Someone asked me the other day what my impression was of Motown, the old record label that produced so many musical hits around the 60’s. I remember years ago when one of my tour dates had me in Detroit and I took my extra time to actually visit “Hitsville” (where Motown had originated). I was so surprised to see that this place was nothing more than an actual house (more like 2 houses put together in a row home type community). When I looked at the small room where these artists actually recorded I could not believe my eyes. There was an old tube bass amp, and other instruments that were just “so” outdated by today’s standards. The room was small and I remember there was a square hole in the ceiling so the singers could have the effect of reverb (by standing under it to get that echo sound). No matter the size of the room, some really awesome music played by some really awesome songwriters had that small room “smoking.” Many people tried to describe Motown’s sound, but I can tell you that it was music at it’s purest form. During those days, they were not always concerned about making drum beats so straight so people could dance to it. No, they added creativity and occasionally even threw in “off rhythms” because it added to the creativity of the track. The writers and musicians who played the songs were musical geniuses. The stuff they recorded was natural, genuine and unique. On most of the recordings that were hits you could hear maybe 4 instruments, like bass, drums, guitar (often banjos) and piano, and yet they jammed in the studio. What people don’t seem to realize is that this group known as the Funk Brothers played on a lot of the sessions there, and I had the honor to meet up with these guys and talk to them years ago. We are both on some kind of award show playing behind different artists. I watched them play songs like “Sign, sealed delivered” by Stevie Wonder and I felt so bad because they were having problems moving their fingers to play like they used to. Age had definitely set in. Still it was great for me just to watch them, because they created musical history. When talking to them, they alerted me to the fact that they never got much credit for playing on the tracks, even though in many of the instances they were the ones who actually “wrote” the songs. When someone else came in with a song, they would make changes to it as well which also made the music special. When it came to the performing artists at Motown, they had some spectacular ones. Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, The 4 Tops, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye were just some of the many great stars they had. The sad part of Motown is that with all the great music that was produced there, rarely did musicians or artists get paid. In a practice that is still around today, many found fame, but rarely fortune. The Motown sound was funky with soul, and while it was mostly Black music in nature, “everyone” loved the sound. I would love to one day see yet “another” type of Motown sound come about. In fact, I wouldn’t even mind making it happen myself. Everyone loves music, and music can often accomplish things that mere words cannot. The Motown sound had it all, and while it’s time has come and gone, we should never forget the impact that it had on shaping our own lives. Thank you for checking out my Daily Thought and I wish you the very best that life has to offer today.
Comedian Chris Tucker, Kool and the Gang and Motown founder Berry Gordy with Brett Jolly