Friday, October 25, 2013

The Motown Sound Man - Russ Terrana (Part 2)

Here is Part 2 of Joe Klein's profile of Russ Terrana ... the Motown Sound Man!  Running EXCLUSIVELY in Forgotten Hits! 

Greetings to all!   

In part one of the story about Detroit-native RUSS TERRANA'S early days as a recording engineer, I talked about Russ’ love of electronics and his burning desire to get behind the recording console from the very first time he set foot in a recording studio. Russ tried to get a job as an engineer at Motown Records in March of 1966, but the label wouldn’t hire him because he was signed as an artist to Detroit's competing Golden World Records. So Russ headed straight on over to the studio where he had "interned" off and on (and recorded with his band THE SUNLINERS) and got hired on the spot by the studio's owner, ED WINGATE. His very first paid recording session was with Golden World artist EDWIN STARR and, in the months that followed, Russ’ natural gifts and awesome skill-set quickly made him Golden World’s “golden boy.” By the summer of '66, he was in high-demand as one of Detroit’s hottest sound engineers. As summer turned to fall, it wasn’t just the leaves that were about to change. The Detroit music scene was about to experience a step in its own evolution as well, and my old pal Russ would find himself right in the middle of it. 

Now, here’s Part Two of the story of the early days of the awesome career of RUSS TERRANA, the MOTOWN SOUND MAN.

In the summer of 1966, the Detroit music scene was red-hot. There were hints of growing racial tension in the city's air (which boiled over in the infamous five day-long "12th Street Riots" one year later), but you’d hardly know there was any social unrest hanging around any of the top recording studios in town. Russ was working at one of them, GOLDEN WORLD STUDIO, owned by local music entrepreneurs ED WINGATE (affectionately known as "Uncle Ed" by many of his artists and friends) and JOANNE BRATTON. The studio, and its family of associated record labels, were enjoying success with a year-long run of hits from a roster of artists spear-headed by EDWIN STARR. Detroit was the place to be in 1966, with more "breakout hits" originating in the Motor City than anywhere else in the country, including Los Angeles!   Here's an interesting article with more details:   

The good fortunes of Golden World did not go unnoticed by BERRY GORDY. Motown Records was just a couple of miles away, and it's no secret that Gordy was now keeping a watchful eye on the enterprise. Endless stories from those days abound ... intriguing tales about Gordy's assistants parked outside the facility in dark cars or secretly infiltrating recording sessions posing as friends of friends, in an ongoing surveillance operation that began as early as 1964. All the stories aside, Gordy's keen interest in Golden World and Wingate's growing stable of successful artists would become well-documented as the months passed in 1966.

Ed Wingate in 1966 
(with Golden World writer/producer Al Kent behind)

In the middle of March, just a couple of weeks before Russ was hired by Golden World, engineer ED WOLFRUM got a last-minute call from Joanne Bratton, who asked him if he could come in the next day and work a session booked for OLLIE McLAUGHLIN'S record label, KAREN RECORDS. Ed agreed to work the date and showed up the following day. The session was for Karen recording artist THE CAPITOLS, to record the single COOL JERK. McLaughlin produced the session, and the Cool Jerk single would go on to be the group's biggest hit! Released a few weeks later, the single entered the charts at the end of April and peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 2, 1966.

Just "another day at the office" for Wolfrum, and everyone else at the studio ... or was it?   Wolfrum picks up the story: 

"At the end of the session, guitarist DON DAVIS gets up and loudly announces 'Congratulations everyone! You've just completed your first session at Berry Gordy's new studio!' The surprise proclamation caught all of us off-guard to say the least!" Apparently the musician (who ultimately would become a highly-renowned Detroit producer) was privy to something that no one else in the room was at the time. Wolfrum explains that the announcement was so spontaneous and unexpected that reaction to it was muted, a cross between shock, disbelief, humor ... and indifference. "I really don't know why Don decided to make that announcement at the Cool Jerk session. No one there really knew what to make of it at the time, but it sure got our attention. It's one of those moments that I'll never forget." Wolfrum doesn't remember if he told Russ about the proclamation. Nor does Russ have any recollection of hearing about it either, despite the fact that it happened just weeks before he tried to get a job with Motown and ended up working at Golden World instead.  

In the weeks and months that followed, hushed rumors about Gordy's interest in buying Golden World began to percolate around Detroit. Interestingly, Russ was hired by Wingate instead of Motown, where he had first tried to get a job just weeks after the Cool Jerk session. If Uncle Ed and his mammoth competitor were already involved in takeover talks as has been suggested in historical accounts over the years ... or had already struck a deal ... it was being kept under wraps in the spring of '66. But it does, in retrospect, makes the surprise announcement by Don Davis at The Capitols' session in mid-March all that more intriguing.  

After Wingate hired Russ at the end of March '66, his first paid recording session was with Edwin Starr and, within weeks, he was the studio's "go-to guy." By the summer, Russ was Golden World’s "golden boy," and was working sessions with a list of artists, producers and musicians that read like a veritable “who’s who” of the Detroit music scene, including many of the artists who were part of the  Golden World family as well as artists from other labels. It was an around-the-clock revolving door of hit-makers making hits that would ultimately help to place the studio in a prominent place of pop music history!  

