Thank You Marvin Gaye

 

Marvin Gaye was one of the most prominent musicians in my life. He was a guy that was groomed by Berry Gordy’s Motown Music Machine. Berry Gordy was a businessman. He was about money and success. He put all of his artist through his rigorous music factory. He controlled every aspect of their sound, from the song writing, the image, the stage performance, and the music production. He kept their music clean, pop, and profitable. That is why we have what is known as the Motown sound. Berry Gordy controlled that, and even went so far as to put some of his artist through etiquette school, to maximize their ability to crossover.

Marvin GayBerry Gordy made Marvin Gaye his RNB Crooner. Marvin Gaye dressed in suties, was clean cut, and sung love songs, and a few party songs. Berry even paired Marving with Tammi Terrel as a “singing couple” that song love duets. Then a few terrible things happened to Marvin. Tammi Terrel died. This deeply hurt Marvin, and he even thought that it might be a religious curse, due to the nature of some of his songs. He stopped singing. Then his brother went to the Vietnam War. His brother wrote several letters to Marvin, describing that horrors of war, and the low value put on human life. Marvin started to feel a spiritual conviction that he needed to change, and to use his music to speak about this situation.

 

Meanwhile, on May 15th 1969, Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Four Tops witnessed the Berkeley Police violently beat student protestors. They where protesting because after they turned and abandoned junk lot into a beautiful neighborhood park, the California Governor, Ronald Reagan, thought that the liberal left was out of control and wanted to shut it down. He sent 300 Highway patrol men, along with Berkeley police to kick them out of the park. Obie saw them beating their own children over a park, and said to himself “what’s going on?” Then we wrote a song about the state of the world.  He presented this song to Marvin, and it coincided perfectly with Marvin’s owns convictions. Marvin heard his calling, and was moved to create an album.

 

With this album, Marvin wanted to make a change and do something different. He completely rejected the standard Motown pop image. He grew his beard out, brought in his own musicians, and decided to produce the album his self. Even in his music, Motown was the establishment, and Marvin wanted to make his album antiestablishment. He fused this album with jazz, he abandoned the standard Motown backbeat, and relied upon heavy percussion and tambourine, and laid back grooves. He also created a concept album where the songs flowed into each other like one continuous mix tape.

 

Instead of the standard love and party lyrics, Marvin wanted to sing about politics, religion, right, wrong and pain. For Berry Gordy, this was a problem. Anytime you make political statements, or talk about religion, or world issues, you stand to offend people. For Berry, this was bad for business. It could ruin his whole label. So he was highly against this. He absolutely refused to put the record out.

 

This album wasn’t released until after Marvin made his loud and silent protest. He refused to work or sing for Motown until it was released. Even with that, it took a chance accident and the willingness of Motown executive Harry Balk to put the album out behind Barry Gordy’s back. Upon its release, it sold 100,000 copies the first day. Even though Berry Gordy went crazy at first, the sound of money appealed to his greater sense of business, and he accepted it.

 

I have listened to this album most of my life now, and it helped justify who I am and who I wanted to be. Socially, it made me conscious of the tragedy and injustice in this world. This world is insane, and this record let me know that I was not the only one who see’s this. He acted, and tried to do something about it. We cannot just ignore the world, as a musician we have an opportunity to raise awareness and be the voice of those who have no voice. Marvin Gaye had the courage to stand up for what he believed in. He stopped being a puppet for the money machine. He was even willing to give up his singing career to put this album out. I’m glad. He touched the world. What’s going on has sparked movements that have helped millions. Furthermore as a musician, I just love the music on this album. For example, Inner City Blues is one of my all time favorite songs. From the lyrics to the instrumentation it is a reflection of me. That Funky bass line, the hard knocking drums beat, the beautiful pads, woodwinds, and the harmonious scatting. Marvin paints a picture, and transmits emotions and feelings that is not common in music. If you want to understand the mind of the inner-city people, this song tells the story. Thank you Marvin Gaye, and thank you for the family you have left behind to help me when I needed it.

 

Marvin Gaye is special to me. When I was  going through a difficult time in my life, his son Marvin Gaye III moved me into the estate Pool House. Marvins wife, Ana Gaye-Gordy accepted me and allowed me to live in their Hollywood Home. They treated me with respect and like family. I was able to set up my studio, and make music. When Thanksgiving and Christmas came, and I had no where else to go, they allowed me to eat off of their family table. I was able to meet Berry Gordy. I was able to make music with Marvin Jr, and Phillip Gordy. I was in awe of the musical history that I was allowed to be next to. It was in this house that I got my first mac, that I learned ProTools, and that I worked on my first label project. It was also here that I made most of my music contacts, and even where by chance I met another vet name Vernell Varnado who set me on the path to how I am able to support my family today. So from the bottom of my heart I thank you, Marvin Gaye for what you left me.

 

The slide show below are from a recording session at “Marvin’s Place”. This was the personal studio of Marvin Gaye, located in Hollywood, Ca. In the photo are Marvin Gaye III (Marvin Gayes son), Darrin “Nomad” Jackson (myself, Engineer, Producer), and Jon Nettlesbey (Prestigious Songwriter, Producer, Engineer), Quaze (producer) and Phillip Gordy (Producer)

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