ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Not-So-Healthy Holidays and Berry Gordy’s Secrets to Success

By Seth Rudetsky
02 Dec 2013



Berry Gordy
Photo by Kal Lee
He treated the Motown record label like an assembly line in the sense that each artist was taught different aspects of how to be a star until they emerged as one. His first big discovery happened when he was writing songs for Jackie Wilson. He happened to be in a recording studio when a group was auditioning for Jackie Wilson's manager. The group had guys and girl and the manager thought they were too much like The Platters so they were rejected. Berry ran after them and told them how good they were. He said they responded by saying, "So what?", because they thought he was another artist auditioning and couldn't do anything for them. Then he told them he was Berry Gordy and they realized he was the guy who wrote Jackie Wilson's "Reet Petite" and "Lonely Teardrops."

The person Gordy connected with most in the group was Smokey Robinson. He asked to hear some of Smokey's songs, and the good news was Smokey had plenty of them and they had great poetic passages.The bad news was they often didn't make sense. Berry said verses would go from the first person to the third person without an explanation. Not since Melissa Manchester sang, "You should hear how she talks about you, you should hear what she says!" and then reveals "Can't you see? It's me!" Really? Then why the third person for three verses?! Berry started guiding him and telling him how to make his songs more concise and make sense. He told me he knew Smokey was a genius when he brought him "I'll Try Somethin New." Berry thought the lyrics were so fantastic and told him, "You have something I don't have." Then, with his typical confidence, he followed that statement with, "But I have lots of stuff you don't have..." Regardless, here's the song Berry loves, and it's the version combining two of his biggest stars: Smokey and Diana Ross

Berry said he loved working on Motown for Broadway, especially because he said the actors playing the artists were a lot easier to deal with than the actual artists! I'm so obsessed with so many of the ones he discovered, but I'll give you a glimpse at one of my obsessions... young Michael Jackson's amazing riffs

Since Disaster is Off-Broadway, our reviews are still coming out. Michael Musto just came and gave us a great one! He said the show is a "giddily fun spoof," called Jennifer Simard "extraordinarily funny" and claimed that moments in the show had "magical powers." I'll take it! We have shows Monday, Tuesday and Friday nights and Wednesday matinees. We also have a special holiday schedule if you're coming into NYC at the end of the month, so go to DisasterMusical.com for details.

PS, look at our recent celebrity photo on the side. Fred Schneider from the B-52's came. I love, love, love "Rock Lobster" and "Love Shack," so it was so cool to stand next to him onstage and shield myself from an unseen disaster. This Saturday I'll be in the Poconos doing a show with Audra McDonald (tix here) and Monday and Tuesday I'll be hosting Gypsy of the Year! Get info at BroadwayCares.org and peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)