I have loved Martha Reeves And The Vandellas since I was a child (during the sixties). I was too young to recall their early hits. But I do recall 'Jimmy Mack'. But what solidified my appreciation of them was seeing them appearing on 'The Mike Douglas Show' in 1969. I knew they were a Motown group. But I saw they were different from The Supremes. And I was impressed that Martha had her younger sister Lois in the group. I can remember they sang (not lip sync) their latest record, "Taking My Love (and leaving me)". I love it. But I never could find that record or their album (at that time) SUGAR & SPICE.
After that, I wanted to hear more. And soon I got more. I found a copy of their 1966 album (in glorious mono) WATCHOUT! Then I got copies of their cut out hit 45s. The radio station (New York City's WWRL) would play 'Quicksand' and heavily play one of their last records, 'In And Out of My Life'. That was another record I couldn't find.
But loving that group so much, I was really impressed by Martha's ability to sing blues. I was shocked that Berry Gordy would allow it! Listen to some of those b-sides like "Darling, I Hum Our Song" (1963), "There He Is (at my door) (1964), "A Tear For The Girl" (1964) and "Go Ahead And Laugh" (1966). Also, equally as brilliant is Martha's interpretation of the bluesy Spiritual, "Were You There?" (1968). Goodness only knows what other bluesy tracks are collecting dust in Universal's vaults.
And I am happy to say I've seen Martha Reeves (with and without Vandellas) live several times. She's really a great performer. At one show, she asked the audience what they'd like her to sing. I hollered out 'Bless You.' She had heard me. Then she said, "I haven't sang that sing it came out." Then she began singing a bit of it!
At another show on The Party Boat (I don't know if it still exists here in NYC. A ship cruises around the river for a couple of hours and there's a live show), before we could get on the boat, we could hear Martha and the original Vandellas rehearsing. They were singing Marvin's 'What's Going On.' It sounded terrific! Sadly, they didn't sing it during the show. But they did do most of their hits. They even included 'Go Ahead And Laugh,' 'I'll Have To Let Him Go' (1962) and 'Third Finger, Left Hand' (1966).
I recommend everybody (who don't have these albums) to get:
· DANCE PARTY (1965) [includes 'There He Is']
· WATCHOUT! (1966) [includes "Go Ahead And Laugh"]
· BLACK MAGIC (1972) [includes "Bless You" and "In And Out Of My Life"]
· THE REST OF MY LIFE (1976, Arista)
· LIVE WIRE! (1993) [2cd set with all their hits, many b-sides and unreleased tracks]
So I won't sound like a know-it-all, this info is in Martha's autobiography, Dancing In The Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva (Hyperion Books).
Martha Reeves has stated numerous times in interviews and in her autobiography that she didn't ask for a name change. But Berry Gordy figured it would make it not obvious to the public if there were all the name changes done at once. He didn't want it to appear that his girlfriend's group was being singled out.
In fact, On some copies of "Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone" (1967), the group is credited as Martha & The Vandellas. Later ( I guess a month or so into the release), the label read MARTHA REEVES & THE VANDELLAS. I have copies of 45s with each name.
Berry knew how Martha would raise hell about his girlfriend's. He didn't give her money, just put her last name in her billing.
I hope I didn't mislead anyone by saying I had COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES. I have a cassette reissue. I'm not too big on having an original (even though I do have many). I still don't have a clue to where my copy is.
I really love DANCE PARTY too (have that in mono on a cassette), especially (besides the hits), "Mickey's Monkey," "Hitch Hike," "Mobile Lil," "Dancing Slow" and that great slow record, "There He Is."
I think the group's weakest albums were HEAT WAVE and RIDIN' HIGH. But as you said, WATCHOUT is a masterpiece. I enjoy the groups final 3 lps too.
As for the Motorcity stuff, I have a great problem with that organization period. I have a lot of the output from that place. Martha's "Step Into My Shoes" is a gem, and the Vandellas come in loud and clear. I love background harmonies. I don't want to have to strain to hear the background singers (ala "Diana Ross And The Supremes").
But Martha told me as a book signing for her autobiography that Motorcity Records ripped everyone off. Nobody got any royalties. I was shocked. I couldn't help but exclaim, "Oh no! Not again!" She explained that too many of the artists signed to Motorcity were too sick to work (Mary Wells, Wanda Rogers), but the owner was a real snake charmer and that resulted in tons of
tracks being recorded, alot which are mediocre. So I stopped searching for
Motorcity recordings. I still have my favorites, but that whole setup
cheating those poor people. And I'm firmly against that!
Martha Reeves works because she loves it. Since winning a lawsuit against Motown, she's receiving royalites. In fact, the company had to go back to 1972 for unpaid royalties. Every new release (unreleased cuts) or reissue, she gets royalties. Also, every track or album released must be credited to MARTHA REEVES AND THE VANDELLAS, not Martha & The Vandellas.
Also, after the group was inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame, Martha said the group hasn't had this much work since the '60s, quality gigs at that. She even has to turn down many gigs. She's not Mrs. Rockefeller, but she's not aching like so many of our singers.
But thanks again for reviving my memory. And I just love talking and listening to any Motown artist. At my age (42), I ought to be connecting more with most of the stuff that's discussed by the other Soul Patrollers. But I love 60s black music. The 70s was okay, but not always the kind of music I could sink my musical teeth into.
...Home To You
Click Here To Return To The Classic Soul Homepage