For All The Bad Mama Jamas

Born in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood in 1952, Carl Carlton spent his childhood in a city that was on the verge of a new musical revolution.  When Motown was founded in 1959, the signature “Motown sound” soon became a model for what everyone aspired to sound like.  Carl Carlton began singing and recording in the mid 1960s after a fed-up neighbor who lived near a field used for baseball by the neighborhood kids heard Carl singing and initially thought that the kids’ radio was turned up too loud.  When that neighbor was told by the other kids that it was actually Carl, he was taken to the Lando Records studio to record his soulful voice under the moniker “Little Carl Carlton” – a play off of the popularity “Little Stevie Wonder” was achieving at the time.  He recorded the songs “I Love True Love,” and “Competition Ain’t Nothing,” the latter going on to achieve some popularity in the area and catch the ear of Don Robey’s Back Beat Records, located in Houston Texas.  Carlton moved to Houston and throughout the 1970s, he recorded for Back Beat and achieved modest success, but it was a collaboration with soul-singer Leon Haywood and a contract with 20th Century that would lead to his biggest success as an artist.  In 1981, 20th Century released “She’s A Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)” which went gold and stayed at the #2 spot on the charts for eight straight weeks (ironically it was another Detroit native, Diana Ross, who kept him out of the #1 spot on the charts with ‘Endless Love’).  Carl Carlton appeared on Solid Gold, Soul Train, and American Bandstand, but always made it a point to stop in his hometown of Detroit to play whenever the opportunity would arise.

 

Go back to 1981 and groove with Carl Carlton on his biggest hit, “She’s A Bad Mama Jama” below!


Smooth Soul Vibrations

Eric and the Vikings added soulful flavor to the Detroit music scene via Soulhawk records in the late 1960s and 1970s.  The Soulhawk label was owned and operated by Richard “Popcorn” Wylie, who had been influential with Motown from the beginning and now operated as a producer, songwriter, and supporter of Northern Soul.  Members Eryke McClinton, Cliff Moore, and Phil Taylor recorded their biggest hit for the Soulhawk label, titled “Vibrations (Made Us Fall In Love)” which was released in 1970 to large success in the city of Detroit and around the metro area.  The single released by Eric & The Vikings helped propel the group, as well as the Soulhawk label, to achieve success with local Detroit radio stations and “Vibrations” was steadily featured on WKNR/Keener 13.  Eric & The Vikings even opened up for Isaac Hayes during a performance at the University of Detroit event center back in 1970, cementing their local influence and their smooth soul success.

 

Take a listen to Eric and the Vikings with their best-known hit, “Vibrations (Made Us Fall In Love)” below.


We Love The Contours

Originally formed in Detroit in 1958, The Contours started out as a quartet consisting of lead singer Billy Gordon, Billy Hogg, Joe Billingslea and Sylvester Potts.  Their original name was The Blenders, but after the addition of guitarist Huey Davis and Hubert Johnson (cousin of Jackie Wilson), they became The Contours and auditioned with Berry Gordy at Wilson’s suggestion and were signed to Motown in 1961.  Most Motown acts at the time upheld an image of style, sophistication, and smooth choreography…which is why The Contours, with their leaps, splits, rowdy R&B style, and refusal to contain their energy during performance, fell out of sorts with Motown early on and were most known for their 1962 hit “Do You Love Me?,”originally written by Berry Gordy for The Temptations.  “Do You Love Me?” was the only Contours single to hit the top 40 on the Billboard charts, however, the single achieved this feat not once, but twice — for the first time in 1962 when the song was released, and again in 1988 thanks to Patrick Swayze and a film called Dirty Dancing.

 

Please enjoy The Contours’ biggest hit below!


Having Big Fun on the Dance Floor with Inner City

Throwback Thursday on our site honors the originators and innovators who paved the way for other contemporary Detroit artists to explore their sound and vision, and thanks to true visionaries like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, Detroit has a signature techno sound that has reverberated throughout the music world.  Kevin Saunderson met his best friend Derrick May in Belleville, MI after an altercation that left May unconscious and ultimately led to a relationship that would pave a new path for electronic music.  Saunderson observed the months-long process that Juan Atkins and Derrick May were going through to create “Let’s Go” under the pseudonym X-Ray, inspiring Saunderson to produce his own work.  Inner City developed as a collaboration between Kevin Saunderson and Chicago native and vocalist Paris Grey.  Grey and Saunderson produced the single “Big Fun” in 1988, and the single quickly became a hit in the U.S. as well as the U.K.  With the positive buzz that began surrounding “Big Fun” and other subsequent Inner City releases, Saunderson soon became a commercial and critical success, helping to pioneer the sound of Detroit techno on dance floors around the world.

