Turn it Down!: Owosso's Motown Connection

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While Detroit will always be the epicenter of Michigan music history, there are plenty of smaller towns and cities with amazing old stories of their own. One of those notable tales happened at the long-demolished American Record Pressing Co., which operated from 1951 to 1972. Located in the heart of Shiawassee County in Owosso, the 60,000-square-foot vinyl-record  plant manufactured a long discography of now-iconic albums for prominent record labels across the country—including a groundbreaking single from the Fab Four.

“Vee-Jay Records sent the Beatles master tape to Owosso for pressing, it was their first American release ‘Please Please Me,’” Phil Hathaway, a local record collector and music historian, told me in 2016. “They sent the tape here in the winter of 1963. That record became collectable because of the misspelling; it was misprinted with: ‘The Beattles.”

Hathaway also offered up a tip on how to easily identify a record manufactured a 1810 W. King Street in Owosso. They all bare the same identifier.

“When you look at the dead wax in a record, the very end of the record near the center hole, there is an italicized ‘ARP’ etched right into the record,” he said. “That’s how you know it was made in Owosso.”

Outside of its Beatles connection, American Record Pressing (ARP) also cut records by It was also known for pressing up “The Letter,” by The Box Tops,  “The Twist,” by Chubby Checker, and Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl,” to only name a few. 

Even though there was a Detroit-based vinyl plant, starting in 1959, Motown Records’ own Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson would often drive to the plant themselves to pick up their earliest records. Even after the legendary label garnered international acclaim, they stuck with the plant until the imprint relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Gordy established a close friendship with ARP owner Norman Dufour, a French Canadian who’d relocated to Corunna to open the plant. During that time, Motown sent records by all of its stars to the Owosso plant, such as The Miracles, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Martha & the Vandellas and Marvin Gaye, among many others.

Legend has it the early Motown group Nick & The Jaguars even named one of their instrumentals (“Ich-i-bon #1”) after Itchi-Bon Doughnut Shop, an Owosso hangout Gordy frequented.

When the Owosso plant first opened in 1951, it was located on M-21, at 1011 East Main, now near the O’Reilly Auto Parts store. This was pre-rock‘n’roll, the era when heavy 78 platters were the main format. With the birth of rock and soul a few years later, 7-inch 45s took over the music industry a then emerging industry that Owosso left its imprint on, thanks to ARP. While the plant would dabble in pressing 12-inch LPs, its big money maker was always the two-song 45 single.

It was that onset of rock and pop music, and the birth of Motown, that sparked the move to its larger location on West King Street. The records were continuously pressed and then swiftly shipped out via nearby airports to an assortment of noteworthy labels across the country.

“It was not a small plant,” Hathaway said. “They had 33 record presses there. They started out in 1951 with three presses. It was quite a growth. It was not a small operation.

After a suspicious morning fire on Oct. 28, 1972, the ARP building was a total loss. Firefighters fought the blaze, which was out of control on arrival, for three hours. The plant never reopened, but the music it pressed lives on.

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