Home Artists Richard “Popcorn” Wylie (The great unknown of Motown)

Richard “Popcorn” Wylie (The great unknown of Motown)

Richard “Popcorn” Wylie (The great unknown of Motown)

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The song “Money (That’s What I Want)”, originally recorded by Barret Strong in 1959, is one of the most versioned songs in the entire history of Rock. A R’n’B theme that already hinted at what the Soul music that was about to invade the American hit charts would be like.

The song, in line with what Ray Charles was recording in those years, is a very novel song straddling the Rock & Roll of the 50’s and what would come a few years later, had a tremendous impact on all English groups From the early 60’s, almost all Merseybeat bands did their version, and lots of American bands from Frat Rock, Surf, etc, too. Dick Dale, The Beatles, The Astronauts, The Searchers, The Sonics, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Kingsmen, Roy Orbison, or one of the wildest versions I know of, that of Richard Wayne Wylie, also known as “Popcorn” Wylie, with a piano out of tune on purpose and mishap, The version of “Popcorn” Wilie and Jerry Lee Lewis are my favorites, a real fool that made me investigate this character.

“Popcorn” Wylie was one of the leading musicians in the early years of the Motown label.

Wylie was born in Detroit, Michigan, belonged to a family of musicians, learned to play the piano as a child. He attended Northwestern High School where he played soccer, it was his team members who nicknamed him “Popcorn”. While at school, he formed a group, Popcorn and the Mohawks, which also included Motown musicians and producers James Jamerson, Clifford Mack, Eddie Willis, Mike Terry, Lamont Dozier, and Norman Whitfield. The band operated locally, Wylie was the leader of the band and was onstage wearing a Mohawk headdress.

In 1960, he released a solo single, “Pretty Girl”, on the local Northern label. He also performed at a Detroit club, Twenty Grand, where he met musician Robert Bateman, who was working as an engineer on Berry Gordy’s fledgling Motown label. Wylie then started recording for Motown, releasing three unsuccessful singles like Popcorn and the Mohawks: “Custer’s Last Man” / “Shimmy Gully”, followed by a cover of “Money (That What Want) by Barrett Strong,” and then “Real Good Lovin ‘.” He also recorded with Janie Bradford as a duo and began working as a session musician. He played the piano on the 1961 The Miracles track “Shop Around” and on The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman”, and also worked with The Contours, Marvin Gaye, Marv Johnson, The Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas and Mary Wells. He was Motown’s first A&R chief, and band leader for the first Motortown Revue tour in 1962.

In 1962 he left Motown after a disagreement with Gordy, who apparently holds him an eternal grudge, as he did not mention his name in his subsequent autobiography. Wylie signed with Epic Records, releasing four singles between 1962 and 1964 in which he was backed by Sun Ra and members of his Arkestra. He later worked as a songwriter, and producer for various local labels, including SonBert, Ric-Tic, Correc-tone, Continental, and Golden World. He also formed his own labels, Pameline and SoulHawk in the mid-1960s. During this period, he worked extensively with singers Edwin Starr and J.J. Barnes, and co-wrote the Jamo Thomas song “I Spy (For the FBI)”. He also co-wrote the 1967 The Platters song “With This Ring”. Many of these records became well known in the Northern Soul scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He continued working as a producer, composer, and occasionally as a musician, throughout the 70s and 80s and 90s of the last century, writing new songs for The Contours or The Elgins, among others. Many of his recordings from the Pameline label were released in a recompilation titled, Popcorn’s Detroit Soul Party in 2002, and he also starred in a 2003 documentary, The Strange World of Northern Soul. He passed away in 2008 from a heart problem.

Juanmy “The Hunter”

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