Come On Down To Coverville!

February 3, 2007

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I was bitching to Joe Klein of Podcast voice guys, about how few cover records I’ve gotten on my songs in recent years, and he told me about Brian Ibbott, the creator and host of COVERVILLE, who has one of the hottest podcasts around, with 40,000 subscribers, who ONLY plays cover records!

I’ve always been proud of the multi-million selling cover records I’ve been involved with over the years, which include “You’re 16” which I gave to Ringo Starr, “Rock And Roll Heaven” by the Righteous Brothers, and “Daydreamer” by David Cassidy. So needless to say, as a songwriter/ publisher who’s still running hot and heavy in the street, this program is very inspiring to me! As well as providing information on who’s doing cover records these days, I was surprised how many new versions of my favorite songs from the the 60’s to the present are spotlighted on the show. I heard covers of Elvis Presley songs I’d never heard before by the Pet Shop Boys, Cheap Trick, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. There were covers of Beach Boy songs by the Troggs, Elvis Costello, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, John Lennon songs done by Eva Cassidy, Dream Academy and Roxy Music. Surprising covers of James Brown songs from The Who and Concrete Blonde. Even artists like Metallica, and Pink Floyd, had covers as well as hundreds of others!

COVERVILLE was the first place I heard Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, recorded by Fuel…whose arrangement was at the center of a controversy on “American Idol” last year. Chris Daughtry, a finalist in the competition, who currently has the number one album on the Billboard charts, performed Fuel’s version without crediting them for the arrangement. What The Fuck! When has anybody ever credited anybody for doing their arrangement on TV?

Before I got all worked up about it…I thought wait a second, all this controversy is over a cover? Maybe doing somebody else’s song is cool again?

It’s been a bitch trying to get a song recorded by a group who writes their own material, since artists and managers have long realized that song writing and publishing royalties are sometimes the only source of income from their”Multi-Platinum” CDs. Remember, the poor artist is usually charged with everything a company can get away including outrageous studio costs, touring expenses, promotion, and the making of million dollar videos!

I remember hearing stories about Beatle manager, Brian Epstein, sitting down with John Lennon and Paul McCartney and forcing them to start writing more original songs for economic reasons. I heard that Andrew Loog Oldham, The Rolling Stones manager, convinced Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to do the same, which changed the musical direction of two of the greatest “cover” groups of all time!

I was there with “Papa” Joe Jackson, the day that Michael and the Jackson 5 escaped from Motown, weary of being forced to do “covers” on their albums and”other peoples songs” on their singles. I was able to help Joe get a $25,000 dollar advance, within 48 hours for their sub-publishing around the world based on songs that were yet to be written by unproven writers.The deal ultimately included “Beat it”, “Billy Jean” and most of the compositions on the 65 million selling,”Thriller” album!!.

Okay…Okay, The world’s a better place because of these self-generating artists…but how many artists today are capable of really writing “Great” songs today? I asked Brian Ibbott, why do cover records seem to be coming back?

“I think because the reasons people cover songs have broadened. It used to be a purely financial decision to cover a song, but these days, many do it because it’s an honor, and a tribute to a band that helped shape their own music. At least, in an ideal world, that would be the most prominent reason.”

“Brian, you seem very committed to your podcasts and to cover records?”

“Second to my family, Coverville has turned out to be the joy of my life. I look forward to new episodes, email feedback from listeners, and the music they introduce me to. I can’t imagine what I’d be doing, if it weren’t for the show!”

Personally, I’d be happy as a music lover and consumer to have a couple of familiar songs, I could sing along with, on every CD that I buy. Am I wrong? Wouldn’t all of you like to hear more of your favorite songs performed by more of your favorite artists?

