Mable John Jan 4, 2005 13:09:52 GMT -5
Post by Emerald City on Jan 4, 2005 13:09:52 GMT -5
The oldest sister of famed crooner Little Willie John (best known for writing and recording “Fever” which was covered by Peggy Lee), John was raised in Detroit and was Berry Gordy’s best buddy long before he founded Tamla/Motown Records in 1959. She used to spend the day helping Gordy peddle his songs to New York publishers. “He had no money and no way of getting around, but he had these people who wanted to hear his songs, so I drove him around,” John says. One of those tunes, “Lonely Teardrops” eventually became a hit for Jackie Wilson and Gordy’s career was on the way. He took John along for the ride.
When one of his songs "Got A Job” didn’t attract a buyer, Gordy decided to produce the record himself and then get a major label to distribute it. Recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, it was released via End Records, but bombed due to a lack of promotion. But, John and Robinson thought the record would do well if Gordy started his own label and marketed the records right. They worried him into founding Tamla/Motown in 1958 and the rest is history.
John was the first female to record for the label, although, many critics have erroneously stated that Mary Wells was the first. Wells was the first female on Motown proper, but Tamla preceded Motown. John, who had shared a bill with Billie Holiday two weeks before the singer’s death, sang bluesy songs on which she was often backed up by the Primettes (The Supremes). In fact, backing John was their audition. John didn’t recall their being especially talented but determined to impress Gordy, particularly Diana Ross. Their ambition attracted Gordy and he signed them on.
Although, none of John’s singles for Tamla ever hit the national charts, she developed a strong following and repeatedly sold-out shows at the Apollo in Harlem, the Howard Theater in Washington, etc. Sensing that Tamla/Motown was more geared towards popcorn soul than to the blues she was most comfortable singing, John left the label in 1964. As the Motown sound soared John says, “I didn’t feel that Motown was a place where I could survive.” In conference with Gordy, John explained her dilemma, reassured him of their friendship, and asked for her contract release. They both cried. Gordy gave John some roses, a thousand dollars shopping money, and her release.
Soon John finally came into her own when she joined Stax Records in late 1965 and put her bluesy style to good use. When she arrived in Memphis, Issac Hayes and David Porter, who had been assigned to write for John, had nothing for her to record. Half the time, she had to track them down as they were usually chasing women and drag them into the studio. She collaborated on almost every song they wrote for her and they usually reflected some event in her life such as her 1966 million-seller, “Your Good Thing Is About To End.” It was about her husband who gambled, drank heavily and spent too much time in the streets. The song has been so beloved that it’s been covered by artists such as Lou Rawls, Bonnie Raitt and Captain & Tennille. “I’ve never considered myself a singer,” John says, “I’m a story teller.”<br>