Gary James' Interview With The Road Manager of
The Supremes and The Temptations
Tony Turner has worked with some of Motown Records greatest recording artists. They include both The Supremes and The Temptations. As road manager for those acts, Tony had the best job in town - or did he? In his latest book Deliver Us From Temptation (Thunders Mouth Press), Tony takes us on a journey though time with The Temptations and lead singers Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffin.
We spoke with Tony about his book.
Q - Tony, how did you put up with the kinds of treatment these people dished out to you? It's very painful to read the verbal abuse that was hurled at you.
A - Well, I had been around Motown people for so long, since I was 12 years old, which got chronicled in the other book, All that Glittered, My Life with The Supremes, you get used to a certain amount of abuse. I would say it was more like a parent with a child. Your father or mother scolds you and you really love them, and you know that in their heart, they really don't mean it. It's just that they're so confused at that time. The personality, especially of David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick, were so intricate, so many facets to their personality that the only way to make it in that situation, and many employees did not make it in that situation because of the attitudes of the bosses, was not really to take them seriously, just to really ignore them, take your check, and keep on going. If you were thin-skinned you could never have lasted at Motown, even in the early days. There was always that attitude that they were the stars. They were bred on that old Hollywood system that you are a star. So, that's how I stood it. I ignored it, and did not take it seriously, because I knew they really didn't mean it.
Q - Were you a fan that was hanging out and Mary Wilson (The Supremes) offered you a job?
A - No. Actually, I was born and lived in New York. It was fate, to make a long story very short. I happened to be wandering around 34th Street and 5th Ave. when I was 12 years old, at that corner where the B. Altman Department. store once stood. They're now closed. I decided to take a peak inside of this huge magnificent store. I was a kid from Harlem. I had never been inside a store of that caliber. When I went into the vestibule of that store, that is where I ran into, as fate would have it, Florence Ballard. She was standing in the vestibule with 25 shopping bags, full of things she had just bought. She, Florence Ballard, from the original Supremes, simply asked me to help her get her packages from that point out to the curb, to get a taxi. And that, was my first encounter with The Supremes. She started to weave this long, intricate story of how she was gonna be on Ed Sullivan. Of course I did not believe that. She went on that she was a singer, and had I ever heard of a group called The Supremes, and she lived in Detroit, and she not gone into that store, or had I gone in using one of the other doors, I dare say I would never, ever have met Florence Ballard and none of this would ever have happened. It was just being in the right place, at the right time. I didn't know anything about The Temptations, The Four Tops. I had never heard of any of these people. I did not start out as being a fan of The Supremes. That is quite untrue.
Q - Tony, about ten years ago there was a school for road managing in New York. Can you really teach someone to be a road manager? It's really an art, isn't it?
A - Oh believe me, it is an art. Road managing in my opinion is nothing more than being a babysitter for adults. That's all it is. You have to have though good organizational and people skills. You have to be a people person. You have to be thick-skinned. You have to be able to change things on a moments notice. It's like being a school teacher, taking a class out on a field trip. Some groups are much easier to manage than others. I didn't go to any school for formal training other than Motown. I learned simply by being there, from 12 years old, and watching others do it. I learned the ins and outs, and it was something I always wanted to do, so I paid especially close attention to the road managers. But, in developing your skills as a road manager you have to know a lot about the travel agency business, ways to get seats on planes that are fully booked, travel discounts, ways to get hotels, limos, restaurants, key restaurants in certain cities. You have to keep a good contact as you travel around the world and build up a good file of contacts, because chances are you will be going back to that city, and if you receive good service at one place, you want to go back there. Promoters can be terrible crooks, just very, very deceitful people, and you are in charge of a great deal of money that you have to collect. You're also in charge of a payroll. I've found that sometimes musicians can be worse to work for than the stars themselves. However, you have to be almost like a union delegate. You have to keep your band appeased, because once you get a band that is completely crazy and wild, they can cause major, major problems. The Temptations cannot go on unless that band goes on first. The audience wants the music, along with the lyrics. So, being a road manager is not for everybody. You get very, very little sleep. You get all kinds of abuse. Everything that could possibly happen is your fault. You have to be up hours before the star, and hours after the star. You really, really have to love it. You wear many hats as a road manager. You have to know about sound, lights, costumes. You handle everybody's passports, tickets, and somebody may ask you to sew a button on a suit. You can teach the fundamentals, but it would be so varied in what you would have to know, that a person really needs hands-on experience. Then you get involved in merchandising of t-shirts, souvenir books, all that stuff that goes on, on the road. You have to be able to delegate responsibility to other people also.
