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Tuesday, March 5, 2013
THE ULTIMATE IN BAIT AND SWITCH
I remember it like it was yesterday....the last line in the introduction I as band leader delivered every time the girls took the stage: Here they are straight from the Motor City...Deee-troit, Michigan! The marvelous Marvelettes!
Just a few problems. First, none of the girls was actually from Detroit. They were all New Yorkers - mostly from Brooklyn! Second? Not that marvelous. The girls neither sang or harmonized particularly well. And finally...there were zero original Marvelettes on stage. Everybody was a bait and switch - and that included the band!
I also remember the first time I ever saw the girls. It was during an oldies festival at Dorney Whitewater amusement park one summer afternoon. I was backing the Shirelles and as I would often do, drifted out into the seating area to watch the other acts. Generally, these functions featured a few - or even several - oldies bands. And given that we had nothing better to do, the boys would often check out the other acts from the audience perspective.
So the marvelous ones took the stage and I was in shock. I'd backed several oldies bands, and they always seemed to have at least one real member who had the right to book the outfit under the original name. The Belmonts had Freddie...The Crystals had Didi...the Shirelles had Beverly, Mickey and Doris, The Moonglows had Bobbie...and on and on. But The Marvelettes had nobody. I mean...it was clear to me that none of those girls pretending to be Marvelettes was ever within 1000 miles or 100 light years of the original recordings. For one thing, they were way too young. And for another, they didn't sound anything like the records.
Well that was that and I didn't think a whole lot more about it until the next summer when as one of the booking agency's band leaders, I got the call to put together a band to back guess who? The marvelous fucking Marvelettes!
After the first week of being part and parcel of the ultimate bait and switch, I asked the agency boss "Exactly how do you have the right to book this act when clearly, all the girls are counterfeit?" Not that I gave a shit. I was getting paid and that's what mattered. I was just curious. And the answer? As logical as it could be. "Well," answered the agent. "We promoted a concert a few years ago and Smokey Robinson didn't show! So we threatened to sue Motown and they settled by giving us the right to book The Marvelettes in perpetuity."
Back then, Motown not only owned the act's name...but they managed the outfit as well. Thus, the 16 year-olds who actually were the Marvellettes had no say. By 1975, the act had disbanded and wasn't touring...and were of little value to the label. So they gave up the name to settle the dispute. Hence, the touring Marevelettes were fake...and I certainly wasn't one of the Funk Brothers (the name of the house band which played on all the early Motown hits). But to my credit, I listened to all the records and did my best to duplicate the original parts.
Whatever...I tell you all this today because I just finished reading a book about (drum roll) the Marvelettes. Ya know...the real ones. And sure enough, at the end, the author mentioned Larry Marshak, the son-of-a-bitch who hijacked the act's name so none of the girls could ever come back and perform as Marvelettes unless they worked for Larry at a slave wage. (Actually, Larry was OK by me. It was Banner Talent I didn't like.)
Oh...to be part of rock and roll history. That would have been great. But unfortunately, I wasn't. Rather, I was just another hustler, grinding out a living behind three counterfeit, half-assed, bait-and-switch fakers. Oh well. What are ya gonna do? It was a living.
P.S. Having researched the names Banner Talent and Larry Marshak, I've discovered numerous references and legal actions accusing the agency and manager to be purveyors of bogus acts passed off as the real thing. Go figure! And...in 2011, the original Marvelettes won their case against Larry effectively regaining their name and the legal right to book themselves as the Marvelettes. Unfortunately, only one remains alive - and she was not the lead singer on any of their records.