Enjoy the 1988 music video below for Kevin Saunderson & Paris Grey’s hit, “Big Fun.”


The Just Brothers Give Us Northern Soul

Jimmy and Frank Bryant were two brothers from Detroit who worked as session musicians and created a dance-floor hit so groovy, it has been sampled over the years by the likes of British DJ hit-maker Norman Cook (known by most as Fatboy Slim) to create an iconic Northern Soul sound that people for decades have been able to dance to.  After working for a long period of time recording music as a session musician for artists such as Gino Washington and J.J. Barnes while his brother Jimmy was completing service in the military, Frank Bryant was asked to do session work for Winifred Terry of The Drifters, and upon Jimmy’s return, the two brothers began to work and record together.  While recording a session that was intended to produce a single and a B-Side, the Bryant brothers used the opportunity to show Terry their skill as not only musicians, but vocalists.  Subsequently, the original vocalist hired for the songs was taken out and The Just Brothers were able to record their own singles and B-Side.  The songs “Honey,” “She Broke His Heart,” and “Things Will Get Better” featured the vocals of The Just Brothers, and the catchy, surf-rock-meets-soul-power B-Side “Sliced Tomatoes” became an iconic tune sampled over the years by Motown and soul-enthusiast DJs and producers.  “Sliced Tomatoes” was recorded in 1965, but became more widely known in 1972 when the song was re-released on the Music Merchant record label, reaching a new group of listeners who became fascinated and receptive to the up-tempo beats that all at once showcased the best of Northern Soul, influenced by the Tamla Motown sound.

 

Check out a video below featuring Frank Bryant and drummer A.J. Sparks, playing “Sliced Tomatoes” as a tribute to the late, great Jimmy Bryant.


Freda Payne : Detroit Gold

Freda Payne was born in Detroit in 1942 with Motown soul in her genes — both Freda and her sister, former Supreme Scherrie Payne, were blessed with the gift of vocal prowess.  Freda Payne attended the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts when she was younger and grew up with the influence of female jazz vocalists.  She entered and won many local talent shows around the Detroit area, persuading her to take her voice to New York City to strike it big.  Funny enough, it was the famed trio of Motown writers, Holland-Dozier-Holland, who put Payne on the map by offering her their song, “Band of Gold,” for her to record in 1969.  At the point that Holland-Dozier-Holland offered Payne the song, she had already had 2 jazz albums, a part in a theatre production, and an appearance on The Tonight Show under her belt from the past six years she had been in New York.  Payne recorded “Band of Gold” for Holland-Dozier-Holland’s newly formed label Invictus, and it became her first song to reach a #1 spot on the charts in the UK (the song reached as high as #3 on the US charts).  It was also, appropriately, Freda Payne’s first gold record.

 

Please enjoy Freda Payne performing her most beloved hit in the video below!


Back To The 80s With Angry Red Planet

In the 1980s, in Michigan and elsewhere, the punk and hardcore music scenes were developing heavily thanks to a relentless group of bands who were forming and playing in any venue that would host their style of music. In 1981, Angry Red Planet was formed by brothers Tim and John Pakledinaz and Vince Delisi, and like other hardcore groups coming onto the scene during that time, they frequently played gigs at some of the fantastic bar venues of yore, such as Traxx and The Mystery Lounge. They even scored an opening slot for the Dead Kennedys at Harpo’s back in 1984. They gained a reputation as being one of the more accessible hardcore bands around at the time with a twisted, melodic sound that resulted with a less brutal crowd than at similar hardcore and punk shows. Their popularity grew around the Detroit area, and Michigan-originated Touch and Go Records (co-founded by Tesco Vee of The Meatmen) released a 4-song, 7″ EP titled Gawker’s Paradise in 1985. Our Throwback Thursday for this week is the 3rd track on that EP, “Sun Goes Down.” With it’s dark and scratchy styling and lyrics pointing to doomsday with an ironically upbeat feel, this Angry Red Planet track as well as the entire Gawker’s Paradise EP is a great listen for when, to borrow from the lyrics, “The noise on the streets is one big pain/Like a gall digging down into your brain.” Currently, Tim Pak has transitioned his music style and is in a Bluegrass band, The Salt Miners, and started Woodshed Recording Studio in Michigan.

