The Funk Brothers, Mike Terry on bottom right
“Listen – Hot Shot MP3″
Here we are again, at the beginning of another week, ready to get down, to work, with the music and in general, and what better way to get a head start with said get-down-ery, than a decidedly tasty bit of funky Detroit soul.
I’ve know of the Buena Vistas for many years, having picked up a couple of their Marquee 45s, yet I always filed them away into the vast archive of groups that would remain for all intents and purposes, completely anonymous.
Their brief discography – covering less than a dozen 45s – never made a serious dent in the charts (despite the presence of some excellent grooves); I’ve never been able to find a picture of the group, let alone a list of personnel.
However, during my last serious dig I happened upon a Buena Vista’s 45 that I’d never seen before, and there, on an otherwise nondescript Swan label, was a name that had previously escaped my notice.
That name was Mike Terry*.
Now, it’s unlikely that unless you’re a rare soul maven, with a specific concentration of the sounds of 1960’s Detroit, that the name Mike Terry means anything to you.
However (again), if you dig the soul sounds of the Motor City, and like any self-respecting record fiend to scour labels for information (as I do) you’ve seen Terry’s name on countless labels as arranger (and often composer) and you might also recognize him as one of the storied ‘Funk Brothers’ i.e. the Motown session band.
That last bit is a little too narrow a description, because in addition to the bulk of their work being for Motown and associated labels, the Funk Brothers (thanks in large part to a serious lack of appropriate compensation from Mr. Gordy) played on tons of non-Motown session for just about every Detroit-based (as well as Chicago and even Philadelphia) soul label.
Even a cursory examination of 1960’s Detroit soul (and believe me, I’m no expert) reveals that the sound of the city (as it was) was far more than just Motown, and that a comprehensive “feel” over the entirety of Detroit records is less the passive influence of Motown, and more the result of music created by a core “pool” of musicians and writers influencing each other.
Anyway…when I saw Terry’s name on the Buena Vistas label, it nailed it as a Detroit-based record, and gave me a hook with which I could search a little bit deeper. And search I did, and the more I searched, the more I found, but the more I found, the more confusing things got and I ended up with a slightly better understanding (more like assumptions) about the Buena Vistas, and a shit-load of unanswered questions.
Here are the “facts:….
The Buena Vistas recorded several 45s for four different labels (Swan, Marquee, BB and LaSalle) between 1966 and 1968. Mike Terry’s name is on several of them as arranger.
The songwriting credits on the labels point to the involvement of Tom Shannon, a disc jockey/record man from Buffalo, NY who along with Carl Cisco (another name on the label) relocated to Detroit in the mid-60’s. Shannon and Cisco were both involved in another act on Swan, that being the Rockin’ Rebels, another instrumental act that were a “band” in name only, and probably a revolving cast of musicians, or at least a few different sets of players over the years that the group was issuing 45s (see the AllMusic bio of the group for more info). I suspect that this was also the case with the Buena Vistas, where the “name” was little more than a vehicle for a string of attempted assaults on the charts by the people behind the scenes.
This is a story that was repeated over and over (and OVER) again throughout the golden era of independent record labels and still goes on today where manufactured “acts” fill the dance charts. One need only take a look at pop auteurs like Phil Spector to see examples where the people actually on a record were ultimately less important than the record itself.
Shannon and Cisco were also involved in the Marquee and LaSalle labels (both Detroit imprints). The appearance of the Buena Vistas on the Philadelphia-based Swan imprint, had more to do with the precedence of (a re-release of) Shannon’s other act the Rockin’ Rebels’ biggest hit (originally from 1959) ‘Wild Weekend’ just seven catalog numbers before the Buena Vistas debut, today’s selection, ‘Hot Shot’. It also pays to note that the flip side of ‘Wild Weekend’ (apparently a 1966 recording by a completely different band), ‘Donkey Twine’ is pretty much the same basic song (not the same recording) as ‘Hot Shot’, suggesting once again an instance where the record men were working their “product” in as many ways as they could. In colloquial terms, throwing the spaghetti against the wall to see what might stick.
I have no idea who is actually playing on ‘Hot Shot’, but the presence of Terry, and the general Detroit provenance (as well as the coolness of the record itself) suggest to me that it wouldn’t be out of the question to have a Funk Brother or two (or four) in the mix. While I don’t recognize any specific musicians (they way I might be able to pick out the sound of Earl Van Dyke on the organ), the vibe here is pure mid-60’s Detroit soul, with slamming drums, horns, and piano and a great guitar solo. While I wouldn’t go as far as to label ‘Hot Shot’ as funk, I would say that it’s one of those great records that is certainly a stop on the road from pure soul on the way to funk, and is certainly “funky” in all the good ways.
Either way, no matter who the Buena Vistas ultimately were, this is a smoking record that ought to get the dancers up and moving.
I hope this hasn’t been too confusing.