Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Man Who Sold Motown to the World

abrams-obit-facebookJumbo-v3

Al Abrams wasn’t just Motown’s first publicity man. He was the first signed-up employee. In fact, he was signed up before the ink was dry on the incorporation of the company.

He had no experience of the music biz; not much experience of anything, in fact. And he wasn’t even black.

He was an eighteen-year-old Jewish kid with a drivers’ licence and he answered an ad from Motown Founder, Berry Gordy Jr. for someone to drive his acts to public appearances and local record hops.

The fledgling company was growing organically as it went along. When Berry realised he needed an A&R man, Mickey Stevenson was sitting in his office pitching for a singing career. Mickey turned out to be the A&R man’s A&R man, hiring the Funk Brothers, the Detroit Symphony and the cream of arrangers and producers. Berry could pick ’em, even when there was only one unlikely culprit to choose from.

Fluke? Nah.

Al was there when Berry needed a publicity man. Berry asked, Al said yes, and the rest is history; or, if not exactly history, Al made it up.

Like the time when Tommy Good’s first disc was due to be released and Al spread the idea that Motown didn’t want to put out a white kid’s record. Just fired up enough, Tommy’s fans were incited to ‘March on Hitsville’ seeking justice for their hero. The two wicked uncles, Berry and Al, laughed as the mock indignation filled the papers and emptied the record shops.

And when Berry asked Al to raise Smokey Robinson’s song writing profile, and he did it by having Bob Dylan describe Smokey as ‘America’s greatest living poet’. Dylan must have heard about it, but, fortunately for Al, ‘nothing was revealed’.

Then there was the time that Al, dressed like a swami and carrying a small reptile, did the ‘snake walk’ from radio station to radio station to tempt influential DJs into playlisting Motown product.

But there’s a serious side to Al’s legacy too. If Berry and Al hadn’t come together, it’s possible that Motown would not have had the earth-shattering crossover success it had with all the races creeds and colours of the world. Al’s ‘mission statement’ slogan: ‘It’s what’s in the grooves that counts’ put the attention squarely on the music and the songs. These weren’t ‘race records’, R&B or gospel, though they were imbued with the pulse and emotion of blues and jazz.

Motown was a crucible for a new music, a new culture, a new rhythm that danced to the beat of the industrial world, the world of progress, and the world of the young, but a world with all the heart and longing and angst that keeps it human.

Al was a funny man, a mischief maker, a creative when that didn’t mean a person with a computer. The music, the Motown legacy is as much Al’s as his lifetime friend Berry’s.

What he was, above all, was a great human.

Those of us who had the privilege to know him will miss him deeply.

More articles by:

Dave Randle is a British author and journalist with 30 years experience in print and online media. His latest book, Blinded with Science, is published by Bank House Books and is available from all major retailers. He can be contacted at daverandlemcij@aol.com

October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail