The Mike Hanks Story

Emanuel Laskey (pictured lower right) had the first 45 on Westbound. The Fantastic Four’s lead singer was “Sweet James” Epps and the group’s Ric-Tic disc shot up Billboard’s chart in September 1968.

   Mike continued collaborating with Mr. Wingate and the result was Ric-Tic’s penultimate 45, The Fantastic Fours’ super song, “I Love You Madly.”

   It was originally destined for singer Emanuel Laskey, who told me how things evolved:

   “I was working in a shoe store and Mike Hanks saw me and said, ‘Hey, Laskey! What ya doing these days?’ I said, ‘Nothing,’ and he said, ‘Do you feel like singing? I got a couple of tunes for ya, man!’

   He took me to Mr. Wingate’s house on Edison… he was working out of his basement. Mr. Wingate said, ‘I like that boy, but I don’t want him to have that song. I want Sweets (James Epps) to have it.’ So I walked to Sweet James’s house and I almost cried when I gave it (the master tape) to him. It was a hit for me - I knew that. The Fantastic Four were just coming off a hit record… when I heard them do it I was I happy for them, ‘cause it was (another) hit for them.”

   And so it was. It reached Billboard’s number 12 in September ‘68.

   Recorded at the Tera Shirma’s cutting-edge studio it has a classy sound unlike Mike’s earlier, brassy, low-fi D-Town recordings, with violins accentuating the song’s romantic lyrics. And if you flip it over you’ll hear Floyd Jones playing trumpet on a nice instrumental version, deftly mimicking the group’s vocal harmonies.

   It was released just a month before Mr. Wingate sold out to Motown and the behemoth immediately re-pressed it, hoping for further sales. I imagine Mike didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the irony of his biggest hit being released on the Soul label, now owned by his long-time rival and number-one-hate-figure, Berry Gordy. 

   After the disappointment of missing out on “I Love You Madly” Emanuel was consoled with the offer of another tune:

   “Mike was a phenomenal person. He said to me, ‘I got a song that’s better than that.’ I said, ‘you got to be kidding me.’ But when I heard More Love – that’s exactly what it was. On the other side was A Letter From Vietnam, which went over big. (DJ) Robin Seymour used to love it... he played it everyday.”

   It was released in December of ‘68 after Mike persuaded one of the Motor City’s impresarios, Armen Boladian, to start a new record company and it became the inaugural record on Armen’s Westbound label.

  At the time The Magic Tones were also recording at Tera Shirma but following an argument Mike asked Emanuel to cut some songs they were scheduled to do. The outcome was a second Westbound release titled “Never My Love,” a pop standard that’s been recorded by numerous groups including The Four Tops, 5th Dimension, Booker T & The MGs, and Chill Factor.

  Unfortunately Emanuel’s great version followed in the wake of Funkadelic’s hit, “I’ll Bet You,” which after its July release eventually entered the national charts in September. The upshot was Emanuel’s 45 got relegated to Westbound’s promotional back burner and he didn’t even know it had been released until I recently told him. With its wonderful string arrangement, polished production, top-notch musicianship, plus Emanuel’s great vocal delivery, the record deserved a much better fate.   

 Another one of Mike’s semi-obscure Detroit discs is the Antone label pressing of “Pay Them No Mind,” sung by Calvin Alexander with backing from The Soul Family. The group was formerly The Versatones that recorded for the Magic City label in 1967. They later became Percy and Them, recording a sweet ballad for the local Karen label in the early 70s and a great up-tempo 45 on the Roulette label. Singer Percy Hargrove couldn’t remember when these two Antone recordings took place, but my guess is around 1968 or ‘69. 

Notes thanks to Graham Finch




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