Snoop Dogg and Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
*special thank you to Dominic Riggio (Mess Bucket Comics) for introducing me to Tony Green*
Detroit, Michigan! A surfeit of wonderful characters and talented musicians regularly emanate from this city like mystical vapors, spreading transformable currents of raw talent, tendrils of undulating electricity, that levitate the membrane with a new form of sentience.
Also known as Tony Green, T-Money Green, TMoneyG, T-Green, T. Green, etc. Born and raised and holding it down for the city, Tony has been playing the bass with his distinct tone and timbre for over five decades. His style is immediately recognizable and has been influential on a global scale.
Detroit’s Tony Green of The Dramatics (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
An oft unacknowledged musical prodigy, Tony toured with soul R&B group The Dramatics for two decades, then worked with Pfunk’s George Clinton, then shot out to the West Coast to help create the G-Funk sound by working with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Death Row Records in the early to mid 90’s.
Tony is a producer and ASCAP award-winning composer. In addition to playing with countless fellow high-level musicians over the years, he has created community by introducing many musicians to each other. The scope and depth of his true-life story has been largely unacknowledged until recently when Detroit author Jackie Wallace wrote a book about his life called Behind The Wall.
At this exact moment, I’m sitting inside Tony’s living room at 7 Mile and Livernois on Detroit’s Upper Westside. Present are Dr. Gail Soo Hoo (the Flue Doctor), Tony’s brother Will, and Zeus, the popcorn-eating Presa Canario puppy.
Tony has a gold record on the wall, an upside-down bass in his hand, and that exciting glint one gets when pulling out the treasure map to a constellation of thoroughly fascinating life stories.
Alright, all you boppers out there in the big city with an ear for the action. Sit back, relax, and listen to these tales true and gems uncut from Detroit’s own Tony Green.
Tony Green gold record for The Dramatics ‘Do What You Want to Do’ (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
Dialogue from Tony:
Tony Green: The Early Years
Detroit bass legend Tony Green thinking hmmm…… I will become a bass prodigy! (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“Jackie is a great friend, and we covered a lot in the book but there are still so many aspects to my hustle.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green’s book Behind the Wall by Jackie Wallace (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“You know how many great musicians and performers have been in this house (Monica Street, Detroit), man? Ron Banks, the lead singer of The Dramatics, sat right there about 50 years ago, and asked my mama if I could go on the road with them. And before that we had tons of great jazz players over here. A lot of me has never been publicly explained but that’s about to change right now. Let’s get into it.”
“I was born September 22nd, 1956, at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Michigan. My grandparents were from Calhoun, Mississippi. My biological parents were Rene Shaw and Roy Edward Green. My dad Roy was in the US Air Force in Vietnam (1965-75) and received two Bronze Stars for bravery.”
“Growing up, all my toys were tents, canteens, all army-type stuff. He lived in Roseville but also stayed in Los Angeles and San Antonio when he was home on leave, so when I spent time with him in the summers, we were in all those cities. He unfortunately died at the young age of 42 from the lingering effects of Agent Orange. His wife, my stepmom Ruth, used to torture me emotionally & physically.”
“My biological mom Rene was a pro bowler. She had over 100 trophies. She bowled at the Bowl-O-Drome (Dexter ave, Detroit), W-Y 7 bowling alley (Wyoming ave, Detroit), Thunderbowl (Allen Park; world’s largest bowling alley), Garden Bowl (Woodward ave, Detroit; world’s oldest bowling alley), all over the place, even out of state. I remember as a kid we sometimes used to take the little guy off the top of the trophies and put him on a necklace chain. I love bowling, my mom and I used to play on leagues together.”
Detroit jazz bassist William Austin
“I lived with my mom Rene and my stepdad William Austin. We originally lived at Elmhurst St and Dexter Ave in Detroit. Then in 1964, we moved here to 7 Mile and Livernois, which was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood at the time. Growing up, all my friends were Jewish. I went to Pasteur Elementary (19811 Stoepel St), Hampton Junior High (3900 Pickford st) and Mumford High School (17525 Wyoming ave).”
“But it was here in this house, man, that my love for music happened. I grew up hearing so much great jazz music live at the house and down the street at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (Detroit; world’s oldest jazz club) that I almost feel guilty that other people didn’t get to experience that growing up.”
Detroit jazz bassist William Austin playing with Lionel Hampton (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“It was an amazing group of jazz musicians here at our house. Sonny Stitt, Lionel Hampton, Esther Philips, Gloria Lynn, Jack McDuff, Earl Klugh, Yusef Lateef, Spanky Wilson, the female pianist Terry Pollard, Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, etc, all used to play downstairs jam sessions here in the basement. It was typically before a set they would be playing at Baker’s or they’d be in town for the weekend and drop by. We used to have BBQ cookouts eating my stepdad’s BBQ and my mom’s famous mac and cheese. Had the hi-fi going in the living room. Used to have a piano in the basement (my 5yr old brother Ricky would play; also my other brother Will Austin III plays guitar). Nobody was drinking alcohol, just playing jazz music. Man, those were the days.”
“My stepdad Will was a phenomenal jazz bassist. William Austin was originally from St. Louis and was self-taught on the bass. He toured with Barry Harris, Sonny Stitt, played a residency with Yusef Lateef at Klein’s Showbar (8540 12th st, Detroit). Eventually, most of the Detroit guys left for New York to work, so my stepdad, who was in the military, played bass in the US Air Force Band.”
“William Austin (February 22, 1932 – April 28, 2020). RIP. Until we meet again.”
“Other than the music, the family, and the great food, we didn’t have shit growing up. My Grandma would put a quilt around a rock and we’d play catch with it. That’s the kind of toys we had. Poverty in one regard, but rich in another. Rich in spirit and laughter and the memories.”
“My mom and her six sisters raised us. A lot of my influences came from home, my aunts, and my first cousin Felix Washington who later played in the band Bostonian with me. But lemme tell you. Growing up in Detroit in the 1960’s and 70’s was the bomb! I love music. We grew up listening to the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Motown. It was a great city to grow up in, safe to walk around, no cellphones.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“Marvin Gaye lived on our corner (3067 W. Outer Drive, Detroit) and he used to throw the football to us. Real cool dude. Originally, Berry Gordy the guy who ran Motown Records, had bought the house for his sister Anna Gordy who was married to Marvin. They did the photos for the What’s Going On Album (1971) in the backyard. One of Marvin’s good friends, Lem Barney, the Detroit Lions football player, used to be over there at his house all the time hanging out.”
“Marvin lived next door to The Temptations road manager (19371 Monica St, Detroit) he’d let us sneak downstairs to look at the famous 5-mike microphone stand and the Temptations uniforms.”
Marvin Gaye in Detroit (photo courtesy of Azalia Hackley)
Tony Green becomes a Bass Prodigy
Detroit bass legend Tony Green with The Dramatics (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“It all started when I went to a talent show at Mumford High School in 1969-70. The very talented Reggie McBride played there, he went on to play with Elton John and a bunch of people. Gene Dunlap was on drums. Amazing the amount of talent from Detroit. The Clark Sisters. James Jamerson Jr was at Mumford but barely showed up. Anyway, when I saw Reggie kick out the jams on the bass, I knew I wanted to be a bass player.”
“My first bass was a Fender, like Jimi Hendrix. I got another Teisco bass from Federals department store (8 Mile and Dequindre, Detroit) when I was 14 years old. I play the bass upside down. My E string is at the bottom. And those old Fender basses are heavy. Later, my bass was a Spector and much lighter.”
“I don’t have any particular brand affinity. I’ll play any bass. I’ve always taken whatever bass I have to Tim Flaharty who used to run Music Castle (Woodward and 13 Mile, Royal Oak), now I take it to his house.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green’s early band Roadwork (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“In 1971, I started playing in bands at 15 years old. My first band was Funk Enterprise, which was a mix of black and white guys, we would play hall parties.”
“Then I played in Eternity. My friend Greg Phillinganes played the keyboards and the moog in Eternity. He later worked with Stevie Wonder, Lionel Ritche, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, he was Michael Jackson’s musical director. Eternity also featured Kerry Campbell (sax), Sidney Chaney (drums), Greg King (trumpet) and Larry King (sax).”
