Interview With Mike Lewis, Famous T.K. Records Musician and Arranger

Mike Lewis with a Gold Record (via MLewis.com)

HSM: FIRST OF ALL CONGRATULATIONS ON AN EPIC CAREER IN MUSIC. LOTS OF AMAZING WORK!
MikeLewis: Thanks. TK was a big part of that. They kept me busy for a long time. It was the hottest place in the world for a few years. Matter of fact Billboard had a “TK: The Place That’s Hot” cover. I was on at least a dozen hit records. Major hits. With KC I did six, and whoever else too, Betty Wright, Bobby Caldwell, Foxy, Blowfly…”Girl in the green, I’m gonna fuck ya till you scream.”

WHAT IS THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF MUSICIANS, AND HOW DOES A MUSIC UNION WORK?
It’s just a musicians union. There’s a union pay scale they adhere to, and at TK, a lot of guys did not belong and did not wanna belong to the union and I was out there one time when they were passing out checks at the TK studios. They would run a payroll every couple weeks where guys would come and get checks. They gave me a check for $1,200 dollas and I was next to a bass player. He got a check for $200 and he says, “How come you got so much more than I do,” I said, “Ron, I do it on the union pay scale don’t you?”

He said, “If I go union, they’ll get someone else.” He wouldn’t do it. So I got $1,200 bucks for a batch of sessions and he got $200 and I just simply asked for it, and the very first session I did was for Betty Wright, “Cleanup Woman,” just me playing tenor sax and Vinnie on the trumpet.

Steve Alaimo said, “Let me give you a hundred bucks a piece.” Union scale was $80 for the session and a payment into the pension fund.

I said, “I’m union.”

He said, “Ok.”

It didn’t cost him any more for the session, and the pension was only 8% then, it wasn’t even twenty bucks, so he actually appreciated that it was a union gig. Musicians were afraid of the union. But to this day, I still get residual checks from the stuff I did for KC, and some of that stuff was over 40 years ago, and I still get paid some of that stuff. The union collects money for what’s called re-use. They’ve used a whole lot of KC records in a Budweiser commercial, a Honda commercial, several movies. I got a check about a month ago for $4,000. Every union record I did, which is all of them, if they use it in another medium like a movie or tv commercial they gotta pay as if it were done for that medium. But you have to file a union contract and pay a pension amount of I think 12% of what you earn at the South Florida Federation of Musicians which is in Ft Lauderdale..

Mike Lewis’ first ten album credits for instrumental performance..

HOW DID YOU FIRST MEET HENRY STONE?
Years ago I was doing some sessions at Bobby Dukoff’s studio, he had bought an old grocery store and turned it into a recording studio, and he kept the machines in the freezer vault and I was doing some sessions there and Brad Shapiro heard the stuff and said, “Who is that guy?” He introduced himself as a producer for Tone Records. Tone Distributors was the name of the company. He said they needed someone to write horns and string parts. So I went over and met Steve Alaimo and he said, “Ok I got a thing for Betty Wright.” So we did the horns on “Cleanup Woman” in a funky, funky, funky studio upstairs. The toilet was stopped up for years and Willie Clarke would say, “The dookie beast lives in there.” After that, we made thousands and thousands of records. And a bunch of hits. Rivaling Motown at one time. Betty’s record became a hit, so after that I made probably half a dozen albums for Betty. Bobby Caldwell, Notorious Miami, Gwen McCrae, George McCrae, KC, Teri Desario, King Sporty, Blowfly, I probably made a dozen Blowfly albums. Benny Latimore. Sax Kari used the name Dirty Red Morgan. The list goes on and on.

WHAT WERE THE 1970S LIKE IN MIAMI?
Dodge City. Cocaine everywhere. You walk into a studio and the first thing you know, somebody sticks a spoon up your nose. It was so rampant I’m surprised we’re not dead or in jail. I remember calling a guy to come in and do a session. The first thing he says is, “Who’s bringing the blow.” And it would just appear. Everybody had a little stash in your pocket. Everybody would take turns layin out lines for everybody. One guy was a dealer. He had the scales out there in his house out near the airport. He was from Jamaica and into that reggae thing. I made a few records with him.

©Jake Katel and Henry Stone Music USA Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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