Detroit Music: The Ultimate sightseer's guide
MT's map to the city's key sites, spanning decades and genres
Published: December 14, 2011
2727 Russell St., Detroit
In operation for 24 years, it's the longest-running of jazz entrepreneur Bert Dearing's 10 or so clubs and halls going back to Bert's Black Horse Saloon in 1968. The Marketplace's Thursday night jam sessions have run continually for a decade (arguably sparking the city's jam session revival of recent years), and numerous local musicians (Larry Smith and more recently John Douglas come to mind) have had long stays. Among the Maretplace's predecessors, Bert's Place on Jefferson, had a legendary run from 1977 to 1987, featuring, as Dearing put it, "anybody that was in town," from Earl Van Dyke and fellow Funk Brothers to Marcus Belgrave, J.C. Heard to Lefty Edwards (they don't even have names like that anymore).
Blue Bird Inn
5021 Tireman St., Detroit
There'd been music at the club since the '30s, but in 1949 the owners went all-out and made it "the hippest modern jazz nightspot in Detroit during the city's bebop heyday." Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Thad Jones, Barry Harris and Elvin Jones were eventually regulars (as was Joe Henderson much later). Charlie Parker dropped by to jam. Miles Davis played for a long stretch in 1953 while kicking heroin (and often returned later as a leader). The emphasis shifted to touring nationals in the late '50s; music ended in the '70s, with sporadic revivals. The building, long empty, still stands.
Belleville High School
501 W. Columbia, Belleville
Who knew that a quaint high school in this western Wayne County town with a mile of lake frontage and a cute downtown would find a critical place in pop culture history as an outpost of sonic afrofuturism? It's where techno pioneers Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson (the Belleville Three) went to school together and tinkered with electronic rhythms inspired by P-Funk, Chicago house, London glam and German sound engineering.
870 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit
Bookies Club 870, a gay dinner bar on the edge of decomposing Highland Park, seemed an unlikely locale for ground zero of Detroit new wave, or, as it's claimed, Detroit's punk rock. But early in 1978, weekday shows by such Detroit bands as the Traitors and Coldcock kick-started the new scene. Then enter the Romantics, Sonic's Rendezvous Band, Destroy All Monsters and Wayne Kramer. National touring acts including the Dead Boys, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, the Police, Ultravox, the Damned, and countless others, helped to secure Bookies' place on the tour itinerary of punk rock royalists of the late '70s and early '80s. After a short resurgence in the late '80s, the club burned to the ground in 1989, leaving a parking lot in its space.
Brass Rail Bar
20 W. Adams St., Detroit
As Dexy's Midnight Runners sang: "Poor old Johnnie Ray!" Ray was arrested in Detroit — again — in December of 1959 for soliciting a Detroit vice squad cop for sex. After a trial, Ray was found not guilty, but the publicity likely ruined his career. The bar was known for attracting traveling musicians and gay men alike, and the joint's famous storefront — featuring an oversized carving of two men drinking over the doorway — likely had deeper significance to some of the clientele. The Brass Rail is gone, but you can still see the carving; it's indoors since 1987, at the Adair Bar, 8033 Saint Clair Hwy., Casco; 810-329-3056; we hear the original woodcarver's grandnieces come in regularly. (See our listing for Stone Burlesk Theatre.)
Joe Brazi's Basement
near McNichols, Detroit
Joe Brazil was a Ford machinist by day, saxophonist by night, and the basement of his three-bedroom ranch in the North End was the site of nonstop sessions for musicians before or after their regular gigs in the 1950s into the 1960s. Even youngsters would sit on the porch, hoping for acknowledgement from players coming or going. Names as big as John Coltrane stopped by (and Brazil played flute on one of Coltrane's 1965 Om sessions). Joe B's also functioned as an informal audition room; the late drummer Bert Myrick recalled discussing a possible tour with Coltrane during his 1960 Minor Key stop. A very lo-fi bootleg making the rounds captures Donald Towns (trumpet), Joe Brazil and Sonny Red (alto sax), Joe Henderson and Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Hugh Lawson (piano), Ernie Farrow (bass) and Roy Brooks (drums) on Sept. 25, 1958.
Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects
2700 St. Antoine St., Detroit
Someone shot a fabulous picture in the late '60s of the Supremes that you can find on the Web labeled as being in front of the Brewster Projects in 1967. Since the picture shows a high-rise behind them, it'd actually be in front of the Frederick Douglass Apartments of the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, where Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard had been teens and formed their first group, the Primettes. And the girls had lived not in the towers, but the homes portion of the projects. The low-rises had been built and opened in 1938 as the nation's first housing project for blacks; and even when Supremes-to-be lived there 20-plus years later, public housing had yet to acquire the reality or the stigma of the slums that many were to become. As one writer described the Brewster homes, they were "clean, decent housing, established for lower middle-class hard-working families." Or as her father is quoted saying: "a place where large families could afford to live." (There were six young Rosses.) Nonetheless, there's nothing "lower middle-class" about the girls in the shot. Since then, some of the towers have been demolished, the low-rise homes all replaced by town houses (that look nothing like stereotypical public housing).
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