Motown Spotlight – January 2018

As I mentioned “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the last couple of months, it got me thinking about Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell again. So I dug out my vinyl copy of the emotionally charged “You’re All I Need” to play in the background as I put those thoughts into notes, and which led me to this….

With Marvin’s duet success with Mary Wells and Kim Weston still ringing in his ears, Berry Gordy needed to find another singing partner for him. A move Marvin would later claim to be “another money making scheme on BG’s part.” Nonetheless, when new Motown signing Tammi Terrell was introduced to Marvin, he liked her on sight. “It was a pleasure for me” Marvin said at the time. “I wanted to work with (her)…she was pretty, nice. She was soft, warm and sweet, yet misunderstood. Yes, I enjoyed working with her.“ From that first meeting, he realised Tammi was a worldly woman who had lived life in the fast lane, yet once they started singing together, she changed “into a warm, special and hopeful woman.” This musical combination resulted in top selling singles that delighted lovers the world over. It seems so ironic that while they epitomised the perfect couple, each had suffered from abusive partners, either physically or mentally. Marvin’s marriage to Anna Gordy had soured, and Tammi had escaped from a series of unsuitable relationships. Yet from the ashes that were left, the perfect musical partnership rose, inspired by another duo, writers Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, who wrote of the real love Marvin felt was missing in his failed marriage. The fact that the lyrics they sang were an extension of the writers’ love for each other, or an imaginative play on words, didn’t cross the singer’s mind.

Tammi’s sister, Ludie Montgomery believed that teaming up with Marvin was a liberating move for her. Tammi, she said, felt creative and free, enabling her to forge an emotional connection with Marvin, Valerie and Nickolas. Her relationship with producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol was by now solid anyway, so the future promised fulfilment and success for the young, shy singer and the angry, hurt sex idol. With everything in place, the musical adventure began in January 1967 when Tammi recorded her vocals for the song (Marvin recorded his a month later) that was earmarked to launch them into the extremely lucrative duet market. Aptly titled “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, it was the perfect signature tune for their future career together. Berry Gordy noted in his autobiography “To Be Loved” that Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol’s production – “added a new sophisticated and dramatic element to the overall sound. When their first production on Marvin and Tammi was brought into the Friday meeting, there was no debate.” In June 1967 the single shot into the US mainstream top twenty, and top three in the R&B listing. Shamefully, the UK didn’t share their American colleagues’ enthusiasm. Not only did it burn up the US charts, but the song was also nominated for a Grammy award, and, of course, went on to be re-recorded several times, including the magnificent, re-working by Diana Ross which ingenuously mixed ballad, drama and dance.

As noted previously, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” wasn’t born as a song for two, but working with Marvin and Tammi, its composers realised it could easily be adapted. As with several of their duets, Tammi laid down her vocals first, although in this instance, it was done because she hadn’t learned the lyrics. However, when Marvin heard the pre-recorded track, he said he could feel her presence which, in turn, made him more alive, and as Johnny Bristol told Ludie Montgomery for her book “My Sister Tommie”, it cemented the singers’ respect and love for each other – “Friendship transcended the presence and they both didn’t have to be there to capture the feeling.” Johnny also felt the song established a spiritual connection for everyone associated with the song. and that when Marvin later joined them in the studio, “He had a fun time and everyone felt the same about the sessions. It was a great environment working with Tammi and Marvin. They did what they did naturally.” All worked comfortably together, tagging themselves the ‘riff brothers’, with Tammi the ‘riff sister’. “They had a magical …. connection, and when they sang they sounded like they (had known) each other their entire lives.”

Marvin told author David Ritz in his book “Divided Soul” that Tammi was a woman who could not be controlled by men. “I loved that about (her). I knew we could be friends, but not lovers. Independent women hold no romantic interest for me.” He conceded though that when they were singing together, they were in love, but this was the result of him creating two characters – “two lovers that might have been taken from a play or a novel…. that’s how the Marvin-and-Tammi characters were born.”

With the runaway success of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came distress. Six months after its release, in October 1967, Tammi collapsed on stage during a performance before four thousand students, at Virginia’s Hampton-Sydney College. Part way through their third song, as she fell, Marvin grabbed her by the arms, and carried her off stage. Having suffered from dizziness and migraine headaches for some time, Tammi had been feeling ill before the 8pm concert, so took time out to recuperate on a couch backstage, while Marvin played poker with his musicians in a nearby room. Rumours ran amok as to the reason for her collapse. Past boyfriends, including David Ruffin, were blamed due to their violent behaviour towards her, and indeed, it is in the public domain that she was hit about the head with a hammer and, on another occasion, pushed down a flight of stairs. However, at the time, the guessing game was in first gear. Motown eventually released a press statement confirming that a slow growing malignant tumour on the right side of Tammi’s brain had been diagnosed. When Marvin realised just how sick his singing partner was, he was inconsolable, a feeling that, by the way, never left him. Thankfully, Tammi slowly recovered from surgery to continue recording, where the first sessions included “You’re All I Need To Get By”.

