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A Funky Disposition - The Story of The Propositions Through The Eyes of Producer Milt Harris.
As a teenager in a group called the Imperials lead singer Milt Harris made the doo-wop track ?Life of Ease,? originally on Great Lakes records and now a collectible 7? single. Moving on from the Imperials to become a producer, arranger, and writer he worked with various doo-wop artists at recording companies in Detroit, Michigan including Mutt Recordings and Correctone. Most of these records were released, but not all, including tracks with Wilson Pickett that were lost in the shuffle as Picket moved from Correctone to Double L after only one single, we?re sure those unreleased tapes would fetch a pretty penny now. Being based in Detroit through the 1960?s Harris rubbed shoulders and worked with many Motown musicians including William "Mickey" Stevenson, one of the unsung heroes behind the early success of the Motown sound.
Harris had opened a studio on Warren Avenue with friend Robert Robertson on a whim that it might be something they could do in Detroit. It proved not to be Robertsons calling and he moved on as the 1960?s became the 1970s. Harris moved the operations to 9120 Livernois St, and the New Dimension recording studio was born.
?At the time I was working with several artists including a female vocalist called Vee-Vee and bands like the Psychedelic Lights and the Methods,? says Harris. ?I was looking for an in-house band for the vocalists I?d work with, and my friend James Ponder suggested I check The Prepositions,? he adds.
Ponder brought the band to studio. At the time they were made up of young teenagers, playing in a school band from Holland Park, Detroit. These were just 8 or 9 neighborhood friends that had got together to make music. Keeping an eye on their progress Harris soon decided the band could stand on their own. ?They didn?t just want to be a back-up band, so we decided to cut something with them,? he said.
A record release for the Prepositions would mean they could get more live gigs. They already played cabaret events, private parties, and anywhere they could get a gig with people who needed musical entertainment, including local army bases. ?I held parties that featured all the bands I worked with in various halls across Detroit,? said Harris. ?But when singles were released the band had got to the point where they could be there own act, and not have to play with others.?
Three 7? singles were released during the bands existence. The first two were ?Funky Disposition? b/w ?Something Different? and ?Do What ever Turns You On?. Playing across the city and into neighboring states the band quickly garnered a reputation and was held in the same esteem as legendary funk acts The Counts and The Ovations.
Both singles sold-out 2 pressings, Harris estimates he printed 1000 of each title in total and that they sold mostly in Detroit and Toledo. They would practice at New Dimension Recordings and then cut at other studios including the spectacularly named Uncle Dirty Sound Machine. In fact the bonus cuts included on this compilation were recorded in the Harris studio, but only because the tape just happened to be running. The band was warming up, there?s no eq or proper mic?ing, the tracks were never meant to be released.
In the early 1970s Motown was going big, and Detroit became a breeding ground for smaller labels like Westbound and Tribe, and countless recording studios. Musicians, artists, and entertainment people mixed and networked in a very happening scene. The Local 212 hall was a place where bands of all calibers got to play, and the Prepositions appeared alongside The Floaters, The Fantastic Four, and many others. They also performed regularly at The 20 Grand, Mason Hall, High Chaparral and Cozy Corner. At their peak they appeared 3 or 4 times a week in the Summer. They even appeared as back-up band to David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks and ZZ Hill, and scored opening slots for the Chi-lites and O-Jays. As the Prepositions developed they introduced vocal tracks into their otherwise instrumental funk set, with drummer Jerome ?Stix? Williams stepping up to the mic and broadening the bands appeal. ?You could never duplicate those times, there was so much music. It wasn?t really a competitive scene, but some bands were more visible and active than others. The Prepositions lived and breathed to play, they were everywhere!? explains Harris. ?You had to be 21 to get in, so we had to cut deals with the club because the band members were too young to be inside.?
Despite aspirations to become professional musicians the third 7? single signaled a change for the band, and it would be the last record they would release together. First a typographical error on the record label meant that The Prepositions would now be known as The Propositions. ?Africana? would outsell the previous two singles and therefore the name had to stick. In fact the single sold so well it forced the band and Harris to consider whether they should release an album. Sessions were recorded, tracks written and produced, but unfortunately the times were changing fast and economics dictated that the album remain unreleased. ?The epic gasoline shortage caused the cost of vinyl to go sky high. It was almost cost prohibitive to press an LP,? explains Harris. ?And to make matters worse the payola-thing had become so rampant that it wasn?t worth trying to promote a record. When you also consider that the DJs were taking over and live bands being forced out, or to have to perform for only tiny fees, it?s no surprise that we couldn?t release the record. Everyone was disappointed, but they understood,? adds Harris.
When the album didn?t materialize some of the band members decided to take different career paths. Others got more responsibilities with jobs and families, and their musical progress slowed, members dropped off and they began to break up. There was no animosity or ill-will, the life of the band had run its course, and economics forced them into quitting, an unfortunately regular occurrence for Detroit and a once burgeoning music scene. Harris continued to write for various people and perfecting his craft in the recording studio. He also dabbled with politics and to this day does jingle and other commercial music work.