A legendary songwriter with Motown Records, Barrett Strong has reached the absolute peaks of artistic and commercial success penning some of America’s most well-loved soul anthems. His Grammy Award-winning "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Psychedelic Shack" and "Just My Imagination" are but a few of the timeless songs he has written.
Regardless of his illustrious musical past, Strong remains active in cultivating the legacy of great music in Detroit. Now taking on the roles of artistic mentor, producer and talent scout, he is the founder of Blarritt Records and the promoter of the Boomtown Sound.
Strong is not only a noted figure in musical history, he is a role model and unifier of Detroit’s musical and cultural communities.
Writing songs since a very young age, he was introduced to Berry Gordy by family friend, Jackie Wilson, and began his work in the music business at the tender age of 15. His first big hit with the Motown Label was "Money (That’s What I Want)," which he also sang. Strong then teamed up with another Motown legend, Norman Whitfield, and the two became a dynamic songwriting and production duo that helped tailor songs to fit the unique talents of greats including Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Jerry Butler, the Dells and Chubby Checker. The timeless magic of Barrett and Whitfield is still heard today in songs such as "Papa Was A Rolling Stone," "I Wish It Would Rain," "Cloud Nine," "War" and "Smiling Faces Sometimes" just to name a few.
Recognized by his fans as well as his peers, Strong has received numerous Grammy Award nominations. He also possesses an almost unbelievable 12 gold singles, two platinum singles, and three gold albums based on the enormous popularity of his hit songs. In 1990, the National Association of Songwriters in Los Angeles awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Unlike most of his peers who left Detroit when Motown moved to Los Angeles, Strong decided to remain here and dedicate himself to illuminating the city that had helped make him such a shining star.
Rock, soul, gospel, rap, hip hop and alternative — Blarritt Records and The Boomtown Sound is music for everyone. Drawing upon the diversity of Detroit’s various cultural and ethnic communities, The Boomtown Sound reflects the richness of this area’s underreported and sometimes unrecognized musical and artistic talent. Strong is committed to discovering this talent and polishing these artists with his own unique lyrical genius and his unparalleled musical experience and success.
When Arthur Penhallow came to WRIF-FM and Detroit’s airwaves in 1971, the inauguration enhanced the city’s airwaves as well as its taste in music.
With his deep baritone voice yelling "Baby!" and his variety of words describing trysts with women, Penhallow has become a Detroit legend. Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thought so as well, enshrining he along with a handful of other DJs into an exhibit at the museum.
Music has always been close to Penhallow’s heart. He began his career on the performance end, playing in various bands, and actually warmed up for the Mamas and Papas once. Penhallow has owned the afternoon drive in Detroit since he signed with WRIF more than 30 years ago, a reign that is virtually unmatched in contemporary radio. He spews catchphrases like a sports star and has given bands more nicknames than any ESPN host.
Penhallow's trademark growl and legendary party-animal spirit are the key to his success. "Baby!" graces T-shirts and bumper stickers and a variety of blonde women, including Karen Newman, have lip-synched his infamous shout out via television commercials. Born in Honolulu, he has made his trek to Maui an annual event, bringing along with him fans who eagerly wait by the radio to win their chance to party with the Grand Poobah.
But rumors swirl around the gray-haired elder statesman like a tornado hitting a trailer park. Whether its his salary, spouses, contract requirements or partying, it’s bound to become legend among the rock-listening folks. The womanizing is no myth, however. His stories of hanging out in strip clubs, bars and backstage have filled the airwaves as long as Penhallow has been on the air.
"I like all sports, especially women," he says. "I love girls with long blonde, brown, red or black hair. And I love the great outdoors, and drinking in rowdy rock-and-roll bars."
His WRIF DJ son, Art Jr., has picked up on his father’s habits, often spreading the word about his after-hours debauchery, partying and visiting adult entertainment clubs.
Musicians respect Penhallow. Artists like Creed, Metallica, and Peter Wolf drop in for exclusive on-air interviews with the "Grand Poobah."
Rock groups — those he had interviewed in the past and others he may have not yet met — flock to the phone lines to wish him happy birthday annually.
In the fall of 2000, he became a bar owner, opening Penhallow’s After Dark in Westland, in the former location of Graffiti’s. The halls are decked with photos of the Grand Poobah with a variety of rock stars. The club is a logical step for Detroit’s party master. He’s been coming into our radios from 30 years and there isn’t a chance that he’s letting up just yet. Baby!
Detroit-area musicians and artists will claim that there’s little support for local entertainment on the city's airwaves. But for several years, Detroit Public Television’s "Backstage Pass" has gone a long way to disprove that.
