There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Mingering Mike isn’t just a songwriter and artist. He’s also honed his skills as an expert crate-digger. The man has spent decades cruising District bargain bins, flipping through his share of late-period Aretha, Kool & The Gang cutouts, and Motown compilations. He remains a furious treasure hunter.
Between his two night jobs, Mike hits the racks. “If I’m on a mission,” Mike explains, “I go every day. But I generally go once a week.”
Mike goes for almost anything if it’s priced right. In the last few weeks, he told me, he picked up two Led Zeppelin albums and a Jackson Browne CD. He got a Grover Washington Jr. disc via mail order.
Mike can argue for the good in almost any song, any singer. He can almost convincingly defend Lionel Richie and the Four Tops’ disco phase.
So on a recent Sunday afternoon, I took him to a yard sale and gave him $20 of City Paper money. After thumbing through a half-dozen crates, he purchased two albums—Jr. Walker & The All Stars Live! and a sealed copy of Ahmad Jamal’s Jamalca. He spent $5.
Mike offers this advice from his years in the vinyl stacks: “Have patience. Have patience and a lot of free time.”
After leaving the yard sale, I asked Mike to explain his purchases:
Jr. Walker & The All Stars Live!
“The draw for it is ‘Hip City.’ It’s a party song and when it comes on it sounds like they’re having a good time at a party and he’s playing his melody and people are clapping to it. It sounds like they’re having fun.”
Mike recalls hearing “Hip City” and being inspired to create his own fake party tune in the early ‘70s. He tried it with his cousin Derrick. The two sampled a Temptations live cut, clapping along to it and singing over top. Mike remembers some of their own made-up lyrics: “I really love her/we’ve been together through thick and thin/ you showed me how to grin.”
“I think it’s ‘Let Me Talk to You.’ I took the ending of a Temptations album that was televised. Where they had a bongo beat, we just added the background to it—clapping the hands. It was part of a made-for-TV special that they did. It was off an album from the TV special. [Our song] came out pretty good. But I let it end abruptly instead of fading it out. I never corrected that part. It’s music going and people clapping and all the sudden it’s just click. It doesn’t sound like good production.”
Ahmad Jamal – Jamalca.
“I had something by him but I don’t remember what exactly I had. It got lost in storage,” Mike says. “You only pass this life once. To be able to recapture things that you lost is fantastic.”