As a born-and-raised southern Michigan boy, I can vouch firsthand for the fact that the weirdest, coolest things happen in Ann Arbor. (Did someone say Iggy Pop? Yes, I did, now pay attention.)
Somewhere along the line, A2 native Andrew Cohen turned his love of Detroit-inspired Soul/R&B/Hip Hop into an actual music career with young master Cohen playing a variety of instruments with Rap groups Now On and Athletic Mic League and working the turntables at a variety of area clubs.
For a lark, Cohen began writing and recording contemporary/retro Soul tracks under the nom du Pop, Mayer Hawthorne (his middle name and the Ann Arbor street of his childhood — so not quite his “porn name” but close), eventually relocating to Los Angeles in 2006.
Stones Throw label honcho Peanut Butter Wolf heard some of Hawthorne’s songs and was convinced they were real Soul deals from the ’60s/’70s, retooled from a modern mindset.
When the truth was revealed, Wolf signed Hawthorne and released his first smash single, “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out”/”When I Said Goodbye,” followed by his cover of New Holidays’ “Maybe So Maybe No” and his ebullient full length debut, 2009’s A Strange Arrangement.
Over the past four years, Hawthorne has delivered a string of great singles, a live recording and two additional studio albums, 2011’s How Do You Do and last year’s Where Does This Door Go, both on Universal/Republic. The latter has been described as leaning in the direction of Hall and Oates, Steely Dan and The Beastie Boys. He’s also shared stages with the likes of Bruno Mars, Erykah Badu, Foster the People and the late, great Amy Winehouse. Hawthorne’s more recent work tips its fedora to the ’70s and ’80s to a greater degree, but he remains entranced by Curtis Mayfield, Smokey Robinson and the late and equally great J Dilla.
Neither Neo nor Retro, Soul has a first name and it’s Mayer … and that’s no baloney.
MAYER HAWTHORNE performs at Covington's Madison Theater on Saturday, Feb. 15 with Quadron. Click here for details.