Meanwhile, the British market also failed to support the duo’s second release “Your Precious Love”, reminiscent of the floating Moonglows’ style, and again lifted from their debut “United” album. It sold better than its predecessor by soaring into the US top five, and narrowly missing the R&B top spot, during the September. A Valerie Simpson favourite, because it was one of the first written with the duettists in mind, and, “there was something very sexy about the way they did it.” Featuring Harvey Fuqua, Marvin and Tammi on backing vocals, Valerie acknowledged to Ludie Montgomery, Tammi’s additional input, including the ad-libs – “that’s why it was so great to have them both in the studio together because they would bounce off each other. “ During the life of “Your Precious Love”, Tammi was pictured on crutches, sneaking into The Cherry Hill Theatre/Restaurant in Camden, New Jersey, to watch Marvin perform. It was an emotional scene to witness.

With no UK action so far, sighs of relief must have been heard in Motown’s London office, when the third outing “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”, recorded in the Hitsville studio between 16 and 21 March 1967, crept into the British top fifty during January 1968, launching their musical love affair. Once again the single hovered below the US R&B top spot but peaked in the top ten.

Marvin and Tammi’s first single of 1968, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, lifted from their second album “You’re All I Need”, faired better than their previous British release by peaking in the top forty, while across the Atlantic, it managed to top the R&B chart and was their second pop top ten hit. Marvin recalled recording that particular song because they were trying different kinds of riffs and note changes to challenge each other, “and that’s how that song is as melodic and syncopated in the way that it is…. We really had fun recording that.” And the album itself re-established their vinyl love affair – they cried, rejoiced, teased, pledging unremitting emotions. It was their first hour, but recorded under the direst of circumstances due to Tammi’s failing health, as noted in the album’s sleeve notes. It seems that when “You’re All I Need” was issued, Tammi, had undergone at least six operations, and was in hospital, later recuperating in the Bahamas. “I’m feeling fine” she said in an interview at the time. Learning to knit while in hospital made her feel like a grandma, she continued, and upon returning home she started cooking and eating soul food. “I went down to ninety-three pounds in the hospital and now I weigh one hundred and twenty-five.” Her hair, shorn for surgery, was almost natural now. “But, for a while there, my father said I looked just like him.” It was also reported that she was partially sighted and had lost some of her motor functions, hence the crutches or wheelchair. However, it’s thought that Tammi’s sheer determination to return to work pulled her through, and her nagging depressive moods at missing performing with Marvin just as their star was rising, began lifting. However, despite all her best intentions, doctors insisted she stick to a limited work schedule, had daily concentrated rest periods, with live performances a no-go area. It was also disclosed that Motown paid her medical bills.

It was a tragedy. Tammi Terrell was, at last, in a position to shrug off her past struggling years, but was now unable to enjoy them. Promotional work was also difficult. With their chart success, it was obvious the public wanted to see them, and tour promoters, television shows and the media in general, flooded to feature them. Some commitments were jointly honoured, but when Tammi was unable to join him, it was a reluctant Marvin who went it alone without being able to divulge the true nature of his partner’s absence. In the end, Motown singer Barbara Randolph replaced Tammi on stage, a move she wasn’t comfortable with, as she told me. “It was very difficult working with him because these were his troubled years. For example, I was booked to appear at the Apollo with him, and it was one of the many occasions he didn’t show up. I ended up appearing there alone which was really frightening. It was scary (because) they throw hard boiled eggs. And the audience was waiting for Marvin.” Nevertheless, Barbara had nothing but admiration for him, saying she never heard him raise his voice in anger, or get into any type of loud situation. “He was extremely likeable, easy going, and a very mellow person…I admired him before I ever worked with him.” Meanwhile, Tammi concentrated on recording and, apparently, was often seen in the studio singing from a wheelchair or balanced between crutches.

“You’re All I Need To Get By”, with Ashford and Simpson on backing vocals, finally crashed the UK top twenty in October 1968, and once again Marvin and Tammi dominated the US R&B listing, this time, for five consecutive weeks, and racked up another top ten mainstream hit.

Into 1969, and with The Andantes and The Originals as session singers, another track from the “You’re All I Need” album, “You Ain’t Livin’ ‘Till Your Lovin’” hit the UK top thirty in the June, while the States opted for “Keep On Lovin’ Me Honey”; top thirty and twenty in the US pop and R&B charts respectively. Marvin’s solo status was about to drastically change when, slotted in between the run of duets, his “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” shot to the top of the UK chart, with repeat performances across the world. The game plan was changing, Marvin was now an international name and, of course, much in demand. The single’s runaway success had taken Marvin and Motown by surprise. Having been recorded early-1967, Marvin’s was the second version to be released (the first by Gladys Knight and the Pips, although the very first take was an album track by The Miracles on their 1968 “Special Occasion”). Marvin’s moody interpretation, a stroke of genius by producer Norman Whitfield, was hidden away on his “In The Groove” album. However, it didn’t stay concealed for long because it grabbed the attention of some American radio DJs who gave it serious airtime, leaving Berry Gordy no option but to release it as a single. Prior to this international chart topper, Marvin had several solo outings to his credit, including “You’re Unchanging Love”, “You” and “Chained”, while in January 1969, Tammi released her only solo album “Irresistible”, from which a series of singles were extracted.

