There's been a bit of talk around the Norma Jenkins version of 'Try Love'. Thought it might be timely to share this article Keith Hughes wrote 25 years ago with a bit of assistance from myself.
Published in the 'Yesterday-Today-Forever' fanzine, issue 21 March 1996
Obviously 25 years have passed and more songs out of NY have come to our attention in that time but, as I said, this article is 25 years old so we didn't do too badly
Welcome comments on other NY recordings e.g. Carol Moore - Forever And A Day, or if anyone can supply scans of Timiko, Tamala Lewis or Sparkels etc ... or what Sid Barnes wrote about those days in his autobiography...
Site note - The below text has been ocr'd from the scans of the articles.
Motown In The Brill Building By Keith Hughes
The first Motown office outside Detroit was in the Brill Building on 49th and Broadway, in New York City. Just how it came to be set up is unclear: Raynoma Liles Gordy, Berry's second wife, who headed up the organisation, gives the impression in her book 'Berry. Me And Motown' that Berry just announced that this was going to happen at a routine Monday morning meeting, and it happened: but Berry in his book To Be Loved makes it quite clear that it was Miss Ray's own idea. Perhaps we should not delve too deeply into this domestic disagreement: In view of the eventual outcome it's not too surprising that no-one wants to take the blame. Suffice it to say that Miss Ray seemed to have been there by the Spring of 1963. about the time Marvin Gaye's ·'Pride And Joy· and Mary Wells 'Laughing Boy' were beginning to climb the national chart.
The only account that we have of what followed is Miss Ray's. He quickly signed up songwriters George Kerr and Sidney Barnes, who, together with Tim (Andre) Wilson made up a vocal group called the Serenaders. Motown liked the Serenaders, and released a single on them to launch the VIP label in January 1964. but it was not an auspicious debut for the label as the record bombed. Miss Ray also recruited a number of session musicians, although it's not clear what they were used for apart from demos. Despite meeting and dating many exciting people (including Lloyd Price, George Clinton, and her future husband Eddie Singleton), Miss Ray managed to get only one more of her signings - Sammy Turner - adopted by Motown (again without noticeable success), and with insufficient cash coming in, she was forced to turn to Berry for help. But Berry was evidently not prepared to sink any more into the operation.
In April of 1964 Miss Ray, in desperation, decided to press 5000 bootleg copies of Mary Wells' 'My Guy', then riding high in the charts, and sell them to distributors at 50 cents apiece. Berry found out and had her arrested and thrown into jail. The price of her freedom was a signed release from Motown, giving her a flat sum in settlement of all future income from the company she helped Berry to found. The New York office was closed down. The whole operation from start to finish lasted about fifteen months.
Although from Miss Ray's account you might suppose that, apart from the Serenaders, her stay in New York was entirely unproductive, this wouldn't be an altogether fair assessment. A small number of records on a variety of labels appeared during late 1963 and early 1964, carrying Jobete-published (and usually Kerr-Barnes written) songs, and it is reasonable to assume that these got placed as a result of Miss Ray's hard work and network of acquaintances.
The records turn up from time to time in Soul and Northern sale lists, although some very high price tags are seen on many of them nowadays. A few are available on CD, which is definitely the way I'd recommend acquiring them; I don't think that these often pleasant, but seldom soul-shattering, discs are all worth the £40+ figures they're quoted at. However, I hope the following brief summary may offer some guidance to those ruining their eyesight on the appallingly small print which is such a feature of the 'Set Sale' syndrome.
First off, it's only fair to notice the Serenaders' own single. 'If Your Heart Says Yes' has recently been remastered as a 'bonus' track on the Year-By-Year CD for 1964 - its first appearance since that year - so it's reasonable to assume readers are familiar with it. But it's the B-side,' I'll Cry Tomorrow', which is preferred by many collectors: a sizzling piece of 50's
Doo-wop, full of outer limits harmonies and tempo-defying scat singing in the true Moonglows tradition, doubtless representative of the kind of work the Serenaders had been presenting to their public since their first disc on Chock Records back in 1957. A worthy climax to such a career. Please can we have that one on CD, Candace Bond?
Sammy Turner joined the Twisters as lead tenor in 1959 and had one single with them on the Big Top label; subsequently he went solo and scored three successive crossover hits on the same label with production guided by Leiber & Stoller, the biggest being 'Lavender Blue' which reached Number 3. By 1964 his career had been in the doldrums for some time, and 'Right Now', a slow ballad written by Harry Bass and Alice Ossman (Miss Ray's sister) and produced by Kerr and Barnes with lush orchestral and choral backing, was not the track to rescue him, though it is preferable to the flip, a remake in similar. style to the Platters 'Only You', and once more a Kerr-Barnes production. Turner is reported to have cut an album's worth of material for Motown; the only track that has surfaced on collectors' tapes is an Ivy Hunter-Mickey Stevenson song called 'All I Have Left Are Memories', which is similar to (perhaps marginally preferable to) 'Right Now'. By 1965, he was signed to 20th Century-Fox.
