K.I.C – interview with Ross Whitney

In July 2004 I contacted Ross Whitney in the hope he might be about to shed some light on a record by K.I.C that I’d got hold of some time before. He was kind enough to be the same guy that produced the record and kind enough to shed some light on the mysterious outfit…

Wow, talk about “a blast from the past”! Yes, I’ll cop to having “produced” those recordings (just sorta booked and organized the sessions), and arranged the strings and horns on “Let’s Go Disco” and “I Don’t Want It” for a small, dilettantish enterprise based out of Windsor
Canada called “NewHit Records” (the combined names of two Canadian import business partners who started it, John Neville, and a guy named White, or Wight–don’t recall the spelling, who had just recently (1978-79) made a lot of money importing woven baskets and such to Canada from Haiti. It was to ultimately a tax write-off for them. The group was
called “Astrology” or something like that, and were based out of Detroit. As I recall, Neville and White held a big talent contest they’d announced in the Windsor and Detroit newspapers, and that Detroit group, plus a Windsor pop/rock band headed by a guy named “Danny Bonk”, were among those chosen to record for their new label. Greg Rogers was the
bass player, defacto group leader of “Astology”, and the guy who wrote those two songs. I think Terry George played keyboard, and the lead singer, whose name I’ve forgotten, who’d come up singing gospel music. I don’t remember the others–I think there were four or five members of the group–all really nice people. I’ve forgotten the meaning of “K.I.C.”, too (“Keep It Cool”, perhaps?).

After they’d chosen their artists, NewHit advertised their need for a producer in the local “want ads”, to which I replied and interviewed in Windsor on the strength of a project I’d just done with Woody Wilson’s Fee records for one of their new artists (a guy named Dylan Miller, aka JJ Miller).  I’d been lucky enough to work with some very talented Detroit musicians on the Fee Records project (Drummer, Jerry Jones; Bassist, Roderick “P-Nut” Chandler; Keyboard player & contractor, Arnold “Brimstone” Ingram; Keyboard player, Rudy Robinson; guitarist, Bruce Nazarian, and a bunch of others, some of who were part of the Motown Records scene before that company split to California. Though that project never came to anything, I had a great production demo that convinced John Neville to hire me to produce a couple of “Disco” tracks for them. I think I was paid $450 for producing, arranging, contracting, and doing the part copying, for each song; which was fair considering my lack of experience. Neville also hired a young Windsor guy named Bob
Steele (sp?) to help out, who I think was just as lost as I was. Of course, Neville, White, Steele, and I were all a bunch of suburban white guys and, though I can’t speak for anyone else, I myself was pretty out of touch with urban black music. I knew I was out of my element, of
course, but just hoped for the best and relied on the fact that the group knew what they were doing. We didn’t collaborate in the close-knit fashion so rightly celebrated these days but, rather unfortunately, worked as a kind of divided musical management/labor team, which was largely the result of my naivete.

Bob Steele and I chose the two songs from a demo of several, booked time at Detroit’s Sound Suite studio (a Westlake-designed room with a new MCI desk where I’d done the JJ Miller project), and laid the rhythm tracks in one session with an assistant engineer named Terry Tuck.  Astrology were without a drummer at that point, so we brought in a guy who I thinkhad played in another group that auditioned for NewHit.  He was cheerful, but couldn’t keep a steady beat. I think we tried to get him to play to a click, but he couldn’t follow it, so we just settled. That was my first big mistake.  We overdubbed guitar, strings, horns (including trumpeter, Marcus Belgrave and sax player, Ernie Rodgers), background vocals with a local trio of gifted ladies who called themselves “Brandye” (they made up their parts on the spot), over the course of a couple months, I guess.  Though we devoted a long, separate session to each mix, we didn’t have enough combined experience to do it
properly. The second serious mistake I made was to exclude the band members from the mixdown sessions on the theory that too many cooks ruin the stew; only problem was, none of us knew how to cook! As a result, nobody liked the mixes, including me. At one gathering, Terry George played the demo versions of the songs on a portable cassette player to show how much better they sounded than did the “finished product”. Even though the somewhat stiff and sterile process had squelched it from the start, the recordings would have benefitted tremendously from someone who knew how to mix. Everyone was gracious, and we parted on good terms, but we’d definitely fallen short of our mark. Consequently, not much thought or care went into pressing those 45s, and I never received copies (I can’t believe you have them!), or heard again from (or of) NewHit, or the members of Astrology.

It was an exciting experience, though, and represents the kind of (often aborted) effort undertaken daily by aspiring musicians everywhere. I was very fortunate to have worked with those folks, and I’m supercurious to know where their various paths have led.  I’m also glad for this opportunity to tell the story; thanks for asking!