Debbie Dean – Why Am I Lovin’ You?

16th January 2023 · 1960s, 1968, Music, Soul

Who was the first white artist signed to Motown? Well I always thought it was R.Dean Taylor, the Canadian who sang the great Indiana Wants Me (and Gotta See Jane and There’s A Ghost In My House). It wasn’t. I’m not sure who it was but Debbie Dean was their first female solo artist back in 1960.

A woman of many parts – and names – she was born Reba Jeanette Smith in a tiny Kentucky town way back in 1928, performing variously as Debbie Dean, Debra Dion, Debbie Stevens and Penny Smith.

Despite the support of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, none of them brought her much success but she had a long career and ended up as a songwriter for several of the Motown greats, returning the favour for Smokey years later.

By the time Berry Gordy made Motown history by signing up the strawberry-blonde singer she was already in her 30s and had enjoyed a modest career performing and recording in Chicago where her husband worked in rock’n’roll radio and TV – a period that produced the ghastly novelty single Billy Boy’s Tune for ABC Paramount.

It’s fair to say Motown did not give her the best support, withdrawing her first single Itty Bitty Pity Love / But I’m Afraid – both sung and recorded in the classic girl-group stayle of the early Sixties – in 1961. Instead they got her to record an answer-back song to The Miracles’ hit Shop Around, hastily penned by Berry Gordy, his sister Loucye and Smokey Robinson – inventively titled Don’t Let Him Shop Around. It sank without trace.

Her third single, the Gordy-penned Everybody’s Talking About My Baby, flopped too and Dean, by now aged 34 and with her three-year contract at aan end, moved to California in the hope of reviving her career, singing in talent shows and appearing in a few minor movies.

In 1964 a one-off deal with Sue Records produced another unsuccessful single, Don’t Bug Me Baby backed with a great blues tune called I Want To Know If Your Love Is Real, released under the name Debra Dion. Two years later came a new label, Treva, and a new song, Take My Hand, in 1966, before she joined Deke Richards’ group Deke and the Deacons as vocalist.

In the same year, when Motown set up offices in Hollywood, she was re-signed to her old label as a singer and songwriter, co-writing songs with Richards for The Supremes, Temptations, Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas, Edwin Starr and others.

And in 1968 she finally released this solo single on Motown’s VIP label. Why Am I Lovin’ You met a familiar fate to her other recordings but went on to become a Northern Soul favourite in the UK.

She died in 2001 in Ojai, California.