Ashford and Simpson
This Biography is based on Sonicnet:
Nickolas "Nick" Ashford (b. 4 May 1942, Fairfield, South Carolina, USA) and Valerie Simpson (b. 26 August 1946, Bronx, New York, USA). This performing and songwriting team met in the choir of Harlem's White Rock Baptist Church. Having recorded, unsuccessfully, as a duo, they joined another aspirant, Jo "Joshie" Armstead, at the Scepter / Wand label where their compositions were recorded by Ronnie Milsap ("Never Had It So Good"), Maxine Brown ("One Step At A Time"), the Shirelles and Chuck Jackson. Another of the trio's songs, "Let's Go Get Stoned", gave Ray Charles a number 1 US R&B hit in 1966. Ashford and Simpson then joined Holland/Dozier/Holland at Motown Records where their best-known songs included "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", "You're All I Need To Get By", "Reach Out And Touch Somebody's Hand" and "Remember Me". Simpson also began "ghosting" for Tammi Terrell when the latter became too ill to continue her partnership with Marvin Gaye, and she sang on part of the duo's Easy album. In 1971 Simpson embarked on a solo career, but two years later she and Ashford were recording together for Warner Brothers Records. A series of critically welcomed, if sentimental, releases followed, but despite appearing on the soul chart, few crossed over into pop. However, by the end of the decade, the couple achieved their commercial reward with the success of "It Seems To Hang On" (1978) and "Found A Cure" (1979). At the same time their production work for Diana Ross ( The Boss ) and Gladys Knight ( The Touch ) enhanced their reputation. Their status as imaginative performers and songwriters was further assured in 1984 when "Solid" became an international hit single. Ashford and Simpson, who were married in 1974, remain one of soul's quintessential partnerships.
This Biography is based on All Music Guide:
Norman Whitfield was one of the major architects of the Motown sound, almost from its inception as a national label up thru its waning days of major chart success. More than that, however, Whitfield and his personal drive became an important part of the psychological dynamic of the label, often pushing Motown founder Berry Gordy to try out songs and sounds that he didn't fully appreciate himself, to their mutual benefit. Born in New York in 1943, Whitfield wasn't yet in his teens when r&b began exerting itself as a major force. He learned very fast, however, and before he was 20, he'd gained some experience as a staff producer at Detroit's Thelma Records. He was also a working session musician in Detroit, even playing tambourine with the band Popcorn & The Mohawks on some 1959-vintage recordings on which they backed the Distants, the precursors to the Temptations. He was to see sides and potential in the group's sound that would enhance both their careers in the decade to follow.
In late 1962, Whitfield became part of the early boom era at Motown Records, joining the ranks of Harvey Fuqua, Mickey Stevenson, and the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team. Whitfield was originally brought into Motown as a songwriter, and among his early successes were "I Couldn't Cry If I Wanted To", written in collaboration with Eddie Holland and cut by the Temptations in late 1962. It soon became clear to Berry Gordy that Whitfield's talents extended to arranging and production, and it was in the latter capacity that he came to prominence at the label. Whitfield enjoyed some success as a composer with "Too Many Fish In The Sea" by the Marvelettes and "Needle In A Haystack" by the Velvettes, but it was his drive, and his vision as a producer, that allowed him to take over the helm of the Temptations' records.
From 1963 onward, Whitfield had produced most of their recordings of his own songs, and by 1966, he'd taken over producing the Temptations completely, in the wake of their huge hit "Ain't Too Proud To Beg", as well as "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" and "I Know I'm Losing You"). For the next few years, Whitfield or his protege Frank Wilson produced virtually all of the Temptations' recordings, although as Berry Gordy recalled in his autobiography, Whitfield was ambitious enough to extend his influence as a producer far and wide he still wrote songs as well, and he was always looking for different ways of presenting the same composition.
Whitfield's approach to music resembled that of the record producers of a by-gone era, in that he would treat the same song differently with a variety of artists, looking for new permutations of the song's appeal to put before the public. Had he worked for a label like Columbia or RCA, with a roster of artists spanning the musical spectrum, Whitfield might have been cutting r&b, country, pop, and rock 'n roll versions of his songs, looking for versions that clicked with him and the public.
His enthusiasm was infectious, and Gordy marveled at the moments when Whitfield was hooked on an idea. Even when one of his songs was a hit, he would try the song in a different way. Gordy also soon learned to trust Whitfield's bouts of seemingly reckless enthusiasm. When the record label chief vetoed a single release of Whitfield's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" that had been cut by Marvin Gaye, opting instead for a more romantic song, Whitfield refused to let the matter drop. He turned around and annoyed Gordy intensely, finally cajoling him into okaying another attempt at the song by Gladys Knight & The Pips. Their version, almost a gospel rendition, was a huge hit, and in its wake the Marvin Gaye version, much more raw sounding (and also produced by Whitfield), was issued and became a second hit version. The song became one of the most valuable copyrights owned by Motown, as it was covered by hundreds of artists, most notably Creedence Clearwater Revival, both on an edited single and as an epic-length jam on their perennially popular LP Cosmo's Factory.
Whitfield became the company's sparkplug as music entered the psychedelic era, taking to the new sound and, especially, the use of sound effects more easily than most of the rest of the label. The Temptations were his instrument, their singles and albums his canvas, as Whitfield began creating more involved and ambitious works. Beginning with the single "I Wish It Would Rain" written in collaboration with lyricist Eddie Holland, who became Whitfield's songwriting partner he moved the group and the company into this new era, which opened up the subject matter as well as the sound of their songs. "I Can't Get Next To You", "Ball of Confusion", and "Cloud Nine" were among the best records to come out of the label during the turn of the 1960's into the 1970's. When Whitfield wasn't producing the albums himself, his protege, Frank Wilson, using techniques and approaches he'd learned from Whitfield, was in charge. By way of Wilson's contemporary work with the Four Tops, Whitfield's influence extended to other corners of the Motown stable during this era.
Whitfield kept moving with the times, and had other songs and outlets for his compositions in mind. Edwin Starr had been with Motown for several years without scoring a major hit, but in 1970, he scored the biggest hit of his career with "War", co-written by Whitfield and Holland the song was so well known, that 22 years later, its lyrics ("War, what is it good for") figured in a key joke (involving Tolstoy's War and Peace) at the center of an episode of Seinfeld.
He also put together a new group around this time, the Undisputed Truth, out of the ruins of a failed Motown act called the Delicates and one ex-member of a group called the Preps. With Whitfield putting Billie Rae Calvin, Brenda Joyce, and Joe Harris together and calling all of the shots for the group as far as songs and recordings, they became one of his two principal vehicles for musical expression. The group hit right out of the box with another Whitfield song that managed to capture its time and place, "Smiling Faces Sometimes", which became a No. 3 hit in 1971 the song itself may have said more than it meant to about the time in which it was written, recorded, and released, with a slow tempo and an ominous mood. They never hit again as big as they did with that song, as Whitfield concentrated most of his efforts on the Temptations, but he used the Undisputed Truth to try out funk and psychedelic experiments, both with his own songs (including the first version of "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" and covers of other writers' songs.
The dawn of the 1970's and the success of albums such as Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On and Stevie Wonder's Innervisions saw the company enter a last, great flowering in its recordings. Whitfield created his greatest effort, Masterpiece by the Temptations, during this period, but its critical notices were better than its sales, and he soon found himself, like most of the label's other producers, being discouraged from further recordings as ambitious as that, particularly as Motown's fortunes declined the company had started the 1970's in healthy enough condition, but by the middle of the decade had taken huge losses, not only on many recordings but on several dubious film-related projects.
In 1975, Whitfield left Motown to found his own label, Whitfield Records (its emblem, a "W," was virtually an inverted Motown "M" with different color scheme), taking the Undisputed Truth with him. He recruited new members, most notably Taka Boom (aka Yvonne Stevens, the sister of Chaka Khan) (later with The Glass Family, to work with Joe Harris, and saw some hits from this version of the group with "You+MeLove" and "Let's Go Down To the Disco". Whitfield's big success with his own label, however, and his last big commercial hit, came in 1976 with the group Rose Royce, which he had discovered during their time as Edwin Starr's back-up band (known as Magic Wand). Beginning with their soundtrack to the movie Car Wash, the group enjoyed a series of three hit albums and accompanying hit singles for Whitfield's label. Since the beginning of the 1980's, however, and the decline of disco, Whitfield has been virtually unheard as either a producer or songwriter, except for the omnipresent reissues of his 13 years of Motown productions. Bruce Eder
William "Mickey" Stevenson
This Biography is based on All Music Guide:
Songwriter and producer William "Mickey" Stevenson was one of the unsung heroes behind the extraordinary success of the Motown Sound the label's first A&R director, he not only recruited major stars like Martha Reeves but also assembled the company's legendary roster of studio musicans, additionally authoring a number of perennial hits for acts including Marvin Gaye and wife Kim Weston. Stevenson began his career in gospel and doo-wop before joining the Tamla/Motown staff in 1959; in addition to co-producing and arranging records for Marv Johnson, the label's first recording artist, his earliest duties included organizing the company's house band. Installing pianist "Ivory" Joe Hunter as bandleader, Stevenson brought together a truly remarkable (albeit relatively unknown) group of Detroit-area jazz and club musicians including bassist James Jamerson, guitarists Robert White and Joe Messina, and drummer Benny Benjamin; though their lineup changed frequently in the years to follow, the so-called "Funk Brothers" remained the bedrock of the Motown Sound throughout the company's golden age.
In 1961 Stevenson teamed with co-writer Barrett Strong to score his first major hit, Eddie Holland's "Jamie." For the Marvelettes' "Beechwood 4-5789," he partnered with Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. as well as recent roster addition Marvin Gaye; weeks later, Motown released Gaye's first hit single, "Stubborn Kind of Fellow," which Stevenson co-wrote as well. Backing vocals on the record were contributed by Martha Reeves, then Stevenson's secretary, and her group the Vandellas; when singer Mary Wells failed to show up for a subsequent session, Stevenson cut a record with Martha and the Vandellas instead, resulting in the group's 1963 debut 1963's "I'll Have to Let Him Go." That same year, the producer inspired the Miracles smash "Mickey's Monkey." In 1964 Stevenson, Gaye and Ivy Hunter collaborated on Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street," his biggest songwriting hit for the label; equally important, around that same time he hired Norman Whitfield as his A&R assistant, launching the career of one of Motown's most influential and successful staff producers.
Stevenson's last major hit for Motown was 1966's classic "It Takes Two," a duet between Gaye and the producer's wife, Kim Weston. In early 1967 both Stevenson and Weston left Motown to form their own label, People; in the spring, Weston signed to MGM, and her husband was offered a reported million dollar deal to assume control of the company's floundering Venture subsidiary. The Midas touch Stevenson possessed in the past soon dissipated, however, so in 1969 he shifted gears and scored the film Changes. He went on to write and produce a series of theatrical musicals including Swann, Showgirls, Wings and Things, The Gospel Truth, TKO and Chocolate City. For 1999's Sang, Sista, Sang a tribute to legendary vocalists like Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker he reunited with fellow Motown alum Smokey Robinson. Jason Ankeny