However, both artists were committed to further duets, and were in the process of completing a third album “Easy”, when one of its tracks, the musical jewel “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy To Come By” was lifted during June 1969. Hitting the top thirty on both sides of the Atlantic, plus a top twenty placing in the R&B listing, the public was unaware of the turmoil created behind closed studio doors due to an ailing Tammi. Next out in America was another track “What You Gave Me”, while Motown in Britain chose “The Onion Song” for November 1969 release. Despite its cheesy title, the song actually reflected social consciousness although did appear to be a little slice of nonsense upon first hearing. In hindsight, the song was probably more suited to the British market, but following its unexpected top ten success, America released it during March 1970, to falter in the top fifty, and the R&B top forty.

Over the years, much as been said about their last studio album “Easy” with a somewhat shoddy, unattractive painting by Carl Owens on the front sleeve. Fans had no reason to believe that the music inside wasn’t an authentic Marvin and Tammi release. However, when it was leaked from Motown that Tammi was unable to record, doubts were cast. It’s now on public record that Marvin actually did not want to work on this album because his singing partner was too ill, and that the suggestion of a replacement singer would not only deceive the public, but destroy the special, intimate relationship he shared with Tammi. However, he changed his mind when Berry Gordy confirmed that Tammi and her family would benefit from the album’s sales and any extracted singles. After much speculation, it’s now thought that the majority of the album tracks were authentic, and when two or three titles were needed to complete the project, Valerie Simpson stepped in. A move she has both confirmed and denied, by saying she helped Tammi sing her parts. In a later interview, Marvin revealed Tammi didn’t record much on the album at all, and confirmed Valerie had recorded “The Onion Song” and “What You Gave Me”. Saying she had faithfully captured Tammi’s voice, skilfully imitating her distinctive style and only someone who had worked so intimately with her could possibly have pulled this off. And also as Valerie had probably recorded several of their demos, she was the obvious ‘culprit’. In hindsight, this is irrelevant. It isn’t the first time Motown’s marketing department has stretched the truth. Didn’t The Andantes record with Diana Ross, yet records were released showing “Diana Ross and the Supremes” on the labels? We were none the wiser back then. It’s only in recent times with the growing demand for unreleased material that studio paperwork revealed we had been misled. Having said that, with the “Easy” front sleeve being a painting, fans, like myself, did question Tammi’s involvement in the recordings, although eventually accepted, having seen pictures of the ailing singer in the American press, that a new photo shoot for the project was out of the question. This didn’t affect our enjoyment of the album, despite it being a mixture of sounds. But our hearts went out to Miss Terrell.

While the UK was celebrating Motown’s 10th anniversary in 1970 – and after two and a half years of fighting her illness which entailed several hospital stays, where Marvin was a regular visitor – Tammi Terrell slipped into a coma and died from brain cancer complications on 16 March, a month before her twenty-fifth birthday. Fourteen years later, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father on 1 April, a day short of his forty-fifth birthday.

Valerie Simpson: “The chemistry between them was fantastic and while they never had a romance in real life, when they sang together ‘wow’, they were lovers.”

As I mentioned “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the last couple of months, it got me thinking about Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell again. So I dug out my vinyl copy of the emotionally charged “You’re All I Need” to play in the background as I put those thoughts into notes, and which led me to this….

With Marvin’s duet success with Mary Wells and Kim Weston still ringing in his ears, Berry Gordy needed to find another singing partner for him. A move Marvin would later claim to be “another money making scheme on BG’s part.” Nonetheless, when new Motown signing Tammi Terrell was introduced to Marvin, he liked her on sight. “It was a pleasure for me” Marvin said at the time. “I wanted to work with (her)…she was pretty, nice. She was soft, warm and sweet, yet misunderstood. Yes, I enjoyed working with her.“ From that first meeting, he realised Tammi was a worldly woman who had lived life in the fast lane, yet once they started singing together, she changed “into a warm, special and hopeful woman.” This musical combination resulted in top selling singles that delighted lovers the world over. It seems so ironic that while they epitomised the perfect couple, each had suffered from abusive partners, either physically or mentally. Marvin’s marriage to Anna Gordy had soured, and Tammi had escaped from a series of unsuitable relationships. Yet from the ashes that were left, the perfect musical partnership rose, inspired by another duo, writers Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, who wrote of the real love Marvin felt was missing in his failed marriage. The fact that the lyrics they sang were an extension of the writers’ love for each other, or an imaginative play on words, didn’t cross the singer’s mind.

Tammi’s sister, Ludie Montgomery believed that teaming up with Marvin was a liberating move for her. Tammi, she said, felt creative and free, enabling her to forge an emotional connection with Marvin, Valerie and Nickolas. Her relationship with producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol was by now solid anyway, so the future promised fulfilment and success for the young, shy singer and the angry, hurt sex idol. With everything in place, the musical adventure began in January 1967 when Tammi recorded her vocals for the song (Marvin recorded his a month later) that was earmarked to launch them into the extremely lucrative duet market. Aptly titled “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, it was the perfect signature tune for their future career together. Berry Gordy noted in his autobiography “To Be Loved” that Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol’s production – “added a new sophisticated and dramatic element to the overall sound. When their first production on Marvin and Tammi was brought into the Friday meeting, there was no debate.” In June 1967 the single shot into the US mainstream top twenty, and top three in the R&B listing. Shamefully, the UK didn’t share their American colleagues’ enthusiasm. Not only did it burn up the US charts, but the song was also nominated for a Grammy award, and, of course, went on to be re-recorded several times, including the magnificent, re-working by Diana Ross which ingenuously mixed ballad, drama and dance.

As noted previously, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” wasn’t born as a song for two, but working with Marvin and Tammi, its composers realised it could easily be adapted. As with several of their duets, Tammi laid down her vocals first, although in this instance, it was done because she hadn’t learned the lyrics. However, when Marvin heard the pre-recorded track, he said he could feel her presence which, in turn, made him more alive, and as Johnny Bristol told Ludie Montgomery for her book “My Sister Tommie”, it cemented the singers’ respect and love for each other – “Friendship transcended the presence and they both didn’t have to be there to capture the feeling.” Johnny also felt the song established a spiritual connection for everyone associated with the song. and that when Marvin later joined them in the studio, “He had a fun time and everyone felt the same about the sessions. It was a great environment working with Tammi and Marvin. They did what they did naturally.” All worked comfortably together, tagging themselves the ‘riff brothers’, with Tammi the ‘riff sister’. “They had a magical …. connection, and when they sang they sounded like they (had known) each other their entire lives.”

Marvin told author David Ritz in his book “Divided Soul” that Tammi was a woman who could not be controlled by men. “I loved that about (her). I knew we could be friends, but not lovers. Independent women hold no romantic interest for me.” He conceded though that when they were singing together, they were in love, but this was the result of him creating two characters – “two lovers that might have been taken from a play or a novel…. that’s how the Marvin-and-Tammi characters were born.”

With the runaway success of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came distress. Six months after its release, in October 1967, Tammi collapsed on stage during a performance before four thousand students, at Virginia’s Hampton-Sydney College. Part way through their third song, as she fell, Marvin grabbed her by the arms, and carried her off stage. Having suffered from dizziness and migraine headaches for some time, Tammi had been feeling ill before the 8pm concert, so took time out to recuperate on a couch backstage, while Marvin played poker with his musicians in a nearby room. Rumours ran amok as to the reason for her collapse. Past boyfriends, including David Ruffin, were blamed due to their violent behaviour towards her, and indeed, it is in the public domain that she was hit about the head with a hammer and, on another occasion, pushed down a flight of stairs. However, at the time, the guessing game was in first gear. Motown eventually released a press statement confirming that a slow growing malignant tumour on the right side of Tammi’s brain had been diagnosed. When Marvin realised just how sick his singing partner was, he was inconsolable, a feeling that, by the way, never left him. Thankfully, Tammi slowly recovered from surgery to continue recording, where the first sessions included “You’re All I Need To Get By”.

Meanwhile, the British market also failed to support the duo’s second release “Your Precious Love”, reminiscent of the floating Moonglows’ style, and again lifted from their debut “United” album. It sold better than its predecessor by soaring into the US top five, and narrowly missing the R&B top spot, during the September. A Valerie Simpson favourite, because it was one of the first written with the duettists in mind, and, “there was something very sexy about the way they did it.” Featuring Harvey Fuqua, Marvin and Tammi on backing vocals, Valerie acknowledged to Ludie Montgomery, Tammi’s additional input, including the ad-libs – “that’s why it was so great to have them both in the studio together because they would bounce off each other. “ During the life of “Your Precious Love”, Tammi was pictured on crutches, sneaking into The Cherry Hill Theatre/Restaurant in Camden, New Jersey, to watch Marvin perform. It was an emotional scene to witness.

With no UK action so far, sighs of relief must have been heard in Motown’s London office, when the third outing “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”, recorded in the Hitsville studio between 16 and 21 March 1967, crept into the British top fifty during January 1968, launching their musical love affair. Once again the single hovered below the US R&B top spot but peaked in the top ten.

