Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The road less travelled

Motown anniversary programs are all over the airwaves at the moment. And why not? The music the label produced, particularly in the 60s and 70s, proved a soundtrack to many of our lives. And what a soundtrack!

Martin Freeman, actor and Motown fan, paid his own homage to Motown on BBC2 last week (you can catch it here on BBC iPlayer – albeit only the 30 minute version). Martin is not a natural presenter, and if he is a true afficionado he was keeping his anorak credentials well hidden. So the program came across mostly as a gentle amble through some of Motown’s better known places and faces – an ordinary fan’s view you could say. In fact he seemed generally to be a bit in awe of his surroundings, like someone who couldn’t believe their luck in being asked by the BBC to go to Detroit (and LA) to meet some of his heroes and heroines.

I love Motown music but now for me it is like travelling on the motorway, and I prefer the B roads, the scenic byways, whether driving or hunting out music to listen to.

Right at the beginning of Martin Freeman’s Motown trip he visits Detroit’s legendary People’s Records. Although he may not have realised it, when Mr Freeman walked into that shop he briefly turned off the Motown motorway, and I immediately got very interested (whilst salivating over all that vinyl!). Whilst in the shop, owner Brad Hales introduces him to a guy that bears a resemblance to George Clinton. He is introduced as Hermon Weems. ‘I know that name’, I thought, ‘he wrote that Dee Edwards song I have been obsessing over’. (If you are a regular around here then you will know I was smitten by this record a few months ago). Hermon proceeded to fill Mr Freeman in on his pedigree and then Brad Hales put a copy of a record on the decks as an example of something Hermon wrote. ‘Who is this?’ asks Martin – ‘Dee Edwards’ was the reply – ‘right, OK’, is all Martin can say in response, sounding distinctly as if he had never heard of her (I admit neither had I until a few years ago). That record was the self same one I was, and still am, obsessing over: “Why Can’t There Be Love”. (At the time I was watching this program I was actually bidding for a copy on eBay! I said back in August that I would quite easily pay more than I had ever done before for a single record to secure a copy and I was going for it, and winning with 10 minutes to go too. But the last 10 minutes is a lifetime in the land of ebay bidding, and alas it ended up at over a $100 which was too much for me – six months ago when the pound was still a proper currency things might have been different).

Maybe it was Hermon’s appearance, maybe it was editing, but I thought Martin Freeman seemed a bit underwhelmed by Hermon Weems. Following the program I did a bit of research on him and amongst other things found this. Hermon Weems maybe a scenic byway on Motown’s map but to my mind he is deserving of a documentary all to himself. Co-writer of numerous hits for the likes of The Detroit Emeralds, Fantastic Four and Al Kent; drummer on many of the Ric-Tic recordings; the man who introduced George Clinton to LSD (and the mad beardy look?); album covers artist (Temptations’ "Psychedelic Shack"), and logo designer (Funkadelic, and bang up to date - Mayer Hawthorne & The County). See what I mean. If the BBC don’t make a documentary about him the producer of Martin Freeman Motown program deserves the sack!

Without checking the writing credits of all my records I can only think of one I have with Weems in lights. He’s quite possibly playing drums (tom toms) on this too. Unmistakably Detroit.

Al Kent – Where Do I Go From Here (mp3) 1967

There is actually only one place to go from here - another Detroit byway - go on, press repeat and get drenched in the sound of Detroit circa 1970, it’s pouring out of every groove of Dee Edwards “Why Can’t There Be Love”.


Davy H said...

I learn something every time I come here and I thank you for that, I really do.

There's something pretty poignant aboout that picture of the man by his gas cooker with the old fashioned kettle on top. Whatever Motown was good at, it wasn't great at spreading the wealth was it?

A lovely piece Darce.

Davy H said...

Er, it's a saucepan, but the point stands.

themusicologist said...


brilliant piece of writing. agree completely with your motown and motorway metaphor. some great music produced but we know that Berry Gordy was only ever in it for the commercial success and 'greenbacks' not a criticism of him as who am I to judge...wouldn't want to have worked for him though !!

all the best for the coming 'age'

Darcy said...

DavyH, themusicologist:

As fellow bloggers I am sure you, like me, get the occasional drop in enthusiasm for keeping these things going. At such times it is comments like these that give me a real boost. Thankyou!

And will I take this opportunity to thank you for your entertaining sites too.

Sílvia Palacios said...

I think you've a good blog.
“Why Can’t There Be Love” it's a great song!!!

Darcy said...

Thanks Silvia.

I noticed you found this blog by a Google search for the Dee Edwards song. I was wondering where in Barcelona you might have heard that song?