Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pervis Jackson and Detroit

Pervis Jackson, the bass singer in the Spinners (or Detroit Spinners as they were known in the UK) died last month. Jackson's family came from New Orleans to Detroit, where the Spinners started out singing doo wop before signing to Motown and then Atlantic records where they found success with the early 1970s Philadelphia soul sound.

Unfortunately I couldn't find any footage of my favourite track by The Spinners, Ghetto Child, but you can listen to it here: 'when I was 17 I ran away from home, and from everything I had ever known, I was sick and tired, living in a town, filled with narrow minds and hate'. Also check out their 1970 version of Message from a Black Man ('No matter how hard you try you can't stop me now') with Pervis Jackson doing the spoken word sections.

But here they are from 1975 singing They Just Can't Stop It (Games People Play), with Pervis Jackson singing the middle '12.45' part:

The Detroit music explosion of the 1960s was underpinned by the migration of black people (like Pervis Jackson) from the Southern states of the US to Detroit, partly prompted by the demand for labour in the Detroit motor industries - and the desire of those moving for a better life. By 1943, when a racist backlash by white workers led to major riots in Detroit, 200,000 black people had come to live in Detroit, most of them to work in the motor trade and its wartime spin-offs of bomber engine and other military production. It was the children of this wave of migrants who gave us Motown, and some of their grandchildren who later gave us Detroit techno.

It's interesting how the motor city aesthetic filtered down through the black and white musical cultures that emerged from Detroit. Just look at the names - Motown, The Spinners (apparently named after Cadillac hubcaps), MC5 (originally Motor City 5). Think of Underground Resistance's early characterisation of their sound as “Hard Music from a Hard City”.

Interesting too, how Detroit has exercised a particular place in Europe’s imaginary America: Gramsci in his prison cell dreaming of the modernizing wonders of Fordism sweeping away the dead culture of old Europe; the 1960s dream of the Sound of Young America inspiring boys and girls in London and Liverpool; the continuing love affair with Detroit techno.

The actual relationship between place and sound is very complex. Ultimately it is patronising to assume that people’s cultural expressions are just a reflection of their surroundings. Music doesn’t spring spontaneously from the soul - it takes creativity, imagination and effort. But of course it is influenced by the music makers' experience, including where they live. So once again, put your hands up for Detroit, as well as for Pervis Jackson and The Spinners.

1 comment:

Acumensch said...

I love detroit techno!!