Chamber music: Sounds of Motor City strike a judicial chord

By Brian Cox

Legal News

Here's how you can tell when you're with someone who has a real passion for music: a glint sparks in their eye and a lilt rises in their voice when they talk about the music they love. And they don't just relate how they like this song or that band; they talk about their experience with the music, where they remember hearing it, the people they were with, the time it was in their lives. There's a part of them that clearly wants you to love the music, too. The Legal News sat down with two area judges to hear about the music they love and why.


"This is an interesting song," says Third Circuit Court Judge Ulysses Boykin, seated at his desk in chambers.

He's pulling up favorite songs from his youth on YouTube.

He's found a 1964 recording of Motown legendary songwriter Edward Holland, Jr., singing "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)."

"He had a real powerful voice," says Boykin. "Reminiscent of Jackie Wilson."

The judge would know. As a young lawyer carving out a career in Detroit, Boykin represented Holland and his songwriting partners, brother Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, in a lawsuit against Motown over royalties. The trio, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, wrote dozens of hits for Martha and the Vandellas, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, and The Supremes.

Listening to his old friend singing on YouTube, Boykin begins to whistle along.

"This was like classic Motown, four-four beat," he says, going on to relate how the song was recorded by Kim Westin in 1965 and was covered by The Isley Brothers in 1968.

He finds recordings of the two other versions to compare them. Neither Westin nor the Isleys produce the same raw sound Holland achieved.

Boykin says Holland preferred to work in the background as a songwriter and producer because he suffered from serious stage fright.

"Certain music reminds me of people and places," says Boykin, his voice spiced with a hint of nostalgia.

He remembers hearing Smokey Robinson's "The Love I Saw in You was Just a Mirage" at a fraternity party in college. "Been So Long" by The Pastels reminds him of junior high school, right around when he bought his first album.

Next he finds on YouTube a song by Bertha Tillman, "Oh, My Angel."

"I can remember this one from parties a lo-ooong time ago," he says.

The judge doesn't get the opportunity to listen to music in his chambers very often, if ever. Writing and reading not surprisingly require his full attention.

"It was always instilled in me that music while studying was a distraction," Boykin says. "If music is on, I'll focus on it."

A graduate of Cass Technical High School with thoughts of becoming a doctor, Boykin instead joined the U.S. Army Adjutant General School after which he earned a bachelor of arts degree from Hampton University in 1967 and his juris doctorate from Harvard Law in 1970.

As a young attorney, Boykin was introduced to entertainment law while working at Dickinson Wright. In addition to representing Holland, he did some legal work for James Brown and George Clinton. He also represented Aretha Franklin from 1995-99, when he was appointed to the Third Circuit Court.

He still remembers attending several parties hosted by the Queen of Soul where he was able to hear some amazing live music, including performances by James Carter, Wilson Pickett, and Tito Puentes.

The judge loves his Motown, but he also has an extensive jazz collection and is a big fan of pianist Ahmad Jamal, flutist Herbie Mann and drummer Chico Hamilton. He talks fondly of going to jazz clubs such as Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., and Bakers Keyboard Lounge in Detroit where the music was up close and intimate. While Boykin is not a musician himself, his uncle Wade, was a jazz pianist known around Detroit.

Boykin finds a recording of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles performing what may be the judge's all-time favorite number: "Tracks of My Tears."

"I think this is one of the best songs ever written," Boykin says, his head swaying gently as Smokey sings. "I could probably sit in here all day and listen to this music."


Macomb County Circuit Court Chief Judge Mark Switalski has a theory about music and sports: "Guys either want to be a centerfielder or a guitar player, right?" he says with a wry grin.

He has a more amorphous theory about music and the Motor City.

"Most people my age who grew up in Detroit have some experience with a job where you work with a machine," he explains. "If you do that kind of a job, you know what your machine is supposed to sound like. I think that plays into the music of Detroit, which has produced an incredibly diverse range of music."

Music is interwoven in the arc of the judge's career. He links the music he enjoyed as a young student to the cities where he attended school: Baton Rouge, Boston, and Ann Arbor.