“I kept getting kicked out of bands because I didn’t have equipment. My uncle eventually co-signed for me to get an amp for my bass.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green circa 1969-70 (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“Then I started a band called Roadwork, which exists to this day. Our original lineup was Corey Heath (Drums), Dwayne Nunn (organ), Roc Williams (guitar), Robin Harriston and Brenda Joy (singers), Farley on trumpet, Lenny on sax, and yours truly on bass. The promoter Greg Willingham helped us book shows. He ran a company called Showbiz Kids, they booked teen gigs.”
“Back then, my bands played at The Sentinel (2211 E. Jefferson, Detroit), the Latin Quarter, upstairs at Chin Tiki’s (2121 Cass ave, Detroit), Ethel’s Lounge (7341 Mack ave, Detroit), various VFW halls and high schools, etc.”
17-year-old Tony Green joins The Dramatics
Detroit bass legend Tony Green with The Dramatics (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“In 1974, my band Roadwork was playing Club Ocies (Fenkell and Cherrylawn, Detroit) when I got discovered by The Dramatics lead singers LJ Reynolds and Ron Banks. The club was a gangster-style club owned by a guy named Flukey Stokes, who also owned a poolhall down the street. I used to sell Ron weed and eventually he found out my bass abilities and they hired me on the spot.”
“When I first met him, Ron Banks lived at Plainview and McNichols. Later he moved to a house by the Detroit Zoo. He went to Northern High School and originally wanted to be a baseball player.”
“When I first joined, we used to play the 20 Grand Club (5020 14th st, Detroit) a lot. My first out of state show was the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos, California, near San Francisco.”
“We had a 50-seat Trailways bus and would play for thousands of people nightly. Man, it was wild.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green with The Dramatics (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“In 1978, I helped The Dramatics write their only gold record, Do What You Want To Do. I wrote four songs on there.”
“Then Ron Banks and George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic) and I co-wrote ‘One of Those Funk Thangs’, which was featured on Parliament’s Motor Booty Affair album. It went on to become one of the most sampled songs in hip-hop history.”
“A guy named Armen Boladian (Bridgeport Music) the so-called “sample troll” supposedly owns most of the copyrights to George Clinton’s songs, including that one.”
“The story is that George later signed the rights away to most of his catalog in 1983 to Bridgeport but who knows what happened.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green with The Dramatics gold record (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“From 1980-81, I was also doing stuff with a soul R&B group called Five Special. Me, Ron Banks, Darnell Kimbrough and Baby Ray Johnson put the whole process together.”
“The band was Bryan Banks (Ron’s brother), Steve Boyd, Greg Finley, Steve Harris, and Mike Petillo. These guys could sing. Me, Ron and Baby Ray Johnson (who went to Mumford with me) wrote Why Leave Us Alone. Together we three had a great chemistry for writing. I played bass, Ron sang, and Ray played the piano.”
“In 1980, I had formed a group that featured me, my first cousin Felix Washington (piano), and our friend Doug Poisson (drums and financier). We recorded a song called Keep the Groove. I named our group Bostonian. The band name came after the track was laid down.”
“We recorded that bad boy at United Sound Studios (5840 2nd Ave, Detroit), then made 600 records of it at Archer Recording Pressing Plant (7401 E. Davison, Detroit). A few decades later, that track became a major collector’s item and the centerpiece of Clap City Records (Clapton, East London, England).”
“1983, I recorded a track called When the Cat’s Away with a group called Five O’Clock. My cousin Felix had a groove, I wrote the words.”
“We went to a club called the Blue Chip Lounge (13301 W. McNichols, Detroit) and a group was singing there. They were good but had never recorded anything. So we did and A & B side single and before that we did Watch for the Morning.”
“In the 1980’s, I married Simone English (Bowden), a Detroit photographer. We moved out to Hollywood Hills, California. She was originally Ron Banks’ girl, but she liked me more.”
“That same year, 1985, Ron Banks and I were freebasing (smoking cocaine) at my apartment Vista del Mar (2071 Vista Del Mar st, Unit # 6, Los Angeles, CA). Suddenly, he started acting real weird. I opened a bottle of water for him and he looked at it and muttered ‘I can’t let you kill me like that’. I said ‘What are you talking bout Ron? You just saw me open a brand new bottle’. He got all weirded out and just walked out of the apartment. Bout 15 minutes later he comes back all bloodied. The front of him was shredded, there was blood everywhere, all over my gray carpet, it looked like a murder scene.”
“Apparently, he had scaled a barbed wire fence. He had to get 182 stitches. He almost died in my kitchen. I remember the ambulance tech said five minutes more, he would of bled out because he had severed a major artery.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green and Dramatics lead singer Ron Banks freebasing cocaine in Los Angeles (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“Not long after that, I had a heart attack. I was 29 years old. My enzyme levels were through the roof, they said I needed a triple bypass. While I was in the hospital, Ben Crosby, our manager and the owner of Ben’s Hi Chapparal Club (6683 Gratiot, Detroit), flew out to LA and unexpectedly visited me. He was like an angel at the hospital. You never know who your angels are gonna be.”
“While at the hospital, I wrote a song called I Love The Lord. I taught it to The Dramatics band, and we played it the week after in Toronto and got a standing ovation for it. I eventually recorded it with Huriah Boynton. Later, LJ Reynolds covered it on his gospel album.”
“So, yeah, eventually, I had to quit The Dramatics, man. All the cocaine flowing around everywhere all the time just got to be too crazy. Sugar Bear (Willie Ford) and everyone just getting too tore up and not playing enough music. So, in 1988 I moved back to Detroit for a couple years.”
Tony Green links up with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Death Row Records
Dr. Dre and Detroit bass legend Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“In 1993, I was managing David Ruffin Jr. (D-Ruff). David is the son of The Temptations singer David Ruffin, who had recently passed away inside a West Philly crackhouse. I wanted to help out my man, so I hooked him up with opening for The Dramatics.”
“So, we’re out in California doing a show and a female fan sees us perform and invites us to come back out to LA soon. She lived in Los Angeles and claimed to know where all the new rappers hung out, some guys named Dr. Dre. Snoop Dogg and Warren G. She said we should drive out and she’d take us there.”
“So, in February 1993, D-Ruff (David Ruffin Jr.) and I drove out there. Our bright green beater ’72 Impala broke down in Arizona. On the way driving out to California, we listened to a cassette tape of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic for about 17 hours straight, kept flipping sides in the tape deck over and over.”
Dr. Dre’s tape The Chronic
“True to her word, the female fan took us to Glam Slam West (333 S. Boylston St, Los Angeles), a nightclub owned by Prince. While we’re in there, sure enough, D-Ruff notices all the rappers.”
“David goes over and introduces himself, then me, and we meet Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and The D.O. C. All the guys were real cool and they told me that Dr. Dre was looking for a bassist.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green with Snoop Dogg and Death Row Records (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“About a week later, Dr. Dre and I connected and met in the studio. Fortunately, when we met Dre, we took our lady’s brand new ’93 Benz to the meeting. Turned out that Dre had the exact same one but a convertible. Had we taken our beater, we wouldn’t have gotten the gig.”
“He wanted to know how I good I was, so I played about 20 different bass lines in two minutes to his song ‘Nuthin’ but a G Thang’ and he just went wild and offered to hire me at $700/wk to play bass and D-ruff at $250/wk to sing. Every Friday I would get a check from him.”
“Dre would be drumming, he’d give me his drumbeats and I had to layer them with my bass lines. We did this at The Village recording studio.”
Snoop Dogg and Detroit bass legend Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“I became the band director and bass player for Death Row Records. I did the bass on Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle album and tons of songs.”
“I created the ‘Gin and Juice’ bassline for Snoop right on the spot.”
“The Doggystyle album was recorded at multiple studios: Larrabee West (8811 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood), Larrabee North (4162 Lankershim blvd, North Hollywood), The Enterprise studio (4620 W. Magnolia, Burbank), and the Village and possibly others.”
