Drew Schultz is a drummer, percussionist, songwriter, and producer who is the spearhead of the Back To Class project, a series of his original music featuring soul and Motown legends, raising funds for public school music programs in Detroit. He has performed with countless R&B legends including The Four Tops, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Dramatics, The Miracles, and The Contours. The Back To Class Blog will spotlight each song from the series, and each artist who has performed as a part of the project. You can find Drew at www.DSdrums.com. Back To Class is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and more.
Lesson 1: Spyder Turner
Today's post focuses on Mr. Spyder Turner, who lent his voice to the Back To Class song "Simple Words" :
I first met Spyder Turner in Manhattan, where I had been studying for the summer at New York University's jazz program. Dennis Coffey, guitarist extraordinaire, had called to let me know that he would be playing at Lincoln Center, as a part of a Detroit Soul review called Ponderosa Stomp. Dennis always liked to have hand percussion at his shows, so I offered to come and play for his set. I remember scrambling to get to the jazz building at NYU in order to borrow a single conga, a tambourine and shaker, and a pedal that let me play a second tambourine with my foot. The backing band was called The Party Stompers, a great group of guys who I would go on to play with for years to come. At sound check I got a chance to talk with bassist, Adam Stanfel and guitarists, Jeff Meier and Mike Hurtt, and met legendary arranger/keyboardist McKinley Jackson. We did a brief run through with Dennis, and the guys asked if I'd like to play for the whole show. Of course I was thrilled to do it, as this was my first time playing anywhere near Lincoln Center!
As it turns out, Spyder was one of the featured performers on the show. I already knew a little about Spyder, and was a huge fan of his famous rendition of "Stand By Me," where he would imitate other famous singers in a mini-medley at the end of the tune. I was always blown away by the incredible range he demonstrated, both in pitch and the tone of his voice. Not only could he reach some insanely high and low notes, but he could make his voice this thin soulful whisper like Smokey Robinson, and then turn around and belt it out like Chuck Jackson the very next beat. As I found out first hand that day, Spyder hasn't lost a thing. I remember dying laughing while Spyder joked around during the song, moving from David Ruffin to Levi Stubbs, and just killing the crowd with his riffs. He made it look like it was just a walk in the park for him!
Spyder, in a clip of "Stand By Me" from the Ponderosa Stomp show:
At the Ponderosa Stomp show, we were also lucky enough to talk Spyder into performing a song he hadn't sang on stage for decades."Ride In My 225" was one of Spyder's very first releases, put out on the Fortune label in 1964. Fortune Records was a label that predated Motown, where soul artists like Andre Williams, Nolan Strong & The Diablos, Nathaniel Mayer, and Gino Parks all recorded some fantastic sides. "Ride In My 225" is pure Detroit, with a baritone sax that's just as loud as the lead vocal and lyrics boasting about a fresh Buick Electra 225 Convertible, which was made by the Motor City based General Motors. The song even name-drops Woodward Avenue, one of Detroit's main roadways!
"Ride In My 225":
A few years after "225," Spyder had a release on MGM records that would change his career. "Stand By Me," although originally written and recorded by The Drifters' own Ben E. King, would go on to be Spyder's signature song. It even became the title track of Spyder's 1967 LP on MGM, which contains some incredible songs including an awesome cover of Sam and Dave's "Hold On I'm Coming,"and the upbeat dancer "I'm Alive." The album is an interesting grab bag of covers and originals, and Spyder sings all of them with some serious chops. As I realized at the Lincoln Center show, "Stand By Me" is only a framework for Spyder to really stretch out and do his thing.
