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Interview with Beans Bowles [Part 1 of 2]

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Interview with Beans Bowles [Part 1 of 2]
Topics
Bowles, Thomas, Rock and Roll, Saxophone, Motown
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Interviewer:
Let's start out telling me about when you were playing at the Flame Show Bar, the kind of band you were playing with, the kind of tunes you played and get into telling me how the young Berry Gordy used to come listen.
Bowles:
Okay, uh, when I first, we first started uh, ah, I was at th- a musician in the Maurice King Orchestra at the Flame Show Bar and uh, I guess that was -- the Flame hadn't been open for about no more than a year when we went in. And uh, we had, you know, a great show every day we would do uh, uh at least three shows but on weekend we'd do one each hour and the lines were all around. Berry Gordy had his sister in as, well he didn't have 'em in, I mean she actually was working as a concessionaire in there, she had the, the uh, cigarette girls. The hat check and the, and the candies you know, they walk around with the little short dresses on with the candy and cigarettes and chewing gum and they sell, you know, to all the customers, Las Vegas style I guess over the years and of course we played and we did a lot of things we did all kind of music. The orchestra was probably the best in the area at that time. Uh, Maurice King was the alto saxophonist and Lewis Barnett played tenor and Russell Green played trumpet and I was on the baritone and most of us all doubled, so we could get all kind of effects and we had a three-piece rhythm section with Dagwood Langford and uh, well we, we exchanged bassists several times -- we started out with Wendell Jenkins and, and uh, had Clarence Sherylle and also uh, uh, we called him Quasimoto, he was a Glover, James Glover. Because he wore them big, thick glasses. So all of the time we'd, you know, we'd be playing, we played all the good stuff, we had all the good orches-- uh, uh, orchestral arrangements because Berry Gor-- not Berry, I keep saying Berry, uh, Maurice King wrote all the music and he wrote it for, so that the band sounded like a, a very, very big orchestra, see? And that was before synthesizer and stuff, so we didn't have a chance to enhance it with the synthesizer. So uh, uh, we would have all the best singers, the, the uh, Mary Anne MacCalls, the Billy Ecksteins, Eddie Fischer, everybody. They was a top, top flight uh, uh, orchestra, I mean, top flight acts and we had five acts. Now that's another thing, see, we -- it was a variety show. We always had a M.C., Ziggy Johnson was there, used to be the uh, uh, producer really of the show. He's, he did, he was uh, a producer in Harlem and a producer in Chicago and a producer in Atlantic City. H-he and Larry Steele had a little competition going at times. And uh, man, they were beginning to uh, bring in dancers and singers that, of course at that time I had never he- seen any of them, I'd heard of most of them and uh, man, we, we, we had the greatest show in the city and cars would be lined up from one end of John arch to the other and uh, you had all them big Cadillacs and stuff going up there, it was a grand old age. It was a grand old age. Well during this time Berry Gordy was in the back door. He'd be standing back there looking in 'cause he was too young to come in, but we'd leave the door open for him, or they would leave the door open and, actually if it wasn't hot enough for the air condition, they'd leave the door open so they could get a breeze through there and uh, consequently, Berry would enjoy all the music. And he'd cock his head and chew his tongue. Nobody paid any attention to that, to that until he got into the studio and they saw that that was one of his quirks, you know, and you know how it is when everybody wants to be like the big man, so everybody was walking around with chewing on their tongue. And every time they caught there self-concentrating, everybody started chewing on their tongue like Berry. And you'll see Smokey and the guys doing that now, they still do that. But anyway, Berry uh, got an education right there uh, he was a Be-bop aficionado he loved it. And in his recording thing he tried to uh, not, he had a record company. It's when I when I say record company I mean he sold records. And uh, so he would come into this place and try to sell Charlie Parker and everybody to this, patrons and they wanted T-bone Walker and, and uh, all of the Blues uh, guys. And uh, B.B. King and, and a Junior Walker all I mean Junior Parker. And uh, consequently, uh, he started to find out that he had to do something else 'cause he wasn't goin' make that kind of money, see? That he wanted to do and he, this is a funny little story. Berry didn't want to work. His Daddy made 'em all work. And when they got to working, see, his Dad was a contractor and he had, had, the boys had to roll that cement up that little 2X6 up to where he wanted to dump it or ha- to have it to do his bricklaying and stuff. And boy, if you had never rode a barrel of cement, I mean a wheelbarrow of cement, you know what kind of trouble that is and then to take it up a incline, Berry didn't want that. He didn't want to have to pick up those blocks and stuff, so he tried to find something else to do. That's why he went to Ford's. But then when he found out he had to work out there too, he said, man, he said, if I have to work that hard I guess uh, I'll be a bum. But, as a result he started hanging around with his friend, Jackie Wilson, and Jackie Wilson was a, a little boxer and so they got together down at the -- I don't know if it was Brewster Center or, or over at the Arcadia.
