October 2011

Marv Tarplin, guitar in hand, in an early publicity shot with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Sweet Sound, Sweet Soul

Out of the spotlight but always present, Marv Tarplin’s guitar and songs made for memorable Motown moments

June 13, 1941-September 30, 2011

There are few sounds sweeter than the voice of Smokey Robinson and it was at its sweetest when he and the Miracles were a hitmaking machine for Motown in ’50s and ‘60s. About the only sound, in fact, that could challenge the beauty of Robinson’s singing was the nuanced emotions emitted by Marv Tarplin’s guitar. Tarplin was playing guitar with a girl group called the Primettes, who later formed the core of the Supremes, when Robinson lured him away (or “stole” him, according to Diana Ross) for his own purposes. Tarplin became the group’s secret weapon: not only did he have a distinctive style and voice on his instrument, he was a skilled songwriter and arranger as well. Any number of heart tugging, swooning moments on Smokey and the Miracles’ singles are enhanced by Tarplin’s sensitive, tasty solos, but in addition to enhancing the recordings with his playing, he had a hand in writing several of those classics. His collaboration with Robinson went beyond the Miracles, to include projects for Marvin Gaye and the Four Tops as well as Robinson’s solo work.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, ‘Tracks of My Tears,’ co-written by Robinson, Pete Moore and Marv Tarplin, with Tarplin on guitar on the track. #2 R&B, #16 pop, 1965.

With Warren “Pete” Moore also contributing, Tarplin and Robinson penned some of the greatest songs in soul history. Their awe inspiring catalogue includes "Tracks of My Tears," Smokey’s massive solo hits "Crusin’” and “Being With You,” "Going To A Go Go", "The Love I Saw In You was Just a Mirage”; a Marvin Gaye trifecta of hits including "Ain’t That Peculiar,” “I’ll Be Doggone” and “One More Heart”; "You Really Got A Hold On Me" and "Baby Come Close.” He toured with Smokey and the Miracles throughout their historyand was singled out by Robinson for warm introductions to the crowds. He was with the group on The Ed Sullivan Show, at The T.A.M.I. Show, on Murray the K’s It’s What’s Happening, Baby and toured with the Motown Revue.

Marvin Gaye, ‘Ain’t That Peculiar,’ written by Smokey Robinson, Marv Tarplin, Robert Rogers, Warren Moore. #1 R&B, #3 pop, 1965.

Always behind the scenes, his voice was always heard in some fashion on a lot of music that mattered in his time. On September 30, Marv Tarplin died at his home in Las Vegas. He was 70 years old. His wife, Sylvia, died in 2004. He is survived by their daughter, Talese Tarplin, and two daughters from another relationship, Lisa and Ebony Tarplin.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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