Wednesday, 22 October 2008

In the beginning & Detroit Session March, 2008


It always seemed to be a struggle at school. I never excelled at anything, not even music. My parents persuaded me to take piano lessons around 1970, but by 1973 at just 17 years old, I was more interested in the disco culture I had discovered with a friend of mine from the Hull Grammar School. Before I even left the 6th form, we were dancing until 1am at weekends in Annabella’s in the city centre and being subtlety influenced by the dj’s record collections. And sure enough on the dance floor something happened! I kept hearing melodic cleverly written and orchestrated songs performed by amazing vocalists who had literally made me excuse myself from floor sometimes to inquire the title of the song and the singer. One of those songs was called ‘At the top of the Stairs’ by an unknown group called The Formations on MOJO records. I had not realised it charted in the UK previously, but there began the quest to find that record, purchase and cherish it forever. I wanted to know who played what instrument on it and anxious for any other interesting trivia.

A week or two later we wanted more of this music and headed for another disco called Bailey’s, also in Hull. There, one Monday evening the dj played an instrumental called ‘Ooh! Pretty Lady’ by Al Kent on Ric Tic records. That was another defining moment which would shape my inquisitiveness into American soul music from the 1960’s.

In addition around 1974 my ears were becoming customised to the Sound of Philadelphia. A slick, fresh and modern sound that utilised strings, vibes and harp all arranged differently to the 1960’s sound of Detroit. A favourite being ‘Got to get you back’ by The Sons of Robin Stone was just one of those records that filled the dance floor back then, so I just had to seek it out and get it. Then it struck me like a bolt of lightning one evening whilst on that dark wooden dance floor analysing a Four Tops record! I had to make a commitment to this music and somehow pay homage to those responsible for making it. Then the journey began to understand more about the construction of melodies and lyrics in songs. At first it was slow. No Internet or publications that would help. It took until 1990 when I purchased an 8 track sequencer and later the ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown’ bass book by Dr. Licks. There, the bass lines from one of the world’s greatest bass guitar players were all written out which I analysed and step recorded into the synthesizer. On playback I heard Jamerson’s bass lines playing out my speakers all on their own, wow!
As the years went on, computers, the Internet and electronics became the tools I used to help me find the musicians and those responsible for the music. It helped me create demo material of the songs I wrote over the years in sequencer style. The frustrations of slow computers not coping with audio recording were prevalent in the late 1990’s. Then around 2000 everything changed. Faster PC’s, broadband and Internet forums helped me meet the likes of Dennis Coffey and Bobby Eli, two members of a web site called soulfuldetroit.com. These individuals were partly responsible for much I was aspiring to musically. They wrote, produced, and played their guitars on hundreds of recordings I danced the night away to in Hull decades earlier. They had become part of my persona, without even knowing. They held the key to much of the music from yesterday and were happy to communicate about it.

The legendary Dennis Coffey took up the mantle of the now finished Detroit sessions. We had met face to face at his book signing in Denmark Street, London, around 2002 and also again in 2003 at The Cass Café in Detroit where I plucked up courage to ask if he would be interested in playing on any of my songs should I ever get to the city to complete my dream. He cheeringly said yes, as he supped his beer from the bottle at the bar. Then, last year George Katsakis of The Royaltones fame suggested it was time for me to come to Detroit and do a session. In addition, Harry Grundy who at that time was on WFM Manchester decided to play two of my demos on air over a number of weeks. He could see the potential of the songs which gave me more of a boost to accomplish my dreams. I contacted Dennis, he said yes and would help co produce the session and would start on a plan. Not being in the business it was his experience that pulled things together with some legendary musicians form the city. We spent 10 months planning and finally on the 24th March this year the rhythm tracks were laid down at Studio A, Dearborn Heights, were the likes of Dennis Coffey, Bob Babbit, Uriel Jones, Spider Webb and Ray Monette did their genius on the humble songs I took over there. In addition some great sax solos by George Katsakis and Gil Bridges were included on two of the songs.

The vocals were going to be difficult because who would be really interested in an Englishman’s dream to come to Detroit and do this? Stepping up to the mark was also fellow forum member Spyder Turner who was persuaded to look at the project and examine the lyrics. He agreed to perform lead on two songs ‘Tell me (crying over you)’ and ‘Glory Fleeting’ and cleverly suggested the wonderful vocals of Cherokee Pree for lead on ‘Suddenly there’s you’. In addition Spyders daughter Gayle Butts performed backing vocals on the session. They did their magic and crafted some terrific vocals.
It took just three days to record all the elements for four songs from start to finish. They were mixed and mastered in the same studio and by the Friday, the Detroit dream session was in the can. Mission accomplished, or so I thought. I now have the masters of some unique soul music which has the essence of the past in it, in addition to the soul of the present. These new songs are a testament to the Detroit soul music which the world has cherished over the years. New songs crafted in Detroit without the use of synthesisers with legendary musicians and singers….a dream come true.

So, what is the future for the recordings? In total four songs were recorded. ‘Tell me (Crying over you), ‘Suddenly there’s you’, ‘Glory Fleeting’ and ‘Detroit (city by the river)’. Each has an instrumental and in addition all the isolated tracks are available, which are really interesting to listen too. I had hoped the songs would have been commissioned by somebody and recorded at their expense, but in my ignorance I did not realise the recording process and in addition the writer credits on a successful song can be lucrative. This explains why so many song writers exist and how difficult it is to get songs exposed to artists. A valuable lesson learnt, and also recognition of how music publishers can be an important part of the process. I was naïve to think I could achieve my dream without contributing financially in some way and ultimately had to raise funds personally for the project.

I am now considering options with a view to releasing the material. I feel it is important to release 45 rpm’s in the first instance. The format is still in demand and I would feel proud to have helped create recordings in 2008 that capture the spirit of this style of music on an appropriate medium. Also, I am considering MP3 download options through an aggregator. This would hopefully allow soul music fans to hear new material recorded in a traditional method just like back in the day. If that works out and a revenue stream created, I may do a CD which could include all the songs, both vocal and instrumental, the extended vocal mix on ‘Suddenly there’s you’, maybe some video from the studio session, photographs and maybe even a couple of the original demos. I would like to think the project could generate an income and I could filter residuals back to the States and even maybe consider doing more recordings. But, my initial investment was expensive so I must tread carefully. The record business is complicated and it looks like if I want people to hear the material, again I must finance the releases myself. You can hear snippets of the songs on my blog right here:

http://www.carlsmusic.blogspot.com/
And more demos on my YouTube channel here:

http://uk.youtube.com/55motown

No comments: