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Bill Randle In Conversation with

Mike Terry

BR;   If you ever wondered who played the saxophone solos on records like The Four Tops 'I Can't Help Myself’ and the Isley Brothers 'This Old Heart Of Mine' and literally hundreds of other Motown classics ? Well this is the man that did if Mr Mike Terry, welcome Mike.  

MT;   Thank you very much.  

BR;   It's great to get the opportunity to speak to you because you're probably not aware of how much impact you've had on Soul music over the years.  

MT;   Yes it’s all a shock to me. I’ve been made aware in the last twenty four months.  

BR;   The list of credits that you've done is literally staggering. You were a member of Jo Hunter's original studio band at Motown ?  

MT;   Yeah I have a vague memory because that was twenty eight, twenty nine years ago. In fact it was thirty years ago. It was a long time ago, the beginning of the Sixties.  

BR;   There were a lot of talented musicians in Detroit then.  

MT;   A lot, that’s right..  

BR;   You went out on the road with Popcorn Wylie and the first Motown revue, that must have been quite an experience ?  

MT;   Yeah that was one to remember because it was real cold I'd never been that far up in Michigan and the snow was really high. It kind of frightened me a bit but the show went along just fine. There were some things that happened that weren’t as you say kosher, but it was a good learning experience for me. That was one of my first trips travelling on the road with Motown.  

BR;   How did you feel about the whole Motown thing ? Did you feel that the musicians got the credit they deserved ?  

MT;   They didn't didn’t get the credit they deserved, cause they were never really mentioned, you had to be mentioned to get any kind of credit and that was one of their rules that on their liner notes that they didn’t give any credit to their musicians, until later on they started demanding it, but that was after I’d left.
BR;   I know they were always reluctant to let the best musicians go out on tour, they didn't like them working live, they wanted to keep them near the studio so that they were on tap if any one was coming in to cut some stuff.  

MT;   Because everybody that they finally finalised as being the person for that particular part, that’s why they kept them there because they found out that that was the sound they had wanted and that they could get from these musicians. This was why they wouldn’t let us go on the road.  

BR;   You went out on the road with Jackie Wilson in 1961, with quite a few of the Motown guys, James Jamerson, I think Benny Benjamin was out there with you ?  

MT;   No it was another drummer, I can't think of his name but it wasn’t Benny at that time. Larry Levito was with us, Little John was on Trumpet. I think Herbie Williams was with us at that time. Hank Cosby was with us. I had my twenty first birthday then and it was a rude awakening.  

BR;   Jackie was a big star at that time.  

MT;   He was a big star, but at that time it was just after he had gotten shot, and so he wasn’t really working as often as he had in the past. He was just working Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and we were getting paid maybe $25 a night, and here we are living up in New York City trying to pay rent and it wouldn’t work. It was real hard.  

BR;    Did you play on any of Jackie's records ?  

MT;   I played on 'Higher And Higher'.  

BR;   When you decided to leave Motown was the reasoning financial or was it that you wanted to be more creative than Motown allowed you to be.  

MT;   The main reason was the fact that you were limited in what you could do there. Not really there, what you could do outside of there, I’ll put it like that. If they only gonna pay you so much a week and you had the chance of making more because other people would like to have you then you try and make more money. And they (Motown) would just be able to listen to records and say “that‘s, you Mike or that’s you James or that’s you Earl” who was the piano player at that time. They could just pick us out. Benny especially because he only knew one type of pickup and that was his favourite, and that was the groove for Motown. So therefore I had to leave because they was only  giving me X amount of Dollars a week, but they had me on every song that was coming out of there.  

BR;   So you were one of the guys who used to sneak over to Golden World and earn extra money ?
MT:   That’s right, thats right.  

BR;   Recording people like J J Barnes.  

MT;   When I did JJ I didn't have to sneak I had totally left at that time. So it was like I was free, I could think. It was J J, and not only Golden World, there was other record labels in the city, that you’ve probably found out.  

BR;    You did work with Edwin Starr, Pat Lewis, and I always felt that 'Goddess Of Love' by the Fantastic Four was a fantastic song, the arrangement on that was brilliant.  

MT;     Yet I remember that and several others by The Fantastic Four, but when you arrange you don’t really get a chance to get to the artist, especially in my capacity. I would just do the music and the artist would come in later, so I never really had the chance to meet them or get involved, as much as I wanted to, and so there were other layers that were put onto the music after I did it. I really hate that I didn’t know all these artists.  

BR;   The group called The Brothers Of Soul on Boo records, I know very little about these guys, but they did one song called ‘I Guess That Don’t Make Me A Loser’ which I thought was absolutely wonderful.  

