Norman Whitfield’s Desire For Creative Control Led Him To War: ‘He Was A Winner, But You Can’t Win All The Time’

When the pressure got too high, the Motown producer Norman Whitfield disappeared from the face of the earth. Leaving the studio overnight without explanation, he drove from Los Angeles through the desert to Las Vegas. “We left in his Jensen [convertible sports car] at 3 a.m.,” recalls The undisputed truth singer Joe “Pep” Harrisone of
the musicians who accompanied Whitfield on such trips. “We were waking up in the light of day, we were in this damn car, people walking up and down this damn street! He said to the studio, “I’m in Vegas.” ‘Can you repeat that please?’ Then he said to them, “Keep on working. The disc is not nearly finished.

Norman had a line of credit at Caesars Palace of $5 million,” says Duane Moody, from Whitfield former manager and PR. “He was going to Las Vegas to feed his energy and his competitive spirit. Norman didn’t smoke, drink or get high, but he loved to gamble. Norman loved rolling dice and playing craps for two to three days in a row, putting $20-30,000 on a number. He used the energy he got from it to write another temptations song. »

An abstinent player with a strong taste for fast outings, Norman Whitfield had many eye-catching qualities. As a songwriter and producer, he was capable of similar extremes. Among his masterpieces for Motown, “I Heard It Through the Vine” by Marvin Gaye and “Dad Was a Rolling Stone” from The Temptations were full of simmering cinematic tension, recorded by singers whom Whitfield pushed to their limits. His pair of psychedelic soul hits were essential, not only for their wild sonic experimentation, but also for the way they radically updated the The sound of young America for changing times.

Norman was the most creative producer Motown ever had,” says Shelly Berger, The Temptations’ manager since 1965.”Berry Gordy feels the same. Norman was grittier and more varied than Holland-Dozier-Holland Where Smoke Robinson.”

” I saw michael jackson sitting with Norman once, because he wanted information,” says Joe Harris. ” Michael said, ‘I can tell when it’s a Whitfield song, because all these other things sound like they’re standing still. ”

from Whitfield the time at Motown was characterized by a bitter battle for independence and control; later, when he founded Whitfield Records in 1975, his eccentric and eccentric tendencies were given free rein. He behaves in the studio like he’s the star, with an attitude and fashion sense as over-the-top as his lavish productions.

“He always had a big comb in his hair”, laughs Isy-Martinguitarist with The undisputed truth. “He had this big, shit-eating smile on his face that just let you know, ‘I’m Norman.’ At the same time, Whitfield kept herself to himself, preferring to keep her true feelings hidden. “He looked like he was holding things inside,” says Martin. “Things he didn’t want to talk to anyone about. »

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