The Mike Hanks Story
Lee Rogers

Lee's real name was Roger Lee Craton and he led The Baron's on the Soul label song.

  Although he was Mike's most prolific and successful artist, Lee Rogers is largely remembered as a one-hit-wonder c/o "I Want You To Have Everything."

 Born in Mississippi in 1939, he was only three when his family moved to Detroit and had a typical upbringing of singing in church and doo-wopping on street corners. With a voice akin to Marvin Gaye's and some early recordings that are easily mistaken for Tamla hits, it's tempting to say Lee was an audio-facsimile of Motown's pin-up. But he wasn't, and when interviewed by Goldmine magazine (April 1985) he reminisced about the similarities between his and Marvin's early 45s:

 "We had been good friends since 1962 or so, after Harvey Fuqua brought Gaye to Detroit. We used to sit around and talk; we'd laugh about it because we were such good friends. Do you remember his first record on Tamla, "Mr. Sandman"? It came out about the same time I had "Troubles" and it didn't do nothing in Detroit: it was just a record. We would do record hops for Ernie Durham of WJLB - who was the first black DJ to come through with that wham-bam style. Marvin would watch me when we did the shows - he saw that I had something going with the kids with that beat - and Mickey Stevenson got aware of that."

 "Troubles" was Lee's first solo record after The Barons spit up, but before that he'd recorded with The Peppermints on Carmen Murphy's HOB label, which is how he met Mike Hanks:

 "Mike was a great guy. He reminded me of myself, so we hit it off right away. There was a sense of humor that attracted me."

 (For a sample of Mike's offbeat brand of humor listen to "I Think About You" that Mike sang in the style of a drunkard.)

  Once The Peppermints became The Barons, Mike arranged their "Dog Eat Dog" and "While The Cats Away." These two sides were released on the Carmen's Soul label and the latter song credits Roger Craton (Lee's real name) as lead singer and precipitated his solo 45, "Troubles."

  This MAH'S label double-sider sold well around Detroit, and although "Walk On By" was the official A-side, Detroit's radio jocks flipped it over and Roulette Records then picked it up to give Lee's ego and career a nice boost. Its throbbing, rhythm and blues beat is led by a rabid guitar that pushes the session forward, with pianist Joe Hunter and sax-man Eli Fontaine following in the groove.

   It was released in February 62 and there was two-year gap before Lee had another 45. By then Mike had started D-Town, which was the vehicle for Lee's biggest hit.

  His first D-Town 45 was the moody foot-taper, "Sad Affair," which lost out big-time to Marvin's more up-tempo "You're a Wonderful One." But later in '64 Lee got to enjoy his own national success with "I Want You To Have Everything." This was recorded "live" using makeshift equipment in Mickay's Records store on 14th Street, and maybe that's why there's such a spontaneous verve running through the grooves of the 45.

  Lee toured extensively on the back of this hit, popping back to Detroit to record his other D-Town discs at the rudimentary Pig Pen:

  "On the later recordings, Mike would cut the tracks first and when I'd come back off the road from touring they'd be completed and I'd overdub the vocals. They'd have a big speaker in the room and I'd sing - we didn't use headphones - and it sounded like we had a big band playing in the studio. There was a lot of leakage; open mikes, they picked up the music wherever it was coming from. and it turned out real good."

  "Everything" climbed to number 17 on Billboard's R&B chart in January of '65 (lingering on the fringe of the pop 100) and Lee followed up in April with "You're The Cream of The Crop." This single didn't trace the same chart-ascending trajectory as "Everything" and failed to even make the top 100. Maybe it's yet another instance of inadequate distribution restricting a record's sales, although conspiracy theorists will point out that its release came soon Motown scotched Mike's attempt to move on to West Grand Boulevard.

  After an attention-grabbing guitar intro' the song snaps into catchy, I'll-Be-Doggone, hand-clapping action - although the fates of "Cream" and "Doggone" differ in that Marvin's Tamla 45 rose to Billboard's #1 spot, his very first chart topper.

  Lee justifiably felt that more hits would come and when The Michigan Chronicle interviewed him (in April) about his success he put it down to dedication and old-fashioned hard work:

  "The only difference between my singing now and when I was in the church is that now I do it in a more expensive suit."

   Lee's other two, '65 D-Town releases were "Boss Love" and "You Won't Have To Wait Until Xmas," both of which lacked a catchy melody and thus scuppered his professional momentum. The finger-popping "Go-Go Girl" came out in '66 - shortly before the label's demise - and by then Marvin Gaye had become established with hits like "Ain't That Peculiar" and "One More Heartache."

   After D-Town's demise, Lee went with some of the label's other artists to Pete Hall's operation at Wheelsville.

   Lee's vibrant "Love & War" came out later in '66 and the record's B-side - "How Are You Fixed For Love" - was soon re-released with another powerful song, "Cracked Up Over You." This tremendous piece of Wheelsville vinyl might have been cut in Memphis, as Lee recalled his Premium Stuff sides were definitely recorded there, with Willie Mitchell producing.

  Willie and Lee combined well to produce a driving beat on the Premium Stuff single, "Sock Some Love Power To Me," and recalled:

   "R&B to me always has to have a heavy bottom. I love a heavy bass beat; when a bass line is syncopated, then I can execute the rest of it mainly myself. I believe that's why this music is so strong today, because the beat that I maintained."

  In February 1969 "I Need Your Love," backed with "Jack The Playboy," became the last 45 on Premium Stuff and Lee then signed with "Diamond Jim" Riley. Two 45s - "If I Could Steal You Away" and the funky, semi-psychedelic "Sex Appeal" - were released before Jim was shot and killed in Watt's Club Mozambique in '72. 

  With the chance of getting another Detroit recording deal drastically reduced, Lee decided that it was time to start his own label: Soul Wheel. The only release was his "Love Bandit," a bluesy number that Lee wrote, produced, and subsequently sold to Loadstone Records owner Charles Stone, who added horns and put it out on his own LA-based label. It sold reasonably well, but Marvin Gaye was basking in his gloriously rhetorical anthem, "What's Going On," to which Lee might have been tempted to reply, "You tell me."

  Lee located to the West Coast to try his luck, but suffered a car accident that left him with one kidney and hospitalized for months at a time.

  He signed a three year contract with Motown that ended in the late 70's without any success, after which he started his own California based D-Town label.

  The sense of deja vu was compounded by the use of Mike's 60's logo but the venture never came close to catching the dynamism of those Detroit days.

  A few 45's were released during the mid-80's including Lee's "Rocking Skates" 45, but that was his last recording.

  Lee died in 1990.

Notes thanks to Graham Finch

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photograph credits at end of webisode




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