Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Helping Out Our Readers (Part Two - Russ Terrana Questions)

A couple of weeks ago we ran a special 3-Part Series on Russ Terrana, written by FH Reader Joe Klein, profiling The Hit-Making Motown Sound Man.

Readers had a couple of questions after the series ran, so we ran them by Joe who, in turn, ran them by Russ ... as such, we're able to bring you the most detailed answers possible.  (In fact, the answers to these questions take up more space than the original articles did way back when!!!)  

Yep ... Joe Klein SURE likes to write ... but he did a TREMENDOUS amount of research here ... and this is really good stuff ... so, if you've got a little time to spend with us today, check out these interesting bits of music history, courtesy of Joe Klein!  

>>>Wasn't Westbound #9 by Flaming Ember on the Hot Wax label part of the Invictus family of labels and not part of Motown? Please set me straight on this.  (Mike De Martino) 
>>>The single you're referring to (their biggest hit from 1970) was, indeed released on the Hot Wax label ... but the band was first signed to Ric Tic Records in Detroit in the mid-'60's (and, according to Joe, also spent time on the Rare Earth label after Motown acquired Golden World.)  If I'm not mistaken, the Invictus / Hot Wax Group was founded by a bunch of former disgruntled Motown employees ... so it's very possible that Russ DID, in fact, engineer this record, albeit for another label.  (kk)
Holland - Dozier - Holland formed Invictus / Hot Wax after leaving Motown due to royalties disputes.  Many fantastic records by Freda Payne, Chairmen Of The Board, 100 Proof Aged In Soul, Honeycone and Flaming Ember were on that label. My personal fave is Mind, Body And Soul by the Flaming Ember, a ‘blue-eyed’ soul artist. 


Regarding your reader's question about the record label that THE FLAMING EMBER recorded for, yes, their label was, in fact, HOT WAX. But a couple years earlier they were recording for Wingate. This was most likely shortly AFTER the sale of Golden World to Motown in the early fall of '66, for Wingate's Ric-Tic label. But did Russ work with them at Golden World several months earlier? Maybe. Or was it in 1967 or 1968 when he was working at his brother's studio TERA SHIRMA? Probably.

Both Ed Wingate AND the Holland Dozier Holland team recorded at Tera Shirma, and both recorded The Flaming Ember(s), about a year or two, apart! So Russ probably recorded them for BOTH producers!! WESTBOUND #9 was very likely recorded by Russ, but when? Russ left Tera Shirma to go back to work for Motown in 1968. Holland-Dozier-Holland continued to record at Tera Shirma for another year or so. I believe Russ may have continued to moonlight for his brother even after returning to Motown.

When I briefly touched on The Flaming Embers with Russ that crazy night last week, I said to him, "They ended up on Rare Earth Records, didn't they?" He said, "Yeah, I think so." I remember picturing the record label in my mind, which did look kind of like the RARE EARTH label, so at that point I just didn't think it   was necessary to go do fact-checking on the label. Silly me.

(EDITOR'S NOTE:  Yep ... our readers will call you on it EVERY time!!!  lol - kk)
But this is just one more example of how TOTALLY CRAZY things were in Detroit in the mid and late sixties! Artists and producers bounced from label to label and from studio to studio like they were on pogo sticks! Producers got pissed at Barry and flew the coop, going to Golden World and United Sound to record. Ralph Terrana opens Tera Shirma. Then Berry buys Golden World, Wolfrum ends up at United and, a few months later Russ leaves Motown to work for Ralph! Now Wingate and the Motown defectors are all working at United and Tera Shirma for a couple of years, during which time Russ goes back to work at Motown ... again! Ed Wolfrum sums up those years aptly with three words ... IT WAS NUTS!  

-- Joe Klein   

So Joe dug a little deeper ... and went right back to the source on this one ... after talking with Russ Terrana, here is your more "complete" answer ...

Okay FORGOTTEN HITSTERS, I'm back, again, to answer questions asked by readers regarding the late-60's Detroit music scene, prompted by the recent Forgotten Hits story of RUSS TERRANA, THE MOTOWN SOUND MAN. I spoke with Russ a few days ago and did a bunch of my own additional research so, for better or worse, I'll address the first question now ...

Mike DiMartino asked, "Wasn't WESTBOUND #9 by FLAMING EMBER on the Hot Wax label part of the Invictus family of labels, and not part of Motown?"