MT: Yes they were one of the best groups as far as creating a sound and harmonising, they were like brothers but they weren’t related, and they wrote some great tunes and I worked with them for a long time, but it’s a shame that they didn’t continue. I wish they would’ve kept on singing but they wanted to write and produce, but they were great.  

BR: They produced ‘Night In Eden’  

MT: That’s Right  

BR: They co-wrote ‘Together A Dream’ by The Creations on Zodiac which was another great record. Did you have a preference for working with groups, or didn’t you mind ?  

MT: Like I was saying, I would really work mostly with the producers before I would get to the groups because the producers would have the group all ready and I would just have to put the music to it. If I had a preference it was like all of them were good because it came at a time when I was just learning and everything that people are hearing and remembering now, you’ve got to remember that was at the beginning. It was all a new experience to me and everybody that was able to contribute to me and try to get me work I remember all of them, my thanks to them. A lot of people just came to my door and said “Can you do this ?”.  

BR: Did you come from a family of musicians, how did you come to be in the business ?  

MT: I probably got it from my mother because nobody else in the family plays music. My Mother, she had an ear, she could hear Charlie Parker playing on the sax and go and sit at the piano and write down every note that he played. No, I tak it back, it wasn’t at the piano, she wrote down every note in the key of C. I never understood that to this day, how she could do that.  

BR: What people tend to forget is that Detroit was basically a Jazz city before Motown. I mean Jazz was a big scene.  

MT: It was.  

BR: I think that was the reason the musicians were of such quality, technically they were very good.  

MT: Yeah they had a background of a variety of music and Jazz being one of them evidently, when they went to R & B it became basic, the simplest form of their Jazz so they were able to expand on that, but they had to watch how they expanded on that because it would take it too far to the Jazz so everything was done with taste. God blessed us with the musicians that we had to come up with that sound in your head that was like a groove

BR:    It was incredible that so many musicians of that calibre were in the same place at the same time, once in a million years I think. Another all time classic that you were credited with the arrangement on was Darrell Banks' 'Our Love Is In The Pocket'. Darrell's career was cut very short did you know him well ?  

MT:  I didn't know him that well. He war another artist that I never really got to. The way the chain of events went in the recording studio, I saw him, I met him I talked to him, but I never really got chance to get to know him personally. I Just looked at him as a singer, he was good. J J Barnes was different, we were banging together, we hung out and we knew everything about everybody, but Darrell I remember as such, being a suave type of a dude. Very suave, a ladies man.  

BR:    The strange thing about 'Our Love In The Pocket', J J's version, which is absolutely wonderful but you never got a credit on that and you used the same track.  

MT:  When I was thinking about, I was talking about that tune, and I was really dmmbfounded because I didn't remember arranging it. There was another tune that Darrell did that I didn't do, that was a bigger tune.  

BR:    'Open The Door To Your Heart'.  

MT;  'Open The Door To Your Heart', that's the one that I war referring myself to. That's the one that sounded like it. 1 think I did arrange In The Pocket. I do remember tbat. Yeah, tbat's right, the first one was the one that was played more. I keep thinking I didn't arrange that, but the other one I did So many things happen  

BR:    You must have been working twenty four hours a day to have worked on all the material you worked on, did you ever sleep ?  

MT:  No I didn't sleep much I was always like, sometimes I'd be arranging special session with J J Barnes 'Baby Please Come Home' whereas I was at the house and the band was at the studio and they were coming to the house to pick up the track to take to the studio because I was trying to catch up with this particular session and get it out the way. It was very hard because there was a lot of people at that time and there wasn't a lot of arrangers that was getting hits, I was the only one getting hits, evidently. They would all come to me and I would get back there. That's why I vaguely remember this and vaguely remember that, because you're pushing on like a machine to it gets to the point where you're Just trying to get your experience used, and you just thank God that you do have all there people coming in And then again it becomes kinda bad because it is so much after a while, and then twenty, thirty years go by ! Do you remember, I'd be like dumbfounded If you said I did I did it. There were Just so many things I was involved with that people like you are documenting.  

BR:   It's very important that people realise the impact that you had on the music, a tremendous impact. A lot of talented guys who did so much and people are not aware of how much influence they had. I mean I know the artists must have learnt a lot from you, and you from the artists. everybody being together must have been a learning situation.  

MT: That's true.  

BR:    That was a very creative period. Even today people are using the foundations that you people laid down.  

MT:  That's true, you listen to the radio and you can hear the foundation, you hear it all. They act llke they don't want to recognise it, but it can't be helped. We laid such a good foundation that you can't get around it. What goes around comes around, and I believe that it’s just gonna happen all over again because they have nowhere else to go now.  

BR:    I'm going to ask you an impossible question now. Have you got a particular favourite over the years that you worked on, that really sticks out in your mind ?  

