2.02.2011

BEHIND THE LEGENDARY RECORDING STUDIO UNITED SOUND....JOHN NEFF


This beautiful United Sound building, on Second Avenue at Antoinette, became Detroit's first major recording studio in 1933. Number 5840 had been a residence prior to it's procurement by Jimmy Siracuse and Bernie Besman.



My friend John Neff from Northern California answered a question for me the other day so perfectly that I just had to share it with my readers. Every knows the vast history of Berry Gordy's Motown Recording at Hitsville. Yet there is another legendary Recording studio called United Sound which began it's long history way before Gordy and in fact Gordy got his start at United. So I hope you enjoy a sneak peek inside United Sound with John.... Thanks JN!! xxooK


MC5

Over the year's it has seen tons famous artists pass through it's doors, including John Lee Hooker, Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin and The Mighty MC5.

From John Neff:


United Sound Systems was on 2nd Ave. near Cass, near Wayne State University, in Detroit. I was the 'Blue Eyed Soul Brother' in 'The Company', the house rhythm section, that played on everybody's records.


Don Davis had been the lead Producer at Motown, in the Golden Era, and eventually learned that he was never going to see a dime from Berry Gordy. So he quit, got backing, and bought the biggest studio in Detroit. He duplicated the Funk Brothers with a section that played on all the house-produced records.

In the Fall of 1970, I became the staff guitarist. I had been working with Alan Ryles, a drummer from Pontiac who became the staff drummer, and he told them about me. I got invited to a session, and played on some record whose title I can't remember, alongside the session guitarist of the time.


Don told the engineer to use my track and invited me back the next day. The other guitarist threw a fit, but I never saw him again. I had had a white boy blues band in Detroit called The Electric Blues Band, and we got signed to Elektra after the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival, at which we played, alongside the MC5 and Junior Wells and Buddy Guy.


One of the MC5 Hill St Houses

Jac Holzman from Elektra was there to see the MC5 and signed us, as we were friends of them and stayed at the Hill Street House a lot.

Brother Wayne (Kramer) was very instrumental (so to speak) in this. So until early 1974, I played guitar and synth (very early-very crude) on hundreds on soul records produced at United Sound.


Detroit, of course, has a storied history of magic happening. From John Lee Hooker’s after-hours recordings at United Sound in the ’50s and the sounds pumping out of the factory that was Hitsville USA in the ’60s to the racket rising from basements, backrooms and converted spaces in the ’80s and ’90s where producers, soundmen and engineers cut their chops making records for would-be next generation stars. Laying Down Sound in Detroit

Legendary Detroit Studio is Resurrected
Read More on RK
Guest Post by John Neff

13 comments:

Jimmy Buckley said...

Danny Dallas was our engineer

Dave said...

Very interesting article.

Dann Howard said...


"Recorded here in 1983 with my band Redline. Stood on the front porch talking with George Clinton. He was taking our single to California to shop it. We flew Dave Palmer in from New York to produce it. Don Davis set up the deal with George."

Jesse Xavier said...

recorded here in 87..had to wait for A.Franklin to finish her set..she was recording gosple at the time,,when we were in the waiting..we were sitting by all her reels that were in cases.back then it was 2 i/4 in reels we would record on lol..there was about 20 of the..And outside was a big pink caddy..it was a very cool nite..met her and it was just ...cool..lol

Jem Targal said...

!!!*THIRD POWER*!!! RECORDED OUR SINGLE ***SNOW*** & ... ***WE-YOU-I*** THERE !!! ... "ARETHA* WAS ALSO RECORDING AT THE TIME !!! ***GOOD***TIMES*** !!!

Gary Robert Frederick said...

I did quite a few tracks there back in the day. Was a great place. Of course nothing ever came of any of the tracks.

David Winans II said...

God 'ol Don Davis!

John Neff said...

went here every night for a couple of years. The things I saw and did there were amazing. Curtis Mayfield giving me an impromptu guitar lesson prior to a session of his (he was an amazing guitar player!) Tiki Fulwood of the Parliaments/Funkadelic did not like me and said many times, "What's a White Boy" doing here? But I got on famously with Bootsy and George, and am still in touch with them today. This was my college. My 'higher education'. I remember a day when we were out back smoking (no asking what!), not knowing who we were working with that day, and big black Cadillac limousine pulled in the alleyway, and out stepped 'Black Moses' himself, Isaac Hayes. What a time. What a place. I would re-open that space myself if I could...

Edward Tony Green said...

TELL ME ITS NOT TRUE...ARE THEY'RE REALLY TEARING DOWN "UNITED SOUNDS".....DAMN I JUST DROVE BY " SOUND SUITE" AND IT CRUMBLING DOWN TO THE GROUND!!!!!!SO MANY HIT RCORDS RECORDED IN BOTH....DAMN,A TEAR JUST RAN DOWN MY FACE!!!!!!!

Jim Randolph said...

I went there to look at some NEVE consoles they were selling and my friend Mike Moore (Chief Eng.) introduced me to george Clinton... who was recording in another room. George knew who I was ...which shocked the hell out of me.

Scott Smith said...

Kim: Just happened to run across your excellent website while doing some research. Very saddened to hear the news about United Sound being slated for demolition. Although all things must pass, the fact that there is so little available online related to one of Detroit's first independent studios is a travesty. Even if the building can't be saved, my hope is that perhaps someone can at least chart the rich history of the studio.

Kim Retrokimmer said...

Thanks so much Scott! U/sound history would be a great story....who knows? Might be one coming up soon....XK

Anonymous said...

I was on Staff there from '79-/82, and was involved in much of Studio B's renovation at the time.
It was a most memorable experience to work there.
Great to hear that USS has been "saved" and is back making music again!

Stew Simon

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