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  1. #1
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    Question The Current State of Motown

    IMO, Motown, as Berry Gordy envisioned it started losing its relevance/cultural stamp when he moved it to LA. Thoughts?
    Current stable of acts? [[ Several hip-hop.)

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    Hm, that is a tough one to answer. Mr Gordy motto is "innovate or stagnate" The first 10 years of Motown the US and the world changed a lot.

    With all of the talented people he gathered around him during this decade the Motown Sound was created and the company was often seen as a trailblazer. But once a trail has been blown and standards has been set, that became the new reality. The bar was raised. Other companies followed and sometimes became better than Motown at it.

    However, don't forget the new music standards Marvin, Stevie, Diana, Smokey, Jackson 5, Temptations [please add...] set after the move to LA.

    Old Motown was gone and evolved into something new. That kept happening. Some members call this period from there on "just another label". There is some truth in that, the family feeling was gone, Hitsville was closed and LA was the main office now. Remember what Ralph wrote about the sophisticated studios in LA?

    After the sale of Motown, should the label be closed? There where some thoughts about it but Universal saw that there was still money to be made. Not just as a classic re-issue label, but as a current hip-hop label.Remeber the ill fated rebranding with the new Motown logo?

    New Motown doesn't do it for me and the newest Motown music I have bought was from 702. But I hardly listen to that.

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    To piggyback off of the previous post, that Motown Sound we commonly think of was what set the label apart from all others, as far as the music went. When you heard a Motown record you usually knew instantly that it was a Motown record, even if the label was a subsidiary. As the 70s arrived, and certainly as that decade progressed, there was no longer an identifiable Motown Sound. The Philly Sound and others would become the distinguishing sounds of the decade and Motown would be relegated to a "no special sound" label. Which of course is not to diminish the popularity and success of Marvin, Stevie, Diana, the J5, the Miracles, and a handful of others who still managed to release popular music. Motown just never captured another homogenized sound that threaded their artists together. Honestly, I don't have a problem with this. Motown came and conquered like no other record label before or since, so IMO they didn't really need to step their game up in finding another sound to compete with the "new" guys.

    What messed Motown up was shutting down Detroit music operations and moving it to California. I would never suggest that Gordy not pursue his dream of moving into the movie industry, so why not just open a film and broader entertainment division in LA and leave the music in Detroit? Also it seems like he focused on his new dream and wasn't heavily involved in the music side of things. While Gordy certainly had some clunker ideas over the years, Motown's golden age was his baby. With him no longer hovering over the music, the discography of the legendary acts sometimes suffered, and the new acts who were brought on it seems barely got a chance to make their mark. No more artist development. No more sticking with an act for a time to see what works and what doesn't. I reckon in that sense, Motown moved out to LA and decided to blend in with everyone else rather than maintain a specialty.

    Despite this, throughout the 80s and 90s Motown was still the label for some of the biggest acts in the world and it is unfortunate that it's legacy is often reduced to only the golden age and the accomplishments of the three biggest acts on the label throughout the 70s. Debarge, Lionel Richie, Boyz II Men, among others, were killing it at various times.

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    Very interesting topic, guys. I make no secret about my feelings regarding the Move. Huge, Huge mistake. The city of Detroit embraced Motown like a close relative. On T.V. they still refer to the city as Motown. Detroit was dripping with talent all looking to be Motown's next big act. I know this for a fact because the demo tapes came to my office for review. Even after the first few years of the L. A. operation, it was obvious Motown Detroit was
    killing L.A. But they persisted and eventually the brain and equipment drain would begin.

    However, forgetting all of the above, the biggest blunder was losing Harry Balk, replacing him with Suzanne DePass. Man, there must have been some slick maneuvering to make this happen. Under Harry's leadership Motown was coming out of it's most successful period in the history of the company. Harry took over in 1968 and was gone in 73 or 74. Make a list of all the hits that occurred in those years.