Copyright by Artie Wayne 2007

Check out Brian Ibbot’s “Coverville”, he’s got an archive of over 250 podcasts you can download. Hear what all the buzz is about! http://coverville.com

For Artie Wayne’s website and complete discography http://artiewayne.com

To see Sebastian Prooth’s inspiring video of Alan O’Day’s brilliant update of he and the late Johnny Stevenson’s classic, “Rock and Roll Heaven” https://artiewayne.wordpress.com/2006/08/20/rock-and-roll-heaven/

For Joe Klein http://podcastvoiceguys.com

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Diana Ross As Billie Holiday

The following is Part III of Breaking The Motown Sound Barrier Series. If you haven’t read Part I, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, click on to https://artiewayne.wordpress.com/2006/08/14/breaking-the-motown-sound-barrier-aint-no-mountain-high-enough/

If you haven’t read Part II, “What’s Goin’ On?”, click on to https://artiewayne.wordpress.com/2006/09/23/breaking-the-motown-sound-barrier-part-two-in-the-series-whats-goin-on/

Part III

In 1972, Ed Silvers, President of Warner Brothers music was losing his patience with me because he thought I was spending far too much time at Motown. Although I was getting our songs covered by some of their biggest artists, they were only album cuts. Ed was convinced that I would never get a single released by them. I didn’t say much, but I had spent over a year infiltrating the company, and I knew it was just a matter of time before I scored big with them!

I started to notice a change at the company when CEO Berry Gordy, Jr. became interested in producing movies. When production costs soared, record production budgets were cut and fewer records were released. I remember hanging out at Motown one day when I ran into producer and song writer, Michael Masser. He played me a song he had written with Ron Miller and produced on Diana Ross, that was being canned again! When he played me “Touch Me In The Morning”, my mouth dropped open! I couldn’t believe such a phenomonal record could be in the can for over a year, but Berry had his own plans for Diana. He and Paramount pictures had started production on “Lady Sings The Blues” and he was determined to make Diana a movie star!

For the first time, I heard complaints from usually loyal employees about all the money that was being wasted on Diana’s film. I heard that Berry had shot a scene for the film using an integrated chorus line at the Cotton Club, which had to be reshot with only Blacks to maintain historical accuracy. This mistake cost $50,000! Athough the record company was still on top, it couldn’t keep absorbing such costs without suffering in the process.

The only new artists who were given the “Motown Push” were the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson who now was having hits as a single artist. I knew at this point that the only way I could have a chance for a hit with this company was to get a cover by the Jacksons or Michael. There was only one staff writer at Warner Brothers music who could write in a classic R+B style, George Clinton, Jr. ( not the lead singer of Parlement, but the one who later scored the three Austin Powers movies.) The two producers who loved Georges writing the most were Jerry Marcellino and Mel Larson, who just had big hits with 12 year old Michael on “Rockin’ Robin” and “Little Bitty Pretty One”. “Ben”, from the movie of the same name was racing up the charts and Berry Gordy asked each of his producers to start recording new sides with him.

I sat with Jerry and Mel and we talked about what kind of song they should record with Michael. I suggested A Christmas song…one so commercial that it could be the follow up to, “Ben”. When I saw their eyes light up, I told them that George Clinton, Jr. and I had started such a song! When they asked to hear it, I told them we were still working on it ( when in fact we hadn’t even started! ) I couldn’t tell them the title (’cause there wasn’t any!) I did tell them, however, that it was a true story of how my girlfriend left me out in the cold like the last tree in a lot which was left unsold on Christmas eve. They freaked out and said they had to have the finished song by Monday. I said, “No problem”

I called George, who knew nothing about any of this as soon as I got back to my office. He couldn’t believe I’d told them we’d have a finished song to them by monday, when it was friday and we hadn’t even started it! Saturday morning we met at my office, which was on Hollywood Boulevard across from Grauman’s Chinese Theater. It was the middle of summer, about 90 degrees, but we had to get in a Christmas Mood. As I told George my sad story, I started throwing Ivory Snowflakes around the room…and after a few hours we had the verse and chorus of, “Little Christmas Tree”

Little Christmas Tree

words and music by George Clinton, Jr. and Artie Wayne

I watch the snowflakes fall against my window pane

and wonder if you are watching snowflakes too?

