Our Motown Heritage (Part 44)
Baby Motown
 
by Robert Dennis

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1963, the year I joined Motown, the company had six top ten pop hits and established itself as a "hit factory," but its roots go back to 1959. 

Even though it's ancient history to some of the youth of today, most people have heard about the famous Motown Records hit factory in the 1960's.  The rise to stardom of the Diana Ross and the Supremes, beginning with Where Did Our Love Go (1964) is common knowledge.  Superstars established by Motown like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson are common household names, even today.  It's even common for people to know of the big producers at Motown, like Holland Dozier Holland and know the name of the Motown studios (Hitsville, USA).

If asked, many people would talk about the "explosion" of Motown in the mid 1960's, yet the founding of the enterprise really pre-dated this by 5 years or more.  In this article I'm highlighting some of this early history.

The 3-D Record Mart

Berry Gordy first got in the music business in 1953 by opening a Jazz orientated record shop called The 3-D Record Mart with the financial help of his family.  Within 2 years the store failed and Gordy went to work at a Ford assembly line, even though music was not out of his blood.

Jackie Wilson

Berry Gordy and Jackie Wilson first met in 1950 in a boxing setting where both had dropped out of high school, later (1957) they would renew the association by the Gordy family working with Jackie's manager at the Flame Club in Detroit.  In 1957 Berry Gordy and a partner started writing tunes for Jackie Wilson and penned a string of hit records for him, the most notable of which was Lonely Teardrops (1958), which became his biggest hit and signature tune.

The Matadors & Tamala Records

Berry, dissatisfied with his songwriting royalties from Jackie's hit records, started his own record label, Tamala, early 1959 with his royalties and funds borrowed from his family - The Motown Records label, would be added to the company in within a year.  The Matadors were first to sign with the new label and would sing Motown's first gold record, Shop Around with their new name, The Miracles.  Berry had produced two records for the Matadors, released on other labels, in 1958.

The Transition

Beginning after his failed record shop in 1955, Berry pursued music and songwriting with a passion, even if he had to work a Ford Motor assembly line for his livelihood the first two years.  Berry would work with many Detroit artists being released on other labels including tiny vanity labels.  Many of the artists he worked with wound up being instrumental in other roles in the Motown Hit Factory. 

Berry's first association with the Holland Brothers, (Eddie and Brian) were as artists produced by Berry Gordy and later these brothers established the famous HDH songwriting/producing team.  Motown's first production team Brianbert )for BRIAN Holland and ROBERT Bateman) were responsible for Motown's first #1 Pop hit (Wait A Minute, Mr. Postman) which some say was really the first Motoiwn record to each the 1,000,000 sales mark. With Brian, the team included Bateman, a singer with a group called the Satintones and with the Motown Background Group (The Rabor Singers).

The musical friendships and working relationships established by Berry, pre-Motown, formed a strong creative foundation for Berry Gordy to build his Motown Hit Factory.

Web References:
Berry Gordy's Motown Records

Jackie Wilson
The Motown Story
 

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