Q - You write: "We wanted to work for the stars, because that made us stars too." How did working for a star make you a star? You've already said the work was far from glamorous.
A - It's not glamorous work when you're doing it, but it is glamorous work to people outside of the profession. It makes you a star in your everyday life. No matter what you do, if you become known, this is Tony Turner, he's the road Manager for Diana Ross, it sort of becomes your name. People want to know you because of who you work for. The bigger the star, it buys the employee a certain amount of snob appeal. At airports you use it. You say, "I'm with The Supremes. I'm with The Temptations," and things automatically change. Doors open up that were previously closed to you. In everyday life, in shopping if you go to a mall and shop at particular stores, and these people know that you work with a recording group, they'll treat you differently. They'll hold clothes for you. They'll give you clothes on consignment. You go into the car dealership, you're treated differently. It's because you're perceived as somebody special, That is why I find that sometime working with musicians on the road, you get a little more attitude than working for the stars. You can go into a hotel restaurant and pay for absolutely nothing, simply because you're with the band. So, it makes for a very convenient life at times.
Q - Of all the Motown artists, it seems that Diana Ross was the smartest when it came to business matters. Would you think that's part of the reason why she is not liked by other Motown artists?
A - No, I don't think Diana Ross was the smartest, nor do I think that she had a great sense of business. I think the resentment stems from the fact that among the original stable of Motown stars, by the stars themselves, Miss Ross was considered one of the least talented. I think the resentment from people like Martha, from Martha and The Vandellas and from maybe David Ruffin (The Temptations), was the fact that she was sleeping with Berry Gordy (Motown founder), therefore, she was afforded certain allowances and certain perks so to speak, that no one else at Motown was afforded. She got the better gowns, the better hotels, the better show, more was spent on the music, more was spent on the look, more was spent on publicity. She got the top shows. Anything that came into Motown was first looked at as a potential vehicle for Diana Ross. The jealousy towards Diana Ross at Motown was simply because she was considered by her peers as not that talented, and she only got as far as she did because she was sleeping with Berry Gordy. It had nothing to do with business sense, nothing what-so-ever.
Q - You write in your book that Marvin Gaye liked to dress up in women's clothes, that he was a cross-dresser. I always thought of Marvin Gaye as being a ladies man, or a womanizer, in today's terms.
A - He was a womanizer and a cross dresser. Those people wore many hats at Motown. Motown was a very sexual sort of place.
Q - What kind of reaction has that been getting?
A - People were stunned by that revelation. Of course, people at Motown who knew about it, wished I had not repeated it. But it is true and like everything else in the book, it was verified by two completely different parties other than myself. It hasn't caused any legal suits for the Marvin Gaye Estate, or from his children, or from his ex-wife, Ann Gordy Gaye, simply because it's too easy to prove. There are photographs and everything else.
Q - You say in your book that the New Kids On The Block seemed to be "tightly controlled puppets and without their babysitters telling them exactly what to do, they would have been lost." Has anyone in their organization gotten back to you on that?
A - Not a word. Not a single, solitary word. I think that's because you really can't fight the truth. They don't even interview well, without the lists going out and the questions that you can ask, that they're rehearsed for. But, it was the same in the early days with the Motown groups. Everything was very, very well rehearsed, down to how to act and how to proceed in an interview, and you were rehearsed on the questions you would most likely be asked, especially back in the 6O's and 7O's. Nobody wouid ask questions like they ask today, because The Supremes or The Temptations didn't put themselves in a light like Madonna or Ice T. There was nothing ever controversial released, if you look back at the history of Motown, not an ounce of scandal really ever came out of that. It was very tightly controlled. The Supremes and The Temptations were ladies and gentlemen. This is not to say that they weren't doing something that perhaps Madonna is doing or striking some of the same poses. That would have been suicide to their careers.
