Sharing 'the' Gloria Jones

Share on Nextdoor

Here's serendipity for you: It was her son Rolan Bolan's fervent desire to see his mom's 36-year-old album Share My Love back in print that led to him to, well, share the album with friends and then see that love returned many times over. The album found the ears of Paul Williams at Reel Records, a boutique label specializing in Motown reissues (straight from the master tapes) and now Share My Love sits at its rightful place in the scale of supply and demand. 

To listen to this startlingly vibrant album now is to hear music that's completely of its time, and music that's a few light years ahead of its time.

You have pre-disco soul pop, Paul Riser's string sections — the Detroiter who made, for example, Norman Whitfield's Temptations productions so arresting — plus a rock-funk sensibility that screamed crossover, plus you had a singer-songwriter dynamic for the post-Woodstock crowd. (Which is probably why Motown chose Jones in the woods wearing a peasant dress for the album cover instead of all the gorgeous diva shots the publicity department had.) 

Had it all connected with its intended audience then, the result would've been seismic and drop-dead lovely Gloria Jones would've occupied a rarefied place in the Motown pantheon, a female singer-songwriter in the same rich vein as its male stars: Marvin and Stevie and Smokey. We are not kidding. 

But fate and this thing we tend to call "life" played out a bit differently. Gloria Jones became a cult idol to a great many and a historical footnote to a lot of others. But you couldn't ask for a greater chain of footnotes. 

The Cincinnati-born Jones began her recording career under the guidance of Ed Cobb, producer of the Standells, The Chocolate Watchband and the pre-Motown Brenda Holloway. With Cobb, Jones recorded two supercharged classics, the heavily covered "Heartbeat" and "Tainted Love," both of which thrive in England's Northern Soul circuit, and the latter in Soft Cell's limp-wristed 1981 version. Jones became a Motown staff writer and penned hits by the Four Tops ("Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten out My Life)"), Gladys Knight and the Pips (the Grammy-nominated "If I Were Your Woman") as well as a hit duet with Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross ("My Mistake Was to Love You"). 

During this period Jones also sang background vocals for rock artists ranging from Joe Cocker to T. Rex. She and T. Rex leader Marc Bolan fell in love and Jones moved to England to be with him — just as her Motown album was released. The glitter superstar and Jones had a son together (Rolan) and collaborated on several of each other's albums, creating a unique post-glam and soul hybrid never fully appreciated at its time but that was just starting to gain acceptance when Bolan was killed in a car accident, and Jones seriously injured, in 1977. Devastated at the loss of her man, she moved back to Los Angeles with her son. Jones' career never recovered. And, folks, that's just the Book Digest version. There's a lot in between and, thankfully, much still ahead to talk about.

"I lived in Los Angeles when 'Heartbeat' and 'Tainted Love' were recorded," Jones begins. "Ed Cobb wrote the song. But I always thought I should've been given credit, a percentage or something. Because I changed the original melody. I actually changed the melody. Many years later I was in Beverly Hills and I saw Ed's partner getting gas and I said to him, 'You know, I changed the melody to "Tainted Love" right?' and he said, 'I always wondered how he got that.'

"I never knew the success of 'Tainted Love' until I met my companion Marc Bolan and he said, 'Are you the Gloria Jones who recorded "Tainted Love"?' Which is why he called me 'The' Gloria Jones.

"When the ships would dock in northern England, soldiers, sailors or merchant seaman would exchange their American 45s for cigarettes," she says, still in amazement that "Tainted Love" was exchanged with someone for nicotine. 

"At this time they had the mod clubs, musical social clubs where kids would go after school and they'd dance. A deejay had been playing Motown records, Chess, Stax, and then all of the sudden a DJ puts on 'Tainted Love.' Kids went crazy and came from all over Liverpool so they could hear 'Tainted Love' — which has been on the charts there, and on the turntables, for 42 years. And it's taken me 42 years to get there."

Other interesting tidbits on her resume include singing backup for, of all people, Wayne Newton and even writing a song for him called "Leaving Ya Going My Way" that was recorded with Rick Hall at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Georgia. Later on, before Motown, Jones was in the Los Angeles cast of Hair and in the cast of Catch My Soul, which was a rock 'n' roll version of Othello in 1968 with Jerry Lee Lewis, the Blossoms, Dr. John. And the Gloria Jones. A better rock 'n' roll Holy Grail would be hard to imagine.

"I played Bianca," Jones says. "Can you imagine, Jerry Lee Lewis in costume at a very prestigious theater, throwing that leg up on the piano and singing 'With these rings I do declare Bianca ... guilty!' And I, as Bianca, sitting on Jerry's knee? Originally that role was for Tina Turner, but she was on the road with Ike and I was given a call."

So young and innocent was Gloria Jones at the time that she hadn't yet learned how to apply eye makeup.

