Susan Whitall (bluesyscribe) Mon 11 Jul 11 19:52
Willie's hits did better in some markets than others, but I wouldn't call his success regional. Not the hits -- "All Around the World," "Fever," etc. He was solid in the R&B world. He did quite well in New York, he considered it his second home, doing so many sessions there, and he was one of (owner) Bobby Schiffman's favorite acts, at the Apollo. Bobby wrote a very eloquent letter to the parole board in Washington on Willie's behalf. I don't believe I used the quote, but Bobby once said Willie was the best singer, bar none, he ever saw on the Apollo stage. Jocko was friends with Willie, as an Apollo emcee he knew him well, and he played him. Maybe you guys were out of the room when Jocko was spinning his stuff? I heard Willie on WIBG and WFIL in Philly, I just didn't realize it was him as I was listening passively, my older brother or my mom would have the radio on.
Susan Whitall (bluesyscribe) Mon 11 Jul 11 20:34
The music scene today? I've been pulling a double shift for the past year, writing at work then doing the same before and after work to finish the LWJ book, so I'm not the one to ask about the latest local bands. But I do have my longtime favorites like the Detroit Cobras and the Partystompers -- high energy ravers who give the occasional nod to vintage Detroit music. I'll go see Scott Morgan, who's been making great music since the '60s with the Rationals, wherever and whenever he plays. lso there's a lot of great young jazz guys like clarinetist Dave Bennett, I go see the Motor City Horns wherever they show up and the Hot Club of Detroit. There's a not so secret all night jazz jam session in Greektown (upstairs) that I was surprised Marshall Crenshaw knew about, too. There's some great money behind the jazz scene now with Gretchen Valade bankrolling the Detroit Jazz Festival AND a new club in her native Grosse Pointe, the Dirty Dog. It has the most fabulous musicians' green room you've ever seen, because she values the players, more than the patrons actually. Kind of refreshing. When a group of loudmouth Grosse Pointers complained that the music was too loud, she showed them where the door was. There's another world class jazz club downtown, Cliff Bell's -- it's an architectural gem too, a renovation of a vintage '30s club that is gorgeous inside. I once saw several young jazz musicians walking back from a gig downtown at the jazz festival, up to Cliff Bell's for a late night jam session. The guys, all dressed up for the gig, came upon a raggedy homeless guy playing a trumpet. He wasn't bad. In fact, they stopped and listened for a while, then opened their instrument cases, and played with him for a while. After a few numbers they shook hands and went on their way. I talked to the homeless guy afterward, he "used to be a contender"...was a top notch player in the band at Denby High, but then fell into some bad habits. For me the encounter is everything I love about Detroit, and Detroit music.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Mon 11 Jul 11 20:57
Anything happening at Cass Tech?
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 12 Jul 11 05:47
Incidentally, if you're not on the Well, but do want to ask a question here, send it to us at inkwell [at] well [dot] com and we'll get it right to where it's going!
Ed Ward (captward) Tue 12 Jul 11 15:31
Mayday! Mayday! Creem, the magazine Susan used to edit and I contributed to for most of the 1970s, has announced it's returning to print! <http://www.detnews.com/article/20110712/ENT04/107120414/1361/Rock-magazine-Cre em-plans-return-to-print-world> This is wrong in many ways. Perhaps our guest would like to chime in...
Susan Whitall (bluesyscribe) Tue 12 Jul 11 20:36
Ed you were there before me too, so we can both have at it. Let us list the wrongs. Locating it in Los Angeles...?! Even posing the question rhetorically, 'Who is our Lester Bangs' -- ding. Bonus negative points for that. Mysterious funding sources you can't disclose that will generously allow you to pay that hefty printing bill. The thing is, back in the '70s Creem, a monthly magazine, was able to break news. Think about that...no web to break news instantly, so a good exclusive (or semi exclusive) interview with a Tier A rock star would probably have solid, important new information. Today you have to imagine it in an entirely different way. It'd have to be invaluable commentary by writers you couldn't get anywhere else...it sounds like they just want to try to recreate what it was, when it was a unique moment in time (and place).
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 14 Jul 11 10:07
The only books about Motown I have read are your oral biography of women Motown artists, martha reeves autobiography dancing in the streets, and Alln Slutsky's James Jamerson bass book. What books about Motown do you recommend? I'm interested in anything Motown related, be it about the label itself, bios or autobios of people associated with the label, or anything else that is related to Motown. I'm just interested in what books you'd recommend. (i'm assuming that Lar Bjorn's Before Motown which you mentioned above would be part of such a list) Thanks!