The nearly six minute long LP version of "Stand By Me":
My favorite track on the Stand By Me album might actually be the third song, called "I Can't Make It Anymore." The tune was written by the legendary singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, and recorded by Richie Havens on his Mixed Bag LP. Havens would go on to perform a stripped down version during an opening set at the historic 1969 Woodstock Festival. However, Spyder's version screams "Detroit!" The song opens with a cracking Motown-esque drum fill, and the chorus slides into the stereotypical "four on the snare"groove that permeated countless songs that The Funk Brothers were recording in Studio A over on West Grand Boulevard. The vibraphone that's up there in the mix makes it even more like a Motown production, and the bubbling horns and strings were arranged by the superteam of Mike Theodore the aforementioned Dennis Coffey. On top of all of this, the song was recorded at Tera Shirma Studios, a Detroit studio that was founded and operated by famed Motown staffers Russ and Ralph Terrana, where legends like Johnnie Mae Matthews, Eartha Kitt, and Chuck Jackson all laid down vocals. "I Can't Make It Anymore" was tapped as the second single from the LP.
Folk-turned-Motown - "I Can't Make It Anymore":
Spyder left MGM records not long after the release of the LP, and it would be quite some time before he had another release. After writing a funky 1970 Chambers Brothers song called "If You Want Me To,"singing stints with several groups, and a pit stop at Kwanza Records for a single called "Since I Don't Have You," Spyder finally landed at Whitfield records. The label was founded by Norman Whitfield, who had made a name for himself as an unstoppable writing and producing force at Motown, landing countless hits for the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Undisputed Truth, and more including"Papa Was A Rolling Stone," "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," and "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)." In the mid seventies, Norman broke away from Motown and founded his own label, Whitfield Records. The label was the home of Rose Royce, who recorded the soundtrack for the 1976 movie Car Wash, resulting in the hit song of the same name, as well as "I Wanna Get Next To You" and "I'm Going Down." The group's follow up album, 1977's In Full Bloom, contained two singles that went to the Top Ten. "Do Your Dance," a nearly ten minute disco-funk opus, was co-written by Spyder and Norman Whitfield, cracking into the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and hitting number 4 on the R&B charts.
"Do Your Dance":
With Whitfield Records, Spyder would at last have another full LP recorded and released. Released in 1978, the Music Web album is probably my favorite record that Spyder has put out so far. Although it was produced by Norman Whitfield, most of the writing was done by Rochelle Runnells and Miles Gregory, who also contributed to Whitfield Records LPs by Rose Royce, Jr. Walker, and The Undisputed Truth. Spyder wrote the song "I've Changed," a funk-drenched tune that features some awesome wah-wah keys, call & response backing vocals, and clean cut staccato guitar riffs. Another one of my favorites on the record is "Stop," which is a breakneck stomper that references a handful of classic soul tunes including The Isley's"Shout," The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," and Aretha Franklin's "Think." The bass thumping on the breakdown in the middle is just nuts. The first song on the record, "Get Down,"was released as a single. The tune is an awesome mix of disco and classic soul, with a string part that dances around Spyder's vocal, all on top of a bed of syncopated bass and four-on-the-floor drumming. The lyrics might be a little goofy, but Spyder sings them with some real conviction, and the arrangement is surprisingly dynamic and diverse.
"Get Down" - Spyder Does Disco:
The second single off of the album, "I've Been Waitin," is much more in the Classic Soul vein. The stepper-friendly tempo, lush string-heavy orchestration, and prominent percussion tracks sound almost like the 70s material that Motown had been recording in LA on the MoWest imprint. It's no wonder why – credited on the LP are regular Motown musicians Eddie "Bongo" Brown, Jack Ashford, Wah Wah Watson, and James Gadson, alongside the legendary arranger Gene Page. Spyder sings the verses in a laid back pace that's almost in an Al Green bag, peppering it with some gritty shouts, building into the song's syncopated chorus. By the time the string break gives back into the chorus, Spyder is going at it full force.
"I've Been Waitin":
My favorite song off of Spyder's Music Web LP, and maybe my favorite song that Spyder has recorded so far, is a powerhouse ballad called "Tomorrow's Only Yesterday." I've always been a sucker for a mid-tempo tune that still grooves, and this one is right up my alley. The drumming moves from a slick sixteenth note groove to a four-on-the-snare prechorus, with some creative fills slipped in between a riff heavy bass line that refuses to be predictable. A thick horn arrangement cuts through a wall of strings and piano, and the background vocals meld in seamlessly. Meanwhile, Spyder throws down like nothing else on this album. He sounds like he's about to break down the entire time, reminiscent of The Dramatics' lead vocalist L.J. Reynolds. Spyder sounds like he's really about to lose it on this one, giving the somewhat melodramatic lyrics an earnest quality that makes you really believe it. I can't recommend this one enough.
