Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, “Riffs and Contexts”

1966 Artwork by Rob Tyner

1966 Artwork by Rob Tyner

Louder Than Love, the new documentary film about Detroit’s Grande Ballroom opens in Detroit tonight.  I won’t be going though.  Both shows are sold out, hours before showtime.  I should have got tickets when I was at the Detroit Institute of Arts last Sunday.  So it goes.

There are two things I forgot.  Rock and Roll is big business and everybody loves the home team.  Hopefully it’ll play elsewhere, and soon.

I never went to a show at the Grande.  I do have memories of driving by it with friends, just to check out the scene.   I think we tried to get into a show once, but it was sold out or decided not to go in.  Thus, I do have vague memories of its exterior, back when it was a going concern.

If I was 2 or 3 years older, I’m sure I’d have gone there.  I did get to see the MC5 and the Stooges, in the early 1970’s.

I’ve gone past its empty, abandoned shell many times.  I’ve seen that.

The picture above was a newspaper ad for the first Grande show.  It may also have been a flyer or poster.

I was going to reconstruct a partial list of Grande shows here.  Then,  I found that that’s already been done at this site here:

Other Detroit Clubs of that era: The Drumbeat Club, The Absolute Zero Coffee house, The Poison Apple, The Raven Gallery, The Et Cetera, The Chessmate, The Living End.

Happening in Detroit: In October 1966, Robert Kennedy visited Detroit.  Vietnam War protests grew more frequent.  In 1967, the scene included Plum Street, John Sinclair and the MC5,  the May “Belle Isle Love In.”  Then there was the Detroit Uprising (popularly known as the Detroit Riots).  1968 was the year of many protests and the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

Some show I’d liked to have seen there: 

On the Jazz and “Rhythm and Blues” fronts, in 1967 on December 29-30, John Lee Hooker in 1968 on August 30 & 31 Howlin’ Wolf on September 6, 7 & 8 B.B. King.  Then, in 1969, on April 18 & 19 Chuck Berry on May 16 Sun Ra & Led Zeppelin and (the next night) Sun Ra & the MC5 on June 27 & 28 Chuck Berry & Slim Harpo on August 15 & 16 Bo Diddley

Then, various pop and rock music, in 1967 on November 25 & 26 The Fugs & The MC5 on December 9 Moby Grape & the MC5.  Then, in 1968, on February 18 The Byrds on March 9 The Who on March 29 to 30 Sly and the Family Stone & the Fugs June 1  Love, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown & the Psychedelic Stooges on July 13 The Who & Pink Floyd on October 12 Eric Clapton sat in with John Mayall as a “surprise guest” (after playing with Cream in another part of town) then on October 30 & 31 the MC5 recorded their first record for Elektra.  In 1969, on February 22 & 23 the Paul Butterfield Blues Band & Van Morrison on April 11,12 & 13 The Velvet Underground & the Nice.  On January 23 1971, Phil Ochs did a benefit for the Winter Soldier investigation.

I could go on and on (Janis Joplin & Big Brother and Holding Company, the Kinks, Tim Buckley etc.)  But yes, there were some sweet shows there, to be sure.

Then, not at the Grande, but produced by Russ Gibb.  On February 23, 1968 Jimi Hendrix played the Masonic Theatre.  Soft Machine, the MC5 and the Rationals opened the show.  On November 12, Hendrix played Detroit again, at Cobo Hall.

The official Grande Ballroom site:

The new Documentary film:

Recent news:


2 Responses to “Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, “Riffs and Contexts””

  1. Mud Says:

    The following items are from Paul Trynka’s “Open Up & Bleed.”

    “After getting kicked out of the Prime Movers, Ron [Asheton] joined Scott Richardson’s snotty English-flavored band, the Chosen Few, and he would soon enjoy the distinction of playing the very first notes to be heard at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom when it became a live rock ‘n’ roll venue: his bass intro to the Stones’ “Everybody Needs Somebody” launched the Chosen Few’s opening set for up-and-coming band the MC5 in October 1966.”

    “For his first Grande dates, Jim Osterberg finally left the Hawaiian guitar at home and made his debut as a front man. Jim himself describes those early performances as being naive, heavily derivative of his heroes Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison: “Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger, that’s who I wanted to be. In fact it was so obvious that they should have called me Mick Morrison!” But Jim Morrison never appeared onstage in a white Victorian nightdress, wearing a metallic silver wig and white makeup, towing a vacuum cleaner in his wake. Indeed, the Psychedelic Stooges looked so ludicrous on the forty-five minute drive to to the gig that, according to Ron Asheton, several rednecks attempted to run them off the highway, while the security guard at the Grande took one look at Iggy bedecked in his aluminum finery and asked, “What IS that? Some kind of mechanical man?”
    Once at the venue, owner Russ Gibb was nonplussed by the singer’s costume (“He looked like the tin Man in THE WIZARD OF OZ”), and listened patiently as Jim Osterberg explained the practical difficulties of amplifying “the Osterizer,” which Russ thought was some kind of toilet bowl. Open-minded and enthusiatic, always ready to indulge anything “the kids” might go for, Russ came out of his office to watch the band open their set. He found it thrilling. It was based on high-energy rock ‘n’ roll in the vein of the Who, Hendrix – or, indeed, the MC5 – but this was way more freeform; Iggy would sing into the vacuum cleaner, vocalizing lines that were then picked up by Ron and Dave in long, repetitive, loping riffs, while Scott Asheton kept up a Bo Diddley-influenced tribal beat, bashed out on fifty-five gallon oil cans augmented with a set of timbales and some battered cymbals.
    […] The MC5, most of whom were in attendance, thought the performance was “simply amazing,” says Becky Tyner…The “kids,” however, were less convinced. Over the next few months, Iggy would become familiar with the sensation of warching the audience frozen in horror, their only discernable reactions being to laugh or to leave. Russ met one of the first of them, a young girl who went into his office later that evening to ask what in the hell he was doing booking someone so “weird! He was a little too alternative for those suburban kids,” he explains.”

    As much as I would have loved to have seen the Stooges or the MC5 there, I still maintain that, overall, if you pit the lineup of bands who played the Grande Ballroom against the lineup who played Bookies, the City Club or St. Andrew’s Hall (In fairness, in it’s first three years), I’d rather have seen the line-up in the other three venues.

    Or, to put it another way, back in the ’70s older hipsters would chide those of us in the younger generation for having missed-out on all of the fun. Lorraine Newman, former cast member of SNL, was asked by High Times whether or not she regretted not having been born earlier, and she replied something very much like “No, we have punk rock!” My sentiments exactly, even if some of the roots of punk are in the ground of the Grande.

    “No fun, my babe, no fun.
    Well, maybe go out, maybe stay home
    Maybe call mama on the telephone
    Well com’on.”
    -Iggy Pop

    “Last year I was twenty-one
    I didn’t have a lot of fun
    This year I’m gonna be twenty-two
    Well oh my and boo-hoo.”
    -Iggy Pop

  2. fzappa2000 Says:

    You should have just can almost always find a spare rivet.I had on and sold it at the door.

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