I recently had the good fortune to be invited to the recording of a BBC Radio 2 show presented by Paul Gambaccini, with the guests being Berry Gordy Jr. and Vicki Wickham. As you may know, Vicki was the programme editor of Ready Steady Go! in the mid-60s and along with friend Dusty Springfield was a champion of the Motown Sound in the early days.
I spotted a few familiar faces in the audience including David Nathan who was a co-founder of the Soul City record shop in 1966. The interviews were punctuated by live vocalists performing Motown hits and never having been a fan of Motown tribute acts I must say that they were all very good.
The principle reason for Berry Gordy being in Britain was to promote the forthcoming Motown The Musical opening on February 11th at the Shaftsbury Theatre in London’s West End. The vast majority of the dialogue did however relate to Motown in the 60s and its growth in Britain which was great for me as that is the exact period covered in my forthcoming book, Stay In The Blue Groove: The story of the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society due out around April of next year.
Mr Gambaccini had clearly done his homework and was bold enough to ask BG some probing questions including why the ’65 Motown tour of Britain had been a box office disaster and what were his views? Berry, ever the skilled statesman simply batted the question to one side by saying that he was not involved, having left that side of the tour to others! The show will make good listening and is scheduled for broadcast on Christmas Eve.
So, onto today’s blog and selection of tracks. As many of you will know, Berry Gordy was initially a modern jazz fan, selling discs with his brother from their store, the 3-D Record Mart – House of Jazz. Gordy later launched the woefully under promoted and vastly underrated Workshop Jazz label which, according to Earl Van Dyke, hosted some of the best music recorded at Hitsville, although most of it remained in the can.
With this Motown connection in mind my first pick this issue is ‘High Heel Sneakers’ by JACKIE IVORY on UK Atlantic Records 4075/US Atco 6398. Born in Blytheville, Arkansa 1937, as a child he moved with his family to South Bend, Indiana, the home of Jr Walker (Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr) who also hailed from Blytheville, and the two boys attended the same school, South Bend Central High. Jackie soon formed his own trio, Jackie Ivory and the Gents of Soul comprising Jackie, Paul Renfro and Billy ‘Stix’ Nicks on drums. Nicks later became a member of another local band the Rhythm Rockers but often swapped places with mutual friend Jr Walker in his group the Jumping Jacks.
When Nicks was drafted the group became less active but Jackie Ivory retained his connection with the fast becoming famous Jr Walker and subsequently often sat in with him on keyboards. In ’65 Jackie signed for Atco and issued this solitary 45 plus an album, Soul Discovery but the Gents of Soul split very soon after the album was issued with Jackie continuing to sit in with Jr Walker and also Willis ‘Gator’ Jackson for the remainder of the decade. He then moved to the west coast for twenty years before returning to South Bend and reuniting with Nicks.
The Motown thread continues with GENE DOZIER, ‘I Wanna Testify’, Minit 32031. Fellow Manifesto columnist John Smith presented a wealth of original information of this great keyboard player some years ago on the soulfuldetroit forum from which I have drawn heavily – thank you John.
Gene Lloyd Dozier’s career began as an A&R man at Cameo Records in Philly and while there he was the pianist on Harriet Lavern & the Lovenotes’ ‘A Letter To My Love’ on Brenna Records and also their next 45, ‘On Fire’ on Sandee which was picked up by Cameo. Gene soon got together with Norman ‘General’ Johnson to write songs including one for Sheila Ferguson, ‘How Did That Happen’ and also the Orlons’, ‘Envy’.
Despite these and other songs being successful, Gene was eventually fired by Cameo but his next break came along very soon when he went to the Uptown Theatre, Philadelphia to see the Temptations’ show. This culminated in Eddie Kendricks introducing him to Mickey Stevenson and Gene then undertaking an epic overnight drive to Detroit to meet Mickey at Motown who had the luxury of an aeroplane journey. Gene left Mickey with a song he had written and then returned to Philly the same day with little expectation and indeed heard nothing.
After a short stint at Jamie Records, he met Jeffrey Bowen who, listening to Gene’s plight cut demos of four of his songs which he sent to Stevenson at Motown who was sufficiently impressed to invite Gene back to Motown and paired him with Ivy Hunter. Little came of it and having the same surname as Lamont Dozier, Gene reflected that some of his material could well have been unintentionally attributed to him. In his short and rather fruitless stay there, Gene’s main achievement turned out to be signing backing vocals on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight’.
At the invitation of Richard Parker, A&R man at Motown’s rival Golden World, Gene moved across town under the pseudonym of Billy Jackson aka Billy the Kid as he did not wish to burn all of his bridges with Gordy and immediately contributed to songs such as ‘I’ll Love You Forever’ by the Holidays and Teresa Lindsey’s ‘Daddy O’. After his Detroit flurry he returned to Philly and Gamble & Huff working with the O’Jays on Neptune and then most surprisingly for me, he announced that he was the vocalist and co-writer on Lorenzo Manley’s ‘(I’m Gonna) Swoop Down On You’on Original Sound.
His next port of call was LA working with the Groovettes on Reness Records and Dobie Gray on Charger before joining Ike Turner’s band prior to moving to Minit records with some of Ike’s band that became Gene Dozier & the Brotherhood where they had an immediate smash in ’67 with ‘A Hunk of Funk’ that I have featured previously.