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It's My Time - the Mynah Birds

In 1969 in an attempt to cash in on the British and r&b influenced rock music that was dominating the US radio waves, Motown Records started a new subsidiary record label, "Rare Earth Records". The label was named after their first signing, the band Rare Earth. R Dean Taylor (see last two posts) having spent the previous 5 years learning the record production trade as a go-to odds and sods recording assistant to the immortal Holland - Dozier - Holland production team, took care of a lot of the new white groups recording on the label. Among these was a slightly grungy, Canadian rock quintet, the Mynah Birds. This made especial sense as they both came from Toronto, and it's possible that he knew them already from his early years in the city's country rock scene.

In 1966, when the Mynah Birds signed for Motown their line-up included Neil Young on guitar and Bruce Palmer on bass, both later members of the legendary Buffalo Springfield as well as one Ricky James Matthews on lead vocals. Matthews' real name was in fact James Ambrose Johnson Jr. but he's better known to us now as Rick James.

The teenage James served several short sentences in New York jails due to burglary offences undertaken to support his drug habit and this meant that he was more likely to be drafted to serve in Vietnam. To avoid this, he joined the US Navy Reserve - a kind of American Territorial Army - where you trained for a few weeks per year and were on home military call if required. To his horror, the authorities started sending Reserve regiments to Vietnam so he stopped attending and was registered AWOL. He changed his name and fled to Canada, specifically Toronto, where he formed the Mynah Birds. A year later, the prospect of the band signing for the major recording Motown record label lured him back over the border to Detroit.

They recorded four tracks with production credited to Taylor, Mike Valvano and Mickey Stevenson on all of which Taylor has a songwriting credit with James. The songs uncannily recreate the 1964 UK early rock sound of groups like the Mojos, the Pretty Things and the Rolling Stones. "It's My Time" was about to be released as a single when the Motown management found out that James' was "wanted" by the authorities and persuaded him to give himself up, promising him that once he'd served any resultant time, they would rehire him and they were as good as their word: after prison, escape, being on the run, surrender, and prison again he became a Motown songwriter and producer in their new base in LA, later recording for them as a solo artist, and to some, becoming the label's musical saviour.

But too late for the Mynah Birds. With James gone, their manager absconded with the Motown advance so Palmer and Young headed south for LA where they bumped into Stephen Stills and the rest is history (see post Feb 2019 . The stellar line-up has prompted the final release of the tracks on Motown rarity compilation albums in 2006 and 2017 respectively. A long wait for their time.


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