Clash Road Trip: The Miracles

Motown heroes
Clash Road Trip: The Miracles
In search of the roots of rock and roll, Clash embarked on a pilgrimage across America and discovered the musical foundations the country was built on.

Visit the Clash Road Trip hub page for more exclusive content.

Read an interview with Motown Records' The Miracles in Detroit during Clash's Road Trip.

The only reason we came to Detroit was Motown. It seems that the British love for Motown is different to the Americans’...

Dave: Oh, it certainly is.
Mark: Night and day.

Why do you think that is?

Mark: I think it’s because the British tend to cherish history a lot more than we do. I’ll give you an example; in my stay there, I noticed a lot of refurbishing going in, and here, that wouldn’t be refurbishing, that would be demolished and rebuilt. We stayed at a Hilton somewhere in one of those cities, and it was built on another older building. They didn’t get rid of everything, they kept some of the nostalgia. In the front, you could actually see the little windows and the little short doors that they had, right off the sidewalk. You would not see too much of that here in the States. You’ll see some. I mean, there are some communities that push the more deserving things, but it’s not too widespread. I mean, every city I went to in England had blocks and blocks of refurbishing and saving things. You guys do that, and we don’t. We do, but not to the degree that you do. It’s the same way with music: if it’s good, you hold onto it. And I notice the rock ‘n’ roll genre is like that, and that’s all over the world. But in R‘n’B, making a distinction between other places and England, you guys tend to cherish those memories a lot longer. And then you pass it on from generation to generation. When we were over there, I saw a lot of young fans that were into the old Motown stuff and knew the words, had pictures, and had a catalogue bigger than mine. Seriously! What we try to do as The Miracles is we always try to not ever ‘diss’ our fans. I don’t care what we’re doing - we could be eating, but we’ll stop and talk to a fan. We could be travelling, and we’ll stop and talk to a fan. Bobby Rogers is notorious for that - he’ll make us late doing stuff because he can’t pull himself away from the fans. And that’s something that’s synonymous with the four of us. Dave will always acknowledge the fact, in every show, how much he appreciates that what we do is for you guys. In England, that was so well received. You guys really appreciated that. Here, they would kinda be like, ‘Okay, sing the song. I wanna hear the song!’ When we were in Italy they had the same response - we would acknowledge them and they really appreciated that sort of thing. So you guys tend to appreciate the history and the nostalgia of it. It doesn’t get old - it’s like a vintage wine; it gets better with age. There are things that we’re doing musically from back in the day when Berry [Gordy] was putting it all together that we have preserved in our show, and when we do a performance, we do it the same way it was back then. Oh, the members are a little different, but the sound is the same. And that’s because over in Italy, Germany and France they appreciate it more. I find that we tend to do songs that we hardly ever do until we get overseas, because people here don’t really remember it, but it was a hit with you guys! So we have to put it back in our archives and do it. We really appreciate that. I think that’s just culture. In America we like to build new stuff and move on.

The Northern Soul scene in the Seventies rejuvenated lots of Motown careers, people who perhaps only had a couple of records.

Dave: Right. We got introduced to the Northern Soul thing when we were over there the time before the time that Mark was speaking about. As a matter of fact, the people that promoted the show had a book written about Northern Soul - that was the first time I personally had ever heard the term used, but I got to know about it that time.

Do you guys get over to the UK much?

Mark: We average once or twice a year.

Do you still enjoy touring now as much as you used to?

Dave: I do, especially when I’m rested. At this time of our lives we’re not as active as we were, so now usually when we leave and go to another country we’re pretty well rested. We very seldom do like two or three-day shows somewhere - if we go to another country now, normally we’re there a month, so that will give us a chance to really enjoy it. Whereas before, you’re just hopping from one place to another; you never get to really meet the people or get to enjoy anything.

That’s what we’re doing!