Ed Ward (captward) Thu 14 Jul 11 13:06
And some interesting stuff on the guy launching the new Creem: <http://www.thedailyswarm.com/headlines/creem-relaunch-may-be-hamstrung-its-cha irmans-major-failings/>
Susan Whitall (bluesyscribe) Thu 14 Jul 11 20:03
Thankfully the Daily Swarm isn't as credulous as the AP.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Sat 16 Jul 11 07:07
susan--do you have any recommendations for books about motown--the label itself and bios and autobios of motown artists? A lot of books have been written about motown and it'd be great to know which were particularly worthy!
Susan Whitall (bluesyscribe) Sat 16 Jul 11 13:16
There have been a lot of really marginal Motown books put out, which is why that's always a tough question to answer. It amazes me the Motown biographies that come out from major publishers, by writers who put messages on my voicemail asking for phone numbers of Motown stars to interview. You have a book contract to write about a major Motown artist and you have no sources? Okaaaaay. I don't call any of those folks back. Another reason I find most of the recent bios useless is because of the writer's preconceived agenda. In a few cases it's promoting tired old storylines: Berry Gordy and Diana Ross were thugs who ruined every other Motown artist's career to advance their love affair. Right, never heard that before. And there have been many tomes demonizing David Ruffin -- just tell us the facts, which are sordid enough, no need to over-dramatize. Or why not break some new ground? Berry Gordy's "To Be Loved" is a must, because he was there and remembers a lot of names and scenarios, and it's good to hear the boss' side of what happened. Ditto for Smokey's book. Even if I disagree with half of what Smokey says, he was there, he can talk about it. If only more Motown stars survived to write their own memoirs. Otis Williams was there, and he's got an ax or two to grind but as long as you keep that in mind, his book is useful. Few have matched the quality of Gerri Hirshey's fine "Nowhere to Hide" book, she reported carefully and is a wonderful writer... and she has several chapters in there about Motown artists. David Ritz's Marvin Gaye memoir is worthwhile, but there needs to be so much more on MG. I honestly can't think of many more I'd recommend.
Ed Ward (captward) Sat 16 Jul 11 13:21
Except for your own, duh. Which is available as an e-book now, right? Can you give us directions? Because I, for one, would like to read it. Who would you say are the most underrated Detroit singers, solo and group, from this era? I'll lead off with a plug for the Velvettes, but you and I know there are more.
Susan Whitall (bluesyscribe) Sun 17 Jul 11 07:52
Ed, no "Women of Motown" isn't an e-book, yet ...the rights reverted to me, so I am going to make it available as an e-book (expanded with new interviews) soon, when I get a few minutes... Underrated -- the Velvelettes, absolutely. They have the original lineup intact, and because they were college girls who had careers/day jobs and no tragedies or dramas, they're all healthy and singing better than ever. It's one of the few chances you have anymore to see an intact Motown group still giving quality performances. They all still live in western and central Michigan. Off the obvious R&B path, I'm not sure Rare Earth ever really got its due. Berry Gordy told one of the guys that within my earshot, at a Motown 50 party a few years ago. Scott Morgan of the Rationals is always cited by Detroiters as a woulda, shoulda been a contender. One of the most popular white soul singers in Detroit, a peer of Bob Seger but screwy record deals sunk the Rationals, as happened to so many. Mitch Ryder needs to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has been criminally overlooked. Bob Seger told me a few years ago that he should have made it as big or bigger as he (Seger), but didn't have Punch Andrews as a manager. And really, in Detroit in the '60s Mitch was THE guy. The Fortune Records guys, especially Nolan Strong, are obscure outside of record collectors and Detroiters of a certain age. It's funny, Bettye LaVette would have been on top of a list like this just a few years ago. It's stunning how she turned everything around so late in life, for so many years it was "poor Bettye, so great, yet she never quite made it."
