United Sound Systems Recording Studios is more than just a Recording Studio – it is an institution which birthed a musical legacy which we still thrive upon. Established in 1933 by Jimmy Siracuse, it became the first independent and full service major recording studio in the nation and created a platform which gave artists, musicians, writers, and producers the ability to record music, cut the record and get airplay without being signed to a major label. What started as a hub for commercials and advert jingles, in the 1940s would become where Charlie Parker, Max Roach & Miles Davis recorded BeBop Jazz Standards, and John Lee Hooker recorded ‘Boogie Chillun’. Thereafter, artists such as Little Willie John, Jackie Wilson, and then songwriter Berry Gordy, who recorded Tamla/Motown’s first release at United Sound Systems in 1959; Marv Johnson’s ‘Come To Me’ (Tamla 101).
Throughout the 1960s, United Sound became home to hits by Bob Seger (“Ramblin’ Gablin Man” & “Heavy Music”), The MC5 (“Back In The U.S.A”), and many of Detroit’s rock & roll luminaries. However, Don Davis, a producer who worked for Motown and Stax records would revitalize the Stax Records catalogue by recording albums such as Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul”, “Shaft”, and Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Makin’ Love”, and the Dramatics’ “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” at United Sound. Don Davis purchased United Sound in 1971, and continued to nurture the studio that would then change the landscape of the music industry by producing the very first Platinum Single – Johnnie Taylor’s “Disco Lady”.
In the 1970s United Sound Systems was a revolving door for the who’s who of the industry elite (such as Gladys Knight & The Pips, Albert King, and Al Hudson & One Way), but also a then local rock band called “Death”, who created a sound so far ahead of its time that it recently gained recognition. That was also the era that George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic created the sound that became known as “P-Funk”. Songs like “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)”, “Mothership Connection”, “Flashlight”, “One Nation Under A Groove”, “(Not Just) Knee Deep” and “Atomic Dog”, are still as infectious as they were when they were created at United Sound. Also, P-Funk bands such as Bootsy’s Rubber Band, The Brides Of Funkenstein, Parlet, Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns, ) all recorded their major works here, well into the 1980s, when George Clinton discovered a band called “The Red Hot Chili Peppers” and recorded their first major album ‘Freaky Styley’ here at United Sound.
Within the 1980s and 1990s, pivotal moments which happened at United Sound seem to be out of a fairy tale: Paul Riser, the famed arranger for Motown, conducted the orchestra for hits like Luther Vandross’ ‘A House Is Not A Home’ and R-Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’. Also, The Rolling Stones Joined miss Aretha Franklin for an updated version of their hit “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, which was used in the movie of the same name with a fresh-on-the-scene comedienne named Whoopi Goldberg. A video for this was made the same day as the recording and featured in the 1986 film.
The list of artists and timeless hits that came from within the walls of 5840 Second Ave., Detroit, Michigan is so staggering it’s unbelievable. “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. “More Bounce To The Ounce” by Roger Troutman & Zapp. “Sisters Are Doin’ it For Themselves” Aretha Franklin & The Eurythmics, “Rapture” by Anita Baker, “Real Love” by the Doobie Brothers. “You Brought The Sunshine” by The Clark Sisters. Garage Rock to Gospel and everything in between – This is where the music industry got it’s standard.
“I am alive like you, and now I stand beside you. Close your eyes and look around, you will see me in front of you. ”
— Gibran's epitaph