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Marv Johnson - I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose

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Published on Sep 12, 2009

Ah...Marvellous Marv Johnson. He was the very first artist to launch the entire Motown record company. His first single, "Come To Me", was the very first record on the Tamla label, in 1958, Tamla 101. Berry Gordy had no money to distribute it, so Berry and Marv went all round Detroit themselves, and sold the singles from out of their car boots. It started to create a local buzz in Detroit, and they couldn't afford to press and promote it, so they sold the rights to United Artists. The rest is history. This remake of Marv's huge UK Motown hit from 1968, "I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose", was one of the first things we cut for the Motorcity Project. Anyway, back in the late 1950s, Marv's second single, after "Come To Me", was "You Got What It Takes", which made number one in the pop charts. Of course Berry had done a ridiculous deal, and they earned a mere pittance, but what pittance there was earned, was used to found the entire Motown operation, and for Berry's fiancee, Raynoma, to buy the house in West Grand Boulevard, which became Hitsville USA. It took Berry five years before he could get Marv away from United Artists, by which time, with huge hits from The Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, Barrett Strong, and of course The Miracles, Marv got left behind and his career neglected. By the mid to late sixties, he was still recording at Motown, but to earn his keep, he'd been relegated to the job of janitor, a tragedy considering there would have been no Motown without Marv,. Marv lived to sing, loved to record for Motorcity, and out of all 108 former Motown artists that we recorded, he had to be the most loyal and the most grateful of all of them. He stayed at my house so many times, he did so many shows for us, both in England and in Detroit, and he was always so proud of having a career again in the limelight. "I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose" was one of his very first recordings for Motorcity, and we eventually did enough for two albums. Marv was always a gentleman, and always so appreciative for anything you might do for him. He was so excited to go on the Joan Rivers Show, the one with all the old Motown artists, and on it, he not only mentioned me, but particularly he thanked my Mother for all her support to keep Motorcity going. Then in 1993, Marv was on stage in Carolina with the Drifters, and he staggered oddly while on stage, fumbled his way to the side of the stage, and dropped dead of a burst blood vessel in his brain. He was singing one minute and dead the next. But if he could have chosen any way in the world to go, there is no way he would rather have gone than singing and performing live to an appreciative audience, right up to his last minute on this Earth.

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