‘Singing is what God called me to do,’ says veteran soul diva Martha
Veteran soul diva Martha Reeves comes to Preston this Saturday for an exclusive performance at the city’s burgeoning night, Preston’s Got Soul. She told ALAN BURROWS what motivates her after so many years in the business.
Q. You have achieved so much in the music industry... What is it that continues to drive you to perform?
I feel that singing is what God called me to do, and what He gave me a love for. I have been blessed with great songs to sing – songs about love and joy – with the energy and the talent to still be able to do it after 50 years, and with fans like those here in the UK who love the songs and sing along with me.
Q. Please share with us some of your memories of the Motown Golden era.
Wow, too many memories to share. Definitely a highlight was coming here for the first time and meeting all of the Tamla/Motown fans. Dave Grodin was the president. The Beatles came to the US and the Tamla/Motown fan club got us over here. We received as much love in the UK as the Beatles did in the US. What a thrill!
Q. What are your thoughts on the lost songs and talents from that era that are now being taken up and promoted by the Northern Soul scene?
I am grateful that the Northern Soul crowd has taken up songs like “No One There.” One of my favorite songs.
Q. A friend of yoursÖ.Bettye Lavette is currently enjoying a career revival to a brand new audience. Would you consider releasing new material and engaging with new generations of soul music fans?
I had a Top 25 dance record last year, “I’m Not Leaving.” I am still in the studio. Hopefully you will hear some new material soon.
Q. You are a Motown legend and a hero to manyÖÖ.who are your own heroes and legends in the music industry?
My early influences were people like Lena Horne and Della Reese. I listen mainly to gospel artists now.
Q. Detroit ,which is in the hearts of thousands of British people is not the City it once was. Do you fear for its future or are there some signs of recovery?
Detroit is and always will be a great city. Every large city has its problems, but as we saw with our auto industry, Detroit can and will make its way back. It may be smaller, but it will always be great.
Q. Preston is very excited to be hosting Martha Reeves for the first time are you excited about coming to Preston? What do you know of it?
I heard that Preston’s got soul! I am excited to be here. When not working, I love museums. I hope I have time to visit the Harris Museum.
Q. Are you involved with mentoring new talent in the music industry? Are there any personal favourites on the current scene or any stars of the future that we should look out for?
I work a lot with young musicians and recently helped judge a talent competition in Detroit, along the lines of the “x” factor. I know a lot of very talented young singers and instrumentalists, but you never know who will become a star. It takes more than talent.
Q. You have had (are having!) a fantastic career in music! Do you put this down to talent and hard work or luck - or a combination of all three?
Talent, hard work, Berry Gordy, the way my parents raised me (Moma used to tell me never to think of myself more highly or lowly than I ought to), and God’s blessings.
Q. Are you a Marvin Gaye Fan? What’s your favourite song? Who’s best Marvin or Curtis Mayfield?
Remember that I sang with Marvin on his first three records – “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” “Hitch Hike” and “Pride and Joy,” and used to back him up on stage, and he co-wrote “Dancing in the Street.” I love Marvin. I sometimes sing “What’s Going On?” in my show.
Q. What do you think of Jagger and Bowie’s Dancing in the Street?
I take it as a tribute; as a way of saying, “Martha, we love you.”
Q. Do you have a favourite cover version of your songs?
I appreciate so many people paying tribute. I especially loved Mama Cass’ version of “Dancing in the Street.”
What do you make of the devotion for soul from the scooter boys of the 60s to the Northern Soul fans of the 2000s?
I love it. They found their way down to the Isle of Elba when I was there for Easter weekend a couple of years ago. That’s love!
Q. Do you think being one of 11 children added to your determination to sing louder and prouder to be heard - from your church days onwards?
I was raised in a house of love by parents who loved music. My mother was a beautiful singer who loved Billie Holiday, so when I sing “God Bless The Child,” I try to emulate her. My father played guitar and played with John Lee Hooker. My first time singing was at the age of 3 at my grandfather’s church with my brothers. My brother, Benny, used to sing with the Contours. My sister, Lois, became a Vandella in 1967, and my sister Delphine joined me in the early 80s. It’s not about singing loud, its about singing with love, understanding of the music, and with soul.
Q. Artists covered by you include Linda Ronstadt, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, The Grateful Dead, The Mamas and The Papas, Van Halen, The Who, The Jam, The Kinks, Neil Diamond, The Walker Brothers, Laura Nyro. Which of these have done the best cover and which of these would you like to have worked with?
I sang “Heat Wave” with Springsteen, recently did “Nowhere to Run” with Michael Bolton. Linda Ronstadt said that “Heat Wave” was one of the hardest songs she ever sang.
Q. Our friends at the Blackpool Gazette would like to know - is it true you played in Blackpool back in the 60s, and if so what are your memories of it?
Yes, all good memories of people coming out and just having a party. The Mods! Some of those fans are still with us today, and I know they will be at Preston.
Some have already emailed me and put messages on Facebook and Twitter. I always do a meet and greet after the show, talk to fans and they tell me stories, and they bring old pics and old records for me to sign. I look forward to making some new friends, new fans and new memories on Saturday. Let’s party!
How Martha hit Preston’s Got Soul night
You know that your soul night is a success when the stars call YOU.
Preston’s Got Soul has now been running for two years. So, when soul legend Martha Reeves’ agent was putting together her UK tour, he picked up the phone to the two Preston businessmen who put it together.
Andrew Kirkham and Luke Gale found themselves being asked if they would stage the only North West date of the Dancing in the Street star’s current UK outing as part of their latest night.
They have previously hosted other big soul names – although no-one of quite the magnitude of Martha – and their reputation is beginning to pay off.
Andrew Kirkham told the Lancashire Evening Post: “We got a call – it was Martha’s agent in New York.
“We were invited – asked whether Preston’s Got Soul would be interested in hosting her on her latest tour, as the sole North West venue.
“We have previously had Dean Parrish and Tommy Hunt and The Allnighters and we have been running our nights for two years now so we have got quite a good reputation.
“But it’s a real honour to be asked we can put on Martha Reeves – she is a real icon!”