Interviewer:
Again, maybe you could tell me briefly how you happened to get involved with Berry Gordy and Motown and what you first did when you started working for him.
Bowles:
Well, I was involved with the family before there was a Motown but, all of this happened my first, my first encounter with the Berry Gordy Enterprises as such, was when uh, uh, Marv Johnson was the first person that I uh, Berry called me to be on uh, the band with Joe Hunter and we were walking around to different little, little areas, just like you guys probably do but, to a place, to different places 'cause he was in his apartment and his apartment was a studio at that point. And man, we had a time. We'd go, he had one track, a mono machine and with all the little adaptors and uh, we were over on Fourteenth, near Hazelwood, I guess it was. Near, anyway we were over on Fourteenth and uh, near Euclid and uh, we s- worked in his apartment until he finally got it together and then we went to the United Sound Studio and he had uh, Joe Hunter had written uh, the arrangements for about three trumpets and a trombone and two-three saxophone and a rhythm section. And out of that came Marv Johnson's first hit. And that was my first encounter playing, because Berry was, had an affinity for me because I guess I was the youngest guy in the band and Berry was young and so he, we kind of gravitated together. As a result when we got uh, le- after the first hits uh, they needed somebody to go on the road with Marv Johnson and they chose me. And I wo- of course I had to take my own car and uh, I wore my car out on the first long tour with uh, with, with Marv and we got eh, involved in a couple a little things -- we had a accident uh, we were involved with the Jesse Belvin death because we were travelling in that, that tour. In fact we helped pull him out of the car and uh, I was actually the manager, road manager, the accompanist, the conductor, the driver, the go-for, the consultant. I did everything on the job. I was the mother and the father, that's where he came to cry when he did I played the entire role and when I came back to Detroit, I think I was about a penny or two off with my figures and they liked that so, then they wanted me to join the company. As, as a, a member of the management team.
Interviewer:
Let me ask you this - was that a common thing for a record company to do - to send their artists out on the road in those days?
Bowles:
Well th- the main thing, you know in those days uh, everybody had a manager and a booking agent and an agent. Uh, all that was taken care of in Motown. We did everything and what we had was a booking agent and Motown was, created their management company and their booking. I mean the booking, not the booking the management and, and, and the uh, publishing and the record company. And as a result, we were able to cut, you know, all those different at the beginning we were able to cut all those different uh, uh, uh, uh, what do you call it? The costs to all these different a the tenpercenters.
Interviewer:
Can you tell me a little bit about - we were starting to talk about the tour, did you ever ride the bus with everybody? Could you tell me about what that was like and how the musicians and the artists would sit at different ends of the bus and all that?
