The first significant music history that was made at United Sound came on December 21st 1947. It is this date that TQM Recording Co. has recreated with five wonderful Detroit musicians that we now call the Detroit Bop Quintet.
This 1947 recording date was significant for many reasons. It was most likely the first nationally famous recording artist to record at United Sound and not only was the artist famous, he was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.Charlie Parker
and his Quintet were in Detroit performing as a group by themselves and backing Sarah Vaughn
at the El Sino Club
. It was a fourteen day stretch that began on December 19th 1947 and ended on January 1st 1948. What brought Charlie Parker to Detroit in the dead of winter was a bit of a return engagement. I'm sure that if Parker had his way he would have been anywhere else other than Detroit but when a prior engagement at the El Sino went horribly wrong, Parker was obliged to play. The story goes that Parker's previous visit to Detroit did not go so well, his vices got the better of him and he was not able to perform as planned. This December visit was making good on his promise to the El Sino. From what has been gathered in local Detroit folklore Parker was at his peak while performing over these fourteen days. His Quintet was made up of some pretty heavy players; a very young Miles Davis
on trumpet, Max Roach
on Drums, Tommy Potter
on Bass and Duke Jordan
At this time in music history recording sessions were generally reserved for cities like New York and Chicago. So, why then would producer Teddy Reig
choose to record in the then unproven city of Detroit. The answer lies in the fact that the musicians union were about to enforce a recording ban. On January 1st 1948 the union would enact and enforce a ban on all commercial recording activities. It was a strike by the union against the recording companies in an effort to improve the pay musicians would receive for their work. With the recording ban only ten days away Savoy Records
asked Reig to get Parker and his band in to the nearest studio to record a few sides.
What Reig, Parker and his bandmates found when they entered United Sound on the morning of December 21st 1947 was one of the most sophisticated recording studios in the country. James Siricuse had built the studio on 2nd Avenue in Detroit. The building was a large two story home that Siricuse had converted to a recording studio. But this was not just a make shift studio thrown together in someone's basement or living room. The control room occupied what was once the front room and the recording space was in what might have been the dining room. Siracuse being a perfectionist built this studio to exacting standards and utilized some of the most advanced acoustic treatments of the time. Polycylindrical diffusers lined the walls and the room was tuned to acoustic perfection. The control room featured a state of the art mixer and acetate recorder and the microphone cabinet was stocked with RCA Ribbon microphones and the latest technologies from local Michigan microphone manufacturer Electro-Voice. United Sound was not some second rate studio in a backwater town. It was perhaps the best studio in the country and it was built like all things in 1940s Detroit, to last.
While the 1947 Charlie Parker session may be the first international music success story to come out of United Sound it was definitely not the last. In its first incarnation under the ownership of Jimmy Siracuse United Sound scored several international hits. Shortly after the 1947 Charlie Parker session local Detroiter John Lee Hooker
arrived at United and recorded his debut smash "Boogie Chillen". In the early 1950's United Sound became the home to Dizzy Gillespie's
Dee Gee Records and in 1952 Jackie Wilson
started his long list of United Sound recorded hits with "Danny Boy". In 1958 a young Berry Gordy
recorded the very first Motown
sides at United Sound and then bought a house a few blocks away and converted it to a recording studio and when the hits kept coming Gordy used United Sound as his second recording home. In 1969 Isaac Hayes
would come to United Sound's Studio A to record the orchestration for Hot Buttered Soul.
In 1971 guitarist and Motown producer Don Davis
purchased United Sound from Jimmy Siracuse and the hits kept on coming. Hundreds of hit records were produced at United Sound under the helm of Davis. In the 1970's George Clinton and Funkadelic
basically moved in calling Studio A their home for almost 20 years. The 1980's saw the recording of seminal records by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
and Aretha Franklin
By the mid 1990's United Sound Systems, like much of Detroit, fell in to disrepair and its doors were closed. But in recent times the studio has re-opened and with thanks to current owner Danielle Scott the doors have re-opened and a new era of hits are sure to slowly trickle from the studio.