Lee Young: The Reason Motown Got Away with Something Like That

Scott K Fish

Silver Member
Lee Young: The Reason Motown Got Away with Something Like That

Lee Young

SKF NOTE: I recently found, and started posting here, transcripts of short phone interviews I did in the early 1980’s while gathering data for my five-part Modern Drummer series, The History of Rock Drumming. It may be hard to believe in 2015, but in the early 1980’s there was very little written about the history of Rock drummers.

Who played on hit and/or legendary Rock records was sometimes tough to unravel. Even having a positive drummer's name wasn't a guarantee. Sometimes a reliable source would give a positive ID for another drummer playing on the same record. Sometimes more than one drummer did play on the same record (overdubbing.)

Who are the drummers on Motown's records? That was the biggest mystery of all. The top Motown drummers: Benny Benjamin, Pistol Allen, Uriel Jones -- were not well known names. Once their names were known it was not easy identifying them on the records. Add to that a handful of studio drummers who said they recorded many Motown sessions -- what a tangled web.

Some of the Motown drummer confusion came from Motown's way of recording sessions. Some studio drummers, such as Earl Palmer, told me of Motown recording song demos in Los Angeles, and then overdubbing singers or singing groups, and turning out hit records.

In this interview, Lee Young tells me about Motown's practice of paying Detroit studio musicians to record "all week long." Mr. Young, at the time of this interview, was Vice President of Motown's Creative Division in Los Angeles. He was also a great drummer and brother to tenor sax giant, Lester Young.

As I've said in my other postings from these History of Rock Drumming backgrounder interviews, I don't know if the info here is new. But I think it should be in the public square if, for no other reason, than serving as a fact-checking source.

You can see in my original typewritten transcript below, I was asking Lee Young "about the Musician's Union and Motown recording illegally.") At the risk of making this intro too long, I want to add that I was not playing gotcha with Motown, I wasn't trying to get anyone in trouble. My goal was simply to identify certain drummers who left an indelible mark in Rock drumming history.

Scott K Fish Blog: Life Beyond the Cymbals Click Here to Read Full Interview


Platinum Member
If the Motown drummers got $125 week for a 40 hour week, that's maybe $3/hr in 1965 dollars...or $23/hr in today's dollars (inflation calculator).
How many pro musicians today would go for that? (I have no idea)

Scott K Fish

Silver Member
Les Ismore: Can't tell if you're tongue is in your cheek. If not, let me point out that Lee Young's remarks were made about 30-years ago.

opentune: Depends on how much the musicians were working each week, and what they're weekly take home was. If you were lucky to earn $125 a month -- the Motown salary would probably look very good.


No Way Jose

Silver Member
The story seems a little odd to me. My friend says that he was in a touring band in the Detroit, USA area in the 1960s and making over $ 400 / week. He did some work for Motown also. Those were good times for musicians. He says a master electrician at that time and place made about $ 100 / week.