Though born in Philadelphia, vibraphonist/percussionist, Jack Ashford will forever be associated with Detroit… and the Motown label in particular. Originally a jazz man, Ashford came to Motown via a friendship with Marvin Gaye, who got him a spot on the Motortown Revue way back in ’62. Jack was then welcomed into the Funk Brothers and went on to play on countless Motown classics. But Jack Ashford was ambitious and in the mid 60s he started producing his own records with Mike Terry. In 1965 he set up Pied Piper productions which licensed music to various labels and after PP folded he started another production company – Just Productions. As he’d done at Pied Piper, Ashford licensed many of his Just Productions productions to other labels but he also created labels of his own… like Sepia, Triple B, Ashford and Awake.
Over the past few years, UK reissue specialists Ace Records have, via their Kent imprint, made available much of Ashford’s Pied Piper and Just Productions output and with this new 24 track album, we’re told, that’s about it … no more from Ace/Kent on Jack Ashford. But don’t be down… be thankful for what they have released on the man and this set in particular offers plenty of mighty fine soul from names that will be familiar with Detroit collectors … artists like Sandra Richardson, Eddie Parker, Billy Sha-Rae and Lorraine Chandler whose ‘Don’t Leave Me Baby’ is an album highlight.
But it’s curmudgeonly to talk of highlights on a compilation of this quality. There’s not a dud here and each cut offers something special. Here’s a few to whet appetites. We keep coming back to the instrumental version of ‘There Can Be A Better Way’. With ‘Shades of ‘Hold Back The Night’, the original vocal take from the Smith Brothers was massive in the golden age of Wigan; here, credited to The New Sound Of Detroit, you can fully appreciate the craft of the Detroit session players and maybe wonder how many Funk Brothers are playing on the track. ‘Crying Clown’ is another familiar song. It’s already won favour via versions by Billy Sha-Rae and Eddie Parker and here we can enjoy a second Parker take on the ballad … much more intense (vocally and instrumentally) than the previous two versions. And while we’re on about familiar songs, what about another version of the Temptations’ ‘Since I Lost My Baby’? Producer Ashford breathes new life into the song by getting the Perfections to add an introductory monologue to their harmonic interpretation.
Jack Ashford is also present on this collection via couple of vocal tracks… the soft and sweet ‘Let Me Take Care Of Your Heart’ and the very lively L. A recorded ‘This Ain’t Just Another Dance Song’ which, despite the title, actually is. It’s not the kind of music that Ashford had grown up with and after Just Productions ended he went to work with Norman Whitfield on his Whitfield label then he moved to Memphis where he worked in a number of jobs outside music, before re-entering the limelight when the Funk Brothers were “rediscovered” in the 90s.