The Mike Hanks Story
Cody Black

Singer-Songwriter Cody Black was Mike's A&R man at D-Town

 Industrial 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.

 Born in Cincinnati in 1939, Cody got an early taste of his future career at Sid Nathan's King Records:

 "My father's 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 was twelve."

 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."

 Cody 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 Tears."

 Mike obviously 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 him."

 But inevitably Cody started to share the growing sense of frustration at D-Town and told me about the his move to Ram-Brock Records:

 "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."

  Before 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.

 Cody's 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.

 But 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 lifespan.

 As 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 pressing plant. 

Notes thanks to Graham Finch

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photograph credits at end of webisode




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