In the music business, the term custom studio usually means a small operation designed for aspiring artists with big dreams and thin wallets.

Few records made in custom studios ever find national success, but their vaults can be important archives for local musicians and styles. A new CD series called Local Customs focuses on these tiny, work-for-hire studios.

Oliver Wang reviews the first release in the series, "Downriver Revival."

OLIVER WANG: Ecorse, Michigan, is a small, three-square mile suburb a few minutes downriver from Detroit. There, in the mid-1960s, Felton Williams, an electrician for Ford Motor Company, converted his basement into a jerry-rigged custom studio he dubbed Double U Sound.

(Soundbite of music)

WANG: Beginning in 1967, local musicians started using Double U to test the waters with their first recordings. Not surprisingly, the studio's first client, an R&B group named The Combinations, borrowed heavily from the recording giant a few miles upriver, Motown.

(Soundbite of song "While You Were Gone")

Unidentified Man #1 (Singer): (Singing) Why did you walk on me. (unintelligible). She brightens up my life. Yeah. Show me your (unintelligible) way. She could have been (unintelligible) my heart and gave me a brand new start while you were gone.

WANG: In Double U's early years, Felton Williams produced artists from across the region's diverse musical spectrum. Detroit's booming industrial economy was a major draw for migrants, especially from the rural South. Williams himself was born in Mississippi.

As a result, Detroit's musical DNA was built on country, blues, jazz, soul, gospel, rockabilly, funk and more. Down in the Double U basement, these styles often mixed.

(Soundbite of song "Ridin' High")

WANG: Williams recorded both secular and gospel music, but in 1970, committed to working solely with artists from Toledo's Church of the Living God where he himself learned how to play pedal steel guitar to accompany gospel choirs.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing) Heaven, heaven, heaven, oh heaven.

WANG: It was in the church that Williams met Shirley Ann Lee, a singer who provided Double U Sound with some of its most successful recordings.

(Soundbite of song "There's A Light")

Ms. SHIRLEY ANN LEE (Singer): (Singing) There's a light in my life shining over me. There's a light in my life shining over me, yeah. There's your blessings from above, fill me with thy precious love. There's a light in my life shining over me.

WANG: Double U's last session took place in 1981, but Felton Williams kept almost everything, over 300 reels of tape. The new compilation includes a bonus DVD that allows listeners to click through 50 of these reels, accessing hours of unreleased material.

A half-hour video documentary profiles Williams, the artists he recorded and their neighborhoods.

Altogether, "Downriver Revival" is a remarkable time capsule not just of Double U Sound, but of Ecorse, its surrounding towns and all of the pockets of local talent that have sprouted along the southern banks of the Detroit River.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Oliver Wang is an assistant professor of sociology at California State University Long Beach, and he runs the audio blog

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