The spring and summer were red-hot at Golden World as artists, producers and writers filtered in and out of the studio in an endless string of recording sessions being engineered by Russ, Wolfrum, and Bob d'Orleans. Some of the artists that Russ worked with in those last few months before Motown's acquisition of Golden World were THE REFLECTIONS, THE FANTASTIC FOUR and lead singer JAMES EPPS, THE DETROIT EMERALDS, J.J. BARNES, THE DEBONNAIRES, THE SAN REMO GOLDEN STRINGS, GORDON STAPLES, THE SHADES OF BLUE, THE  DRAMATICS, GINO WASHINGTON (who sat in and sang with The Sunliners on a few occasions at Detroit night clubs Cliche and The Rooster Tale) and funk pioneer GEORGE CLINTON with THE PARLIAMENTS.   

Clinton worked at Golden World often during the "pre-Parliament / Funkadelic" days and Russ particularly remembers George Clinton's bizarre antics, and outfits, very well. But before Clinton and his group started to "funk themselves up," they had a much different image. Russ says, "The first few times I ran into George and the band in the studio, which was before I was working for Golden World, they looked like a group of insurance salesmen, dressed in those conservative coats and ties." But by the summer of 1966, the band decided to start altering their image. "They came in for a session, dressed very bizarre, like gypsies. George Clinton was wearing a Kotex around his neck like a scarf! It was totally off the wall. The tracks we recorded that day had a  different feel than what I had heard from the group before."  

Russ was lucky enough to be finding himself witnessing a bit of music history, as the seeds of Parliament / Funkadelic were sprouting that very day! Although the transformation from George Clinton And The Parliaments to the ground-breaking Parliament / Funkadelic odyssey would take a few more years, this recording session would become just one of HUNDREDS of historically significant events Russ would be a part of over the next several months and years in Detroit! He would remain friends with the "King of P-Funk" for the next two decades. Years later in Hollywood, Russ asked Clinton why he chose to go so hog-wild with his appearance once his music got the funk. "He told me that it had all been part of a grand plan to get attention," says Russ. "I guess the plan worked!"  

George Clinton and The Parliaments in the late 60's

Some of Detroit's hottest producers were in the studio working with their hit artists during the spring and summer of '66, including the studio's owner, Ed Wingate, Clinton, Ollie McLaughlin, Don Davis, and the infamous keyboardist and producer, Richard "Popcorn" Wylie, among others.   

Wylie was working extensively with Golden World artists Edwin Starr and J.J. Barnes in 1966 and Russ worked at several of their sessions. "I really enjoyed working with Popcorn back then," Russ recalls fondly. "He usually brought the Detroit Times and Free Press into the studio and would browse through them during breaks. Sometimes he would blurt out 'That's great!' and show me a story that grabbed him. Then he would say that the story would make or a great song." Russ was amused, and fascinated, by the producer's creative process. "Here's this musician  / writer / producer sitting in the studio reading newspapers and getting new song ideas from different stories! How cool was that?"   

Very cool, indeed ... and one more testament to the awesome flurry of creativity swirling around Detroit during those wild and crazy days!   

For more about the career of Popcorn Wylie, another Detroit music legend, check out this nice and concise biography posted by MTV:

Richard "Popcorn" Wylie in the mid 60's

One day near the end of August, "the man" himself visited Golden World ... by himself, unannounced. Berry Gordy showed up at the studio and casually wandered around, checking out what was going on. Wolfrum remembers the visit well. "I was working  in the disc-lathe room when Berry walked in." Ed had worked for Motown for a few months from late 1964 until 1965 and Gordy recognized him from recording sessions at Motown. Wolfrum continues "I don't think that Berry was even aware I had left Motown. He asked me what I was doing at Golden World! When I told him I worked there, he was genuinely surprised, and asked me if I wanted to come back to work at Motown!"  

Wolfrum thanked Gordy for the offer, but respectfully declined. He was happy at Golden World for the time being. Wolfrum recalls that Berry then looked the room over for a couple more minutes, asked a few questions about the equipment there, and left. "It was so low-key. I was pretty dumbfounded. But it did get me thinking about what I had heard at the Cool Jerk session a few months before," says Wolfrum. Ed vaguely remembers telling Russ about Gordy's surprise visit, as does Russ. "I do remember hearing rumors about Motown possibly taking over Golden World and Ed (Wolfrum) telling me about Berry coming to the studio," says Russ. "But I was so busy with sessions that summer that I just didn't have a chance to think about it."   

It was still business as usual as the summer of 1966 came to an end and the studio was busy as ever. But there was definitely a sense among the small staff that more than just a change in seasons was in the air. About a month after Berry Gordy's visit, Wolfrum stopped by Joanne Bratton's office after a recording session (for which he can't remember who the artist was). Ed had a feeling he was about to hear the news. It was short and sweet. To the best of his recollection, something like "It's done. We've been sold" is about all that Bratton said.