Yes, Mike ... You got it right, and I got it wrong! THE FLAMING EMBER(S) recordings WERE, in fact, released on the HOT WAX label, part of HOLLAND DOZIER HOLLAND'S INVICTUS family, for a few years beginning in 1969. When I spoke with Russ Terrana a few days before The Motown Sound Man story was posted, we talked about the many renowned Detroit artists he worked with in the first few months of his career, back in 1966. One of the groups I asked him about was The Flaming Embers, who I read had worked with GOLDEN WORLD owner ED WINGATE early on in their history. Russ replied, "Oh yeah! I remember working with them!" I asked if he remembered recording the hit WESTBOUND #9. He said he remembered working on it, but couldn't remember if he recorded some, or all, of the instrumental or vocal tracks, or just mixed the record. Then I quipped, "They ended up on RARE EARTH Records, didn't they?" He replied, "Yeah, I think so."

I knew the band, like RARE EARTH, was a white R&B group, and I even recalled an image of the actual single record. The two different label designs used for Hot Wax singles did bear several similarities to the Rare Earth label, both graphically and even in their color schemes ... 

Besides the record label's visual similarities, text contained in
another blog story I linked to (at the end of Part 2 of the Motown Sound Man story) made reference to the band (as Flaming Embers) and noted "Motown changed (their) name to Flaming Ember and had the hit Westbound #9."

In hindsight, I admit that I should have done further fact-checking to confirm the record label, but was under-the-gun to finish revisions and additions made to Part 2 of Russ' story, so I just didn't take the time before I finished writing. As a result, the erroneous text about the group's records being released by Motown's Rare Earth label made it into the story. I only became aware of the slip-up after the series ... and then Mike's question ... were posted on the blog. My most heartfelt apologies to all for the misinformation!
Here's a cool music video of Westbound #9 from 1970, with clean, stereo audio added ...
I'm not making excuses, but mistakes like mine can happen pretty easily when attempting to document the wild and crazy music scene that was Detroit in the 1960's. Artists jumped from producer - to  - producer, label - to - label and studio - to - studio like they were on pogo sticks! Producers also regularly hopped between artists, labels and studios. The same producer and songwriter label credits show up over and over, not just on different releases from a single record company, but on different label's releases of the same artists as well. Russ, and Detroit engineer Ed Wolfrum, sum up those years perfectly with three words ... "IT WAS CRAZY!"  

Still, I erred in my own story, so, as a "make-up- assignment" for my unforgivable flub, here's more stuff from the era that (perhaps only die-hard) 60's Detroit music fans may find interesting.   

Read on if you want even more ...  

There were three very popular studios in Detroit in the late 60's, where a majority of the "non-Motown" Detroit hits were recorded. They were the legendary GOLDEN WORLD, the landmark UNITED SOUND and the storied TERA SHIRMA (owned by Russ Terrana's brother, Ralph). Russ worked at Golden World in 1966 and Tera Shirma in '67 and '68.   

THE FLAMING EMBERS were part of the Detroit scene from 1964 until the early 70's. Prior to their releases on the Hot Wax label, the band had several singles on ED WINGATE'S RIC-TIC label. Most accounts state that Wingate signed the band early in 1967, a few months after Motown bought Golden World Records and their recording studio from Wingate and his partner, JOANNE BRATTON. (Wingate retained ownership of Ric-Tic label, however, which he continued to operate in Detroit for about two more years after the sale of Golden World to Motown.) The band's Ric-Tic records were released between the summer of '67 until late in the summer of '68, but none of them were noteworthy hits. Here's an image of one of the group's Ric-Tic singles. Note the names of the producers and songwriters on the labels!

In the period between the first and second acquisitions of Wingate's assets by Motown, Wingate did a lot of recording at United and Tera Shirma, so it's a given that Russ worked on The Flaming Embers recordings at his brother's facility. But it's also possible that the band recorded at Golden World once or twice several months earlier (in 1966) even before they signed with Wingate and, if so, Russ would have worked with the group there as well. He just can't be absolutely sure about this 47 year-old factoid, however.  

In 1968, when Motown acquired the remaining Ric-Tic assets, The Flaming Embers contract was, apparently, not part of the package. The band bailed out, reportedly because they did not want to record for Motown (for reasons presently unknown to this writer).    

