The Satintones

The Satintones were Motown's first group, recording for the company from 1960 through 1961 and releasing six singles. This was during Motown's blues and mundane R&B era, and before the arrival of the jazz-based rhythmic backing of the Funk Brothers; a time when Ivy Joe Hunter led the session musicians, not Earl Van Dyke; a period when Motown released nine bad records for every good one; and a time when disc jockeys cringed at 45s sporting the Tamla or Motown logo. The original group was a quartet consisting of Charles "Chico" Leverett, Sonny Sanders, James Ellis, and Robert Bateman. Chico sang with the Spinners for a minute, and recorded "Solid Sender" on Tamla Records. They became a quintet in 1961, the new lineup consisting of James Ellis, Sonny Sanders, Vernon Williams, Sammy Mack, and Robert Bateman. Depending on who you talk to, Freddie Gorman (Originals) and Brian Holland (hall-of-fame songwriter) sang and recorded with them, but it's unclear if any sides they appeared on were released. You won't find any of their single releases -- "My Beloved," "Motor City," "Tomorrow and Always," "Angel," "I Know How It Feels," and "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" -- on any Motown compilation album. "Tomorrow and Always" created some controversy, and a lawsuit (which Motown lost); the answer song not only answered the Shirelles' hit, it ripped "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" off note for note. All the members enjoyed musical careers before and after the Satintones with the most distinguishing belonging to Sonny Sanders, who went on to become an arranger and songwriter at Ric Tic/Golden World Records then moved to Chicago, becoming a top arranger and co-writing "Love Makes a Woman" for Barbara Acklin. Bateman produced and wrote Wilson Pickett's early solo sides "It's Too Late" and "If You Need Me," jump-started the Marvelettes' career with "Please Mr. Postman" and "Playboy," and co-wrote Eddie Holland's "Jamie." (The Marvelettes' first album, Please Mr. Postman, featured two Satintones remakes, "Angel" and "I Know How It Feels," and one track, "The Feeling Is So Fine," became an obscure single for the Miracles.) Motown did schedule an album release (The Satintones Sing MT-602) in 1961, but it remains unissued; the label does have more than 20 unreleased Satintones tracks in the can, not counting the 12 issued on 45s. Around 1990, the Satintones recorded tracks produced by Ian Levine; surprisingly, Levine's productions of the Satintones are more pleasing than the originals. ~ Andrew Hamilton

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