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  1. #1

    Diana's thoughts on Motown

    Did anyone listen to, or read the interview with Shirley Jones of the Jones Girls? I will just highlight their experiences working with Diana Ross. She had some revelations about Diana and her views of Motown which I didn't know.

    SJ: Oh yeah, we did. But again, being so young, we got over it and we just enjoyed them. And all of those people looked at us like daughters. They just loved our voices. Most of them knew my mother from singing somewhere. In the gospel field they knew her. My mother used to sing at Aretha Franklin’s father’s church all the time. So they kind of knew us, and consequently we didn’t really look at them as the huge stars that they were, because we kind of grew up knowing them and seeing them all the time on different occasions. The one time that we were intimidated was when we were driving up to interview for Diana Ross to hear us, to see if she wanted us to be her singers or not. Because at that time she was a huge star and we heard that she had been turning down everybody that auditioned for her. So we were a little intimidated on that drive up.

    DMJ: I can imagine. And I was going to ask you about how that started, how you guys got together with her, because you toured extensively with her for a number of years. So tell me a little bit about how she heard about you, how you guys heard about her—I mean, obviously she was a big star so you knew who she was, but tell me about how you guys actually got together and sealed the deal.

    SJ: Well, we were doing background singing and someone told McKinley Jackson, who was handling us at that time, that Diana had been looking for singers and that she had been turning everybody down. There were several other background singing groups around in California prior to us getting there, and they were real popular, and she had turned them down. Apparently they were the more popular ones and they auditioned first. We were just landing, pretty much—I don’t think we’d been in California a good month when we heard about her auditioning people for this big tour that she was getting ready to take around the world. And he asked us what we thought about doing it and we were like, “Yeah, hey, we’ll audition. We’ll go.” So we kind of went over “Reach Out (And Touch Somebody’s Hand)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, which were her big records back at that time. And as we were driving up, Brenda was so nervous we had to pull over to let her get her stomach right. By the time we got up there they ushered us into this room where her keyboard player was. He asked us did we know any of her songs, and we started singing “Reach Out And Touch” and halfway through it, who walks into the room but Diana Ross. We were like, “Oh, my God.”

    DMJ: So you guys weren’t actually expecting to see her?

    SJ: I thought that we were just gonna put some stuff down on tape and that they were gonna play it for her, but she was actually in another room. And as soon as she walked in, they said it was because she heard our harmonies and immediately she asked us our names. She was really excited when she found out that we were from Detroit. Within five to ten minutes of the conversation she said, “Do you guys have passports?” and we said, “No, we’ve never been out of the country. And she said, “Well, we’re going to London.” And so that was it. We all just stood there with our mouths open. And she said, “Can you guys be ready to go to London in a month?” and we’re like, “Yeah.”

    DMJ: You were hired on the spot, really.

    SJ: Yeah. That was probably one of the most memorable experiences, to actually be singing and then she walks into the room. That was great.

    DMJ: What are some of your favourite memories of being on the road with her, if you could paint a picture for us in terms of what that was like and how she was towards you-all as a person and as an artist?

    SJ: Diana was very protective of us because she knew that it was our first time out of the country. This was the tour where she took her strings, horns, rhythm…

    DMJ: A big production.

    SJ: It was like fifty people out on the road, and all of them were men except for us and herself and her personal assistant. Once we landed in London, which was the first stop, she was always checking on us at our hotel; always having her personal assistant check on us. And then even sometimes there would be days on the tour when, if it was an off-day or and she didn’t have a whole lot to do, we would hang out with her. She’d call for us and send a car and we’d hang out with her. So she was absolutely, absolutely a fantastic person to work for. And I’d say within maybe … we were doing the States and I think we had done the Europe tour one year—because we worked with her for three years. So sometime during that first year was when—maybe it was the second year—she came to us one day and told us that she thought we were really too good to be singing background behind her or anyone else for an extended period of time. That’s when she offered us our own spot in her show while she did one of her wardrobe changes. She said, “Why don’t you guys get together and learn a song and we’ll put it in the show?”

