Just days after Popcorn Wylie’s death, another Motown legend is no more. Norman Whitfield (whose birth date has been variously ascribed as 1940, 1941 and 1943) died on 16th September following complications from diabetes.
Although he worked with many of Motown’s brightest and best such as Gladys Knight and the Pips, he will forever be most associated with the Temptations’ ‘psychedelic soul’ period which lasted from the release of “Cloud Nine” in 1968 to the Masterpiece album in 1973. The tunes he penned with Barrett Strong moved away from the simple love songs that the band had recorded up to that point into a new realm where politics, drugs, poverty, civil rights and black power were all on the agenda. The musical template of deep bass, wah-wah guitars, strings and tunes that could last for anything up to fifteen minutes was heavily influenced by the conscious funk-rock of Sly and the Family Stone, but was also hugely influential in itself, with traces to be found in the P-Funk bands, the heavier Philly stuff and all of the seventies Blaxpolitation soundtracks.
Much of the material that he wrote with Strong was recorded and re-recorded by different acts. He even had his own group of lab rats in the form of the Undisputed Truth who often did a dry run on material later made famous by the Temptations.
His post-Motown career wasn’t so successful, although he did have many hits with Rose Royce – a group who took the psychedelic soul sound into the disco era.
There’s more here.
Here’s Ball of Confusion from 1970.