Meanwhile, in 1967, the writing and production team of HOLLAND DOZIER HOLLAND got into a serious ... and well-documented ... dispute with Berry Gordy that would last for a decade! They left Motown and formed their own production company. Like Wingate, they recorded at United and Tera Shirma in the late 60's, and, by the end of the decade, achieved their own degree of success as Motown competitors, most notably with the artists HONEY CONE, CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARD, FREDA PAYNE and, of course, FLAMING EMBER (who did decide to drop the "S" from the end of their name when signing with the HDH production team).   

Flaming Ember signed with Holland / Dozier / Holland in 1968, either a short time before or after the final buy-out of Ric-Tic by Motown. The exact date of that union is hard to pinpoint. Russ started working sessions with HDH artists once they started recording at Tera Shirma, which was fairly early in the year. He specifically remembers mixing Freda Payne's BAND OF GOLD there and is pretty sure he also mixed GIVE ME JUST A LITTLE MORE TIME by Chairmen Of The Board. He also remembers working on WESTBOUND #9. In the case of all three, Russ just can't be sure what he recorded (rhythm tracks, additional instruments or vocals) but, as said, is all but sure he performed the mixes.  

Russ can't remember the exact date he left Tera Shirma to go back to work at Motown full time, but he's fairly certain it was before the fall of 1968. In his own memoirs of his fabled, but short-lived, studio, Ralph Terrana recalls a later date for his brother's departure, saying that Russ started splitting his time between Tera Shirma and Motown for a few months, perhaps in late '68 to early '69, before leaving Tera Shirma for good. This does seem more likely given the other factors and timelines associated with the Invictus and Hot Wax label releases.     

So ... when were the HDH hits mentioned above actually completed? Sorry, but, all these years later, it just can't be said for sure! Darn!  

The Invictus labels started releasing product, including the first Flaming Ember records, in 1969. The biggest Invictus hits were released, and charted, in 1970. But it's entirely possible that some of the music produced by the Holland / Dozier / Holland team may have been recorded (and mixed) several months, or as much as a year, before being released (which happened often back in those crazy days). 

One reason the delay in releasing late 60's HDH product may have occurred could be the ongoing legal battle the team was embroiled in with Berry Gordy and Motown at the time. In fact, it's well known that the HDH team was writing hit songs under the alias Edythe Wayne in the late 60's.

The exact name of FLAMING EMBER had its inconsistencies over the years as well. Different reference materials about the group and images of their record labels use the both the singular and plural versions of the band's name. There are also equal instances of the name of the group with, and without, the word "The" at the beginning!

Hopefully all this mind-bending information serves to answer Mike's question about Flaming Ember. At the same time, I suppose it raises more questions! One thing's for certain ... all these "fun facts" clearly illustrate just how wild and crazy things were in the Motor City in the Swingin' ... and Sensational ... 60's!

I'll be back soon with another painfully thorough response to another FH reader's question about a couple of other well-known Detroit artists from the 60's that fell a bit short in their race for music super-stardom.
-- Joe Klein


>>>Reading about Russ and his remarkable influence on the Motown sound reminded me of some Detroit artists who turned out great material but never found chart success.  The Fantastic Four's "Everything is Alright" is a magnificent soul ballad that bears resemblance to the Temps' "Since I Lost My Baby." And, be honest, did you ever hear of J.J. Barnes?  I recall getting a demo copy of a tune he turned out in '67 that just floored me. J.J. truly had remarkable talent.  Do you know why Barnes and the "Four" never truly flourished? The talent was certainly there.  (Chet Coppock)  

I figured this was a good one to put to Russ, too ... after all, he worked very closely with both acts.  Certainly everybody involved believed in these artists ... sometimes it's just catching that one lucky break that makes all the difference in the world.  Here (thanks to Joe Klein) is his response:  

Hello music lovers! I'm back again, with a response to another FORGOTTEN HITS reader's comment about 60's Detroit artists, which were the subject of my recent three-part FH series about RUSS TERRANA, THE MOTOWN SOUND MAN.  

This one truly is about "Forgotten Hits ... and Artists" of the 60's, so it really is an appropriate topic. I'm happy to post it here on the FH blog. 

In his recent comment on the FH blog, Chet Coppock asked why the much-loved RIC-TIC RECORDS artists THE FANTASTIC FOUR and J.J. BARNES didn't achieve more success. 

Actually, The Fantastic Four, also known as SWEET JAMES AND THE FANTASTIC FOUR, did achieve a respectable degree of fame, recognition and chart success in the late 60's and beyond, and was arguably one of the most successful acts on ED WINGATE'S Ric-Tic label. The record company released ten FF singles from 1966 through 1968, a few of which charted high on the Billboard R&B charts in 1967. Their highest charting single, THE WHOLE WORLD IS A STAGE, peaked at #6 in '66. The group's records garnered considerable radio airplay, especially in the upper midwest. Detroit / Windsor top-40 giant CKLW ("The Big 8") played the The Fantastic Four regularly. 

