News hot off the press - "Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key Of Life - An All-Star Grammy Salute"! According to the Grammy website this is to be a prime time special celebrating the legacy of the man who, among other things, has won a staggering 25 awards. The two hour show will be taped at the Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles on 10 February, two days following the 57th annual Grammy Awards ceremony at the Staples Centre, and will be broadcast on 16 February via the CBS network. The spectacular will feature top artists singing Stevie's songs plus loads of archival material, with high profile presenters explaining the historical impact of his songs. No names have been announced as yet on the website. So let's TCB some more...
As you know, Supreme Cindy Birdsong has been poorly for some time now, and that her medical bills are often unreachable. Well, Rick Gianatos has released an updated - and I have to say, totally different take - of "Up The Ladder To The Roof" featuring the voices of Scherrie Payne, Lynda Laurence and her sister Sundray Tucker, Jayne Edwards and Cindy herself. This release is dedicated to Cindy with all proceeds earmarked for her ongoing care which, I'm told, is around the clock. The project has been endorsed by her son David, her ex-husband Charles Hewlett, and Charlo Crossley. "Cindy was always a joy to work with" said Scherrie just recently. "From the day she picked me up at the airport and took me to Mary's house for my first rehearsal as a member of The Supremes, I knew we were destined to be great friends. To this day, we still are... We've sung, laughed and cried together, and shared so many wonderful memories. Too many even to count. Her sweet voice and dynamic personality could light up any room... she is my Supreme sister." I've played the song many times now - in fact I'm listening to it now - as it moves along at a steady pace without pausing for a beat. Relentlessly exciting, for certain, but it's the voices themselves that almost hypnotised me - Lynda and Scherrie in particular - because their range is awesome, almost stratospheric. Comparisons to the classic, almost iconic 1970 original is pointless, but treating this version as a new song, you can't help but become immersed in the closely entwined vocals, particularly when hitting the building crescendo near the song's ending which explodes into a cacophony of sound. So, if these few words have inspired you to know more, please check out itunes to download it, or check out the Nu & Improved Records/Altair Records website and Facebook. I'm hoping you won't be disappointed.
Anyway, during 1987 I met up with Cindy in London and we chatted for quite a while when she was in England.. What I will say here is that her life as a Supreme is one that she will always treasure; a life coated with love and hard work. "The real essence we had was the closeness when we worked together. We were one unit in three parts. When we toured together, it was us against the rest of the world. It was a definite feeling, very strong, almost as strong as a passion. It was a bond of unity when we got onstage, and occasionally, when the passion was that strong we would cry. It was like an electrical charge shooting through us all." (To read the full interview, do check out my "Chinwaggin'" book) Also, I'm aware there's been some adverse comments about the reasoning behind this new release, but I am assured all money will go directly to Cindy. Anyway, Supremes' fans will make their own decisions and to the rest I say - let us be!
And there's more Supremes, as I once again delve into Rob Katz's carefully filed news clippings from 1973 when Mary Wilson, Lynda Laurence and Jean Terrell were touring in the UK. I had previously mentioned there was an item about Motown�s lack of interest in the trio at this time because, as Mary noted, the company was full of moguls and tycoons who cared only about money. "For the past three years they've shown no interest in us and it was only our fans who stayed with us. We've come close to leaving them. When a group loses its backbone, then it's tough. Anyway, now they're beginning to get behind us again, but even so things aren't as they used to be." I have to say, these were rather brave words at a time when a new single and album were being promoted - "Bad Weather" and "Produced And Arranged By Jimmy Webb" respectively - but happily the group's end date was some time off. Mary continued: "Every group gets these problems but we've always known that we'd continue. I'm a fighter, I have faith and right now, we're fighting for our freedom." Working constantly and having little spare time for themselves was one of the major hang ups of being a Supreme (and, of course, any working unit striving to be the best) but these ladies had so much to prove to themselves and Motown. "I've worked solidly since 1964. Now all these recent problems have come on top of all our professional commitments. It's taken a toll on me. We work every day and that gives us little personal life - but it has to be like that, otherwise we wouldn't be here now."
