Dismiss Notice
We are making some updates and reconfigurations to our server. Apologies for any downtime or slow forum loading now or within the next week or so. Thanks!

Berry Gordy: The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by The Scarecrow, Nov 17, 2013.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. The Scarecrow

    The Scarecrow Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Virginia, USA
    Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, is responsible for creating one of the most distinguished and well known record labels in the world. It's music became the soundtrack to countless lives. It was influential in many ways. Berry has recieved much criticism for how he was said to have treated acts signed to the label and for his business practices in general. Now to sort through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
     
    bumbletort likes this.
  2. The Panda

    The Panda Forum Mutant

    Location:
    Marple, PA, USA
    He lost interest when he followed his sexual organ and decided to dedicate his time and energy into making Diana Ross into the world's greatest movie star, and we know how that went.
    For me, that tarnishes his wonderful legacy (well, that plus the way the Funk Bros were treated). You decide to follow your groin and ignore what you took so long to build, that's just macho crap, except on a grander scale.
     
  3. pdenny

    pdenny 19-Year SHTV Participation Trophy Recipient

    Location:
    Hawthorne CA
    Man, if he followed it, my hat's off.
     
    GroovinGarrett likes this.
  4. bumbletort

    bumbletort Senior Member

    Location:
    Baltimore, Md, USA
    I think Gordy is some kind of genius. Brilliant in business--you'd have to be that at a minimum to do what he did when he did. Add to that, appears he was a brilliant songwriter who sacrificed dedicating his life to that talent in order to nurture the same gift in others...seems he was instrumental in shaping Smokey Robinson's song craft, for ex. Some of his instructions to the writing staff back then are telling of a very acute thought process. This is simply a remarkable mind--and I've seen him interviewed when that cogency on full display--even discussing minor matters.
     
    JoeRockhead likes this.
  5. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    In 2005, when I was driving solo across the country from San Francisco to Boston, I was driving through Detroit en route for Windsor, Ontario, and noticed an exit sign for West Grand Boulevard. Naturally I remembered that street from the address on my old Motown records, so I decided to go visit the Motown Museum, and I got off the highway.

    The problem was I didn't know the exact address and West Grand Blvd. goes on for miles and miles and miles, so I found myself driving around in what was the most depressed, hopeless ghetto I have ever seen before finally finding Hitsville USA. Now, I know that Detroit in recent years has been in a pretty bad way, but if that neighborhood was half as bad in the '60s as it is now, well, let's just say that, coming out of that environment, the enormity of Motown's international success is a pretty amazing achievement.
     
    Chip TRG and hi_watt like this.
  6. The Scarecrow

    The Scarecrow Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Virginia, USA
    When you look at it that way it certainly is an amazing achievement.
     
  7. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    Seeing the neighborhood where all of those great performers and artists came from, and where they did their best-known work, really put a lot of things into clearer perspective for me.
     
  8. DEAN OF ROCK

    DEAN OF ROCK Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hoover, AL
    Or put another way: He could hang his hat on that!
     
  9. The Scarecrow

    The Scarecrow Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Virginia, USA
    A true rags to riches story.
     
  10. HAmmer

    HAmmer Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee WI
    How was the Museum?
     
  11. Pseudonym

    Pseudonym Forum Resident

    Location:
    Detroit, MI
    Said ghetto at I-94 and West Grand Boulevard.
     
  12. Nostaljack

    Nostaljack Resident R&B enthusiast

    Location:
    Washington, DC
    There's much information out there about Gordy and the way he ran Motown. He gave little thought to the groups themselves (or the musicians and songwriters) and generally treated all of them fairly badly. He was all about making money. His business model was absolutely strange (quality control?) but stranger is that every bit of it worked! He sent out an edict that all Supremes singles had to be #1's and for a stretch, they were! His major issues stemmed from the fact that the label did everything - from artist management on down. Conflict of interest abounded with him coming out on top anytime an act dared cross him. Almost no act achieved long-term success after they left Motown and he made sure of that. Many, in fact, did nothing away from it. The Jackson 5 couldn't go to Epic with their name!

    In short, what he accomplished, he didn't accomplish alone and he did so at great personal cost to everyone that worked for him.

    Ed
     
    quicksrt, JDeanB, zebop and 1 other person like this.
  13. PHILLYQ

    PHILLYQ Forum Resident

    Location:
    Brooklyn NY
    In the Motown days, Detroit was a thriving city with a lot more people living there than now. It was a far different place then.
     
    ShawnX likes this.
  14. PHILLYQ

    PHILLYQ Forum Resident

    Location:
    Brooklyn NY
    Seems to me that the only Motowners who didn't get robbed horribly were Diana Ross(sleep with the boss) and Smokey Robinson(marry the boss' sister)
     
  15. JayDeeEss

    JayDeeEss Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chattanooga, TN
    The Jacksons did pretty well, but that doesn't make their treatment by Motown any less inexplicable. (I mean, he didn't wait before the bubble burst before dropping label support, he just sort of... lost interest.)
     
  16. rockledge

    rockledge Forum Resident

    Location:
    right here
    Mr Gordy was instrumental in a lot of people making a LOT of money. That he exploited the business for his own personal gain is a bit moot.
    The music industry is first of all a business, and sometimes I think we forget that musicians are employees just because often they are far more well paid than some other salaried people.

    I think the people he helped avoid spending their lives cleaning toilets and driving busses should be careful not to bite the hand that fed them.

