Kim Weston exited the company in early '67, leaving Marvin in search of a duet partner. This time the label teamed him with vivacious Philly native Terrell. From the outset, it was a match made in heaven. "That was Mr. Gordy's idea, as far as I know," said Johnny Bristol, who produced their first duets with partner Harvey Fuqua.
Marvin said, "I had no idea Tammi was as good a singer as she, of course, turned out to be...But some people who were on their toes dug her sound and perhaps realized that we may possibly make a good duet. And, wanting to try something new all of my life, it was a challenge and something groovy to do...Tammi was nice, she was pretty, and she was soft and warm and sweet--and misunderstood. I enjoyed working with her and that, coupled with a new team, Ashford & Simpson, made it so marvelous."
The Gaye/Terrell partnership represented the apogee of the soul duet, as their voices blended sensually on a string of hits: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "If I Could Build My World Around You," "Your Precious Love," "If This World Were Mine," "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing," "Keep On Lovin' Me Honey," and "You're All I Need To Get By." The Complete Duets showcases Marvin Gaye with Tammi Terrell and features their entire recorded output from 1967 to 1969 on a superb two-disc collection.
Tammi Terrell was born Thomasina Montgomery in Philadelphia on April 29, 1945. She sang in church as a wee lass. By the time she was 11, she was competing in area talent contest. After winning a number of local talent contests, by the age of 13 was regularly opening club dates for Gary "U.S." Bonds, Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles, and other acts.
At the age of 15, Tammi was discovered by producer Luther Dixon and signed to Specter/Wand Records. Credited as Tammy Montgomery, she made her debut with "If I You See Bill." She encored in the spring of '62 on Wand with "Voice of Experience," but stardom was still a ways down the road. James Brown signed her to his Try Me label and issued "I Cried" in 1963 and she toured with his live revue. "If I Would Marry You" appeared on Checker a year later, during which time she also studied Pre-Med at the University of Pennsylvania.
Reports vary as to how Tammi joined the Motown roster. One account has it that either Motown producer Harvey Fuqua or Motown president Berry Gordy, Jr., caught her act when she was singing duets at the 20 Grand Club with Windy City soul crooner Jerry "Iceman" Butler in 1965. A similar featured spot with Chuck Jackson's troupe may have also played a role. Her Motown label debut was "I Can't Believe You Love Me," with "Come On and See Me" and "This Old Heart of Mine" following.
An odd and disturbing story, Tammi had complained of severe migraines headaches for some time. Former boss James Brown was said to have often violently abused Tammi during their relationship and this caused her family to strongly object to the liaison. Their objections coupled with the constant abuse she suffered finally ended the affair. Tammi was engaged to and had a short love affair with the Temptations' former lead singer David Ruffin (who was also very violent toward her) but called it off when she allegedly found he was already married. It has been said that David was jealous of her extremely strong, but platonic, relationship with Marvin. Rumors suggest that she endured still further physical abuse from a certain Motown executive.
Terrell finally collapsed onstage while singing with Marvin Gaye at Hampden-Sydney College in central Virginia at Homecoming on Saturday October 14, 1967 and was rushed to the hospital. Tammi was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor--alleged induced by physically abusive bosses and boyfriends.
Hampden-Sydney's Homecoming weekend '67 events included fraternity parties, class reunions, alumni functions, and a Saturday night concert featuring Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. The October 13, 1967 cover story of the student newspaper The Tiger reads:
The German Club will present for Homecoming, The Drifters, The Tropics, and the Robinson Brothers for Friday night, and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and Bill Deal and the Rondells [sic] for Saturday night...
Saturday Night, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell will be accompanied by Bill Deal and the Rondells. Marvin Gaye's hit singles include: "Can I Get a Witness" and "Stubborn Kind of Fellow." German Club President Bill Carter calls him "the smoothest of the pop-showmen."
"Tammi Terrell, who started with James Brown, combines with Marvin Gaye to form the most professional and enjoyable male-female act in the business," said Bill. Their recent smash hits are "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Your Precious Love." Tammi and Marvin come directly from appearances on the "Tonight Show" and "The Joey Bishop Show."
These groups will be singing through the German Club's new public address system. Carter reports that "this is so good that one of its speakers sounds better than all four of the old speakers."
Show times will be 7:45 p.m. to accommodate the football team. Entrance will be through the front doors only. The price for non-members will be $6.00 each night.
"The Drifters put on a most enjoyable concert," said Bill, "and Marvin and Tammi are the male-female of Sam and Dave--perfect together."
German Club vice-president Bill Selden, Jr., believes the club paid about $4,500 to book Marvin and Tammi. He recalls, "The six-member band got there about three hours early, which is very unusual. [Selden even played poker with them!] It was very hot in the gym that night, especially with 800 students and their dates crammed into it. There were no seats at all. There was only about 20% of the crowd in the bleachers. Mostly everybody was standing in front of the stage.
