Spyder Turner - Is It Love You’re After: The Whitfield Years (1978-1980)

Spyder Turner
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Dwight David “Spyder” Turner’s 1967 introduction to the public featured an extreme display of the vocal dexterity heard throughout the anthology Is It Love You’re After – The Whitfield Years (1978-80). Nineteen sixty-seven is the year in which Turner’s cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” reached number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Turner’s reinterpretation on King’s 1961 classic is a fantastic medley of impressions, where he adopts the voices of the singers he was influenced by: Billy Stewart, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, as well as Temptations Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin and Melvin Franklin.

Dwight David “Spyder” Turner’s 1967 introduction to the public featured an extreme display of the vocal dexterity heard throughout the anthology Is It Love You’re After – The Whitfield Years (1978-80). Nineteen sixty-seven is the year in which Turner’s cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” reached number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Turner’s reinterpretation on King’s 1961 classic is a fantastic medley of impressions, where he adopts the voices of the singers he was influenced by: Billy Stewart, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, as well as Temptations Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin and Melvin Franklin.

Go on YouTube and listen to the tune, and you’ll hear in Turner a young vocalist who possess a command of his instrument. You will also realize that Turner’s rendition of “Stand By Me” was a part of its time. The cut is essentially a novelty song in an era when novelty songs were a regular feature of the pop radio landscape. Unlike many of the novelty songs of the era, Turner’s take on “Stand By Me” ages well. I can see a contestant on a show such as “The Voice” attempting something similar to what Spyder Turner pulled off on “Stand By Me.” The cut showcased an artist who had what it took to be a major star.

So why aren’t Spyder Turner tunes regularly heard on oldie stations across America? One answer is that you do hear a Spyder Turner song on the radio, but it will be Rose Royce rather than Turner singing it. Turner could not recreate the success he achieved with “Stand By Me,” and he left MGM, the label that released “Stand By Me” and worked primarily as a live performer for a decade before signing on with Whitefield Records. It was at Norman Whitfield’s label that Turner’s song “Do Your Dance” became a hit for Rose Royce.

Spyder Turner would make two albums for Whitfield Records, Music Web in 1978 and Only Love in 1980, and the 16 tracks on Is It Love You’re After – The Whitfield Years (1978-1980) reflect the diversity of R&B radio at that time. Yes, disco ruled the charts, but listeners could tune into a station and hear the lush arrangements of Philadelphia International Records, or the funk driven sounds of Chocolate City or Mercury, or even the ballad work from vocalists such as Gerald Alston, who could move from a muscular baritone to an angelic high tenor or even falsetto with ease.

Spyder Turner had shown that he possessed that kind of range a decade earlier when he covered “Stand By Me” and returned the song to the charts. Rather than focus on one Spyder Turner sound, these tunes show the wisdom of allowing Spyder to be Spyder. “Get Down” applies Turner’s energetic vocals to a song about the disco fantasy of going to the club and sweeping a young lady off of her feet. With its stings and complex, lush instrumentation, “Is It Love You’re After” has the sound of one of the great PIR cuts from that era, as Turner’s vocals embody the vulnerability of the tune’s lyric that question whether his lover is committed to a relationship or is just after a good time. By contrast, “Stop” is an all-out explosion of funkiness that had all the elements of a hit of that era. The compilation also includes some solid ballads, such as “Tommorow’s Only Yesterday” and “Sunshine.”

While he is still a mainstay performing in Detroit four decades after his biggest hit, Spyder Turner’s recording career didn’t flourish for many of the same reasons that other artists did not achieve the success that their talent suggested should have been theirs: including everything from record label politics to changing musical tastes. One thing that becomes clear after listening to this compilation is that Turner’s lack of success was not the result of a lack of effort or a lack of quality material. And this collection is a welcome revisiting of one of Detroit’s great vocalists. Solidly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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