“To finish the album, we all stayed in the Larrabee North studio the last 48 hours straight for a marathon session. We ate good, laughed a lot and pushed through. When that album came out, it was the first debut release to enter the Billboard charts at # 1. The album release party was in November ’93 on a 165-foot yacht in Marina del Ray. I decided not to go, which turned out to be a good idea, because it got chaotic.”
“I also played bass on some tracks for DJ Quik. We recorded those at Skip Saylor’s Studio in Los Angeles.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green and Dr. Dre (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“At one point, Dre had on ankle tether and couldn’t leave his house, so we partied over there a lot. His house was in a beautiful gated sub called Mountain View Estates in Calabasas, California.”
“We recorded there too, he had an SSL 24-track mixing board and full in-house studio. Wild parties nonstop, lots of weed smoking, I’d be cooking shrimp on the grill. Warren G and his uncle Wron G were also real cool and would be hanging around but Warren, although he was Dre’s stepbrother, was signed with Def Jam not Death Row.”
“I hooked Death Row up with a lot of talented people. My wife Simone became the official Death Row photographer.”
“Dre needed a guitarist, so I introduced him to Detroit guitarist, Ricky Rouse. Back in the 60’s, a young 7-year-old Ricky played guitar while 11-year-old Stevie Wonder played piano, the guy is an incredibly talented guitarist. He had also done some disco songs with Bohannon. Ricky went to Norhern High School in Detroit but dropped out in ’72 to tour with Undisputed Truth.”
“Eventually, Snoop found out I had been in The Dramatics and wanted to meet them, so I made it happen, which helped reignite the career of The Dramatics.”
“On the spot, I called LJ Reynolds for Snoop. LJ answers saying ‘Mr. Green, I heard you hit the big time’ and I handed Snoop the phone, Snoop says ‘Is this really LJ Reynolds? Can you sing Key to the World?’ so LJ busted it out and Snoop went wild.”
“This led to them collaborating on the song Doggy Dogg World on Snoop’s album Doggystyle. The music video for that was fun as hell, too. We had all the Blaxploitation stars there: Pam Grier, Rudy Ray Moore, Ron O’Neal, Fred Williamson, and Huggy Bear and Rerun (Fred Berry) from Soul Train.”
LG Reynolds, Huggy Bear, Pam Grier, and Detroit bass legend Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“And here’s a fun fact for you: Snoop Dogg’s dad, Vernell Varnado, was my mailman in Detroit! For years, he used to bring me my ASCAP royalty checks.”
“In 1985, Snoop lived here in Detroit with his dad (11398 Whitehill St, Detroit) and Snoop worked at the McDonald’s on Greenfield and 8 Mile.”
“Dr. Dre had never met George Clinton. So one day, George was in Studio B at The Village, and Dre wanted to meet him. I told him I knew George like a father and Dre seemed skeptical, so I walked down there and peeked in the room. As soon as he sees me, George says ‘I knew somebody had permission to be funkin’ like that!’. I tell him about Dre, George asked me “they got anything down there?” (drugs). I say no. George had mostly been living at his farm in the Irish Hills (Brooklyn, Michigan) smoking crack in a house owned by Armen the sample troll. So, I walked George down the hallway and hooked up Mr. Parliament Funkadelic himself with Dr. Dre and the rest is history.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green and Pfunk’s own George Clinton (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“In 1994, I produced two songs on the Above the Rim soundtrack. It was the track CPO’s Just So Ya No. The co-producer on it was Carl “Butch” Small. The other one was Mi Monie Rite by Lord G. Butch’s son DJ Los did the beat for Lord G. Butch was another Detroit guy I brought to Death Row. Butch was a master percussionist with The Dramatics.”
“Overall, I mean Dr. Dre is a genius. You have got to give the dude credit for that. Because of him, I played bass on the Arsenio Hall Show, MTV, Saturday Night Live, the Magic Johnson Show, etc. Also, every single record that Dre has done has gone either gold or platinum. Eminem, who Dre sponsored and nurtured, has gone Diamond six times, making Eminem the number one most awarded musician for singles in RIAA history.”
“My bass is on Gin and Juice, the Regulate G-Funk Mix, California Love, Murder Was the Case, the Dogg Pound, Lady of Rage’s Afro Puff, and a lot more man.”
“I also played the bass for Shaquille O’Neal’s single Biological Didn’t Bother (Remix) that was produced by Warren G.”
Shaquille O’Neal & Detroit bass legend Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“In 1995, I played the bass on Coolio’s song Rollin with the Homies. It was featured on the soundtrack to Clueless.”
“Coolio was a cool dude. RIP. Another one gone too soon.”
“We did Da Five Footaz-Walk Away. It was on the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack.”
“As for 2Pac, I never actually met 2Pac but my basslines are on California Love.”
“However, I did meet Biggie Smalls (the Notorious BIG) once. It was about 1995, I met Biggie at DTW (the Detroit Airport). He was a big and tall dude. Real cool guy, we talked about the music industry and Detroit. Biggie loved Detroit (‘my Detroit players’).”
The infamous Death Row chair from Suge Knight’s office at Can-Am
“At one point, I was in Kingston, Jamaica helping the billionaire Josef Bogdanovich produce reggae artists like Lady Saw. Joe is a reggae fanatic who runs a company called DownSound Entertainment. His grandparents were Croatian immigrants who founded StarKist Tuna.”
“Joe is also an executive producer who also helped save Reggae Sumfest, the largest reggae event in the Caribbean.”
“After Death Row, I went on tour with my man Warren G from 1996-98. Warren is another great guy. He and Snoop and Nate Dogg are from Long Beach. We used to record at Warren’s house sometimes in Lakewood, just outside Long Beach. He started his own label, G-Funk Records, that was distributed by Def Jam.”
“When I went on tour with him, we did the Spring Break parties in Lake Havasu, then went on an overseas tour. Germany, Switzerland, France, went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. My favorite was Japan. I had gone there twice with The Dramatics, then came back with Warren G. He was huge in London, and we did the MTV ‘Live in London’ show.”
“At the Billboard Music Awards, me, Warren G and Nate Dogg had “Big Mike” as a security guard. He later became an actor. His real name was Michael Clarke Duncan. He was in the Green Mile, Slammin Salmon, Armageddon, etc.”
“Big Mike had been working for Vassal Benford, a Detroit keyboard player who moved to LA in the late 80’s. Unfortunately, Big Mike is gone now. RIP.”
Michael Clarke Duncan, aka bodyguard Big Mike (photo courtesy of Google Archives)
“Warren’s manager was his uncle, Wrong G (Ron Griffin). Wron G was 6’4” tall former special ops US Marine Corps soldier and the real deal. He never took off his sunglasses and he wore a long coat like Shaft.”
“Couple years ago, in 2020, Snoop Dogg came to Detroit. Where T Green at? We went and hung out with him at the Fillmore (2115 Woodward Ave, Detroit) for a few hours after the show. We all smoked blunts and talked about the good old days. A video of him and I singing there went viral on Instagram.”
“Yep, our music has rattled a lot of trunks over the years, man. Rattled a lot of skulls and bank accounts, too.”
The Detroit Legacy
Detroit bass legend Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“I came back to Detroit. Started laying down some tracks at a favorite studio of mine, Sound Suite Studios (14750 Puritan ave) which had been open since 1975. It closed around 2000. We had also recorded the Five Special album here. I did a lot of recording here over the years.”
“I signed a deal with Bellmark Records to produce my album Organized Kaos Hour 1. It’s a series that I’m still working on.”
“I played bass for two tracks on Robbie Robertson’s album Music for the Native Americans.”
“Around about 1995 or so, I let Sick Notes (Dewitt and Pep) record at Sound Suite. They ended up writing two songs for Eminem.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“In 2001, we did an album with Westbound Records called Hyped Up Westbound Soljaz. It was for Pfunk and George Clinton. The Westbound label was started in 1968 by Armen Boladian. There was another album called The Streetz are Paved with Green that I cut for Westbound but it was never released.”
“Also in 2001-2002, I was in the Eminem movie 8 Mile but unfortunately my scene got cut.”
“I played bass for Detroit rapper Big Herk’s Rock Bottom crew.”