I take a walk downtown to where you used to meet me

There’s joy everywhere but all that’s waiting there…is just a

Little Christmas Tree..Lookin’ sorta’ sad and lonely just like me

No one seems to care… They just went away and left him standing there

All alone on Christmas Eve!

Copyright 1972/ 2006 by Warner Brothers Music

On Monday morning George did a piano voice demo, and I got it to Jerry and Mel that afternoon. They loved it so much that they knocked one of their own songs off the date and cut ours on thursday! I was almost in tears when I heard the finished record the following week with the news that it was being considered for the follow-up to “Ben”, which had just hit number one! You can imagine how I felt a few weeks later when Berry decided not put out any follow up to Oscar nominated “Ben”, until the Academy Awards were given out…after Christmas! A few days later I came up with a plan and presented it to Motown. Put 2 albums worth of previously recorded Christmas songs by all of their hit artists along with a new song that Marvin Gaye recorded and of course, Michael Jackson’s, “Little Christmas Tree”. I’m proud to say that “A Motown Christmas” has sold many times platinum over the years…but there was a dark cloud  loomng on the horizon!

( To Be Continued)

Copyright 2006 by Artie Wayne

To hear a sample of Michael Jackson’s, “Little Christmas Tree” from “A Motown Christmas”, just click on to http://www.amazon.com/Motown-Christmas-Various-Artists/dp/B00000JPBZ/sr=1-1/qid=1165772884/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/105-5725259-3053219?ie=UTF8&s=music

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The Banned Beatle Album Cover

In the early 80s I was absolutely apalled when someone took the tapes from the first Elvis Presley album, added “Disco beats, modern sounding instruments and effects”, while removing the excess echo that was my favorite sound on the original lp! I remember hearing a few cuts while I was waiting to be served at the Hard Rock cafe in Hollywood. I was starting to become physically ill from hearing some of my all time favorite cuts desecrated, so I walked out…but not before I complained loudly and vehemently to the manager! I chalked this one up to the Presley estate trying to breathe life into a dead horse! (no reflection on the Hard Rock’s hamburger, of course.)

The next time I was shlocked to my very core was when my friend, Alan O’Day, sent me the URL to the new remixes of Motown classics “remixed” by current top Hip-Hop producers. Although there were a few interesting moments…it was a futile attempt to improve upon musical history. http://motown remixed.com/

As long as I’ve been in the music industry I’ve admired, enjoyed and studied the sucess of Motown records. When I brought Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson to Eddie Holland in 1967, I developed a strong relationship with many of the company’s writers and producers. I was also privy to many secrets of their phenomenal sucess. I used to sit (at different times) with Norman Whitfield, Hal Davis, Mel Larson, Jerry Marcellino, Freddie Perren, Bob Crewe and Michael Masser and listen to what sounded like instant smash hits, including early mixes of ” Touch me in the Morning”, ” Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, and “My Eyes Adored You”, all of which were initially turned down by quality control!

The endless remixing and meticulous mastering was the most important And the most frustrating part of the recording process. I remember sitting with Iris Gordy, who was head of quality control and listening to dozens of mixes of ten totally different tracks of Stevie Wonders production of “Let’s get Serious” by Jermaine Jackson. I was intrigued by some of the “radical” mixes and amazed by the subtlety of others. I asked Iris if this many versions were unusual? she laughed and said, “Sometimes there are hundreds!”

With so much care and respect Berry Gordy had for the music, it’s a shame that the new owners of the Motown catalog let someone come in and fuck with the music!

This past tuesday a double CD was released called “Love”, featuring remixes of the original Beatles hits along with an incredible advertising blitz. After hearing a little of about 10 songs, of this “Bloodless”, adreneline free remix, I couldn’t help wonder who put this shit together? Are the Beatles hard up for cash? Has producer George Martin gone mad? Is his son Gilles the actual producer of this CD set? What has Cirque du Soleil have to do with this? After reading the Associated Press story I understood what was going on! http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,229702,00.htm ,

I realized this was the soundtrack to the new Cirque Du Soleil Las Vegas Extravaganza that opened last July! This means I have to listen to it with entirely different ears. Unfortunately, that also means before I say anything more about the album I should hear it in context with the show! If the Cirque Folque are reading this, pleased be advised that Artie Wayne on the Web is ready to be flown to Vegas to check it and come back here to report the findings!

