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  1. #1
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    Motown promotional tactics--how far did they go?

    I'm in the midst of reading an excellent history of Stax Records called Respect Yourself. Robert Gordon is the author. In the book he talks about how in the late 60s/early 70s, how Stax employed a man named Johnny Baylor to promote their records. Baylor and his team were not above using threats of violence and gun play in their efforts to ensure Stax releases got radio play.

    This leads me to wonder how far did Motown promotion heads went to get Motown records airplay? Does anyone know if they engaged in similar tactics as Baylor did with Stax?

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    By other accounts too Baylor was a particularly nasty chap. He also had a label Koko, whose prize asset was the excellent Luther Ingram

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spreadinglove21 View Post
    This leads me to wonder how far did Motown promotion heads went to get Motown records airplay? Does anyone know if they engaged in similar tactics as Baylor did with Stax?
    Another book about Stax Records, Rob Bowman's Soulsville USA, also went into detail about Johnny Baylor. Not only did he threaten radio DJ's, he also threatened the heads of Columbia Records when he found out that they were not getting as much Stax Records product into record stores when they started handling the label's records in 1973. This tactic didn't work out since one of Columbia's top men made a counter threat against Johnny [and further strained the relationship between Stax & Columbia]. We'll see if any similar stories turn up about Motown's promotional team.

  4. #4
    For what it's worth...
    I've read a lot of books and articles over the years on Motown and I don't believe [and I stress, this is just my belief] Motown had to resort to anything quite as blunt as Baylor. I also don't believe Motown had to resort to such tactics because Berry Gordy was incredibly blessed to have people just drop out of the sky, into his life, who were extremely experienced in what they did. Barney Ales was probably THE key person who made the Motown Promotion Machine work as efficiently and effectively as it did. Ales had a lot of experience before coming to Motown in 1960. He had worked at Capitol records and had formed a lot of important contacts in radio and distribution. People don't realize that you can't just put out good records, make a few calls and have hits. As they say, it's all in who you know, and Barney knew all the right folks.

    What also gave Motown the edge over many other black record companies was the Barney was white. In the sixties when Motown was coming up, that was crucial, because there could be issues with distributors and radio stations not wanting to deal with a black promotor. Barney built an effective team to handle promotion and there were black promotors as well, but if there were any issues, again, Barney could get on the phone and threaten anyone who wasn't working with the Motown Way. He didn't need to use threats of violence though, because Motown had something more effective than violence...

    The story of how 'Please Mr. Postman' becoming Motown's first number one hit on both R&B and Pop charts gave Motown leverage at a crucial time can't be emphasized enough. That tune was HOT and it enabled Motown to have a weapon to use against distributors who didn't want to pay up on their accounts. Motown would withhold product if distributors didn't pay up. Barney Ales would use this threat because he and his team had built Motown up so well, in short time there were plenty of hits that gave Motown more and more leverage. Also, Barney shrewdly did not promote Motown as a 'black' record company, but as a record company that appealed to everyone. With the team and machine Barney and company built, that gave them plenty of muscle in the industry.

    There probably are stories like you're wondering about where a promotion man or two may have had to use some kind of threat, but I've not come across any in all these years. I do recall Berry Gordy saying in an interview that Motown really didn't have to resort to anything like that because of the rumors swirling around about Motown being involved with the Mafia [!] At some point, Berry decided, why fight the stories? Those stories were probably helping to keep distributors in line!
    Last edited by WaitingWatchingLookingForAChance; 03-25-2023 at 07:12 PM.

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    Didn't Motown start so many different labels [[ & use 2 different distributors) to help try to ensure more of their product got radio plays at the same time ... Radio stn charts would feature 45's on Motown, Soul, VIP, Tamla, etc. not just singles on the same label.
    BUT ON THE PROMOTIONAL SIDE ... I think it is accepted that BG & his team did all they could to prevent post Motown 45's from Mary Wells from doing well [[radio play wise). He also tried to ensure Miss Ray's Shrine Records [[out of DC) was a failure.
    Dirty tricks such as payola, threatening not to provide radio DJ's with advance copies of new 45's & the like were common place tactics for all record companies [[including Motown).
    Also, radio DJ's weren't usually highly paid & made money on the side from promoting their own live presentations. Record labels would provide their acts as 'free live attractions' at such DJ promoted shows to ensure those DJ's knew which label's product to keep featuring. Capitol Records sent a package of it's new soul acts on a 'east coast' tour in 66 ... Name:  BaltDJrecHopAug66x.jpg
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    Last edited by jsmith; 03-26-2023 at 04:11 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jsmith View Post
    Didn't Motown start so many different labels [[ & use 2 different distributors) to help try to ensure more of their product got radio plays at the same time ... Radio stn charts would feature 45's on Motown, Soul, VIP, Tamla, etc. not just singles on the same label.
    BUT ON THE PROMOTIONAL SIDE ... I think it is accepted that BG & his team did all they could to prevent post Motown 45's from Mary Wells from doing well [[radio play wise). He also tried to ensure Miss Ray's Shrine Records [[out of DC) was a failure.
    Dirty tricks such as payola, threatening not to provide radio DJ's with advance copies of new 45's & the like were common place tactics for all record companies [[including Motown).
    Yes it's true that Motown Records issued their singles under a variety of labels to insure that they got more airplay [and it was also a nod to General Motors who used a similar tactic with the cars that they made]. Also, they had more than one distributor handling their product at that time. And while they're stories about how they blocked airplay for Mary Wells after she left the company & tried to put Miss Ray's Shrine Records out of business, at least there are no stories involving Motown's promotional team that rival what Johnny Baylor was doing at Stax Records [not yet anyway].

