Between Takes: Phil Ranelin’s Vibes from the Tribe

In Episode 018 of Between Takes, musician Phil Raneilin talks about the Detroit Jazz label, Tribe Records

Welcome to Between Takes; where artists and musicians tell stories about what happens behind the scenes.

WDET’s Sam Beaubien has been dedicated to making music in Detroit for 20 years, and this series connects you with the stories he has heard on gigs and at recording sessions.

Get a look into Stevie Wonders audition for Motown Records, sessions with funk master George Clinton, renowned hip-hop producer J Dilla’s first days with a drum machine, and many more stories about what shaped the legacy of this musical city. 

Episode 018

Jerome Piwonski
Jerome Piwonski

Renowned Detroit jazz musician and composer Phil Ranelin and saxophonist Wendell Harrison formed Tribe Records in the early 1970s. One of the most sought after underground jazz labels, Tribe also acted as a production company, magazine, with a community-focused DIY attitude.

Although originally from Indianapolis, Ranelin made his roots in Detroit with Tribe Records. He credits the label’s sound to the variety of musicians contributing to its catalog. “It was a group of individuals, everybody had a unique sound,” says Ranelin. “The fact that we were all composers led to the sound.” The original partnership was green to the music business, but Ranelin says the musicians needed the credentials of an album or label to advance their names. Thus, Tribe Records was formed.

The first record, “Message from the Tribe,” was recorded in typical low-key fashion: Ranelin says they huddled in a Grosse Pointe basement and created their first series of recordings. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Ranelin learned the label’s records had become collectibles. Later, he saw one on eBay selling for $1,900. “And I said, ‘Man I was giving them things away!’” Ranelin says. Record collectors are drawn to the rarity, as well as the uniqueness of the recordings, and hip-hop producers have sampled these songs for the same reason.

On this episode of Between Takes, Phil Ranelin talks about Tribe Records.

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  • Sam Beaubien
    Sam Beaubien is a musician, composer, producer, and educator in Detroit. He is also the founder and leader of the acclaimed ensemble, Will Sessions.