Motown Hits and Misses

The success of Motown and the “Motown Sound” in the second half of the 20th century has created a lot of wealthy individuals; people like Motown’s founder, Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and many others. On the other hand, many of the talented people who helped shape the Motown Sound and were probably deserving of a share of Motown’s fortunes fell by the wayside. These are the stories of just two of them.

You may be wondering what the connection is between Motown and the northeast music scene of the sixties. I suppose the link is fairly tenuous but for many of us who frequented the northeast’s clubs and dance halls in 1965 and 1966 Motown provided lots of songs that made up the soundtrack of our lives during those years. Not only were DJs spinning Motown records for dancers but also a lot of local northeast bands were covering songs by the likes of the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Miracles and Junior Walker’s All-Stars.

There’s no doubt about the popularity of Motown in the UK in the mid sixties. Although entrepreneur Berry Gordy originally formed the Detroit based record company in 1959, it would take a further five years for Motown to start impacting on the UK’s record buying public.

Motown went from strength to strength in the second half of the sixties and into the seventies. Berry Gordy initially described the output from his company as the “sound of young America”. Later it became widely known as the “Motown Sound”. Motown had its own distinctive musical style with its driving bass lines, dominant tambourine and gospel-influenced vocal harmonies. Many music fans regard the Motown Sound as the defining sound of 1960s pop, R&B, and Soul.

The first story concerns a talented sound engineer who played a major part in creating what was to become the Motown Sound.

The Hit Men

On 3rd March 1993 an intruder broke into the home of a 43 year-old divorcee in Montgomery County, Maryland, USA. The woman lived with her 8 year-old severely handicapped son but also present at the time of the break-in was Janice Saunders, the child’s overnight nurse. The intruder ruthlessly shot both women and suffocated the boy to death. Before leaving the scene the killer made sure that nothing was left in the house to link him to the murders. He disturbed some furniture and took away some credit cards to give the impression that the deaths were connected to a botched burglary.

After the bodies were discovered police investigators were quick to conclude that the three murders were not the work of a burglar but of a professional contract killer or “hit man”.

The murdered divorcee was Mildred Horn, once the wife of Lawrence T Horn who worked at Motown’s Detroit studio in the mid-sixties and was instrumental in the creation the “Motown Sound”. Lawrence Horn could truly be regarded as a “hit man” in another sense. He played a significant part in the many hit records that came out of Motown’s “Hitsville USA” studio between 1964 and 1968.

Larry Horn (seated) and Russ Terrana in the control room of Motown’s Studio A

Lawrence Horn joined Berry Gordy’s Motown company around 1964. He had previously been a DJ aboard a US Navy warship and as such had a first class knowledge of music. He secured a job as a sound engineer in the studio at Hitsville and before long became the company’s chief recording engineer, editing and mixing recordings. Horn created a three track system for the company and a post-recording process that would make Motown records sound substantially better than records from other record labels. Horn’s method involved replicating the tapes that had been used to record the voices and backing instruments and then applying effects such as compression and reverb to the different tapes before doing a final mix. It was the rhythm of the songs driven by a dominant bass and drum combination that made Motown songs so exciting and so danceable. Lawrence Horn’s magic touch increased the volume of the instrumental backing but at the same time kept the vocals loud, clear and above the instruments. Almost all of Motown’s releases from the mid-sixties to the end of the decade used this method.

It was Lawrence Horn’s contribution to the shaping of the Motown Sound that made him one of the top dogs in the control room of Motown’s Hitsville studio and a favourite of Berry Gordy in the mid sixties. Horn’s success at Motown earned him a lavish life-style; a Porsche, flash clothes, expensive jewellery and lots of ready cash. At the height of his career he married a Motown receptionist. However, this partnership was short-lived and ended in divorce in 1966.

in 1968 Motown’s chief song writing team, Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown following a dispute with Berry Gordy over royalties. The song-writers had made full use of Lawrence Horn’s recording techniques in their many hit records for the company and wanted to continue working with him. Horn decided that his future was with Holland-Dozier-Holland and this resulted in his exit from Motown. Although Horn would eventually return to Motown after the company had relocated to Los Angeles his status was nowhere near what it had been in the mid sixties in Detroit. Neither was his income.

Song writers Holland-Dozier- Holland, the team who lured Lawrence Horn away from Motown

In 1973 Lawrence Horn married a second time to a beautiful senior American Airlines flight attendant named Mildred Maree. The couple had their first child in 1974 but by the end of the decade their marriage was failing. Mildred Horn moved away from the West Coast to Washington DC. In spite of the separation Lawrence and Mildred Horn continued with a relationship of some sort and Mildred became pregnant again by her husband. Mildred Horn gave birth to twins in August 1984 eleven weeks before their due date. The girl recovered from the premature birth but not so Trevor Horn, the boy, who needed regular on-going hospital treatment.

In 1985 an accident caused by a hospital in the course of his treatment left Trevor brain damaged and needing round-the-clock care. Lawrence and Mildred Horn subsequently sued the hospital for medical malpractice. In 1990 they eventually settled out of court for a sum of around $2 million. Both Mildred and Lawrence Horn each received part of the settlement by way of a single payment. Another portion was used to pay for Trevor’s on-going care. Trevor was to receive just over half of the total sum in 2003 when he reached the age of eighteen. In the event of Trevor dying before 2003 his entire share of $1.1 million would go to the surviving parents or parent.

By the early 1990s Lawrence Horn and Mildred Horn were divorced. He had been laid off from Motown and was finding life difficult as a freelance music engineer. His settlement from the hospital quickly ran out and he was getting deeper and deeper into debt, amongst other things with outstanding child support payments for the couple’s three children.

With the death of his ex-wife and disabled son on 3rd March 1993 Lawrence Horn was in line to become a wealthy man and put all his money problems behind him. It was no wonder that the police strongly suspected Horn of being behind the murders of his ex-wife, their son and his son’s nurse. The problem for the police was that Lawrence Horn had a cast-iron alibi. On the night of the murder he was over 2000 miles away in Los Angeles with his current girlfriend. He’d even made a video of himself and his girlfriend that night in his apartment. The video just happened to include a shot of his TV screen, which displayed the time and date.

Before long the police had another suspect. A Detroit man named James Perry had checked into a hotel not far from the Horn household on the day of the murders. He had checked out six hours later. However, there was nothing concrete to connect Perry to the murders. Neither were they able to link him to Lawrence Horn. When the police searched Perry’s home they were sure they had their man. They discovered that prior to the killings he had purchased a book entitled “Hit Man”. This was, in fact, a detailed instruction manual on how to carry out a contract killing without leaving clues.

Cover of Hitman book

After a painstaking investigation lasting over a year, which amongst other things involved detailed examination of phone records, the police and FBI finally had enough evidence to connect James Perry and Lawrence Horn and to arrest them both for murder and conspiracy. In the first instance the police were wrong in their assumption that the murders had been carried out by a professional hit man. Perry was little more than a petty criminal and confidence trickster who had been introduced to Lawrence Horn by one of Horn’s Detroit based cousins.

The pair had used the “Hit Man” book to plan and carry out their crime. While carrying out the killings Perry had followed the instructions in the book to the letter. Well almost: In a moment of foolishness he used his own identity to check into the Maryland Hotel on the day of the murders. Had it not been for this he may never have been traced.

James Perry was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 but in 1999 the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Lawrence Horn was convicted in 1996 and also received a life-term. Horn died in prison in 2017.

Whilst in prison Lawrence T Horn would have had lots of time to reflect on his glory days at Motown when he ruled the roost in Hitsville’s Studio A and about the bad decisions he made leading to his downfall.

As a footnote I’ll mention that Lawrence Horn’s part in Motown has by-and-large been airbrushed out of the company’s history. Similarly, the technical books and articles I’ve seen covering Horn’s innovative recording techniques do not mention his heinous crime and subsequent fate.

L’il Funk

Another member of the Hitsville team at the same time as Lawrence Horn was saxophonist Andrew “Mike” Terry. Mike Terry and Horn were of a similar age so probably knew each other quite well. Like Horn, Mike was another Motown employee who fell off the gravy train. He was a member of the elite group of musicians collectively known as the Funk Brothers, which provided the backing on all of the Motown studio recording in the sixties.

Mike Terry was late in joining the Funk Brothers but just in time to be a part of a lot of Motown’s UK sixties hits. Mike was the youngest of the Funk Brothers and was consequently nick-named “L’il Funk” by some of the more experienced band members.

Motown’s session musicians – the Funk Brothers with Mike Terry far right

Mike Terry wasn’t a seasoned jazz musician like most of the other Funk Brothers but his distinctive, unassuming style on baritone sax made him a favourite with producers and song-writers. On a lot of recordings in the mid-sixties, Motown’s producers chose the baritone saxophone as a solo instrument rather than the more popular solo instruments of the day – the tenor sax or guitar. Mike’s short baritone saxophone breaks became an integral part of the signature “Motown Sound”; a sound which set the label apart from its rivals.