Dave: Yeah right, but you’re young, you can handle it! (Laughs)

Mark: I really, really enjoy this. This is almost like an amusement park for me, the feeling is synonymous with that type of feeling for me. I enjoy the travelling. The only thing I don’t like about it is carrying the heavy luggage - when you gotta stay somewhere for a month, you gotta carry some stuff with you, and that’s the only part of it that I dread. Because I carry a lot of electronics with me too. So I’ve got that strapped around my shoulder and I’m carrying a bag, and wheeling something else and it’s heavy...

So you don’t need to go to the gym!

Mark: No, I get a good workout with that! I don’t like it, but yeah.

Do you guys still live in Detroit?

Dave: In this area, yeah.

This is the first time any of us have ever been here.

Mark: Really? Okay.

How have you seen Detroit change over the years?

Dave: Well, you figure the major industry here was the auto industry, and I’d say up until the last ten or twelve years the whole economy was more or less boosted by the auto industry. So you can imagine this is a time when Detroit is in transition, but it’s still a very interesting place. Not just the fact that we’re right across the water from another country, but it’s just the people that are here. The people are survivors. They’re gritty, hard working people, and it’s interesting, it really is.

We saw down at the waterfront the statue commemorating Detroit’s underground railroad, the route from which fugitive slaves found asylum in Canada. In the same way that Chicago blues was created because of the migration from the south to the north, was Detroit’s music affected by the people coming here to escape the same place?

Dave: Oh yeah, I’m sure it had something to do with it, because music is a way for people to express themselves. As a matter of fact, a lot of people think music is one of the main tools of expression. It obviously had a lot to do with it. As a matter of fact, when the auto industry was in its heyday, most of the people that came to work in the factories were from other parts of the country. That had a big influence.

Mark: They migrated from down south. People went where the work was. During that period the work was in automotives. Then you think about the wars that were fought round about that time - they transformed the entire automotive industry: all the women were working and the men were fighting. Then some of them didn’t come back, so people migrated where the jobs were opening, and people from down south - Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana - migrated up this way.

Dave: A lot of people didn’t know it, but the auto industry could just retool in a matter of days and turn all the auto industry into war-making goods. It was quite influential in the war efforts too.

[Enter Tee Turner and Bobby Rogers]

Dave: This is one of the cornerstones of the Motown songs, only Mr. Bobby Rogers!

Bobby: Sorry we’re late! I’m married, and when you’re married, you’re gonna be late! (Laughs)

For the benefit of our video, would you please each introduce yourself?

Tee: My name is Tee Turner and I’m one of the singers for a Motown group called The Miracles, my fellas here. We’re glad that you’re here to interview us today. We love Motown music, that’s why we’re here.

Dave: Hello, I’m David Finley. I’ve been with The Miracles ever since 1978, and before I worked with The Miracles I worked with another group in America, The Del-Vikings, who were one of the first interracial groups in America, which sort of groomed me for the job that Mr. Rogers hired me to do here in The Miracles. Nice meeting you gentlemen from the UK, and prayerfully we’ll get to see you when we come back over. We’ve been over quite a few times recently, and when we come back now we’ll feel like we have some new friends.

Bobby: Hi, I’m Bobby Rogers from The Miracles, and these are my comrades. That’s the lead singer, that’s the other lead singer, and that’s the other lead singer. I can’t be the lead singer, but I can keep them in my pocket! (Laughs)

Mark: My name is Mark Scott and I’m the lead singer for The Miracles. I write, arrange, produce and stuff like that. It’s an honour to be doing this with you guys. Hopefully you get some really good insight into who we really are and take it back to the UK and let all our fans know that we love them and we want to get close.

We’ve talked about the enduring love of Motown, but why do you think the music has lasted so long? Why are we still here talking about it?

Tee: There are a lot of reasons why. Motown has survived because it’s the richness of the music with messages that have never died that crosses around the world continuously. That’s a message that will never die - the same thing you feel, I feel. The same thing we all feel is that Motown feel that they put into the ingredients of Motown. So every group from Motown has that same thing, that reaches across the world and touches all soul. And it will never die - from the early Forties, when this group was put together, until now, Motown will always be. It will never die. Because the way the groups were, the way the musicians were - the musicians were class musicians. They were jazz musicians, they could read, they had a nice feel for each other. Then they had a boss that knew how to collaborate everything together and put it all together and make it work, and that was Berry Gordy. He knew how to use the talent, he knew how to find the talent, and they all had something to give to Motown, and we are trying to carry that on as of today.