Enjoy the track “Sun Goes Down” by Angry Red Planet below.


Bob Seger’s First Big Hit

The raspy-voiced renegade from Lincoln Park, Bob Seger, has a thousand tracks we could feature for Throwback Thursday on Detroit Sounds Like This, but we’ve chosen the first track off of his debut album for not only putting Bob Seger’s name on the map, but also for it’s energy, authenticity, and organ riffs.  The Bob Seger System was not Seger’s first gig on the Detroit music scene — prior to The Bob Seger System releasing their debut album in 1969, Seger played in The Decibels (his first band, a 3-piece outfit), then The Town Criers, then shortly after joined Doug Brown & The Omens, then finally The Last Heard.  It was after leaving Doug Brown & The Omens to record a song called “East Side Story” (which Seger wrote for another band, The Underdogs, but didn’t garner any attention) that Seger tasted success around Detroit thanks to recording the song with Hideout Records.  After getting attention from other record companies (and turning down a contract with Motown to record for Capitol), Bob Seger & The Last Heard became The Bob Seger System and recorded “2+2=?”, a song which carried a strong anti-war message and gained the band moderate success around Detroit, Canada, and New York.   “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was the next song released from The Bob Seger System, and it instantly gained the band even wider recognition and made it to #17 on the charts.  The title track to the album was released as a single in 1968, and due to the success of it, the album was recorded shortly after and released in 1969.  Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man put Bob Seger’s name out there as a genuine and distinctive voice in rock and roots music, and it was only the beginning of the legacy he is still continuing in Detroit and around the country.

 

Enjoy a video featuring The Bob Seger System’s biggest hit along with a performance by “Legs & Co.” on Top of The Pops…you’re welcome, guys!

 


A Psychedelic Classic by Tommy James and the Shondells

The 1968 sweeping psychedelic opus we’re going back to for this week’s Throwback Thursday is ‘Crimson and Clover,’ from a Michigan band who started off their careers singing snappy bubblegum hits which transitioned to influential psychedelic soul when the band took creative control over the sound of their music.  Tommy James and the Shondells are a perfect example of how a band can discover their pure original sound when there is no outside influence.  When Tommy James was freed up from his ties to the band’s principal songwriters, Ritchie Cordell and Bo Gentry, he discovered how to melt tremolo-styled vocal effects with floating, woozy guitar to create a classic tune dedicated to his favorite color and favorite flower.  The ambient echoes of ‘Crimson and Clover’ hit number one on the Billboard charts in February of 1969 and became an instant classic in the psychedelic genre as well as the band’s biggest success.  Please enjoy a live performance by Niles, Michigan’s Tommy James and the Shondells with their biggest hit below.


The Reflections’ Blue-Eyed Soul

There are multiple musical groups that write and perform under the name, “The Reflections,” but there is only one of those groups with Detroit roots and a catchy hit from 1964 that remains the group’s signature number when they perform to this day.  “(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet” was penned by songwriters Bob Hamilton and Freddie Gorman (who wrote another classic Motown song performed by The Marvelettes, “Please Mr. Postman”) and when sung by the five members of The Reflections, injected a heavy dose of upbeat, harmonious top-and-bottom Doo-Wop into listeners which resonated and drove the song to classic status.  The Reflections were among several “Blue-Eyed Soul” R&B groups signed to the Detroit label Golden World Records in the early to mid 1960s, but only The Reflections achieved the #6 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with one of their singles.  Lead singer and original member of The Reflections Tony Micale and Detroit-born bassist John Dean still tour as The Reflections to this day and frequently visit the city they achieved their stardom in, playing at several shows and festivals throughout Michigan and keeping the spirit of  oldies and R&B  available to all generations of music fans.  Terry Stewart, President of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, summed up the impact of The Reflections and their staying power very well when he said, “These guys could sing the phone book and still bring the house down”.

 

Please enjoy the classic “(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet” by The Reflections below.