Russ Terrana worked with the group, and lead singer JAMES EPPS, at Detroit's GOLDEN WORLD studio in 1966. The following year he worked with the artists at his brother Ralph's TERA SHIRMA studio. "The Fantastic Four were really a great Detroit group," Russ recalls. "James Epps was a real talent ... I really thought that they all had a shot to make it big."  

Late in 1968, shortly after acquiring Ric-Tic's roster from Wingate, MOTOWN RECORDS released the first FF single, I LOVE YOU MADLY, on their SOUL RECORDS imprint, which was a re-release of the last FF Ric-Tic single (both "A" and "B" sides), released just a few months earlier. There were three more Soul releases by The Fantastic Four in 1969 and 1970. 

The group's career carried on through the 70's disco era with no less than ten more single releases on the WESTBOUND RECORDS label in the mid through late 70's. One of the more noteworthy was ALVIN STONE (THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF A GANGSTER), a nearly seven minute-long mini R&B / Disco opera depicting the violent life and demise of a fictional black gangster considered by many to be one of the group's best works, even though it failed to achieve chart success. Here's a nice video of the song with a cool video montage of notorious mobster images.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P4YTutt_oY  

Late in the decade, the FF worked with prominent FUNK BROTHERS guitarist and producer DENNIS COFFEY, achieving moderate chart success in the U.S. and UK with the disco / funk hybrid single B.Y.O.F. (Bring Your Own Funk). They remained active recording and performing, off and on, in the 80's and 90's, but the deaths of two of the group's members, including lead singer James Epps, in 2000, closed the curtain on The Fantastic Four forever.

60's Publicity Photo of The Fantastic Four   

Like Wingate's GOLDEN WORLD family of labels did in the 60's, ARMEN BOLADIAN'S label, Westbound, had its own share of the Detroit spotlight in the 70's, after Motown moved to Hollywood. Besides The Fantastic Four, the label was home to other Golden World alumni THE DETROIT EMERALDS and ... surprise ... emerging P-Funkster GEORGE CLINTON (for the few years preceding the huge breakout of Parliament / Funkadelic at NEIL BOGART'S CASABLANCA RECORDS in 1977). DENISE LASALLE, the OHIO PLAYERS and Dennis Coffey were other artists who populated the record company's roster during its tenure in the 70's. 

Here's an interesting story that aired on NPR about Boladian's upstart Detroit label:

J.J. BARNES, also known as JAMES JAY BARNES, was another popular and critically acclaimed Detroit artist of the 60's who achieved a moderate degree of success, but, like the Fantastic Four, missed grabbing the brass ring of major stardom. J.J. started his recording career as a teenager and, after a string of singles on two small Detroit record labels, he became part of Ric-Tic Records roster. Ric-Tic released four singles by Barnes in 1965 and 1966, with the second release, REAL HUMDINGER, breaking into the top 20 on the national R&B charts. A cover version of The Beatles classic, DAY TRIPPER, followed. 

Barnes worked on his records with producers RICHARD "POPCORN" WYLIE and the illustrious DON DAVIS while at Ric-Tic, even recording an unexpected track with label-mate STEVE MANCHA called I'LL LOVE YOU FOREVER, which Davis had decided to record on a whim. Davis had EDWINN STARR, Ric-Tic's biggest star at the time, record the lead vocal on the track, and the record was released in 1966 with the artist name THE HOLIDAYS. The final Barnes release on Ric-Tic, SAY IT, was barely promoted, as Wingate had just sold a large portion of his musical assets to Motown.

60's Publicity Photo of J.J. Barnes   

Most accounts state that Barnes and Starr were not happy after Motown's 1966 takeover of Golden World. In fact, Motown never released any records by Barnes, although a couple of his songs were recorded by Motown artists MARTHA AND THE VANDELLAS and THE MARVELETTES. Starr, however, would be a lot happier at Berry Gordy's powerhouse label a couple years later, scoring the top-ten hit 25 MILES in 1969 and the chart-topping smash WAR in 1970. 