Marvin and Tammi’s first single of 1968, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, lifted from their second album “You’re All I Need”, faired better than their previous British release by peaking in the top forty, while across the Atlantic, it managed to top the R&B chart and was their second pop top ten hit. Marvin recalled recording that particular song because they were trying different kinds of riffs and note changes to challenge each other, “and that’s how that song is as melodic and syncopated in the way that it is…. We really had fun recording that.” And the album itself re-established their vinyl love affair – they cried, rejoiced, teased, pledging unremitting emotions. It was their first hour, but recorded under the direst of circumstances due to Tammi’s failing health, as noted in the album’s sleeve notes. It seems that when “You’re All I Need” was issued, Tammi, had undergone at least six operations, and was in hospital, later recuperating in the Bahamas. “I’m feeling fine” she said in an interview at the time. Learning to knit while in hospital made her feel like a grandma, she continued, and upon returning home she started cooking and eating soul food. “I went down to ninety-three pounds in the hospital and now I weigh one hundred and twenty-five.” Her hair, shorn for surgery, was almost natural now. “But, for a while there, my father said I looked just like him.” It was also reported that she was partially sighted and had lost some of her motor functions, hence the crutches or wheelchair. However, it’s thought that Tammi’s sheer determination to return to work pulled her through, and her nagging depressive moods at missing performing with Marvin just as their star was rising, began lifting. However, despite all her best intentions, doctors insisted she stick to a limited work schedule, had daily concentrated rest periods, with live performances a no-go area. It was also disclosed that Motown paid her medical bills.

It was a tragedy. Tammi Terrell was, at last, in a position to shrug off her past struggling years, but was now unable to enjoy them. Promotional work was also difficult. With their chart success, it was obvious the public wanted to see them, and tour promoters, television shows and the media in general, flooded to feature them. Some commitments were jointly honoured, but when Tammi was unable to join him, it was a reluctant Marvin who went it alone without being able to divulge the true nature of his partner’s absence. In the end, Motown singer Barbara Randolph replaced Tammi on stage, a move she wasn’t comfortable with, as she told me. “It was very difficult working with him because these were his troubled years. For example, I was booked to appear at the Apollo with him, and it was one of the many occasions he didn’t show up. I ended up appearing there alone which was really frightening. It was scary (because) they throw hard boiled eggs. And the audience was waiting for Marvin.” Nevertheless, Barbara had nothing but admiration for him, saying she never heard him raise his voice in anger, or get into any type of loud situation. “He was extremely likeable, easy going, and a very mellow person…I admired him before I ever worked with him.” Meanwhile, Tammi concentrated on recording and, apparently, was often seen in the studio singing from a wheelchair or balanced between crutches.

“You’re All I Need To Get By”, with Ashford and Simpson on backing vocals, finally crashed the UK top twenty in October 1968, and once again Marvin and Tammi dominated the US R&B listing, this time, for five consecutive weeks, and racked up another top ten mainstream hit.

Into 1969, and with The Andantes and The Originals as session singers, another track from the “You’re All I Need” album, “You Ain’t Livin’ ‘Till Your Lovin’” hit the UK top thirty in the June, while the States opted for “Keep On Lovin’ Me Honey”; top thirty and twenty in the US pop and R&B charts respectively. Marvin’s solo status was about to drastically change when, slotted in between the run of duets, his “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” shot to the top of the UK chart, with repeat performances across the world. The game plan was changing, Marvin was now an international name and, of course, much in demand. The single’s runaway success had taken Marvin and Motown by surprise. Having been recorded early-1967, Marvin’s was the second version to be released (the first by Gladys Knight and the Pips, although the very first take was an album track by The Miracles on their 1968 “Special Occasion”). Marvin’s moody interpretation, a stroke of genius by producer Norman Whitfield, was hidden away on his “In The Groove” album. However, it didn’t stay concealed for long because it grabbed the attention of some American radio DJs who gave it serious airtime, leaving Berry Gordy no option but to release it as a single. Prior to this international chart topper, Marvin had several solo outings to his credit, including “You’re Unchanging Love”, “You” and “Chained”, while in January 1969, Tammi released her only solo album “Irresistible”, from which a series of singles were extracted.

However, both artists were committed to further duets, and were in the process of completing a third album “Easy”, when one of its tracks, the musical jewel “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy To Come By” was lifted during June 1969. Hitting the top thirty on both sides of the Atlantic, plus a top twenty placing in the R&B listing, the public was unaware of the turmoil created behind closed studio doors due to an ailing Tammi. Next out in America was another track “What You Gave Me”, while Motown in Britain chose “The Onion Song” for November 1969 release. Despite its cheesy title, the song actually reflected social consciousness although did appear to be a little slice of nonsense upon first hearing. In hindsight, the song was probably more suited to the British market, but following its unexpected top ten success, America released it during March 1970, to falter in the top fifty, and the R&B top forty.