    I have always defended Berry on the move It was his company to do with what he pleased, but it still doesn't make the move right.
    Last edited by ralpht; 04-01-2022 at 12:21 PM.

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    I can't say I was thrilled on how the Funk Brothers were dismissed.

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    I guess logistically the company couldn't have continued out of two camps ...maybe financially too much a stretch, I hope they at least considered it. It seems a waste that the set up in Detroit was demolished with so much there to offer still remaining.


    The Funk Bros. were dismissed??

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    Yeah dismissed. They showed up for sessions only to find a note on the door saying all sessions were cancelled.
    And for Jamerson to have to buy a scalped ticket to get in to see the Motown 25 Special. That never sat right with me.

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    this just can't be so!

    turns my stomach quite frankly.

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    Yeah, it isn't exactly a bright spot in my memory. I can't speak for Berry or what he might have been dealing with at that time, but the Funks....Man it was those dudes who were so integral to the growth of Motown.

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    I am with you, Ralph 100%.

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    Look at it this way....L,A. had top session musicians for their production. And that was just fine. And what you are going to get is a good structured session.. But you can't buy what the Funk Brothers brought to the table. These guys were doing three and four sessions a day, and then playing together in the clubs at night. This put them in a completely different category. More like a very tight knit band, which is exactly what they were.

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    I'm guilty of 'what-evering' the move to LA but Ralph's info here and in the past has caused me to reset. The city of Detroit was the sound of Motown [[including of course the FB's) and the move to LA brought about a rather generic sound to the records.

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    The LA. musicians IMO were certainly talented but very wooden and didn`t swing. Mostly white players that where just doing another session using as little imagination as possible. Carol Kaye`s playing with a plectrum and the drummers horrible fills made them poor cousins of the Funks.

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    I remember Dennis Coffee telling me, upon returning to Detroit after spending time in L.A, the difference between Detroit and L,A, Musicians. He said the Detroit guys "played like they mean it".

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    Thanks for you valuable contributions to this topic. If you listen to the growth the Funk Brothers have made, I'm sure they would have been a great asset to the developing music taste for the future. I agree. It seems to be the biggest mistake to be to let that energy, group and musical talent to go to waste in LA

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    Good topic and discussion, guys. As far as present day Motown, I guess I'm soon to find out with the upcoming release of the Stoney and Meatloaf package.

  17. #17
    No Funks = No Motown!

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    Don't get me wrong - the Wrecking Crew were incredibly talented and versatile musicians who could go from playing sessions for Frank Sinatra to the Mamas & Papas all in one day. It takes a great musician to adapt to different genres and do it with ease. I love a ton of their work, but the Funk Bros. were the most gifted and influential studio musicians ever in popular music. They had a click and swing no other musicians could do. To this day there are artists who want to make "Motown-sounding" records and it's all because of the Funk Bros. We know the Beatles were the most influential band of all-time, but I will argue the Funk Bros., although much different as performers from the Beatles, were on par with them in terms of musical influence and defining a sound for a generation. The Beatles and Motown ruled the 60s.
    Last edited by bradsupremes; 04-01-2022 at 08:03 PM.

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    I agree that Motown lost something special when it relocated from Detroit… not, of course, taking away from the recordings made in L.A., nor from the careers of Stevie, Diana, Lionel, Rick J, and many others.

    I'm not familiar with many of the artists on the Motown label today: https://www.motownrecords.com/

    … other than Joy Denalane and BJ the Chicago Kid, who are worth checking out
    Last edited by TomatoTom123; 04-01-2022 at 09:34 PM.

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    Wowie-Wow!!!! You guys are rock stars, in every sense of the word. Thanks for making us as [[flies on the wall]] at Hitsville w/your first handle knowledge! No one touched on the leadership of -her name escapes me- the new African-American woman. I remember reading a article and/or post about her. She was knowledgeable enough about the music industry...her own acts...not so much. She was super late for the interview. And the poor guy had to pretty much yammer on the fly! In fact, after awhile he started repeating himself. So when she finally graced us with her prescence...it seemed like that was her attitude! I'm here. This is Motown. I am it's Ceo/prez. I keep thinking...Flighty. Rant over.