"Tammi wasn't feeling well from the time Marvin and she got there, so she stayed in her dressing room, which was nothing elaborate--just two coaches' offices--with the light out. Terrell said she'd be ok; she just had some headaches. She did come out and sang two or three songs. The last one was 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' before she collapsed. We thought it was because of the heat. I do remember Marvin holding her as she collapsed. He caught her as she dropped down and helped her off to the edge of the stage. She went back to her dressing room. At intermission, Tammi still wasn't feeling well. I didn't see her again. Marvin was real nervous and concerned about her."
In 1967, Candy Jamison (now Candice Dowdy, Director of College Events at Hampden-Sydney College) was a student at nearby Longwood College (now Longwood University). Candy attended the show and recounted, "The concert was in Gammon Gymnasium. They performed on a portion of the bleachers. (I don't remember there being any kind of staging at all.) The students were packed into Gammon Gym, seated on a wall of bleachers, and I was among the many who covered the basketball floor.
"It was a great concert. Marvin Gaye covered for her very well when she collapsed...to my knowledge she just passed out--no one knew she had headaches or had been abused. At the time we just thought she collapsed from exhaustion or too much of something. She slipped down onto the bleacher seats; eventually she was helped down, and Marvin Gaye continued singing...ending the concert with the entire audience happy as clams. The concert was great, she was great, and they made a great duo!"
Hampden-Sydney College undergraduate Becky Garland (formerly Reed) and her ex-husband Jeff Reed, in addition to his full time job, for a few years ran a weekend concert-booking agency called Top Star Productions. Before the day of bigger agencies handling concert promotions, small companies, such as Top Star, solicited college clubs to present concerts by the musicians they represented, from small combos and bands for fraternity parties and club functions to the big name acts of the day. Acting as an intermediary, the Reeds contracted with United Artists in New York to present local college concerts by the Fifth Dimension, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, the Shirelles, and other top artists. Top Star booked Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye for Hampden-Sydney's German Club.
Garland remembers that Terrell was not feeling well and was acting somewhat strange. "I was uneasy that evening," Garland said, "because she did have some problems." While drug use among musicians was fairly rampant, she said that Terrell didn't seem to have the symptoms of that, but rather of an illness. Upon hearing of her death from a brain tumor years later, Garland reflected on that evening, realizing that effects from the brain tumor could have been Tammi's problem at that time.
WFLO radio news director Elliott Irving in nearby Farmville, Virginia, recalls that Marvin and Tammi arrived for their concert at Homecoming late in the (American) football game during the fourth quarter. They went directly to their dressing rooms, where she lay down, complaining about not feeling well.
"Tammi passed out during about the fourth number they were doing together," he said. Contrary to the often-repeated legend, Irving says it is "not true that she fell into Marvin Gaye's arms. Her knees buckled and she lowered herself to the floor. Gaye did catch her and the concert continued. People didn't know at the time it was a major medical problem, nor that this was her last concert appearance."
Maxine Brown, Brenda Holloway, Barbara Randolph and Ann Bogan replaced Tammi on a tour with Marvin Gaye when she became ill. Although the tumor forced Terrell to retire from live performances, Motown publicity downplayed the seriousness of the situation at first. She continued to record with Gaye and, according to Billboard Magazine, was often seen entering the studio in her wheelchair. She worked twelve- and eighteen-hour days for a week, and after she finished their second duet album said, 'I've got a lot more faith in God.' "
For half of that album, You're All I Need, new duets were created by having Marvin overlay vocal parts on Tammi's previously recorded solo tracks. To help Motown keep expenses down, he had done the same thing for some of their first album together United, although now a necessity, not just a cost-cutting procedure. As these were multi-track recordings, Tammi's vocal could be isolated and removed. Marvin then simply filled in the gaps. Though not an authentic duet, the result was Marvin and Tammi on one song.
Even the vaults were raided for material! A and B sides of previously released Tammi Terrell singles were given the treatment! "Come On and See Me," "Baby Don'tcha Worry," "I Can't Believe You Love Me," and "Hold Me Oh My Darling" resurfaced as "duets" two to four years after their original solo issue.
Actually, this slight-of-ear worked quite well; extremely well on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," which almost unbelievably underwent the transformation from solo track to convincing duet! "Two Can Have a Party," "You Ain't Livin' Till You're Lovin'," "Give In, You Just Can't Win," "When Love Comes Knocking At My Heart," "Memory Chest," "That's How It Is (Since You've Been Gone)" and "More, More, More" also benefit from Marvin's vocals added to Tammi's previously recorded vocals.(Check out these mostly previously unreleased solo versions on the The Complete Duets.)