"Terrific music cities, all of them," he says.

Raised in Roseville, Switalski headed south to Baton Rouge after high school to attend Louisiana State University. It was a transformative period, marked by a vibrant music scene that Switalski embraced.

He tells with animation of going to the legendary rock venue, The Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans. He was there when it opened in 1970 and saw Fleetwood Mac and he was there the following night to see The Grateful Dead, a performance that proved to be infamous because it was the night the band was arrested for drug possession, an incident they immortalized in their song "Truckin.'"

Switalski was there.

"We went no matter who was playing," he says. "It was so hot and you're standing elbow-to-elbow with people."

He saw The Doors and remembers Jim Morrison got drunk and fell into the drum kit. It turned out to be Morrison's last concert with the group. The judge rattles off a litany of artists he heard, including Rod Stewart and the Faces, Joe Cocker, and the Allman Brothers Band.

Switalski likes to tell of the time he caught a triple bill featuring the Detroit acts MC5, The Stooges with Iggy Pop, and Alice Cooper. Here was a chance to show his Louisiana friends the style of music coming out of his hometown. He grins.

"It was, to their taste, a bit aggressive," he says. "After the Stooges played, the owner of The Warehouse actually got up on stage and apologized."

He had the chance to catch Chuck Berry in Baton Rouge.

"It was hot and everybody was sweating," says Switalski. "He just had the place going and going."

Switalski returned north to attend the University of Michigan where he heard the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bob Marley and Barrence Whifield and the Savages, the "Screaming Wild Man of Soul." The experience was unforgettable.

"You could see these guys and be five, 10 feet away from them and watch them play," relates Switalski.

Switalski decided his junior year in college that he would get a law degree.

"Law school teaches you how to think and be analytical," he says. "There's a discipline to it. It's a great long-term degree."

So after graduating from U-M, he headed east to study at Boston University School of Law. While in Boston, the future judge saw David Bowie, The Pretenders, and Roxy Music.

With law degree in hand, Switalski returned to the Detroit area to practice. He served as a magistrate of the 39th District Court from 1983-88 before he was elected a district judge. He served as chief judge from 1991 until he was elected to the Circuit Court in 2000. In 2009, he was named chief judge of Macomb County Circuit Court, replacing Judge Richard Caretti.

Like most judges, Switalski doesn't listen to much music in chambers.

"I can't really read and write at up tempo," he says. "I get energy from music."

Now, when he listens to music in the evening, it tends to be more relaxing. He finds himself listening to Santana, Amy Winehouse, and Van Morrison and the Chieftains.

He doesn't listen to a lot of more current music, which he says he finds overly produced and flashier than he likes.

"Commercially popular stuff when I was young was still loose," he says. "To some extent, I'm stuck where I was."

It wasn't long ago, however, that he was chaperoning a high school dance when he heard "The Way She Moves" by Zion and Lennox. He was pleased to find he liked it.

"It was a little Hispanic reggae with some rap thrown in," he explains.

Switalski's musical preferences may be rooted in his formative college years, but his taste has shown itself to be eclectic.

According to a list he printed out of the top 60 songs he most frequently listens to, Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" ranks number one with Alejandro Sanz' "Y Solo Se Me Ocurre Amarte" coming in second. Rounding out the top 10 are songs by Amy Winehouse, The Allman Brothers Band, The B-52s, B.J. Thomas, Barrrence Whitfield and the Savages, The Beach Boys and The Beatles.

Elsewhere in the ranking are The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, Ry Cooder, Joan Baez, Laryn Hill, and Louis Armstrong.

In the top 20 is "Time (Clock of the Heart)" off of Culture Club's greatest hits album.

"I never even thought I liked Boy George," Switalski says, "but he's on here."

So maybe he doesn't have the chance to listen to much music during the day and doesn't have the time to see much live music anymore, but he still enjoys hearing something new - or old - that energizes him.

"I still get a charge out of hearing something I like," he says, "but I don't blow the speakers out in my car anymore."

Published: Wed, Feb 22, 2012