MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT – November 2019

It was nearly fifty years ago that this endearing single hit the UK top twenty and I’m listening to it now as it’s the seventh track on “The Essential Collection” by Richard Dean Taylor released in 2001. You got it – “Indiana Wants Me”. Written and produced by the singer, the single shot into the …

It was nearly fifty years ago that this endearing single hit the UK top twenty and I’m listening to it now as it’s the seventh track on “The Essential Collection” by Richard Dean Taylor released in 2001. You got it – “Indiana Wants Me”. Written and produced by the singer, the single shot into the UK top three, and the US top five, where it carried a Rare Earth label. Listening through the compilation led me to research the man behind the song, and using his own words liberated from several interviews, books and his website, here’s an overview, so let’s TCB…

R. Dean Taylor at Motown

The inspiration for “Indiana Wants Me” originated from a real experience, as Taylor explained in a 1971 interview. He had recently arrived in Detroit to stay in an undesirable downtown hotel. “I kept waking up at night to the sound of sirens……It used to scare the hell out of me. It was like they were coming right through my room. I woke up one night in my room which faced a store, and I could see there was someone in there. I heard this guy with a megaphone yelling something like ‘this is the police….give yourself up, you are surrounded’. Red lights were flashing all over the place and me a country boy from Canada, was absolutely petrified. So the whole experience really happened but I didn’t tell anyone.” He admitted the single’s content was somewhat controversial at the time; so much so that he was instructed to remove the police sirens before Californian radio stations would afford it airtime. Two stations in particular contributed to the single’s eventual success: Scott Regan at WKNR in Detroit, and Rosalie Trombley on CKLW in Windsor, Ontario. When Motown’s vice-president Barney Ales became aware of the growing interest and positive feedback, he hired Al Valente, an independent promotion man, to work the record, and it was at his suggestion the promotional singles were pressed on red vinyl.

Under the headline The Great White Hope, in the weekly music paper, Disc, the singer explained how a disagreement with Motown executives actually put the single in jeopardy. Taylor first cut the song as a demo for the Four Tops. However, when he heard the finished recording, decided he wanted to record it himself. “That record was all me. I played the drums, guitar; in fact, everything on it except the strings is me. My contract with the company was almost up so I went to Barney Ales and said ‘if you don’t put it out I’ll go somewhere else.’….They all sat and listened to it for an hour and Barney came back and said to me ‘you know, that really is a great record’.” Berry Gordy was also fired-up with its eventual success, saying Taylor had ‘broken through the black barrier’. “He was like a little kid, he was so thrilled,” the singer continued. “It was like a new door for the company was opened….the success of the single has made people realise Motown is a pop record company with as many white employees as black.”

Having written that, what puzzles me is this. Did the police catch the bad guy? Or was he bad? The lyrics clearly indicate he’s holed up somewhere, reflecting over an incident where he protected his lady by killing her perpetrator, while accepting the fact he’ll never see her smiling face or touch her hand again. Too open-ended for me!

Born on 11 May 1939 in Toronto, Canada, R. Dean Taylor’s career began during 1961 as a singer and pianist with local groups. “I began playing clubs in Toronto and recorded my first record on the Audio Master label at Bert Hunt’s studio. ‘At The High School Dance’ was later released on Barry Records.” His next single “I’ll Remember” in 1962 hit the top thirty on a Toronto-based radio station, followed by “We Fell In Love As We Tangoed.” After hearing his songs on the radio, Taylor realised the music business was where he wanted to be. At the time he was working for an advertising agency but was often absent without leave. He was sitting in his car turning the dials listening out for his records. Charles Dick, an executive at the company, steered him towards Detroit, where “a company was making a lot of noise.” In the Disc interview, Taylor took up the story “I paid a trip there, was auditioned by Holland, Dozier and Holland, and signed as the first white artist with (Motown). I was a bit sceptical about it at first because I was the first white artist and because I wasn’t into rhythm and blues. Brian Holland had great faith in me and the whole time he was with the company I was more or less his protégé. He taught me almost everything I know.”

He took up the back story in Motown From The Background:The Authorized Biography Of The Andantes – “I played them the material I had and it went from there. I was first signed as a writer (and) began working with Eddie, Brian and Lamont. I hung out in their office all the time.” He quickly acknowledged that Lamont Dozier was a gifted vocal arranger and soaked up his mastery like a sponge: “I hung around the studio all the time just to be around the music. Holland, Dozier and Holland were my mentors and I stayed around them a lot.”

