Non-performing songwriters may be the most anonymous people in music; although they are the industry's blood, little is known about them. People know their songs but little of their lives. Few know the sometimes fascinating, complex stories behind these unsung creators. Vernon Bullock's most successful compositions are "What Does It Take to Win Your Love," a monster for Junior Walker & the All-Stars; "If I Can Build My Whole World Around You," a hit for Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell; "Yesterday Dreams" for the Four Tops; "Hold On (To Your Dreams)," a minor hit for William "Wee Gee" Howard (who sang "In the Rain" as a member of the Dramatics); and "Dream," which has been recorded by the Staple Singers, Living Proof, Public Announcement, and the Chi-Lites.
Bullock's father was his main influence. His dad sang tenor in a gospel group called the True Tones with two of his brothers and a cousin. Bullock's whole family was musically inclined. Blues singer John Lee Hooker worked with Bullock's father -- the two families lived together during his early childhood and Bullock's parents are godparents to Hooker's two oldest daughters, Diane and Vera.
Born in July 1946 in Houston, TX, Vernon Bullock moved with his family to the east side of Detroit, MI, that same year. The fourth of six siblings, Bullock attended Southeastern High School, where he was an honor student and earned a letter in music in 1962. He graduated at 16 and joined the Air Force, where he received an Award of Excellence in 1964; Bullock received an honorable discharge on August 26, 1965. Before the service, Bullock formed a jazz quartet called the Minor Four because they were all 16 at the time. This is when he came up with the name New Birth. Bullock kept busy; he also had a half-hour gospel music show on CBS every other Sunday. Guests included Mahalia Jackson and the Le Chantels, a big choir that his sister Sadie belonged to. His very first job came at the age of ten as an organist for the Episcopal Church pastored by the late Father John Thomas Walker.
The Motown situation developed when he accompanied Sadie there for an audition set up by Iris Gordy, who was dating Bullock's older brother, K.D.; both were classmates at Cass Tech High. Sadie, however, refused to sing any rock or soul (she wanted to do Broadway tunes and opera), so Motown passed. Vernon started hanging out, trying to get recording sessions by pretending he read music. One day he played a couple of songs he had written and was signed to an exclusive three-year contract. He stayed with Motown from 1965 to late 1970. The three-year deal had two one-year options, and then continuous one-year options until a mutual agreement was reached to end it. Bullock's memories of Motown are warm: hanging out and partying during shows, tours, and in between gigs. Mom and Pop Gordy, Berry Gordy, Gladys Knight, and Marvin and Anna Gaye would welcome everybody into their homes, and there was always enough food for all. Tammi Terrell adopted Bullock as her little brother, since he was one of the youngest there.
Bullock co-wrote with Mickey Stevenson, Kim Weston, Sylvia Moy, Ivy Hunter, Johnny Bristol, and Harvey and Gwen Gordy-Fuqua. He considered Harvey Fuqua his mentor, writing his most popular songs with the ex-Moonglow. Bullock assisted Fuqua in Artist Development (AD), a department set up to refine the artists' stage presence and tighten their acts. Maurice King (band director) and Cholly Atkins (choreographer) both worked in AD.
Part of Bullock's responsibilities were to travel around the country taping various Motown artists' shows for the purpose of reviewing and refining their acts. Bullock also moonlighted at various Detroit nightclubs, including the Twenty Grand, Vertigo West, and the Moon Supper Club, as a lighting director. He worked with Florence Ballard when the Supremes booted her in 1968. This was before he left Motown with Fuqua for Louisville, KY. New Birth was created by Bullock, not Fuqua, and not Tony Churchill, who led the Nite-Liters, New Birth's band. Bullock co-wrote many songs on early albums by New Birth, the Nite-Liters, and Love, Peace & Happiness. Bullock registered the name New Birth in Detroit in December of 1969. The concept behind New Birth was to create a play that would use a repertoire of recorded songs to tell the story, hence a new way of putting on a concert -- a "new birth" of presentations. He introduced it to Fuqua in 1970 with the idea of establishing several acts separately who would perform as a self-contained show. The act that got the first hit record would get top billing, and the others would be supporting acts.
Bullock later produced the Younghearts' two LPs on 20th Century Fox Records, and also did work for the Dells, Little Richard, Johnny Taylor, Booker T. & the MG's, and many others. The Bullocks once lived in Englewood, CO; had they stayed, their daughter would have attended Columbine Senior High. He put together a multi-artist recording, A Dream for the Children, for the benefit of the Columbine students. And tragically, five of Bullock's daughter's Palmdale, CA, classmates were killed April 8, 1999, in a crash on I-14; the Bullocks resided in Palmdale, where the accident occurred, from June 1995 to March of 1997. Bullock also headed Ver-Bul Enterprises/Mafundi Music Group in Beverly Hills, CA.