The Tera Shirma Story
Motown Beckons
The Donovan Building, 2457 Woodward, Detroit
Motown Record Corporation
(courtesy Blues and Soul Magazine)

Things were bad. Very bad. 

Business was drying up. I arrived at the studio one morning at my usual time, and Neica Lee was not yet in. This
wasn't unusual. Neica was a single mom to a young girl, so there were times she had things to deal with in raising her daughter. Neica was separated from her husband, the well known clothes designer, Dominic Rompollo, who lived in New York. I knew she was always dealing with issues over this situation. But she never got to the studio that day. I must have called her, but I don't remember. She didn't show up the next day either, or the one after that and I soon accepted the fact that Neica Lee was gone.

Within a couple of weeks a letter would arrive to the studio, addressed to me from Neica. Basically she told me all she
was dealing with, which I completely understood and she was back in New York giving it one more try with Dominic.
In my mind I wished her all the happiness, but I knew how much I would miss her presence.

Neica and I had our routine down cold in how we managed the studios together. I depended on her for so much. Now it was completely in my hands as everything was beginning to crumble around me.

I hired Telma Hopkins to fill in for Neica. It may not have been full time. Business was slow anyway. My accounts receivable was pretty healthy. Several producers were into me for some pretty heavy studio time. I was willing to carry them until they could luck into a hit record, or a record deal, and then they would pay me.

I had done that before. But there was a lot of money owed at the time. I remembered a couple of years before, where at a birthday party for Norman Whitfield, I would get into a conversation with Mr. Coleman from Thelma records. He told me that night that I shouldn't give credit to anyone, including him, because you never quite knew the unpredictable tides of the music business. 

I was approached by someone who said I could sell my receivables to a certain collection agency for so much on
the dollar. I couldn't do that. These people that owed me money were not deadbeats. They were honourable men who were in a similar situation and their ships were leaking just as badly as mine.

A new studio had recently opened. GM Studios.
They had been making overtures to Milan for some time. I know they were giving him some very tempting incentives, but to his credit he stuck with me as long as he could. 

Eventually he did go. He had a family to support also.

Although I don't remember his departure, Les Chasey would also go. He got a job as a maintenance engineer for a large hotel chain. I think it was the Sheraton. I remember thinking " Those people don't have a clue what they're really getting."

Blood is definitely thicker than water, and Russ was hanging on with me, but business was not good. I received a call from Harry Balk one day, who was now running the Creative Division at Motown after successfully launching the Rare Earth label. He asked if they could use Russ part time for some sessions there. I agreed and Russ began dividing his time between Motown and what little work there was at Tera Shirma.

Eventually I would know that it was over and I would tell Russ to stay at Motown. The producers were already swarming around him like hungry buzzards. He was well on his way to becoming one of the world's premier recording

So I let Telma go and that was basically it. I was alone. Tera Shrma was history. I would still come to the studio every morning and sit in Neica Lee's office to answer the phone. I had the janitorial service give the place one more cleaning and then discontinued the service. So I would sit in the office until the quiet really got to me. 

Every once in a while I would light the studio up and wander around looking at it. The control room still looked so cool from the catwalk but now it was dormant. I wandered down to the basement where Les had built himself an apartment to live in after he and his wife split up. He was such an amazing guy. 

I spent my time contacting various record companies around the country, trying to sell Tera Shirma.  Nobody was interested. I think the death knell for the Detroit music scene was ringing loudly.

It got to a point where I could no longer spend my days in the studio alone. The total quiet was working on my nerves. I enlisted the services of a telephone answering service so I didn't have to hang there all day. I'm not even sure what I did with my time. My wife and I were to  move into a new house soon and she was due to deliver our second child any
day. And I was broke.

I remember calling in for my messages one day. The young girl on the line from the service asked me if I was Ralph Terrana. I told her I was. She proceeded to tell me her boyfriend was a musician who had come through Tera Shirma and how he and all the musicians in the bands around town spoke very highly of me. How I treated them fairly and was not some sort of rip-off artist. I was respected by them. In spite of all my problems, this brightened my day like nothing else had done in quite a while.

It was over. Part of what I was feeling might have been relief. It was not easy owning and running a studio complex of that nature. I never really took much money out of the place for myself. My employees always made more money than me. I always figured someday my time would come.

So mighty Tera Shirma was basically a flash in the pan. We rose out of nothing, exploded on the scene and died in about a three year period.

I'll always be proud of the quality of music that came out of those studios. I will always feel privileged to know the people I would come to know because of the place.

But it was over, and that, as they say, is my story and I'm sticking to it.

Notes thanks to Ralph Terrana



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