Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Working with legendary Motown arranger David J. Van De Pitte

It seems like only yesterday that I used to visit as many record shops on a Saturday afternoon as I could in search of some obscure soul record from the USA that nobody else had heard. That was in 1974 and in that process I picked up albums also to discover that some companies had started to name musicians, arrangers and other faceless people who had somehow contributed to the studio session output on the rear of the LP sleeve. Over the years and into the 1980/90’s the names of certain individuals became more celebrated, as their contribution to the songs became more apparent, and rightly so. I cannot remember when I first became accustomed to reading David’s name on a record cover, or indeed via some other medium, but what I do know it was always synonymous with quality music from the Motown record label. Distant memories come to life also, as in my archives reside the names of Paul Riser, Gene Page, Hal Davis in addition to David’s. They must have been imprinted long ago as I was in awe of these people including the musicians and how they all made the music come alive for me thousands of miles away in England.

During the planning stages of my dream Detroit session and the hundreds of emails both Dennis Coffey and I exchanged, it became apparent that it may be an idea to employ an arranger to study the demo’s I had sent over and put some sparkle on the songs. I was not familiar how this was done, but Dennis Coffey, who really worked hard and helped this project work from start to finish suggested contacting David J. Van De Pitte and asking whether he would be interested in arranging the four songs, doing the charts for the musicians and leading the band in the studio. Amazingly he said ‘yes’ and I was shocked, in fact tearful. How could this happen to somebody like me? Not even an average person, from Hull, England on probably one of the most difficult ventures of his life and here, a top Motown arranger coming on board to help make my dream come true.

So, everything was organised. Dennis had contracted the musicians and David to appear at Studio A one Monday morning in March 2008 for the Carl Dixon session! My wife Michelle and I turned up early to Studio A in Dearborn Heights on a cold winter’s morning, to be followed into the car park by drummer Spider Webb and pianist Robert Jones. We embraced and laughed about what was happening like old friends. We had met previously on ‘The Soulful Tale of Two Cities’ session held at the same studio coincidentally in March 2006. Bobby Eli had invited me to attend around January 2006 and I flew out to Detroit with excitement and watched the masters at work. It was this session that made me realise that I could possibly hire Studio A too, and do something similar. Everything fell into place. However, David was not on this session and a million miles still, from mine.

The interesting part to was when I saw this small bearded gentleman waltz into the studio that Monday with a bag full of Federal Express white envelopes. I honestly thought he was a US mail delivery man wandering around looking for the studio owners to get a signature for an important delivery. I was wrong! I said to him ‘Hello, who are you?’ he replied ‘David Van De Pitte’ and I introduced myself and told him who I thought he was. We laughed, shook hands and discussed the music. It was an unbelievable encounter. He whispered something in my ear about my demos which made my day! He was complimentary and thrilled to be working on the session. Of course he knew many of the musicians who had already arrived and I remember fondly the embrace he and Uriel Jones had as they had not seen each other for some time. In the studio I was speechless when out of the Federal Express bags came hand written musical notation for every musician playing on that gig. Meticulously organised and created without the use of computer technology, something he did not believe in. He even told me he did not want an email address and handed me his CV! David was a professional and worked the musicians hard to acquire their best cumulative effort during the session. It’s like he understood that once the best was in the can he could relax knowing that he and the musicians had done their very best for the label/contractor. In just two days, we recorded the basic rhythm tracks and horn overdubs. Can you believe the rhythm tracks were recorded in less than 4 hours on the Monday! How professional is that! Some of the demos took me 6 months to do! It was a priceless experience and to quote David at the end of one of the song recordings:

“I didn’t know that there were that many notes”

And Dennis Coffey replied:

“There wasn’t when we started”

And David again:

“He just makes ‘em up as he goes along”

Go here to see and hear the studio session in full swing, and those famous words.


Rest in Peace David J. Van De Pitte.
© Carl Dixon 2009

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