"I was out of the church, the same church as Billy Preston, Andrae Crouch and Edna Wright from the Honey Cone. We were all innocent kids. So I put on this heavy eye shadow — which I thought was going to be fabulous — and after the show I got a note from the producer, Jack Good. 'Whatever you do, don't ever wear that makeup again. Your eyes looked like moons!'"

Jones continues, "I grew up in the industry and I grew up with the changes in the industry. I was so fortunate to meet Berry Gordy. The Holloway Sisters, Patrice and Brenda, introduced me to him. Brenda said, 'This is my friend Gloria Jones the singer,' and he corrected her and said, 'No, Gloria Jones the songwriter.' Just on his intuition. He has a wonderful gift.

"But at Motown," she continues, "you could not be a songwriter and a singer, so I was Gloria Jones the singer and LaVerne Ware the songwriter.

"You had this great company in Motown that reinvested in the company and in young people. I love telling the story of traveling to Stockholm, Sweden, and getting on the elevator and the Muzak is playing 'Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life).' Or a young woman getting on an elevator in New York and hearing 'If I Were Your Woman.' I mean where else would I have had that chance?"

At the same time, her travels as a background vocalist for Joe Cocker took her all over Europe where she experienced much different music and culture, especially reggae and the Wailers. That inspired the bastardization of reggae into Share My Love's U.S. single, "Why Can't You Be Mine."

Jones' gift for composing involved introducing many unpredictable chord changes to the process. 

"That's me," she says, "my concept of what was in my head. I was constantly breaking the rules in musical theory. You can't use that note and that note, and I was trying to prove, I guess, that you can. That's why Share My Love doesn't sound dated. A lot of people don't catch what it is, which is why Paul Riser was such a great arranger." 

Riser, among other things, is responsible for some of Motown's best arrangements, from the regal "My Girl" and "Just My Imagination" to the chilling "Papa was a Rolling Stone" and "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)."

"What I loved about Paul Riser, he never said 'that's too long.' Here was a guy I met when he was 19 and a trombone player for Motown. He was given an opportunity to write his first arrangement, and he made so many mistakes. And one of the guys said, 'We need to fire this kid.' And Mr. Gordy said, 'No give him a chance.' So he said to Paul, take your arrangement, work on it and bring it back to us.' And that's who Mr. Gordy was." 

"During this time Motown had moved to the West Coast. So they used a lot of musicians in the studio who are on the LP [Share My Love] as well as a lot of jazz musicians who were traveling all over and wanted to just come in and jam. So that is what you're feeling: the excitement of the musicians having a great time playing together."

The album features choice session musicians including Willie Weeks, Earl Palmer, Kai Winding (who had a Top 20 hit in the '60s with an instrumental recording of "More") and Ernie Fields.

According to Jones, Motown was set to promote her album and had booked her into Manhattan's gay-friendly Continental Bathhouse where Bette Midler got her start. But Jones fell in love with Marc Bolan instead. 

"Marc called me and said 'I really need you,'" Jones recalls. "He was going through change and had new ideas for music and sound, so it was just that element of surprise. I went to England. [Motown was] shocked, I was shocked. We all were shocked."

So Share My Love was released, saw little promotion and sank. Her deal with Motown ended. In the U.K., Jones secured a record deal and also collaborated with Bolan on all of his post Tanx output. Too, she wrote and produced the Latin-tinged disco hit "Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet" for Gonzalez, a band with whom she worked and toured in the mid-to-late '70s. Bolan produced, played guitar and contributed (two Bolan co-writes) to her 1976 solo album, Vixen. In 1978 she recorded Windstorm, an album dedicated to Bolan. 

Despite Bolan's larger-than-life persona, he was, Jones says, "a regular London boy" and "a musician of no color so he was presenting mixtures of soul and rock. He was a mod. But he also loved Robert Johnson and Elvis." 

Thinking on Bolan's legacy while mindful of Michael Jackson's recent funeral, Jones muses, "I don't believe artists want to be gods. They want to be respected for their work."

To honor her late husband, Jones, who is remarried, has been working hard to establish the Marc Bolan School of Music and Film in Sierra Leone, Africa, where she lives much of the year and does charity work. (She also has a home in Pennsylvania.)  

"I fell in love with the children there," Jones says. "The children came out of an 11-year war. If young people are able to learn to make a small film, create a song, or make a video, they have a chance." 

Or a second chance. Inactive as a performer since her 1982 album Reunited, which put her back to square one again with Ed Cobb, she has recently been tapped to record a UNICEF benefit record with Swiss star Pascal G. "I remember one time at Motown, one of the artists I was working with was very concerned about something and I was called in to troubleshoot. And this was someone who had already had several hits at that time.

"I told this artist, 'You can work for the rest of your life. You got a name and that's what Motown gave us.' And that's why I appreciate Universal coming into my life."

But a name with the definite article in front? Not everyone gets to have that.

Share My Love (Reel Music) is now available at better area record stores. 

Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
Scroll to read more Local Music articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.