detroit - The I-94 Bar
Candy Coated Cannonball – Jeremy Porter and the Tucos (GTG Records)
Detroit Rock was never just about the MC5and the Stooges. Ask a Michigan native and they’re just as likely to nominate Kid Rock or techno as defining. Don’t even start anyone aged over 50 talking about Motown and the myriad of soul labels that sprang up in the ‘60s.
Jeremy Porter and the Tucossound like none of the above. With origins in the city’s punk underground, the trio’s sound is a mix of power-pop, roots rock, alt-country and twangy blue collar garage. The title of their fourth album, “Candy Coated Cannonball”, is a misnomer – the album’s neither overwhelmingly sticky-sweet or explosive.
“Put You On Hold” is a super opener, a heady burst of gritty guitar, warm Hammond B3 and Porter’s emphatic vocal. It’s a rocking song and a juxtaposition, of sorts, that’s apparent in a lyric like: “Time flies by when the conversation is slow.”
On March 17, 1978, Bookie's Club 870 became Detroit's answer to New York's C.B.G.B., The Whisky A-Go-Go in L.A., and London's Marquee Club.
Bookie's hosted shows by The Police, Iggy Pop, J. Geils, The Damned, Ultravox, The Dead Boys and many other international punk and new wave performers.
It also served as a home base for Detroit area bands like The Sillies, The Romantics, Gang War and former MC5 and Stooges members like Ron Asheton, Michael Davis, Fred Smith and their then-current bands, Destroy All Monsters and Sonic's Rendezvous Band.
At least three live albums have been released of Bookie's concerts and a new two-record set of Iggy Pop's six-day residency is now being released on Easy Action in the UK. The book "Detroit Rock City" chronicles the Bookie's days through the eyes of people who were there.
The Bookie's 40th Anniversary Reunion will be held on Saturday, March 17 (St. Patrick's Day) at the New Way Bar on Woodward, Detroit, roughly three miles north of the original Bookie's. Admission is FREE. There will be posters and photos on display that night as well as live performances from The Sillies (who started the club) and members of R.U.R., Coldcock and other surprise guests.
Neil told us that rust never sleeps. On his fourth solo band studio album, Deniz Tek acknowledges as much, examining the oxidation that’s all around him in clinical detail. Relationships and places go under the microscope and are dissected - like a scalpel through a heart - with keen precision.
What do you think we’d say? Sonic’s Rendezvous Band was truly The One That Got Away. It’s a crime they weren’t signed, recorded and backed to the hilt by a major label and elevated to a household name, but rock and roll is seldom fair. That’s why you need to hear everything you can of this great lost band.
Never heard outside a small circle of alumni and fans, this short but sweet five-song set comes from the January 14,1978 show, on the undercard to the Ramones and the Runaways at the Masonic Temple in Detroit. Maybe.
The opening act was un-billed and surviving band members (that would be Gary and Scott) can’t agree that they played it. All but one song (“City Slang”) has remained in the vaults and the label thought it had issued the gig as part of its splendid box set. But that disc wasn’t even from one entire show, if that makes sense.
Trash Brats – Trash Bats (I-94 Recordings)
Summa you cool kids might remember I-94 Records out of Detroit (as opposed to I-94 Bar Recordsout of Sydney, Australia) as the dead savvy tastemakers behind those vital and volatile “Drunk On Rock” compilations. The label introduced loads of underground punk-roll bands, as well as essential full-length releases by Cranford Nix Jr. and the Malakas, the Trash Brats and B-Movie Rats. They are back with the highly influential debut of the Trash Brats first album, previously only available on cassette. In the 80's.
Trash Brats were the most important punk band in the Midwest - part NY Dolls, part Candy, part Teenage Head,poppy, melodic, fun, with notoriously crazy shows known for big energy and wild abandon. Appealing to fans of Sloppy Seconds, Hanoi Rocks, the Dickies, and the Ramones, a Trash Brats concert was where small-town kids travelled to shake ‘n’ shimmy, to get fucked up and jump up and down, try out all their kookiest Alien Sex Fiend and Bat Cave makeup, and to meet all your favorite, lifelong, goth girl pen pals.
Call me biased and armed with far too much hindsight for my own good, but for a brief time in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Detroit was the lesser-known but undeniable epicentre of genuine rock and roll. The music industry, as it was, might have had its moneyed roots deeply planted on America’s East and West Coasts, but the real action was occurring deep in the US Midwest.