Over the years, much as been said about their last studio album “Easy” with a somewhat shoddy, unattractive painting by Carl Owens on the front sleeve. Fans had no reason to believe that the music inside wasn’t an authentic Marvin and Tammi release. However, when it was leaked from Motown that Tammi was unable to record, doubts were cast. It’s now on public record that Marvin actually did not want to work on this album because his singing partner was too ill, and that the suggestion of a replacement singer would not only deceive the public, but destroy the special, intimate relationship he shared with Tammi. However, he changed his mind when Berry Gordy confirmed that Tammi and her family would benefit from the album’s sales and any extracted singles. After much speculation, it’s now thought that the majority of the album tracks were authentic, and when two or three titles were needed to complete the project, Valerie Simpson stepped in. A move she has both confirmed and denied, by saying she helped Tammi sing her parts. In a later interview, Marvin revealed Tammi didn’t record much on the album at all, and confirmed Valerie had recorded “The Onion Song” and “What You Gave Me”. Saying she had faithfully captured Tammi’s voice, skilfully imitating her distinctive style and only someone who had worked so intimately with her could possibly have pulled this off. And also as Valerie had probably recorded several of their demos, she was the obvious ‘culprit’. In hindsight, this is irrelevant. It isn’t the first time Motown’s marketing department has stretched the truth. Didn’t The Andantes record with Diana Ross, yet records were released showing “Diana Ross and the Supremes” on the labels? We were none the wiser back then. It’s only in recent times with the growing demand for unreleased material that studio paperwork revealed we had been misled. Having said that, with the “Easy” front sleeve being a painting, fans, like myself, did question Tammi’s involvement in the recordings, although eventually accepted, having seen pictures of the ailing singer in the American press, that a new photo shoot for the project was out of the question. This didn’t affect our enjoyment of the album, despite it being a mixture of sounds. But our hearts went out to Miss Terrell.

While the UK was celebrating Motown’s 10th anniversary in 1970 – and after two and a half years of fighting her illness which entailed several hospital stays, where Marvin was a regular visitor – Tammi Terrell slipped into a coma and died from brain cancer complications on 16 March, a month before her twenty-fifth birthday. Fourteen years later, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father on 1 April, a day short of his forty-fifth birthday.

Valerie Simpson: “The chemistry between them was fantastic and while they never had a romance in real life, when they sang together ‘wow’, they were lovers.”

As I mentioned “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the last couple of months, it got me thinking about Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell again. So I dug out my vinyl copy of the emotionally charged “You’re All I Need” to play in the background as I put those thoughts into notes, and which led me to this….

With Marvin’s duet success with Mary Wells and Kim Weston still ringing in his ears, Berry Gordy needed to find another singing partner for him. A move Marvin would later claim to be “another money making scheme on BG’s part.” Nonetheless, when new Motown signing Tammi Terrell was introduced to Marvin, he liked her on sight. “It was a pleasure for me” Marvin said at the time. “I wanted to work with (her)…she was pretty, nice. She was soft, warm and sweet, yet misunderstood. Yes, I enjoyed working with her.“ From that first meeting, he realised Tammi was a worldly woman who had lived life in the fast lane, yet once they started singing together, she changed “into a warm, special and hopeful woman.” This musical combination resulted in top selling singles that delighted lovers the world over. It seems so ironic that while they epitomised the perfect couple, each had suffered from abusive partners, either physically or mentally. Marvin’s marriage to Anna Gordy had soured, and Tammi had escaped from a series of unsuitable relationships. Yet from the ashes that were left, the perfect musical partnership rose, inspired by another duo, writers Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, who wrote of the real love Marvin felt was missing in his failed marriage. The fact that the lyrics they sang were an extension of the writers’ love for each other, or an imaginative play on words, didn’t cross the singer’s mind.

Tammi’s sister, Ludie Montgomery believed that teaming up with Marvin was a liberating move for her. Tammi, she said, felt creative and free, enabling her to forge an emotional connection with Marvin, Valerie and Nickolas. Her relationship with producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol was by now solid anyway, so the future promised fulfilment and success for the young, shy singer and the angry, hurt sex idol. With everything in place, the musical adventure began in January 1967 when Tammi recorded her vocals for the song (Marvin recorded his a month later) that was earmarked to launch them into the extremely lucrative duet market. Aptly titled “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, it was the perfect signature tune for their future career together. Berry Gordy noted in his autobiography “To Be Loved” that Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol’s production – “added a new sophisticated and dramatic element to the overall sound. When their first production on Marvin and Tammi was brought into the Friday meeting, there was no debate.” In June 1967 the single shot into the US mainstream top twenty, and top three in the R&B listing. Shamefully, the UK didn’t share their American colleagues’ enthusiasm. Not only did it burn up the US charts, but the song was also nominated for a Grammy award, and, of course, went on to be re-recorded several times, including the magnificent, re-working by Diana Ross which ingenuously mixed ballad, drama and dance.

As noted previously, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” wasn’t born as a song for two, but working with Marvin and Tammi, its composers realised it could easily be adapted. As with several of their duets, Tammi laid down her vocals first, although in this instance, it was done because she hadn’t learned the lyrics. However, when Marvin heard the pre-recorded track, he said he could feel her presence which, in turn, made him more alive, and as Johnny Bristol told Ludie Montgomery for her book “My Sister Tommie”, it cemented the singers’ respect and love for each other – “Friendship transcended the presence and they both didn’t have to be there to capture the feeling.” Johnny also felt the song established a spiritual connection for everyone associated with the song. and that when Marvin later joined them in the studio, “He had a fun time and everyone felt the same about the sessions. It was a great environment working with Tammi and Marvin. They did what they did naturally.” All worked comfortably together, tagging themselves the ‘riff brothers’, with Tammi the ‘riff sister’. “They had a magical …. connection, and when they sang they sounded like they (had known) each other their entire lives.”

