Northern Soul (Frank Wilson)

Okay, it’s not the darkest item you’ll find on these pages. A foggy shade of grey, maybe. It’s not really shocking or jaw-droppingly controversial or upsetting. At most, I guess it’s just a vaguely sad and captivating story, one that appeals to my keen sense of injustice. Anyway, it relates to the strange and wonderful world of Northern Soul. More specifically, it concerns singer, songwriter and producer Frank Wilson and his song ‘Do I Love you (Indeed I Do)’.

Northern Soul burst on to the scene in the late sixties and early seventies in the unlikely setting of towns such as Wigan, Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool. For several years, it redefined youth culture in these places, linking a passion for soul music, an underground dance scene and an extensive use of amphetamines. But it wasn’t just any soul music – Northern Soul was largely defined by a love of black American artists who had failed to make it in the music business – singers and songwriters who had missed out on the glory days of Tamla Motown in the USA. It was a celebration of the black hopefuls who, despite having a ton of talent, were bafflingly overlooked by Berry Gordy and never found their names on his label’s assembly line of hits.

And so to Frank Wilson and his famous song. The demos of ‘Do I Love you (Indeed I Do)’ were allegedly destroyed at Berry Gordy’s instructions – he wished to prevent his producers from having a successful recording career. One of the few surviving copies fetched £25,742 at auction in May 2009. It remains one of the most collectable discs in music history, especially by Northern soul acolytes.

Frank WilsonSo what is the background to all this? In the mid-sixties, Berry Gordy became aware of Wilson’s growing ability as a songwriter and producer. As he [Frank Wilson] later recalled: “Berry Gordy came out several times [to L.A.] and during that brief period of time, I got to know him, and I began to write for Motown. And then, I guess, it was a year later, Berry and I and Hal and Marc, we were taking Mr. Gordy to the airport, and I said, ‘Hey, Mr. Gordy, how about a producer’s contract?’, and he said, ‘What makes you think you can produce?’, I said, ‘Because I’ve been producing much of the stuff that you’ve been hearing’. So he turned to Marc and Hal. He said, ‘Is that right?’ And they said, ‘Yes, that’s right'”. Shortly afterwards, Wilson moved to Detroit and made an immediate impression when he wrote and produced ‘Whole Lot Of Shakin’ In My Heart (Since I Met You)’ for The Miracles. It wasn’t a huge hit, but it sealed his reputation as a Motown staff songwriter/producer.

At around the same time, Wilson completed work on ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’. The record was pressed in November 1965 (the Motown ‘Quality Control’ file copy has the date 11/23/65 written on the label and the annotation ‘ok’ alongside the initials of Norman Whitfield). Frank was obviously elated that he was on the point of getting his first Motown release, but a conversation with Berry Gordy changed everything. According to Wilson, Berry, who apparently perceived a conflict of interest, said: “Frank, now you know I’m getting ready to release this record on you. We’re excited about it. But I want to ask you a question. Do you really want to be an artist, or do you want to be a writer and a producer?”. The question really put him on the spot and even as his reply left his lips (that he wanted to be a writer and a producer), Wilson realised that he would have to forego his recording and performing career. That short conversation effectively killed all the momentum for releasing the record. However, six promo copies of the record had been pressed, allegedly without Berry Gordy’s blessing. Gordy, known for his tough management style, reportedly ordered that they should all be destroyed.

That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. Fast forward to the seventies when the Northern Soul scene became established in England. Discarded soul records from 1960’s America had become the holy grail for thousands of enthusiasts. In 1977, Simon Soussan, an American music producer, Neil Rushton, a British record label entrepreneur, and Ian ‘Frank’ Dewhirst, a Northern Soul DJ, got together with Motown music executive Tom De Pierro to release an album of previously unreleased recordings called ‘From The Vaults’. They were privileged enough to see the immaculate archive where copies of all the Motown records were stored. It is believed that two copies of Wilson’s record were discovered there at that time. By 1979, both were missing.

Simon Soussan had obviously realised that the rarity of the record made it ideal for the Northern Soul scene and he ‘bootlegged’ it, changing the artist’s name to Eddie Foster and speeding up the recording. He cut some acetates of the track, sent them over to select DJs and it immediately became one of the most in-demand sounds of the day at the Wigan Casino.

Soul 35019In 1978, Soussain decided to sell his record collection to Les McCutcheon, a UK based record dealer and collector. When he found out ‘Do I Love you (Indeed I Do)’ was actually a Motown recording by Frank Wilson, McCutcheon was shocked to realise he had unwittingly been selling a bootleg. At last the truth was out. The Motown ‘Quality Control’ copy of the record exchanged hands several times and UK Tamla Motown decided to issue the record. The original tapes for both sides of the record were requested to be sent to London from America. However, when the tapes were received, they were stereo masters and not the original mono masters. UK Tamla Motown label manager, Gordon Frewin, instantly spotted the technical differences and corrected them at Abbey Road Studios, with the help of his engineer Chris Blair, and it was eventually released on 9th November 1979. Although at the time he knew nothing about it, Frank Wilson had finally got his first solo commercial release as a Motown artist.

For many years the ‘Quality Control’ copy remained a one-off but, in due course, another copy surfaced. Exactly how many copies were originally pressed and how many survived has been debated at length for years. Many believe Berry Gordy has a copy. One thing is certain though – Frank Wilson never had a copy: “I had NO idea an original even existed!” he said. The popularity of ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ has grown steadily over the years. It has featured on numerous compilations and a further surge of interest was generated when KFC used it for a national advertising campaign. The auction of the record provided another chapter to one of the most intriguing stories about a popular song ever told. The last word goes to Frank Wilson, who said, “I consider it one of my life’s greatest achievements!”.

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