Richard 'Popcorn' Wylie Dies at 69 Oct 26, 2008 16:18:17 GMT -5
Post by Motorcity on Oct 26, 2008 16:18:17 GMT -5
When the pianist and producer Richard “Popcorn” Wylie joined the tiny Motown label in 1960 the only big thing about it were the ambitions of its owner, Berry Gordy Jr, a former Detroit carworker.
Wylie, born in Detroit, had formed his first band, the Mohawks, at school, where he had acquired his nickname. “I was making some pretty good tackles at football and I was getting to the quarterback, who started hollering, ‘Man, this guy keeps popping up all over the place’,” he recalled.
The band rehearsed in the garage of his home and appeared at local venues, where Wylie would front the band wearing a homemade Mohawk headdress. They cut a record for a small local label and landed a gig at the Twenty Grand nightclub in Detroit, where they were spotted by Gordy.
Offered the chance to record for Motown, Wylie brought the Mohawks with him, including the bassist James Jamerson and the drummer Clifford Mack, both of whom would go on to become the nucleus of the Funk Brothers, the unheralded musicians who provided the foundation of the Motown sound. The producer Norman Whitfield (obituary, September 19), who died nine days after Wylie, was also briefly a member of the band.
However, Popcorn and the Mohawks’ first record — Custer’s Last Man, an answer disc to the novelty song Mr Custer — was less than auspicious and the follow-up, a reworking of Barrett Strong’s Tamla hit Money, fared no better. He was, however, active on the Motown music scene and was musical director of the company’s first live revue.
When his final early single for the label, Have I the Right, again failed to create much of a stir, Wylie left to join Epic Records before freelancing as a songwriter and producer. During the mid-Sixties he recorded and produced sessions for several local labels including the Motown rival Golden World records. He also formed two labels of his own, Pameline and Soulhawk.
Ironically, while few of his records proved that successful in America, many of them took on a new lease of life in Britain’s Northern soul clubs during the late Sixties and early Seventies, including the highly prized Rosemary What Happened. He also helped to write With This Ring, a song that took the reformed Platters vocals group back into the charts in 1967.
In 1971 he returned to the Motown fold to cut his most successful record, Funky Rubber Band. But his stay with the label for a second time was short and he recorded as a solo artist for the ABC label during the mid-1970s.
Wylie remained active in the music field during the 1980s and returned to the recording studio in the 1990s to record tracks for the British Motown enthusiast Ian Levine’s Motorcity label. He also kept in touch with other former Motown employees who had stayed in the city after the Motown corporation’s move to Los Angeles in the 1970s.
Richard “Popcorn” Wylie, performer, keyboards player and producer, was born on June 6, 1939. He died of suspected heart failure on September 9, 2008, aged 69