by Michael P. Coleman
Martha Reeves and her Vandellas burst onto the music scene in 1962 as ambassadors of the burgeoning Motown Sound. With smashes like “Jimmy Mack”, “Nowhere To Run”, “(Love Is Like A) Heatwave”, “Dancing In The Street” and others, Reeves was surpassed only by Diana Ross as Motown’s top female hit maker during the label’s 1960s heyday. Unlike Ross who followed the label to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, Reeves stayed behind in Detroit, went solo in 1972 and recorded a number of albums before joining the Detroit City Council in the 1990s. One of those albums was her 1976 Arista debut The Rest Of My Life.
While Reeves continues to record, neither that album nor any of her other solo projects reached the heights of her 60s projects, and her solo albums have been out of print for decades. Thanks to the British imprint Funky Town Grooves, fans can revisit The Rest Of My Life, which features some of Reeves’ most spirited vocal performances along with the original version of “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter”, a song Angela Bofill made famous a few years later. The album’s other highlights include covers of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher And Higher”, The O’Jays’ “Now That We’ve Found Love”, and The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, as well as the very Motown-esque “Thank You.”
On the eve of The Rest Of My Life‘s reissue, I caught up with Reeves at her home in Detroit. She shared some insights about the making of the album, why she didn’t appreciate getting singing lessons from Arista impresario Clive Davis, her projects with the then-unknown Luther Vandross, and her thoughts about the absence of vintage R & B on the radio today.
Clive Davis is known for being rather “hands on” with projects. Looking back to “The Rest Of My Life“, how involved was Clive with that album?
I think Clive and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things related to that project. The only song that he was involved with was the title track. As a seasoned artist, I didn’t feel there was a need for him to instruct me about how to sing as he tried to do on that song. So we sort of bumped heads when I told him that he had been the first person who ever tried to tell me how to sing!
Have you been in touch with Clive more recently? He‘s just resigned Aretha Franklin, and I‘m wondering whether you‘d entertain the thought of resigning with Arista if the opportunity were there?
Clive had a way of using other artists to promote the people he wanted to promote. Clive was hands on with Barry, and he used a lot of other people to make him big. For instance, they did a TV show and had me appear on it when my album was being released. Clive had Barry’s band play my song “My Baby Loves Me”. I don’t think I want to be a part of something like that again. Clive is very powerful in the business, he has his choice of things and if he chooses to do something, he can make it happen. I don’t think I’m one of his choices. I don’t think he preferred me as an artist.
You‘ve said that you don‘t think “The Rest Of My Life” received the promotion that it deserved. Do you think that‘s because you and Clive clashed creatively?
I wasn’t his artist of the week. He had a lot of other artists that he preferred. Like Berry Gordy, Clive had chosen artists that he wanted to promote. It wasn’t a factor of my ability, and a reflection on the quality of the project or display of my talent. He had no interest in promoting or pushing me.
I‘m surprised he wasn‘t involved on “This Time I‘ll Be Sweeter“, because he later cut that with Angela Bofill.
Roberta Flack also recorded it, as did Gwen Guthrie and lots of others. I was the first to sing it. I kind of felt it was a special gift from Gwen, before she passed away.
Did you chose the other cover songs, or did the producers bring them to you?
The producers brought them to me. I though “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” was a wonderful arrangement of the song. There was also a bunch of good musicians on those sessions. They came close to the energy and enthusiasm that Motown had created back in the 60s with the Funk Brothers. Luther Vandross is also singing background on that album, on the Pat Grant and Gwen Guthrie songs. I think Pat and Luther were tight, they were friends.
I understand you‘re interested in adding “This Time I‘ll be Sweeter” back into your live act.
It was in there for a long time! It’s just a matter of finding the charts and sticking it back into the show, along with “Higher and Higher”.
I think you should put “Love Strong Enough To Move Mountains” from the album back into your show. Your vocal is incredible on that song.
Lord! There’s some emotion in there! Thank you. I felt that it almost became a gospel song for me when I was recording it. I’m going to add it to the set list. I’ve never performed that song live. I think it I did, I’d show some people a side of me that I’ve not expressed in other songs.
Overall, how does the album sound to you today?
It sounds good, but the vinyl sounded better. Maybe I’m stuck on the “scratch” of a 33, but there’s something…I don’t know. It sounds very good on CD, but it seems like vinyl puts you a little closer to it. It’s more intimate when you hear the vinyl, especially on “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”.
I‘m excited about your fans being able to hear this album again!
Thank you. We put a lot of energy into that album. It’s like it’s been hidden in a time capsule [LAUGHS]. and finally taken out. I hadn’t heard of Funky Town Grooves, but I’m glad to be a part of what they’re doing. They’re letting people know that there’s value in this vintage music, and it should be played on the radio. I’m glad you’re helping me with exposure on “The Rest Of My Life”, and please let Funky Town Grooves know how grateful I am to them. God Bless your heart.
The Rest Of My Life is available on www.funkytowngrooves.com.
Michael P. Coleman was born and raised in Martha Reeves‘ hometown, the Motor City. You can connect with him at michaelpcoleman.com, via email at email@example.com, or on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP.