Al Abram's Book: Selling My Soul Apr 9, 2007 20:52:27 GMT -5
Post by Emerald City on Apr 9, 2007 20:52:27 GMT -5
Publicist remembers Motown days
By Michael Punsalan
Toledo Free Press Staff Writer
“Every time I walk into Kroger, night or day, it's almost like clockwork. They start playing the Supremes on the sound system,” said Al Abrams, original publicist and first employee of the legendary Motown Records. “I know it's not triggered by my walking in, it's obviously on a cycle and it keeps playing. But to walk in and hear the Supremes and the Temptations, I realize how much a part of American life it is.”
Abrams, known to music fans as the man responsible for getting the Motown sound on national airwaves, didn't realize the complexity of his job when he was hired by Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. in 1959.
“My job was to get the white disc jockeys to play Motown songs in addition to the African-American disc jockeys who were playing it anyway,” said Abrams, now a veteran author and Findlay resident.
Abrams' book, “Selling My Soul: The Complete Motown Press Releases 1964-1966,” available April 1, chronicles the cultural transition of Motown's urban soul sound into the heart of young America. The book includes reproductions of the only-known set of Motown original press releases, as well as previously unpublished artist biographies and rare newspaper stories associated with Abrams' work.
The book closely parallels the rise of the civil rights movement in the United States, according to Abrams. “You can see the progression from when the Supremes play the Chitlin' Circuit all the way to playing the Copa,” he said. “It's a great historical record. Everybody's in there. Stevie Wonder. Marvin Gaye. The Temptations. All the artists.”
Abrams said the job was challenging.
“It was tough getting the word out,” he said. “This was the pre-Internet, pre-‘Entertainment Tonight' era, and the only way to get information out was on the radio or in the newspaper. Here we are in Detroit, in the middle of one of the longest newspaper strikes in history. The Supremes have three No. 1 records in a row, and people in Detroit don't even know about it.”
Running into difficulties while promoting the Supremes in the Detroit News led Abrams to alternative strategies.
“The Detroit News said, ‘We can't put black people on the cover of a TV magazine,' ” Abrams said.
The racial barrier led Abrams to fabricate a story to the editor, claiming Abrams was the original founder of Motown and he lost ownership in a dice game to Berry Gordy.
“I played to every stereotype in his head,” Abrams said.
He told the editor Gordy was nice enough to let him stick around and do promotions. The editor was so moved by the story, he permitted the front-page picture.
“Then the Supremes became the first African-Americans to be on the cover of a TV magazine,” Abrams said. “A couple years later, the same editor was doing a big story on Motown and wanted to meet Berry Gordy. When he met him he said, ‘I've wanted to meet you. I've heard so much about you.' Gordy replied, ‘You have?' And the guy said, ‘Yeah, my maid listens to your music all the time.' That's the type of thing you went through in those days.”
Though Motown would smash cultural barriers, Abrams hesitates to acknowledge his role in the historic process.
“I was around some of the most amazing talent in the world,” he said. “We were so busy with the struggle that there was no time to think about it. If I had gone to Berry at anytime and said, ‘You know, Berry, one day people are going to be looking back and still singing the songs and still buying the records.”
“He would've said, ‘Yeah, whatever. Go back to work.' ”
“Selling My Soul” is available through the Web site Bankhouse Books