These quick notes describe some of the people behind the scenes, who made RockNRoll music.
I'm looking for strong performers, consistent across the years. Initially they'll be the more known people because, well, most are unknown.
And at the end of the page I put disk jockeys in a special category.
An organizer, the spark behind "It's In His Kiss" and other productions.
Her careers ranged from secretary to movie producer (Lady Sings the Blues).
Out front for a few years as a blues singer of medium popularity, some fans had their eyes opened when she first appeared on TV - the blues singer stereotype did not include being six feet tall with platinum-blond hair. :-)
He began as a song writer for stars like Jackie Wilson.
Founded Motown to control the music for more financial benefit to writer and performer, with a vision of the type of production needed and the content (tell a story).
Motown was dedicated to quality, intending that each singles record release was capable of going to number one in ratings (lesser productions were only issued in albums). They did innovative things such as hiring a charm school teacher and a choreographer to make their shows a visual performance as well as the essential of an audio performance.
However, Bary Gordy made mistakes along the way - especially in who he hired and in allowing a bureaucracy to develop. So Motown lost the creative productive edge they had when people gravitated to their converted house just to "be where the music was being made" in an atmosphere of friendly competition.
I recommend the TV show Motown 40th Anniversary to learn of the good and bad of Motown.
ELECTRIC BASS LADY
Carol Kaye popularized what became known as the "bass guitar", a key part of most RnR performances.
One of LA's most desired studio musicians, she taught playing of the bass guitar (originally called the "electric bass").
She describes the seriousness of the LA studio business - workmanlike with none of the partying and drug use she claims existed in Detroit.
(She's been accused of exaggeration, but I guess that the confusion over who played on certain Motown hit recordss came from the record company recording in LA as backup in case Detroit musicians failed to perform, and from LA versions of songs being used in movies and such.)
Look for a book by her (rumoured to be imminent as of a few years ago - nothing on her web site in mid-September 2004).
She claims she made very good money from her session work.
One of the prolific song-writers operating in collaboratives in New York City.
(See DON KIRSHNER and AL NEVINS below for more on NYC collaboration.)
IMO not a great performer, but as a writer in the famous team of Goffin and King was outstanding - responsible for many RnR hits.
An unusual case was The Locomotion. Its performer, Little Eva, was a 14 year old baby sitter for Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Eva was in the right place at the right time, with the right people! (Unfortunately she did not have any more hits, but did produce a number of songs - I like her version of Stand By Me (punchier than Ben E King's which I also like).
A "southern soul" lady who made it on her own, joined Motown for even greater success, and went back out on her own.
She was a good businesswoman to advance the career of herself and backup singers ("The Pips", her brothers and cousins).
Still performing in 2000.
One of her songs is interesting - it has similar theme, styling, and even musical bits to the well-known I Am Woman by Helen Reddy. (Perhaps a small amount of the intro flavour in Midnight Train to Georgia, but not the high tone bit.)
Notable for a very young start and several musical several styles. (Crossing over from Louisiana Creole to teen tear-jerker to country - her last of many pop chart hits being the hard-driving semi-country "Comin' On Strong". At the age of 21 she moved back toward country, and was still out there performing her RnR work in her 60s.)
Let's recognize one of Motown's early successes, whose hits included Please Mr. Postman. (Can someone please remind me who produced it? Not Sylvia Moie.)
Dressed up and polished, they showed the way for other artists (many needing the choreography and charm teachers Motown hired to provide a visual show not just singing).
SYLVIA MOIE [spelling?]
One of several under-recognized producers/writers from Motown's early days, she ensured Stevie Wonder's career after several unsuccessful attempts in Motown to produce a hit on him.
Notable as an entrepreneur, her backup singers - the Vandellas - were relatives hired by her not Motown.
Today she helps high school bands, such as Victoria High's R&B band who do much Motown.
A performer himself, with high school friends and sweetheart in The Miracles group, Smokey was the producer/writer behind the scenes for many Motown hits - including Mary Well's calypso-based performances such as You Beat Me to the Punch and My Guy (and the shaggy dog story Two Lovers), as well as a favorite of mine: My Girl, by the Temptations. A steady talent.
A more pleasant sounding rockabilly artist.
For example, listen to "Oh Little One".
The "evil genius" of Phillies Records, a nasty person whose genius was understanding what was needed to make a hit and working very hard to do so. (The same approach that Barry Gordy ensured Motown had but he was not nasty - just naiive.)
Spector's output had variety that most people don't recognize - from The Paris Sisters through Corina Corina to the ultimate hard-driving RnR piece "Da Do Ron Ron". He produced many of the Righteous Brothers' hits.
Known for long recording days to polish the sound for success.
Hated by many for his nastiness and dishonesty, he was successfully sued by artists such as Darlene Love.
OK, I threw that in from a far field. :-) (Thanks to Red Robinson for the info from his radio show.)
She worked making demo records for song writers - talk about niche work!
Despite a good voice, she had only one hit herself.
(Check spelling of her last name.)
THE FUNK BROTHERS
Motown's musicians - talent with strategy. (They tried to give each performer/group a signature sound - for example listen for the snare drum every fourth beat at the bottom in Supreme's hits.)
There's a documentary about them on DVD.
DON KIRSHNER and AL NEVINS
They formed the publishing company Aldon Music, housed in a building built at 1650 Broadway in New York City. That building, one at 1697 Broadway, and the better known Brill Building nearby housed many music development enterprises that fostered writing lyrics and music, recording them, and taking care of business. The presence of Big Band and African American Swing writers and musicians there may have helped and influenced Rock and Roll productions by Bacharach and David, Leiber and Stoller, Sedaka and Greenfield, Goffin and King, Barry and Greenwich, and other names well known in Rock and Roll.
Who often presented the music to you, sometimes playing more fundamental roles in developing or promoting it.
(respected Vancouver BC disk jockey - site has significant history information). I don't know if he is on radio anymore, he's getting old.
His CD "Sunrise: The Dawn of Rock and Roll", has interviews with key artists from the beginnings of RnR - complete with a booklet of photos, available at Neptoon Records in Vancouver BC.
Respected Seattle disk jockey and national concert promoter. Very good business and programming sense, but put up with too much bad personal behaviour from artists. Look for his recent book, and a later interview in the Northwest magazine section of the Seattle Times.
Read his book to see how clever he was, how whacko he behaved, and how debauched some of the music industry people were. Stories include early days "down south" somewhere (living integrated without even thinking about it until.....), and his involvement with the powerhouse radio stations in Mexico (coping with misbehaviour of the government there).
(Each of Pat O'Day's and Wolfman Jack's books contain an educational example of a performer or group who just got the job done well and efficiently.)
All were good at promotion, including concerts not just radio stations. I list them in increasing order of the extreme of promotion and their fame - O'Day after Robinson because of his larger concert business - all have mellowed with age, but perhaps the list is in decreasing order of classiness.
2004 was being considered the 50th anniversary of Rock and Roll, considering when Rock Around the Clock was released, Elvis Presley was emerging from Rockabillly, and the doo-wop classic In the Still of the Night was written.
Some of us "oldies" think RnR began to decline when the Beattles emerged in the mid-60s (great writers, mediocre performers, dumb personal beliefs). Certainly one should use an adjective in front when describing the music genre after the first decade.
Like most music RnR is a blend of styles - why (horrors!) there's even country in its roots and performances - with many artists influenced by earlier performers and styles. :-)
(Let's recognize the usefulness and limits of categories, unlike the collectivist approach that defines persons by the superficial group they fall into. See Chris Clark at the beginning of this page for an example of practical pitfalls.)
© Keith Sketchley
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