Q - David Ruffin (of The Temptations) once said, "Mary Wilson (The Supremes) was trash".
A - David Ruffin was right.
Q - Why was she trash?
A - Well, it goes back to privately how she carried herself. She was a woman that everyone at Motown had slept with, so to speak. She was a party girl. By her own admission, in her own book she said she told Gordy when Gordy said she would make herself too available, the quote went something like, "I like to be out." She's a party girl. That's not to say she trashes per se. She likes men. David Ruffin liked women. So, there was a double standard there. A gentlemen back in the 60's, 70's, you were a Hugh Hefner playboy. A woman was a tramp, a slut, a whore, and that's how David Ruffin looked at her. David Ruffin was of course on the inside. Outside, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, Diana Ross, were the epitome of black womanhood. They were like Black Barbie dolls. And this was the Motown machine hard at work. People didn't know for years that Mary Wilson had went with Tom Jones, until years after the fact, and that she went with a string of prominent men, Flip Wilson, Steve McQueen, David Frost, men inside and outside of Motown. She was very beautiful, and still is, and quite, quite popular. Men liked her, and she liked men. But David was right, she was trashy.
Q - A real eye-opener in your book is the story about Mary Wilson and her appearance on Robin Leach's Lifestyles of The Rich And Famous. She moved her belongings to a freind's mansion for the show, because in reality she lived in a two bedroom bungalow with her family. What's Mary's financial condition these days?
A - That was really my doing. Mary called me one day at my home in Long Island and she said very excited, "Oh, I'm going to be interviewed for The Rich and Famous, which actually turned out to be one of his other shows that didn't last that long, called Romance of The Rich and Famous. I said "that's fabulous." They sometimes interviewed people on location or in a hotel suite. I said "Mary, where are they going to interview you?" She said, "At home." I went like, completely crazy, I said "you cannot have the Rich and Famous interview you in that little bungalow." She was like, "Oh, you don't think so?" I said, "I don't think so. You're going to have to get a suite at The Beverly Hill Hotel or something and tell them your house is being renovated. You can't have them come to that little thousand square feet place, out in the valley." Oh, my God, that place is horrible. She said, "Oh, I didn't think of that" I said, "Well that's what you have me for, dear." I said "what about asking Mrs. Avery?" (Dr. Avery was Mary's gynecologist) "You're good friends with her." She has this huge house up in Las Felices that originally had been built for George Raft. "Why don't you just ask her if you can use that house." So that is where the idea came from. We moved all her memorabilia such as oil paintings of herself, all of the Gold Records and we hung them up in the living room of that house. We took Mary's old Rolls Royce and put that in the driveway of this really big English Tudor that's on like over an acre of land. A quite imposing house it is. Once again it was my own training from Motown that at all costs you keep up the stars image, no matter what.
Q - Financially speaking, she was....
A - Broke. The nice beautiful Rolls Royce couldn't go over 30 miles per hour. The inside was a wreck. She finally spent about 30 grand to have the car re-conditioned which I thought was a bad move. About a year later, she sold it like for 20 grand, so she lost money on it. But, she had been badly ripped off. Long gone was the huge mansion in Hancock Park and the home up in Hollywood Hills. She was living in Studio City, on Eureka Drive in a small, little bungalow, right off of a main thoroughfare with one bathroom, 2 little bedrooms. There was about eight people living there. She had seen hard times. She was still working, but not making what she used to.
Q - But what about today?
A - I don't know what her financial shape is today. After she wrote. Dream Girl, My Life with The Supremes, she made quite a bit of money, and immediately took most of it and bought a house not too far from Dr. Avery's house. She bought an English Tudor in Las Felicies for about $600,000. She continued to work, and fell on some hard times and sold that. She moved to Washington. I understand she rented a place. Now, she's left that, and she's been living for the last year in Las Vegas. I don't know, if she bought or rents. She is a person, like the rest of America who has to work. Mary Wilson is not in a position to retire.
Q - There's a Motown saying, "Good manners can take you places money cannot."
A - Indeed.
Q - Like where?
