Saturday, 22 June 2013

Look Out Mic, Smokey and Martha Can Rock All Out Too

This past Friday I saw some senior citizens gyrating and grooving on stage with remarkable agility, grace, and despite their age – high energy.

No, it wasn't a Rolling Stones concert, it was the first day of the annual Toronto International Jazz Festival, and the performances were by one of the original founders of Motown, Smokey Robinson, and the Queen of Motown, Martha Reeves and her sisters, together known as Martha and the Vandellas.

Martha and the Vandellas opened the show, with some stories of days gone past, timeless songs from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and as mentioned in the opening of this piece – high energy.

High energy is surprisingly enjoyable – Martha Reeves turns 72 next month – yet she moved around stage as if she were still in her youth when she began her singing career in 1967.

She acknowledged her age, joking after singing her International smash “Heatwave” that now she’s thinking of renaming it “Heat Flash,” and she admitted during one of her numerous yet enjoyable stories about Mowtown and her singing career, that she was taking a breather.

As any great performer always does, Martha and the Vandellas left the audience wanting more. Everyone was standing and singing throughout her act, and kept standing and singing long after she had left the stage.

Smokey Robinson also in his seventies had amazing energy at an age when most are slowing down. He too told long wonderful stories about the early days of Motown, even joking about how fellow singing legend Stevie Wonder offered to drive him home from a Motown Christmas party, so they could work on a new song together.

“I can’t stand his driving,” he joked of the blind Stevie Wonder. “Steve – I call him Steve, drives way too fast – too fast!”

Both Smokey Robinson and Martha Reeves and her sisters proved something else about age, and the music industry.

They can still belt out those tunes.

Much of both musicians work is based on natural vocals, holding high notes and singing in harmony with the music.

Most of the current crop of famous singers rely on computer generated auto tune, or simply rhyming spoken – not singing – talk to the music.

Sadly, as our world becomes ever more digital, and real talent is replaced with cuteness and sex appeal, we won’t see the likes of artists like the legendary Motown singers again.

And that speaks volumes to those old enough to know what real music is means to the future of the art, and probably explains why the music industry is now just starting to recover from a major financial slump with disappointing sales over the past decade.

Most blame the ease of downloading music online freely, instead of paying for it.

And that’s part of the problem.

The real problem with the music industry is they prefer the quick sell. Find some kid that is cute, or can sell “sex” – write them something they barely rap or talk too, to cover their lack of singing ability, and promote the hell out of them.

After they’ve made millions on their one, two or three hits, drop ‘em and move onto the next wonder kid, until that talentless hack also dries up as a money maker.

We’re very lucky to still have Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves and her Vandella sisters, Mic and the boys from the Rolling Stones, and seniors able to strut their stuff on stage with amazing vigour and energy, because today’s music isn’t music. 

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