December 6th, 2014

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Twirl Records was formed by producer Harry Balk and investor and deal maker Irving Micahnik. Impact Records was formed later by Harry after he and Irving had dissolved their partnership.
Twirl Records had an office at 20 Alexandrine close to Woodward in midtown Detroit in the early 60s. Harry was the first record producer I had ever met. I first met Harry when I joined the Royaltones. We recorded a few singles for Harry at Bell Sound in New York. Bob Babbitt and I recorded a lot of Northern Soul records for Harry. We used to make demos in the office on a tape recorder and use the hard tile floors in the bathroom to create an echo chamber. I had done my first record date at the age of 15 on a song called “I’m Gone” by Vic Gallon. I had also done recording sessions in South Carolina while serving in the US Army. One of the artists I recorded for was Maurice Williams. I also had a single out called “Holding Hands” on May Records. The record company told me I could never get a hit under my name Dennis Coffey so they made me use the name Clark Summit. I think that may have been the name of a town in Pennsylvania. I didn’t get a hit under that name but later had three hits “Scorpio”, “Taurus”, and “Ride Sally Ride” under my name.
I remember those demo sessions at the office on Alexandrine. I got to work with writer Duke Browner. Duke worked for Harry and wrote many songs. Harry had an old piano in the office that writers and arrangers played to help us learn the songs before we went into the studio to record. Duke must have learned to play the piano using mainly the black keys which put a lot of his songs in strange keys like F#, B, and C#. I played on his records “Crying Over You” and “Nothing But Love”. I also got to work with arrangers like T.J. Fowler, Joe Hunter (Motown Funk Brother), and Popcorn Wylie. We recorded songs on the Volumes such as “Gotta Give Her Love” and “Monkey Hop” at Special Studios on East Grand Blvd in Detroit with sound engineer Danny Dallas. I also played on It’s a “Mad, Mad” World and “Money Honey” with Johnny and the Hurricanes. I think it was the first time I met guitarist Eddie Willis (Motown Funk Brother). Here are videos of me playing on “Crying Over You” with Duke Browner and “Gotta Give Her Love” by the Volumes.

We usually got paid $15 a song in those days. When we would ask Harry when we would get paid, he would always tell us a week or ten days which usually meant a month or two. I learned what a record producer actually does by working with Harry. At least I thought I did until I became a producer along with my partner Mike Theodore. I had no idea back then what mixing was and the role of the producer in that process. Mike and I learned most of our production skills at Tera Shirma Studios after hours recording friends of ours after their club gigs.

Twirl Records Execs and Dell Shannon

Harry Balk, Del Shannon, Irving Micahnik








I first became a member of the Royaltones when their leader George Katsakis called me to work a gig with them at the Scenic Inn in Metro Detroit. George and I first met as young musicians playing in teen clubs. George played sax in the Royaltones and I played guitar in The Pyramids. The other two original members of the band were the Popoff Twins. Mike played piano and Greg played drums. We didn’t have a bass player at the time so it was me on guitar, George on Sax, and the Popoff twins on keyboard and drums.
Later the Popoff twins left the band and George hired Bob Babbitt (Motown Funk Brother) on bass, Marcus Terry on drums, and Dave Sandy on sax and vocals. We all sang and did five part harmony in the clubs around Metro Detroit.
Later George and I became writing partners and we recorded “Our Faded Love” and “Misty Sea”. We also backed up Dell Shannon on “Handy Man”, “Do You Want to Dance”, “Keep Searching”, “Little Town Flirt”, and “Move it On Over” which I co-wrote with Del. “Handy Man” was the first gold record I had ever played on. I remember I was working all summer with The Royaltones at Summer’s Point on the Jersey shore. Del used to come down to rehearse with us and then we would drive to New York City and record at Bell Sound. Here is me and the Royaltones playing “Our Faded Love”.

Royaltones CD cover

The Royaltones








I first met Del through Harry Balk. Del was already so successful he told me the Beatles were his opening act in the UK and Europe. I respected his talent and used to write lead sheets for him. I was majoring in Harmony and Theory at Wayne State University in Detroit so it gave me the chance to apply what I had learned about writing music.
I remember when we recorded “Handyman” with Del in New York. Del saw a guitar amplifier in Bell Sound that he wanted to use. He was told that amp belonged to the New York Guitar Club which was a group of session guitar players who owned amps in studios around town so they didn’t have to bring their own. The guitarists and bass at Motown plugged into a direct box on top of a large speaker cabinet and went directly to tape. We didn’t need amplifiers. Del had to pay to become a member of the guitar club to use that amp which he did.
Del was a big fan of country music star Hank Williams. I was too and learned a lot of his songs back in the day. Del decided to do a county album of Hank Williams songs. Del added a steel guitar to the session band and we recorded the album at United Sound Systems in Detroit. The album title was “Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams”. I enjoyed playing on that album.
The last time I saw Del and spoke to him was in the early 80s. I was living in New Jersey and Del was performing in New York. I bought a ticket to his show and went to see it. After the show I surprised Del. He took me back to the dressing room. One of the first things he asked me was “Where is Babbitt?” I told him Babbitt lived in New Jersey too and I had done a few sessions with him in New York. Dell then looked over at his jacket which was hanging on a hook in the dressing room. Someone had ripped the pockets right out of his jacket looking for money. He was not happy. I had played on most of the songs he did in his show and was surprised when he sang “Move it On Over” a song we had co-wrote to close the show. Del was the first major artist I had ever worked with. He was also a nice guy. Here is a video of me playing with Del Shannon on “Handy Man”.

Del Shannon in cowboy hat

Del Shannon

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Dennis Coffey