In 1985 – just as the profile of the Detroit scene exploded overseas – Mike Grant enlisted in the military. Thus began his second career – a career aside from running what has to be considered one of the best underground record labels in America.
Mike Grant says he has no regrets.
A lot of people with regrets say things like that, but Mike Grant isn’t one of those people either. Too modest for preening in public, Mike is the genuine article. The real deal.
As someone almost as old school as Mike told me, “He was there in Detroit from the beginning. Do you understand? The very beginning.”
Mike began DJing in 1980 or 1981 – “under the tutelage,” he’s quick to credit, “of Blake Baxter.” But in 1985 – just before the profile of the Detroit scene exploded overseas and elevated the careers of many of his contemporaries – Mike enlisted in the military.
Thus began his second career – a career aside from running what has to be considered one of the best underground record labels in America.
Andrés remix of Cool Peepl’s Free Part 1 – featuring Billy Love, Amp Fiddler & Sundiata Om.
THE MUSIC CAME FIRST, and this isn’t a cliché either. “What really got me into this,” Mike says, “was my uncle Frank. He was the general manager of a radio station in Grand Rapids, Michigan, WKWM. He gave me records whenever I saw him and hooked me up with local distributors for A&M, RCA, Salsoul and so on, similar to a record pool.”
A record meant more when it couldn’t be dubbed, cloned or distributed digitally at minimal cost. A friend eyed his growing collection and asked Mike to join his DJ crew. This invitation lead to another invitation to join another DJ crew with Blake Baxter.
The next few years are a blur of proper names – a shorthand for things that would go on to achieve legendary status in Detroit folklore. The Beat Sound Company DJs with Baxter & Co. Playing on the local scene with folks like Ken Collier and Jeff Mills. The Street Beat radio show. And WGPR’s The Scene, the Detroit TV dance show which has received worldwide renown in the last few years after clips began surfacing on YouTube.
“RESURFACING” IS A WORD that comes to mind. Things don’t disappear when they’re submerged underwater, just like people don’t disappear when they’re out of sight and, it usually follows, out of mind.
Mike Grant had enlisted in 1985. The first great resurfacing came more than a decade later, when Deep House aficionados became obsessed with the massive records released from a label called Moods & Grooves out of Detroit.
It took a minute for people to realize that this was Mike Grant, the same Mike Grant from back in the day. After enlisting and then studying communications in Chicago in the early 1990s, he dropped the relentless “Nature of the Beast” (by Black Noise) on Metroplex in 1997 as a warm up. And then Mike launched Moods & Grooves, a new imprint (the name comes from the name of an acid jazz program on Chicago’s WNUR radio station) showcasing in large part the time-tested Chicago/Detroit musical connection.
Time has been kind to Moods & Grooves’ formidable catalog, featuring a roster that reads almost like a festival line-up: Kenny Dixon, Jr., Brian Harden, Rick Wade, Anthony “Shake” Shakir (as Da Sampla), Kyle Hall, Alton Miller, Gene Hunt, Mr. G and Theo Parrish.
Among those stellar records there’s one I’ve always loved in particular: the unique version of “Sharevari” by Mike Grant presents Cool Peepl.
“I was thinking I’d try it ‘the Detroit way’,” Mike remembers. “But then I sat down with Sky [Covington] and we broke it down and gave it a different, jazzy feeling. It was just bringing a group of people together.
“That’s the concept. ‘Cool Peepl’ means just that: cool people coming together to work on something bigger than what we can do individually. It’s not too tracky, not too aggressive. It’s a bit more organic.”
And that brings us up to date, as the Cool Peepl project has been resurrected on a new record with a new cast of Detroit artists. Called “Free”, part one features former Members of the House vocalist Bill Beaver, percussionist Sundiata O.M., keys by Amp Fiddler and keys & bass by Javonntte. And on the flip: an irresistible remix from Andrés.
“It’s interesting how it came about,” Mike says. “I was asked to remix something by one of the Jazzanova guys – not a track of theirs but something for the Sonar Kollective label.
“Production is something I’m constantly learning about and trying to improve upon, and compared to the first Cool Peepl record, I wanted to kick it up a level.
“They weren’t feeling it so I went back to my people – my cool people – and started thinking about bringing in a Detroit vocalist. It was the sound in the room that day. It took awhile, but I think it came together.”
Did it ever: the new Cool Peepl record has been in constant rotation here – something like a seven-minute soul symphony. I would have reviewed it here but other than swearing excitedly, words failed me. It’s astonishing.
Some labels hang on too long, but the resurrection of the Cool Peepl project and some of their other forthcoming gems (particularly “Free Part 2”, featuring an excellent remix from Mr. G.) are a strong indication that Moods & Grooves is still in stride to its prime.
IF YOU’RE PRIVY TO the private lives of some of the pioneers of this music – especially the fact that there is no disability pay for DJs – you understand part of why Mike Grant considers his departure from the scene in ’85 a blessing.
“It has been a blessing,” he says. “And anyway I managed to catch on later. They provided technical training, I have a retirement to look forward to, the VA for health benefits and money for college to pay off student loans. That’s a few things I can hang my hat on that people in the industry don’t have.”
He’s in the Active Reserves now – you remember it from the commercials, “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” – and was last on active duty in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012. Which sometimes formed its own unique challenges for one of the best A&R men in the business.
“One release went live when I was at Fort Hood at the mobilization site,” he says.
“Obviously, you have to pause for a moment when you’re in Afghanistan.”
“Free Part 1” by Cool Peepl featuring Billy Love, Amp Fiddler and Sundiata O.M. is out now from Moods & Grooves Records and available from Juno. You can hit up Mike via SoundCloud and big50entertainment.com. Photo of Mike Grant by Kalila Grant – thanks!