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 17 Jul 11 08:15
So maybe someone could do that for the Velvettes..? Now there's a project. Another Detroit powerhouse many people overlook these days is Westbound, which apparently is still going with gospel music. But a label that could hold the Ohio Players, the Detroit Emeralds, and Funkadelic under its umbrella is worth looking at. In fact, they recorded one of my favorite records ever -- and didn't release it! I admit, if I were flipping through a stack of 45s and saw one called "Everything's Gonna Be All Right" by the Magictones, I'd keep on going, but it's got Robert Ward on guitar, Tiki Fullwood from Funkadelic on drums, and nobody even *knows* who the Magictones were. Admittedly, I never listened to Rare Earth (and maybe one reason they never got their due was because Motown didn't know how to promote them), and I admit I agree about Scott Morgan -- after all, it was his version of "Respect" that Aretha heard on the radio that made her want to record it. Do you think that Ryder's...ummm, how to be polite about this...issues might have had something to do with his neglect?
Susan Whitall (bluesyscribe) Sun 17 Jul 11 09:11
My favorite George Clinton era is Funkadelic....pre- P-Funk. "I'll Bet You" and all that. Dennis Coffey just re-cut "I'll Bet You" on his new album, re-doing his guitar riff. Armen Boladian's Westbound label was just the best. I knew sort of instinctively as a teenager just seeing that label that it was going to be a good record. The issues that tripped Mitch up had to do with bad management...luck of the draw (or bad luck).
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 17 Jul 11 09:32
I think it was more than that, actually, but I don't know how much is public knowledge and I don't want to hurt innocent people. Actually, though, Parliament was going along (with the same personnel) the whole time those Funkadelic records were coming out from Osmium (on Holland, Dozier, and Holland's Invictus label, another Detroit winner) to the early Casablanca albums like Up for the Down Stroke, which bears rediscovery. So...after Little Willie John, what's up next? Got any projects you want to work on?
David Wilson (dlwilson) Fri 22 Jul 11 06:09
I guess the recent heatwave did in this discussion. I enjoyed it a lot because I learned about such a underrated talent as Little Willie John. It is criminal the way his career trajectory played out. Also got to reminisce about the music scene in Detroit in the 70's. The takeaway: Detroit is not just Motown. There is and always has been a lot of music that you just never hear, but you should. <captward> here is a suggestion: you should close out the discussion, not let it dribble away.
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 22 Jul 11 06:30
I know, I know! Actually, what seems to have killed it is the collapse of Borders, where Susan had an important book-promotion meeting the other night which had to be re-scheduled and re-promoted. Plus, of course, she has a day-job. I've got an e-mail into her. Don't want to dribble. Or even be accused of it.
Susan Whitall (bluesyscribe) Fri 22 Jul 11 08:24
I'm here, sorry about that...yes Borders went down and took my Birmingham Borders book signing with it, was supposed to happen tonight. But then Biggby Coffee, a Michigan chain, offered itself as an alternate venue so we're scurrying to do it there. Kevin John and Keith John do these presentations with me, and they're pretty lively guys, Keith sings backup for Stevie Wonder, and Kevin gave up singing professionally but both of them will start singing at the drop of a hat, just to illustrate a point. At a book signing a few weeks ago, Keith was doing Levi Stubbs' voice (warning him to stay away from his daughter), then his dad's voice (singing "Cottage for Sale"). It's great, I can talk occasionally but mostly be the quiet writer and let the John effervescence hold the audience's attention. There's no doubt Willie's performing skills passed down.
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 22 Jul 11 08:29
Well, thanks for being with us here on <inkwell.vue.>, and sorry it went nuts at the end. Let us know what you're up to, so we can do this for your *next* book!
Susan Whitall (bluesyscribe) Fri 22 Jul 11 08:31
As for next projects, I hate to weasel out of descriptions but for competitive reasons and not to jinx myself I'd rather not go into details yet. There are still a lot of threads of stories to follow around here, that I've already got a jump on, I will say that. I'm going to get "Women of Motown" back in print, even if it's via an e-book. Whether it's printed as a book or e-book alone, I'll expand it with additional material. I've interviewed Berry Gordy a lot, and Diana Ross, and Mary Wilson several times, and all that needs to be added. I will let you know when the next thing comes out..or maybe when they make a movie out of Willie's wild life. Thanks for having me!
David Wilson (dlwilson) Fri 22 Jul 11 08:37
Thank you Susan. It was a treat to talk to you.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Fri 22 Jul 11 09:02
thanks for taking the time to participate here, susan. I enjoyed both books and look forward to the future projects!
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 22 Jul 11 11:21
Thanks, this has been great, and for anybody who comes along afterwards, please feel free to chime in, and to look for more information about the book from Susan at <http://www.susanwhitall.com/fever__little_willie_john__a_fast_life__mysterious _death_and_the_birth_of_soul_107497.htm>
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