Motown released Barnes from his artist's contract in 1967, and he teamed up once again with the enduring Don Davis, who had started his own production and record label, GROOVESVILLE. There would be a handful of J.J. Barnes releases on the Groovesville label, of which arguably the best ... and best-known ... was the deliciously soulful BABY PLEASE COME BACK HOME.      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycl0rVwD7X0   

Barnes changed labels again in 1968, and four more singles were released by REVILOT RECORDS in 1968 and 1969. The last Revilot release, SO CALLED FRIENDS, was co-written by none other than GEORGE CLINTON, who seemed to show up almost anywhere and everywhere in Detroit in the 60's an 70's! 

A handful of releases, spread across a scattering of other labels, would follow over the next few years. Then, in the mid 70's, old friend and former label-mate Edwin Starr invited Barnes to join him in the UK for a series of shows, which gave his career a shot in the arm. J.J. entered into a deal with CONTEMPO RECORDS in the UK, who released several more singles and an album in 1976, the title track of which was an excellent cover of Hall & Oates SARA SMILE.

To this day, J.J. Barnes remains a fixture, and favorite, of the Northern Soul music scene. 

Here's a decent biography of this "forgotten artist," with more details about his career: 

Russ Terrana worked on many recording sessions in the late 60's with both J.J Barnes and Edwin Starr, with producers Popcorn Wylie and Don Davis. Commenting on Barnes, Russ fondly recalls "He was another one of the many fantastic Detroit artists I worked with in the studio. J.J. had a real gift ... a natural, deep-down soul which really burst forth when he recorded." Russ goes on about the 60's in Detroit. "There were so many great and gifted singers back then. Every day I worked with true musical geniuses." 

With all the talent streaming through Detroit's handful of record companies and recording studios, things didn't always work out as planned. So many truly deserving artists failed to make it to the top of the heap. Russ laments, "You  know how fickle the music business has always been. It's not just talent. Timing and luck have so much to do with a song and an artist becoming a hit. In fact, timing is everything." Material has always been a key factor as well. Russ adds, "J.J., The Fantastic Four and all the others I worked with in those days ... they were really great acts. But I also remember that, in the case of the The Fantastic Four and J.J. Barnes, the songs just didn't reach out and grab me, like so many of the classics I recorded later at Motown. I guess you could ay that they just fell a little short." 

Well said, old friend, and sad, but so true. After listening myself to several tracks from both acts, I have to agree with the Motown Sound Man.  

Over the years, there have been a plethora of comparisons of J.J. Barnes to Motown legend MARVIN GAYE, along with several conspiracy theories about The Fantastic Four being suppressed to avoid competition with THE FOUR TOPS and J.J. Barnes' career being stifled to avoid interfering with the career of Marvin Gaye. But these are theories that are hardly likely to ever be proven.  

"It was an amazing time, filled with so many incredible memories," says the enigmatic recording engineer. "It's too bad that many of them have gotten kind of hazy after all these years!"
-- Joe Klein  


Kent --
I think I've shared the video of Jim Weatherly talking about the song "Midnight Train To Georgia" before, but this newspaper article is new - and is consistent with what's appeared on FH in the past. And, since Joe saw Gladys Knight this past weekend, it's somewhat timely. 
David Lewis

Yep ... and it's still a great story.  As mentioned above, I love hearing the stories behind the songs ... what inspired a songwriter in the first place  That's why I ran that great new track by James Collins the other day that tells the true story of what happened when he asked Cyndi Lauper to pose for a picture after seeing her perform on a cruise ship a few years ago ... and "Cyndi Lauper Said 'No'".  (Kinda like what happened to me when I asked Al Kooper if we could take a picture for the website!!!)  lol  (kk)

This very nice letter from Russ Terrana's daughter made my day the other day ... so I just had to share it with you: 
Hi Kent,    
I want to thank you for posting the stories Joe Klein wrote about my dad, Russ Terrana. He is always trying to get attention placed on my dad for all he's done for music history and I absolutely love it!  My dad deserves all of the accolades and then some for the magic he created when he was at Motown. I'm also always proudly bragging because I know what dad did to bring the song to a life that is something extraordinary. The proof is in any Motown song you hear!  
I just wanted to thank you again for doing this for my dad. This means more to me then I can even tell you.  
Thank you,  
Christi Terrana 
Russ Terrana's very proud daughter  
Always happy to do it, Christi ... it's all about keeping this great music alive ... and your father was instrumental in creating some of the very best ... truly the soundtrack of our lives in the '60's and '70's.  Glad that we could help in some small way to spread the word.  (kk)