Detroit Music: The Ultimate sightseer's guide
MT's map to the city's key sites, spanning decades and genres
Published: December 14, 2011
It seemed like a crazy idea when we started — crazier as we went along. Sort through the musical history of this swinging-rocking-funking-thrashing city and come up with, say, 100 key sites that have made Detroit what it is, spanning decades and genres, spanning the region from the river north, and from east to west, from iconic incidents to obscure, but telling, episodes. And here you have 100 map points, from the offices of Jerome Remick (publisher of such hits as 1906's "Dill Pickles Rag") to the seminal spots for garage rock and techno. And this is just the beginning of a sky's-the-limit digital project at metrotimes.com/detroitmusicmap that'll grow to ... we don't know how many sites. Send comments, suggestions and your annotated research for further sites to firstname.lastname@example.org.
by W. Kim Heron, Brian Smith, Mike Hurtt, Michael Jackman, John Cohassey, Doug Coombe, Travis Wright, Jim Gallert, Rachelle Damico, Walter Wasacz, Brett Callwood, Tim Caldwell, Ricky Phillips and Adam Stanfel. Proofreading by Dennis Shea.
Design by Justin Rose. Photos by Doug Coombe unless noted otherwise.
Special assistance from Aaron Mondry, Rachelle Damico and Kelly Caldwell.
7649 Oakland St., Detroit
All you need to know about the Apex Bar is John Lee Hooker and Little Sonny will be forever linked to the curved yellow brick walls that look exactly as they did when Hooker played his first gig there back in 1943. "I would never be on time," Hooker recalled of his Apex days. "I always would be late comin' in." The bartender, Willa, always had the same thing to say to him, he recalled. "Boom-boom — you late again.' Every night: 'Boom-boom — you late again.' I said 'Hmm, that's a song!" Some years later, he committed "Boom Boom" to wax on Vee-Jay Records. One wonders if Willa was still around to hear it. It became one of Hooker's signature tunes.
Baker's Keyboard Lounge
20510 Livernois Ave., Detroit
The oldest jazz club in the world (open since 1934), it became a jazz club when young Clarence Baker took over from his dad in 1939 and installed local pianist Pat Flowers. National acts (virtually all of them: Brubeck, Ella, Miles, Mulligan, Streisand, Metheny, etc., etc.) dominated from 1954 into the '80s. Seating little more than 100, it defined class, with a piano-shaped bar, a 7-foot Steinway (selected for the club by Art Tatum at the Steinway factory), intimate wall booths, etc. Records were cut there; singer Eddie Jefferson was fatally shot outside in 1979 (by an estranged former dancing partner). Clarence sold it in 1996 to John Colbert who revived it with a local emphasis, though it later faltered, was sold again this year and will hopefully rediscover its mojo. Meanwhile a documentary about the fabled club is in the works.
3767 W. Buena Vista, Detroit
In 1965, the newly minted Supremes — Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross — all purchased homes, with Berry Gordy's assistance, on Buena Vista, an upwardly modest (by the Supremes' standards) neighborhood on Detroit's northwest side. Each cost about $30,000. This mock Tudor-moderne mini-manse, built in 1937, was the singer's home when Gordy famously booted her from the Supremes in 1967; it foreclosed by the early '70s. A divorce, a failed solo career, royalty lawsuit(s) against Motown, and three children later, the beautiful Ballard was tragically broke, applying for welfare. Around 1974 Ballard purchased a decidedly modest crib at 17701 Shaftsbury St., between Evergreen and the Southfield freeway. It was her last house; she died in 1976 at 32.
B-B Recording Studio
65 E. Alexandrine St., Detroit
Flick Records prexy Robert West selected disc jockey Bristoe Bryant's B-B Recording Studio to record the Falcons' "You're So Fine" in 1959. Coast-to-Coast musical multitasker Sax Kari, who was living in Detroit at the time, served as producer. The basement studio was so primitive that lead singer Joe Stubbs was placed in the bathroom for isolation and atmospheric echo. The result, with its clanging rhythm guitar and gospel-tinged vocals, has often been cited as the first soul record. Later that year, Bryant sold B-B's tape machine to Berry Gordy, who recorded many early Motown acts on it.
Renaldo "Obie" Benson
18461 San Juan St., Detroit
This tannish "Tudorbethan" near Curtis and Livernois belonged to the Four Tops' bass voice who, you'll recall, co-wrote the world-revolving masterpiece "What's Going On." Benson purchased this house after the Four Tops began hitting the charts with Holland-Dozier-Holland hits in the mid-'60s. Tops lead man Levi Stubbs lived around the corner at 18512 Santa Barbara.
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