Joyriding with Marvin Gaye and Other Tales from the Night Shift at Motown Records

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12min 14sec

Colorado Springs resident Craig Carnick had a front row seat to one of the great eras in American music. Back in the 1960s, he worked the night shift as a recording engineer at Motown Studios in Detroit, Michigan.

"In 1967, 1968, it was a really interesting time to be alive and in Detroit," he remembers. 

Carnick was a student at Wayne State University, where he worked at the school radio station, WDET. One day, while poking around a bulletin board in the studio, he noticed an advertisement for a recording engineer job at Motown. He called the number listed, and set up an interview with Lawrence Horn, Motown's chief recording engineer. 

Berry Gordy, the man who built Motown, with the Supremes.
Credit The Motown Museum
Berry Gordy, the man who built Motown, with the Supremes.

"I was able to identify three stringed instruments from an audio recording, and he said, 'You're hired.'" 

Carnick's job was to work the overnight shift in the studio, capturing audio recordings of string parts to be used in Motown songs. While most of the time he was recording the work-a-day session musicians who made Motown go round, he did have his share of encounters with the legends of the day. 

"Smokey Robinson and his wife [who sang in his backing band] would bring in a bucket of chicken and a couple of six packs and we'd sit there, record a few songs, and then eat and drink some beer," he recalls. "Nothing got out of hand."

Then there was the joyride on the back of Marvin Gaye's motorcycle. 

"Looking back on it, it probably wasn't a good idea. There were no helmets, and speed was of the essence in Detroit."

Carnick spoke to Jeff Bieri for this month's episode of Air Check. Hear the rest of the story, as well as Carnick's explanation of what made the "Motown Sound" so special, in the player above.

Note: Carnick is a longtime supporter of 91.5 KRCC who typically offers a challenge grant during our membership drives.