“The Detroit rapper Mersiless Amir is featured on my new album along with several other amazing artists.”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“Then in 2010, I met the yin to my yang. Dr. Gail Soo Hoo, aka: the Flue Doctor. She had been first chair at Northwestern High School, which is saying something because several phenomenal musicians came outta there, including Ray Parker Jr. (1971 grad; he did the Ghostbusters theme song).”
“2016, we did Slight Return (Mark Kassa’s band) with George Clinton.”
“I used to record at Studio A (5619 N. Beech Daly, Dearborn Heights) when my engineer Steve Capp was there. Now he’s over at 54 Soundrecording studio (Ferndale) so I’m over there now. 54 Sound is owned by a great guy named Joel Martin. Eminem and The Bass Brothers also record there.”
Dr. Gail Soo Hoo aka: the Flute Doctor (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
Tony Green The Man
Detroit bass legend Tony Green (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“Some bands and musicians I’m a fan of are Jimi Hendrix (purple haze, changes), Chick Corea, Elton John, Grand Funk Railroad, Graham Central Station, WDRQ radio, etc. I love Anita Baker’s album Rapture. I love Chris Squire’s bass talents on Roundabout by Yes.”
“Some of my personal favorite bass players are Larry Graham, Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten, and the Detroit bassists James Jamerson (my all-time fav), “Fast Eddie” Watkins Jr (he got started on The Temptations 1973 album Masterpiece), Ralphe Armstrong, and Lamont Johnson.”
“My partner McKayla Prew (talented new singer) and I run Hyped Up Live Sessions, which is a monthly livestream music jam that we record live at my studio inside the Russell Industrial Center (1600 Clay St, Detroit).”
Detroit bass legend Tony Green and Snoop Dogg hanging out in Detroit (photo courtesy of Tony Green)
“The Dramatics singer LJ Reynolds is still alive. We still talk and collaborate regularly. LJ rehearses every Wednesday in my studio at the Russell.”
“Right now, I have what I call The Vault, which is a collection of over 2,000 songs (including 200 reel-to-reel masters) that I’ve created in my lifetime. Some of these are on my new album Organized Kaos Hour 3, check it out.”
“I’m actively working on a follow-up book about my life, which is being written by Detroit author Jenn Goeddeke.”
“As for the bass? Why is the bass important? Well, many great groups are driven by the bass and drums. A good bass player will let the song breathe and flex. And you got to have stage presence, meaning make your lives performances interesting, don’t just sit there staring down at your shoes.”
“My advice to young aspiring musicians is to keep in mind that most of the music industry is about who you know. So get out there, network, make connections, and always try to help other people. But just remember to give proper credit where credit is due. And don’t listen to your friends, just keep playing the music you like and honing your talent every single day. And above all, never wish you were somebody else. Always stay true to you internally eternally.”
Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Bill Morrison is a tremendously talented artist and writer.
A child prodigy in art and drawing, he could draw better at age three than I can at age thirty-six. His competency across a broad range of specialties and his career trajectory are jaw-droppingly impressive as he continues upping the ante by challenging himself with new and different projects.
He lives in a lovely stately historic home in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, which backs up to the vast and beautiful Lake St. Clair.
Bill lives with his wife Kayre (pronounced ‘Care’), two dogs Gidget and Ripley, two cats Ziggy and Freddie, and a world-class collection of comics, collectibles, and artwork. His home studio is a delightful wonderland of creativity, pop culture inspirations, and gobs upon gobs of wickedly good Bill Morrison original art.
Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
I’m here chatting with Bill. He was both brave enough to let me into his home and kind enough to answer my 10,000 rambling questions.
As a lifelong fan of The Simpsons and Bill’s work, I’ve owned several of his comics, watched several of his shows, and for years had the amazing full cast of The Simpsons poster on my wall that Mr. Morrison did.
Meeting him was an honor and I can tell you that he is a thoroughly cool dude.
The Simpsons kitchen sink poster art by Bill Morrison
Published by Hero Collector, it’s a treasure trove of trivia masked as intentional continuity errors that are artfully designed to test your mental abilities of recognition and recall.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bill Morrison!
Bill on The Beatles
Nerd Search: All You Nerd is Love: A Yellow Submarine Puzzle Book by Bill Morrison
“I’m a huge Beatles fan. My involvement with creating The Beatles books goes back to 1998 when Dark Horse Comics asked me to do a graphic novel for the 30th anniversary of Yellow Submarine. The deal unfortunately fell through midway. However, in 2018, I ended up doing a 112-page graphic novel adaptation of The Beatles Yellow Submarine for Titan Comics.”
“Titan Comics is based in London. They published our Simpsons stuff for Bongo in the UK. Initially, the licensing agent for The Beatles merchandise was interested in having me link up with Titan for the graphic novel. Then they came to me with a second project because they needed a pre-approved artist and put me in touch with Hero Collector, which is owned by Eaglemoss.”
“Hero said they have a series of books called Nerd Search where each scene has purposely incorrect information & items that the reader has to find, clues to solve, and at the end you get all the answers and rate yourself. I had a great time doing the book and I’m looking forward to seeing what the fan reaction is.”
“I’ve been a lifelong Beatles fan. Favorite song is Hey Bulldog. Favorite album is Rubber Soul. And I listen to The Beatles Channel on SiriusXM all the time.”
“I saw ‘A Hard Days Night’ (1964) at the drive-in when I was five, sitting in the back of the station wagon. Back then everyone was playing Beatles records.”
“The first album I had was Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits, then I got into the Saturday morning cartoon (1965-67), and saw Yellow Submarine (68) the first time it aired on TV in 1970.”
Beatles Yellow Submarine graphic novel by Bill Morrison
“I remember in high school there was a Broadway show called Beatlemania (1977-79) which was really popular and created a resurgence of interest in The Beatles. By that time, I was doing artwork and t-shirts.”
“At high school, my friend Steve Colwell and I started a small t-shirt business selling shirts of rock stars. We passed an order sheet around to everyone at school and they would place orders for our shirts.”
“My sister actually got to see The Beatles live in 1966 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. My dad drove them and sat in the parking lot. The Beatles only played for a half hour, but they had several other opening bands, which was common at the time. Dad was smoking a cigarette outside the car when the big garage door on the side of the stadium rolled up. A big black limo pulls out as he hears the kids leaving. Suddenly the crowd spots the limo, and this horde of Beatles-crazed fans starts running towards him. My dad is between The Beatles and the kids. He says he had to jump onto a lamp post to avoid being trampled!”
The Early Years (or who is Bill Morrison and why am I in his house?)
Bill Morrison as Batman (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I’m an artist, writer, collector. I like working at my home studio where I use mostly traditional tools of the trade, some digital. I sketch with a blue pencil, use graphite and ink for comics, acrylic for painting, brush painting or airbrush, depending on the texture I’m trying to achieve. As for writing, I frequently jot down random notes in a book, otherwise I type in Microsoft Word.”
“My passion, thankfully, is my career and I don’t really have any other hobbies or interests beyond it. I love collecting toys, comics, art, but that all pretty much relates to my job. My wife and I like Art Deco, NY World’s Fair memorabilia, books (especially books on comics, comic collecting, illustrating, graphic novels).”
“My most marketable ability as a commercial artist is I can pick up other artist’s styles very quickly, which is very helpful in animation. I need a few practice sketches to find the rhythm, then I have it.”
Bill Morrison with Casper doll (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I was born January 15, 1959, and grew up in Lincoln Park, Michigan, about ten minutes south of Detroit. My dad is from the Hocking Hills, Ohio area and my mom is from Wyandotte, Michigan. Her father was Judge Arthur Decker, who as a young man, was a prize fighter nicknamed Kid Decker. My parents have always been very supportive of my artistic ambitions.”
“I have four living siblings: Alice, Donna, Sue, and Janice. My brother Don just passed away recently. Two of my sisters live here in Michigan, and two live elsewhere. My wife Kayre is also from Lincoln Park. Yes, we started dating in high school, and we recently moved back to Michigan to be closer to our families. This fulfills the mission of my youngest sister Alice, who lives in Novi, and has been trying to re-gather all of us for years.”