Turning to the non-Motown releases, the earliest to note is the Chiffons' 'A Love So Fine'. The Chiffons were red hot in 1963 and had made the Top 10 twice already that year with 'He's So Fine' and 'One Fine Day', under the careful guidance of New York veterans The Tokens. The Tokens got co-composer credits with Kerr and Barnes, and sole production credits, for this single,which reached Number 40 in the Billboard Hot 100 in September - thereby notching up the only hit that can be attributed in any sense to the Motown New York operation. It has to be admitted, though, that this is the weakest of the Chiffons' 'fine' records, lacking the strong hook that had pulled the others up into the Top 10. Still, Miss Ray had royalty cheques to bank on the strength of it, and good news to report back to Detroit.
Much better listening is afforded by Bobby Moore's 'I Carefully Checked Your Heart', one of two George Kerr-Jerry Harris compositions that appeared as a single on the tiny Kay-O label in late 1963. Bobby is clearly NOT the Alabama-based sax-playing Bobby Moore who scored a couple of years later on Chess with 'Searching For My Love', but a high pitched vocalist with a searing soul style: from the opening moments of the track, featuring a swirling organ and hard pounding piano riff, through to the much too quickly arriving fade, this is a must for the dance floor, and one worth watching out for.
Easier to find these days, thanks to a series of bootleg Compact Discs from the Continent which are titled 'Girls, Girls,Girls'' (Volume 2 is the one you need), is the Sparkels' mid- 1964 Old Town issue,•·Try Love (One More Time)''. This is a medium paced number with a catchy melody firmly rooted in minor chord changes; the lead voice is a little raw and the harmonies a little uh, uncertain at points, but the band are clearly having a good time, the drummer and the pianist competing fervently to plug the gaps. Kerr and Barnes are composer, but once again nothing more is known about the artists, and as with Bobby Moore and the next track, the producer is unknown. Recommended, if you like the black girlgroup sound.
Also available on a Kent CD, apparently, but no catalogue number to hand, I'm afraid. Tamiko Jones' 'Don't laugh If I Cry (At Your Party)' is also happily available on 'Girls, Girls, Girls' (Volume 6 this time).This is a slab of pure popcorn, complete with telephone call intro ('Hello? Tamiko? This is George. Will you come to my party?'), and the hot butter just drips off it. Restrained horns, and an abundance of what John Lennon called that Motown chord (major seventh) so beloved by Smokey, make this the nearest thing to a Hitsville production to come out of the Brill Building year; I wouldn't be surprised to learn it was cut in Detroit. It may well have been her first single, too. Have a hanky handy.
The Lollipops had a run of four singles on RCA between 1963 and 1965, before moving first to Impact, then in 1969 to VIP for their splendid 'Cheating Is Telling On You'. 'Love Is The Only Answer', their second RCA single, was written by Lonie Levister (who arranged the Sammy Turner single) and Stanley Ossman (presumably another of Miss Ray's family), and published by Jobete. A crisp upbeat arrangement by Charlie Foxx, Inez And Charlie, with prominent drums and an easy-to-get-hooked-to horn line, make this an attractive little dance number, even if the girls do sound a trifle shrill as the tune wears on ... oi'll give it five, though, 'cos oi loike the backing (that's enough Janice Nicholls, thank you!).
Now we come to the cream of the crop. Apparently 'Spend A Little Time', written by Eddie Singleton, was originally the A side of Barbara Lewis's follow-up to her double-sided R&B hit 'Snap Your Fingers'/'Puppy Love', but somehow this magnificent record didn't get the airplay when it appeared on Atlantic in April 1964. Singleton's story (told in an interview in Shades Of Soul) is that Motown's influence with the distributors played a part here. (British beat fans can be grateful. as flipping the record brought ·Someday We're Gonna Love Again' to the attention of the Searchers, who turned out a damn good second-best version of the tune.) 'Spend A Little Time' bears more than a passing resemblance to 'Hello Stranger', Barbara's first hit, and the arrangement by Riley Hampton (no strings, surprisingly for him) and production by Barbara's mentor and manager Ollie McLaughlin make the most of that similarity, but it's no stale remake. The vocal is beautifully controlled, and hangs in the air over a low-key organ, bass and drum track; a three or four voice male chorus (often singing unison) keep just the right distance, and the mix is magic. Fortunately fairly easy to obtain. and very well worth the investment.
Two other singles from early 1964 also deserve mention. though they were unfortunately not available for review at press time.
Richard Simmons cut a Kerr-Barnes song, 'You Might As Well Forget It', on Coral (probably as the B-side), and Billy Frazier cut a song he co-wrote with Eddie Singleton, 'The Ape', on Symbol. If you have a copy of either, please will you make me a tape!
