Larry Buford

The year was 1965. It was a time when we could identify a car just by the sound of the starter. It was like an introduction: That’s a Chrysler, or Ford, or General Motors car. Early Motown songs were similar in that when you heard the intro you knew it was Motown and anticipated something special about to happen.

One such song was The Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears.” The guitar intro is none other than guitarist Marvin ‘Marv’ Tarplin. Sadly we just learned from the Motown Alumni Associationof his passing on September 30th.

Not only did Tarplin co-write songs with lead singer Smokey Robinson and add his flavor to songs like “Tracks,” “Going To A Go-Go,” “My Girl Has Gone,” and “The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage,” but he was co-writer on“I’ll Be Doggone,” and “Ain’t That Peculiar” recorded by Marvin Gaye. He also co-wrote with Robinson“Cruisin’” and “Being With You.” His discography reveals much more.

Original member of The Miracles and former wife of Smokey, Claudette Robinson stated: “Marvin played on most of our songs…He was listed in the British magazine Mojo as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. “Tracks of My Tears” was listed [as]one of the five best songs ever. Marv was a quiet gentle spirit that had lots to say, but always wanted the artist to shine. When asked for an interview he would say, ‘talk to the group’ or ‘talk to Smokey.’ Marvin started with us in 1958 at the Apollo Theater…from 1958 to 1972, and then with Smokey until 2008. He will fondly be remembered for his eloquent, melodic melodies.”

Guitarist Marvin Marshall who at one time was Musical Director for The Temptations, and later for The Supremes said, “Marvin [Tarplin] was a Classical-trained guitarist. A lot of people thought there were two guitarists onthe intro to ‘Tracks of My Tears’ but that was Marvin doing it by himself. He showed me how to do it.” Another Motown guitarist Cornelius Grant who was also Musical Director for The Temptations said, “Marvin [Tarplin] was one of the greatest!”

Former Motown Vice President Iris Gordy said, “Marv Tarplin was truly one of the world’s unsung heroes…a treasure.  In spite of his significant musical contributions, which were much more than most people are aware, Marv seemed totally comfortable to be seen in a supporting role.  His song stylings were much like his personality – warm, gentle and appealing.”

Funeral arrangements for Tarplin are pending as of this writing. He reportedly resided in Las Vegas, but services are likely to be held in Detroit where he has strong family ties.

Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub) Available at Smiley’s Bookstore in Carson CA, and Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara CA. Visit the author at (213) 220-8101