It’s the most Wonderful Time of the Year, and The Motown Experience is coming to town for singalongs, good cheer, and glad tidings. Starring legends of the Motor City scene, the show is a must-see for oldies fans and holiday aficionados.
The Motown Experience’s band leader, Glen Raby, has worked with Motown artists since the 1990s. Though he was just eight years old with The Contours’ hit, “Do You Love Me,” was released, the song’s lasting influence landed him a place in the group’s backing band in 1992.
“Their biggest hit came out in 1962,” he explains. “Even I was pretty young for that. But it had a resurgence because the song ‘Do You Love Me’ became one of the big hits for the movie Dirty Dancing. All of a sudden, a new generation of people heard the song. I was in The Contours for many years, and our audience was evenly divided between middle-aged people who grew up with the music and younger people who love Dirty Dancing and really don’t know anything about The Contours.”
Raby’s time with The Contours came to a close in 2012. While looking for a new project, he felt inspired by the great Motown minds he had worked with over the years. Knowing the cross-generational appeal of the timeless sounds, he got a big idea.
“I picked a dream team of the people I most enjoy working with,” he attests.
The recruits included Charles Franklin of The Temptations, George Wilson of The Capitols, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer David Finley of The Miracles.
The Temptations, The Capitols, and The Miracles produced songs that have been passed down for generations. The Temptations topped charts with “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “Get Ready,” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do” in the early 1960s. The group also released two Christmas albums, 1970’s The Temptations Christmas Card (featuring their lively take on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) and 1980’s Give Love at Christmas.
Though over 20 Temptations members have come and gone over the years, splintering off into different groups and tributes, the music is still very much alive in all of their vibrant voices.
The Capitols, who formed in 1962 as The Caps, found a crucial niche in the dance-craze craze. The controversial, pelvic-thrust-incorporating dance “the jerk” had a couple of spinoffs, including a sexier version called the “pimp jerk” that was hot in Detroit clubs. Capitols songwriter, backup vocalist, and guitarist Don Storball wrote an ode to the move sweeping Motor City, but, in order to not be banned by radio stations, re-christened the dance the “Cool Jerk.” The tune climbed the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966. A later generation learned of the song through its use in Cool Whip commercials.
The Miracles are perhaps best known for performing as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles from 1965-1972. Four years prior, the group released eight albums as The Miracles, including Christmas with The Miracles.
Their hits include “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Shop Around,” and “Love Machine” as The Miracles and “The Tracks Of My Tears,” “I Second That Emotion,” and “Ooo Baby Baby,” among others, as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
Great vocalists deserve a strong supporting band. Raby called up some of the best minds in the biz to dish out the hits.
“Most of the musicians have played with many of the Motown acts and a lot of different acts from the 1950s, the ‘60s, and early ‘70s,” he says. “Many of them were in The Contours’ backup band, too.”
Raby himself fell into the Motown scene late in his career and has enjoyed the unique challenges of the material.
“As a musician, Motown’s kind of simple music,” he says. “It isn’t technically challenging or as challenging as some forms are. Some musicians who aren’t familiar with it look down on it because it’s not really complex stuff, but that, in many ways, is what makes it the hardest. It’s a matter of placing things in the right place, getting the right feel, and when you get to know it and perform it properly, you realize how different it really is to do it the way it’s supposed to be done.”
The Motown Experience’s first outing was the Christmas show they’ll bring to The Lucas Theatre for the Arts this weekend. Expect to hear Motown and R&B Christmas staples, reimagined classics, and year-round Motown hits.
“There are some holiday classics that there’s no way to improve upon and we leave as they are originally intended, but much of the show is holiday classics that have been given a Motown twist,” says Raby.
“We try to inject the Motown flavor into the holiday songs and give them that feel. We’ve massaged them into a different thing than they were to start with.”
Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song,” Donna Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” and “Please Come Home For Christmas” are all program essentials, and the audience is invited to sing along on the songs they know and love, including “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and more.
After all, the show welcomes generations of music fans.
“It’s going to be a fun show for kids 8-80,” says Raby warmly. “There’s something for everybody.”