Merci’ and Auvoir

Copyright 2006 by Artie Wayne

To reach the Mirage where “Love” by Cirque du Soleil is playing
http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/CirqueDuSoleil/en/showstickets/love/intro/intro.htm?sa_campaign=internal_click/redirect/love

 

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Although Motown had been having hits produced in Hollywood for the Jackson Five and Michael Jackson, the move to the West Coast from Detroit allowed Motown more time and money to develop new artists, like the Commodores, Lionel Ritchie, and Thelma Houston, songwriters like Michael Masser, Patti Dahlstrom, and Clifton Davis. The producers that came into their own during that time, included Freddie Perren, Deke Ritchards, Fonse Mizell, Hal Davis, Jerry Marselleno and Mel Larson. Only a handful of those who had hits back in Detroit were able to make a successful transition. the first was Marvin Gaye, who initially met with resistance from Gordy when he delivered his landmark album, “What’s Going On’?” Berry wanted to continue his persuit of “The Sound Of Young America”, making “crossover” singles that dominated the charts. Marvin, on the other hand, wanted to push the envelope with a socially relevant concept album. My friend, Jobete staff writer Al Cleveland, told me that when he heard Marvin working on a new track in the studio, he stuck his head in the door and asked, “What’s Going On?” This led to their collaboration on a song that defined a generation!

Although I was General Manager and Director of Services for Warner Brothers music, I was up at Motown so often people thought I worked there. I would sit in the outer office flirting with the receptionist, waiting to see what producer or artist would walk in next. I remember meeting writer producer Norman Whifield (“I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, ” Cloud 9″) that way. After briefly, but enthusiastically, discussing his body of work he invited me into his office to listen to a track he was starting to work on. I sat there and listened to a track for twelve minutes that consisted of only of an electric bass and percussion and was a bit confused. I asked him if there was a song that went along with it? He started the track again…and sang, “Papa was a Rolling Stone”

Around the same time I cornered Freddie Perren in an elevator, who was cutting Jermaine Jackson and convinced him to cut a Warner Brothers standard, “I Only Have Eyes For You”. I also got Hal Davis to produce “I Want To Be Happy”, from the Broadway revival of “No, No Nannete” for Michael Jackson, which eventually went to newcomer Lionel Ritchie.

Although I was starting to get cuts…they they were slow to be released. Ed Silvers, President of WB Music, thought I was spending too much time at Motown and doubted I’d ever get any of our new material covered. I couldn’t give up now, so in an accelerated effort I got Hal Davis to cut “Doctor My Eyes”, which Jackson Browne wrote and Michael Jackson took to the top ten in the U.K. As my friendship grew with Jerry Marselino and Mel Larson, who produced a top ten hit with Michael on “Rockin’ Robin”, I suggested that they cut as a follow up, “Little Bitty Pretty One”, which I had no interest in. I knew for certain that I had their attention when it became a hit…but I wanted to wait for the right opportunity to present them with an original song that I really wanted them to cut.

In the meantime, over the next few weeks Norman Whitfield let me hear “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”, in it’s various stages of development. There were layers of vocals put on and taken off, sections editited or deleted, countless re-mixes, and finally the last step…the mysterious mastering that set Motown apart from all the rest! That’s when I met Iris Gordy, head of Quality control, who allowed me to watch and listen as she performed her magic!

The Temptations classic was finally released and zoomed up the charts. I remember running into Norman Whitfield in the lobby of Motown, the day the song hit number one on the Billboard charts. He was livid that he had written and produced another smash for Motown…and Berry Gordy hadn’t even called to congratulate him…it was never like this back in Detroit!

Berry’s new aspirations, producing films and his obsession with making Diana Ross a movie star, brought new problems along with new priorities. For the first time in Motown’s history his relationship with everone he had worked with at the label seemed to be on shakey ground! (to be continued)

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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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