MICHELE NORRIS, host:
A city knocking down an office building that's been abandoned for decades? Most of the time that's no big deal. But the city is Detroit, and this particular building housed Motown Records until 1972. Super Bowl XL is coming to Detroit and the site will now be used for parking. The city's idea in the long run is to put a Motown Records Museum downtown. When the building came down, Randy Wilcox was there. He runs the blog DetroitFunk.com
Mr. RANDY WILCOX (DetroitFunk.com): Quite a few people manage to collect some documents and letterhead that was just in the debris, mostly letterhead and sort of like teletype feed paper that had Motown sort of stationery at the top, things like that.
NORRIS: I've looked at your website, and you have on there pictures of some of the documents that you were able to excavate from the building in previous visits, and you include signed production notes from Smokey Robinson, from Marvin Gaye, you see financial records from Stevie Wonder. It's incredible that this stuff is still inside that building.
Mr. WILCOX: Yeah. It was actually two buildings side by side that were purchased in 1968, and they were combined to make the Motown headquarters complex. The actual recording studio is a small house on West Grand Boulevard. That's where all the recordings and mixing were done until Motown moved to California. So when they moved to this office building, that's where they stored all the records of the recording sessions and producers and things like that, I was lucky enough to save a couple months' worth of handwritten documents by the producers recording each session, who they were recording, the musicians, what they did that day, what songs they were working on, and then they signed each document themselves.
NORRIS: So, a snapshot of history. What did you see in these papers?
Mr. WILCOX: Well, I have to say, one of my favorite albums, my favorite album of all time is Marvin Gaye's, What's Going On. I was lucky enough to get the month that Marvin Gaye was working on that album. And that to me, probably next to maybe some handwritten documents by Abraham Lincoln, is probably the best thing I could ever find.
NORRIS: And you're able to decipher some of these notes on this notation from Marvin Gaye. There's one song called The Junkie, which later on became Flying High, another song called, Ecology, which you might not recognize, but it later became Mercy, Mercy Me.
Mr. WILCOX: Correct. And if you look on the album, it's a parenthetical statement afterwards. It says, The Ecology. So that was probably the working title when he jotted that down.
NORRIS: You also have pictures of when you actually walked through the building, rooms filed with boxes and file cabinets that were tipped over. What was it like to walk through this building?
Mr. WILCOX: I'm an amateur historian, so for me, it's like walking into history. There was one room with Marvin Gaye's desk in it that another explorer found, found personal notes to his wife, things like that. It cannot be overstated how powerful that is to actually be in those same footsteps as those people. And hopefully, enough people who know the value of these things have saved them like I have, and I hope they all get to a place where everybody can come and see what happened here.
NORRIS: Randy Wilcox, thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. WILCOX: You are welcome.
NORRIS: Randy Wilcox is a photographer and amateur historian in the Detroit area. You can see pictures of the documents he found in the Motown building at our website, NPR.org.
(Soundbite of Marvin Gaye's music)
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