    The guy was just a man, and a man living in a capitalist society. He quite simply was practicing capitalism at its finest.
    He just did it far more in the publics eye than other CEOs in corporate america have done and do.
    I would say that if you like capitalism, then you gotta root for Mr Gordy. He was a master at it.
     
    action pact likes this.
  17. Summer of Malcontent

    Summer of Malcontent Forum Resident

    I think you also have to concede that, whatever his reasons for doing so, Gordy set up a system at Motown that allowed a lot of creative artists (and by this I'm primarily talking about the writers / producers rather than the singers) to excel in ways they almost certainly wouldn't have in a different context. Then and now, that's an extremely rare talent: establishing a factory that encourages creativity.
     
    action pact likes this.
  18. rockledge

    rockledge Forum Resident

    Location:
    right here
    Acts that are merely vocal acts seldom have long lived careers other than touring as nostalgia acts. Most vocal groups fit a specific time period and do not normally change music styles easily or gain new audiences or hold their own audience when they do. Solo artists that come out of those acts seem to do better and last longer. Regardless of their relationships with the boss.
    I think Mr Gordy might be getting a bad rap because some of those he mentored and made popular and wealthy didn't always manage their lives well. Lets face it, we are talking about music artists here, and musicians and singers are a bit notorious for pissing away their fortunes and not being frugal.

    If he was indeed such a bad guy, then where the hell are the ambulance chasers? He obviously has lived up to contractual agreements for the most part, or he would have long ago been sued into poverty.

    I think it also significant to note that some of them did go on to do well. Why is the focus on those who had limited time periods of success?

    Not all rock bands went on to have the success of the Stones either. We aren't blaming their record labels for that.
     
  19. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    Ouch. It was a Tuesday, and IIRC that was the one day of the week that the museum was closed. MAJOR bummer!

    While I was outside, I noticed that some knucklehead had tossed an empty soda bottle into the hedge in front of the building. I removed it and took it with me in the car until I could find a garbage can to throw it away in. That was my own little personal expression of respect for the men and women of Hitsville USA.
     
    hi_watt and HAmmer like this.
  20. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    Where is everybody? It almost looks like a ghost town in that view.

    When I was driving up and down West Grand in 2005, I remember seeing lots of young people hangin' out on the porches of those big houses.
     
  21. Summer of Malcontent

    Summer of Malcontent Forum Resident

    I think you also need to bear in mind that most of Motown's acts were not writing their own material, so they were entirely dependent upon the material they got from the writer / producers. The few artists who were permitted to write, or ended up writing, their own material (Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson) all continued to be extremely successful after the 'Hit Factory' period. Other acts remained dependent upon the skills of various writers / producers, and the chances of finding Motown-quality talent outside Hitsville were drastically reduced. Nevertheless, several acts went on to even greater success after their Motown tenures: the Isley Brothers, The Spinners, Gladys Knight & the Pips.

    The other side of this is that Motown's writers and producers also enjoyed successful careers after they left: e.g. Holland-Dozier-Holland at Invictus, Ashford & Simpson all over the place.
     
  22. bumbletort

    bumbletort Senior Member

    Location:
    Baltimore, Md, USA
    Gordy made an intriguing remark once to the effect that there were performers at Motown who were 'incomplete talents' (his exact description I think--anyone knows more or better of this, please post). I think he may well have been expressing exactly what you have just described regarding the dependency of some on the Motown Machine.
     
  23. Nostaljack

    Nostaljack Resident R&B enthusiast

    Location:
    Washington, DC
    The acts that could write weren't allowed to have their own publishing (Gordy almost never allowed this). Gordy wanted all the writing to be done by people he hired and he wanted all the publishing that went with it. The Tempts had to fight for their own publishing when they returned to Motown after a commercially bad run at Atlantic. They ended up with a "split deal." 'Course, in that instance, Otis Williams is no songwriter so there wasn't much point anyway. The only song any Tempt wrote that was commercially successful was "Treat Her Like A Lady" - though a few other things Ron Tyson wrote deserved that distinction as well.

    While Smokey was successful after the "hit factory" period, he didn't matter at all after he left Motown. He signed to SBK and got nowhere. Ditto on the other labels to which he's been signed since he left. We'll never know how well Marvin could have done away from Motown. He didn't have much time after he got to Columbia to burn up the charts. Stevie, of course, has never left - remaining there even after Gordy sold out to Universal. He became so huge that Gordy couldn't control him from about 1972 forward. MJ left Motown and had success that no act has ever enjoyed.

    Also worth noting that, after Holland-Dozier-Holland found huge success as songwriters and left the label, songwriters were no longer mentioned by name, lest they try the same thing. They were members of bigger writing teams like "The Clan" or "The Corporation". No names were mentioned until well after that threat subsided.

    Ed
     
    Hep Alien, PHILLYQ and bumbletort like this.
  24. PHILLYQ

    PHILLYQ Forum Resident

    Location:
    Brooklyn NY
    IIRC, Stevie Wonder had to sue to get out of his onerous contract once he was no longer a minor.
    There were stark choices for aspiring singers, etc in those days. If you wanted to record or be heard anywhere, you either took the abusive contract offered or you didn't record. No DIY in those days. To be fair, the music business was even more horrible then all over, not just at Motown.
     
  25. Nostaljack

    Nostaljack Resident R&B enthusiast

    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Agreed. However, Motown was especially bad. As mentioned earlier, Motown was engaged in a tremendous "conflict of interest". They were your everything. They were your manager, your accountant, your promoter, your record label, your charm school - everything. Even back then, that was unique. In theory, it seems like a good idea: You be a star and Motown takes care of everything else. In practice, it was awful for everyone involved. The artist had no control and the minions who worked beneath you were owned lock, stock, and barrel by Motown too. The contracts you signed were all-inclusive and it took a miracle for a privileged few to get out from under them. Stevie is a different case. He had the fact that he was a minor going for him; so did the Jackson 5. Had they been adults, those contracts would have been far thornier. The music made them family; the business made them prisoners.

    Ed
     
    quicksrt, longaway and PHILLYQ like this.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page

molar-endocrine