The albums United and You're All I Need have moments of heavenly charm. In addition to the singles, album tracks "Sad Wedding," "Give A Little Love" and "Oh How I'd Miss You" help make United delicious ear candy, as do "I Can't Help But Love You," "I'll Never Stop Loving You Baby" and "Memory Chest" on You're All I Need.
Eerily prophetic, even the liner notes on the back of the You're All I Need album mention the state of Tammi's health: "Such performances have been temporarily denied us due to Tammi's illness...Not only did recording this album contribute to her convalescence, but added a new dimension to the Gaye-Terrell repertoire."
To address rumors that were spreading, ex-boyfriend David Ruffin publicly reassured anxious fans that Tammi had been hospitalized, but was returning to health. After eight surgeries, which resulted in loss of memory and partial paralysis, recording a third album was impossible.
Husband-and-wife songwriting and production team Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson were among those called in to fill the void at Motown left by Holland-Dozier-Holland, who had recently exited the company in a royalty dispute.
"When Nick and Valerie had come to Motown as writers, their product was distributed to various producers," said Bristol. "So Harvey and I were given 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough,' 'Your Precious Love,' and I think a couple more. But I think those were the ones we just jumped up and down about. Mr. Gordy assigned us these particular songs, the material, to do Marvin and Tammi.
"On 'Your Precious Love' we had the opportunity to do the background--Marvin and Harvey and myself and Tammi," noted Bristol. "We called ourselves 'the Riff Brothers Plus One.' Tammi was the 'Plus One.' But we had fun in the studio doing those things. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of clowning around. And I think the joy from the personalities and the energy--it was a very relaxed arrangement."
Addressing the fact that Marvin and Tammi apparently recorded some of their later duets separately, Bristol said, "Oh yeah, that's true, but that was very seldom true with us, because we all enjoyed being there together. I think it was more when Nick and Valerie were producing them. I think it started more around that time." Simpson anonymously assumed the singing role of the dying Terrell on most of the tracks from the 1969 album Easy.
Gaye said, "At first I refused to go along with the plan. I saw it as another money-making scheme on BG's part. I said it was cynical and wrong. I didn't want to deceive the public like that. Then Motown convinced me that it'd be a way for Tammi's family to have additional income. [Valerie] amazed me with how faithfully she captured Tammi. I felt strange...I suppose I felt guilty."
Somewhat surprising is that "Baby I Need Your Loving" is the only Holland-Dozier-Holland composition the duo (or a trio at this point?) recorded. Though H-D-H had only just recently left the company, Motown seems to have moved on without them and rather quickly at that!
Hit singles continued: "Good Lovin' Ain't Easy To Come By," "What You Gave Me," "California Soul," and "The Onion Song," which proved to be the most successful of the duo's singles in the UK. (Which vocals are Tammi's and which are Valerie's? The accompanying booklet in The Complete Duets is to be faulted for not providing such vital and pertinent information!)
Without new material from Terrell, much of the magic was gone. Nowhere on Easy is there any of the "hey-Marvin, hey-Tammi" banter that permeates the first two albums because Gaye felt strange singing to Simpson, and even guilty. (All was not lost, as "Love Woke Me Up This Morning" and "This Poor Heart of Mine" are among the many standouts on Easy and even on the entire collection!) Though Valerie Simpson on Easy is perhaps a pinnacle in the pairings of Marvin's performing partners, there "ain't nothing like the real thing"!
Contrary to some reports, Terrell wasn't married to boxer Ernie Terrell, whose sister Jean would replace Diana Ross who left the Supremes for a solo career in 1970. Rumor has it that Tammi may have had a chance to be the new lead singer of the group, but due to her illness, her preference to remain a solo act, and other problems, she was not considered. Motown released Tammi's only solo LP Irresistible in January of 1968, but she wouldn't live long enough to savor her success.
Distressed over Terrell's illness, his failing marriage, and various artistic dilemmas, Gaye made it difficult for Motown to entice him into the studio--disrupting its stringent production schedule. He was really terribly afraid that she wasn't going to make it. And he was right. Gaye saw her wither away to less than ninety pounds and die. Immediately he went into seclusion. He was shattered by the tragedy and, sequestering himself away from the public for an extended period, he stopped recording and making personal appearances. Friends say he was never again the same.
"I was devastated by Tammi's death," he said later. "I think maybe what scared me the most was that I was so angered by the senselessness of it all. I had to accept that it was God's will, but it was difficult to understand at the time. I grieved for years, and the fact that deep down inside I hated performing with somewhat of a passion made it even easier for me to stop. After taking time off, I developed a real fear of performing and it was even more difficult to come back."
