by Mats K. L. Andersson
Barrett Strong was primarily a songwriter, the most well-known of his songs were done in collaboration with Norman Whitfield (another Joe!). They wrote the massive hits “(I Heard it Through the)Grapevine”, “I Wish It Would Rain”, “War” and “Just My Imagination”.
Strong also recorded on his own, most famously the first version of “Money”, which he claims he also composed but never got credit for.
By the way, the composers never got their due credit at Motown, as evidenced at Hitsville, the Motown Museum in Detroit, that has the Snake Pit, the Artists, the Musicians all getting their accolades, but strangely there is little if anything about the composers on display.
I saw Barrett twice at the Bottom Line (in New York City) participating in the phenomenal “In Their Own Words” series and he was magical, performing bare bone versions of his classic songs, accompanying himself on piano, sending chills through the unsuspecting and eerily hushed audience. On his first visit, Richard Thompson was on the panel adding unrehearsed guitar filligrees on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” – blues, folk and rhythm in a magical stew. That performance is part of Vol. 1 of the two Bottom Line released CDs from the “Words” series.
His songs also found there way elsewhere. The Artistics “This Heart Of Mine” on OKEH 7232 comes to mind as being one of the most sought after Northern Soul tracks on the label. Others were recorded in Philadelphia, but names and titles escape me as I write this from memory (The Orlons?). While Berry Gordy abandoned Detroit for Los Angeles, Barrett stayed behind, recording on his own and developing local music talent. The last I heard about Barrett was from Dennis Coffey (another Joe, or is he too famous?) in the spring of 2009 mentioning that he was in poor health.
That’s my two cents for this time.