Friday, January 14, 2011

music lessons with monica isaac

I live in a city known mostly for its cars and music. Detroit's history runs deep and is not always pretty. So, I asked my friend Monica Isaac, a regular music contributor to Real Detroit Weekly what makes Motown so special? Her answers have inspired me to dig deeper into the musical archives of this city. I hope you too will learn something!

Who are your top 5 Motown artists?

Marvin Gaye
I have a deep affection for this man. Check out any live Marvin performance and you will truly fall in love. He had a long history of internal suffering and it made for some of the most soulful and downright honest lyrics and songs we will ever know. “I want you” is not only a sexually charged notion, it came from a place deep inside most of us are frightened to confront.

Shorty Long
I first heard “It’s a Crying Shame” a few years back and I really dug the arrangements. I truly think he was that Motown artist that “should have been.” Dynamic voice. Named Shorty Long because of his tiny stature, but damn, he had some pipes!

David/Jimmy Ruffin
I put these talented brothers together because their voices could not have been more different, but together, pure soul magic! Their 1970 album, “I am my brother’s keeper” never commercially did well because it lacked a standout single. Ridiculous! David’s voice aches, cracks and yearns while Jimmy carries a simple and silky tone. To me, it’s one of the most underrated soul albums of all time.

Singin’ Sammy Ward
Motown’s resident blues man. His catalog doesn’t run deep, but the tracks he had were standouts in my opinion. Another rich voice that I still listen to on a regular basis.

Tammi Terrell
This sweet thing died way too young. Most people remember her relationship (personal and business) with Marvin Gaye, but man, her beauty and talent stood alone. I always imagine where her career would have gone if not for her untimely death at the age of 24.

Your top essential Motown records?

Marvin Gaye
Whats Going On (a true classic with a timely tone)

Stevie Wonder
Innervisions (from little Stevie to a mature and experimental musician)

The Supremes
I hear A Symphony

The Complete Motown Singles
An amazing collection, everything you want, didn’t know existed or never released...every single! This turned me on to so many Motown artists that it was almost overwhelming (in the most satisfying way possible). It’s a great investment. I believe it runs from 1959-1971.

Places to visit?

Hitsville U.S.A (Motown Museum) is a must.
The memorabilia is fascinating and being able to sit down at the very piano where Stevie Wonder played is a remarkable experience.

Bakers Keyboard Lounge
It always blows my mind how many Detroiters have never visited this jazz institution. It’s a god damn time travel when you step foot inside! If it’s good enough for Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, you should probably try to stop in. Oh, especially since they will be sadly closing their doors soon.

Grande Ballroom
Although you can’t actually go inside (legally, that is), taking a drive down Grand River to take a peek at the Rock mecca is worth it. It stood as the pinnacle Detroit rock n’ roll venue housing everyone from Sun Ra (free jazz genius) to our very own MC5.

Thank you so much for enlightening all of us, Monica! She plays early soul/motown, rhythm and blues, funk, world, hip-hop, every Sunday on her weekly radio show, "The Outer Ends", from 7-9pm. Go to

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