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    Quote Originally Posted by WaitingWatchingLookingForAChance View Post
    For what it's worth...
    I've read a lot of books and articles over the years on Motown and I don't believe [and I stress, this is just my belief] Motown had to resort to anything quite as blunt as Baylor. I also don't believe Motown had to resort to such tactics because Berry Gordy was incredibly blessed to have people just drop out of the sky, into his life, who were extremely experienced in what they did. Barney Ales was probably THE key person who made the Motown Promotion Machine work as efficiently and effectively as it did. Ales had a lot of experience before coming to Motown in 1960. He had worked at Capitol records and had formed a lot of important contacts in radio and distribution. People don't realize that you can't just put out good records, make a few calls and have hits. As they say, it's all in who you know, and Barney knew all the right folks.
    Yes Indeed; Barney Ales' hard work as a promoter was one of the best things that Motown Records had going for them during their Classic Era in the '60s.

    Also, let's remember how Johnny Baylor got involved with Stax Records in the first place. After the assignation of Martin Luther King in April 1968, the employees & artists at Stax started getting extorted for money [and other threats] by the Black people in the Memphis neighborhood where the label was located. The company's VP, Al Bell, knew Johnny Baylor and his partner Dino Woodward as "strong arm men" so he brought them to Stax to stop the problem. After that, they started working for the company full time as promotion men and brought their label, Koko Records [with their star performer Luther Ingram] into the fold as well. Along with making threats against DJs to get them to play Stax [and Koko] Records, Baylor was caught in a Memphis airport with a huge sum of money which would trigger an FBI investigation into Stax Records in 1973 [which ended up being one of the factors that led Stax to bankruptcy two years later].

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    Thanks for info!

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    On the flip side, I wonder what lengths Motown went to to NOT have a record played or promoted. There's the story of Nella Dodds and "Come See About Me"; I don't think anyone can deny that Motown might have had their hand in Flo Ballard's ABC releases.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by marybrewster View Post
    On the flip side, I wonder what lengths Motown went to to NOT have a record played or promoted. There's the story of Nella Dodds and "Come See About Me"; I don't think anyone can deny that Motown might have had their hand in Flo Ballard's ABC releases.
    You got a point there. It would be really something to be able to get the entire story behind some of this stuff.

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    Esther Edwards told me that we didn't have any money for promotion like the majors. We did have the leverage of offering stations an earlier copy of a known artist than their competition in exchange for giving an unknown artist a chance. That combined with the fact that payola only could buy you a few days of airplay before the local stores reported a hit or a miss was what built Motown.

    Motown tried to have at least two distributors in every market. This was because Berry knew that no record store like his ever paid a distributor until they needed another hit from that distributor. The same was true of how the labels got paid by distributors.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by bob_olhsson View Post
    Esther Edwards told me that we didn't have any money for promotion like the majors. We did have the leverage of offering stations an earlier copy of a known artist than their competition in exchange for giving an unknown artist a chance. That combined with the fact that payola only could buy you a few days of airplay before the local stores reported a hit or a miss was what built Motown.

    Motown tried to have at least two distributors in every market. This was because Berry knew that no record store like his ever paid a distributor until they needed another hit from that distributor. The same was true of how the labels got paid by distributors.
    Maybe it was you who commented on this very thing some time ago, but I do recall reading comments right along the lines of what you said. I whish I would have had the foresight to "bookmark" certain things here, because the comments were very in-depth about how Motown would try to promote newer artists' records by tying them with an established artist's release. It was very eye-opening. Maybe it was Robb K.

    It's these things from the ones like yourself, who were there, that effectively debunk a lot of impressions that Motown could just wave a wand and "promote" a record to number one. Over the years, I've come across a paragraph in a book here, a comment on Soulful Detroit there, and I try to put them together. The one main takeaway that seems to emerge is that Motown was not as "loaded" with money for promotion as many seem to believe, and your comment above just basically cemented the reality that Motown had to rely more on the leverage hit records gave them. That was something I learned when I read about the "Please Mr. Postman" situation.

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    People confuse fame with financial success.

    Berry wanted Motown to be a Columbia Records and not a Chess or an Atlantic. By his personal measure, it was a failure. By my measure of experience working with major labels, it was by far the most brilliantly managed record label I'm aware of. I learned more as a fly on the wall than most of the folks running the majors understand. Mrs. Edwards was the only member of the family I've met who understood how exceptional it really was. It's why she insisted that Hitsville be made into a museum rather than being sold and probably torn down.

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