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it and wanted me to answer his busy telephone. He was gone for three hours and when he came back I had taken over the position of secretary. After three weeks I asked for a salary because I was getting paid for the sessions I was doing making demonstration records. I even managed to get a hit record out of those demo records for myself when I called in my singing partners at the DelPhi. So I was a singer who could answer phones, take dictation, type and I knew music! How did you end up recording for Motown? I called in my singing friends and we sang behind Marvin Gaye on that song that William Stevenson was writing. Tey liked our voices and said hey, let’s make you a group, so we came up with the name Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and that set us aside from the other girls. Tere was no competition at Hitsville USA, there were enough writers for everyone to be satisfied musically. Te label Motown has been described as a bit like a hit factory – you’d go out on tour for weeks at a time and then come back to Detroit to record. Were there times when you wanted to get off that train? No, not in a lucrative business like I was in! No one would doubt that Hitsville was a famous and successful company. I was always pro Motown, pro recording, pro going on the road and travelling. It’s a joy to do those things, I consider it to be a joy and a pleasure to be able to do those things, to sing and meet wonderful people year after year who follow your career and collect your records – it’s a thrill! Maxine Powell was head of the Artist Development at Motown, teaching you etiquette and getting you ready for being famous and representing the label – was it frustrating not to be able to


express yourself in a personal way in terms of your songwriting, performance and style? She was the answer to a prayer. She turned men into gentlemen and girls into ladies. She gave us simple knowledge to be able to be socially accepted. We were amongst the first people to be allowed to sit at counters and to go into places where American black people were denied. So we were taught to be ladies and gentlemen in order to be accepted. She was very helpful in teaching us how to carry ourselves, not just use knives and forks, she gave us social graces, and taught us how to be honourable. How much of a say did you have in the songs you sang or how you progressed as a group? I was listening to Come And Get Tese Memories and then Heatwave, and there’s quite a difference between those songs. My mom told me when she was teaching me songs at the


age of three of four, “if you don’t feel it, don’t sing it”, and as I got older she told me to listen to the lyrics and not to sing it unless I felt it in my heart. Tat’s the way I treated every song that was given to me by the writers. You know at one time in my life I though they were following me around because they were writing songs that fit my lifestyle and my love life completely! So when I sang My Baby Loves Me I was really in love, although a little embarrassed because the guy didn’t love me that much! I have record to reflect that love, though, and I cherish it. My personality is in every one of songs I sing, that’s why they became hits. With the rise of the civil rights movement in the late 60’s and the Vietnam War the mood of America changed significantly - you even had to save releasing Jimmy Mack until after the Vietnam war finished. Was there a worry in the label at that time that it might not survive?


Tat song was written during the Korean War, and Vietnam was very soon after that so we kept Jimmy Mack in the can until the minute when the fighting eased up a little in the Vietnam War they released that track. It was about a soldier who went away and never came back. Tat was a heartache for many Americans who had loved ones go off to the war. No one ever explains it or understands it..Edwin Starr expressed it best…”WAR! HUH! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Jimmy Mack eased the ladies’ hearts, it was young spirited, and although not exactly happy, it helped to ease the pain of the fact that he hadn’t come back. I still sing about him and people join in. I have to ask about your beautiful outfits through the years –were they specially made for you and the Vandellas and which was your favourite dress of all time that you wore on stage? Oh baby, I can’t tell you that! Motown’s Artist Development department let us know that we needed to wear delicate outfits for the stage – you won’t see me in torn jeans with holes in the butt! Tey told us if we dressed properly we’d always represent Motown. Some of our dresses were designed for us, some were from the shops, and always with the thought in mind to be elegantly dressed like royalty – we were always told that it was important to be well dressed for our audience. What is your favourite part about performing live? My favourite part is when someone says “AND NOW, MARTHA REEVES AND THE VANDELLAS!” and the band starts, we start singing, the audience sing and dance when they feel the spirit, it’s just a joy.


LIZZ PAGE


Read this interview in full at outlineonline.co.uk


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