The Mike Hanks Story

The note was probably to one of the honchos at United Artist Records, Art Talmadge, and refers to "I Think About You"

  Mike's mid 60's recordings aren't to everyone's taste - sniffy audiophiles and fans of the Motown sound probably find them too unsophisticated - yet they capture the authentic sound of Detroit Soul.

  One reason for a lot of Mike's music lacking crossover appeal is that - like most back-street studios in Detroit - he used a basic two-track recorder. Another reason is that the Pig Pen's acoustics were brutal; plus Mike's impromptu late-night sessions inevitably resulted in recordings that have a live and spunky spontaneity about them.

   His earlier recordings on labels such as MAH'S and Star Maker were mostly done at United Sound's hi-tech studio and sound cleaner; their overall quality is comparable to what Berry was releasing in the early 60s.

  Mike's latter recordings were also nicely polished and Motown endorsed the Fantastic Four's Ric-Tic hit - I Love You Madly - by signing the group and re-releasing the recording.

   It's hard to say why success proved so elusive. Maybe Mike's exuberance simply got the better of him. Perhaps he could have done with someone with Smokey Robinson's ability, a songwriting team like Holland, Dozier and Holland, or an engineer of Mike McLean's caliber. But as Melvin Davis said, "Everything doesn't have to be Motown," and Mike was probably happy with what he had. I can't imagine he had any regrets.

   It's obvious from the amount of music Mike created that he was no pedant - the following pages attest to that - although the man remains something of an enigma. Cody Black remembered him as a great cat, Tommy of The Peps said he was a dangerous dude, his widow called him a God-fearing cream puff and Melvin Davis thought Mike was a frustrated musician:

   "He had great ideas - 'I wanna do this - I wanna do that.' - it's just that he needed help. He was funny and you would have loved him. And you would have been right up his alley; he loved to talk to somebody and tell them how he felt and all that kind of shit. He was just looking for some kind of way to vent himself.

   It was just this obsession with Motown. Who knows what his drive would have been if it hadn't been his hatred for Berry? And I'm sure Berry is not as great as he appears to be. People helped him. What would he have done without James Jamerson? What would have happened without James Jamerson? Who Knows! Berry was a very talented man in himself, but still, he had tons and tons of great people helping him. I think he acknowledged that, probably not to the extent he could have and should have."

   Without much help, Mike became one of the most prolific producers in Detroit during the 1960s. If you keep clicking forward you'll find details of practically all the 45s that he was involved with. Most of these Detroit-based discs' release dates have been gleaned from local newspaper articles, radio station charts and other such ephemera. If you have any surveys printed by Detroit-area stations such as CKLW, WXYZ, WCHB and WJLB, please see if any of Mike's 45s are listed and let us know the details. The research is ongoing. 



 Between 1998 and 2004 I interviewed the people listed below and would like to thank them all again for their invaluable help in piecing together Mike's life and achievements; Ronnie Abner of The Peps, Arthur Ashford of The Precisions, Jack Ashford, J. J. Barnes, Jay Butler, Joe Billingslea of The Contours, Armen Boladian, Cody Black, Dr Brockington, Frank Bryant, Hindal Butts, Don Davis, Melvin Davis, Dee Edwards, "Sweet" James Epps of The Fantastic Four, Willie Ewing, Frank Garcia, Gracie Hanks, Will Hatcher, Percy Hargrove, Thomas Hester of The Peps, Rosalind Holmes & Annette Helton of The Del-Fi's, Joe Hunter, Wyline Ivey of The Elegants, McKinley Jackson, Floyd Jones, Dr Kyle, Emanuel Laskey, Steve Mancha, Freddy Martin of The Paragons, Tommy Martin of The Caravelles & The Paragons, Johnnie Mae Matthews, Sam Motley, Ron Murphy - who provided a copy of his 1983 interview with Carmen Murphy (unrelated), Gwen Owens, Pat Robinson, Rudy Robinson, Calvin Stephenson of The Magic Tones and Mike Theodore. 

 Additional 45 rpm record label scans were kindly supplied by the following collectors: David Flynn, Jeffrey Garbus, Rob Klein, Lars Nilsson, John Manship, Joe Moorehouse, Carl Pellegrino, Ron Murphy, Eric Silvenis and Greg Tormo. Many thanks!

Notes thanks to Graham Finch

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photograph credits at end of webisode




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