More Lesser Known Motown History…Plus ‘Motown the Musical’

The TemptationsThese first few paragraphs are not a “review” of “Motown the Musical” which is winding down its highly successful run. Reviews are written when a show first opens.

I didn’t even want to see “Motown the Musical” during those first few days. My strong preference was to wait until all the hoopla was over, when there was no media around, when the visiting celebrities had gone home.

“Motown the Musical” is spectacular, a feast for the eyes and ears. Kudos to all those involved, on stage, in the orchestra pit and behind the scenes.

I give it an 8½ out of a possible 10, for several reasons.

For one thing, there is way too much emphasis on the personal relationship of Diana Ross and Berry Gordy. Maybe the show should have been titled “Motown the Musical: The Berry Gordy-Diana Ross Love Story.”

Stevie Wonder is just as important as Marvin Gaye in Motown history, yet Gaye receives far more stage time. Martha & the Vandellas get shortchanged. And liberties were taken with certain Motown facts, but that is of no concern to the average person.

But make no mistake, “Motown the Musical” is wonderful. However, I would not want anyone to accept it as the definitive Motown story, but a of lot people will.

THAT SAID, on to some parts of the Motown legend known by few.

Although the Andantes — Jackie Hicks, Louvain Demps and Marlene Barrow — sang background on countless Motown hits, they only appeared on one Temptations song, “It’s Growing.” The Temps didn’t want any other vocals on their records because the sound would be different when they sang the songs live.

By the way, in case you didn’t know, Andantes is pronounced “ahn-don-tays.”

Ray Charles had a huge album in 1962 titled “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” so Motown had the Supremes — who hadn’t made it big yet — record “The Supremes Sing Country, Western & Pop,” although it wasn’t released until they were a top attraction. Its success was limited, and it’s a real hoot to hear Diana Ross sing, “Here on the range is where I belong.”

Even though David Ruffin was fired from the Temptations in 1968 because of his oversized ego and serious drug use, he was rehired not long after although that arrangement fell apart almost immediately. Lucky for the Temps (and Motown) that new member Dennis Edwards was still in town and willing to step back in.

CLEARLY not a priority act for Motown, the Spinners had to work regular jobs around Hitsville — including chauffeuring for other artists — during the many dry periods.

When Rhonda Ross — daughter of Diana Ross and Berry Gordy — and Rodney Ken­drick were preparing to get married, Diana Ross offered to buy the newlyweds a house. They appreciated the gesture but turned it down because they wanted to make it on their own.

Rhonda Ross Kendrick is a real estate agent and sings from time to time in jazz clubs.

There was a certain amount of resentment when Motown signed the Isley Brothers and Brenda Holloway. Neither was from Detroit and each got a national smash the first time out. The Isley Brothers reached No. 6 with “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)” and Holloway climbed to No. 3 with “Every Little Bit Hurts.”

THIS NEXT one is personal.

I was good friends with the late Esther Gordy Edwards, older sister of Berry Gordy, former Motown vice president and founder of the Motown Museum. One day at a time in her life when she was no longer able to drive, Mrs. Edwards asked if I could take her to the store, although I immediately sensed that she just wanted to get out.

I picked her up at her apartment on East Jefferson near downtown and we just rode around for hours, including Southwest Detroit where, surprisingly, she said she had never been before. It was the Fourth of July, so we couldn’t find the kind of store she wanted to go to that was open.

After I brought her back home and we talked awhile on her terrace with the beautiful view of the Detroit River and Canada, it occurred to me that if — God forbid — something bad had happened, like an accident, the whole Gordy family would have been mad at me, my fault or not.

IN THE early days, Mary Wells, who lived with her mother, Geneva Wells, didn’t have a telephone, so whenever she was needed in the studio, Motown would have to send somebody to their home to notify her.

On at least one occasion, when superstar Diana Ross was in a foul mood, having all kinds of “divafits,” Berry Gordy went into Ross’ suite, made love to her, and that chilled her right out. This is according to a respected gentleman who at one time worked for Motown in a high level position, often directly with the Motown president.

In 1967, the Motown house band, the Funk Brothers, and the company’s top background singers, the Andantes, snuck off to Chicago to record “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” with Jackie Wilson, who recorded for Brunswick.

And speaking of the Andantes, at the peak of the Supremes’ first rush of massive stardom, 1964-65, Motown wanted to quickly get a Supremes Christmas album on the market. The trio had been very busy and finally had a week or so off, but Diana Ross said she would be willing to come to the studio on her vacation. She laid down her lead vocals and the Andantes did all of the backgrounds, in place of Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson.

Earl Van Dyke said that David Ruffin was beating up Tammi Terrell in the studio one day, but when Van Dyke and some of the other musicians attempted to intervene, Terrell pleaded, “Don’t hurt him!”

Dennis Edwards, a Temptation on three separate occasions, was married briefly to Ruth Pointer of the Pointer Sisters.

Jr. Walker’s birth name is Autrey DeWalt Mixon Jr.

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