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  1. #1

    String players on Motown songs. A question.....

    I was listening to an NPR story a while back where they were talking about composing for Jazz orchestra. The composer commented that one problem with concert trained musicians is that they "don't swing, or don't know how to 'swing'". That brought to mind a concert band concert at Eastern Michigan I once saw. The band tried a "jazzy" piece and failed miserably. They didn't "swing".

    Now, given that the string players on Motown recordings in the classic era were from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, was there any problem getting the players to "loosen up", and if so, how long did it take to get them to do so.

  2. #2
    I don't think there was ever a problem regarding string players. They were reading very good charts and are top notch musicians. Nothing needed loosesning with that group.

  3. #3
    Were the "San Remo Strings" the same musicians that were with The Detroit Symphony?

  4. #4
    Ralph...did you ever have the opportunity to experience the Detroit Strings as they were recording for intended remixing on a Motown track. I'd love it if you could share some of that background stuff. And Doug....great question.

  5. #5
    uptight Guest
    In the early days, some of the string players initially turned up their noses to playing some of the "unconventional" styles for arrangements Berry Gordy would bring them. Their attitude was like, "This series of notes isn't 'right.' I can't play this..." Of course, they got over it quickly while making decent money as studio session players. And many of those records became hits.

  6. #6
    Yes, the San Remo strings were DSO players.

    I watched, what seems like, hundreds of string sessions. Other than the fact that the players would, at times, bicker with each over over trivial things, there wasn't much difference between them and a rhythm session.

    True. Early on, certain string guys turned up their noses at the opportunity, thinking the music was beneath their abilities. The guys that stuck with it made one hell of a lot of money from Motown and all the other string dates going on in Detroit.

  7. #7
    Funny how money makes people change their mind!

    Thanks for the honest reply Ralph. I have seen those comments that Uptight mentioned and remember feeling a bit upset that these were musicians who were supposed to love music but there they were openly dissing my type of music. I also put up with negativity from my fellow school mates...music is all the same, factory production lines ...etc. It got to me sometimes but I laugh now cos it's me that can stick the 2 fingers up in the air.

  8. #8
    Ralph...thanks for the response. But I'm wondering if it wasn't an absolutely incredible thing to hear the string arrangements for those songs actually being played...live. I imagine that the sounds would be glorious. Do you happen to recall any memorable string sessions? Thanks so much.

  9. #9
    topdiva1 Guest
    Thanks so much Ralph for your knowledge - I find this a great thread.

  10. #10
    Paul Riser was a genius...

  11. #11
    uptight Guest
    Paul Riser is still a genius. Recently he made string arrangements for the recent Raphael Saadiq album. I wish he would post here.

  12. #12
    John, I suppose I thought that the string dates were cool enough, but no different than any other date with multiple players. If anything stood out, I suppose it would be watching Gordon Staples, who was always the leader of the date, conduct the players through the session. I also have this memory of him showing me his recently purchased Strad and how he was playing it as much as possible.

    Uptight and Nomis,
    Yes indeed, Paul Riser is a genius. I spoke with him a year or so ago and I think I have his phone number. When time permits maybe I'll ring him up and see if he would come on the forum.

  13. #13
    thanks Ralph it would be wonderful to hear from Paul....

  14. #14
    My dad knew two Motown strings players. One was a teacher, a middle-aged white man who taught at my dad's grade school, and was a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He played the cello and violin. He began playing on Motown sessions in 1965. My dad says he asked him and his classmates about Motown and what they thought; WHETHER he should he play on the dates. Of course the students encouraged him to do so. He had to learn to loosen up. The other was a black, female harpist who split session dates with Dorothy Ashby. She didn't look down her nose at the music and could swing. She played on Marvin & Tammi's AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN.
    Last edited by Kamasu_Jr; 01-15-2011 at 07:41 PM.

  15. #15
    kamasu...and Ralph....thanks!

  16. #16
    Ralph, do you know how many strings there would be on a recording? Listening to the tracks, I always thought it sounded like there were 20 + string players on a recording.

  17. #17
    That's a lot of people for Hitsville but not so bad for Golden World.

    At Hitsville, 20 players would have had to be sitting on top of each other!

  18. #18
    That was Carol Coleman. She worked at Motown from early 1963 through the fall of 1966. The producers and musicians nicknamed her "schoolteacher." She was teaching, attending the University of Michigan, and doing sessions.

  19. #19
    Paul Riser is a terrific guy I got to know and speak with a several times a few years back... He was the late L.A. studio/touring drummer Ricky Lawsons uncle... Initially, I think Berry found string players at Wayne State University until he upgraded to mostly DSO players led by Gordon Staples... Josef, Kertez (one of my high school Orchestra director) played viola sessions at Motown...He was a short little Eastern European immigrant who use to take the bus to Motown for sessions...


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Ralph Terrana

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