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    Lurv everything BJ the Chicago Kid does!! Check out his monster collabs too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nativeNY63 View Post
    Lurv everything BJ the Chicago Kid does!! Check out his monster collabs too.
    Hey nativeNY, are you familiar with Joy Denalane? She and BJ collaborated on this track from 2020 which is quite Motown-esque…

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    Seems that Motown evolved - but its fans didn't [[or didn't want to) for the most part.

    The Rare Earth label artists, for example, were hardly "Motown Sound" but there is some fantastic output there even from the leased product [[that might not be the right term, but I'm thinking of The Pretty Things albums which contain some really good tracks).

    Yet how many Motown fans could see beyond DRATS, Tempts and Tops? Would we really have wanted to hear revamps of "Reach Out", "This Old Heart", "Stop In The Name of Love" for years and years? Even Holland Dozier Holland moved on [[literally and artistically).

    Personally I love the fact that Motown didn't just stick to the formula but widened their output with the likes of R Dean Taylor, Barbara McNair, Billy Eckstine, Bobby Darin etc.

    In truth The Motown Sound was short lived, and I reckon Berry knew it would be, but its impact was extremely long lasting. What was The Motown Sound anyway [[that's another thread probably)?
    Last edited by mysterysinger; 04-02-2022 at 07:09 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nativeNY63 View Post
    Wowie-Wow!!!! You guys are rock stars, in every sense of the word. Thanks for making us as [[flies on the wall]] at Hitsville w/your first handle knowledge! No one touched on the leadership of -her name escapes me- the new African-American woman. I remember reading a article and/or post about her. She was knowledgeable enough about the music industry...her own acts...not so much. She was super late for the interview. And the poor guy had to pretty much yammer on the fly! In fact, after awhile he started repeating himself. So when she finally graced us with her prescence...it seemed like that was her attitude! I'm here. This is Motown. I am it's Ceo/prez. I keep thinking...Flighty. Rant over.
    Her name is Ethiopia Habtemariam; technically, her titles are chairman/CEO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TomatoTom123 View Post
    Hey nativeNY, are you familiar with Joy Denalane? She and BJ collaborated on this track from 2020 which is quite Motown-esque…
    Nope. Have to check her out. Always scouting out new tunes by BJ. Thanks, Tom.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sansradio View Post
    Her name is Ethiopia Habtemariam; technically, her titles are chairman/CEO.
    Yea. That's right. Thanks for the name & correction, Sans.

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    Mystery Singer. I agree with you regarding the duration of the so-called Motown Sound. I would put those years between 1962 to 72 or so. These years would encompass The Supremes, the early Four Tops records coming from the talented Holland Dozier Holland production team. Smokey handling the early Temps, Clarence Paul with Stevie, etc. etc. Classic Motown. But then things started changing on the street as a result of the Viet Nam War and a variety of social issues. I think it was at this time Motown would begin to evolve.The Rare Earth label would bring a new dimension to the company in 1968 and producers like Norman Whitfield and Frank Wilson were breaking new ground focusing more on the social issues of the day. Marvin Gaye blew it all apart with Whats Going On. I raised a few eyebrows when I brought in the Native American band, Xit.
    Last edited by ralpht; 04-02-2022 at 08:12 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ralpht View Post
    Yeah dismissed. They showed up for sessions only to find a note on the door saying all sessions were cancelled.
    And for Jamerson to have to buy a scalped ticket to get in to see the Motown 25 Special. That never sat right with me.
    And how about Marv Johnson not being invited to the Motown 25 Special. That was a bitter pill to swallow.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mysterysinger View Post
    Seems that Motown evolved - but its fans didn't [[or didn't want to) for the most part.
    I don't believe that. All those folks who bought the "classic" Motown records would go on to buy all the big stuff from the 1970s. Motown was pushing out and promoting a lot of different artists in the 60s, all under Gordy's attentive eye. With the move to LA, Gordy's focus was elsewhere, and aside from some of the big names who continued to hit past the end of the "golden era", Motown wasn't taking anywhere near the same time and care with new acts as it did in the 60s. New sounds were emerging and Motown wasn't keeping up. Motown had proven that it's sound could evolve. If you listen to the records from 1963 to 64, there's a progression and evolution. It would continue from 64-65, 65-66, 66-67, and so forth, which is why many of us can "often" tell what year a particular Motown song was recorded in because each year past seems to take the sound up a notch from the previous year.

    I agree with Ralph about the Funks' tremendous abilities. There's no reason to suspect that these uber talented musicians wouldn't have continued to evolve a sound throughout the 1970s that complimented the artists signed to the label. And while Motown definitely signed some great acts post the LA move, how many of them really stood a chance of making it, of being heard? Hell, some of the big acts would find that Motown was no longer as interested in putting them in position to succeed as it once had been.

    Me thinks Motown dropped the ball and suffered the consequences.

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    perfect example is look what happened to the Jacksons.I stand by the statement that LA was not good for the Motown Record Corp.

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    In hindsight Gordy should have left the music division of Motown in Detroit and moved only the movie and tv division to Hollywood. Taking Motown out of Detroit was like taking Philly Int'l out of Philadelphia.

    Suzanne's expertise was more in the development of movie and tv projects. Gordy should have listened to his own ear where the music was concerned or hired Detroiters for that. Also, they should have consolidated all of the labels into only one or two. Between the rock acts and the country acts Motown lost its identity. I mean, Pat Boone? Cmon, really.

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    I'm not as old as you guys are, never lived anywhere near Detroit, and never worked in the industry. But, I had always read that Barry Gordy invited all of his Detroit people/artists to move with him to L.A. but many just didn't want to relocate. Is that true?

    As far as moving to L.A. is concerned, Back then, that's where the rock/pop/R&B record industry was moving anyway, to become the record industry empire alongside the film industry. Of course, other major labels, like Mercury, Philadelphia International, Atlantic, and a whole bunch of southern labels stayed put in their native cities. But, the bulk of it was based in, or moving their corporate offices to Los Angeles in the 70s: Warner Brothers, Motown, Casablanca, Elektra, Asylum, ABC/Dunhill, Capitol, A&M, MCA, 20th Century, and, a few of those were also connected with the film industry, which was Barry Gordy's motivation, anyway. And, most of them were eventually swallowed up by the conglomerates through distribution deals or bankruptcy.

    Anyway, the times were changing, and new, younger sounds were in demand. I think moving Motown to L.A. was the right move, even if it wasn't purely for musical reasons. IMO, if it seemed that the company's musical fortunes waned, it is because the nature of the music changed. The audiences changed. Disco and funk was suddenly a reality. From what I understand, people with the old three-minute love song mentality were still in power at the label in the 70s, and if you weren't a Rick James, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder [[who negotiated full creative control in his contract), you were constantly battling that.

    But, back to the topic: Motown is under the Capitol Music Group, once again based in Los Angeles, and operating out of the Capitol Records tower. They just released the excellent new Temptations 60 album.

    In my opinion, one of the biggest blunders Motown made in the 70s was not giving the Jackson 5 creative control, and letting them go.

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    It was said that BG was in Rome filming Mahogany during the J5 negotiations. When he returned to the USA to find that they signed with Epic he was livid and it cost Ewart Abner his job. Jermaine was extremely torn not knowing what to do. His father-in-law persuaded him to stay and he'd make him the next Marvin Gaye heartthrob. It didn't quite happen but Jermaine survived.

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    And Jermaine became an Motown A&R executive.

    You'd think that someone would have kept Barry appraised of the negotiations by phone.

