Wednesday, May 11, 2011
"Turn Your Radio On"
by Lee Alan
Now an Audio Book read by the author
Barney Ales was executive vice president of the Motown corporation and Berry Gordy’s secret weapon to getting his music played and sold to crossover audiences.
Barney and I graduated from the same class and year at Cooley High in Detroit. He joined Berry at the beginning. He was there on the ground floor of the Motown explosion.
His timing was right, and his personality for sales of the Motown product was perfect. Barney laughed with everything but his eyes. His laugh was infectious, but his eyes always seemed to be probing and serious. An interesting trait for a salesman. And that’s what he was. A salesman.
Have you ever known someone who would look at you, talk to you but his sentences are fast and sometimes missing some parts so you’re not really sure what he actually said?
That was Barney. And those eyes! When Barney Ales asked for the order, asked for the close, it was automatic. Just look into the eyes and you couldn't say no.
We were not friends in high school. Didn’t even know each other. Oh I had seen him in the hallways for four years, but only for a “Hey, how ya doing”. Nothing more. We were into different things. Strangely enough I was the one who was into music, shows, entertainment. Barney wasn’t! Not at all.
Barney was tall, but way overweight for his stature, maybe 280 pounds or more. One of those guys who always wore the black leather jacket and hung out at “Zs”. Zs was a little restaurant near the school where all the bikers and their girlfriends were. Where all the greasers gathered.
There was always some kind of trouble at Zs. It always looked like a black leather jacket convention. In high school Barney was one of those.
Six years later while I was with WKMH I was approached by the music promoter from Warner Brothers Records, a six foot 2, very slim, dark haired, good looking Adonis dressed in an immaculate mohair suit.
As he was explaining that Warner brothers was not really into mainstream music and he really had nothing new to show me except for some Dixieland LPs I realized that I knew him from somewhere and looked at his business card.
His name was Barney Ales!
The leather jacket was gone and with it at least 120 pounds.
Barney told me that although he was making about 120 dollars a week with Warner Brothers, good money in those days, he had another offer for a third of the money from a young writer who needed help promoting his R & B music to the cross over community. Barney wanted my advice. It was a no brainer. The writer’s name was Berry Gordy. His fledgling company was Motown.
Now, years later Barney Ales was the millionaire Executive Vice President of the Motown Corporation. This time I was sitting in his office looking for his advice. I had an idea for a record. The more I talked about it the more he said he liked it. Three days later I was in the Motown studio not as a disc jockey, but as a recording artist. Well I’m using the word artist here loosely as you’ll soon see.
“Write it”, he said.
“Write it and I’ll get you a producer and time in the studio. Let’s see what happens.”
I wrote the song in about 20 minutes that night and delivered it to Barney’s office the next morning. “What’d ya do, have this in the glove box the whole time?”, he laughed. Minutes later Popcorn Wylie walked into Barney’s office. “Let’s put an arrangement to this.” Barney said to him. “See if we can get it done later this week.”
Popcorn and I had met many times.
Two days later I was in the studio that today is a museum. People come from all over the world to see where the Detroit Sound of music was made. It was in a comparatively small room with sound equipment no one today would even use. But, like all early inventions it worked. Did it ever!
About 15 people were in the studio. There was a short rehearsal and tape was rolling. Martha and The Vandellas were singing backup, Marvin Gaye was playing piano, "Little" Stevie Wonder was beating on a drum, Smokie Robinson was playing THEE HORN. And...Ahem..I Sang (if you can call it that).
When you hear it sometime, listen closely to my voice breaking up...they gave me one afternoon to do this and I think I had the worst cold of my life!
This was the "Song" Ha!
I GOT THIS HORN, JUST THE OTHER DAY
FROM A MAN WHO CAME A LONG LONG WAY
HE SAID THIS HORN YOU UNDERSTAND HAS COME FROM PAKISTAN
AND WHEN YOU’RE ALL ALONG AND YOU HEAR THE FINE TONE
YOU JUST WAIT AND SEE …THIS HORN….IT’S GONNA SET YOU FREE!
I TOOK THIS HORN, I GOT FROM PAKISTAN. I TOOK IT HOME. I MEAN I ALMOST RAN
AND WHEN I WAS ALL ALONE AND I HEARD THE FINE TONE
ALL MY WISHES CAME TRUE I MEAN MY DREAMS OF YOU
IT WAS SOMETHING FOR THE EYE TO SEE
THIS HORN….IT LIKE TO SET ME FREE!
SMOKEY: (BLOWS HORN )
HEY LEE – THIS HORN IS GONNA SET YOU FREE
SMOKEY: (BLOWS HORN)
HEY LEE – THIS HORN IS GONNA SET YOU FREE
SO IF YOU’RE FEELING SAD. I MEAN YOU’RE FEELING REAL BAD
YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. YOUR HONEY DON’T WANT YOU.
JUST TURN ON THE RADIO WITH THE LIGHTS DOWN LOW
CLOSE YOUR EYES REAL TIGHT, THINK OF YOUR HONEY TONIGHT
AND WHEN YOU HEAR THE HORN YOU’LL SEE
YOU’LL KNOW JUST WHAT HAPPENED TO ME
THIS HORN…..IT LIKE TO SET ME FREE
SMOKIE ( KEEPS BLOWING HORN)
The record was only available from the station (WXYZ). Cost was one dollar and all proceeds went to the WMCA. They said it sold in excess of 50,000 copies.
I looked on Ebay the other day. Someone sold two original copies of “Set Me Free” for $500 each. Hmmmm