The 405 meets Gordon Banks
"Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I sure hope you enjoyed our new album here on CBS Records. We'd like to thank Mr Harvey Fuqua, Mr Gordon Banks, Mr Mike Butcher, Mr Larkin Arnold and, most of all – we want to thank our heavenly father – Jesus." For those of you who are diehard Marvin Gaye and Motown fanatics, you would appreciate the significance of this short speech by the legendary R&B musician, which was slotted into the introduction of 'My Love Is Waiting' – the final track on Gaye's final album, Midnight Love, before he passed away.
Gaye's life can be considered as a trek of prosperity, contrastingly battled with tragedy and misfortune. However, journalists and fellow Tamla Records acquaintances would confirm that the What's Going On? genius was kind-spirited, charitable and an entertainer who was easy to work with. One of these colleagues, who wrote 'My Love Is Waiting' and is featured in the short speech,Gordon Banks, expressed his love for music and the man who brought him through one of the most successful eras in R&B history.
Considered one of the finest guitarists by Rolling Stone, during the mid-eighties, Banks was a Norfolk, Virginia man before he departed to LA to further his career in music. Living just two doors down from Gaye's drummer, Bugsy Wilcox, Banks introduced himself and everything started to speed up from there. "I saw him one day with a pair of drumsticks around his neck and asked did he play. Stupid question. Anyhow, we jammed, he took me to Marvin and that was it. Less than a year later, I was Marvin's MD. Playing with Marvin put my name and talent out there."
Here, My Dear was, perhaps, the most personal record to be released by Gaye, in 1978. There was no better an album for the then 23-year-old to start recording to. As well as a challenging time for Gaye himself at the time, Motown was heading into its final stage of peak success and was heavily focusing on the sentiment of business, rather than their old tradition of the whole label's personnel working as a community. Reflecting on that time, Banks stated: "For me, I was in and out. Being new to Hollywood, it was best that I was heard and not seen being involved in any 'heavy times'."
Possibly one of the freshest on the guitar as the post-disco formation began, one of Gordon Banks more prominent performances lies with Marvin Gaye's Live At Montreux gig, in 1980. Directly behind Gaye throughout the concert, strutting with his instrument in a free-flowing jam stance, the physical closeness of the two also represented the emotional closeness off-stage. Gaye nicknamed young Banks "The Indicator" which, if you look at Marvin Gaye's posthumous musical influence in the industry, it puts the guitarist on one of the most prestigious platforms in R&B history. The nickname bore a huge significance. "He did call me 'ID', that was short for indicator. If I liked it then he was happy," he said. "While doing Midnight Love Marvin asked me to tell him if he was flat or sharp, and if I approved of the lines he was singing. I told him that I could not do that. He said why. I said that you are Marvin Gaye, what do I look like telling you that? Needless to say, he taught me how to produce vocals for the best singer in the world."
The relationship between him and the icon was so strenuous that peers and acquaintances advised to him to write a book, even. And when you walk so close next to Marvin Gaye, you walk with Motown; one of the US's largest labels all throughout the late fifties until the late seventies. Was it all sensationalised fame and junkets and corporate parties? Though you would think so, Banks had a different experience. "Recording with Motown was very normal. After all it was not like you could really socialise with 'superstars'. If you did then you ain't suppose to be there. Ain't no need in telling them you are good enough to record for them. Just play as good as they perform and pack your stuff and leave. I did my thing in one or two takes and treated them like they treated me. They seemed to love that." And while learning of the corporation's normalities, Banks also realised – via the chief, Berry Gordy – that music wasn't all music, expressionism and artsy sessions. When asked did he have any association with Gordy, he replied: "Not at all thank God. I did do a lot of sessions for Motown, but at that time it was best that I stayed with Marvin," he said, and then continued to discuss his experience within Motown. "Marvin allowed me to play without restrictions. I came from the east coast in a city that ain't about music. The stories about Berry made me realise that music was much more than just playing and composing. From Berry, I learned that retaining writers and publishing was a huge side of the industry."
From being the world-class musician, Banks turned to production – which he thanked Gaye for. As well as wanting to tour again as a musician, Banks is notable for having exclusive unreleased video and audio material by the Motown artist. "Some say it's selfish to hold these things from the public. Sony, who was the last record company with a [Marvin Gaye] contract, offered to buy three live concerts for 5000 dollars. Ain't no way that would ever happen. Marvin has kids that have to be considered."
Like The Funk Brothers, Gordon Banks is one of the few session musicians, who was associated with the giant label, who needs to be remembered more for his contribution to the later works of the Motown industry. Would Here, My Dear be as evocative and riveting if Banks was still in Norfolk, or would 'Sexual Healing' be as romantic and soulful without The Indicator on guitar? Probably not. Gordon Banks was The Funk Brothers in one soulful, animate and lively being. And to finish off the interview, he revealed his most fascinating experience in his music career, which was "working for, and most of all, working with Marvin Gaye."
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