Before he cut his own work, Taylor became a proficient tambourine player, a move instigated by Lawrence Horn. “That’s me playing on the Four Tops’ ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’. I’d play it on my hip. (Funk Brother) Jack Ashford did the fancy stuff on his hands and made different sounds.” From then on, Taylor contributed to several more Four Tops’ sessions to earn a few extra bucks. He also noticed that Holland, Dozier and Holland would cut tracks with no titles, naming them when/if they were earmarked for release. “They were the backbone of the company…and were the machine behind a lot of those songs being hits.”

The trio adopted Taylor as their apprentice and while he contributed to their recorded work, he was never given a credit. “(They) were trying to build an image as a producing team…and they were very stingy in letting any of the glory go. They used to pay me cash for whatever I wrote and left my name off.” He cited the Four Tops’ “You Keep Running Away”, “Seven Rooms Of Gloom” and “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”, together with material for the Supremes, where his name was omitted. Although he had copies of the records at home, he rarely played them, saying “I don’t like them. To me they’re money things. Most of the tunes I wrote with (them) I didn’t get into because that’s not my type of music.”

However, there was one song, he was immensely proud of – “Love Child”, the 11th US chart topper for Diana Ross and the Supremes, although The Andantes replaced Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong in the recording studio. “It was Pam Sawyer who came up with the concept of it. Then we built a story around it.” (Frank Wilson, Deke Richards and Hank Cosby rounded the composing unit known as The Clan) Taylor was late arriving at the recording session, which included Berry Gordy, to be greeted by a frustrated atmosphere because the background voices failed to gell. “…I came up with a part in my head – ‘love child, wait, wait, wait, won’t you wait love, hold on just a little bit longer’. I actually had that phrase in my head because of another song I was working on called ‘Hold On’, but it fitted exactly where they were trying to make it come together. The Andantes perfected the phrases in two takes!

In 1965, R. Dean Taylor recorded his own work. Released on the VIP label “Let’s Go Somewhere” was penned by the singer and Brian Holland. However, prior to this, his debut single, a satirical “My Ladybug (Stay Away From That Beatle)” was pulled as being too weak for release. “I had a vague idea of what I wanted (on ‘Let’s Go Somewhere’) but once the Andantes came on the record, their voices carried the whole thing” he said. “There was a group called Rick, Robin & Him. (Richard Witte and Sally Thurman: no ‘Him’): Sally sang with them and she sang harmony with me on the bridge (of the song). The Andantes were just as much a part of the Motown sound as James Jamerson, Earl Van Dyke, or any of them.”

His praise for Louvain, Marlene and Jackie knew no bounds, as he further said in their biography. “…They were very good at what they did. Some producers didn’t know what they wanted and The Andantes would come up with it for them. They were the nicest ladies to work with. They had such a good spirit….were never impatient when you had to do more takes….They loved what they were doing and it radiated from them. You felt so comfortable in their presence.”

However, the first single that placed R. Dean Taylor squarely on the map in 1967 was “There’s A Ghost In My House”. The combined working relationship of Taylor, Lamont Dozier and the Holland brothers, attracted disappointing US sales but, in 1974, the record hit the UK top three. The singer attributed the lack of American success to poor promotion as Motown continued to concentrate on selling acts. “Four years later in England, a club DJ started playing ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’ and it became popular,” Taylor wrote on his website. “Other dance clubs picked up on the record and Motown UK released it as a single.” It was in fact, the Northern Soul clubs who adopted the song and brought pressure on Tamla Motown to release it commercially.

With windshield wipers splashing, “Gotta See Jane” followed in 1967 and a year later in June, it was his debut mainstream UK hit when it peaked in the top twenty. Penned during a rainy drive from Detroit to Toronto, it was another that fell foul of Motown’s US promotion team. Thankfully the company’s British promoters were more vigorous in their work ethics.

A several year hiatus from the public eye saw R. Dean Taylor working back stage, writing songs for Chris Clark, Marvin Gaye, Brenda Holloway, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Paul Peterson, The Temptations, to name a handful. Regrettably, his name was conspicuous by its absence.

