoria and Ritchie Adams.  “Teddy had good plans for me also later, but he died.  I could never find anybody to compose like that.  That’s why I’m working by myself now.”


  After 1967 there was a three-year recording gap in Derek’s career.  “I was just gigging.  I didn’t contact anybody, because I was so fed up with record labels that were just messing with artists, didn’t give the artists the money.  I got fed up, how they took the advantage of us poor artists that were just so happy to record.  Most of them were white that ripped us off all the money.  A lot of us didn’t have a proper education, a lot of us didn’t have enough forethought to see what they were doing.  So a lot of us got screwed up, and I was called ‘the devil’, because I was screaming - ‘so you signed another nigger, hah, and you took advantage of him’.  I was called the trouble-maker, because I was the only one that would speak up.”

  Derek’s next two singles appeared on the Buttercup label in 1970 and ’71.  The label was distributed by Jubilee and some of the other artists on it included Sheila Anthony and Mason & Dixon.  “That was Teddy’s label.  He could put me anywhere he wanted to put me, and if he didn’t like what was going on, he could walk... and he did that a lot of times.  He didn’t bother me sometimes, because I was totally in his confidence.  He was cool with me.”

  A poignant ballad and a small local hit called You Blew It Baby (by Teddy and Victoria) was coupled with the rousing Moving Hands of Time.  Teddy and Victoria wrote also the follow-up, a dramatic big ballad titled Your Love Made a Man out of Me, which had a powerful and melodic mid-tempo song named I Got to Chase that Dream on the flip.  After this impressive double-sider Derek’s and Teddy’s ties broke up.  “Because he wasn’t doing anything.  In the contract it stipulated that after so many songs, after so much time, the contract will automatically void if the record doesn’t come out.  The record didn’t come out in this time, so he didn’t bother to call me and I didn’t bother to call him.”


  “We met Joe and Sylvia Robinson through Mickey Baker.  When we were with the Pearls, we met Mickey.”  Two years after Buttercup, Derek’s next single appeared on the Vibration label, a subsidiary of All Platinum.  Produced and written by Michael Burton and Sylvia Robinson, a mid-tempo shuffle called Falling out of Love sounds like an Al Green record.  “It was supposed to be for Al Green.  After they heard me do it, they didn’t bother to contact him anymore.  On the background voices I was the only one, who could do higher parts.”  That’s What I’ll Do on the flip is an emotive ballad with intense vocalizing.

  The second Vibration single introduced a slightly country-tinged ballad, also a bit like Honey, called How Can I Get Away (written by Wesaline and George Kerr), and the final single for the Robinsons - this time on the mother label, All Platinum - was a disco number called Beautiful Woman.  It was produced and written by Derek and the members of the Moments – Al Goodman, Harry Ray and Walter Morris.  “They were on the label, and they had many hits there.  I wasn’t very comfortable with them, and they weren’t too comfortable with me, so we just kind of went our ways.”  Chuck Jackson cut the same song for his Needing You, Wanting You LP, and later it was released as a single side, too (first in the U.K. in 1975, and only two years later in the USA).

  Those days also Dave “Baby” Cortez used to record for All Platinum.  There was an album called Soul Vibration (AP-3011) in 1972, and such single sides as Funky Robot, Unaddressed Letter, Someone Has Taken Your Place (# 45-soul in ’73) and Soul Walkin’.

  “Joe Robinson took a whole building.  He put the studio in and he put rooms with pianos in it, so that artists could go in there and write and go downstairs and record it.  When I came, I did it, but I didn’t write good enough, so I had to sit and wait.  Every week Joe would give a salary for everybody, who would sit and wait, and, when you made your record and it would bring enough money, he would take the money back.  That was a great thing he did, because it kept a lot of artists for him to be able to use them and record them.  He really tried with me, but it just didn’t come off.  In Englewood, New Jersey, it was so nice.  He gave us a nice house, a nice home.”