Bowles:
No, I, I, I was in charge of the bus, I did all the, I took the other end of it. I bou- I hired the bus and set it up and some of 'em still hold me responsible for doing all for 'em. I'd put fifty people on a bus and that was way too many, man. Fifty people on a bus and what did we have, five cars. And we did the first Motor Town Special, it was called the Motor Town Review evolved out of that. And uh, we did too many, too many one-nighters. Too many locations, all in one tour. As a result I got hurt on a, uh, my driver went to sleep and hit a big semi, so I - that's why I'm crippled on my left side. But, not so you'll notice it. And everything is uh, I guess they did have some problems. They were kind of clandish. Now I did ride the bus when we went to England. I rode the bus with them several times, but I also rode the, the not limousines, we, we, we did the Citroens and the other kind of cars with the, the Four Tops or the Miracles, I'd be one, one of the guys to ride in the car. 'Cause I was the conductor at that point.
Interviewer:
Let me ask you this... you mentioned to us when we talked to you before how when one of the first tours, if not the first, it went to the Howard Theater in Washington, and how you started to realize that the performance was still pretty rough. Could you tell me about that?
Bowles:
Well this was before any of the shows uh, before any of the tours really were established. There wasn't, there wasn't a tour uh, they'd just gotten a, a booking to go into the Howard Theater and I guess George Adam from the H- from the Marvelettes would walked out on the stage, they said, now the Marvelettes and she walked out on the stage with her eyes wide and chewing gum and looking at all the people and said, mm, you know, country style and I said, Esther, it's not gonna work, we gotta have a training course. And so, that was where we got the uh, idea to start a training uh, thing like Artist Development came out of that uh, I actually thought I was gonna get the job but uh, Harvey Fuquette got it. And he became the head of Artist Development uh, because he was with the Moonglows and the other, and they were dealing mostly with the singing style.
Interviewer:
Tell me about the Artist Development, what....
Bowles:
Well first of all when we, we did Artist Development we had uh, Charlie Akins uh, he was a guy that was working around Detroit a lot and he came from Washington. Supposedly Moms Mableys' son. A gay guy. And he was good artistically. But we couldn't get the guys to go over there and study because they didn't want to be no, they said we don't want to swish like he do. They didn't want to kick their legs and walk like no fag they said. I said, oh come on man, you, he's gonna teach you show business. Yeah, that's alright and you go learn it. So, even- eventually they, we went to uh, m- Ardina Johnson was teaching, she was also an associate of mine and she was teaching uh, culture to the, to the uh, folks and then Charles Atkin-- uh, Atkins, Pops we call him now, came in and man, he start teaching them -- he t- he taught what -- he got what they could do and refined it. See he was smart enough to take their basic stuff and refine it and put the the touches on it and instead of teaching them brand new things, you know. And uh, it was successful and uh, some groups had a, a, a real knack, like the Temptations. They, they had Paul Williams, who had a, a real, what do you call it? A in-born talent for doing that kind of thing. Some groups just had it and all he had to do was refine 'em and tell them well, no this doesn't look good or something like that, you know. And uh, then they brought in uh, Maurice King to deal with the vocalists and, and to make them sing in tune and to give 'em the proper notes, 'cause they might pick the note that's out of their range but, everybody had to have a note and they didn't, they just took a note, they didn't really put it in, in the proper ranges. So he, he took care of that and then they brought in Maxine Powell to teach uh, class. Teach 'em how to sit down, teach 'em how to walk and she was very good at it. She had her own studio and she, she had done this many years, for many years, so she was really refined in it. And uh, that is when we started to really hit the top. After about a year of those classes and they had to go every week, once to three times a week. Any group that had a potential hit had to go in there and study. And uh, as a result, it's all over. The music, they, they've gone all over the world and Miss Powell would tell them that uh, you know you can perform before Kings and Queens when I get through with you. They just laughed at her and some of 'em had command performances before the Queen of England and then, oh when Supremes went over there, she taught them how to curtsy and bow before the Queen and stuff like that and see, they really didn't realize that that's what they were gonna be doing. But when they got over there, they had to perform it. And they were very grateful to her.
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