If I remember correctly, the Jimmy Webb album wasn't that well received, basically because it wasn't The Supremes as we knew them. Oh my, how we love to put singers into boxes, and my, how we don't like to stray from the norm. Personally speaking, I like to look at the album as another trio progression, another musical diversion; an adventure into the unknown, if you like. However, how could anyone not accept with open arms the beautifully conceived and poignant "I Keep It Hid" and "Where Can Brown Begin". If it comes to it, the single "I'll Guess I'll Miss The Man" is a winner too. "Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland used to be our main writers. When they left Motown we had to find people to replace them, so we've been using all kinds of writers. Frank Wilson is our main one now and he's really good." Of recording with Jimmy Webb, Mary explained that they had always admired his work and when the opportunity came to work with him, they jumped at it. "The man's a genius. Making the record was a great experience, it was just like a party with champagne all the way." When Jean Terrell added that the album hadn't sold that well, she blamed the lack of promotion. "Nobody in the company told us they didn't like it, they wished us good luck with it. It was difficult for us to work with Jimmy; his work is so deep, such an intricate style of music. But for us it was an important learning experience. We had to keep up with him which was very enlightening." That may be, but she missed the Motown sound, she said, the sound that everyone loved. "(It has) gone because the close team of writers they had has changed. It's no longer enough to hear just other Motown records because everybody has their own style now, whether they are Bill Withers, Smokey Robinson or Allen Toussaint. If you stay too close, you can get stale...Motown used to be very popular because of its rhythm section... Now you can make it with songs like Carole King, with just a simple backing, bass, piano and drums."
This UK visit was Jean�s second since replacing Diana, and she recalled how stressed out she was about the public accepting her filling such a monumental vacancy - "The fantastic reaction gave me so much confidence. I needed it more than anyone. I really needed to see how they would be and react to someone taking the place of Diana. It was important, believe me." Well, she needn't have worried - all was well. So, to close up here. The Supremes' performances were sold out with audiences hanging on to every note. Sure, some felt the material was a little off beat, particularly with the standards and show tunes like Mary's solo "I Can't Take My Eyes Off You", although Lynda's "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You" was, by all accounts, a huge success. The hits, of course, were visited - "Floy Joy", "Nathan Jones", "Automatically Sunshine" together with those obligatory musical memories from the original trio, ending the performance with "Love Train" and "Oh Happy Day". The ladies shimmered in their shining, clinging costumes, looking elegant and confident as they sang and moved, to present a show Motown-style! By the way, as The Supremes left the UK, The Temptations and Jr Walker arrived for a string of dates, sometimes performing together. They took in Brighton, Southend, London and Newcastle. Then, Martha and the girls landed for seven dates, taking in Birmingham, Manchester, Hull and Leicester.
Phew! Am Surpreme-d out for awhile but of course, will keep you updated on Cindy's news when I know any more. And finally -
Holland, Dozier and Holland. Well, to be more precise, "The First Wives Club: The Musical". Do you remember that classic 1996 movie starring Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Horn? One of my all time favourite viewings. Well, the hit-making trio have penned the score for the stage version starring Faith Prince, Christine Sherrill and Carmen Cusack who will bring alive once again the crazy antics of Brenda, Annie and Elise as they take revenge on their husbands who ditched them. This musical marks the first time Holland, Dozier and Holland have worked together for thirty years or so, to pen new compositions which will star alongside their iconic hits like "Reach Out I'll Be There", "Stop! In The Name Of Love" and "I Can't Help Myself". The premiere is at Chicago's Oriental Theatre on 17 February where it will stay until 29 March when it should hit Broadway for the 2015-2016 season.
That's me done for now. Until next time, stay warm and very safe, and keep on keeping the Motown faith!