Tamla-Motown Is Hot, Hot, Hot!
Radio and records (and pirates) in the Netherlands
When Marvin Gaye and Harvey Fuqua touched down at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport in November 1964, Pete Felleman was there to greet them. One year later, when the Supremes performed at Holland’s Grand Gala du Disque awards, he was on-site, tending to their needs, shepherding them (and Berry Gordy) through the corridors of Amsterdam’s Congress building. Two years later, Felleman introduced Stevie Wonder to the Dutch press during the musician’s three-day visit there. In fact, whenever Motown artists travelled to Europe during the 1960s and ’70s, the Netherlands was usually on the itinerary, because of Felleman.
This charismatic, deep-voiced Dutchman – who began his career as a radio DJ, soon gaining a reputation for a remarkable knowledge of American music – made an impression on all who met him. Clearly, that included people in Detroit. During 1969, when Motown was negotiating a new license deal with EMI Records for Continental Europe, it was a condition that Felleman be hired.
Mary Wilson’s autobiography, My Life as a Supreme, is one of the few Motown books to mention Felleman. “He took Berry and us all around and told us about his country’s history and culture,” Wilson wrote, admiringly. “Like us, he was open and curious about things, and we remained good friends for many years.”
Felleman’s name also occasionally appears in Soulful Detroit’s online Motown Forum, while devoted Supremes fans are well aware of single releases with picture sleeves which were unique to Holland. What’s more, some tracks were available as singles only there, such as “Bring It On Home To Me” (from the trio’s We Remember Sam Cooke album) in 1965. It’s an indication of the autonomy which Motown gave to Artone, the Dutch record company where Felleman was employed. Berry Gordy certainly recalled for me the hospitality which he and the Supremes – especially Diana – enjoyed in Holland, and how personable Pete was.
Artone recruited Felleman in the early ’60s to run a subsidiary label, Funckler; previously, he had toiled at Bovema, which marketed Capitol Records, among others. But he made his reputation first as a disc jockey for Dutch public broadcaster VARA, presenting a hip programme called Swing & Sweet, from Hollywood & 52nd Street. He also fronted a “hit parade” show, based on the Billboard charts.
Artone became important to Motown in 1963, when Berry Gordy and his lieutenants Barney Ales and Esther Edwards visited Europe to forge new overseas license deals. Funckler was designated as its Dutch outlet, and Felleman put his knowledge and enthusiasm to work. What helped over the next several years was the growth in popularity of offshore pirate stations such as Radio Veronica and Radio Caroline, which had considerable audience reach – including to the U.K. – and were more inclined to programme American pop music than state broadcasters. At one point, Motown serviced such pirates through Holland.
In 1964, Mary Wells’ “My Guy” and the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” put Motown on the international map, and promotion trips to Europe were arranged for their artists. Thus, Felleman made the acquaintance of the stars and their backroom believers, and while EMI in London was assembling compilation albums such British Motown Chartbusters, Pete was putting together Dutch equivalents, such as Tamla-Motown Is Hot, Hot, Hot!
“Everything would have run very smoothly with Pete, he was very much like that,” said John Marshall, who joined Motown in 1969 as its European representative after a spell as Tamla Motown label manager for EMI in London. In his view, Felleman was probably one of the first international people who impressed Gordy. “And certainly you couldn’t forget Pete if you ever met him,” Marshall assured me. “He was a lot older than the rest of us, with a deep voice, good English and that funny moustache.” (Felleman was in his forties then; he was born in 1921.)
The Dutchman gained greater stature when Motown forged its 1969 deal with EMI. The American firm insisted on having him on board, so he became its European repertoire coordinator, leaving Artone to return to EMI’s local affiliate, Bovema. That Felleman’s income included a percentage from Motown’s record sales across Europe made the appointment controversial among EMI’s other companies there.
“I can imagine Motown felt he was a genius, and to a certain extent he was,” said Roel Kruize, Felleman’s boss at Bovema. “He was totally unique, but difficult to implement in a team. He was always flying solo. We had endless discussions about how to handle certain marketing activities for Motown. Pete did everything himself, if necessary, including album liner notes.” Kruize was the diplomat between Felleman and the other Bovema executives, when the former’s ego got out of hand. “Did I regret those years with him? Not at all, but they were very challenging from time to time.”
Another former Bovema staffer, Theo Roos, recalled that Felleman seldom arrived at work before 2 p.m., and often stayed in the office deep into the night. “He was a micro manager, who wrote out everything with his pen, from label copy to marketing plans. He triple-checked everything that anyone did for Motown, driving them insane.” At EMI in Germany, then-Motown label manager Helmut Fest noticed Felleman’s appetite for compilation albums. “They all credited him – but admittedly he had an incredibly detailed knowledge of Motown repertoire, only rivalled by Gilles Petard in France. He allowed me to do my own compilations [for Germany] but only with his supervision, accompanied by serious arguments.”
Felleman left the record industry in 1978 after a serious illness, and subsequently resumed his broadcasting career; he died in 2000. “I had a great relationship with Pete which went on long after he was doing his thing with Motown,” Mary Wilson told me earlier this week. “I went to his home, knew his wife Gerda, and would often visit them. He was so different from everyone else – maybe that’s why they said he was a loner.”
Others confirmed Felleman’s dedication to Motown, and agreed that he helped Holland to punch above its weight as a market for the music and its makers. During the 1970s, Dutch sales of 100,000 copies per album for Motown – a substantial number – were not uncommon. Whether all of them were sold within the country's borders is moot, given that this was more than 40 years ago, and that this is not Billboard you’re reading. Plus, it’s not for nothing that Berry Gordy’s To Be Loved included Pete Felleman in the acknowledgements.
Give the Dutchman the last word, albeit from 1967: “It wasn’t an easy struggle,” he told Cash Box magazine, “but the kids are finally beginning to dig the Detroit beat.”