The Mike Hanks Story
Rudy Robinson

Left to right - Johnny Clapton (sax), Clifford Mack (drums), Freddy Butler (guitar), and Rudy Robinson (organ). Ruth Adams owned a record store on 12th Street and released Rudy's first 45 towards the end of 1962, which was recorded at the Special studio.

  Rudy became D-Town's Music Director and Mike's right-hand man in '63. For the following few years he juggled his roles of arranging tunes and song-writing with cracking jokes, playing organ and bantering with Mike, often all at the same time. As Cody Black put it: "Rudy was a genius, man."

 Born in Detroit in 1940, Rudolph "Rudy" Robinson got seriously involved in music after he joined the army, straight out of high school:

 "I found a band and played clarinet. Then we got a jazz group and I played piano in Germany and Holland. I was a jazz fanatic."

 He then spent a year gigging near his Oklahoma army base before he returned to the Motor City in '62 - aged 21 - to hook up with a local outfit and meet wheeler-dealer Sam Motley.

"I started with Roosevelt Fountain and the Pens of Rhythm. We had a hit called "Red Pepper." That was my first record, when I didn't know anything about the business. I was green as a lettuce."

 Sam produced the session and The Pens of Rhythm included guitarist Freddy Butler, who led the group on a follow-up 45 called "Pitter Patter," released on Freddy's own M&M record label. It was probably Freddy who introduced Rudy to Mike:

 "We put the D-Town thing together," Rudy recalled. "People were coming in the door, and Mike would sign 'em. I was on damn near everything that came out of D-Town."

 That's not a glib generalization. He also penned many of the label's songs after giving his instrumental "Red Pepper" some lyrics and a slight makeover to become "A Telegram With Love" - the second D-Town release.

 The top-notch musician had a few organ-led 45s released: "Chicken Scratch" on D-Town was the first, with his version of "I Want You To Have Every Thing" on Wheelsville followed by "The Mustang" on Wheel City. And The Twiners' disc is probably Rudy's band too; he wrote and arranged it. 

 Although Mike brought James Jamerson and other Funk Brothers to play on some sessions, D-Town's regular musicians were a different crew to Motown's. Drummers included Curtis Sharp, Clifford Mack, Zach Slater, Robert Welch and Hindal Butts, with sound engineer "Long Head Sam" also occasionally picking up the sticks. And Sam sometimes played bass too, along with the gifted Tony Newton and Ernie Ferrell. The chief guitarists were Freddy Butler and "Little Charlie" Herndon. Trumpet players included Gordon Camp and Funk Brother Floyd Jones, with Johnny Clapton and Wyman Stoudemire on sax. McKinley Jackson blew trombone as well as arrange.

 But after nearly four years the novelty of jamming at D-Town wore off and Rudy got his family doctor to fund a new recording venture - Ram-Brock - telling me, "I wanted to do my own shit. D-Town kinda faded away and I got into another deal with some doctors, and we started the Ram-Brock thing."

 Rudy persuaded his family practitioner, Dr Brockington - and a few of his fellow doctors - to buy Forest Hairston's Viney Recording studio at 11625 Dexter and started producing sessions. This was just after the riots in July '67.

  The first Ram-Brock 45 by the Magictones was followed by Cody Black's hit - "Going, Going Gone" - and a sister label, Lau-Reen, simultaneously released an instrumental of Rudy and his band: The Hungry Four. They got their unconventional title from always being absent and on the hunt for food whenever Rudy wanted them to get on stage.

 Clissac was another spin-off label that scored local success with a self-penned blues song by Joe L Carter titled, "Please Mr. Foreman" and things were buzzing at the company. But Mike then got involved and as Rudy bluntly put it: "He fucked it up."

 Dr Brockington elaborated: "In those days it was cheap to go into the business. half of Detroit was into trying to make a record. It came to an end because Mike stole this tune from us and sold it to the UAW. It was their theme song on TV:

Please Mr. Foreman. slow down the assembly line.

No, I don't mind working.

But I do mind dying.

 Rudy arranged countless songs during his long career and was involved in the local New Moon and Flip-O labels; one of his instrumentals, "Vick," was given the lyrics of Ruth Brown's "Everytime It Rains" and soul songster Na Allen recorded it for Ronn.

 But real success came later with various Dramatic's albums, with Rudy continuing to be a gravitation point for Detroit musicians and singers until his untimely death in 2002.

Notes thanks to Graham Finch

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photograph credits at end of webisode




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