Willie Clarke on the Rise of Deep City Records
Photo by Jacob Katel Willie Clarke and Henry Stone at the Rock Your Baby documentary fundraiser.
In 1975, Willie Clarke won a Grammy for his work on Betty Wright's "Where Is The Love". It's one of many hits he wrote in the '70s for the biggest independent record company in the world, Henry Stone's TK Productions, out of Hialeah.
But Clarke's recording career began in the 1960s, when he and a college buddy named Johnny Pearsall started a label called Deep City, based out of Johnny's Records in Liberty City. Their goal was to be bigger than Motown.
Clarke and Pearsall met at Florida A&M University where they both played in the school's nationally renowned Marching 100 band. Its aggressive rhythms would greatly influence their sound. Pearsall was from the Tallahassee area and Clarke from Miami. The two became fast friends.
"Me and Johnny Pearsall were in college and everything was a challenge ... All the different courses. I'd never heard of geometry, algebra, never thought I'd have to learn all that. Never thought I'd cross the burning sands and be in a Greek fraternity. But music came easy.
"We had an idea that we could be bigger than Motown. We were possessed by creativity. Creativity was an adventure to us, and our number-one thing was to create music, our own stuff, just to marvel at it. I said 'I can write songs. I write lyrics all day long. Let's put out our own music.'"
So soon enough, they both moved to Miami. Clarke became a middle-school art teacher, and Pearsall set up Johnny's Record Shop in the heart of Liberty City. It became their label's headquarters.