“Growing up, my older sister Sue was artistic, and she taught me how to draw at age three. She sat me down at the kitchen table and taught me how to draw a stickman. She drew a figure and told me to copy it. Then she left, came back in ten minutes, and says I had “vastly improved” on the drawing. She got real excited, thought I was a natural talent. She was always keyed into what I was into. Early on I would emulate her character drawings of Snoopy, the Wolfman, etc, whatever my mania was at the time”
Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“In 1977, I graduated Lincoln Park High School and immediately enrolled in Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. I started off wanting to be a comic book artist but learned I’d have to go to NYC to establish myself. I love New York now, but back then the idea of living there sort of terrified me. I had a teacher Gary Ciccarelli for airbrush class. He was really into the whole West Coast airbrush scene, which was highly glamorized, stylized, lot of palm trees and neon. And he turned us onto stuff I hadn’t been exposed to.”
“I graduated CCS in 1981 and got a job at Artech, Inc. in Livonia doing technical drawings for the automotive industry. I would be in a big room with 15 artists. The guys in the other room would look at a blueprint and sketch it out in 3D, then they would send it to us and we would refine and perfect it. We did mostly engine stuff, mechanics manuals & parts catalogs, cut-away paintings of diesel fuel pumps, etc.”
“In 1982, I married Karen “Kayre” DeLosier, the love of my life, and we lived in Plymouth, Michigan for a bit near Plymouth Road and Haggerty, before moving to the West Coast. Moved to Beverly Hills briefly, then Sepulveda (which became North Hills), then Simi Valley.”
L.A. in the ‘80s: a town awash in neon and perms and mohawks, oh my!
Bill Morrison with Roger Rabbit (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
Bill was employed as a professional illustrator at B.D. Fox and Friends Advertising from 1982-86, which is where he first met legendary cartoonist, Matt Groening, who was just an unknown scribbler at the time. After that, Bill was at Willardson & Associates. During this time, he also worked on iconic movie posters like the famous Little Mermaid (1989), The Land Before Time (1988), Oliver and Company (1988), all sorts of Disney movies, of which he said his favorite poster is The Prince and The Pauper (1990).
“My first job in Hollywood was doing movie posters at B.D. Fox and Matt (Groening) was a freelance writer there. B.D. Fox was a boutique ad agency for the entertainment industry. A co-worker, Mili Smythe was an art director there and she was friends with Matt, they’re both from Portland, and she introduced us. Mili told me about Matt’s comic strip, Life in Hell.”
“Occasionally she would ask us for input on things like childhood songs to give to Matt, who would then put the song references in the comic strip. At work, Matt would pitch tag lines for posters, but we didn’t really become good friends until The Simpsons.”
The Prince and the Pauper (1990) poster art by Bill Morrison
“I designed the posters for horror movies House (85), Blood Diner (87), and I was the in-house illustrator doing rough sketches and comps for films like The Return of the Living Dead (1985). Art directors would come to see me with ideas they needed me to draw up. For the Return of the Living Dead poster, I don’t know who did the final painting but I remember being surprised that Bill Stout didn’t do it. He was a well-known poster artist, and he designed the zombies for the film”
“In 1986, I was invited to work at an illustration studio owned by David Willardson, the California airbrush artist, called Willardson & Associates. We did all sorts of advertising for all different products, mostly photo realistic work but glorified, Nestles Quick, Maxell Tape, etc, and one of the jobs was for Disney. It was a re-release of Cinderella, they wanted a one-sheet poster. I did a teaser they liked, then another one, and another one, then anytime Disney released an animated film into theaters. I did Little Mermaid, Oliver and Co, Rescuers Down Under, Roller Coaster Rabbit, Prince and the Pauper (a Mickey Mouse featurette), Peter Pan, Jungle Book, Bambi, Lady and Tramp, Fox and Hound, etc.”
“I did The Land Before Time movie poster for Amblin Entertainment. I only did the characters, not the background. This was in the pre-photoshop days and I’m at the studio and I get this big painting delivered. They said we need you to re-draw the dinosaur characters and paste them over the existing ones. I did it on one-ply Strathmore paper, which was tricky to paint on because it’s so thin. Then cut out the outline perfectly with an x-acto knife then painted the edges with a brush. It’s very hard to match outline colors perfectly. Then I took spray mount and permanently sprayed them onto this guy’s painting, which seemed kind of unethical but I had to do it.”
The Simpsons & Matt Groening
First signing with Matt: from L to R are Matt Groening, Steve Vance, Bill Morrison (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
Bill joined The Simpsons crew in 1990 and played a seminal role in the global expansion of the franchise. He was doing illustrations for 20th Century Fox and creating all sorts of art for merchandise, sketches, t-shirts, posters, etc, while simultaneously art-directing other merchandise artists at Klasky Csupo Animation Studio.
“In 1987, The Simpsons made their global debut on the Tracey Ullman Show. It was one of the animated bumpers they did. Then it morphed into the December 1989 Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire holiday special episode, then the show officially premiered February 1990. It was an immediate blockbuster hit.”
Simpsons Yellow Album art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I knew Matt (Groening) from our time working together at the ad agency a few years prior. He brought me into The Simpsons creative family, and I started doing character drawings for merchandise. I created the merch style guide, which is for companies who license the brand. If a licensee takes out a license, they get a style guide of images they can use. Some licensees pay extra for custom artwork. I also did almost all of the video game packaging in the early days, along with calendars, books, and more.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with the characters beyond what they looked like until we did the comic books. Sometimes the stories in Simpsons Comics necessitated creating new characters. For Radioactive Man we got to create a broader cast of characters because they didn’t exist on the show. Radioactive Man’s origins are similar to the Hulk. Fallout Boy’s origins are similar to Spider Man. It’s mostly parody and satire. At one time there was talk of doing a Radioactive Man cartoon show but the idea was shelved when Futurama came out. I would love to see the idea get revived and think it could be a big hit.”
Simpsons Comics & Stories # 1 art by Bill Morrison
“In April 1991, Simpsons Illustrated launched and the series ran for ten issues. It had a comic section, and at the end of the second year, Groening and Editor Steve Vance wanted a gimmicky annual issue, so we decided let’s do a comic book. We named it Simpsons Comics and Stories and it came out in February 1993.”
“It was such a big hit that it gave Matt the confidence to start Bongo Comics, so we did. Starting a comic was a dream come true. We started it in November 1993. I served as Art Director, Steve Vance was the editor and his wife Cindy was colorist and letterer. After the first year the Vances left, and I became the Creative Director (Editor and Art Director.) I was directly involved in some way with every issue (writing, penciling, inking, supervising, art direction, etc). My favorite character to draw is probably Radioactive Man.”
“Matt and I are still good friends to this day.”
The Simpsons episode: A Serious Flanders (November 2021) poster art by Bill Morrison
“In terms of The Simpsons tv show, my favorite episodes are Radioactive Man, Black Widower (great art direction), and many of the episodes from the Conan O’Brien era (1991-93). Also, I love the recent two-part episode “A Serious Flanders” for which I created an advertising poster.”
Bill also did the cover artwork for The Simpsons DVD’s.
And Bill won several Eisner Awards for Simpsons Comics (2000), The Amazing Colossal Homer (1994), and Radioactive Man.
Roswell Little Green Man, Futurama, and more!
Roswell Little Green Man art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“In 1996, I produced my own comic series for Bongo called Roswell, Little Green Man. Although Roswell loosely takes place in the late 1940’s, it was my love of 50’s sci-fi films that inspired it. The first story deals with giant ants, harkening back to Them! (1954 sci-fi movie). The series was nominated in four different categories for the highly coveted Eisner Award. We ended it because we started a little show called Futurama and I didn’t have time to work on the show, along with my Bongo duties, and also my own comic.”
“I was the Art Director on Futurama from 1998-2003. I assisted in the creation of the cast of characters with Matt Groening. Matt was the creator of the show and Futurama was done by The Curiosity Company, Matt’s own production company.”