Sure, there was Motown and its over-ground success that eventually shifted to L.A. to mutate and die but we’re talking a parallel universe here that was populated by a different cast of characters plying a blue-collar strain of music. It’s an eternal truism that musical scenes never last. The Motor City’s rock and roll had its moment but succumbed to fashion, drugs, shifting attention spans – whatever factors play to your own historical biases – and has never recovered.
It’s been years in the making and "LOUDER THAN LOVE", the long-awaited documentary paying tribute to legendary Detroit music venue the Grande Ballroom, is finally available.
The Grande was the birthplace or breeding ground for the likes of the Stooges, the MC5, The Up and The Rationals. It also became a notorious killing field for visiting international bands who had to undergo a "trial by support band" where the locals did their best to blow them off the stage (sometimes succeeding.)
“LOUDER THAN LOVE: The Grande Ballroom Story” is Tony D’Annunzio’s first independent film as a producer and director. His movie chronicles the Detroit music scene in the late 1960s, as told through the eyes of the legendary bands that played there.
What is it about Michigan rock bands releasing debut albums 30 years after they were regularly working the live circuit? The Ramrods did it a few years back and The Seatbelts, now well and truly reformed, continue in the same vein. Contemporaries of the similarly non-prolific Sonic's Rendezvous Band, they've unleashed "Joy Ride" onto an unsuspecting public with rock and roll seemingly in its death throes. Maybe, just in the nick of time.
The last Iggy and the Stooges show. Michelle Dawn Saint Thomas photo.
I was oblivious to it at the time but the signs were all around. The counter-culture scene in early '70s Detroit was in a state of free-fall, towards a tragic demise from its epic creative height of the '60s.
Plum Street's attempted bohemian arts colony had completely collapsed, along with efforts by local artists to establish a street fair on Woodward Avenue similar to that in Montreal. The existing brick and mortar business were strictly opposed to this effort, in the belief that when people came downtown the local artists would seize profits from the larger stores of the establishment.
Problem was, people were just not venturing downtown like they used to. Life had changed. Two major aspects, one, the “white flight” exodus, and two, the high crime rate, were keeping people away from Detroit. Plus, something new was on the horizon: the suburban shopping mall. Why travel beyond your neighborhood community when all could be found locally?
Hamtramck Jukebox – Brian McCarty & The Jen-U-Wine Faux Diamond Band (I-94 Recordings)
Number-one on the charts in my bruised old heart! This is an instant classic from Detroit's favorite glam ‘n’ punk frontman, the legendary, Brian McCarty from the mighty Motor City’s Trash Brats. I've only heard the song maybe four times so far, but it's already just so deeply familiar to me, it kinda feels like I've always been listening to it, most all my life.It's just like an old Hanoi Rocksor New York Dolls song you love, it has that same feel.
I suppose you could say I lived through a little bit of it. First time I met that wascally wabbit, Brian O'Blivion, he was memorably wearing a naughty nurse outfit, and way too much Rocky Horror makeup, when that was not a common sight in Indiana Holiday Inn bars. They tore the bar up like Iggy and the Stooges - it was very inspiring and empowering to watch those guys just get down.
Drinking With Some Angels – Cranford Nix Junior (I-94 Recordings)
As soon as I saw the beautiful album cover, my first thought was, how lovely it is, that Cranford Nix Junior's grown kids can look at all this stuff - the albums and heartfelt tributes and fanatical cult followers – appreciate the sentimental testimony of old friends and collaborators and understand how loved and talented their dad was.
Cranford Nix Junior was the charismatic, charmed life, bon vivant, hard-drinking, fringe dwelling, abyss mocking, gone-too-soon, the son of a famous Nashville studio musician. An Americana type songwriter, he was a little bit country, little bit glammy punk ‘n’ roll, like somewhere between Pat Todd and Tyla from Dogs D'Amour, with maybe a little Waylon Jennings, and Paul Westerberg thrown in.
After serious ill-health, Detroit rock and soul legend Scott Morgan (The Rationals, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band) is returning to regular live shows with a new album in the throes of being written.
Morgan fell ill with liver disease a couple of years ago but has undergone extensive treatment. He still needs to manage his health but has bounced back this year to play a couple of shows with the well regarded soulful rockers The Sights as his backing band.
Punk/proto-punk guitar heroes, James Williamson (Iggy & The Stooges) and Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman), have joined forces for a studio album. "Two To One" is released in September 18 by US label Cleopatra Recordsand "Stable" is the lead-off video track..
