Notable Reissues

Let the Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (Hip-O Select, April 2008)

The producers of this CD combed through the Motown archives in order to come up with a two CD set of 47 previously unreleased takes. As is typical with compilations of this type, the alternate takes reveal elements of the creative and production process through altered verses and extended versions. If you’re only interested in hearing the final versions, this CD set is not for you.

Gladys Knight & the Pips: Claudine/Pipe Dreams. (Shout! June 2008)

Shout Factory has assembled on one compact disc two rare 1970s movie soundtracks featuring Gladys Knight & The Pips.  Claudine, released in 1974, was a film starring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones, with music composed by Curtis Mayfield (this was two years after his much celebrated Superfly score).  The soundtrack includes the chart-topping single “On And On,” as well as the more poignant “Welfare Man.”  Pipe Dreams, released in 1976, actually featured Gladys Knight in the starring role. The film was not commercially successful and Knight’s acting career went no further. The soundtrack includes one hit single, “So Sad The Song,” though contemporary audiences may be more interested in “Alaska Pipeline.”

Bo Diddley.  Road Runner: The Chess Masters, 1959-1960. (Hip-O Select, June 2008)

This is the second installment of Hip-O Select’s tribute to Bo Diddley, who passed away earlier this year (the first installment, I’m A Man: The Chess Masters 1955-1958, was released in 2007).  The two CD set features 52 tracks in all, including 23 previously unreleased songs and alternate takes encompassing both his Chess studio recordings and various home recordings. Liner notes were provided by George R. White, Diddley’s biographer. This is great stuff and absolutely essential for anyone interested in the black roots of rock ‘n’ roll.

Yvonne Fair.  The Bitch is Black (Reel Music, June 2008)

The late Yvonne Fair performed with the James Brown Revue in the early 1960s and simultaneously released several singles which never took off, even though they were produced by Brown. She then took a stab at Motown, pairing up with Marvin Gaye, but success did not arrive until  Norman Whitfield produced several of her singles in 1974, which led up to her one and only album. The Bitch is Black, released in 1975, features some great “in your face” funky R&B from a little known performer. The accompanying booklet features photos and a biographical essay by A. Scott Galloway.

Joe Tex.  Get Way Back: The 1950s Recordings (Ace, August 2008)

Joe Tex (1933-1982) was Texas-born soul singer who rose to fame in the mid-1960s, but this compilation traces the beginnings of his career. The 27 tracks that he recorded for the King and the American Ace label, some released on CD for the first time, include elements of rock ‘n’ roll as well as New Orleans R&B. The accompanying booklet offers biographical information and previously unpublished photographs.

The Lost Supreme

Title: The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard
Author: Peter Benjaminson
ISBN: 978-1-55652-705-0 (213 p.)
Publisher: Lawrence Hill Books
Date: 2008

Peter Benjaminson, whose previous books include The Story of Motown (1979), delves much, much further into the life of Florence Ballard in his latest effort. As a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, Benjaminson had published an article in 1975 about the plight of Ballard, and was largely responsible for letting the world know that one of the original Supremes was not living high off of royalty checks, but was instead forced to accept welfare checks. Benjaminson went on to conduct a series of interviews with Ballard just prior to her death in 1976. When the success of the movie Dreamgirls sparked a renewed interest in the “Lost Supreme,” he decided to dust off the tapes and write a biography that would reveal the complete story of Flo Ballard.

Since the original interviews with Ballard, Benjaminson he has spoken with numerous colleagues, friends and family members–including former Motown publicity director Alan Abrams, former Supreme Mary Wilson, sister Linda Ballard, and daughters Michelle and Nicole. What has evolved from that legwork is a solid portrait of Ballard, from her teenage years through her tragic last days. Much of the text is in the form of direct quotes from the interviews, woven together with historical details. There are two appendices–“Florence Ballard, Primettes, and Supremes Discography” and “Excerpts from Florence Ballard’s Legal Case Against Motown Records et al.”–as well as a list of sources (mostly secondary, with the exception of interviews and court records).

Though there are no earth-shattering revelations in The Lost Supreme, and much of the story has been told in other books about Motown and the Supremes, it is still a solid and very engaging effort–but sadly one without a happy ending.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss