Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - California Soul

Tammi Terrell began recording for Scepter/Wand Records at the age of 15, before touring with the James Brown Revue for a year. In 1965, she married heavyweight boxer Ernie Terrell, the brother of future Supreme Jean Terrell. Terrell's warm, sensuous vocals won her a contract with Motown Records later that year, and in 1966 she enjoyed a series of R&B hits, among them a soulful rendition of This Old Heart Of Mine. In 1967, she was selected to replace Kim Weston as Marvin Gaye's recording partner and this inspired teaming produced Gaye's most successful duets, and the pair issued a stream of hit singles between 1967 and 1969.

As Gaye and Terrell wove around each other's voices, creating an aura of romance and eroticism that led to persistent rumours that they were lovers. From the beginning, their partnership was tinged with unhappiness, Terrell collapsing in Gaye's arms during a performance in 1967. She was diagnosed as suffering from a brain tumour, and despite a series of major operations over the next three years, her health steadily weakened. By 1969, she was unable to perform in public, and on several of the duo's final recordings, their producer, Valerie Simpson, controversially claims to have taken her place. Ironically, one of these tracks, The Onion Song, proved to be the most successful of the Gaye/Terrell singles in the UK. Tammi Terrell died on 16 March 1970, her burial service attracting thousands of mourners, including many of her Motown colleagues.

There are many versions of California Soul but to me this is the definitive version, a song that is sung so beautifully and with so much passion that it almost jumps off the record when you listen to it. Marvin Gaye allegedly only sang to 80% of his abilities and I can only imagine what this would've sounded like had he sung to his full capabilities. It is sad that Tammi died before her time but what she has left us with is a legacy that includes some of the great R&B and soul records of all time and for that we should be eternally grateful. This record makes perfect sense in the sun, which after the random snow flurry we had last week is most certainly here and thank goodness for that.

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - California Soul

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