“Motown Philly” by Butch Ford

Motown Records

 

“Motown Philly” by Butch Ford

The 1960s introduced us to a brand new sound.  It originated in a tiny little home on the westside of Detroit called “Hitsville”  The founder and visionary Berry Gordy recruited every talented musician, singer, and songwriter in the area to put his dream in motion.  He wanted to make “music for the people.”

The result was a musical revolution dubbed “The Motown Sound.”  Happy music with the ability to bring people together peacefully and harmoniously.    We fell in love with The Temptations, The Tops, Marvin, Stevie, The Supremes, Smokey, Gladys, The Jackson 5 and so many others.  The backbone was a group of relatively unknown musicians named The Funk Brothers (google them) who brought Gordy’s vision to life.  Songwriters such as William Robinson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, and countless others combined to form this dream team that changed American History forever.

In 1971, Philadelphia International Records was launched.  It was the brainchild of the legendary songwriting/production team of Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff with their long-time friend and collaborator Thom Bell.  The goal was to tap into the endless supply of talent in and around the city of Philadelphia.  Hence…”Philly Soul” was born.

The sound was built upon beautifully orchestrated string arrangements combined with driving bass and percussion.  Not to mention strong soulful vocals and intricate harmonies.  From this…Patti LaBelle, The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Lou Rawls, and The Jacksons (who defected from Motown) made their mark in Soul/R&B History.

There’s still a friendly debate that exists today.  You might hear some old cats arguing about which Record Company or era produced the greatest music.  It’s a matter of opinion, I suppose.

New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe member and co-founder Michael Bivins were onto something when he coined the phrase “Motown Philly” back in the early ’90s while developing Boyz II Men.  He understood the influence of both companies and the impact they had on the history of Black Music.  Personally…you can’t go wrong with either.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the contributions of Staxx and Chess Records.  They both played a huge part in the fabric of soul music as we know it today, as well.

Butch Ford

 

 

 

 

A Musical Journey by Butch Ford

Record Store

 

A Musical Journey by Butch Ford

Let’s have a little fun with today’s topic.  So, join me on a musical journey that spans the better part of three decades.

I touched down in the dead of winter during the fourth quarter of the 1960’s in Detroit, Michigan…post-riot.  Aretha was already “The Queen” around these parts.  The Motown Sound was at its pinnacle. The shiny suits, elegant sequined dresses and meticulous choreography made famous by the Temps, Tops, Supremes & Marvelettes were slowly making way for the more social and politically charged content of “Hitsville” heavyweights Marvin and Stevie.  Black Power was the epicenter.  I have fond memories of my grandparents telling me about the unity and pride displayed by our people during this era as the decade was ending.   Profound!!!

In addition to Black Power, the sound of the early 70’s was about finding and losing love.  There was a mesh of Blue-Eyed Soul combined with down home Rhythm & Blues.  The playlist of AM radio stations enveloped this vast collection of songs.  I don’t recall “all black” radio coming into existence for several more years. You’d hear The Bee Gees, Doobie Brothers & The Average White Band, and a super talented, soulful Caucasian duo out of Philly, played in succession along with Isaac Hayes, Barry White, and those five talented brothers from Gary, Indiana with the dynamic young lead singer.  The daughter of the great Nat King Cole had also made her grand appearance in the spotlight.  Musical Genius Curtis Mayfield had lent his talents to Hollywood for several projects in black cinema Powerhouse groups such as:  The Stylistics, Chi-Lites, Spinners and Dells dazzled audiences far and wide with their quality distinct vocal abilities.

The mid to late 70’s boasted extreme sex appeal, while introducing the masses to The P-Funk and a totally new sound called Disco.  We were captivated by the spirituality of Earth Wind & Fire, intrigued by the tight “pocket” of Chic and utterly blown away by the sounds of Cameo, The Brothers Johnson, Bootsy Collins & Parliament Funkadelic…just to name a few.  Peabo & Teddy P. revolutionized a whole different type of party with the red lights in the basement. Right ladies???  While Gladys & The Pips, The Isleys, Whispers, O’Jays, Commodores and LTD were in heavy rotation in my household. Especially on Saturday mornings during my family’s scheduled housecleaning.

Just down the road, in Ohio there was a Funk Revolution happening with the likes of Zapp, Slave, Lakeside, The Dazz Band and some Players named after the state in which they all originated. While on the local scene The Dramatics, Enchantment, The Jones Girls, Michael Henderson, Chapter 8 and the Floaters were all creating a buzz around town.  And I’d be remised if I failed to mention the diminutive blond from California with the big powerful voice…who everyone thought was black, and her musical mentor out of Buffalo, N.Y. who was more aptly known to tie masses as “Slick” Rick James.