Williamson and Tek met at a memorial show for founding Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton in 2011 and reconnected when Williamson finally made it to Sydney with Iggy & The Stooges in 2013. They’ve since become neighbours in Hawaii. Although generationally separated, they share roots in the fertile Ann Arbor/Detroit high energy rock scene of the late '60s and early ‘70s.
It’s taken me a little while to get to this one, and I wish I’d got here sooner.
There’s 12 tracks, nine by guitarist Dylan Webster, three by other guitarist Jason Sharples. With your bass by Dave Lundquest, drums by Serge Ou (no, really, that’s what it says here) and vocals by Michael Preiss… we’re looking at a band capable, if we read the back of the CD right, of constructing and delivering the twin guitar assault.
My oath they do.
More like The Lost Great Ride because it's been hard to find in any format, this vinyl re-issue of Dark Carnival’s 1997 studio swansong tells you all you need to know about this Detroit ensemble. Bang! Records have given it a re-master job and restored two tracks that were found on the CD version but omitted from an earlier LP edition.
Dark Carnival was built around vocalist Niagara and guitar god Ron Asheton with a floating cast of players, who were a Who’s Who of the denuded but defiant Michigan punk underground. A direct descendent of Destroy All Monsters, Dark Carnival thanklessly played in and around Detroit for years, even making it to Australia for a lengthy 1991 tour.
Of course, they never got their due accolades. There’s one universal truth that’s harsher than the menu at a homeless shelter in the Cass Corridor in winter and it’s this: Being a Best Kept Secret is great for your cool kid cred but doesn’t buy you more than a cup of shitty Starbucks coffee. Ron (R.I.P.) had to wait for the Stooges revival, and Niagara for her painting career to take off, to make it onto the broader cultural radar. As the Carnies make clear, life really is for sissies but it’s infinitely easier when you can pay the rent.
The Strains – The Strains (No Solution Records)
Rock and roll is usually at its best when kept simple and played hard. Detroit’s Euro-American outThe Strains know this well and deliver in spades.fit
With a bloodline that includes membership of Dark Carnival, Euro punks Dumbelland The Nitwitz, Cult Heroesand backing bands for Andre Williamsand Cub Koda, you should have more than an inkling that it’s going to be good. I’m happily here to tell you it’s much better than simply good.
Recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs, ”The Strains” is a no-nonsense instant classic. This band’s powered by a twin cab, heavy-duty engine room and armed with sawtooth twin guitars and attitude. Paul Grace-Smith spits out a dozen songs full with an anthemic, street savvy edge. These are stories about the streets and their populace. No bullshit.
Accuse me of revisionism if you will...but when I caught Mad for the Racket live at SXSW, I was less than optimally stoked with their performance. Coupla months later, in a column, I was making more conciliatory noises.
Howlin’ Threads - Howlin’ Threads (Meinshaft Records)
The ability of rock and roll bands to shed limbs that regenerate themselves is a thing of eternal wonder. From the The Undermines, out of Canberra - and many years prior, The Fools, from Newcastle - spring Howlin’ Threads, a no-nonsense guitar band from the Wollongong and Canberra regions, packing a self-titled debut EP.
These “Howlin’ Threads” are yet to play a show - they were supposed to debut in June in Wollongong before The ‘Rona had other ideas - but clearly have their shit together in the studio. Their music ticks boxes familiar to any I-94 Bar patron. It’s flashing back to high-energy Sydney, circa the late ‘80s with nods to all the usual suspects, but a notch above the imitators that abounded back then.
Far be it from me to claim that I had my finger completely on the punk rock pulse of the Murder City back in the late '70s and early '80s, but try as I might, I just can't remember this show ever taking place, but nearly a quarter century of recreational beverages, better living through chemistry, three kids, and a 15-year adjustable rate mortgage may have dulled my synapses a tad.
You’d be right if you said reggae doesn’t get much of a look-in at the I-94 Bar. It's not that anyone’s allergic to it, but rock and roll is the staple beer on tap.
You can argue that the Clash turned out their own kind of rock-reggae with mixed results, but the genre remains at the margins around much of the world - like its distant punk rock cousin.
Bob Marley introduced the wider world to reggae in the ‘70s but it had been entrenched in Jamaica for generations. A generation of immigrants had already spread rocksteady and ska to the UK.
The music that Marley brought to stadiums and concert halls was a few steps away from the sound that pervaded the alleys of Trenchtown. Major labels provided th bread, not Jah, and their producers rubbed the rough edges off Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff to make them acceptable to mass market ears.