It’s amazing that so many of the now household names were just street kids from Detroit who were given an incredible opportunity. Was Motown a factory for producing stars?

Tee: Yeah. Motown was built on factory ethics. This was a factory town, Motown: the city of car industries. Berry used that same scenario with his little group. He said, ‘This is gonna be my factory’. He used the same ethics and methods, and look what it did - it’s got you here today!

How appreciative are your audiences to the music of Motown now?

Dave: Here in America or worldwide? In America, I guess you’d have to say it’s more or less the people that were of our era. Although, it has such a powerful impact on the music business, now a lot of younger people, such as you gentlemen, here in America are quite familiar with the Motown sound.

Motown was also hugely responsible for breaking racial barriers. It sold black music to a white audience...

Dave: Absolutely. I think it all fit in to make America what it is today. All of it had an impact, but it took a lot of strong people and it took a lot of loving people to bring America to the point that it is today, and the music business probably was one of the key elements that helped break down a lot of racial barriers in America because of the power of music. I’m sure music was instrumental in making America what it is today. A lot of people such as The Funk Brothers, for example, there was some very adept white musicians in The Funk Brothers, as well as other recording companies like Stax. It was never really a racial thing in worldwide music, if you follow my drift, and so obviously it did have some impact on the racial climate in America. Because people that love music, that’s their main focus, the music, not the difference. In other words, most people with common sense, they look for similarities not differences, and of course it had an impact on the racial climate in the country, and in the world, I’m sure. Because everywhere we go we meet people that love what we do, and we make friends all over the world. Why? Probably in part to the music that we sing.

Mark: Music tends to transcend social, political and racial barriers, all over the world. Whatever differences you have, they can set it aside so it’s just music. Then after that, you might revert back to whatever, but for that moment, when you’re enjoying that music and you’re in that bubble, it transcends all that other silly stuff.

Has class got anything to do with the development of the Motown sound? Most of the passionate music in the UK came from the working classes - was that the same of the factory workers in Detroit?

Mark: Sure. There were emotional releases that music provided, and surely the factory workers - people that worked and toiled and sweated every day, really putting their lives into it - had something to release. And they found that release in blues, rock ‘n’ roll, R‘n’B, Motown, Philly, Stax, Memphis...they all played their role in that. But yeah, of course, music is an outlet, and it’s a universal outlet.

Bobby, can you tell us about how songs were created at Motown?

Bobby: Well, Motown had a lot of people whose brains were just talking about songs and singing. Almost all of our songs that we made came from people that sing the songs. Mary Wells was the same. The Miracles, The Contours, Martha Reeves and all of these people got together and started writing these songs, with the help of people who’d guide us - the guys that played pianos and stuff like that...

Dave: Most of the singers were creative. Most of them came to Motown with songs of their own. It was just a matter of whether the powers-that-were wanted to take the time to make them world class songs. But most people that develop the ability to sing professionally, they carry songs in their heart that inspire them to even wanna work on their tool to get it up to that quality. A lot of them had their own songs. Bobby’s written hits himself. It came with the territory - most people that love to sing, they have songs of their own in their heart.

There was a friendly competition between the artists at Motown, each fighting for their song to be released. Berry held a weekly quality control meeting, which would determine which songs would make the cut or not...

Dave: That was one of Bobby’s jobs also! (Laughs)

Bobby: Berry and Smokey [Robinson] and some of the other people there would put their songs on the table and listen to them and define what the song was saying. ‘Who does this sound belong to?’ Smokey and Berry Gordy basically just sat on songs every day, all the time - ‘Berry, let’s go in the studio, I got something to say!’ We, The Miracles, were happy to be able to get a chance to have some of our songs within those things that Smokey and Berry wanted to do. I wish I could just be eighteen again, and I could show you exactly how it was. Kids getting out of school would be going over to the studio and would be just sitting there - it would be ten o’clock at night - writing songs...

