Detroit had long been a magnet for migrant workers - mainly
from the polarized South - but once Motown Records started
attracting attention in the early 1960s a new wave of
migration started: singers looking for fame. Cody Black was
one of the first arrivals.
Cincinnati in 1939, Cody got an early taste of his future
career at Sid Nathan's King Records:
house was at 1760 Brewster and two blocks down the street
was King Records. And I could sing, so you know I hung out
there - forever. Mr. Nathan would let me come in. since I
In the mid-50s
Cody harmonized with a group called The Echoes and later
recorded with The Victorials, recalling:
"I had a great
group. Johnny Pate produced us on the Imperial label. But
when I came out the air force (in 1959) it wasn't the same
anymore; they had families. We started doing gigs around
Cincinnati and I met Mickey Stevenson and Clarence Paul.
they were on the same show as us. And then Smokey and them
came down and that's when I knew that I had to come to
Detroit, 'cause we smoked Smokey, man. We smoked 'em. Oh,
man, we smoked 'em. Yea. we really did."
Cody drifted away
from his group and recorded a couple of solo 45s in
Cincinnati - one on the Pamela label and another on
Universe. Although they both bomber he was chomping on the
bit and was soon in Detroit:
"I came here in
1962 to do a gig with a guy, and the guy ran out with the
money. So I found myself firmly lodged in Detroit with eight
dollars and fifty-four cents. And my Father had told me: "If
you get into trouble, don't call me!"
Caught between a
rock and a hard place Cody decided to make use of his Motown
connection and went down to Hitsville:
"I was greeted
poorly by that lady that was on the door there. I gave her
the card and said 'Mickey Stevenson gave me his card and
told me to come here,' and she was really nasty with me.
Then she was real nasty with another guy. See, I'm a Piscean
and I don't like a boisterous attitude, so. I walked out."
took a job painting houses and after a couple of months had
earned enough to buy a suit and start sampling the city's
vibrant nightlife, rubbing shoulders with music-biz people:
"I met Mike Hanks
one night at Phelps' Lounge. Bobby Bland, Patty Labelle and
Al TNT Braggs was on the show. Jockey Jack Gibson - a DJ
from Cincinnati - saw me and introduced me to the people
around, one of which was Mike Hanks. Jockey Jack said, 'This
guy can sing.' And Mike said, 'Put him on there!'
So, I got up and did a Ray Charles tune, "Drown In My Own
liked what he heard - a soulful tenor - and Cody became
D-Town's A&R man. Besides his job at the Pig Pen and
various duties at The Webbwood, plus gigging at clubs and
penning un-credited songs, Cody also recorded three 45s for
D-Town, one on Wheelsville and another on GIG. His "Mr.
Blue" is one of the most atmospheric and popular D-Town 45s
and was sandwiched by "Chains of Love" - which J.J. Barnes
also recorded - and "Would You Let Me Know." Cody's other
two records on GIG and Wheelsville are both high-priced
collectables and although none of them were hits, Cody
justifiably felt that it was just a matter of time.
"It was hustling
and bustling," he told me. "When we first got in the
building (on East Grand Blvd.) it looked like we were
climbing. Rosey Greer came to the label. I think he put some
money in. Mike was a great cat. If you messed up late for a
gig, or didn't do your stuff, when pay-time came he'd fine
ya. and buy himself a sweater."
During his tenure
at D-Town Cody also had the now in-demand dancer "Slowly
Molding" released on his hometown label, King, and explained
how that one-off came about:
"Me and Grant
(Burton) did that on our own. Grant had the track and he had
another boy singing it - but the boy wasn't singing
it, so I told him: I'll dub on the track and we'll take it
to Cincinnati and get us some money! I was broke. So we went
down to Cincinnati and I dubbed the vocal in and Sid
(Nathan) gave us $7,000 a piece. That's when me and Grant
started writing together. We were a good team, man. Rudy,
Grant Burton and myself: BRB productions! I couldn't play,
so I had to whistle and hum and do everything to get Rudy to
do it like I wanted it, until I could sing my stuff with
inevitably Cody started to share the growing sense of
frustration at D-Town and told me about the his move to
"We all jumped
ship. We weren't getting no money. We weren't getting any
releases. I was doing background. I was gigging. But I need
a little more than that. I needed exposure. Then they
brought Mike in and that was the demise of the company...
some shady stuff went down."
Mike Hanks got involved at Ram-Brock Cody had three 45s in
the space of 12 months, starting with a hit - "Going, Going
Gone." He co-wrote this perky number with Grant Burton and
the pair had a hand in penning other songs for the company,
including the impressive "Make Him Mine" that was superbly
recorded by Gwen Owens. This Lau-Reen label 45 was naively
released simultaneously with a couple of others and so
wasn't given enough promotional attention by the dinky
company. Its minimal sales make it a hard-to-find single but
current demand from collectors reaffirms that it merited
much better plugging back in '67.
two other releases include his super,
should-have-been-a-second-hit, "The Night A Star Was Born."
This is another well-written collaboration with Grant that
Don Davis also put out on his Groove City label, although it
didn't sell any better the second time.
Going's success enabled Cody to gig for many years and
was later supplemented by a moderate hit on Capitol, titled
"Stop Trying To Do What You See Your Neighbor Do." This was
one of a few songs that Cody cut in Memphis after signing
with Ted White - Aretha Franklin's husband - who'd started
the Ston-Roc Company. Once that deal went sour Cody decided
to go it alone and in 1977 he launched his own label -
Detroit Renissance (sic) - that had a one-year, two-record
good as they sound, the entrepreneurial days of small
independents had gone and the major labels were dictating
radio play-lists. Starved of the oxygen of airplay, Cody's
last two singles were asphyxiated by the time they left the
Notes thanks to Graham
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