George Kerr and Sidney Barnes had over seventy songs published by Jobete; apart from the ones mentioned above, none made their first appearance on disc after 1964, and since the Serenaders folded after their Motown single, and both writers pursued separate careers, it's quite possible that all these songs date from the Brill Building period. This would be evidence of the operation's productivity; regardless of that, however, it's certainly astonishing that Motown stockpiled so many songs by these non Detroiters. The only comparable stacks of unreleased titles in the Jobete Catalogue belong to names like William 'Mickey' Stevenson, Smokey Robinson and Gordy himself.
A few of the tunes have leaked out on bootlegs and collectors' tapes. The Serenaders cut at least two more Kerr-Barnes songs for Motown, one of which, 'Tears, Nobody And A Smile', would have been a worthy follow-up if anyone could have been bothered to push it through the Monday morning selection sessions. 'Say Say Say'' by the Creations has appeared on two CDs, - including 'Detroit (Rare Tracks From)' Volume 3, (where the composition is attributed to 'Thomas'), and is a fairish up-tempo number, but nothing special: a touch repetitive, perhaps.
An absolute stunner which would make any CD, bootleg or legit, a compulsory purchase, is the pounding 'Straight Jacket', probably by the Andantes. A demo version of 'Try Love', sometimes credited to LaBrenda Ben (though if it is her, the tape copy I heard must run at least 50% too fast!) with female group back-up, contains an infinitely superior vocal interpretation to the Sparkels' version, but the house band sound a little uninspired. And an unidentified vocalist (Shorty Long) attempts kick in on a version of 'I Found A Groove', but lacks conviction.
Other demos of Kerr Barnes material by Tim Wilson and Barnes himself are thought to exist, but there still remains a huge library of unheard songs.
After the collapse of the New York operation, George Kerr collaborated with a number of writers to produce some excellent records, including The Dolls' 'This Is Our Day'', Sandra Phillips' 'World Without Sunshine', Linda Jones' terrific 'Fugitive From Love', and the fabulous 'You Hit Me Where It Hurt Me', recorded by Kim Weston in late 1966 but never released; the 1969 Alice Clark single cut is good enough, but only till you hear Kim's version.
By 1968, Kerr was a staff producer at ABC in New York, and found himself assigned to work with Florence Ballard's first single. Their relationship doesn't seem to have worked out too well, although tapes for her unreleased album, 'You Don't Have To', contain a Kerr-Harris Jobete number, 'You Bring Out The Sweetness In Me'.
Sidney Barnes had another shot at a performing career, with 'I Hurt On The Other Side', which came out on the Blue Cat label a couple of numbers before 'Fugitive Of Love'. Thereafter he seems to have teamed up with George Clinton, and a number of their compositions appeared on Golden World in late 1966/early 1967.
Barnes had an album on the Parachute label in the 1970's.
Two other Singleton tunes from the New York period eventually found their way on to vinyl. 'Don't Bring Back Memories' appeared on the 'Four Tops Now!' album in 1969 (where composer credits are given to Miss Ray), and 'Mind In A Bind' came out on the Hem label, by the Epsilons, in 1967. Worth hunting down as a fair-to-good smooth soul single in its own right, this song also sheds further interesting light on this under-researched area, according to Singleton, it was written for and about Miss Ray and their relationship.
And what happened to Miss Ray? Well, shaking the dust of the New York Police Department's hospitality from her shoes, she and Eddie left town, and headed south for Washington D.C., where they started a home, a family, and a new record label - Shrine. But that's another story ...
Laurie 3195 - The Chiffons - A Love So For me [Kerr-Barnes-The Tokens] 08/1963
Kay-0107 - Bobby Moore - I Carefully Checked Your Heart [Kerr-Harris] / Let's Prove Them Wrong [Jones-Harris-Kerr] 1963
VIP 25002 - The Serenaders - If our Heart Says Yes [Kerr-Barnes] / I'll Cry Tomorrow [Kerr-Barnes] 01/1964
Motown 1055 - Sammy Turner - Right Now[Ossman-Bass] /Only You [Ram-Rand] 01/1964
Atco 6298 - Tamiko Jones - Don't laugh If I Cry (At Your Party) [Kerr-Barnes] 03/1964
Atlantic 2227 - Barbara Lewis - Spend A Little Time [Singleton] 04/1964
RCA 8390 - The Lollipops - Love ls The Only Answer [Levister-Ossman] 04/1964
Symbol 929 - Billy Frazier - The Ape [Frazier-Singleton] 04/1964
Coral 62423 - Richard Simmons - You Might As Well Forget It [Kerr-Barnes] 1964
Old Town 1160 - The Sparkels - Try Love (One More Time) [Kerr-Barnes] 1964
With many thanks for valuable additional information to Andy Rix
The Brill Building
The Brill Building is famous for housing music industry offices and studios where some of the most popular American songs were written. It is considered to have been the center of the American music industry that dominated the pop charts in the early 1960s.
Related Soul Source Articles