  In one bio it reads that Derek Martin was hired to sing with Duke Ellington, but that wasn’t in the 50s but almost twenty years later.  “I did a couple of gigs with him.  The last gig I did with him was in Montreal, and then he died” (in May 1974). 

Derek Martin at Porretta Soul Festival, July 2015 (Photo by Heikki Suosalo)


  “I went back to Canada.  It was two or three years after Englewood that I really went down.  I wouldn’t want anybody to know I was doing so bad.  I even was in the street.  I walked the streets until I was so tired that I just sat on benches, nodding.  There’s a blank in my mind, what happened then.  I didn’t want to contact anybody back home.  I didn’t want them to know that I had gone so low.  I went into a bunch of things that I have too much pride to tell anybody.”

  “Then in the 80s I got involved with working some of the clubs with other bands.  In New York I put a band together... I put so many bands together.  I was just doing small gigs.  I finally took one of the bands and I went to Morocco.  Some agent or somebody had talked about it, ‘go put a band together, and we’ll send you’.”

  “I did that.  It was in the late 80s.  I remember at that time women protesting and marching in the streets for their rights, and were killed by the army.  That was my first band to go over there and get a good pay.  This was so difficult, because I was never a band leader.  They took that as a vacation, and you don’t do that in Morocco.  The money went down, and that was the end of that.  I was in Morocco in and out for different gigs, all the time fighting with the band.  I don’t want any more bands.  They’re pain in the butt.”

  “A lady named Fatima brought me from Morocco to Paris, and I fell in love with Paris right away.  I sang in a club called ‘Les Trois Mailletz’, which is old French for ‘the three hammers’, and I sang there just when I came to Paris, around 1994.  I was based in Paris and worked in Spain, England, Portugal, Switzerland, Russia...”

Derek and Heikki at Porretta Soul Festival, 2015 (Photo courtesy of Dave Thomas)


  There’s another Derek Martin, who performed with a Mississippi rap band called Children of the Cornbread in 2001 on a CD called I’d Rather Be Hated than Loved on Airtight Productions.  Also the Derek, who recorded with Doctor L a song called Inside the Man in 2009, is not our man.

  Our Derek recorded in 2012 with a French electro-funk band C2C ( a fast and furious scorcher called Happy on their Tetra CD.  “That’s the last thing I did over here.  I’m recording Happy again.”

  Also in June 2012, Stuff Music released a 6-track CD entitled The Soul Music Is Back.  The music leans heavily on funk – especially the two tracks that Organiz collaborated on – and the only slow song is a tribute called Brother Ray (Ray Charles)Brother Stevie is a dancer with a funky groove to it.

  “I just want that ‘Stuff’ out of my life.  His father was rich, and he started putting money out and he sent us out to somewhere in Morocco – a beautiful, beautiful place.  I found out later on that I couldn’t get into that circuit of the better class and better money.  I still have the remains of good music.”

  Derek names Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis and Ella Fitzgerald as some of his biggest favourites, but “there are so many others that I admire.”  His self-recorded favourite songs are Your Love Made a Man out of Me, You better go and Magic Carpet Ride.  “Actually they explain my life.  I feel very connected to different moods of these songs.  I have lived them.”

  “Actually, if I would start over again, I would want to be a healer.  I would like to be able to touch people, and you’re okay afterwards.  I want to be healer for God, but I have learned through meditating and practising that, even though you have the power, you can do a person a lot of harm, because you’re not a doctor.”

  “In music I’m going to do this next album all by myself, because I’m fed up with musicians that are not real.  I will do all the parts.  I play it, I sing the background parts, then I get a drum, go back, get a bass player on each song.  I’m doing this in Paris.  I’ve got a chance in Paris, because of the C2C success.  They play my music for a minute.  Paris is a good place to be and do your thing.  My plans are to finish this album first, and then I’m going to do a jazz album.  Then I’m going to do a gospel album.”