Dave: I think what he was saying is everybody there was about the music. Any song you had, you were about that music. If you were gonna be at Motown, you had to be about music. That was your life, doing those songs; that’s what you lived for. You went to school, then you would go to the recording studio and they’d get together and they’d create songs. That’s what their life was about.

Mark: That’s not what he was saying! (Laughs)

Dave: That’s what they did! Bobby was with The Miracles as a kid; at sixteen or seventeen he was on the road doing this. This was his life even then. He spent his childhood making songs and making hits.

What keeps you going now after doing it for so long?

Dave: The same thing! It’s a part of us, we’re musicians, that’s who we are.

Mark: Live and breathe. You know, this is a life you have to want. A lot of people think what they see when we present it, they get an image in their minds. But it’s a lot of work - it’s a lot of hard work. And it’s a lot of hard work without a nickel. You don’t get the nickel ’til you finish at the end of the road.

Tee: If you get it then! (Laughs)

Mark: We’re doing okay, but for somebody starting out, to think that it’s gonna be deep pockets real quick and fast, it’s not like that. You look at a lot of those rock ‘n’ roll guys... I had the privilege of knowing Peter Wolf and The Eurythmics, and I know that there was a lot of dues to be paid before you get that level of success. I like for fans to know that we do a lot to get this music to them. You have to love it to do it, because it’s not all peaches and cream.

So what do you think about things like American Idol that sell instant success to kids, rather than have them pay their dues? Is it selling a false image?

Mark: You know, if you can get it that way, you get it that way. I don’t put my foot on anybody that was able to achieve a goal. Avenues are different for everybody. You take Michael Jackson for a minute. Of course, the Jackson 5 had a level of success, but when Michael broke out by himself, it wasn’t a cake walk even for that great talent. It took a minute before he could start selling records on his own to the magnitude of ‘Thriller’ and ‘Beat It’. He had several albums before that didn’t do all that great, so he paid some dues. There was a time there when if he wasn’t recording or performing with the Jackson 5, who was really the name at that time, then he wasn’t working.

Contestants on American Idol just want to be famous - they don’t say they want to make great music, they say they want to be famous. This must affect the music that’s being made.

Mark: You can always tell the difference between a song that was generated to make money - a commercial vehicle - and somebody who spent maybe six or seven months actually putting the orchestration together, getting the right bass player, the right keyboard player, the right guitar player with the right attitude, and pouring themselves into a song or a project. You can always tell the difference between those kinds of songs. Because if you listen to the songs that are done that way, more often than not it’s gonna be around for a long time. It’s not gonna come and go. It’s gonna be a song that even your children will love. And that’s the magic of Motown: when they put together a song, they didn’t just throw anything out there, they hand-picked stuff to make sure that you got the cream of the crop.

And the artists performing it had the passion and love to make it feel real.

Mark: Exactly. And if they couldn’t, they gave that song to somebody who could.

Tee: Two or three artists sometimes recorded the same song. The song The Miracles did too, it was one of Michael [Jackson’s] first hits, ‘Who’s Loving You?’.

We saw Smokey Robinson live in London, and in one segment of the show, he performed songs he’d written for other Motown acts, and they were all fantastic and enduring songs.

Dave: Absolutely. That’s the thing that separates Motown too. A lot of those songs, more than normal, have just been overdone and overdone. That brings out the genius in them, to me. If you take, for example, The Rolling Stones doing ‘Going To A Go Go’, that’s quite a compliment. The Stones are up at the top of the heap, and have been for years, and a song that he [Bobby Rogers] was instrumental in writing, the Stones would have a video of them doing ‘Going To A Go Go’. The music was constructed with the air of genius to it. It was so simplified that everybody could get to it. You didn’t have to beat your brain to understand it, it was just right there.

The Beatles were big fans of Motown too - they did ‘Please Mr. Postman’, ‘Money’ and others. It’s the mark of a good song when an artist from a different genre can take it and make it still sound good.

