Breaking The Motown Sound Barrier – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

August 14, 2006

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When I started writing songs and producing records in the ’60s, there wasn’t anywhere to go to learn your craft. Like many of my contemporaries, I went to the school of Top 40 radio. First I learned the ABCs of Rock and Roll in the ’50s, listening to Elvis, Fats Domino, and the Platters, then I graduated in the ’60s, where everyone in my class majored in Motown.

Although I’m an African-American, R+B music wasn’t my first love. It was Berry Gordy, Jr.the owner and guiding force behind Motown, who changed the sound of Black America into the “Sound of Young America.” The “crossover” vision soon captured my imagination as well. His formula always started with an extremely well crafted song, musically sophisticated with a strong beat, and used the best producers, musicians, arrangers as well as pool of remarkable singers.
It was, however, the competition between songwriters and producers within the company that drove the quality, commerciality and technical superiority to such a high level. Even “Smokey” Robinson ( Vice-President of Motown), had to compete with Norman Whitfield, Marvin Gaye, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Mickey Stevenson, and every other songwriter/ producer based at the Detroit label, for every single that was released!

Ironically, It was white people who made me aware of how Motown records were put together. I used to sit with Bert Berns (“Twist and Shout”, “Hang On Sloopy”), Jerry Ragavoy( “Cry, Cry Baby”, who co-wrote “Piece of Heart” with Bert) or with Ed Silvers, who ran the New York office of Metric music, and listen to Motown’s latest releases. Each of these astute, songwriter/ producers would point out something in each record that would strike a chord in me. Little did I know that this informal education would help me forge relationships with some of the greatest African-American performers, songwriters and producers of all time that included Quincy Jones, Van McCoy, Donny Hathaway, Freddie Perren, Hal Davis, Allan Toussant, Joe Simon, and Rick James.

It wasn’t until I worked with Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson did more of the pieces of the Motown puzzle began to fit. We were all signed exclusively to write songs and produce for Scepter Records. When we weren’t creating, Nick and Val would take time to show me the chords and demonstrate the harmonies of all my favorite Motown hits.

They sang background on most of my demos and shared their studio musicians with me. I always thought it was a shame that Motown didn’t consider outsde material for their artists…I was convinced that they had two or three songs that could have topped the charts with The Four Tops or the Supremes.

Then something unexpected happened, for financial reasons, Scepter records sold off their publishing companies. Ed Silvers moved to Hollywood, to run Viva music, Nick and Val started doing more background sessions, and I who was newly married, had to scramble to find another job in publishing!

About a month later, I became a partner in Allouette productions with Sandy and Kelli Ross, and we represented the publishing interests of Quincy Jones, Bobby Scott, Joey Levine, Artie Resnick and Leslie Gore. I brought Ashford and Simpson to Quincy’s company, but at the time he couldn’t afford to sign them.

When I was approached by Jeffery Bowen and Eddie Holland (Holland/ Dozier/ Holland) to join Motown’s publishing company, Jobete music, I turned them down. I did, however, take the opportunity to introduce them to Ashford and Simpson. It wasn’t long before my friends were signed to an exclusive contract.

A few months later, Nick and Valerie call me from Associated studios, and ask me to come over and listen to the tracks they’d been cutting at Motown. I sat down and freaked out when I heard, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, and “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing”. Although their voices were on the tracks, it didn’t take much imagination to hear Marvin Gaye singing it! They said he was recording it as a duet with a new Motown discovery, Tammi Terrell.

Over the next few years, I discovered that Motown was quite a secretive place and had little to do with people outside of their organisation. There were rumors that it was really owned by the Mob…but they were only rumors.

For years, I followed Nick and Val’s careers like everybody else…on the radio. The next time I talked to them was when I moved to the west coast to join Ed Silvers at Warner Brothers music. I got a call from Nick, who told me that they were victim of Motown’s “creative accounting” and they weren’t getting the money that they deserved as songwriters. I was happy to get my former partner, Sandy Ross to represent them and help them escape…but that was just the beginning!
(To Be Continued)

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left to right- Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson

2011 by Artie Wayne https://artiewayne.wordpress.com/about-artie-wayne/

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4 Responses to “Breaking The Motown Sound Barrier – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

  1. John Perrone Says:

    Mr. Wayne, it’s wonderful to read about your experiences with Ashford and Simpson. Riviting! I can’t wait for more installments. Thanks so much. John

  2. Sunny Monday Says:

    Artie,
    I am so sorry to hear this about Nick. Although I never knew Nick, I loved his and Valerie”s Music.
    I mean LOVED it !
    In Deepest Sympathy
    Sunny Monday

  3. Sunny Monday Says:

    I also want to add that nick’s wife Valerie sang on my single “Show Me How to Love” in the 60’s. I am so sorry for Valerie’s loss. They sang like they shared one heart. I’m sure he’s putting something together in heaven. May he R.I.P.


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    I am happy to seek out so many helpful info right here in the publish, we’d like work out more strategies in this regard, thank you
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