Freddie Gorman

Singer with the Originals

Thursday 22 June 2006 00:00 BST

Freddie Gorman, singer, songwriter and producer: born Detroit 11 April 1939; married (one son); died Palmdale, California 13 June 2006.

For such a simple, catchy song, "Please Mr Postman" had a complicated genesis. The Marvelettes' 1961 US chart-topper helped establish Berry Gordy Jnr's Tamla Motown operation and was later covered by the Beatles and the Carpenters, who took it back to No 1 in the United States in 1975, but the part played by Freddie Gorman in creating the song was only acknowledged in 1987, on the CD release of With the Beatles. Gorman didn't bear his co-authors any malice. He also tasted chart success with the Originals - often described as Motown's best kept secret - and issued several solo singles showcasing his deep, mellow voice.

"Please Mr Postman" was originally credited to Georgia Dobbins, a founder member of the Marvelettes, the blues songwriter William Garrett and the emerging production partnership of Brian Holland and Robert Bateman - "Brianbert" on the original Tamla 45. Over the years, it has been attributed solely to Brian Holland (on the original sleeve of With the Beatles), with Berry Gordy occasionally joining Holland and Robert Bateman too. But the Songwriters Hall of Fame now lists Holland, Bateman and Gorman as the triumvirate behind the song.

Gorman's copyright claims always seemed strong, since he worked as a postman himself and drew on his experiences to help with the lyrics in 1960. "I ran into Brian Holland who was working on a tune one day that Georgia Dobbins had suggested a title for," he told Steve Towne of Goldmine magazine in 1981:

She'd come up with the title "Please Mr Postman" so, with me working at the post office, it was very easy for me to write the lyrics. I just used things that happened to me carrying mail. Brian and I started writing for the Marvelettes with "Please Mr Postman" and right after that Lamont Dozier joined us.

In the early Sixties, that combination of Holland, Dozier and Gorman wrote more hits for the Marvelettes ("Twistin' Postman" and "Playboy" with Robert Bateman as well as "Someday, Someway" and "Strange I Know"), Mary Wells ("Old Love") and the Supremes ("I Want a Guy"), but Gorman was eventually edged out in favour of Brian Holland's brother Eddie. "I was still working at the post office and we never had a contract or anything linking us together," said Gorman:

It was more or less a handshake, that kind of thing. In the beginning, Motown was a really big family thing. Everyone worked together, but it changed when it got to be big business.

Born in Detroit in 1939, Gorman sang on street corners from his early teens. While in high school, he joined Sax Kari and the Quailtones, and co-wrote "Tears of Love", their only single, in 1955. He formed the Fidelitones with Brian Holland and met the young Berry Gordy on one of his mail rounds in 1957. Gorman released a solo 45, "The Day Will Come" on Miracle, the Motown subsidiary, in 1961, but subsequently moved to the rival Detroit label Ric-Tic to cut "In a Bad Way" and "Just Can't Get It Out of My Mind" and co-write "(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet", a hit for the Reflections in 1964.

Gordy eventually bought out Ric-Tic and, in 1966, Gorman (bass vocals) joined forces with C.P. Spencer (lead tenor), Hank Dixon (second tenor), Walter Gaines (baritone) and Joe Stubbs, brother of the Four Tops lead vocalist Levi Stubbs, on a cover of the Leadbelly song "Goodnight Irene".

Stubbs dropped out after the Originals' first single, but they soldiered on, singing backing vocals for other Motown acts such as Jimmy Ruffin, David Ruffin, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes - "We even doubled as females," Gorman admitted - and issued the singles "We've Got a Way Out of Love" and "Green Grow the Lilacs" in 1969. They also teamed up with Marvin Gaye on "Chained" and a friendship developed. "Marvin had been in the Moonglows," Gorman recalled:

He liked our sound for a long time and thought he could do something with us. He wrote "Baby I'm for Real" with his wife, Anna. The unique thing about "Baby I'm for Real" is that all four of us took some parts of the lead. A lot of people told me they thought it was one person but I never understood how they heard it that way.

The soulful ballad "Baby I'm for Real" topped the R&B charts at the end of 1969 and then crossed over into the pop charts, selling over a million copies in the US alone. "The Bells", their gorgeous follow-up, again co-written by Gaye, reached No 12 the following year but "We Can Make It Baby" and "God Bless Whoever Sent You" struggled to reach the Top Fifty. In 1972, Spencer left for a solo career and was replaced by Ty Hunter, who had worked with the group in the early days. Two years later, they recorded California Sunset in Los Angeles with Lamont Dozier but left Motown in 1977 after the album Down to Love Town.

Spencer returned in 1978 and, three years later, the Originals cut their own version of "Please Mr Postman" on the album Yesterday and Today (1981). They also worked with the British producer and soul aficionado Ian Levine and made their UK live début in 2002.

Pierre Perrone

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