The 80’s saw Michael J. moonwalk his way to the top of the charts, witnessed The Purple Army (featuring The Time, The Revolution, Andre Simone, Vanity 6, Sheila E., Jesse Johnson & Alexander O’Neal) led by “His Purple Badness”  Prince, as he changed the game musically with his infectious Minneapolis Sound. And the incomparable Mr. Vandross crooned his way into our hearts…proving love is eternal.

There was a brief British invasion mid-decade that showcased a plethora of talented acts across “the pond.”  And this was followed by a whirlwind phenomenon that nobody saw coming (but we’ll get to that momentarily). Michael’s baby sister and Whitney were about to embark on historical record setting crossover careers.  Legends like Chaka Khan, Frankie B, Ms. Patti, Sade and Uncle Charlie and his band from Oklahoma were in full stride.  Stephanie, Evelyn and Anita were sangin their butts off as well and were no slouches when it came to great music.  The R&B genre was thriving and in great hands.

Oh…but something epic, something ground-breaking was brewing in New York. There was a new form of musical expression know as Rap.  Rappers or MC’s would rhyme and wordplay in a poetic, rhythmic cadence over dope beats.  Early incarnations were simply designed to rock the party.  Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five feat. Melle Mel & Run-DMC were the early pioneers of this new Hip-Hop Movement.

Subsequently, the sound of R&B changed drastically, due to rap music becoming more mainstream. Production teams like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and LA Reid & Babyface, along with New Jack Swing creator and innovator Teddy Riley manufactured hits at a prolific pace, rounding out the 80’s, while fusing these two genres.  It was a match made in heaven. New Edition, Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Al B. Sure, Guy, Karyn White, Cherrelle and After 7 were all beneficiaries of this new sound.

The early 90’s brought about a renaissance of the singing group.  Boyz II Men, Jodeci, The Tony’s, TLC, EnVogue, SWV, BBD, Troop, and Hi-Five led the way.  While later in the decade Jagged Edge, 112, Destiny’s Child, 702, and Blackstreet made their marks, respectively.  Hit making juggernauts R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige and Gerald Levert were superstars in the making who laid the musical blueprint for years to come.

There were several other artists too numerous to mention.  It just wasn’t possible to list everyone.  I meant no disrespect by omitting anyone.  I simply wanted to spotlight those who were significant in the near 40-year soundtrack of my life.  The “Godfather” James Brown had a huge stamp on all of this.  He was just a little bit before my time…and I didn’t have the accounts or recollection of him personally to share his accomplishments.  But he’s still quite influential in Hip Hop and R&B music today.

In conclusion…artists such as Bobby Womack, Switch (The Debarge Family), Angela Winbush, DJ Quik, Dr. Dre, Aaliyah and The Body Sisters (out of Detroit) were impactful throughout “My Musical Journey” and had to be mentioned. It’s been an incredible ride and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store musically and culturally.

Thanks for Riding Along,

 

Butch Ford

 

MOTOWN: Yo Town & My Town by Butch Ford

motown

MOTOWN: Yo Town & My Town by Butch Ford

What is Motown?  Now that’s a loaded question.  And we’d probably hear several dozen responses of varied degree, I suppose.  Some may agree that it’s a majestic little white house at 2648 W. Grand Blvd. on the west side of Detroit.  While others may take the “hit making factory” approach.  If you answered either way, you’re definitely not wrong.  But that’s not the narrative this time.  The journey for me started towards the latter part of the 60’s, continued throughout the 70’s and was nurtured in the 80’s.  These were times where society put emphasis on family, love and unity.  Churches, schools, neighborhoods and community centers all had a hand in our upbringing.

“It takes a village” right?  Maybe it was a naive perspective, on my part?  Or was I just looking at things through rose colored lenses?  But something happened.  In fact…several things happened.  We could talk for hours about the collapse of the African American family, the failed education system, or the lack of pride and self-respect as “a people.”  But I’m more interested in solutions to these problems.  What can we do to right these wrongs?  Where do we even begin?

I don’t like to speak on politics or religion publicly.  My grandmother Mattie Mae taught me that at a young age.  But something has to change.  And I’m sure I don’t just speak for myself here.  It’s going to take a village AGAIN…if we want our pride back.  If we want our self-respect back.  If we want our dignity back.  And if we want our Motown back!  Let’s make a change my people!