MT:  That really sticks out in my mind, J J Barnes 'Baby Please Come Home', I like that song, Garland Green 'Jealous Kinda Fella', stuff I did with him in Chicago, when I was working with Josie Armstead, Great great sounds over there, and I remember that very strong because I was at a turning point. The Little Foxes ‘cause that’s when I first started writing for strings and I remember that because I couldn’t hear strings at first. Till somebody told me where they were at, then all of a sudden I heard it, you know. They would be some of the ones that stick out in my mind  

BR:    'Love Made To Order' by The Little Foxes on Okeh was a great track, it's surprisingly very popular.  

MT:  That's good, that's good.  

BR:   It' s a testament to the quality of the music when all these years later people are still saying it' s a fantastic record. Another thing you worked on was The Esquires 'You've Got The Power'. Did they come to Detroit to do that or did you go to Chicago ?  

MT:  I think we did that In Chicago because if they was from Chicago I usually had to go to where the artists were. Sometimes Ruby Andrews would come to Detroit, but The Esquires, I believe I went to Chicago to do that. Don't quote me as being firm on that though.  

BR:    You did some great work with The Precisions on Drew, a great vocal group. One track in particular that is a favourite of mine is 'If This Is Love'. One of the co-writers on that is Mike Delvano who had a group at Motown, Mike And The Modifiers. Can you remember much about Mike ?  

MT:  Well Mike was very gifted, he would, whatever be heard be would turn into whatever he wanted plus he could take his own things and take it from salt start from scratch, that's what I'm trying to say, but he was a gifted person and he had a very good personality and he learned a lot, a lot from Holland Dozier Holland He really admired Holland Dozier Holland as you probably can tell from his writing.  

BR:   Motown had a group of girls called The Lollipops who did a couple of recordings over there, were these the same girls who did 'Lovin Good Feeling' on Impact Records, or do you think it would have been a different set of girls ?  

MT:  I think they wen different girls, but when you mention Impact Records, by teling me what label they were on there is a possibility, but I can't give you an answer, but it is a possibility because there war some sort of connection between Impact and Motown. There's a possibility that some artists could have gone over from Motown to Impact

BR:   You did a tremendous amount of work with Ollie McCloughlin, a very talented and influential guy in Detroit, that must have been a great experience.  

MT:  Yeah that's right I think he had his label with Atlantic records, is that right ?  

BR:    Yes that's right.  

MT:  I first started working with him playing baritone saxophone, and I think Dale Warren was doing 100% of the arrangement at that time, and that was around the time that I wanted to leave Motown, and started up arranging also That's when he started using me, with The Capitols 'Cool Jerk’, and some other acts, The Pros, and somebody else, and Barbara Lewis he eventualy let me do some of her stuff in Chicago  

BR:    'Baby That's A No No' is one of the all time classic Barbara Lewis tracks, I love that track.  

MT:  Yes we had some good musicians, Phil Upchurch, Donnie Hathaway could have been on that session, before he passed  

BR:   Barbara just recently made her first trip to the UK which was nice.  

MT:   I haven't seen her since that session, but she's a terrific artist.  

BR:    Now, working with Tony Hestor, he was another influential character in Detroit. A very creative person.  

MT:  Yeah, Tony, he was a genius. He had a way with words, and with melodies that was like on a Burt Bacarach level. I took some of his work out to California to Russ Reagan who was the president of Uni Records at the time. At that time Russ didn’t really hear Tony’s work that I was trying to get through. But he did eventually get a break. He deserves all the credit he can get.  

BR:   He went on to do a tremendous amount of work with The Dramatics and people like that.  

MT:  That's right. He was great.  

BR:    Pied Piper Productions, who was involved in Pied Piper  

MT:   That sounds like Jack Ashford, and another fella. That didn't last too long, I think I got out of that commitment. It didn't last too long.  

BR:   The Mikki Farrow track 'Could It Be' on Karate was a great track, I don't know it you remember anything about that.  

MT:  Yeah she was an artist, a singer, she was very talented. I think the did some things after that with some people In Philadelphia.

BR:    You co-wrote and produced 'Love Made To Order' by the Little Foxes on Okeh Records, what time period would that have been in, late Sixties  

MT:  Yes that was after '65, after '66. Right round then that’s when they were being produced over there. I think we did them in Chicago because we had a studio that we could use rather than going to New York  

BR:    Did you have a preference for which city you wanted to work in, or just where they would pay you  

MT:  I would have to say it would have to be Detroit, but wherever I went, if I went to New York I would use Richard Tee, and all the people up there McDermot on bass. If I went to California I would have Joe Sample, different things with him, with Kim Weston, and all the musicians were great, but because I knew the people in Detroit, I would say it had to be Detroit because that's where it all started, and thats what led me to other cities  

BR:    There's still something special about Detroit, I think anyway, there are still so many creative people here.  