In 1969, Berry Gordy opened a further US label – Rare Earth – named after the white rock/funk group signed to the imprint. It was Berry’s intention to cash in on the growing popularity of white progressive rock, so forged a new brand that would dissociate it from the established Motown sound. The 9th release certainly didn’t fall within this category as it was “Indiana Wants Me” – hardly progressive rock! Next were “Ain’t It A Sad Thing”; “Gotta See Jane”; “Candy Apple Red” – with its unexpected dramatic interludes and the Lord’s Prayer; and “Taos New Mexico” – a calypso styled dancer. And I’m listening to all these tracks as I write this; a journey into the music of a talented man, who, I’m ashamed to say, had slipped from my mind. When the Rare Earth imprint was launched in the UK during 1971, its first release was “Ain’t It A Sad Thing”, followed by the more suitable Rare Earth group, Stoney & Meatloaf and XIT. Four years later, the label closed with Dan The Banjo Man’s “Red River Valley” – Berry Gordy’s ploy to crack another market had failed in its expectations.

R. Dean Taylor’s Rare Earth album – “I Think, Therefore I Am” – was issued in 1970, where he penned the bulk of the tracks, with contributions from Whitefield/Strong “Gonna Give Her All The Love I’ve Got”, James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain”, Lennon/McCartney’s “Two Of Us” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. A real melting pot of sounds, that really didn’t help stamp a solid identity of Taylor’s talent. The album was, incidentally, re-named “Indiana Wants Me” for UK release a year later.

“It was a magic place and time being at Motown,” Taylor said in The Andantes’ autobiography. “It was exciting, and when you tell people you worked at Motown, their eyes light up….Most of my work was bigger in England. Thank God for the English people who embraced me. .. I don’t think any of us realised it would be around as long as it has.”

And finally, some time ago, Kent Records’ Ady Croasdell contacted a handful of journalists, including myself, to contribute to a very special compilation he was working on. In a heartbeat, we all agreed, because he planned to release “Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures: Volume 5”, fifteen years on from Dave’s passing and the last in the series. As you know, this body of work was the brainchild of a man dedicated in liberating so many artists whose recorded work was probably destined to perish in the back of an American record company cupboard. On a personal level, Dave was my mentor on so many levels: what I learned from him helped style my writing and the way I looked and listened. So it was a thrill to be included in this compilation of treasures. Alongside the glorious music, there’s a packed booklet containing Jon Savage’s unpublished interviews with Dave from 1995 and 1997, covering his first interest in soul music, through to Soul City Records and beyond. I could very nearly hear him talking through the printed word. Explaining his working experience with Dave, Ady then unpicked the back story to the “Deep Soul Treasures” series, before each track was discussed in detail. I chose Gladys Knight’s “Lovers Always Forgive” – a defining sensual single which undoubtedly set Dave’s pulse racing, where her far-reaching voice embraces lyrics that are embalmed in anguish. Breathtakingly beautiful. However, there’s so many more diamonds in this treasure trove, including Dee Dee Warwick’s “Foolish Fool” (see YouTube clip) and Big Maybelle’s “Don’t Pass Me By” with comments from our own David Nathan; Esther Phillips’ “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” supported by Clive Richardson, with Mr. Godin having the last say (some things don’t alter!) with Z.Z. Hill’s “Nothing Can Change The Love I Have For You”. He wrote”…A passionate declamatory delivery, which, when backed….by a simple rhythm section, guitar, piano and organ, is a formula that, for Deep Soul fans, is sanctifying…”.

Well, I’ve no need to say more; these twenty-five Deep Soul sides of significance, selected by Dave – including some he wanted from day one – are available at last. Enjoy!

(My grateful thanks to Vickie Wright and The Andantes’ Motown From The Background, published by Bank House Books and a constant source of reference. Also to R. Dean Taylor’s website www.rdeantaylor.com and the weekly music paper Disc)

PS: from Adam White, a follow up to the last Motown Spotlight which included a report on the Skegness show with Chris Clark, Gloria Jones and Brenda Holloway – this great article on Chris Clark and her first appearance in the UK in 1967…

R, DEAN TAYLOR AT SPOTIFY



RARE VIDEO OF TRACK FROM “DEEP SOUL TREASURES, VOL. 5”

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.