My degrees are in mathematics so I am well aware that 1+1 always equals 2; however, in music it has been my experience that sometimes 1+1 equals 3. By that I mean that sometimes the collaboration of two or more musicians results in a product that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. This series of posts seeks to highlight great examples of that phenomenon.
First up is a collaboration between Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrel.
Marvin had been successfully paired with several female singers early in his career including Mary Wells and Kim Weston. Although these collaborations produced commercially successful singles they were all missing that magical spark that allows some collaborations to exceed expectations. In 1967 Berry Gordy paired Marvin with a new Motown singer named Tammi Terrell. The previously missing spark was evident from their very first collaboration on Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and on their associated first album, United. Unfortunately Tammi collapsed on stage during a performance with Marvin later that year and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She would have eight operations over the next three years before cancer won the fight taking her away from us way too early at the age of 24. Marvin was devastated by Tammi’s illness and subsequent death.
Fortunately for us, during those intervening three years Marvin and Tammi managed to record two more albums, You’re All I Need (1968) and Easy (1969), which included a number of amazing singles including California Soul, the featured song in this post. California Soul would be the last Marvin and Tammi single that was released and, in my opinion, they saved the best for last.
Life is strange in that many tragedies lead to amazing works of art. This was the case with Tammi’s loss. When Marvin emerged from seclusion, a year after Tammi’s death, it was to release his personal masterpiece, What’s Going On. Unfortunately Marvin’s personal life was already on a downhill slide that was triggered, at least in part, by Tammi’s loss. In 1984 Marvin was shot and killed by his father. Another amazing talent taken away too soon.
Coming Attractions: Next up will be our final post in the Southern California Sound series where we explore the start of the decline of the Southern California Sound. The decline was driven by money, I know you are shocked, and by people who believed that music was just a matter of formulas (one Byrd + one Buffalo Springfiled + one other great songwriter = Success & Money).
RIP – Marvin and Tammi