    Gil Askey, who was her music director, helped us pick a song, and we chose “If I Ever Lose This Heaven”. So in time we started doing it—we would come and perform the song everywhere. She’d say, “Hey, my girls—aren’t they terrific?—The Jones Sisters. They’re gonna come and sing a song for you.” And then we’d do the song, she’d run off and change clothes, and that gave us an opportunity to display our talents in front of the audience without her and that’s how we ultimately ended up with Gamble and Huff, because they were in the audience in Philadelphia one night and heard us. And the rest is kind of history from there.

    DMJ: So it was really the fact that she gave you guys the stage for that kind of exposure that really paved the way for your eventually getting together with Philly International, it sounds like.

    SJ: Yes, she did. Definitely. During that time she was not real happy with Motown—in fact, I think she’d even left Motown at one point during our three years with her. Berry Gordy talked about us signing at one point and doing some things with them, but she was like, “No, they’re not the company for you all. You all don’t need to be with them.” So I think that’s kind of another reason why she wanted us to sing a song; because she didn’t know who we should be with or anything like that, but she just wanted us to get that opportunity to expose our talents to whoever may be in her audience—which most of the time was a lot of very, very well-known people in the industry.

    DMJ: And she specifically didn’t want you guys to go with Motown, even though her name was kind of synonymous with Motown?

    SJ: Exactly, yeah. They were going through some things during that period.

    DMJ: It sounds like she was trying to avoid having you guys go though whatever drama she was going through at the time.

    SJ: Yeah, I think so.


  2. #2
    Well, what a fascinating interview. I love The Jones Girls, have all their albums. Their harmonies are angelic. I saw them in London as part of the Diana Ross tour. So much for THE BITCH Diana is so often portrayed to be. Ive met her 3 times, and she was wonderful, friendly and NORMAL! Unlike some other so called DIVAS I could mention that ive had the misfortn 2 meet..Paulo xxxx

  3. #3
    Thank you for posting this, Skool. I enjoyed that.

  4. #4
    Very nice interview skooldem1. Thank you for posting.


  5. #5
    Thanks for posting this.......................Can you imagine The Jones Girls at Motown. I am glad they took door number 2.

  6. #6
    For all the "insiders" here, does anyone know if there was a time in the mid to late 70's where Diana didn't renew her contract with Motown? Or was in between contracts? I'm curious about this comment:

    "During that time she was not real happy with Motown—in fact, I think she’d even left Motown at one point during our three years with her."

  7. #7
    I enjoyed that interview too. Thank you for posting.

    I was particularly interested in their Music Merchant releases and this is the reference

    SJ: We started out doing a lot of work for Invictus Records, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and some of those artists were Lamont Dozier, Freda Payne… At that point they even cut a couple of little singles on us that were little local hits, or regional hits. Then I think I was about fifteen when we went to Curtom, Curtis Mayfield’s label..."

    I suspect this must be the release on UK Sequel/Castle. If I recall correctly, the Jones Girls offered Sequel a rare demo of them from the very early years which is only available on that album. Midnight Johnny turned me onto one of the Curtom tracks which sounded more like an Invictus recording than an Curtom release. It's called "Proof of the Pudding"

    Apologies for digressing a little from the original post

  8. #8
    Diana gave them good advice because Motown would've ignored the Jones Girls.

  9. #9
    "Then I think I was about fifteen when we went to Curtom, Curtis Mayfield’s label..."

    That's the JONES GIRLS by the way on Linda Cliffords ,"RUNAWAY LOVE" ,on CURTOM.

  10. #10

    As I recall, wasn't Gil Askey on that too?

  11. #11
    Diana had a damn good ear or just knew what she wanted those Jones Girls could sang.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by theboyfromxtown View Post

    As I recall, wasn't Gil Askey on that too?
    Yes Gil Askey did the fantastic arrangements ,production and writing.
    Last edited by daddyacey; 05-05-2011 at 12:47 PM.


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