The periodic La Prensa contributor (as senior correspondent) relives the early 1960s as a Jewish kid given a chance by an African-American music mogul and entrepreneur who called his mixing studio his “lab.”
But that lab was an inventive place responsible for the creation of a new musical sound that captivated young Americans and the British as much as Elvis Presley and the early days of rock-n-roll. 50 years later, Baby Boomers and others still enjoy the likes of The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, and countless others.
The music mogul gave Abrams—a Detroiter— a chance at age 18 for $15 per week and all the chili he could eat. Abrams tells all, giving “insider stories” of the life-long friendships and relationships he developed with Detroit disc jockeys, Motown talent, and record industry executives. The evidence of those relationships occurs in the opening pages with a series of forewords—written by Mary Wilson of the Supremes, legendary songwriter Lamont Dozier and others.
Abrams deftly weaves behind-the-scenes tales into a tapestry of photos, press releases, memos, and other mementos that tell a story of both the advent of soul music and the civil rights movement. Abrams himself became embroiled in a school integration situation in 1960’s Detroit. But much of the racism encountered by entertainers and musicians alike occurred when they hit the road for concerts and tours promoting Motown records.
All the while, Gordy, Abrams, and the talented individuals and acts they represented continued to break new ground. Young people who attended their concerts and bought their records saw no color barrier. The publicity machine the record label concocted also helped to establish a new paradigm of gradual acceptance, as even mainstream media began covering the soul sound sweeping the country.
Hype and Soul, then, not only shares an insider’s viewpoint of how Motown changed music; it also chronicles a tumultuous time in American history. From racist white DJ’s who refused to play R-n-B music to the payola scandals where radio personalities would only promote certain songs for under-the-table cash payments, Abrams isn’t afraid to reveal the vagaries of the music business during a golden age.
There are many regional references in the Abrams book—including Toledo, Woodville, and Cleveland. One particular anecdote about the upper floor of a Woodville truck stop is definitely reflective of the days when record promoters took to the road to reach out however they could to DJ’s and fans alike.
Overall, Hype and Soul is an entertaining and informative yarn about the “Detroit Sound” during the Motor City’s heyday. The collection of photos, press clippings, and PR stunts alone will keep you smiling. But it’s the anecdotes recalled by Abrams that tell a compelling tale of reality about what he calls “just a bunch of kids making music” during a turbulent time: the early 1960s.