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!
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.
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.”
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 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!
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.
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!
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.