    Aside from creative control issues, Joe Jackson was concerned about that ol' reoccurring issue of accounting. All the more reason someone should have kept Barry Gordy in the loop. It was, after all, still his company.

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    Yeah dismissed. They showed up for sessions only to find a note on the door saying all sessions were cancelled.
    And for Jamerson to have to buy a scalped ticket to get in to see the Motown 25 Special. That never sat right with me.





    I AGREE

    edafan

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    Quote Originally Posted by soulster View Post
    I'm not as old as you guys are, never lived anywhere near Detroit, and never worked in the industry. But, I had always read that Barry Gordy invited all of his Detroit people/artists to move with him to L.A. but many just didn't want to relocate. Is that true?

    As far as moving to L.A. is concerned, Back then, that's where the rock/pop/R&B record industry was moving anyway, to become the record industry empire alongside the film industry. Of course, other major labels, like Mercury, Philadelphia International, Atlantic, and a whole bunch of southern labels stayed put in their native cities. But, the bulk of it was based in, or moving their corporate offices to Los Angeles in the 70s: Warner Brothers, Motown, Casablanca, Elektra, Asylum, ABC/Dunhill, Capitol, A&M, MCA, 20th Century, and, a few of those were also connected with the film industry, which was Barry Gordy's motivation, anyway. And, most of them were eventually swallowed up by the conglomerates through distribution deals or bankruptcy.

    Anyway, the times were changing, and new, younger sounds were in demand. I think moving Motown to L.A. was the right move, even if it wasn't purely for musical reasons. IMO, if it seemed that the company's musical fortunes waned, it is because the nature of the music changed. The audiences changed. Disco and funk was suddenly a reality. From what I understand, people with the old three-minute love song mentality were still in power at the label in the 70s, and if you weren't a Rick James, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder [[who negotiated full creative control in his contract), you were constantly battling that.

    But, back to the topic: Motown is under the Capitol Music Group, once again based in Los Angeles, and operating out of the Capitol Records tower. They just released the excellent new Temptations 60 album.

    In my opinion, one of the biggest blunders Motown made in the 70s was not giving the Jackson 5 creative control, and letting them go.
    I thought that was mind-boggling too about Capitol Records. The label was now Motown's direct competition and decades later dropped one of seminal acts [[Temps) 60th anniversary album/CD!!! Astounding.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ralpht View Post
    Yeah dismissed. They showed up for sessions only to find a note on the door saying all sessions were cancelled.
    And for Jamerson to have to buy a scalped ticket to get in to see the Motown 25 Special. That never sat right with me.

    Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, the book and movie confirms this.

    Luckily, Alan Slutsky, the writer of this book, brought the Funk Brothers together for a worldwide tour in 2002.

    Typical Motown style, it all fell apart afterwards and Jack Ashord then made a second worldwide tour with only Joe Hunter, Papa Joe.

    And Phil Collins had the Funk Brothers on an album.

    In the end, for the surviving members, some recognition came. Too late, too little. A painful episode in the Motown history.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ralpht View Post
    Mystery Singer. I agree with you regarding the duration of the so-called Motown Sound. I would put those years between 1962 to 72 or so. These years would encompass The Supremes, the early Four Tops records coming from the talented Holland Dozier Holland production team. Smokey handling the early Temps, Clarence Paul with Stevie, etc. etc. Classic Motown. But then things started changing on the street as a result of the Viet Nam War and a variety of social issues. I think it was at this time Motown would begin to evolve.The Rare Earth label would bring a new dimension to the company in 1968 and producers like Norman Whitfield and Frank Wilson were breaking new ground focusing more on the social issues of the day. Marvin Gaye blew it all apart with Whats Going On. I raised a few eyebrows when I brought in the Native American band, Xit.

    "Innovate or stagnate", Ralph, I can't thank you, and your brother, enough for being part of that. It kept the company relevant during changing times. Especially Xit, addressing issues that native Americans had, through music.