Host Ann Delisi and her cast of expert co-hosts step into viewers’ living rooms at 7:30 p.m. Sundays, 5:30 p.m. Thursdays and 1 a.m. Saturdays to offer a generous helping of the city’s exhibitions, live productions and special events which define cultural life in the Motor City. She and the rest of the "Backstage Pass" crew bring to the show the rare ability to look past what’s popular and bring forward the true talents displayed in the city.
The show’s goal is to build audiences for the arts — from theater to dance to music — and "Backstage Pass" has more than met that. Local artists and musicians (Howling Diaglos, Maxim Vengerov) flock to the show as well as national recording stars. She counts performances by Steve Poltz, who wrote Jewel’s hit "You Were Meant For Me," the Reduced Shakespeare Company of Los Angeles and Dead Elvis among her favorites.
"Backstage Pass" recruited a stellar list of co-hosts — journalists Gary Graff, W. Kim Heron and Marsha Miro as well as entertainment lawyer-scribe Lex Kuhne — to help bring the arts closer to the everyday viewer. They share hosting duties and bring credibility and knowledge to the WTVS Channel 56 television show.
A lifelong Detroiter, Delisi’s "other job" is music director for WPLT-FM (96.3), where she hosts the indie-heavy radio show "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" from 9-11 a.m. Saturdays. The Gavin Award-winner delves into albums and musicians that other stations would turn a deaf ear. Through her years at WPLT-FM, she has brought the station from alternative rock to retro and back again.
Her broadcasting career began after graduating from Wayne State University. A gig volunteering for WDET-FM lead to a 12-year DJ tenure at the station during which she was the music director for five years. Her experience is vast, studying jazz, rock, local bands, funk, blues and world beat for talks with various artists.
"My innate curiosity has served me well in being an interviewer, which in many ways is the most exciting part of what I do. Delving into someone else’s personality and life, and getting them to talk about themselves freely is a challenge. And it’s exciting," she has said.
In 1995, she went from public to commercial radio, helping CIDR-FM in Windsor launch "The River," the first Album Adult Alternative (AAA) station in Detroit.
Besides her radio work, Delisi pens a weekly column for the suburban Observer & Eccentric Newspapers. The pieces work as previews to her TV offering. She recently added acting to her resume, participating in "The Vagina Monologues" at Second City.
All of her experience gives her the backstage pass to in-depth info about Detroit’s arts and music scene.
Willie D. Warren
Anybody who ever saw Willie D. Warren perform knew he was one of the best authentic bluesmen to ever call Detroit home. As a vocalist he had a sweet, smooth delivery and his guitar style was spare and true. He worked with such Detroit mainstays as Bobo Jenkins and Baby Boy Warren in addition to leading his own stellar units and serving as a mentor to younger players on the scene.
Warren was born in Stamps, Ark., on September 11, 1924. At age 13, his family moved to Lake Village, Ark., in the heart of the Mississippi delta. It was here he started playing on the streets and eventually leading his own groups. He taught the basics of guitar to his band's singer, Eddie Jones, who went on to achieve stardom as Guitar Slim. In the late 1940s Willie and Slim traveled across Louisiana playing the blues.
By the late 1950s, Willie followed the great migration of blues people to Chicago where he found work in the bands of Freddie King and Otis Rush. During this period became a pioneer of electric bass in the blues by lowering the tuning on his guitar and playing bass lines. Willie played with many the great blues artists of the day including Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and David "Honeyboy" Edwards. He even recorded for Chess Records with Morris Pejoe.
Warren came to Detroit in 1975 to perform and record with former Chess recording artist Bobo Jenkins. Through Jenkins, Willie started playing with the legendary Baby Boy Warren. Backed by the Progressive Blues Band they were a top attraction in the Motor City until Baby Boy's death in 1977. Willie then took over as the band's frontman.
During an era of uneasiness between the races, Warren was among a handful of black blues artists in Detroit to work with young white musicians. His blind eye toward color did not always sit well with some of his peers. Nevertheless he mentored many Detroit blues musicians and worked pretty much wherever he wanted, when he wanted.
Warren can be heard on several recordings. He recorded for the Big Star, Blues Factory, Way/Sac and Blue Suit labels on various compilations. His first full length CD, "Willie D. Warren and Mystery Train," came out in 1999 on the Detroit-based No Cover label. It was a live session featuring Willie's friend Jim McCarty on guitar. He also recently recorded a CD for the English-based Bluetrack label which will be released soon.
Willie D, Warren passed away Dec. 30, 2000 after a long illness.