On Saturday, June 2, 2007, the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers hosted another of our landmark Master Class series at LA Valley College with lessons and anecdotes from the legendary Grammy Award-winner, Paul Riser, the most prolific arranger from Motown’s golden years.From the movie, “Standing In The Shadows of Motown”: “By the and of their phenomenal run, this unheralded group of musicians had played on more number ones hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined – which makes them the greatest hit machine in the history of popular music. They called themselves the Funk Brothers.” The arranger for this phenomenal, unheralded group and the marvelous strings and horns that accompanied them was Paul Riser, probably the most prolific arranger of hit songs of all time.
As we all know, the “hit single” is one of the most elusive targets in music and most people never have even one. Amazingly, Paul Riser has consistently generated hit after hit for decades, with far too many to count. For the baby-boom generation, Motown provided the soundtrack of their lives and one of the chief architects was Paul Riser. The Motown Sound has influenced music worldwide as much or more than Big Band or any other major genre of music in the 20th century. Ask any Beatle or Rolling Stone you happen to meet. Studies show that the Motown logo is as well-known around the world as that of Coca-Cola and Paul Riser was one of the originators and chief designers of the Motown Sound.
Among Riser’s biggest hits as an arranger are, “My Girl” (The Temptations), “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” (The Temptations), for which he won a Grammy Award, both versions of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye)(Gladys Knight & The Pips), “My Cherie Amour,” (Stevie Wonder), both versions of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Diana Ross) (Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell), “If I Were Your Woman” (Gladys Knight & The Pips) and “Tears of A Clown” (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles). He is also composer of “What Becomes of The Brokenhearted” (Jimmy Ruffin). Away from Motown, his hits include, “Never Too Much” (Luther Vandross), “Two Hearts” (Phil Collins) and “I Believe I Can Fly” (R. Kelly). His arrangements have graced recordings for The Carpenters, Carly Simon, Quincy Jones, The Doobie Brothers, Tom Jones, Natalie Cole, Pharoah Sanders, Kiki Dee, Johnny Mathis, Patti LaBelle, Stephanie Mills, Anita Baker, Roberta Flack, Michael McDonald, Aretha Franklin and a host of others. Paul Riser’s work in film and television include, “Mad About You,” “Car Wash,” “Bamboozled,” “Space Jam,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown,”” Four Brothers,” “Which Way Is Up” and “Mother, Jugs and Speed.”
Riser is enormously gifted, extraordinarily talented and a true hero of pop music. Although he has worked quietly, outside of the public’s eye, we don’t believe there’s a person alive who hasn’t been touched positively by the music of Paul Riser. This Master Class featured eight landmark arrangements, available on DVD, with both limited scores and the MP3s. Time was devoted to his history, the history of his involvement in the pop music scene, his take on artists, producers, arrangers, and musicians, especially the Funk Brothers, including Benny Benjamin, Earl Van Dyke and James Jamerson. Paul evaluated his method, how he approaches the work and his process. He explained examples of his work, using scores and the blackboard. He analyzed some of his most famous legendary works for artists such as Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and others. Paul discussed his compositions, such as, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” how much he contributed to that song and the hurdles he had to overcome to get it done; and discussed his take on the current technology, his view on the future of commercial music, the role of an arranger and how one gets a gig. Paul also described his non-Motown works, such as R. Kelly’s, “I Believe I Can Fly” and works for Melissa Manchester, Phil Collins (“Two Hearts”) and others. The Class concluded with a Q & A Session.