Joanne Bratton and Ed Wolfrum in 2009

The clock had stopped at Golden World ... and what was the end of an era for that studio was the beginning of a new chapter for Motown.

The announcement of the sale was made with little fanfare, but the merger was very significant, in that Golden World had grown to become one of Motown's biggest Detroit competitors at a time when Gordy was most likely having big dreams of his company becoming a Detroit monolith. To this day there is serious speculation that Berry, Wingate and Bratton were in takeover talks for many months and that the acquisition was a done deal from the start in all aspects ... except the price ... and Berry finally made them an offer they couldn't refuse! 

Interestingly, while Gordy did assume the contract of Edwin Starr as part of the package of Golden World assets he purchased, Wingate would continue to operate his Ric-Tic label for a couple more years, reincorporating in Illinois and recording in a basement studio he built in his home and at other Detroit studios, including the notorious UNITED SOUND. A few more hits would be released on Ric-Tic, most notably from THE FANTASTIC FOUR and THE DETROIT EMERALDS. Gordy would ultimately purchase all of Wingate's remaining assets in the Ric-Tic label in 1968.   

Wolfrum made the decision to leave Golden World almost immediately after the sale. He spent the last months of 1966 supervising the building of a new nearby studio, THEME PRODUCTIONS, and then working as the studio's sole engineer. Early in 1967, he was hired on as an engineer at United Sound by that studio's founder and owner JIMMY SIRACUSE. At United, he continued to work with his former boss Ed Wingate on numerous recording sessions in 1967 and 1968, and many more sessions with Don Davis, who was rising fast in the ranks of Detroit record producers and rapidly gaining notoriety himself with each new successful project.  

The Theme Productions studio was destroyed in the week-long Detroit riots of July, 1967, just months after its completion. United Sound and Motown's Studio B (formerly Golden World) emerged from the 1967 riots virtually unscathed, despite a close call at United when a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the studio's front window (which was promptly thrown back out to the street)! Ed would continue on as an engineer at United for the next several years, becoming it's chief engineer in 1970. During those years, at a time when Detroit was basking in its reputation as the center of USA's pop music universe, Wolfrum, and Russ (at Motown) would record and mix scores of additional hits with a long list of Detroit's ... and the country's ... most renowned recording artists. United Sound was purchased by Davis in 1974, at which time Wolfrum left to expand his own location recording and technical services business, which he had been operating for several years while working at the landmark studio.   

Don Davis would go on to a stellar career in his own right, crossing paths and working with Wolfrum and Russ on countless occasions in the late 60's and early 70's! Read his awesome story here:    

Russ himself learned that Golden World had just been taken over by Motown when a representative from the company (who Russ recalls may have been Ralph Seltzer) showed up at the studio the day of the takeover and told him that the company had just been purchased. He was asked if he would like to stay on as a Motown employee. Not surprisingly, Russ agreed without hesitation. Ironically, he was now employed by the very company who would not hire him six months earlier because he was under contract to the company they just acquired! So, for Russ, what was a pretty significant Detroit music business coup was one for him as well. He wasn't losing a job at Golden World, but gaining his "dream job" at Motown! Timing is everything!   

A couple days after the Motown takeover, Russ reported to work for his first Motown recording session. He was excited, because he was told that it was a tracking date for Motown star Marvin Gaye and his new duet singing partner, Tammi Terrell. He was the first to arrive at the studio to set up. Soon the musicians (the infamous Funk Brothers, of course) and others filtered in. From the control room, Russ noticed that a black couple had entered the studio and were hanging out by the piano. The woman was sitting on the piano bench and the man was standing, leaning on the piano. Russ walked into the studio and introduced himself to the couple, who told him their names were Nick and Valerie. They said that they were the writers of the songs being recorded that day, and they were kind of nervous because this was their first songs for Motown and they hoped Berry Gordy would like them! Russ fondly remembers, "I smiled and told them I knew how they felt. It was my first session for Berry as well, and I hoped he liked my work, too!" Russ had just met NICK ASHFORD and VALERIE SIMPSON for the first time.
Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpon in the late 60's

A short time later, the recording began, with the legendary FUNK BROTHERS working their musical magic, just before Berry Gordy arrived. The boss man walked into the control room about a minute later, midway through the first take of the first song, and that's when things got really interesting.

Russ Terrana in Motown's West Grand Blvd. mixing room (1966)


In Part Three of the story what happened at that first session at Golden World, as a studio now owned by Motown Records, will be revealed ... who was there and what was recorded would make it a truly historic day! Plus, the shape of things to come for the legendary label in the coming years following 1966 will be offered up. It's all in the COOL CONCLUSION to the story of the early days of the stellar career of RUSS TERRANA, THE MOTOWN SOUND MAN ... coming tomorrow, exclusively, in FORGOTTEN HITS!  


Text Above © Copyright 2013 by Joe Klein. All rights reserved. Used by permission. May not be copied in whole or part without permission.  

For more about Golden World Records and the competition between Golden World and the mighty Motown label, check out this article posted last year: