One of the major musical influences on the Liverpool groups at the beginning of the 1960s was the Tamla Motown label, created in Detroit by Berry Gordy Junior in 1959. Berry had originally derived the name Tamla from a Debbie Reynolds film 'Tammy' and Motown was an abbreviation of the nickname of Detroit: Motor City. Berry actually used the name Tamla as a label in America in 1959 and Motown in 1961. The name Tamla Motown was used on the European releases.
In Britain in 1962, Tamla Motown was distributed by a small record label, Oriole, and the largest market for the records by the Detroit groups was on Merseyside.
At that time I began to feature Motown regularly in Mersey Beat, profiling the artists and reviewing the latest releases. Oriole Records began to take half page advertisements due to the interest aroused by the label in Liverpool.
When I received the latest Motown singles I'd take them down to the Cavern and ask Bob Wooler to play them. When I took 'Fingertips' by Little Stevie Wonder, Ringo was there and asked me if he could have the record. I gave it to him. When, shortly after, he told me that it was his favourite record I told John Schroeder of Oriole who arranged for a complete Tamla Motown collection to be sent to Ringo.
The Tamla Motown numbers were included in the repertoire of the Liverpool bands. They adapted the songs to fit in with the developing Liverpool sound, the basic three guitars/drums/harmony line-up which produced a hybrid sound, known locally as 'the Mersey Motown sound.'
This particular sound found its way on record when a number of Mersey acts recorded their own versions of Motown numbers. Faron's Flamingos recorded 'Do You Love Me' and 'Shake Sherry', Ian & the Zodiacs with 'Beechwood 45786', 'Beryl Marsden with 'When The Love Light Shines', Steve Aldo with 'Can I Get A Witness', The Trends with 'You're A Wonderful One', the Dimensions with 'Tears On My Pillow' and so on. Numbers such as 'Money' were also part of the repertoire of numerous Mersey bands such as the Searchers, Undertakers, Dominoes and All Stars.
Differing from the Mersey-Motown sound was the straight Motown-sounding presentation of numbers by local black vocal group the Chants. I lent them my albums of the Miracles and the Marvellettes which they literally wore out by playing them so often!
In 1963 the Motown distribution in Britain went to EMI's Stateside label and Motown artists soon began to have their first British hits, particularly since the Beatles had begun to mention the Motown artists in interviews. 1963 is the year in which the Beatles made their own Mersey-Motown recordings, with no less than three Motown numbers on their 'With The Beatles' album: 'Please Mr. Postman', 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' and 'Money (That's What I Want).' When Smokey Robinson heard that they'd recorded his composition 'You Really Got A Hold On Me', he said, "When they recorded it, it was one of the most flattering things that ever happened to me' I listened to it over and over again, not to criticize, but to enjoy it." He was also to comment, "They were not only respectful of us, they were downright worshipful. Whenever reporters asked them about their influences, they'd go into euphoria about Motown. I dig them, not only for their songwriting talent, but for their honesty."
The Beatles also requested that Mary Wells be included on their autumn tour of Britain in 1964. When I interviewed Mary backstage she asked me if I could get her a Lennon & McCartney number to record. I went for a chat with John and told him and he said he'd write one for her, but he didn't in the end. Mary was later to pay her own tribute to the Beatles with an album of Lennon & McCartney songs, 'Love Songs To The Beatles.' Diana Ross & the Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips and Jimmy Ruffin were among several Motown artists who began to record Lennon & McCartney material, a sort of Motown-Mersey sound! Brian Epstein also became a fan of Motown artists and brought the Four Tops over to Britain to tour. Paul McCartney was later to forge a close association with Motown artists, recording 'Ebony and Ivory' with Stevie Wonder and 'This Girl Is Mine', 'Say Say Say' and 'The Man' with Michael Jackson.
When promoters Peter Bletchford and Jeff Hale invited Mike and Rowena McCartney and Virginia and I to attend a convention in Detroit, Martha Reeves took us around the Motown Museum where we discovered that, ironically, the only reference to the Mersey Motown Sound was an inaccurate one. There is a picture of the Dave Clark Five with the Supremes which is captioned 'Liverpool Meets Detroit.
Although the rock 'n' roll influences of rock artists such as Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and other musicians have been acknowledged in the history of the Mersey Sound, little has been told of the effect Motown acts had on the Liverpool artists. A&R man John Schroeder provided me with some of his memories