Larry Buford: Detroit’s leading car and music brands!

‘The Big Three’ and Motown

(General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Motown were central to the culture)

* Can you remember when you could identify just by hearing the starter motor, or hearing how the transmission changed and know what brand of car it was? I can.

I remember sitting on our porch at Meldrum and Benson on the east side of Detroit and listening to the various cars driving from Mt. Elliott or Mack Avenues to the side streets. I knew as a five-year-old when my dad’s Hudson Hornet was within earshot. He (Milton) could have been blocks away, but I knew the sound. I knew the sound of my Uncle Walter’s Buick Roadmaster.

I knew the sound of Uncle Alvin’s Chevrolet Bel-Air (with Hollywood tailpipes). Uncle Alvin was also an accomplished pianist whose music flowed from the upper apartment at 3115 Meldrum Street to the surrounding neighborhood (the former Briggs manufacturing building destroyed by fire in 1963 was just across the street); a Catholic church on one corner with church bells ringing on the hour, and a bar on the other with secular music).

OTHER EURWEB NEWS: The Pulse of Entertainment: Jamaican superstar Hezron releases ‘Man on a Mission’ on Tad Records

The 1963 Briggs Building fire.  Bottom left, the 2nd and 3rd houses on the corner were my family.
The 1963 Briggs Building fire. Bottom left, the 2nd and 3rd houses on the corner were my family.

There was also the noise of the trains on the next block between Beaufait and Bellevue which gave me a constant feeling of mobility. I heard church bells, trains, cars and music constantly – at all times – waking up and falling asleep.

Then there were other relatives and family friends who owned various Ford, Chrysler and General Motors cars – made by the companies known as the “Big Three”. I learned to know who was coming and going! Meldrum and Benson became for me the melting pot of cars and music; they went together.

The Big Three had distinguished themselves and were ahead of the pack like Hudson, American Motors, Packard (and others); all of which were major automobile manufacturers; but were either shut down or absorbed by the majors. At the time, the top luxury product lines from each of the Big Three in order of luxury ranking were: General Motors – the Cadillac; Ford-the Lincoln Continental; and Chrysler – the Imperial. I won’t go into the whole ever-changing range of sales ranking totems; but they included, for the common man, such blockbuster brands as the Impala (GM), Galaxy (Ford) and New Yorker (Chrysler). Those were exciting times! We couldn’t wait for the start of the school year to reveal the models for the coming year! Think of other models like the Riviera; the Mustang; the Barracuda…Detroit was HOT!!

To complement the stylish advancements being made in the automotive industry, Detroit’s music scene was in tune. I was introduced to a lot of music by my family on both sides. The peculiarity of Meldrum Street was that my mother family lodge was on one side, and my Father’s family lodge was across a factory parking lot (it was a boy-next-door, girl-next-door thing). During the day, it belonged to the factory workers, but after they closed at night, the parking lot became our family playground! So, on the one hand, the sound of Mahalia Jackson could sound; and the other, Muddy Waters, and vice versa; because both sides of the family loved music (and cars bother you)! A song that brings tears to my eyes when I still hear it today is “Honky Tonk” by Bill Doggett I think this particular song was the predecessor to “What Does It Take!” of Motown’s great Junior Walker.

Then there were songs like “Runaway” by Del Shannon (also from Michigan) that made the car ride even more exciting and adventurous. I can’t begin to tell you what the Great Lakes region has given!! People to this day continue to say, “It’s something about the water” when they continue to see the phenomenal talents coming from this region like Anita Baker, Madonna, Bob Seger, M&M, etc…). There is so much more to say, but that would take a book, not an article.

I read how Motown Records founder Berry Gordy – while working at Ford Motor Company – came up with the idea of ​​running a record company like an assembly line similar to the production line automobile. I think we all know the history of Motown, and if I could draw this parallel: I could identify the “big three” brands of Motown with the big three of the automotive industry. Motown’s “Big Three” labels were Motown – the Supremes; Tamla-the miracles; and Gordy – the temptations. Again, I won’t go into the full line-up of every major brand, but there were also the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Martha & the Vandellas. There was a time when Detroit’s automotive and music brands were unmatched in the world, and through all the hardships the city currently faces, its citizens should always be proud! By the way: I still have my 1992 Chrysler Imperial which looks as neat as when I bought it new. It still has all the original parts after 218,000 miles! I also still have an extensive collection of all my old Motown favorites!

Again, as I said before, this is an article (originally written on June 24, 2013), not a book. I have so much more than I could write between the lines. I am not overlooking all of the many great jazz and blues artists of the era that I refer to in this article; I’m just trying to highlight a phenomenon that happened in the big city of Detroit with the auto industry and Motown Records.

Maybe some of you readers could contribute to this experience!

Larry Buford
Larry Buford

Larry Buford is a native Detroiter now residing in Los Angeles. Author of the book/CD “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” and “Book To The Future” (Amazon); and publisher of a CD titled “One More Time” also on Amazon. Email: [email protected]