The Woolies Hit With A Bo Diddley Classic

In 1967, East Lansing natives The Woolies recorded a cover of the classic Bo Diddley tune, “Who Do You Love?”  This would prove to be the group’s biggest hit, and with many covers of “Who Do You Love?” out there by bands like George Thorogood and the Destroyers and Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Woolies’ version still comes out on top.  Formed as a band in Dearborn in 1964, vocalist Stormy Rice, keyboardist “Boogie” Bob Baldori, guitarist Jeff Baldori, bassist Ron English, and drummer Bill “Bee” Metros got their first taste of success before “Who Do You Love?” winning a Vox-sponsored “Best Band In The Land” contest which won them a set of speakers, as well as a trip to Los Angeles and a recording contract.  It was Lou Adler of Dunhill Records in LA who first ushered The Woolies into the recording studio after hearing their demos to create their first record, “Who Do You Love?,” split with an original song by the group, “Hey Girl.”  Soon after recording in Los Angeles, The Woolies were on their way back to Michigan at Russ Gibb’s request to open The Grande Ballroom on October 6, 1966 along with the MC5.  The fast-paced punchy rhythm of “Who Do You Love?” caught the attention of radio DJs and promoters upon its release, and remains their biggest success as a band.

 

Enjoy The Woolies’ classic, energetic cover of “Who Do You Love?” below!


The Heavy Metal Horror Show : Halloween

When the Motor City Metal record label released Don’t Metal With Evil by Detroit band Halloween in 1985, the glam and hair metal genres were just on the verge of exploding larger than too much hairspray near an open flame.  Halloween had every quintessential element to make you love their 80s metal schtick…they had the cheap horror-show theatrics, falsetto-howling vocals, and the raw, don’t-give-a-shit attitude about their whole presentation which metal thrives on at its core.  The video for the week says it all — “What A Nice Place” is the 7th track from the album Don’t Metal With Evil, and once you get past the cheese-tastic D-list horror movie credits (there is definitely some intrigue when a music video thanks Elmwood Cemetary in the opener), you get to reapers, pyrotechnics, and Bill Whyte using a couple of femurs(?) as drumsticks. When you get down to the actual music, Brian Thomas, Rick Craig, George Neal, and Bill Whyte know how to mix speed riffs and punch-in-the-face bass drumming to create really authentic metal, even if some of their imagery would lead you to believe they are mostly appearance and not much substance. The fact is, Halloween never broke through into the mainstream as the story goes with many Detroit bands, but they are still together and now 3 decades later recording their latest album without ever being signed to a major label…and that’s fucking metal.

Enjoy Halloween’s magnum music video opus for “What A Nice Place” below.


Juan Atkins/Model 500 “No UFOs,” Original Detroit Techno

To say that Juan Atkins is an innovator in electronic music is like saying Beethoven wrote epic symphonies — it’s a hackneyed statement that becomes clearly obvious once you listen. Juan Atkins was the pioneer in an influential group of like-minded musicians (including also Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May) who dealt with the surrounding artifacts of industrial culture in their neighborhood of Detroit by embracing the influence and spearheading the urban techno movement. Atkins had learned to play bass, drums, and guitar when he was young, but after hearing electronic music for the first time around the age of sixteen, the alien sounds of the synthesizers had worked their mystique on Atkins and he dedicated himself to it from then on. In the early 1980s, Juan Atkins collaborated with Rik Davis on Cybotron, releasing the groundbreaking single “Techno City” in 1984. Creative direction drove a wedge between the two, and Atkins developed the Model 500 alias on his own and founded the Metroplex techno label in 1985. “No UFOs” was the first single released by Juan Atkins under the Model 500 name and on the Metroplex label. The song proved to be a smash around the Detroit area and Chicago as well, inciting Atkins to produce a string of monumentally influential techno tracks which earned Atkins the title “Godfather of Techno.”

Listen to “No UFOs” below and check out a video interview at the Submerge Techno Museum from 2012 where Atkins discusses the roots of his music.