A - Good manners can take you anywhere you want to go in the world. People like people who are nice and have good manners and are cordial. They remember people thatway. If you are a multi-millionaire, but just a despicable person, there will eventually be doors that close on you. Diana Ross has tons and tons of money. She's a millionaire, of course. There are people that will not deal with her, because of her attitude and her manners. So although she has the money, there are certain stores and restaurants that do not want her business in New York. They do not want to put up with the theatrics, the special requests, and the rudeness. So, that is one lesson she did not learn.
Q - David Ruffin had everything anyone would want, but he wasn't happy. What was he looking for, did he know?
A - Yes, he knew. David Ruffin was looking for that intangible thing that I think a lot of people are looking for...inner peace. He was looking and he and Eddie Kendricks were not happy people. They were some of the nicest people I've ever met. David would curse you out in one breath and five minutes later would be taking you out in a shopping spree. It was just his personality was that schizo. I guess you had to be kind of schizo to even like the man. He had a good and kind heart. He was just very unhappy. He also felt that he'd never gotten the true recognition as a singer that he should have gotten. He and Eddie both thought that they should have been where Diana was, with the publicity, the movies, and the whole bit. They felt their talents were used to build Motown, and once Motown was solid, Berry felt he didn't have to bother with them anymore. They were very bitter about that situation. That bitterness from the early days at Motown and their resentment of Berry Gordy completely and utterly clouded their lives, from that moment on. They were never happy.
Q - You tell in the book how David Ruffin signed away his Lincoln Continental to a 14-year-old kid, for $20 worth of cocaine. You had to lose a lot of respect for someone who would pull a stunt like that.
A - It wasn't even his. It belonged to his girlfriend. When I got the call from his girl friend, Diane, and she was telling me what happened, we just burst out laughing. You know, what are we, as sick as these people? At this point, it was not funny, it was "Oh my God, David has done it again." One time, he rented a limo. I didn't write this in the book, a stretch limo, got the chauffeur all drunk and the tried to sell the limo. It comes to a point where you say "What is he going to do next?" I said to Diane, "Are you crazy? Why in the world would let David Ruffin take your brand new Lincoln Continental? You have to be crazy." I said "I would never loan that man my car!" "
Q - Let us say there was no Motown. Would a C.B.S. or M.C.A. have signed an act like The Supremes or The Temptations?
A - Well, you had The Shirelles. You had The Chantels. Earlier you had The Coasters and The Cadillacs, so you did have some black groups that made some prominence before Motown. I would very confidently say, without Berry Gordy, without good luck, without the Grace of God, without Motown, none of this could have ever happened. There's been no place like Motown since. I doubt that there ever will be a company in one location that would churn out that many people, basically all from the same neighborhood. It was just sheer luck. Without Motown, I do believe that some of the Motown stars would have become stars on their own, at other companies. I do not think we would've had a Supremes per se. I do not think we would've had a Temptations. I think David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks would have become stars as solo artists. I think Diana Ross would have had a solo career. I think people with lesser talent like Otis Williams (Temptations) and Mary Wilson would not have ever become stars had they not been in a group situation. Without Diana Ross, had it just been Mary, Flo and some other money, whereas the stars paid attention to being a star. I didn't have someone to make my decisions for me, I made my own decisions. I learned from their horrible decisions. If you're making money, it's always best to count your own money. You don't need someone to count your money. If I'm gonna go broke, I'd rather go broke because I had the money and I spent it all, not because I had it and only gotten a percent of it, because somebody else spent it all. There's no reason why Mary Wilson should have ended up broke or Florence Ballard, and Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, and Berry Gordy end up living in Bel-Air. There has to be some balance there. So I watched the mistakes they made and paid close attention. Then once again, I don't have their drug habits either, which ate up a lot of money.
Q - But, I would imagine, you made your money in real estate and not road managing.
A - Road managing didn't pay a lot, but I did make good money when I was working with The Supremes and also, more recently with Eddie and David, before they died. The bulk of my money comes from wise investments.
Q - When you write a book like Deliver Us From Temptation, what is the central message you're trying to get across?
A - The central message that I tried to portray was, look at what happened to these talented people that were known throughout the world, living legends, the whole bit, look what happened to them. Do not let this happen to you. Count your own money, honey.