This story has nothing to do with the 50th anniversary of Motown Record Corporation, although hearing about that momentous occasion may have planted a subconscious seed.
In any event, in recent weeks I have been thinking about the legendary company that has been written about far more than any company in the history of recorded music.
I have no particular feeling for Motown as it is now. Today it is just a label, owned by Universal Music Group, not even an actual record company. There was pride in knowing that Motown was Black owned. And furthermore, there is no Detroit connection, except in the historic sense — and the fact that Stevie Wonder is still on the label, the only major Motown act to never leave.
I don’t even think of artists such as India.Arie and Erykah Badu as “Motown artists,” but they actually are. So, too, is Lindsay Lohan, believe it or not. However, I do appreciate all of great reissues Universal Motown continues to make available, as well as never-heard-before material.
BUT BACK TO the subject BUT BACK TO the subject — Motown and my connection to it. Most of these remembrances are wonderful, and many things I never dreamed could happen, but there are some negative ones as well.
When I was in my teen years, nothing excited me as much as Motown. I was totally caught up in it, and in awe. I bought the records, went to the shows, wrote fan letters, etc.
I even auditioned as a songwriter, and actually landed an appointment with producer/songwriter Clarence Paul. And none other than Stevie Wonder offered advice. Not that I was actually good.
I talked to Stevie on the lawn in front of Hitsville. After the brief conversation, I felt that I should hold on to his arm to lead him back into the building, but he gently pulled away and walked up the stairs and into the building alone. Amazing!
Claudette Robinson, formerly of the Miracles and former wife of Smokey Robinson, is such a sweet person. When I was going through something really traumatic a year or so ago, Claudette was a prayer partner.
When they were all teenagers, Smokey and my brother, Kenny (later known as “Hollywood”), were in competition for Claudette Rogers. Smokey, of course, won. Also, when Kenny passed a few years ago, Claudette and her cousin, Bobby Rogers, also from the Miracles and a longtime friend of Kenny’s, sent flowers.
SPEAKING OF the Miracles, when the group was re-forming, I was surprised when Ronnie White asked if I could put in my column that he and Bobby were looking for two new singers. One of those who responded to that column was Dave Finlay, who still sings with Bobby in his latest incarnation of the Miracles.
It was so exciting for me, a Chronicle newcomer, when Martha Reeves accepted an invitation extended by one of my coworkers to come to the Michigan Chronicle Christmas party in the early 1970s. We talked practically all night. A year or so later, she waved to me from the stage of the 20 Grand where she and the Vandellas (Sandra Tilley and Lois Reeves at the time) were appearing.
Unfortunately, the casual friendship with Martha and Lois recently came to a fork in the road. I wrote some things critical of Reeves as a member of Detroit City Council, and her right to be on the council, period. (I stand by every word.) She was angry and Lois went ballistic in a letter that I responded to in print. (I am disappointed with these two ladies, but not mad.)
And while on the subject of Vandellas, I have been friends with original members Annette Beard-Helton and Rosalind Ashford-Holmes for a long time. Annette and I e-mail each other often.