EARLY MOTOWN - Part 2
by Pat Jacobs
In late 1960, The Primettes were signed. (Also after persistent pestering!) The group had previously sang at various local sock hops and won first prize at the Detroit/Windsor Freedom Festival that same year.
The group consisted of Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Betty McGlown (later replaced by Barbara Martin), and Diana Ross (real first name is just Diane).
On Gordy's advice, the group name was changed; staff songwriter Janie Bradford came up with three choices, wrote them on paper, and put them in a hat.
Group member Florence Ballard picked the name "Supremes." And so it was.
The new group was not immediately successful, though they recorded more than forty songs, of which only twelve were released, over the next three years. Group member Barbara Martin became discouraged and quit.
Some of these early clunkers include: "I Want A Guy", "Buttered Popcorn" (You've got to hear this one to believe it. I've never heard popcorn sung about in such a weird way! I think the popcorn's a metaphor.) and "Your Heart Belongs To Me", which I think is the best of the clunkers.
Diana Ross is the lead voice here, and she's trying to imitate Mary Wells. It's actually not bad at all (though Wells would have sung this to perfection!).
Discovered by Bobby Moore of The Miracles, amidst great excitement from Gordy and the staff, 11-year-old Steveland Judkins (or Hardaway; accounts vary here) came on board in 1961.
Able to sing, write songs, and play several instruments, he was aptly renamed Little Stevie Wonder.
Motown's most successful male group started out as street-corner doo-wop.
In 1957, a teenage Otis Williams began singing with a few friends, including Elbridge Bryant.
Two years later (1959), Melvin Franklin was invited to join. The group then went through several name changes, first as the Elegants, then the Questions, (?) and then the Distants.
Later in 1959, on the advice of local Detroit promoter Milton Jenkins, the group added Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams and renamed themselves The Primes.
In 1960, while performing at a local club, Williams met Gordy between sets. Gordy liked the group and signed them to Motown by Dec. 1960.
Now renamed The Temptations, the group began recording from 1960 to 1964, but had no breakout or major hits (just like their former "sister" group, the Primettes, now Supremes!)
I think the best of their early clunkers was "I Want A Love I Can Feel".
Later, David Ruffin replaced Elbridge Bryant and Gordy reshaped the group's image and sound.
The classic lineup was now in place; the classic Temptation sound was set to "get ready".
The Four Tops also started as a doo-wop group. Levi Stubbs (Jr.), Renaldo Benson, Lawrence Payton, and Abdul Fakir grew up together in Detroit.
In 1954, they also banded together as The Four Aims, recording on various labels with no success.
Gordy signed the group in 1963, paired them with Holland-Dozier-Holland (the legendary songwriting team who joined forces, and Motown, in 1962), and the results were sheer magic.
And of course, there was the in-house band, particularly the rhythm section, known as The Funk Brothers, which consisted of pianist Earl Van Dyke,
drummer Benny Benjamin, and bassist James Jamerson.
Marvin Gaye was signed to Motown in 1961. The former Moonglows member (remember or ever heard the original version of "Sincerely"? Harvey Fuqua was the lead singer, but if you listen carefully, you can hear Gaye's voice in the background.
Fuqua later joined Motown's administrative staff. I believe he also co-wrote a few songs and married a Gordy sister.) became known as the "Prince Of Motown" for his great voice and good looks.
But Gaye was so much more. He was musically gifted, playing several instruments, including piano and drums, and co-wrote "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow", "Hitch Hike", and "Pride And Joy."
Unfortunately, he also had a troubled, abusive childhood which would always affect his life. (He added the "e" to his last name to avoid any homosexual association. I came across another reason for the "e".
Sam Cooke was an idol, and he did this as a tribute. Right now, I'll say it's a combination of these two factors, but as you know, accounts vary!)
His father, besides being verbally and physically violent, also had gender issues, He wasn't straight out gay, but.....)
Gaye always wanted to be the next Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra. His first Motown album (1961) "The Soulful Moods Of Marvin Gaye", featured standards like "My Funny Valentine". It wasn't a hit at all.
But that was about to change.
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