The year was 1983. The place was the Waikiki Shell. English recording artist Joe Jackson was midway through a great concert when he told the crowd “Anyone who doesn’t like Tamla/Motown is … crazy!”
The crowd cheered in agreement.
Jackson was talking about the string of hits released in the 1960s by Detroit-based Motown Records and its subsidiary labels — Tamla, Gordy and Soul. Hits that were already “oldies” in 1983. Hits that had been embraced by a new generation of music fans.
Jackson’s concert was almost 36 years ago. Those Motown hits continue to resonate.
“My favorite music in the world is from the ’60s. My parents had all ’60s vinyl so that’s the music I grew up on,” says KC Nunes, lead vocalist of high-energy blues/rockers Kings of Spade, and producer/promoter of Motown Valentines, an annual celebration of Motown classics and several related genres of “soul music.”
“It’s the (early) Motown era, pretty much songs from the ’60s, and we have a couple from the early ’70s, and then the very last song that we’re going to play is going to take us into the disco era.”
Expanding the play list to include stars who didn’t record for Motown and its affiliated labels allows Nunes and the other acts on the bill to do their favorite songs by non-Motown greats like Aretha Franklin (Atlantic Records), Otis Redding (Volt), the Ronettes (Philles) and Sam Cooke (RCA).
Nunes presented the first Motown Valentines show at Next Door in Chinatown. Within three years the event had outgrown its birthplace. Moving to The Republik gave Nunes, her band, and the cast of singers, musicians and dancers a concert-size venue, with a concert-size stage.
KINGS OF Spade is the foundation of the Motown Valentines band. To that Nunes is adding two additional guitarists, two backing vocalists, several cabaret dancers and what Nunes’ describes as a “legit” four piece horn section.
“Horns are an absolute must,” Nunes explained. “They put all the power behind the music.”
Picking guests for the show is easy, Nunes said — if the band admires a singer, they are asked to perform.
“Nine times out of 10 we get everybody that we want on the roster,” Nunes said. “We’re fans of the people we ask to throw down with us.”
Joining Kings of Spade for the 8th Annual Motown Valentines throw down are Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winners Ginai (2000, 2015) and Yoza (2014), 2004 American Idol semi-finalist Jason Moananu aka Big Mox, the Elevations, Melissa Diallo, Keilana, Kahnma, Maile, Gabriel Miller, Melodie Soul and Ken Lykes & Shain Miller, and dancers Violetta Baretta, Madame X and Luna Velour.
Kings of Spade and Keith Batlin’s Blues Experience will open the show.
Selections on the set list include:
>> Kings of Spade reworking “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins’ signature, “I Put a Spell on You,” with what Nunes describes as “a punk rock tinge on it and the horns,” and with Violetta Baretta doing a cabaret dance.
>> Ginai reviving Stevie Wonder’s 1973 Hot 100 chart-topper, “Superstition.”
>> Maile following in the giant-sized footsteps of Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & The Pips with her version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
>> Yoza paying tribute to songwriter Blue Lovett and the Manhattans with “Kiss and Say Goodbye.”
>> Big Mox revealing his romantic side singing Sam Cooke’s hit, “Cupid.”
>> The Elevations honoring the Ronettes and producer Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound with “Be My Baby.”
>> Melodie Soul bringing her natural blend of authentic Houston gospel and soul to an imaginative “soul mixed with disco” arrangement of “Proud Mary” — originally a hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival, but better known to soul music fans as recorded later by Ike & Tina Turner — and Gloria Gaynor’s timeless signature, “I Will Survive.”
“I stand by that (credo) all the time,” Soul said, regarding Gaynor’s hit. “When I learned all the lyrics of the song — you know the chorus, but once I honed in on the lyrics, what she actually meant, and then I saw her emotion through the video — I was, like, hooked. I sing it every show with my band, and that’s either the hana hou or before the hana hou.”
Soul grew up in Houston listening to gospel music.
“My mom was like ‘The Lord’s way is the way. You need to listen to gospel music.’ If I tried to do a secular thing or stray away from it she’d say, ‘You need to listen to gospel music.’ I learned a lot of gospel, went to church, and then I started listening to R&B and soul music, and that’s when I fell in love with Aretha Franklin. She is amazing.”
“Someone called me ‘Little Aretha’ one year and I just smiled the whole time, ear-to-ear like a Cheshire cat.”
Anticipating this year’s Motown Valentines show, Soul says that doing at The Republik “heightens the show.”
“They have the staging and the lighting,” she explained. “It makes it big, grandiose!”