Mike Valvano was raised in Detroit and grew up loving music. In 1960, at 17. he signed with Motown with his group: Mike & the Modifiers. The short-lived band signed for seven years but only had one release "I Found Myself a Brand New Baby" on Gordy Records in 1962. Mike vaguely remembers the Modifiers as Roy Gasperada, Gasperada's cousin, a guy name Ralph, and a dude he can't remember. He sang lead and the Modifiers backed him on keyboard, drums, and guitars; they disbanded and splintered when the record bombed. All but Valvano, who stayed 17 years and performed too many tasks to list. He wrote "Pretty Little Angel" for Edwin Starr, with Stevie Wonder and Clarence Paul, and placed songs with Billy Eckstine, Rustix, and others.
He prepared acetates (45 rpm records) for Motown's Quality Control Meetings where the creative staff voted on new recordings. Berry Gordy wouldn't let them listen to songs on tape because the public didn't hear them on tape. Everything sounds good on tape booming through large woofers, at Motown they judged from vinyl and tiny speakers. He chauffeured Motown stars in the company's van to record hops, ran the monthly auditions, where he witnessed the Jackson 5's famous audition, and provided handclaps and tambourine shakes on sessions; he still has his original tambourine.
Valvano has fond remembrances of some Motown superstars. (Diana Ross) "she had the eye of a star, I knew she was going to be big"; (Smokey Robinson) "one heck of a nice man"; (Mary Wilson) "she had a beautiful voice, but nobody gave her credit."
Motown signed group members to individual contracts and Valvano's was still valid, though he was groupless. Clarence Paul (Five Royales) was assigned to produce Valvano; he cut two solo albums that never left the shelf. A single with the Hornets, "Give Me a Kiss," emerged on VIP Records in 1964 but went unnoticed. Valvano describes the atmosphere at Motown as creative and intense, "there were fights, but they were like family fights; we did picnics and barbecues, and the artists helped on each others recordings."
Valvano's only separation with Motown came a couple of years before his contracts were officially up, but Berry Gordy released him with best wishes. He worked with many artists including Barbara Lewis, the Pushcarts on Top Dog Records, and he co-wrote the Precisions "If This Is Love I'd Rather Be Lonely," on Joe Brown's Drew label. The Precisions had a minor hit on the charts, "Why Girl," and its successor was set until Mike, Cholly Bassoline, and Martin Coleman (Valadiers) showed the fellows the new song. They rehearsed it with the group in a demo studio located in a hotel's basement. Everybody loved it, and Drew released it instead of the scheduled release. It became the Precisions' biggest-selling record.
After Drew folded, Mike produced two Precisions singles for Atco Records that flopped. He scored with a psychedelic version of the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" by Frijid Pink, but didn't get paid, and moped around Motown complaining -- he still hung around -- when Berry interceded with some slick mouthpieces who got Valvano his money. He returned to produce Stoney & Meatloaf and other acts on the Rare Earth label.
Motown relocated to Los Angeles in the '70s and was looking for new talent and sounds; they got both by signing Xit, a Native American band from Albuquerque, NM. Gordy sent Valvano to Albuquerque to oversee his new act, where he fell in love, married a local, and stayed for 20 years. Xit released two albums on Rare Earth: Plight of the Redman in 1972, and Silent Warrior in 1973. A single dropped from each album: "Nihaa Shil Hozho (I'm Happy About You)," and "Reservation of Education." Xit's music consisted of rock sounds with authentic Native American music, including chants and war cries; Sound of America Records has reissued both on CD.
B.M.I. lists 92 songs by Valvano, who sometimes use J. Greer, his wife's maiden name, on compositions. He produced a post-Motown album, I'm a Winner, with a revised lineup of Contours for Rocket Records that resulted in legal complications with the original members. Ian Levine recorded Mike for Motorcity Records as Mike & the Modifiers. Valvano is still musically active, lives in Mill City OR, and is working on a tell-all book.