Dave: Absolutely. Well said.

Did that ever work the other way around? Were Motown artists influenced by the music coming into America from Britain?

Bobby: When we did a tour of Britain, when the tour was finished, we just wanted to sing Beatles and eberybody else’s songs! Over there, they was just jumping. It was out there. We loved their music. We had a chance to talk with them and stuff...

Dave: Any business that you’re in, you’re gonna be influenced by other people in that business. So, just like a lot of British artists liked the music of Motown people, the Motown people liked the music the British made. As a matter of fact, The Beatles had some songs I’m still to this day gonna record before I lay down, God willing. There’s a couple of songs The Beatles did that will be with me forever. You just put a different flavour on it. But the songs were so powerful that they had a lifelong influence on my musical gift. It transcends all cultures and whatnot, those songs.

Do you guys have a favourite song that you like to play now?

Mark: For me, ‘Ooh Baby Baby’ and ‘Here I Go Again’.

Tee: The audience, they really react to a lot of songs that we do. I think more by the up-tempo stuff, the older stuff, ‘Going To A Go Go’. They really remember The Miracles from that beat - that melody just sticks in their head and doesn’t go anywhere. What’s your favourite songs from The Miracles?

'Tracks Of My Tears’.

Tee: That’s a good one! That’s really my favourite one.

Mark: Again, we’re back to that heart and soul being poured out into a song, that magic being delivered through the music as opposed to somebody who just goes in, puts a beat down quick, and says, ‘Okay, we’re gonna make a million dollars off this record’. As opposed to putting something out that transcends generations. You see, when you take a song like that and somebody like Elvis can do it, somebody like The Beatles can do it, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Rivers, that’s a testimony to the song itself. It transcends all cultures when it’s a good song. And there are some really good songs coming out now from new artists that will last and endure time. But back then, they tried to make sure that every song was like that.

Bands back then were open to covering other artists’ songs - that’s how you discover other music. The Beatles’ covers were some people’s entry into Motown, the same goes for The Rolling Stones and the blues. People don’t tend to do that now, probably because there’s less money in covers.

Mark: Of course. They pop them out so fast now.

Dave: And they’re so short lived, most of them.

Tee: No staying power.

Mark: Except those good ones, that’s what I’m saying.

Talking about those Motown quality control meetings, Berry Gordy used to ask, ‘If you were starving and you had one dollar, would you buy this record or a hot dog?’ And the record would only get released if it were the former. That’s how music was then, it was life or death.

Dave: That’s right; it had to be right.

Mark: People left a part of themselves in the studio on tape. That doesn’t happen very often now. My favourite people when I first started writing and singing was The Beatles and Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr...those were the people that influenced me. Sammy for his entertainment skills, Elvis for his showmanship on stage, just his presence - not what he did, but his presence. He was one of those people who’s bigger than life when they walk in the room. I always admired that and try to be like that. And then The Beatles. John, I’m assuming, did a lot of the writing, and I patterned my writing [after him]. The first song I wrote was like a little nursery rhyme, and my siblings made fun of me when I was doing that, but that was the beginning. Then through my experience working with other artists, I was able to learn how to actually structure my writing. But it all started with The Beatles. You think about that: a young black kid growing up in the ghetto, and the people that he likes to listen to is “She loves you, yeah yeah yeah”. See what I’m saying? Those songs had a major influence on the structure and the types of songs I wrote, and how I deliver it.

So finally, here we are on a road trip in America, delving into the history of the country’s music. Why has America been such a rich well of great music, and how does it continue to be so?

Dave: I think that’s due in part to the history of music. America is a melting pot of everybody in the world, on God’s Earth, coming to America. And when they get to America, they share their culture. There’s very few countries in the world that has as many tastes of other cultures as America does, and I think it’s the conglomeration of all those cultures, all those thoughts, all those opinions, all those attitudes, all those wishes, that makes America’s music really stand out. That’s my opinion.

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Watch a video excerpt from the interview with The Miracles below.

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