(label # / titles / year)


Aladdin 3265) Please Let Me Know / Real Humdinger (1954)


Atco 6057) Shadows Of Love / Yum Yummy (1955)

Atco 6066) Bells Of Love / Come On Home (1956)

Onyx 503) Let’s You And I Go Steady / Zippidy Zippidy Zoom

Onyx 506) Tree In The Meadow / Me Oh My

Onyx 510) Your Cheatin’ Heart / I Sure Need You (1957)

Onyx 511) Ice Cream Baby / Yuz-A-Ma-Tuz

Onyx 516) It’s Love, Love, Love / The Wheel Of Love

On The Square 320) Ugly Face / Band of Angels (1959)


Atlantic 2066) Wonderful Time / Walkin’ With Love (1960)

Atlantic 2080) Say Yes / Warm Your Heart

Atlantic 2097) Hearts Of Stone / The Basic Things (1961)

Atlantic 2115) Twist And Shout / Always Late (Why Lead Me On)

Festival 1021) Wait For Me Baby / Come Back Cleopatra


Festival 25005) I Love You So Much / Wait For Me Baby


ABC 10399) I Love You So Much / It’s All Right (1963)


Crackerjack 4013) Daddy Rollin’ Stone / Don’t Put Me Down Like This

Sue 118) Too Soon To Know / Cha Cha Skate (1965)

Roulette 4631) You Better Go / You Know (1965)

# 25 (Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles) / # 78 (Pop Singles) – Billboard charts

re-released on Roulette 7017 in 1968

Roulette 4647) Your Daddy Wants His Baby Back / I Won’t Cry Anymore

Roulette 4679) Bumper To Bumper / Don’t Resist (1966)

Sue 143) Count To Ten / If You Go

Roulette 4743) Breakaway / Take Me Like I Am (1967)

Tuba 2010) Soul Power / Sly Girl (1967)

>re-released on Volt 160 (1968)

Buttercup 009) You Blew It Baby / Moving Hands Of Time (1970)

Buttercup 011) Your Love Made A Man Out Of Me / I Got To Chase That Dream (1971)

Vibration 522) Falling Out Of Love / That’s What I’ll Do (1973)

Vibration 526) How Can I Get Away / That’s What I’ll Do

All Platinum 2358) Beautiful Woman / instr. (1975)


Happy (on the CD “Tetra”) (2012)


(title / label # / year)


Zippity Zippity Zoom / Shadows Of Love / My Oh My / Ice Cream Baby / The Vow / I Sure Need You / Yum Yummy / Your Cheatin’ Heart / Band Of Angels / Real Humdinger / Bells Of Love / Let’s You And I Go Steady / More Than A Day Before / It’s Love, Love, Love / Tree In The Meadow / You’re Not In Love With Me / Yuz-A-Ma-Tuz / Ugly Face / The Wheel Of Love / Rockin’ Horse / Please Let Me Know / Come On Home

TAKE ME LIKE I AM/THE ROULETTE RECORDINGS (Stateside/EMI 50999 509535 2 3) 2007

You Better Go / You Know / Your Daddy Wants His Baby Back / I Won’t Cry Anymore / Bumper To Bumper / Don’t Resist / Breakaway / Take Me Like I Am / Hold On To Someone / I Can’t Take It No More / Baby What Changed Your Mind / Come On In / After All Is Said And Done / We Have Lived Before / What Greater Love / On A Magic Carpet Ride / Grow Grow Grow / Just One More Time / Flashback / Hold On / Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire / You Blew It Baby / Moving Hands Of Time / Your Love Made A Man Out Of Me / I Got To Chase That Dream

THE SOUL MUSIC IS BACK (Stuff Music) 2012

The Way You Are / I Don’t Want You Anymore / Wake Up And Smell The Coffee / Brother Ray (Ray Charles) / Don’t Worry / Brother Stevie

(interviews conducted on July 25 and November 28 in 2015; acknowledgements to Derek Martin, Laurent Julia; Frédéric Adrian, David Cole, Marv Goldberg, John Ridley; Juhani Laikkoja, Dave Thomas, Graziano Uliani and Aarno Alén).

© Heikki Suosalo

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