Contours Are Still in Great Shape; Motown and Merseybeat Are to Meet in Perfect Harmony in Liverpool. David Charters Interviews a King of Motown
YOU can tell that he is a musician with a cool style by the depth of his voice which rumbles down the telephone wires like an old volcano on abed of syrup.
And the splendidly named Sylvester Potts junior has known some men and some times along the years. First there was his father,Sylvester Potts senior, who blew the trumpet in jazz bands and occasionally played the bass guitar for John Lee Hooker, big daddy of those songs, which arose in anger and sorrow from the rich mud of the Mississippi, reaching a huge black public, before they spread to the suburbs of Britain, gaining new converts in the cellar clubs, the church halls, the schools and the universities.
The music was called the blues and when they mixed it with the hill-billy style of the white boys,it became rock `n' roll.
At first the young Sylvester and his pals were puzzled by the sudden popularity of Elvis Presley and the strumming Buddy Holly, who they thought was black until they saw his pale face behind the big spectacles.
It seemed a little unfair that these guys were making truckloads of money. But soon Sylvester and the others had a saviour who had peculiar ideas about how their music could be sung, arranged and played by black men and women on a record label owned and controlled by their own people.
In the America of the 1950s this was a novel idea. But then Berry Gordy was an innovator, starting his Tamlalabelin 1959. This was one of a number of labels he used,allof which were eventually gathered under the title of Motown Records, taking the name from its home in the motor-town of Detroit.
At about the same time,Billy Gordon, Billy Hoggs, Joe Billingslea, Sylvester Potts and Hubert Johnson had formed a vocal group called theContours. At first Gordy wasn't very impressed by the group, who seemed a little rough around the edges for a company hoping to be, ``the sound of young America''.
They failed the audition. But Johnson's cousin was the singer JackieWilson, who had scored a hit with Reet Petite , which had been written by Gordy and Tyran Carlo.
Wilson persuaded Gordy to give the Contours another chance. After a couple of failures, they achieved the big-time with Do You Love Me? ,agold record which reached number three in the UScharts. This song was favoured by many of the emerging British groups, including those on Merseyside. At one time there were three versions of it in the British hit parade. But it took Brian Poole and the Tremeloes to the top,beating off versions by the Dave Clark Five and Liverpol's Faron's Flamingos.
The Contours were to follow it with further smashhits,ShakeSherrieand Can You Do It? By then they were ranked with major Motown acts such as the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, theFour Tops and the Miracles.
All these songs and their performers had been closely monitored by the Merseysbeat musicians, including John Lennon and Paul McCartney. …