We learn this weekend of the death of Marv Tarplin in Las Vegas this past week. His name is not a household word, but his music is among some of the best known during the past half century. I suppose a broad, but accurate, description of him would be that he was the guitarist behind Smokey Robinson. He played with him on the first album by the Miracles, left the Miracles with Smokey in 1973 and continued to play guitar for him on many solo recordings and, until his retirement in 2008, toured with him. That is a 50 year (1958-2008) corroboration of writing, recording and performing for Smokey Robinson and Marv Tarplin.
Tarplin was from Atlanta, GA and began his musical career as the guitarist for the Primettes, who would later go on to become the Supremes. In 1958, he joined the Miracles and thus began a long relationship with Smokey Robinson. The two co-wrote many of the Miracles’ hits including Tracks of My Tears, Going to a Go-Go and I Like It Like That. He and his guitar were actually known in the industry as the “Miracles’ Secret Weapon.” And who can forget those opening guitar chords to Tracks of My Tears? They are so soulful and so moving. With those chords he grips your heart and sets the tone for the highly emotional experience Smokey Robinson is about to lyrically place upon you. One would not be complete without the other.
In 1973, Smokey Robinson left the Miracles on friendly terms after 15 years. Shortly thereafter, Marv Tarplin also left the Miracles and, before long was collaborating with his old friend once again. There were more hits like Cruisin’ and Being With You, and he toured with Smokey Robinson until his retirement in 2008.
Marv did work with other recording artists throughout his life. He co-wrote and performed on a number of hits for Marvin Gaye such as I’ll be Doggone and Ain’t That Peculiar. He also played guitar on the Four Tops’ top 20 hit, Still Water (Love).
During my set tonight, I’ll include the following songs as a tribute to this Motown great. All of them are co-written by Tarplin and his guitar is featured on each recording.
Going to a Go-Go, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, 1965
Ain’t That Peculiar, Marvin Gaye, 1965
Being With You, Smokey Robinson, 1981
I’ll Be Doggone, Marvin Gaye, 1965
Tracks of My Tears, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, 1965
The Miracles… Marv (with his guitar) and Smokey seated