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Mix Master

November 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm
By Barbara Knox

Carleton music professor Andy Flory was a key player in the recent reissue of Trouble Man, recorded in 1972 by Motown great Marvin Gaye


As a kid growing up in the Ohio Rust Belt, Andrew Flory was passionate about music. His singing repertoire included opera, choral music, rock ‘n’ roll, and musical theater, but he wasn’t satisfied with pursuing one of those specialties. Then, while he was attending the City College of New York, he talked about his career plans with his professors and discovered that his crazy pastiche of musical interests made him a perfect candidate to become a musicologist—someone who studies music as a scholarly pursuit instead of composing or performing it.

“No one goes into college thinking ‘I’m going to be a musicologist,’ ” says Flory, an assistant professor of music at Carleton since 2011. “It’s a field you tend to stumble into.”

Most people who study music focus on what is typically thought of as classical music—European art music from about 1600 to 1900. Flory, however, carved out an unusual specialty as a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the early 2000s: he focused on American black pop. At the time, it was a vast musicological space just waiting for researchers to make their mark. “I wanted to blaze a new trail,” Flory says, “and it was appealing to be one of the first to tackle Motown.”

He was still in graduate school when he contacted Universal Music Enterprises vice president Harry Weinger, a Grammy Award–winning producer with a string of successful Motown reissues to his credit. That first interaction did not go well. “I sent him an e-mail telling him that I planned to write a dissertation on Motown,” Flory recalls, “and I asked for unfettered access to the Motown vault. Harry declined my request.”

Over time, Flory’s persistence began to sway Weinger. Flory sent him an e-mail asking if he could buy Weinger lunch during a visit to New York City. After they met, he followed up to discuss some research questions. Eventually the two men forged a working relationship that resulted in Flory contributing liner notes to several of Universal’s various artist sets, including Motown Around the World and The Complete Motown Singles. Then, in 2008, Weinger mentioned to Flory that he needed help on an expanded 40th anniversary reissue of Trouble Man, Marvin Gaye’s 1972 soundtrack album for the blaxploitation film of the same name.

The reissue project was complicated. Weinger wanted to include Gaye’s complete musical score for the Trouble Man film, but the only copy he had of the soundtrack was a scratchy recording that was marred by bits of dialogue and sound effects. “Harry didn’t have time to sort through endless hours of original studio recordings to piece together the entire score, but that kind of research fit into my work as a musicologist,” says Flory, who finally gained access to the Motown vault.

With original tapes in hand, he settled in to slowly recreate the film score. “Piecing it together was a puzzle I had to solve by sorting through reels and reels of digitized multitrack tape,” Flory says. As he listened to Gaye’s session tapes, which had been stashed away in the Motown archive for almost 40 years, Flory found himself filling the role of music producer, in essence trying to channel Gaye as he worked, deciding which tracks to keep and which to discard.

“At times, I would think, ‘I’m a white man from Ohio. I have no business making creative decisions on a Marvin Gaye record,’ ” says Flory. But, as an academic, he also believed that unearthing the new material trumped any creative concerns. His accompanying essay for the reissue, which tells the story behind the project, also explains how and by whom the editing was done.

Released this past December, Trouble Man: Expanded Edition includes a remastered version of the original Trouble Man, as well as 29 previously unreleased performances, including some rare vocals and, for the first time, Gaye’s complete score for the film. In conjunction with the release, Flory spoke about the role of the musicologist as reissue producer at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which hosts a lecture series to expose scholarly work to a broader audience. Deemed a hit by reviewers, the reissue has thrilled Marvin Gaye fans and Motown collectors who, Flory says, have gobbled up every morsel of newly issued material since the singer was murdered by his father in 1984.

Meanwhile, back on campus, Flory teaches classes such as “History of Rock” and “Keeping it Real: Authenticity and Popular Music.” He cowrote the textbook What’s That Sound?, which he uses in the rock history class, and has a new book on Motown, I Hear a Symphony: Listening to the Music of Motown, coming soon. He also has at least one more Marvin Gaye project simmering on the back burner—Gaye as balladeer.

 “I often have students come up to me and say, ‘I want to do what you do,’ ” says Flory, “and the truth is, I think Carleton students are the type who can succeed in this kind of work. You have to be willing to take risks, because combining musicology and producing is a tough marketplace. But Carleton attracts risk takers, and it’s my job to inspire students to keep reaching for their dreams.”