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The A & R Man by William Mickey Stevenson - Book Review

The A & R Man by William Mickey Stevenson - Book Review cover

The A & R Man by William Mickey Stevenson - ISBN 9780692366332

When I buy a non-fiction book I am looking for two things basically: I want the book to be well written, and I want to learn something from it (After all, that’s the whole point of a non-fiction book isn’t it?)

Unfortunately this book hits neither of those targets particularly well !

Perhaps my expectations were too high ? I’ll admit that I read books like this to gather all the minute details of the background information that only people like Mickey Stevenson would know, but if this book isn’t written for the geeks and anoraks who is it written for ? Surely the average Motown fan in the street isn’t going to a) have heard of Mickey Stevenson, and b) be interested in what the A & R man at Motown did anyway?

Onto the book itself though; Written in a very conversational style, it really does seem as though it’s a chat that has been written down and turned into a book. There are 59 chapters ! in a book consisting of 243 pages, do the maths yourself. Admittedly some run to more than a couple of pages, but some are by the same token ridiculously short.

In fact that’s what the book is throughout, short. Short on detail. I don’t think there is a single date mentioned in the whole book, yet this is a man that was there at the conception of Motown. A man who was involved, with no exceptions, with every single artist that walked through the doors of Motown. He auditioned so many acts it’s unbelievable how many artists got their recording contracts, and went on to become known the whole world over through this man. He must have a wealth of stories that haven’t been told about those singers. Unfortunately, they still are untold.

I’m sorry, this could have been a great book, especially if had been done through a publisher with an editor rather than self published through Amazon.

Make your own minds up of course, but from me this would only get 3 stars out of five, and that’s being generous.

Dave Rimmer

March 2016

 

cover-william-stevenson.jpg

The A & R Man by William Mickey Stevenson

Paperback: 254 pages

Publisher: STEVNENSON INTERNATIONAL ENTERTAINMENT (29 April 2015)





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I agree with you - I read the book a few months ago and wasn't thrilled with it. The chapter about Martha Reeves makes it sound 

like "Dancing In The Street" was her first single, and that it was only done as a favor to her. There's too much vague info and 

not enough detail about his time at Motown.

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I think the problem is that all these cuts are special to us ... BUT for the guys in the studio, it was just everyday. OK, if a track hit really big then people would be asking them about it & the facts would stick, otherwise they wouldn't.

I interviewed Johnny Pate about his time with ABC in Chicago studios & was very disappointed with his answers. Basically during that very busy period for him, it was just a 9 to 5 job. He turned up, worked with whoever ABC had sent along, cut tracks & left. He couldn't even remember working with most of the acts I mentioned (Earl Jackson, etc.) & I had written their details down as Johnny had been name checked on their record labels. He had no recollection even of some songs he got co-composers rights for. With regard to the Impressions sessions for ABC; he could tell me what it was like in general to work with Curtis & the group but could recall no tales about specific tracks being cut. ABC cut loads of stuff that never escaped their tape vaults BUT by the 70's, those tape vaults were full. So, the admin guys solved the problem by throwing away the tapes that contained unissued tracks -- spare space thus created. Johnny hadn't got the slightest idea who he'd worked with whose session tapes had been thrown. SAD BUT TRUE.

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I agree John, but as I said in the review, who was the book written for ? The average guy in the street will never have heard of Mickey Stevenson, and probably won't even know what an A & R man does. So on that basis the target audience are the anoraks and geeks who want the details, and on that score the book fails completely.

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How Mickey remembers his career and has forgotten a large portion of the details is pretty standard throughout the industry.  I got the same level of answers or lack of them from Robert Bateman, Robert Gordy, Bunky Shepard, Freddie Gorman, and just about everyone else I talked to.  Not everyone is Popcorn Wylie.  Although, Clay McMurray and Jack Ashford remember a lot of details.  On the whole, singers remember a lot more about their own career than producers and arrangers remember about all the sessions on which they worked. 

 

So those details I was fretting that I hadn't asked Mickey about when he was our neighbour in the next suite during the early '80s, he probably wouldn't have remembered, anyway.  We must realise that record collectors generally have photographic memories and are great with millions of details.  They HAVE to be anoracks in their chosen area of interest, to know what to look for.  Many of them are probably mild (but functional) Asberger's Syndrome victims (Rainmen).  As was stated above, most producers and arrangers work on way too many projects in their working days to remember even a decent portion of them.  To them, it was just work.  Their own songs they wrote and performed, they would remember.

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On 23/03/2016 at 15:43, Dave Rimmer said:

The midweek review takes a look at a recent Motown book
 

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Got to agree with your review Dave. Very disappointing book and best to avoid.

I expect this from artists and singers, who turn up ,record, probably never hear much of the product again.

But writers, producers etc who spend time creating this stuff, you'd expect some attachment...none shown here.

Very Sad

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10 minutes ago, snakepit said:

Got to agree with your review Dave. Very disappointing book and best to avoid.

I expect this from artists and singers, who turn up ,record, probably never hear much of the product again.

But writers, producers etc who spend time creating this stuff, you'd expect some attachment...none shown here.

Very Sad

Knowing Mickey, I'm sure he had plenty of attachment to what he produced.  He just doesn't talking a lot about individual projects of his.  That doesn't mean that it was just a way to make money, and he didn't put his heart into it.  I can tell that because the Stevenson-Hunter songs have a special "inspired" sound and feeling to them, for me, whereas the songs Ivy Jo wrote solo don't have that for me (despite his being an excellent writer).  Mickey was (and still must be) very professional, but, he also put a lot of himself into his productions.  How he talks about what he did now, is a personal choice about his way of doing things now (just as it is with everyone), not necessarily reflective of the amount of himself put into the work back then.  I've seen disparity in the way things are talked about and remembered by two friends who were both involved in the same work and both had their hearts fully involved.  And one enjoys talking about the nth degree of details, and the other hardly talks about it at all.  But, I know they both put their heart and soul into it, and both loved it to the same degree.  I've had that experience both in my cartooning career and in my junior hockey playing career.  It's just a matter of style and degree of desire to delve into old memories.  I, myself, enjoy digging up old memories, and exercising my gray matter to confirm that I still have my long-term memory intact.  But, that may be partly because I've been living in the past since 1965 (and more so as every year passes).  Mickey, on the other hand, is still very active, and living in the present.  I'm sure he'd much rather talk about what he'd doing now.

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Seems strange then that he has written a book about being the A&R man at Motown in the 60s, and yet barely touches the surface on any relevant detail about creating music at Motown in the 60s.

1 out of 5 from me, sadly.

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