    Was there still life in the music scene of Detroit during the early 70's? Absolutely! To coin a term that is often used, Motown became mainstream. In the early days it was needed to create the "cross over" and let Motown grow, in the end, that succes became the downfall and as many people wrote, diluted Motown became the system.

    However, acknowledging the milestones achieved.
    Last edited by 1382hitsville; 04-04-2022 at 01:29 PM. Reason: grammer, clearification

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    I suppose I should mention that I learned of a proposal to make me head of whatever would be left of the Detroit operation. Studio B and some sort of budget, I suppose. Harry Balk had proposed the same plan a year or so before that and got turned down. For some reason the proposal dried up and never saw the light of day. I have my hunches on that one.
    Last edited by ralpht; 04-05-2022 at 07:53 AM.

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    Hitsville, you might be interested to know that XIT is still together. Same guys. They were inducted into the New Mexico Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a couple of years back. It was always my dream to take these talented guys into the studio one more time, but that never happened.

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    Had never heard of XIT, that I can recall. Just checked out some of the first album. Not usually my thing, but it was some real nice sounds.

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    I never got a sales report on "Plight Of The Redman" but did receive letters of appreciation from a variety of teachers using the album as a teaching aid. Just that alone made the project worthwhile to me.

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    Ralph, didn't one of the members of XIT make an appearance on Smokeys' first solo LP?

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    I believe they were on Smokey's "Just My Soul Responding", which is both an amazing song and a powerful critique of the treatment of African American and Native people in the US. It also incorporates Native American style chants as provided by XIT.
    Last edited by TomatoTom123; 04-06-2022 at 07:53 PM.

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    Yes they did some work with Smokey, which I wasn't aware of earlier on.

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    Am I right in saying that XIT were the first Native American band signed to a major record label? And the first such band to record political concept albums about the Native American experience?

    The only other act I am aware of is Redbone, who were around at roughly the same time...

    Forgive my ignorance, I know very little about Native American bands/music!
    Last edited by TomatoTom123; 04-06-2022 at 08:23 PM.

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    Tom, I'm not that familiar with Redbone's music but I don't think it was as political as XIT. I know they were rather serious rivals for a period of time until both bands appeared together at a concert. It was here, from what
    i was told, they buried the hatchet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mysterysinger View Post
    Seems that Motown evolved - but its fans didn't [[or didn't want to) for the most part.

    The Rare Earth label artists, for example, were hardly "Motown Sound" but there is some fantastic output there even from the leased product [[that might not be the right term, but I'm thinking of The Pretty Things albums which contain some really good tracks).

    Yet how many Motown fans could see beyond DRATS, Tempts and Tops? Would we really have wanted to hear revamps of "Reach Out", "This Old Heart", "Stop In The Name of Love" for years and years? Even Holland Dozier Holland moved on [[literally and artistically).

    Personally I love the fact that Motown didn't just stick to the formula but widened their output with the likes of R Dean Taylor, Barbara McNair, Billy Eckstine, Bobby Darin etc.

    In truth The Motown Sound was short lived, and I reckon Berry knew it would be, but its impact was extremely long lasting. What was The Motown Sound anyway [[that's another thread probably)?
    I have to concur with your post all-around.

  49. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by ralpht View Post
    Tom, I'm not that familiar with Redbone's music but I don't think it was as political as XIT. I know they were rather serious rivals for a period of time until both bands appeared together at a concert. It was here, from what
    i was told, they buried the hatchet.
    I see! Thanks for that Ralph. I think you’re right about Redbone too. I have some of their albums, which are quite different from the political-educational experience of XIT's LPs.

  50. #50
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    I think I found bad news. I went to XIT's Michael Martinez website. We stayed somewhat in touch over the years. I found his son 's Facebook page dedicated to the memory of his father. Apparently Michael passed.

    I can't seem to find any definitive information on Michael. I hope I'm wrong.
    Last edited by ralpht; 04-08-2022 at 09:55 AM.

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