Marvin told author David Ritz in his book “Divided Soul” that Tammi was a woman who could not be controlled by men. “I loved that about (her). I knew we could be friends, but not lovers. Independent women hold no romantic interest for me.” He conceded though that when they were singing together, they were in love, but this was the result of him creating two characters – “two lovers that might have been taken from a play or a novel…. that’s how the Marvin-and-Tammi characters were born.”

With the runaway success of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came distress. Six months after its release, in October 1967, Tammi collapsed on stage during a performance before four thousand students, at Virginia’s Hampton-Sydney College. Part way through their third song, as she fell, Marvin grabbed her by the arms, and carried her off stage. Having suffered from dizziness and migraine headaches for some time, Tammi had been feeling ill before the 8pm concert, so took time out to recuperate on a couch backstage, while Marvin played poker with his musicians in a nearby room. Rumours ran amok as to the reason for her collapse. Past boyfriends, including David Ruffin, were blamed due to their violent behaviour towards her, and indeed, it is in the public domain that she was hit about the head with a hammer and, on another occasion, pushed down a flight of stairs. However, at the time, the guessing game was in first gear. Motown eventually released a press statement confirming that a slow growing malignant tumour on the right side of Tammi’s brain had been diagnosed. When Marvin realised just how sick his singing partner was, he was inconsolable, a feeling that, by the way, never left him. Thankfully, Tammi slowly recovered from surgery to continue recording, where the first sessions included “You’re All I Need To Get By”.

Meanwhile, the British market also failed to support the duo’s second release “Your Precious Love”, reminiscent of the floating Moonglows’ style, and again lifted from their debut “United” album. It sold better than its predecessor by soaring into the US top five, and narrowly missing the R&B top spot, during the September. A Valerie Simpson favourite, because it was one of the first written with the duettists in mind, and, “there was something very sexy about the way they did it.” Featuring Harvey Fuqua, Marvin and Tammi on backing vocals, Valerie acknowledged to Ludie Montgomery, Tammi’s additional input, including the ad-libs – “that’s why it was so great to have them both in the studio together because they would bounce off each other. “ During the life of “Your Precious Love”, Tammi was pictured on crutches, sneaking into The Cherry Hill Theatre/Restaurant in Camden, New Jersey, to watch Marvin perform. It was an emotional scene to witness.

With no UK action so far, sighs of relief must have been heard in Motown’s London office, when the third outing “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”, recorded in the Hitsville studio between 16 and 21 March 1967, crept into the British top fifty during January 1968, launching their musical love affair. Once again the single hovered below the US R&B top spot but peaked in the top ten.

Marvin and Tammi’s first single of 1968, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, lifted from their second album “You’re All I Need”, faired better than their previous British release by peaking in the top forty, while across the Atlantic, it managed to top the R&B chart and was their second pop top ten hit. Marvin recalled recording that particular song because they were trying different kinds of riffs and note changes to challenge each other, “and that’s how that song is as melodic and syncopated in the way that it is…. We really had fun recording that.” And the album itself re-established their vinyl love affair – they cried, rejoiced, teased, pledging unremitting emotions. It was their first hour, but recorded under the direst of circumstances due to Tammi’s failing health, as noted in the album’s sleeve notes. It seems that when “You’re All I Need” was issued, Tammi, had undergone at least six operations, and was in hospital, later recuperating in the Bahamas. “I’m feeling fine” she said in an interview at the time. Learning to knit while in hospital made her feel like a grandma, she continued, and upon returning home she started cooking and eating soul food. “I went down to ninety-three pounds in the hospital and now I weigh one hundred and twenty-five.” Her hair, shorn for surgery, was almost natural now. “But, for a while there, my father said I looked just like him.” It was also reported that she was partially sighted and had lost some of her motor functions, hence the crutches or wheelchair. However, it’s thought that Tammi’s sheer determination to return to work pulled her through, and her nagging depressive moods at missing performing with Marvin just as their star was rising, began lifting. However, despite all her best intentions, doctors insisted she stick to a limited work schedule, had daily concentrated rest periods, with live performances a no-go area. It was also disclosed that Motown paid her medical bills.

It was a tragedy. Tammi Terrell was, at last, in a position to shrug off her past struggling years, but was now unable to enjoy them. Promotional work was also difficult. With their chart success, it was obvious the public wanted to see them, and tour promoters, television shows and the media in general, flooded to feature them. Some commitments were jointly honoured, but when Tammi was unable to join him, it was a reluctant Marvin who went it alone without being able to divulge the true nature of his partner’s absence. In the end, Motown singer Barbara Randolph replaced Tammi on stage, a move she wasn’t comfortable with, as she told me. “It was very difficult working with him because these were his troubled years. For example, I was booked to appear at the Apollo with him, and it was one of the many occasions he didn’t show up. I ended up appearing there alone which was really frightening. It was scary (because) they throw hard boiled eggs. And the audience was waiting for Marvin.” Nevertheless, Barbara had nothing but admiration for him, saying she never heard him raise his voice in anger, or get into any type of loud situation. “He was extremely likeable, easy going, and a very mellow person…I admired him before I ever worked with him.” Meanwhile, Tammi concentrated on recording and, apparently, was often seen in the studio singing from a wheelchair or balanced between crutches.