Convinced he was bad luck to his partners (Wells and Weston had left Motown shortly after their collaborations with him), Marvin would avoid duets until teaming with Diana Ross in 1973 for the Hal Davis-produced Diana and Marvin. Because he was a sensitive guy, Gaye used to feel like he had some kind of hex on him because something happened to everybody who sang with him.
Tragically, both members of Motown's perfect partnership died prematurely. Marvin Gaye was fatally shot in the chest by his father in Los Angeles on April 1, 1984, preceded by the passing of Tammi Terrell on March 16, 1970 at the age of 24. She had never married nor had yet reached her full potential. "I felt that I somehow died with her," Gaye said. He refrained from live performances and went into a period of reclusive exile.
It is ironic that the duo wonderfully portrayed the beauty and innocence of love on their recordings, when neither could find it in life. "It was acting," acknowledged Marvin. "It was...as though she was dying for everyone who couldn't find love."
Tammi Terrell's grave is at Mount Lawn Cemetery, northwest of Philadelphia International Airport. She is survived by a sister, Ludie Montgomery; Ludie's sons, Kirk and Donald; and Kirk's three children. All still live in Philadelphia.
There has been much speculation about Tammi Terrell's drinking, her loose morals, and her demise. Number One With A Bullet, a novel by former Gaye aide Elaine Jesmer, included a character clearly based on Terrell and gave voice to the accusations. (Allegedly, the Motown machine purchased the movie rights to the book to prevent the story from ever being told on the big screen.) It has been said that her death resulted from the many beatings she suffered from one of the relationships she had within the Motown fraternity.
"This is one of the many misconceptions about her. Unless you talk to people from all eras of her life like we have, you don't really see who she was by reading previous things written," says Vickie Wright, who is assisting Ludie in writing a biography. "Almost 80% of what's out there is not accurate or it's just people spinning off the rumor mill.
"I have compiled a complete bio from birth to death. People took a few things about Tammi (literally just a few) and that was their focus for 32 years. You have to look at the whole person--the entire 24 years...not one or two boyfriends or one book that was written. I write from what's true, not from my theories. That's the problem--everyone wrote their own theories. So I would have to disagree. I just know more about her than what's out there. I know too many positives about her that will make those negatives fall away.
"Tammi's family gets tired of the same old rumor mill. She is dearly loved and admired not only by the ones that knew her, but the fans have stayed loyal to her for over 30 years. Her strength and courage out weigh any of the negatives she had. Her legacy in tact for such a short career, her place in music secure. I have always felt that she deserved positive validation for all the love, joy, and happiness she brought to the music world and the world in general."
Hampden-Sydney College is a small private four-year liberal arts prep school (with a student body of about one thousand). Founded in 1776, it is one of only three all-male liberal arts colleges in the United States. It is located in rural south-central Virginia in the town of Hampden-Sydney just south of Farmville in Southside, 65 miles west of Richmond, and forty miles east of Lynchburg. Founded in 1776 for sons of southern planters, Hamden-Sydney was a school for white males only until 1963 when the college officially reversed its policy on admission. The first African-American student didn't enroll until 1968, the year after Marvin and Tammi performed there. (John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas is considered an alumnus, but did not graduate from HSC, as he actually left before the end of his first year.)
Because Hampden-Sydney College did not have any African-American students enrolled at the time and its Gammon Gymnasium does not have a stage large enough to accommodate a Marvin Gaye concert (or any stage at all for that matter), it is often mistakenly reported that the concert occurred at Hampton Institute (originally called Hampton Agricultural and Normal School, now Hampton University) about 140 miles away.
Located in Hampton near Norfolk, in eastern Virginia, about 80 miles southeast of Richmond, Hampton University was founded in 1868 as a coeducational school. One of the oldest African-American educational institutions in America, Hampton Institute was founded after the Civil War to provide training in vocational and practical arts to former slaves. (It is a HBCU, Historic Black College or University, with a great museum of African-American art.)
With a passing shiver, I also noted a couple of song variations that would be of interest only to collectors: namely, that on the album version of "You're All I Need To Get By," Marvin mentions Tammi by name before the second verse. Swearing that I never heard that on the single, I pulled out a copy and played it. Lo and behold, Motown faded down Marvin's vocal to change "Tammi, listen!" to just "...listen." Could the reason be that it's not Tammi singing, but Valerie Simpson?
On the UK 2-on-1 of United/You're All I Need (released just prior to the US release of The Complete Duets!), you will find a slightly different version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." At 1:44 into the song on the alternate mix, Motown didn't remove Tammi's vocal from a few lines. Instead of Marvin soloing, they duet on the line, "If you ever need a helping hand, I'll be there on the double, just as fast as I can." (This variation was previously unavailable elsewhere, but has since been released on the various artists compilation "The Love Songs of Motown.")