“We did four seasons, 140 episodes. It was on Tuesday nights when it first premiered, and Matt didn’t like that. He told Fox execs to put it on Sunday nights 8:30 p.m. right after The Simpsons. They wouldn’t do it. Finally, they put it on Sunday’s but at 7:00 p.m., which was too early. Futurama is a workplace adult comedy, it’s about adults, romances, and it was inappropriate to put on then. Plus, at that time slot, if sports games ran longer than anticipated, which they frequently do, they had to cut portions of the episodes or not even air the episodes.”
Futurama art by Bill Morrison (image courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I loved Futurama, especially Leela, and I helped design many of the weirder characters before Matt pitched the show. Matt would always do a final cut and tweak it. We’d be at his studio, he would give me a paragraph on a character, I would do drawings, then show him, it sparked him visually, then he would do a drawing, I would refine it, etc, it was a collaboration. I always felt my biggest contribution to the show was sometimes showing Matt what he didn’t want because it would help him decide which way to go with a character. It’s very difficult to create unique and original characters. Having some input from friends is valuable, the visceral reaction is valuable.”
“In 2000, I did a six-issue mini-series for Bongo called Heroes Anonymous. My editorial assistant at the time was Scott Gimple and I invited him to work on it with me. It’s about a support group for superheroes. We had it in development at the SyFy Channel for a while. Scott had moved on to Disney where he was working on a show called Fillmore, which was a safety patrol played as a 70’s cop show. He had an agent at this point who wanted him to go out and pitch ideas for shows that he owned. Since we co-created Heroes Anonymous he called me and we started pitching it to networks and the SyFy channel took an option. Scott and I worked together on the story for the pilot and Scott wrote the script. I was going to be on board as a producer. The network would give us notes on the script, and at first they were good notes. But eventually the notes got silly and were making the script worse. Finally, it got to the point that their suggested improvement notes were too embarrassing to seriously consider. We chose not to renew the option when it came up. Scott did okay though, he’s now the showrunner on The Walking Dead.”
“After that, I was lucky enough to be able to do my first book, which was a career retrospective on Dan DeCarlo, one of my favorite comic book artists. Dan is best known for drawing Archie comics and creating Josie and the Pussycats and co-creating Sabrina the Teen-age Witch. The book is called Innocence and Seduction: The Art of Dan DeCarlo. I knew Dan personally. We were friends until he passed away in 2001. I was also a fan and there were no good books on Dan’s art. I wanted to create something that didn’t exist yet.”
The Art of Dan DeCarlo book by Bill Morrison
“A few years later, I collaborated with Jane Wiedlin, co-founder of The Go-Go’s. In 2010, we did a comic book called Lady Robotika which was published by Image. The concept is based on Jane as a cyborg space hero.”
“In 2015, I wrote and illustrated Dead Vengeance for Dark Horse Comics. It’s a tribute to the gritty 1940’s pulp era and takes place in Detroit.”
Dead Vengeance by Bill Morrison
“Near my end at Bongo, Matt was working on a new show (what later became the show Disenchantment) and I was talking to the businesspeople telling them I’m looking for something creatively challenging. They said Matt wants to do a new company, comic, show, etc, but he’s not quite there yet. But we do want to develop a comic reader app for mobile phones and iPads, so I did that.”
“I designed comic reader apps. Here I am, devoted to printed comics, and I had to develop and promote comics on electronic devices. Had to learn the guided view mechanics of reading a comic online, panel to panel scrolling, etc. To do this I had to download digital comics and study them. I started taking them on trips with me and realized that you can still have your physical collection at home but also embrace digital comics as a convenience. I started promoting the app, called The Simpsons Store, then the Futuramaland comic reader.”
The National Cartoonists Society
Bill Morrison (National Cartoonists Society)
Founded in 1946, the prestigious National Cartoonists Society is the world’s main professional organization for people working in cartoons and comics. To be admitted membership, published cartoonists must send in samples of their work. Once vetted, they can become Artist members. Bill joined NCS in the mid-90’s and served as President from 2015-2019.
“I was a casual member for years. Then served on the board for Jeff Keane (Family Circus), then continued as VP on the board of Tom Richmond (Mad Magazine cartoonist). Then I became president.”
National Cartoonists Society 27 Club
“It was a lot of work but very rewarding. It’s mind boggling to think I’m part of that lineage, a fraternity of my heroes. It’s very difficult to get people to join clubs nowadays as regular dues-paying members. I’m glad that I was able to help come up with some good ideas to move NCS forward.”
“Sergio Aragonés, Steve McGarry, and I were discussing effective strategies for reaching out to cartoonists and making it easy for them to join NCS. We came up with The 27 Club, where they don’t pay the $180 annual fee, and any cartoonist under 27 years old can join for only $27/yr. Jason Chatfield, who served as my VP and is now the president, continues taking it on. I love the NCS. We have the Reuben Awards every year for the Outstanding Cartoonist of the year. And last year we had our first annual online convention, which was great and well-received.”
MAD Magazine has been around since the Atomic Fifties, 1952 to be exact. This legacy institution had the foresight to hire Bill Morrison as Executive Editor in 2017.
“When DC Comics moved from New York City to Burbank, California, the MAD guys didn’t want to go. Finally, the publisher at DC worked out something with Warner Bros where the MAD Magazine offices could stay in NYC, but it was agreed that once they found someone to take over MAD, it would move to Burbank.”
“Then they hired me, and I had to hire a full staff, except for one guy who did decide to move from NY. I had done some freelance jobs for MAD in the past and now here I was overseeing all creative aspects of the magazine. We had good people, especially the art director, Suzy Hutchinson. I’d look at everything, make notes, some minor changes, etc. I loved working there.”
Bill Morrison with Alfred E. Neuman (art by Tom Richmond)
“We were given a really tough assignment, which was to take a magazine read by mostly white males (ages 11-16 and 45-60), most of whom subscribed and they wanted us to expand the readership to women, other ethnicities, and other age-ranges, while not losing our current subscribers. We succeeded in getting subscription numbers up, had expansion ideas that were ambitious but doable, talked about the possibility of live comedy shows at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43, simulcasting, taking it on tour, new merchandise, etc.”
“We were getting great positive feedback. I’m connected with hardcore (and therefore critical) MAD fans who told us we had struck a great balance. But corporate decisions beyond my control caused MAD to go to a reprint format.”
Bill’s Influences & Collections
Detroit artist Bill Morrison at his home studio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“I’m real big on Batman art and toys, non-superhero stuff like horror (especially Universal Monsters) and sci-fi, teen humor (any era but mostly 50’s 60’s). I typically go for eras and artists over genres. My favorite eras are 50’s-60’s.”
“Some favorite artists are Dick Sprang, Bob Oksner, Sergio Aragones, Dan DeCarlo. Growing up, some favorites were Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Steranko.”
It Rhymes with Lust (1950) cover art by Matt Baker
“Another favorite artist is Matt Baker, but his art is so expensive. He did the great cover for It Rhymes with Lust (1950) which many people consider to be the first-ever graphic novel.”
“Fine art, I like Salvador Dali, John Singer Sargent, M.C. Escher, Alphonse Mucha…though some might consider him more of an illustrator. Comedically, I’ve been influenced by Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, and more recently by Melissa McCarthy and Tina Fey.”
“To this day, I’m constantly discovering new influences. I also like the painter Norm Saunders, illustrator Wally Wood, Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, etc, too many to list!”
Mars Attacks art (card 32) by Norman Saunders (1962)
Bill Morrison holding a giant eyeball bowling ball (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“I’ve been doing stuff for the fine art print market. And I’m doing some animation development projects and helping producers visualize their concepts.”
Bill at the drawing board, Bongo Comics (photo courtesy of Bill Morrison)
“At Comic Con (SDCC) one year, maybe ‘94-95, right after a speculator boom, when the industry took a turn downturn and was downsizing and consolidating, some publishers were shutting down, things at the time were looking down not up. The great Will Eisner walked by the Bongo Comics booth and I asked him his thoughts about the doom and gloom end-of-the-industry rumors. He said ‘I’ve seen this happen five or six times since the 1930’s. Comics is a language and a medium that people love. It might change shape, but graphic storytelling is an artform and is always going to exist’ and I thought that was tremendously uplifting and insightful and I try to always keep that in mind.”
“My advice to aspiring creatives is to always be open to opportunities you didn’t necessarily anticipate. For example, I never thought I’d be a writer, art director, editor. But I said yes, I was open to it and ended up discovering that I love those roles. Talented young people tend to focus on one single thing only and might invariably miss out on other areas of rich potential. Sometimes you just gotta say yes and then figure it out. If you don’t like it, you can always stop doing it and do something else until you find the things you’re great at and love doing.”
Atomic Battery Studios (Bill’s official Facebook page)
Based in Metro Detroit, Corinne VanOstran, is a talented and well-traveled lifestyle photographer who especially loves action photography.
You can hire her for portraits, events, engagements, boudoir, school and other photography gigs.
You will see her at Detroit Bookfest taking photos. Please treat her courteously and respectfully.
Corinne VanOstran (Photo courtesy of Cori Kay Photography)
Interview with Corrine
What got you interested in photography and how long have you been shooting?
I’ve loved photography since I was a little kid. My aunts gave me their used Polaroid cameras and I basically never stopped taking photos. After that, I was snapping pictures everywhere I went. It wasn’t until high school that I got my first entry level DSLR and I was so excited. I cherished that thing and used it heavily until my senior year of college, when I finally needed to upgrade my camera. I still use it sometimes, along with the old film camera’s that I have from when I was a kid. So, I guess I’ve been shooting since I was 7, but I wasn’t paid or recognized for it until I was about 16.
I love documenting the world and its moments. I think that people forget how fleeting moments are. Photographs help us do that. Photographs also help us see moments in new ways. Photos are preserved slices of our lives and I’ve always thought that was awesome.
Hobbies? What do you do for fun?
Unsurprisingly, I love taking photos for fun. I actually take photos of miniature painted models for a game called Warhammer for my friends and fell in love with taking macro photos of miniatures!
I also love swimming and reading, so it isn’t especially rare to see me trying to protect my books from water while lakeside or poolside. I love new experiences and going new places, so chances are if someone ever asks me to go somewhere the answer is an emphatic “yes!”.
Favorite hangout spots, restaurants, bars, experiences, etc, in the Detroit area?
I love doing Haunted Tours of the Detroit 6th Precinct (McGraw Ave, Southwest Detroit) when those were going on. It’s a great way to support local history, legally explore a cool old building and do something off-beat. I actually try to frequent as many tours of historic old buildings in the area as possible, especially those that need the funding and try to take my family on them as well when they come into town.
The Standby (225 Gratiot Ave, Detroit) is probably my favorite cocktail bar, and the Two James Distillery (2445 Michigan Ave, Detroit) was super fun to tour! I found both of those places while trying to find a place to live in Detroit and they quickly became favorites.
Also, you also didn’t hear it from me, but if you visit the Pringles vending machine in the back of El Topo (113 Mill St, Fenton) after 5pm between Tuesday and Saturday, you might get more than just a trip for tacos.
Corinne VanOstran (Photo courtesy of Cori Kay Photography)
What do you like most about the Metro Detroit area?
It’s hard to pick one thing. Metro Detroit is such a unique experience. I think the overall experience of the city of Detroit is what I like best.
For instance, the first time I visited downtown Detroit was when I was on Spring Break and looking for a place to live after graduation. This random guy recognized my college (I went to Michigan Tech) from my sweatshirt and started talking to me about how he raps about Astrophysics and that I should check out his flows. Then we chatted about MTU’s physics department and some kids he tutors. On a side note, I checked out his BandCamp and he raps better about Astrophysics than any Bill Nye video ever could. I’ve been to so many other places and you literally don’t get that anywhere else.
I feel like Detroit has a community that is so uncommon for a city its size and people really want the metro area to thrive! I can do almost anything here and meet just about anyone (including someone who always says they know what happened to Jimmy Hoffa). This tangible feeling of community doesn’t exist everywhere. The metro area feels like a beautiful clashing of history and the modern day. The Detroit experience consists of unique events, people, and cultures that will leave an indelible impression on you.
Any upcoming projects, developments, new announcements?
I’m currently working on two pet projects:
Digitizing film (for family and archival reasons) and Southern Gothic novel-inspired photoshoots.
For the Southern Gothic Novel inspiration, I couldn’t get the images from the novels I was reading out of my head but I’m also a terrible drawer. So I started working on setting up photoshoots instead. Now that I’ve collected most of my props and found the appropriate locations, I’m trying to rope in my friends to pose for me. My challenge to myself will be recreating scenes from one book per month for 12 months straight. Hopefully, I don’t run out of willing participants by then!
I’ve always loved Boston-Edison. This is a large residential Historic District in the geographic center of Detroit full of stately homes, wide boulevards, and old-fashioned streetlamps. Detroit author andDBusiness magazine editor RJ King moved to a beautiful three-story Colonial Revival here in 1994.
Sitting in RJ’s living room, we can hear the steam gently whooshing through the radiators. Soothing, it reminds of my Marpac Dohm sound machine, whose sonic white noise helps me sleep.
RJ is very welcoming, hospitable, and insightful. In terms of stories and hidden history, he has an eagle eye for tantalizing, overlooked, and underreported gems. A writing talent, RJ has penned over 6,000 articles at DBusiness and over 16 years for TheDetroit News. Prolific at home, RJ has written four books. Never one to lollygag or dawdle, he’s also a licensed real estate agent!
RJ King, Detroit author of 8 Track the First Mobile App (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
When publicly released in October 1965 by Ford Motor Co., the 8 Track tape player completely revolutionized in-car audio and how music in general was experienced by consumers.
It offered, for the first time, a mobile music experience in an industry dominated by AM Radio and record players.
Since then, the 8 Track, which essentially offered “album” cartridges, served to bootstrap the introduction of cassettes, followed by compact discs, and now downloads. Today, the medium has been largely forgotten as a fun and useful device in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The last major release on 8 Track was in 1988 with Fleetwood Mac’s “Greatest Hits.”
Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)
Sure, from 2009-2014 there was an 8 Track museum run by Bucks Burnett in Deep Ellum, Texas.
And don’t forget “Tracker Bob” Hiemenz. Bob owns the world’s largest 8 Track collection. Over 90,000 tapes and 700+ players are stored at his house in Quincy, Illinois. But for many people, especially those who postdate 8 Track mania, the true story is a quick trip back in life filled with nostalgia.
RJ’s new book is an incredibly detailed and well-researched story of Detroit and Ford Motor Co.’s pivotal role in the development and rollout of the 8 Track tape player.
Part hidden history, part business lesson, this is a story largely untold until now.
RJ King on His Book
8 Track book RJ King (photo by: Ryan M. Place
“My older brother Patrick emailed me a speech that my dad, John P. King, had written in 1975 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 8 Track tape player. Until reading that email, I had no idea my dad was intimately involved in the development of 8 Track back when he was a product engineer at Ford.”
“Fascinated, I searched for a period history of 8 Track, and there was nothing. So I started researching my dad’s involvement, assembling a chronology, reading Billboard magazines every week from 1964 to 1980, and doing interviews with my dad and other key people whom he introduced me to.”
“I worked on the book on weekends, typing it up on my iMac, and about a year and a half later had a final product.”
“This book details the leap from stationary music to mobile music. The 8 Track really was the first mobile music app. Prior to its creation, you could only listen to music live, on a record player, or on AM radio. What Ford and Motorola did, using Bill Lear’s design which they modified, is they built a combined AM Radio and 8 Track tape player and it completely revolutionized music and car audio.”
Lear Jet Stereo 8 (courtesy of Google Archives)
“All four of the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, math) were used to invent, launch, and sustain 8 Track. It was a big leap from the mono world to the stereo world. The 8 Track was a physical music playback system that allowed you to listen to songs without being present with the band. It was the introduction of ‘music to go.’”
“My dad was hired by Ford in January 1965, and the 8 Track was ready to go by October 1965. It was a rush program, to be sure. After Ford came out with 8 Track, Chrysler, and then GM, Volkswagen, and American Motors offered 8 Track. It was successful because it was a group effort.”
“Motorola designed the players, Lear made the cartridges, RCA contributed the music, and Ford installed the players into 1966 model year vehicles.”
“Initially, none of the record companies would license their music to 8 Track. But Bill Lear knew David Sarnoff, chairman at RCA Records, and they licensed 175 albums.”
Motown 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)
“Then later, Motown Records in Detroit, licensed some of their catalog for it. And all the other record companies came on board, and by 1970 it was a $1 billion industry. Motown even let Lear’s team transfer the initial master record tracks from RCA to magnetic tape. Berry Gordy would sometimes come up and hang out on the third floor of Motown Records (which is a converted house on West Grand Blvd.), and the machine was only available after midnight.”
“What I want the reader to take-away is that forming a talented team and working together is key to the success of any project. You’ll also learn how vital it is to control your intellectual property, and how to launch a major industry from scratch, and take advantage of the good sales years and properly prepare for winding down the business, as 8 Track gave way to cassettes, and so on.”
RJ’s dad John P. King fills in the gaps
RJ calls his father on the phone. His dad, John P. King, is 85 years old. He grew up on Chicago’s west side on Jackson Boulevard near Garfield Park, until moving to Michigan in January 1965. He earned a master’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and he had magnetic tape background based on his early employment.
John started out as project engineer for the introduction of the 8 Track Tape Player, and wrote all the standards (and made sure everyone adhered to them).
He retired as Regional Manager of Asia Pacific and New Markets for Ford Customer Service Division in 1997, and today is active with FREE(Ford Retired Executive Engineers).
“The development of 8 Track was fast-tracked so we could make the 1966 model year. We all worked many extra hours to bring it to market in only nine months, which was unheard of.”
“Back then, I had what we called a ‘Sound-Off’ with Earl ‘Mad Man’ Muntz out at the Ford Assembly Plant (28801 South Wixom rd, Wixom, MI). Muntz acquired that nickname in Los Angeles when he had a used car business. He was the guy who invented the 4 Track tape player, and he had a flair for showmanship and self-promotion. He was trying to get all the automakers to go for his 4 Track.”
“The Sound-Off was held at the Ford Wixom Plant, where at that time they were building the Thunderbird and the Lincoln Continental. Well we had an audio test among a small group of Ford people and Muntz, and we pitted his 4 Track against our 8 Track tape player by doing a live demonstration.”
“I showed up with my 1963 Ford Fairlane wagon, but I had swapped out the factory speakers with six-by-nine-inch speakers front and rear, and I had installed a very new production 8 Track tape player. From there, it was obvious that the 8 Track sounded far better. What wasn’t obvious was that I had installed stereo speakers in my car.”
Ford Quadrasonic 8-Track (courtesy of Google Archives)
“One other funny story. Donald Frey, the guy who designed the Ford Mustang, lived near Pete Estes, who was vice president for General Motors. Don was the overall lead on 8 Track at Ford, and he asked if speakers could be mounted in the front grill of his car, and he wanted specially loud Motorola bullhorn speakers. The speakers were wired to Don’s 8 Track tape player in his car. At the time, Ford’s ad slogan was ‘Ford has a better idea.’ So every morning when he drove by Pete’s house, Don would blast that slogan with the music at full volume.”
“Later, in 1967, Don Frey had us do a sound comparison between the 8 Track Tape Player with the latest cassette tape. At that time, the fidelity of the 8 Track was superior. Another factor was you had to manually flip the cassette, where 8 Track was hands free. But eventually cassette won out as Lear, who owned the patents on 8 Track, sold them to Gates Rubber Co., and they failed to renew the patents in 1975. From there, the standards could not be maintained, and the industry started to introduce cheaper products.”
“A plus for cassette tapes was that it was much easier to record your own material. And the cassette was half the size of 8 Track. So we helped usher in cassettes, and then compact discs. When I retired from Ford in 1997, downloads were available, and you could see one day they would be readily available.”
Back to RJ.
RJ King Biography
RJ King (courtesy of DBusiness)
“I have 6 sisters, 2 brothers, and I’m in the middle! (laughs) I have 3 sisters and 1 brother older, and also 3 sisters and 1 brother younger.”
“I’m editor of DBusiness magazine. Prior to that I was working at The Detroit News starting in 1990. I was on the business staff until I ran into Gail Fisher (now Gotthelf) while volunteering at a charity event during Super Bowl week in February 2006.”
“Gail worked for Hour Media and said the two owners, John Balardo and Stefan Wanczyk, were looking to start a business magazine. I came onboard and that’s how DBusiness was born.”
“Hour Media is based in Troy, Michigan. As a parent company, they own around 160 magazines, including HourDetroit, DBusiness, Grand Rapids magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and we have other magazines in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Cincinnati, Atlanta, all throughout Florida, the Gulf Coast of Alabama, and more.”
“In general, I write one story per day forDBusiness Daily News and write about 7-10 stories per each issue of DBusiness magazine.”
“In terms of local restaurants, some favorites are Roman Village in Dearborn and also London Chop House and the Vertical Wine Bar, both in Detroit.”
Detroit Engine of America-RJ King
“We just introduced an audiobook version of my other book, ‘Detroit: Engine of America,’ available on Audible.”
“And I have a fifth book coming out in March 2021 called “Grounds for Freedom.” It’s an unbelievable true story about Andrew Niemczyk, a local inventor who has developed amazing machines and new technologies. Check out his website at Exlterra. ”
*Most of this timeline was pieced together from information found in RJ’s book
Rarest 8-Track: SinatraJobim (courtesy of Google Archives)
1928-Motorola founded in Chicago. Bill Lear helped name the company.
1930-the Motorola car radio is invented
1935-RJ’s father John P. King born in Chicago
1948-Columbia Records introduces the LP
1949-RCA invents 45 RPM
1949-sales of the 1949 Ford help save the company’s fortunes
1952-endless loop tape cartridge invented
1954-George Eash invents the Fidelipac tape cartridge
September 12, 1955-Chrysler agrees to install Peter Goldmark’s in-car record player (Columbia Records) after the automaker’s team in Highland Park, MI tests the prototype by driving on the nearby Davison Freeway.
1956-58-the Highway Hi-Fi in-car record player is featured in some Chrysler vehicles. It uses special 7-inch records called ‘ultra-microgroove.’ It was a big flop.
1959-closed loop tape players are used at nearly every AM radio station
1960-used car dealer Earl “Madman” Muntz invents the 4 track tape player
1961-Michiganian Larry Spitters founds Memorex in Silicon Valley
1962-the audio cassette is developed by Philips in Hasselt, Belgium
1963-Bill Lear, owner of 110 patents, invents the Lear Jet to be introduced in 1966
October 1964-the 8-Track Stereophonic Tape Player is developed by Bill Lear and Richard Kraus at Lear Jet corporate HQ (Wichita, KS). Afterwards, they are built regularly at the Lear Jet Stereo-8 division (13131 Lyndon Ave, Detroit)
January 1965-John P. King moves to Dearborn to work for Ford
July 1965-Motorola begins production shipments of 8 Track tape players to Ford
October 3rd, 1965-8 Track tape players are released to the general public thanks to Lear’s friendship with Henry Ford II (grandson of big Henry). They are released in the form of an AM radio with integrated 8 track tape player installed inside Ford vehicles.
1965-80 = 8 track is popular
1966 = Ford sells over 125,000 8 track players as an option (available on six models)
Fall 1966-all Detroit automakers now offer 8-Track factory installation options
April 1967-Gates Rubber Co. acquires a controlling interest in Lear Jet
May 1967-Earl Muntz has his son Jim Muntz fly to Detroit and open Muntz CARtridge City (15278 Gratiot Ave, Detroit) to sell 4 track players and tapes
1969-Sinatrajobim 8 track tape (3,500 made but quickly recalled; only a handful not recalled). This is currently the rarest 8-Track, selling for upwards of $6,000
September 1969-production of 8 Track tapes ceases at Lear’s Detroit plant. They move production down to twin plants in Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Mexico.
December 1969-Lear’s company’s name is changed to the Gates Learjet Corp.