"Tomorrow's Only Yesterday":
Spyder's tenure at Whitfield Records kept rolling with a follow up LP in 1980 called Only Love, continuing in a horn drenched disco vein. Whitfield called on Spyder again in 1985 to sing the title track to the martial arts film The Last Dragon, which was produced by Motown's founder Berry Gordy. The theme song was recorded under Spyder's real name, Dwight David, and the movie has retained a cult classic status that still stands today. The song is definitely an interesting moment in Spyder's catalogue!
"The Last Dragon – Dwight David":
Spyder's work with Norman continued into the late nineties. Whitfield attended a show by The Four Tops, and they all got to talking about how Norman had worked so extensively with The Temptations, but had never recorded anything on the Tops. The ball got rolling, and the ever-elusive Emergency 911 album was born. The record was put together over a period of transition with the Tops. It includes some of the last recordings of all four original members Levi Stubbs, Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Abdul "Duke" Fakir, and Lawrence Payton. Lawrence passed away in 1997, and former Temptations member Theo Peoples stepped in. In 2000, Levi stopped touring for health reasons, and Theo took over the duties as lead singer. Because of this, Emergency 911contains recordings of all the original Tops, some of the last recordings of Levi Stubbs, and some of the first of Theo Peoples as one of the Tops. Spyder was the writer of one of the songs on the record, called "Just Another Day (I Think Of You)." As of now the record remains unreleased, although for a moment some of the songs were available on a Norman Whitfield ReverbNation account. "Just Another Day" is a ballad with a powerful lead by Levi that shows he hadn't lost a thing. All of the original tops are present on the track, and the bridge ends with a classic moment of Levi letting loose. Hopefully one day these songs will see the light of day!
In 2006, Spyder released an eponymous EP that contained several original songs and a re-recording of "Stand By Me." Spyder's voice still sounds exactly the same as it did on the MGM recordings of the sixties. "I Don't Want To Go Home Tonight" was another barn burner of a ballad, which he made clear at the Detroit Jazz Festival in '06. 2007 saw the release of a new single, "What Goes Around Comes Around." In 2008, he was recruited by a writer/arranger from the UK named Carl Dixon. Along with Dennis Coffey, Carl put together an incredible project for his Bandtraxs productions, recording several original Detroit Soul songs. He brought together a jaw dropping roster of talent, including members of The Funk Brothers, Uriel Jones, Bob Babbitt, Spider Webb, Robert Jones, Ray Monette, and arranger David Van De Pitte. The tunes are a true recreation of the Motown sound. Spyder took the lead on"Glory Fleeting" and "Tell Me (Crying Over You)," and added vocals to "Detroit (City By The River)."
"Carl Dixon's Bandtraxs Productions":
Spyder still performs all over the world, and is still recording and releasing music. In 2012 he was brought over to the UK to perform alongside fellow soul legend Pat Lewis. In July 2013 he was featured in Brooklyn, NY as part of Richard Lewis and Michael Robinson's "Dig Deeper" monthly showcase. He performed several songs that he had not sang since they were recorded in the studio, including deep cuts from the MGM Stand By Me LP, and several songs that were only released as singles.
I can't say how proud I am to have been able to work with Spyder on the Back To Class project. He came into the studio and knocked his song out in about an hour. Steve Adams, who co-produced the record with me at his SDA studios, had the idea for Spyder to record a double of the lead vocal. In one take, Spyder breezed through it. As the song progressed, Steve and I kept saying that there was no way that Spyder would match what he had done before, but he's a machine in the studio! To this day, he is a complete professional, and I'm sure he'll continue doing big things. Keep an eye out for Spyder!
Check out the Back To Class Project below: