Russ Terrana Recalls Motown Memories with Michael Jackson

- Christina Chaffin

DAYTON, Ohio – Motown Records is known for its unique sound in music history. Artists and groups, including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and The Supremes helped create, what is called "The Motown Sound." However, it was Motown recording engineer Russ Terrana who helped generate those final mixes that became No. 1 hits by such artists and groups – 89 No. 1 hits to be exact. A few of those hits involved the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson as a solo artist.

Detroit native, Terrana said his life goals always involved music. When he was 10 years old, Terrana, along with his brother Ralph Terrana and friends created a band known as The Glo-Worms. (The group evolved into The Sunliners, and later reformed as Rare Earth). "After leaving Rare Earth, I went to Motown to get a job as an engineer," he said. "They wanted to hire me, but I was under contract at the time." Russ said Motown proceeded to buy the company out, which allowed him to join Motown's musical family as their newest recording engineer.

Throughout his years as a Motown employee, Russ said his work excited him, but said he always considered it to be a normal job. However, though he can't relive his memories, Russ said he will always cherish them. According to him, one of those memories regards the first time he worked on a Jackson5 album. "I was still in Detroit at the time when Berry[Gordy] called me back in 1970," he said. "Berry called and told me [that] he didn't like the final mixes of their ABC album and wanted me to redo the mixes on the entire album. Motown shipped me the master multi-track tapes and I did the mixing in Detroit."

When he heard the vocals, Russ said he was amazed – particularly by Michael's voice. "I thought, ‘Holy mackerel, he sounds so good,'" he said. "I had a great time mixing their album." May, 1970, the Jackson 5 released their sophomore album ABC. (Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5 was the group's debut album, released December, 1969).

January of 1972, Russ made a permanent move to Los Angeles, which allowed him to meet the Jacksons in person for the first time. He said he knew they were a popular group, but always considered them to be normal young men who were exciting to work with. Russ said he was particularly close with Michael, saying he was amazed by his talents. "Michael was like a quiet storm that blew my mind, because while talking to him, he was polite and shy," Russ said. "But, when he stepped in front of a microphone, he became a whole new person. That kid was such a talent."

"One day," he said, "it was just Michael and I in the studio, and Michael was just 15 or 16 years old at the time. I told him to go into the studio because I wanted to get his microphone balanced." A few minutes later, Suzanne DePasse walked into the studio with a friend of hers and her friend's
daughter, who, according to Russ, appeared to be eight or nine years old. He said the young girl looked around the studio and spotted Michael behind the glass. "The young girl started screaming Michael's name repeatedly. She screamed, ‘Momma, it's Michael.' I looked at Michael and saw him waving at the little girl. He looked at me and was embarrassed. Jokingly, I said to him, ‘Yeah, I guess you are pretty popular out there, Michael.'"

Besides working directly with the Jackson 5 and other artists, Russ said a lot of his memories involved mixing. He said "Dancing Machine" – a huge hit song for the Jackson 5 – reminds him of a memory that still makes him laugh. According to him, Gordy didn't like the mix of the song "Dancing Machine." "It was early evening and Berry just stopped by the studio," he said. "Berry said, ‘I don't like it. It's too gimmicky. But, there's nothing we can do about it.' The album went out with the single on it, and then, the [disc jockeys] started playing the song, and it was a huge Motown hit."
After "Dancing Machine" was released, Russ said he went over to Motown's main office building for a meeting and, "While waiting for the elevator, Berry appeared as the doors opened and said, ‘You need to get me a new single for the Jackson 5, and get the same sound for Michael as you did on ‘Dancing Machine.' I looked at him smiling and said, ‘Okay, boss.' We both laughed." (Russ said the song "Dancing Machine" took three-to-four days to mix for release).

He said he has many memories with Michael, but Russ said what makes him smile the most about those memories is knowing the kind of person Michael was. "I want people to know that he was a good person – a very good person," he said. "He was a very honest person. He was very likeable. I liked Michael just for the person he was. And you know, there will never be another Michael. He was so talented up until the day he died."
Special thanks to Chris Cadman and Craig Halstead for background information on album release dates, taken from their book Michael Jackson: For The Record. Michael Jackson fans can visit Cadman's Web site at

Original article link: Russ Terrana Recalls Motown Memories with Michael Jackson

Behind the article: Russ Terrana was a Motown Records song engineer who has mixed a total of 89 No.1 hits, and what he said keeps his mixing interest going is his life-long passion for music. Though our focus was on his memories of Michael Jackson, it was an honor to speak with him.

In regards to Michael, Russ emphasized his love for him and said Michael reminded him of a famous director today. "A person he [Michael] reminds me of is Ron Howard," he said. "Ron started out at Opie on the 'Andy Griffith Show,' and now he's a huge movie director. That's how Michael is. You can't get a better education than living through the actual situations."
He also complimented Michael on his talent of knowing how to express meaning in his music. "When it comes to music, don't sing the words - sing the meanings to the songs," Russ said. "That's what producers tell singers, and that's what Michael was a genius at doing. He knew how to get to the messages."

Before our conversation ended, Russ expressed his feelings for Michael and said he wanted people to understand the following: "Michael Jackson was a good person. He was a very honest, likeable person, and I loved him just for the person he was."