A Little Marvin and Tammi on a Sunday: “You’re All I Need to Get By”
Here, accompanied by the Funk Brothers, the Motown house band, is Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. (Ashford and Simpson, and members of The Andantes, The Spinners, and The Originals performed back-up on this and the other songs on this album, You’re All I Need).
There are songs that help you remember who you were at a place and time, and this is one of them for me. The California sun was very bright, so bright and high, and I could smell the heat in my nose. The beams bounced off the chrome bumpers of the cars in the driveway. I was trying really hard to be cool. I wore someone’s outsized, bilious yellow Jackie O type sunglasses crowning my straightened bangs and above my glasses. There is a picture out there somewhere of me with a girl who had already made the jump to teenager, and who was showing me some of the ropes. We were leaning against those late model Sixties cars, whose paint hadn’t faded or developed any rust. It wasn’t a Sunday, but it was summer.
My glasses were always a problem to work around; the sunglasses didn’t make me cool, just imitative and silly next to the girl who wasn’t nearsighted and didn’t need corrective lenses. But that was what coolness meant, to try out what was right and what was silly and work with it or discard it. Unlike Marvin and Tammi, who seemed so tight and symbiotic as a duo. Nothing seemed silly, just real. So it was a shock when shortly after this song flew up the charts that Tammi Terrell had suddenly collapsed on stage the year before with Marvin Gaye from the effects of a brain tumor, which, after several unsuccessful brain operations, eventually took her life in 1970. She was only a few months short of her twenty-fifth birthday.
Tammi had just recovered from her first operation when she completed this classic with Marvin. From reports, it was not easy. The young woman had been suffering severe migraines that had reoccurred from adolescence before her collapse, and she was in a wheelchair after surgery. Contrary to the rumor mill, David Ruffin, her former lover, did not take a hammer or a machete to her head in a fit of rage after she had discovered that he was married and a father. He had, according to her sister, thrown his motorcycle helmet dead at her.
However, Tammi Terrell had weathered far more in her short life. Her mother was said to be clinically depressed. Tammi was a rape survivor; her affair with James Brown was punctuated by physical abuse; and before a relationship came into fruition with Sam Cooke, he was murdered in Los Angeles.
Marvin was devastated by Tammi’s death. He plunged into a four-year period of isolation–and grief. As Wikipedia states:
Gaye recalled that he felt somehow responsible for Terrell’s illness and death. Gaye failed to appreciate his own successes including the international hit, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine“, thinking the success was not deserved on his part. At the funeral, Gaye delivered a final eulogy while “You’re All I Need to Get By” was playing. According to Terrell’s fiance, who knew Gaye, Terrell’s mother allowed just Gaye at the funeral but told him that Terrell’s other Motown colleagues would not be allowed in. Terrell’s mother criticized Motown for not helping with Terrell’s illness accusing the label for covering up the singer’s condition releasing albums of Terrell’s work without her consent. Gaye had also contended that he felt Motown was taking advantage of Terrell’s illness and refused to promote the Easy album despite Motown telling him it would cover Terrell’s health finances. Gaye never fully got over Terrell’s death, according to several biographers stated Terrell’s death led Gaye to depression and drug abuse.
Ah, yes. The politics of the music industry. Berry Gordy may die rich, but he made his money off the suffering as well as the deaths of the performers who worked for him. No doubt, some of their shades will be awaiting him on the Other Side, or will be reborn with him so that they can get theirs back on him, until that karmic connection is appeased.
It doesn’t matter that their relationship never flowered into an affair. Marvin and Tammi’s love affair was embedded in the music that they made together.
P.S., I also love, love, love Miss Re’s rendition of this song as well.