Edwin Starr’s “War” Tops The 1970 Billboard Chart

The song “War” has been through quite a battle itself — after the original Motown recording of the song by The Temptations was deemed too controversial for the group to release as a single (even after fans were writing to Motown asking for that very thing), the song was re-recorded at Hitsville USA Studio A by Edwin Starr. Starr was born in Nashville and moved to Detroit in the 1960s where he was recording at Ric-Tic Records, a label that was eventually bought out by Berry Gordy Jr. and Motown in 1968 and absorbed Starr as a result. Starr volunteered to re-record The Temptations’ song, and the outcome was a version which, unlike The Temptations’ original, was backed by a soulful, affecting power that resonated with listeners. The song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown in 1969 as a straight-forward protest song against United States involvement in the war taking place in Vietnam. For as weary as the label was about how the song would mar the image of The Temptations, Edwin Starr reached the peak of his Motown career with the single. On August 29, 1970, “War” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained there for three weeks.

Watch a video of Edwin Starr belting out his biggest hit, and the number one protest song to ever hit the charts below.


Martha and the Vandellas – Dancing In The Street First Charts Today In 1964

Martha Reeves wore duel hats when she started at Motown records, being their secretary and also recording demos with other artists on the label. When she and her two friends Rosalind Ashford and Annette Sterling were asked to sing back-up on Marvin Gaye’s ‘Stubborn Kind of Fellow’ in 1961, the trio sang with such verve and conviction that some joked they were ‘vandalizing’ Gaye’s sound. Very shortly after, Martha & the Vandellas were formally signed as their own group to Motown and began their recording career. Dancing In The Street was written by Marvin Gaye & William Stevenson and originally conceived for Stevenson’s soon-to-be wife and fellow Motown member Kim Weston. Weston turned the song down, and when Reeves was summoned to record a demo, Stevenson is quoted as saying that “When Martha got into the song…that was the end of the conversation!” The song was released in July of 1964 (with Betty Kelly taking over vocals for Annette Sterling) and first charted on August 22, 1964. The song was written by Gaye & Stevenson as they observed Detroit on the hot days of summer when the fire hydrants would be spraying water into the street with people gathering and lining up to “dance through them.”

Please enjoy this performance by Martha & the Vandellas on the UK show ‘Ready Steady Go!’ and feel encouraged to get up and groove to this summertime Motown classic!


The Gories on “BandIn” Detroit

For our second edition of Throwback Thursday, we are focusing on not just a track, but an entire performance from the too often under-appreciated garage rock goodness of The Gories. Mick Collins, Peg O’Neill and Dan Kroha formed The Gories in 1986, their formula being raw and minimal, rejecting the overwrought pop & rock that was being concocted so much in the 80s. Dan Kroha is quoted in Savage magazine as saying, “. . . no one was playing music the way we wanted to hear it. We wanted really fucking primitive stuff. Bands would call themselves primitive, but we wanted to show ’em what that word really means. Also we wanted to really show ’em what rhythm and blues means. No one was doing it the way we wanted to hear it, so we decided that we just had to do it ourselves.” The Gories went on the late-night local Detroit cable TV series “BandIn” for the show’s fourth installment, and filmed the entire session below in the same studio that their first LP, Houserockin’, was recorded in. According to Kroha, the actual recording studio at Wanghead Records was covered wall-to-wall in carpet that resulted in a dead and muddled sound, so the band asked if their equipment could instead be set up in the metal-walled machine shop that was next door, ultimately providing a large benefit for the bands signature sound.

Please enjoy this performance by The Gories on Detroit’s “BandIn” from 1989.


Question Mark and The Mysterians “96 Tears”

? and the Mysterians had their first great success as a band when their song, “96 Tears,” was recorded in March of 1966 at Art Schiell’s recording studio in Bay City, located in the back of his house.  “96 Tears” was recorded on the back porch of Shiell’s studio and became the first mainstream hit for a Latino rock band in the United States, selling over a million copies upon its national release, certifying it gold.  The song was first written as a poem back in 1962 by  front man Rudy “Question Mark” Martinez, titled “Too Many Teardrops.”  Rudy Martinez hailed from Flint, while the rest of the Mysterians originally hailed from Saginaw.  Upon first organizing the band, Rudy’s brother Robert Martinez was the original drummer, and was replaced by Eddie Serrato when Robert was drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces.  The lineup that you hear on “96 Tears” also includes Frank Rodriguez laying down the signature Vox organ riffs, who was only 14 years old at the time “96 Tears” was recorded.

Enjoy the rare clip below from Detroit’s “Swingin’ Time” back in 1966.