Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Glad to see you occasionally include questions and commentary about picture sleeves for singles. They are important pieces of pop culture, and usually more valuable than the record they contain.

In my Motown sleeve collection are nine for the Supremes (featuring Diana Ross) and another nine for Diana Ross after she went solo.

Until a few days ago, I thought no others existed, at least not ones made in the U.S.

This recent grapevine buzz is about a very rare Motown promotional picture sleeve for “The Boss,” a 1979 hit and one of Diana's many singles never issued with a commercial sleeve.

So far, no one seems to be able to describe this one, picture it, or provide any details. Asking you about it seemed like a good idea to me.
—Jackie DeLancy, Wauwatosa, Wisc.

DEAR JACKIE: How could you, an admitted Motown aficionada, miss the opportunity to say “I heard it through the grapevine”? Yes, I know about this extremely bizarre sleeve. After finally seeing it, I even did some research into its history.

Though the back side clearly reads “Record insert … The Boss by Diana Ross, courtesy of Motown Records,” it seems Motown had very little, if anything, to do with this picture sleeve. For one thing, there is no other mention of Motown or Diana Ross, and no company logo.

Based on the text provided, we know this paper sleeve, along with a promotional copy of “The Boss” (Motown 1462), were made specifically for a record industry party in Chicago, possibly a gathering to announce Diana's new release to local record distributors.

The event details are printed on the sleeve, almost like an R.S.V.P. invitation: “A Party! Saturday, June 23, 1979, 10 p.m., 3257 N. Sheffield.”

The timing makes sense, as just three weeks later “The Boss” made its national chart debut.

Now for the really bizarre parts:

The front has a black-and-white photo of six white, nude from the waist up, so-called warlocks (male witches). With their all-white eyes — having neither iris nor pupil, only sclera — these guys look more like extras from “Night of the Living Dead.”.

Across the top is, “A Bunch of Queers Presents Warlock.”

On the back side is a black zombie-like warlock, along with many lines of gobbledygook text. Here are just two thought-provoking definitions:

“Warlock: a practitioner of black magic; a satanic being known to have intercourse with the dark forces.”

“Solstice: a highest point, culmination or limit; the summer solstice, when the sun is at the zenith of the Tropic of Cancer.”

We know of a few bands named Warlock, but there is no connection between them and anything on this sleeve.

If this Warlock ever recorded, or planned to record, songs titled “Warlock” and “Solstice,” then why is their sleeve used in conjunction with “The Boss”? I'm sure hundreds of photos of Diana Ross were easily available for use with her record.

As for 3257 N. Sheffield, it's not exactly the banquet room at the Hyatt. Today, the long-standing three-story brick building appears to be mostly vacant, with prominent “For Rent” and “For Lease” signs on walls and windows.

The only active business there now is Heaven's Morning Cleaners, so I called and spoke with the attendant on duty. She politely indicated she was too busy to talk about zombies and warlocks from 31 years ago.

Maybe I should have asked for the boss.

IZ ZAT SO? For now, only one copy of the Warlock “The Boss” picture sleeve is known to exist. One would think more were made, especially if intended to be an attention-getting way of circulating promo copies of Diana's new release. Perhaps there were more at the party, and only this one survived.

Drooling Motown collectors are calling it a monster and they don't mean in the zombie, science-fiction sense.

They refer to its possible four-figure value, if ever offered for sale.

Having “The Boss” promo only adds about $10 to the package.

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