Our Motown Heritage (Part 28)
Becoming The Producer
by Robert Dennis

Motown Heritage Club Co-Founder and the first Motown engineer/producer, Bob Bateman, had no interest in producing or engineering - he simply wanted to be a performer with his vocal group. But someone had to do the engineering and production...

In the beginning, before there was a Motown studio, before there was even a record label or a publishing company, there was a Bob Bateman working with the former auto worker, Berry Gordy Jr, as he began his little Detroit record company . Motown would become the largest independent record company in the world in less than 5 years from its inception.  Bob is probably best known for writing and producing Motown's first gold record, Please Mr. Postman, by the girl group, the Marvelettes.  Hit remakes of the tune by The Carpenters and the Beatles, as well as its use in sampling for the bed track of a Juelz Santana hit has kept the royalties flowing for 40 years from this tune.

In March, during a guest talk at RID, Bob revealed some of the history of his start at Motown.

How I Met Berry Gordy:

"I was in as singing group and I had an urge to be an entertainer. I was a bass singer, and had a pretty good voice. My father had sang before me in gospel groups so being a singer seemed as good a thing to do as anything.  I wanted to get on the stage dance around, dance and sing where all the girls what to be with you all the guys want to be you.

"We met a young lady who had a song called "Weeping Willow" and she had a connection to this guy named Gordy.
I had never really heard of the name Gordy but I had heard songs that I later found out he had written.  We learned this song and this girl gave us directions to get to Berry.  At that particular time there was no Motown, Tamala or any of that.  There wasn't even Jobete who wound up being the music company who published all the great Motown songs.

"When we came for the audition all of us didn't cut it and
my group broke up, but I got involved with this group called The Rabor Voices, which Berry Gordy worked with.  We did background work and even sang on a couple of songs by Jackie Wilson.  Anyway, our first project was a thing called "Come To Me" by Marv Johnson, produced by Berry."

How I Became An Engineer:

"My fist position at Motown was being an engineer - I wore many hats while I was there, but engineer was the first position.  It actually started before the Motown studio, Hitsville, existed.

"The Rabor Voices had daily rehearsals and we bought a 2 mic mixer. I took it apart - I saw the resisters and parts but I didn't know anything - didn't know a watt from an amp or dB from a CD or anything else.  I just looked at what was in it - they had little numbers on it - color codes and everything and I went to the electronic shop and said, "Give me three of these, four of these... so on." I came back and put them together.  I didn't really know anything about the "common ground" supplied by a metal case.  I didn't put them in a metal box, I used a a cardboard box - but ran a ground wire around it and came up with a 4 pot (rather than 2 pot) mixer. We had a Bell and Howell tape recorder and I would record the rehearsals. Later we became Rabor Music Writing Service where people came in and paid a modest fee to get lead sheets made on their song and a demo recorded on the Bell and Howell tape recorder.

"The first time I was in a professional studio was at United Sound on Second Ave (Detroit). This was the basic "state of the art" studio at the time. The first time I went in the studio, I saw all of this equipment and I said "Wow - I'd like to do this" and one thing lead to another.

"We bought some used equipment from a D.J. We operated out of a house on Gladstone in Detroit - we hadn't gotten to "Hitsville" yet.  Later, we wound up at Hitsville with sort of a garage in back - just bare walls and we converted it with the main work done by Berry's dad, Pop Gordy, who had a construction company. We all participated in the project under his direction."

Ron Maylo - hot shot engineer - he put the first Hitsville's studio together hooking up the equipment. He had everything rigged so that, when he'd leave in the evening, all we could do is listen to tapes - we couldn't record anything.

Getting busy around the studio - every day I'd have to clean up the studio - I began to notice what wire went where. One day when he left I saw what was disconnected and we put the things back together and started to work - of course I was the engineer then (and we no longer needed Ron).

Becoming A Producer

"When I first went to Motown, I felt I had to have someone to compete with and I didn't have anybody to compete with, except Berry Gordy.  My thing about competing with Berry was like we'd get in the control room and do a mix - I'd try to do a better mix, then he'd do another mix, then me - I usually did do the best mix - this is why I got the position that I did as an engineer - It was this real competitive thing. 

"Originally Berry was the writer, the producer, the everything.  Then all of these people started coming in and he couldn't do all of that shit, all of the time. That's how I felt and that was the reality of the situation - that's also why I got the job.

"But competing went beyond engineering.  Brian Holland and I sort of teamed together and formed this thing "Brianbert" together.  We wrote and produced Please Mr. Postman and the other things with the Marvelettes, while Berry worked with The Temptations and other groups.  There was even this competition for "Producer Of The Year" which was supposed to pay $1000 for the most successful production.  Despite Please Mr. Postman's success, I never got the money."

Getting The Motown Sound

"The sound we developed at Motown came from us trying to emulate other hit records and make a better record. I always went by what sounded good to me - not if it was in the red and all that. Distortion can be an effect. I started out saying "I'll become Berry's Ears" and I started trying to listen for what he was listening for. Mostly we tried to duplicate New York. "Let's try to make our records sound like that."

Why Please Mr. Postman Wasn't Done With The Supremes

"I was very instrumental in brining the Supremes into the company, and I fought very hard to get them into the company, because nobody wanted them. Once I got them into the company - it seemed like I was sort of being pushed to the side. So I said to myself, 'I'll just go and get myself another girls group and have them sing them (the Supremes) outta here.' I will never say the Marvelettes were better singers than the Supremes were but they happened to click first - they had the right songs, the right production."


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