The Mike Hanks Story
Wheel City, GIG, HOG & U.S.D.

Singer-songwriter Melvin Davis, and three rare 45s

As if running his various enterprises wasn't enough to cope with, Mike also opened a record store called Music City around 1965. It was located on Grand River Avenue - a couple of blocks from Joy Road - and would have been the best place to pick up some of the rare and valuable records that Mike was releasing back then.

Melvin Davis's "Find A Quiet Place" is the most sought-after of Wheel City's eight 45s and typifies Mike's Pig Pen sessions with its beating rhythm and unbridled Detroit verve. It was Melvin's only single with Mike and he told me about his spell at D-Town:

"I wasn't getting my money for one thing and songs weren't being recorded fast enough. I didn't really have a contract with Mike Hanks. I was doing some production for Carrie Records at the same time I was at D-Town. The reason for that was D-Town didn't open up until like two or three o'clock in the afternoon. They always started real late and stayed real late. So from nine o'clock in the morning until like around eleven - twelve o'clock I would work at Carrie Records. They put me on salary. I think I was getting something like seventy-five bucks a week. Sometimes I'd have to pick up Edward Hamilton (and the Arabians). I'd work with them till about eleven-thirty, and then that's when Edward Hamilton had to go to work. So then I would bowl at a little place between 14th and Linwood, which the Pig Pen was like about maybe a mile away. So I'd bowl maybe twelve or fourteen games then I'd go to the Pig Pen and stay there the rest of the day. It'd fill in my day. Then at night I'd go around the clubs and sit in and create as much of a ruckus as I could." 

Harmonica-man Little Sonny had "Let's Have a Good Time" released on both Wheelsville USA and Wheel City. Other instrumentals include Rudy Robinson's "The Mustang" and The Twiners' "Twine Baby," - which is probably Rudy using a different name for his group.

Like Wheelsville USA, the Wheel City label also dates from '65, although its illogical catalogue numbering system makes it hard to be 100% sure: Mike was never meant be a librarian.

Three of the 45s were pressed at Columbia's plant in Indiana and consequently have ZTSC matrix numbers, but many of Mike's discs were pressed at Sheldon's plant in Chicago. And some have a catalogue number prefixed with "MW," which stands for another Chicago company called Mid West. It would send master tapes to Sheldon's for it to cut a lacquer - the initial stage of pressing a vinyl record - and then they or Mid West would make the 45s.

U.S.D. only put out two 45s; one is an instrumental of Sam and Dave's 1967 Stax hit, "Soul Man," credited to John R and featuring "Tony Newton on Bass" - a rare occasion when a musician is credited on the record label.

The other U.S.D. record is Toby Lark's seductive, mid-tempo song, "Lots of Heart," that was probably cut in '66: the year she appeared on Wheelsville's Review. 

With a name like "HOG" and production credited to "Four Pigs" it appears someone was making fun of Mike's Pig Pen. The one known HOG label release is an ultra-rare and expensive piece of vinyl by The Moments. This isn't the Detroit group that had a single on the Hit label and probably came from Washington; the record was also released with an orange label bearing a DC address.

Cody Black's "It's Our Time To Fall In Love" was the only GIG 45 and he had no idea why it didn't come out on either D-Town or Wheelsville. It could be because Mike found a new financial backer to fund this pressing, and they started a new label: but it's anybody's guess.

Copies of Melvin's, Cody's and Toby's 45s now change hands for four-figure sums, and in July 2004 a copy of The Moments' disc sold on Ebay for a staggering $5,500! 

Notes thanks to Graham Finch

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photograph credits at end of webisode




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