When the word “Motown” is said or written, what first comes to mind are the superstars — the Supremes, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and many more.
But there were so many others who contributed heavily to making the company what it was — musicians, songwriters, producers, arrangers, session singers, engineers, conductors, etc.
One of them is bandleader-musician-writer Dr. Beans Bowles (Thomas Bowles Sr.) who is receiving long overdue recognition by way of a new book titled “Dr. Beans Bowles, ‘Fingertips,’ The Untold Story,” painstakingly written by one of his sons, Dennis Bowles. (He and his brother, Thomas Bowles Jr., are also musicians and used to perform as the Other Brothers).
“Fingertips” is in the book’s title because Bowles was the chief composer of the song, although acknowledgement of that was a long time in coming.
Mary Wilson of the Supremes has referred to Beans Bowles as “the grandfather of Motown Records.” In his autobiography, “To Be Loved,” Berry Gordy Jr. described Bowles as “our saxophonist/flute player extraordinaire.” He also recalled Bowles “serving double duty on the road, musician and tour manager.”
Indeed, Bowles and other seasoned veterans like Maurice King, Cholly Atkins, Harvey Fuqua and Earl Van Dyke were godsends to Motown. Through them, the Motown artists, young and inexperienced, learned how become good at their craft.
It was, in fact, Bowles who told Gordy that his artists lacked polish and needed professional instruction. He laughingly recalled one of the Marvelettes, a group fresh out of Inkster High School, walking out on stage looking around and chewing gum.
Gordy saw his point and the grooming began.
It was also Bowles’ idea to put together the famed Motortown Revue that toured the nation by bus.
“The Untold Story” goes into great detail, providing just about everything a person could want to know about Bowles, augmented by many classic photos.
Bowles, perhaps best known for the years he spent as musical director for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, is lavishly praised in the book by a number of notables.
Gladys Knight: “Beans was definitely the go-to person. Everybody always said, ‘Well maybe we had better call Beans.’”
Martha Reeves: “He was a master of all trades. Whatever was called for, Beans did. He was a fine musician, a wonderful gentleman.”
Stevie Wonder: “He was a friend, a teacher and also like a father. In 1963 he wrote ‘Fingertips’ and it was in that year that I was able to do the things with him that helped to change my life.”
Smokey Robinson: “We went down many roads together. His contribution to Motown is irreplaceable.”
Otis Williams: “Beans was a catalyst for our career. He was our first manager, as well as a teacher of how to be a professional and in other areas concerning life.”
Dennis Bowles said, “My father was taught love, sharing, giving and respect for all people. He was taught right from wrong. Most of all, Dad was taught God’s word,” and also noted that he felt of responsibility to pay tribute to Thomas “Beans” Bowles and the entire Bowles family. It was a labor of love.