“You’re All I Need To Get By”, with Ashford and Simpson on backing vocals, finally crashed the UK top twenty in October 1968, and once again Marvin and Tammi dominated the US R&B listing, this time, for five consecutive weeks, and racked up another top ten mainstream hit.

Into 1969, and with The Andantes and The Originals as session singers, another track from the “You’re All I Need” album, “You Ain’t Livin’ ‘Till Your Lovin’” hit the UK top thirty in the June, while the States opted for “Keep On Lovin’ Me Honey”; top thirty and twenty in the US pop and R&B charts respectively. Marvin’s solo status was about to drastically change when, slotted in between the run of duets, his “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” shot to the top of the UK chart, with repeat performances across the world. The game plan was changing, Marvin was now an international name and, of course, much in demand. The single’s runaway success had taken Marvin and Motown by surprise. Having been recorded early-1967, Marvin’s was the second version to be released (the first by Gladys Knight and the Pips, although the very first take was an album track by The Miracles on their 1968 “Special Occasion”). Marvin’s moody interpretation, a stroke of genius by producer Norman Whitfield, was hidden away on his “In The Groove” album. However, it didn’t stay concealed for long because it grabbed the attention of some American radio DJs who gave it serious airtime, leaving Berry Gordy no option but to release it as a single. Prior to this international chart topper, Marvin had several solo outings to his credit, including “You’re Unchanging Love”, “You” and “Chained”, while in January 1969, Tammi released her only solo album “Irresistible”, from which a series of singles were extracted.

However, both artists were committed to further duets, and were in the process of completing a third album “Easy”, when one of its tracks, the musical jewel “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy To Come By” was lifted during June 1969. Hitting the top thirty on both sides of the Atlantic, plus a top twenty placing in the R&B listing, the public was unaware of the turmoil created behind closed studio doors due to an ailing Tammi. Next out in America was another track “What You Gave Me”, while Motown in Britain chose “The Onion Song” for November 1969 release. Despite its cheesy title, the song actually reflected social consciousness although did appear to be a little slice of nonsense upon first hearing. In hindsight, the song was probably more suited to the British market, but following its unexpected top ten success, America released it during March 1970, to falter in the top fifty, and the R&B top forty.

Over the years, much as been said about their last studio album “Easy” with a somewhat shoddy, unattractive painting by Carl Owens on the front sleeve. Fans had no reason to believe that the music inside wasn’t an authentic Marvin and Tammi release. However, when it was leaked from Motown that Tammi was unable to record, doubts were cast. It’s now on public record that Marvin actually did not want to work on this album because his singing partner was too ill, and that the suggestion of a replacement singer would not only deceive the public, but destroy the special, intimate relationship he shared with Tammi. However, he changed his mind when Berry Gordy confirmed that Tammi and her family would benefit from the album’s sales and any extracted singles. After much speculation, it’s now thought that the majority of the album tracks were authentic, and when two or three titles were needed to complete the project, Valerie Simpson stepped in. A move she has both confirmed and denied, by saying she helped Tammi sing her parts. In a later interview, Marvin revealed Tammi didn’t record much on the album at all, and confirmed Valerie had recorded “The Onion Song” and “What You Gave Me”. Saying she had faithfully captured Tammi’s voice, skilfully imitating her distinctive style and only someone who had worked so intimately with her could possibly have pulled this off. And also as Valerie had probably recorded several of their demos, she was the obvious ‘culprit’. In hindsight, this is irrelevant. It isn’t the first time Motown’s marketing department has stretched the truth. Didn’t The Andantes record with Diana Ross, yet records were released showing “Diana Ross and the Supremes” on the labels? We were none the wiser back then. It’s only in recent times with the growing demand for unreleased material that studio paperwork revealed we had been misled. Having said that, with the “Easy” front sleeve being a painting, fans, like myself, did question Tammi’s involvement in the recordings, although eventually accepted, having seen pictures of the ailing singer in the American press, that a new photo shoot for the project was out of the question. This didn’t affect our enjoyment of the album, despite it being a mixture of sounds. But our hearts went out to Miss Terrell.

While the UK was celebrating Motown’s 10th anniversary in 1970 – and after two and a half years of fighting her illness which entailed several hospital stays, where Marvin was a regular visitor – Tammi Terrell slipped into a coma and died from brain cancer complications on 16 March, a month before her twenty-fifth birthday. Fourteen years later, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father on 1 April, a day short of his forty-fifth birthday.

Valerie Simpson: “The chemistry between them was fantastic and while they never had a romance in real life, when they sang together ‘wow’, they were lovers.”

(With sincere thanks to Ludie Montgomery/Vickie Wright’s “The Real Tammi Terrell: My Sister Tommie”. Published by Bank House Books 2005)

Upcoming Events

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll Up