|The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, and The Miracles in 1965 beginning their twenty-one city tour of the United Kingdom tuning the British ear to the Motown sound.|
Everyone knows the Motown music and the legendary performers, but the thing that fascinated me most about the guided tour was Berry Gordy's story and his original business model.
When I went to Hitsville USA, I heard the story of how Berry got started in the music business. From a modest $800 Gordy family business loan and a two-story frame house, he built a music empire that shaped the history and direction of pop music and helped integrate American culture.
Musical magic was born in a converted garage called Studio A, while the Gordy family lived in the second floor flat. I went upstairs and saw the small apartment where Motown records was born. The kitchen table where the family ate, often found Berry Gordy with his friend Smokey Robinson stuffing newly pressed warm vinyl into record jackets and rushing them off to local Detroit DJs and record stores. Gordy's first big hit was "Money." Motown's business was literally built from the ground up. Not bad for what started as a
cottage industry that developed into a corporate colossus.
One of Gordy's early jobs was on the assembly-line at Ford's Lincoln-Mercury plant, wrestling with automobile upholstery. He would get ahead on his production quota to create small pockets of time to compose songs and develop melodies in his head. If Berry liked what popped into his mind, he wrote it down in a spiral notebook he kept in his back pocket. Once the mind-numbing repetition of the assembly-line became second-nature, his mind was free to create and dream about creating a music factory that brings in raw talent at one end and produces a seasoned performer at the other end. Motown was not so much an assembly-line as a hit factory of skilled craftsmen and women turning out a consistently high-quality product known the world over as the Motown Sound.
|Berry Gordy outside Hitsville USA--2648 W. Grand Boulevard.|
For anyone who is a Motown fan, the documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" tells the behind the scenes story of the Funk Brothers from their first-hand accounts like nothing else can. This small band of studio musicians played on all of the Motown hits. The documentary won four film awards and two Emmys in 2002.
Here is a recent link to Motown song writer Lamont Dozier reminiscing about writing some of the greatest Motown hits ever recorded: https://youtu.be/AUx86C-xOuI