Here’s some of the classic Motown tracks featuring Mike’s work: –

‘Where Did Our Love Go’, ‘Baby Love’ and ‘Back In My Arms Again’ by the Supremes
‘This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) by the Isley Brothers
“I Can’t Help Myself’ and ‘The Same Old Song’ by the Four Tops
‘Heatwave’ and ‘Dancing In The Street’ by Martha & The Vandellas
‘Bird In The Hand’ by the Velvelettes
‘Helpless’ by Kim Weston

record iconHere’s a brief reminder of how Mike’s signature baritone sax breaks sounded

After a few years of playing baritone sax with the Funk Brothers, Mike Terry was keen to raise his profile within the Motown organisation. He set his sights on becoming an arranger and producer rather than just an instrumentalist. Unfortunately Berry Gordy never gave Mike the chance to prove what he was capable of. Gordy probably thought he had enough excellent producers and arrangers and that Mike Terry should remain in the studio as a session musician doing what he did best.

Mike was far from happy about being denied the opportunity to better himself so he decided to enrol in a music theory course at the Detroit Institute of Music Arts to try and achieve his goal. At the same time he began to do work on the side for other record labels.

Eventually Mike Terry’s driving ambition paid off. He did become a sought after record producer and arranger, although not for Motown. He broke from Motown around 1966 and, amongst others, worked for Motown’s rivals – Golden World Records, Epic Records and Okey Records. The rival record companies that he worked for never quite achieved the popularity of Motown. However, Mike’s work as a producer continued well into the seventies. Eventually tastes in music would change. The type of Soul music in which Mike Terry had made his mark was losing popularity with the record buying public.

In the late seventies, either by choice or necessity, Mike Terry left the world of music behind him. With a growing family to support he needed a steady income. He made a living by doing various non-skilled jobs in factories and shops – a life far removed from the halcyon days of Motown in the mid-sixties and his subsequent work as a producer.

In 1983 the Motown Record Corporation marked its 25th year in the music business with the ‘Motown 25’ celebrations, a show which brought back together many of the original Motown stars from the sixties. But still the Funk Brothers, the studio musicians who played a big part in Motown’s success were not acknowledged. It was reported that at least one of the Funk Brothers had to buy a ticket to get into the show.

A few years later a producer and musician named Allan Slutsky started a project that would eventually lead to a greater public awareness of the Funk Brothers and their work. Allan Slutsky published an award winning book entitled “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown” in 1989. The book was primarily about Motown studio bass player James Jamerson but did include a lot of information about the other Funk Brothers.

Eventually the book led to the release of a movie with the same name. The movie brought together surviving members of the Funk Brothers who performed together as a unit for the first time in decades. The film, which won several Grammy Awards, gave the previously anonymous session musicians a short burst of fame. For a few years they bathed in the limelight that the film had cast upon them. This included a ceremony in which the surviving Motown session musicians were presented with Grammy Legend Awards.

2002 – a reformed Funk Brothers perform in Motown’s Studio A

Mike Terry’s part in the Funk Brothers and the sixties Motown recordings was ignored both in the book and in the movie. He was approached by Allan Slutsky in the initial stages of the “Standing In The Shadows” project but for whatever reason he was not considered important enough to be treated as one of the original Funk Brothers. He later felt he had been given the cold shoulder by Slutsky.

Mike Terry took ill in 2005 and died three years later in 2008. Although some of Mike’s work is still popular in the world of Northern Soul, he sadly missed out in retrospective fame and becoming publicly acknowledged as one of Motown’s Funk Brothers. He still remains relatively unknown in terms of his contribution to the Motown Sound.

4 thoughts on “Motown Hits and Misses

  1. 0


    I had NO idea all this dramatic history was going on like that!

    Really sounds like a major epic to me..maybe someone could make a movie about this era, these particular scenes?

    The story and characters are so keenly defined, and rich in the texture of your telling, Roger – very exciting to read all this, and makes me feel like dancing – tho I usually feel like that anyhow – Amanda


  2. 0

    Very interesting! By co-incidence, we had a record producer in the UK called Trevor Horn.


  3. 0

    Awesome Saturday morning reading, just found your site and can’t wait to nose around.


  4. 0

    Always glad to read your posts, Roger! Very exotic, missives from a vivid and magical world where so many arts and smarts were originated! – Amanda


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