Artist and songwriter Barrett Strong, who was instrumental in the birth of Motown and played a key role in classic hits such as The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Edwin Starr, has passed away. he was 81 years old.
Strong stumbled upon Rick, who blossomed into Motown’s first big hit, in 1959 while playing a Ray Charles tune on the piano. “Money (That’s What I Want)”, Strong’s raspy lead with his vocals, sold a million copies and helped ignite the company’s fortunes.
Strong eventually ventured backstage as a songwriter, teaming with producer Norman Whitfield in the mid-1960s for Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips (“I Heard it Through the Grapevine”), Edwin Starr ( “War”) and co-wrote the hit song. and the indisputable truth (“Sometimes Smiles”).
But it was with the Temptations that Strong and Whitfield had the most success, with musically adventurous songs such as “Cloud Nine” and “I Wish It Rained” in the late 1960s and early 70s. had a string of hits with songs related to the topic. , “Can’t Be Next To You”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball Of Confusion”, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”, “Papa Is A Rolling Stone” .
A serious soul with a poetic and contemplative side, Strong took pride in his work. In 2019, he resided in his LA-area luxury nursing home, complete with amenities such as a jukebox for residents. Strong, who moves around the facility in a wheelchair, often heard his own music echoing throughout his recreational area.
Sitting with the Detroit Free Press at his home that year, he reflected on his legacy.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “I did something. I did my part. That’s what I was put on this earth. I made people smile. I made people have babies. It made people do a lot, and that’s why I contributed to my being here.”
Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement Sunday: Their hits sound groundbreaking and capture the spirit of the times, like “Cloud Nine” and the still-relevant “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).”
“My deepest condolences to his family and friends. Barrett was the first member of the Motown family and will be missed by all of us.”
Otis Williams, the founder of The Temptations, paid tribute to Strong, and their 60-plus year relationship dates back to when they lived across the street in Detroit’s North End.
“Barrett left his indelible mark not only on Motown and the Temptations, but on music history in general,” Williams said in a statement. “His outstanding legacy of chart hits epitomizes the golden age of Motown. I offer my thoughts and prayers.”
Later covered by The Beatles and others, “Money” was the first song recorded at Gordy’s newly purchased home studio on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit. That was before the company had a name, or the house had the iconic “Hitsville, USA.” ” sign out front.
Tracked live on a primitive tape machine, Strong later said the song took “100 takes” to complete.
Originally from Mississippi and moved to Detroit at the age of four, Strong was a self-taught musician who played by ear on his father’s old upright piano. He attended Hutchins Middle School with classmates, including Aretha Franklin and future Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier, when he wowed kids at the school’s talent show and saw his future.
“At the time, I really thought I was a star,” he told the Free Press in 2019.
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Strong cut his teeth at amateur shows around town, performing with acts such as the Falcons and the group that became the Four Tops. He was just a teenager when he met Gordy, a songwriter and fledgling entrepreneur.
Despite the success of “Money,” life as a front man and traveling artist didn’t suit Strong, he told the Detroit Free Press in 2019.
“I didn’t like touring. I was so skinny that my mother said, ‘You look terrible!'” he said. “I decided not to do it anymore”
Strong took a brief job at Chrysler to care for his young family. However, he maintained his desire for music and soon returned to the record industry, working with companies outside of Motown and helping cut singles by The Reflections, Chubby Checker, Mary Wells and others.
He returned to Motown in 1966 and teamed up with childhood friend Whitfield. Strong and Whitfield were inspired by the success of 1967’s “Respect” by Strong’s former schoolmate Aretha Franklin — more gritty than much of Motown’s work at the time, along with the rise of the psychedelic movement in rock and R&B. Yes, it was more soulful.
Whitfield-Strong’s working process was varied, but Strong usually conceived the lyrics along a bassline and interpreted by Motown studio bassist James Jamerson.
Decades later, he recounts the origins of his groundbreaking 1968 hit.
“I started playing some grooves on the piano and Norman was like, ‘Man, that’s funky. Let’s do it.’ We called it ‘Cloud Nine,'” Strong recalled. To do. “Berry thought we were talking about drugs. But we were talking about feeling good and doing well.
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Recorded with The Temptations, that single earned Motown its first Grammy Award. Strong, Whitfield and Tempts scored another win in 1973 with “Papa Is Rolling Stone”.
The Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack” was inspired by the basement of his home on Detroit’s Monte Vista Street, complete with groovy paintings and black lights. He said that “Just My Imagination” is an early version of the advertising jingle “I’d Like To By The World A Cork”, co-written by former Gordy associate Billy Davis. He said that he was born after listening to the stage.
Strong stayed in Detroit when Motown packed up for the West Coast in the early ’70s (“It’s not that funky out there,” he later said of Los Angeles), including two albums for Capitol. , continued to compose and record. A record he hoped would be Barry White on the label.
“It just wasn’t the right time,” he said. “Music was going in a different direction”
Strong is cynical about the music industry in general, saying he wished he knew more when he got into it as a teenager. His first hit was his controversial song. Strong was originally listed in the songwriting credits for “Money” alongside Gordy and Janie Bradford, but his name was dropped a few years later. Gordy’s attorney later said that the original inclusion was a paperwork error.
Contrary to the title of that first hit — ironic, he perceived — Strong said he was never financially driven.
“I never liked the business side,” he said in 2019. But at that time I knew nothing. ”
Carving out a life as a creator “means more than money,” Strong said. “Money has its place. But you have to do more than make money. When you go to bed at night, you have to live with yourself.”
Strong was still full of artistic energy when he opened a recording studio in the Detroit area in 2001 at the age of 60, working with young artists such as Eliza Neels.
“I love music, the creative process,” he said at the time. “I dreamed of building a studio and making it work. But you can’t sit at home and dream about it. We have to go into the trenches.”
Strong eventually succumbed to Los Angeles and moved to the area in the mid-2010s to live closer to family amid failing health. I wanted to oversee a project that fused the
Strong said in 2019:
“I still say, I haven’t written my best song yet.”
Brian McCollum, Music Writer for the Detroit Free Press: 313-223-4450 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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