MT:  That's right, I left here in 1973, and came back twenty years later in '93 because there was something I just had to do to get my work going again and I just said it had to be Detroit, and I'm glad there because all my friends are here  

BR:    I'm glad you came back because I might not have caught up with you. So what did you do in the Seventies, were you involved very heavily in the music business  

MT:     In the Seventies I worked with a Dave Crawford, The Mighty Clouds  Of Joy, 'Riding Mighty High', did an album with them. I did some work with a lady by the name of Sylvia, she did 'Pillow Talk'  

BR:    On All Platinum.  

MT:  That's right, All Platinum  

BR:   Were you on that session, the 'Pillow Talk' one.  

MT:  No I wasn't on that session this was after she did that, and I did some things with Lolleatta Holloway on the CRC label in Atlanta, this was in ‘73. Basically it was artists in the New Jersey area, and All Platinum  

BR:    The Mighty Clouds Of Joy are very big in the Gospel area, does Gospel play any part in your music  

MT:  Yeah it's just the natural flowing that just comes with you and stays with you. Gospel is a part of music that is with you and stays with, even if you don't go to church that much it’s still a part of you.  

BR:   One of the most popular O'Jays records is 'I'll Never Forget You' which you co-wrote and produced on Imperial Records, was that done in Philly.  

MT:  I believe that was done here in Detroit. In fact I remember I got taken on this session, it was really a disappointment to me, they'd come all the way from Phllly and I got taken sick on the session. Nevertheless we did the session anyway and that was the firsd time that I had really had a chance to work with The O'Jays, and that war right at the beginning of their career.      

BR:   Did you see the potential in the group at that time  

MT:  Yeah they had a certain charisma and professionalism that they knew they war going to make it. They wanted things to be right.  

BR:    That's probably why it sounds as fresh today as it did then . So what are your plans for the future, I know you've moved back to Detroit are there any plans on the go. A new record company or something.  

MT:  I don't know about a new record company, I would rather go with one of the majors as far as that's concerned, but I'm working on some product that I'll have maybe completed in about another two maybe three months, and then I'm going to present it to a friend of mine George Clinton. I spoke to him about three weeks ago and be wants me come back and do some work with him, there's a possibility I may be doing some work with the master funk man.  

BR:   Of course you go back a long way with George Clinton  

MT:  'I Wanna Testify', I did with him one of his first hits.  

BR:    This was before he became a spaceman of course, back when he was a regular guy  

MT:  Yes, but George has always had that, I don't know what the terminology would be, George has always been George. He's very creative. Anything you see on him it's because it's something he thought of. He's a master at that. he's very intelligent. He's always been like that.  

BR:   He has assembled some fantastic musicians in his bands over the years.  

MT:  Sure, sure, and that's one of the keys, to have some great people lined up that am dedicated and innovative.  

BR:    So we're going to get some more music from you.  

MT:  That’s for sure, everybody's going to be surprised, but you am going to get some more mush from me.  

BR:    When are you going to come over to England  

MT:  I would love to, I would have to get things in order first, you know, put one before two, but I will get there probably.  

BR:   I must apologise because I know I've probably missed out a million things which happened in your career, you just don't know where to start it's just so long and varied, so rich as well. So I do apologise if I've missed anything substantial.  

MT:  No no I'm just glad that them are people who are concerned, who document things that happened in all phases of life, whether it be music or medicine because that is history, and it’s good, and it's good for me to look back on those days and realise it was constructive and that my time wasn't wasted because you are the sum total of your part. It makes me feel proud that people, and I still want to know where they all at, you know. It's Just amazing.  

BR:   So many talented people you've worked with over the years have just disappeared and nobody knows where they are now, it's terrible isn't it  

MT:  That's true, and it's people like me who have to sharpen up their memory and remember that you have a part in this life and start to document their things. I must start nit-picking a little bit, but the future it also important.  

BR:    That's right, that's what puts the bread on the table, I'm sure you're not getting huge amounts of money from this back catalogue. It needs to be something fresh and new.  

MT:  I have no worry about the future became I have such a background, if it can be done, I should be able to do it because I've been around such a vast number of talented people in a creative away that hopefully it stays with me and I know that the future’s worthwhile  

BR:    Well all I can say is thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me.  

MT:  The pleasure’s mine and tell everybody hello from me.  

BR:    I know there's a million questions, and I know everybody back in England is going to say why didn't you ask Mike Terry this and why didn't you ask him that, but there's just so much.  

MT:  Just thanks for remembering  

BR:    I wish you every success, and I hope that one day you do get across to England so that you can see how much people do appreciate you.  

MT:  The pleasure is mine, Thank you.

Bill Randle in conversation with Mike Terry , June 1994

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