In 2016, the National Park Service celebrated its centenary, and Josephine Matyas and Craig Jones hit the road to explore some of America's best national parks, thermal hot springs, and regional food and music. Here, the music archive of the Midwest.
America's great gift to the world has to be the music of the transplanted African slaves, who brought with them a sensibility and a sound that infused itself into the work routines and celebratory rituals that—in the fullness of time—formed what is called the blues and its little brother jazz.
It's easy to lose track of the origination of these genres, easy to forget how they were born of extreme suffering suffused with a quest for transcendence. But you can capture a sense of this by visiting the wonderful monuments to this legacy scattered across the lower 48. All across our travels through the Midwest, music lovers and archivists have commissioned and lovingly curated marvellous tributes to blues, rock and roll, jazz and the people who created them.
The musical exploration of our trip began in Detroit at the Motown Museum, Hitsville U.S.A. This is the spot where songwriter and businessman Berry Gordy set up shop in 1967, fashioning a crude recording studio out of his garage, creating Tamla Records.
Gordy's approach was to establish separate properties specializing in the various aspects of generating and marketing the music. Motown occupied seven different houses: one for teaching harmony singing, another for dance, one for makeup and deportment, another for finance, etc. Today the main house—the Motown Museum—is a shrine to the magic of The Funk Brothers, the house band of Detroit-based jazz musicians who laid down the backing tracks for legends like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, The Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and many more.
Until 1972, when Gordy moved the whole operation to Los Angeles, this was ground zero for the recording and production of hundreds of Top 10 hits—songs that filled the airwaves across North America and influenced a generation of young men in the U.K., including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and countless others.
If you've ever grooved to "My Girl," "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Baby Love," or "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," it all comes back in the house's Snake Pit recording studio—nicknamed for the microphone cables that hang from the ceiling. Soak in that vibe and gaze upon the still-intact recording equipment from the early 20th century. This is where the magic happened; where those amazing songs took form.
The museum is more than just the recording studio; it was the Gordy family home and the first office for what would become the Motown empire. Walls are adorned with promotional material from the early 60s, gold records, instruments from those wonderful sessions, lots of photographs of the stars who recorded at Motown and an early—and very primitive—reverb chamber that was cut out of the ceiling of one room. Very cool.
Next: A museum of instruments...
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