The Mike Hanks Story
Wheelsville USA

Drummer Hindal Butts played on various sessions and had one 45 on Wheelsville.  Connie Van Dyke covered The Debora Healy song.

Motown didn't react very neighbourly when Mike tried to move into 2656 West Grand Boulevard in February '65. After Hitsville USA's staff had quashed his house-deal Mike retaliated by starting a new record label: Wheelsville USA.

Freddie Butler's self-penned, Northern Soul gem, "Save Your Love For Me Baby," launched it later that month with a tremendous fizz. Unfortunately it only made a muffled bang.

It's a standout performance from Freddie and his strong voice is perfectly harnessed to a slick, in-the-groove production. But Mike presumably ordered just a small, initial quantity of 45s. No doubt he hoped customer-demand would fuel a second pressing, but that never happened, which is a pity, as it deserved to sell by the vanload.

The second disc was Rudy's instrumental version of the D-Town hit, "I Want You To Have Everything," and these first two releases had dark blue labels. They were followed by a couple of Don Davis's productions, which have the more familiar pink one.

Don told me that he never had any dealings with Mike but he inexplicably co-wrote Lillian Dupree's D-Town song - "Hide & Seek" - with him. Plus Jimmy Gilford's Wheelsville 45 - "I Wanna Be Your Baby" - was released on Don's Solid Hit label and his hallmark is also on Steve Mancha's soulful double-whammies - "Did My Baby Call" and "Whirlpool" - now one of the most sought after records on the label.

Steve had been languishing as a songwriter and singer of promos at Motown for around three years before Don got him to join his Solid Hitbound team. "Melvin Davis introduced me to Don," recalled Steve, "and we submitted some songs and he said he wanted me to sing them." His Wheelsville disc was his first solo 45 and hit number 5 on WGPR's chart in July of '65. He subsequently had a few other tremendous releases on Don's own Groovesville label, making Billboard with "I Don't Want To Lose You" and "Don't Make Me a Story Teller."

I'm guessing Willie Garrett dusted-off the masters of his 1963 Debra Healy and the Magictones' recordings and got Mike to re-release them on Wheelsville USA. That was about two years after they came out on the Chrysler label.

The songs had been cut at United Sound and feature key Funk Brothers, James Jamerson, Joe Hunter, Uriel Jones and Eddie Willis, with the then Magic Tones line-up of Willie "Gut" Allison, Bob Finch, Calvin "Doc" Stephenson, and Richard "Dickie" Thompson. The Wheelsville release, shown above, simply credits Debora Healey.

Conny Van Dyke covered the group's "Don't Do Nothing I Wouldn't Do," after a brief one-record stint at Motown and it's her version that's popular at Northern Soul clubs: thanks to McKinley Jackson's vibe-laden, up-tempo arrangement.

Willie Garrett produced "Me and My Baby" on The Magic Tones: a tune that embodies the effervescent spirit found in Wheelsville's charismatic recordings. It was released around March 1966 and by then the group was Paul Willis, mainstay Calvin "Doc" Stephenson and Albert Singleterry. Joe Connors then replaced Albert on "How Can I Forget," which came out that August.

Mike hired renowned jazz drummer Hindal Butts to write lead sheets and play on sessions, which netted Hindal one Wheelsville 45, "Back Up Baby."

He later did a deal with the local Kool Kat label to get his song "Gigin" released - a tune recorded at the Pig Pen during his one year with Mike. "I was on staff with Mike," Hindal told me. "We cut it at the Pig Pen. We had it going on over there. Then Mike Hanks and Pete Hall got to squabbling. Pete wanted to do what Mike was doing, but he couldn't do it."

This was a sign of things to come, spelling the beginning of the end of Mike's involvement in Wheelsville.

Notes thanks to Graham Finch

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photograph credits at end of webisode




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