Come and Get These Memories
Column for December 5, 2005
One of the most widely visited landmarks in Detroit receives visitors from all over the world. That is no surprise because what came out of a simple two-story frame house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard became popular all over the world as The Motown Sound. The house was dubbed "Hitsville U.S.A." by Berry Gordy, Jr. who founded Motown Records in 1959. Motown left Detroit in 1972 but did not move everything out. That was fortunate for Berry's sister, Esther Gordy Edwards for she made Motown's former home into the Motown Museum. Several years ago, I went with a group on a tour of the Motown Museum and took several pictures back in the late 1980s.
Yours Truly (sans Beard) at the Motown Museum


<%FloatImg "images/flinn/motownmuseum1.jpg", "Yours truly (sans beard) at the Motown Museum", "left", "flinn.asp"%> What attracted Berry Gordy to the house was its large picture window which he used to promote his recordings. The house was formerly a photographer's studio. In the beginning, he recorded his records downstairs while he lived upstairs in what was originally a two-unit flat. At its peak, the storied Studio A was in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week between 1959 and 1972. Even after the Motown offices moved to Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit in 1968, recording continued at Hitsville until Motown left for Tinseltown when the company moved to Los Angeles in 1972.

Museum founder Edwards refused to move to California when Motown moved there so she was put in charge of what was left of Motown's Detroit offices at Hitsville. Fans paid visits to the storied building and continued to do so which inspired Edwards and her secretary Doris Holland to put up posters, publicity photos and gold and platinum records on the walls. The nonprofit Motown Museum Historical Foundation was formally chartered by the State of Michigan in 1985. The museum was formally dedicated in 1987 highlighted by the unveiling of a Michigan historical marker which told the Motown story.

Inside the storied Studio A

<%FloatImg "images/flinn/motownmuseum3.jpg", "Studio A, facing the control room", "left", "flinn.asp"%> There are so many resources which talk about the history of Motown Records and Hitsville USA on the Internet, so I'll concentrate on my visit there many years ago around 1989 instead. Of course there were many enhancements to the Motown Museum since my visit there. The Motown Museum is actually two two-story houses with the actual Hitsville building on the left. The two houses are connected by a second-floor breeze way. The second house served as the office for Motown's publishing company Jobete Music. The Jobete name was derived from the names of Berry Gordy Jr's children, Joy, Berry III and Terry. The picture window had a tribute to the late Marvin Gaye.

Facing the control room

Entering the building into the vestibule where you bought your ticket, there were gold records on the walls. We were escorted to a room with a TV and VCR where we saw a video telling the story of Berry Gordy, Motown and its many stars. But the main highlight was taking in the legendary Studio A. It was amazing that Gordy was able to squeeze so many musicians in what appears to be a small room, about the size of a two-car garage which it was. Microphone cables were hung from the ceiling so the cables couldn't be stepped on or tripped on. I was attracted to the control room which features a custom-made control board which looked well used from all those years that hit records were mixed on that board. The equipment racks showed that the Motown engineers built much of their own equipment. I did not see any "off the shelf" recording equipment, except for a non rack mounted power amplifier and an audio cassette deck, as the equipment looked as if it was heavily modified by the engineering staff. I guess much of the equipment used was not commercially available at the time. I was told that Gordy cared very much about the sound of his records so he listened to how the music sounded not just on the big studio speakers but also on a tinny car radio speaker to imagine how the music would sound on The Big 8 CKLW. There was an old candy vending machine next to the console and a cabinet where boxes of recording tape were stored. There were album covers on display in the control room. There were many promotional posters, publicity photos and album covers on the walls of the museum.

The studio A control board

The gift shop was in the former Jobete building and the most fascinating items for sale were of the labels of unsold LPs which were literally sawed off the records before the vinyl was recycled to make new records. Those labels were marketed as drink coasters. The tour guide was very informative about Motown history and was eager to answer visitors' questions. The exhibits also included photos of famous visitors to the museum. The main highlight of the exhibits when I was there was a section devoted entirely to Michael Jackson which included a sequined glove which was his trademark. That glove was stolen in 1991 and was recovered in Flint.
The original three track tape recorder


<%FloatImg "images/flinn/motownmuseum6.jpg", "Closeup of the Studio A mixing console", "right", "flinn.asp"%> In the mid-1990s, serious restoration work was done to the Motown Museum which included restoring Berry Gordy's original living quarters which were converted to offices after Gordy moved out in the early 1960s and original recording equipment was returned to the control room so the control room now looks like it did when all those hits were recorded there. You can find out more about the Motown Museum by visiting the official web site at http://www.motownmuseum.com You can read the technical aspects of The Motown Sound at http://www.recordingeq.com/motown/motown.htm Of course, Motown was not the only major music operation in Detroit. You can see more at http://www.soulfuldetroit.com Gordy sold Motown Records in 1988 and is now owned by the Universal Music Group. The official Motown Records web site is at http://www.motown.com Of course, you can use your favorite search engine and find a lot more information about Motown Records and the Motown Museum. Why did I call this column "Come and Get These Memories?" That was a hit for Martha Reeves & The Vandellas on Motown's Gordy label in 1963. The Gordy label had the slogan "it's what's in the grooves that count."Closeup of studio A console


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