Over the last twelve month or so boutique, indie label MD RECORDS have issued some fine 7”s taken from the vaults of Detroit’s Pioneer label. MD/Pioneer releases on James Lately, the Tomangoes, the Sensations and the New Loves have been snapped up by discerning collectors who’ll now be delighted to learn that MD is lining up two new 45s sourced from the Pioneer vault with both 7”s featuring cult Detroit soul man TOMMY RODGERS.
First some bio. Tommy was born as Thomas Gilbert Rodgers in 1942 in Detroit; like millions of others, his family had migrated there from Georgia to seek work and what they hoped would be a better life. Young Tommy graduated high school in 1962 and his girlfriend at the time was a certain Diane (later Diana, of course) Ross! The Ross connection brought Tommy into contact with Otis Williams who was putting a group together to audition for Motown and Otis asked Tommy to join him in the Primes (later, the Temptations, again, of course!). Unfortunately Uncle Sam came calling and Mr T Rodgers soon became Private Soldier T Rodgers serving in Vietnam!
While he was away a young Gary Rubin set up Detroit’s Pioneer Studios, thinking if Berry Gordy could do it, so could he! Sadly he didn’t quite emulate the pugnacious Gordy but his studio and labels (Pioneer and Empire) became a haven for Detroit wannabees who hadn’t made it through the Hitsville door. Rubin recorded countless acts at Pioneer and many of their cuts were never released – now, thanks to the MD connection, lots are becoming available.
Now, by 1969 Tommy Rodgers was back in Detroit and he cut five sides at Pioneer – ‘Summer Love’, ‘Tell It to The Wind’, ‘United Hearts of America’, ‘Give Me Freedom (Or Give Me Love)’ and ‘Pass the Word’. ‘Tell It to The Wind’ and ‘Pass the Word’ were licensed to jazz man Ahmad Jamal’s New York based label AJP Records but despite the jazzer’s profile, the release meant nothing. Now, you guesed it, if you can find a copy you’d pay big bucks! A dejected Tommy was soon back in the Motor City but in the 70s he bounced back with a group called “The Brewster Crew,” a name paying homage to his upbringing near the city’s Brewster Housing Projects. The groups only single ‘Outta My Life’/ ‘I’m One Who Know’ is a real rarity!
Tommy’s three unreleased Pioneer recordings were real rarities too – till now! Step in MD Records who are now issuing two of those cuts along with the 2 AJP released tracks across two 7”. The first one pairs ‘Give Me Freedom’ with that “wind“ song. The former is dramatic and powerful; the latter more melodic and a touch sweeter. The second 45 brings together a gimmicky ‘United Hearts Of America’ which echoes Tommy’s military background with a pacey ‘Pass The Word’ which is a sort of hybrid of Motown’s ‘Get Ready’ and ‘Uptight’… a very typical Detroit sound!
All four tracks prove that Tommy Rodgers was a real contender. He was a powerful vocalist in the manner of, say, David Ruffin, Edwin Starr and Ali Woodson. Easy to hear why Otis Williams wanted to recruit him!