Stephen Mack Jones, author of the August Snow series, shares his favorite things about Detroit. In this eight part series, Jones talks classic cocktails, historic buildings, Joe Louis and everything in between.
Death: Made with Pride in Detroit
Before the Ramones. Before the Sex Pistols and Sid Vicious. Before Iggy Pop performed the absolutely twisted self-harm theatrics of rubbing shards of glass across his bare chest on stage, there was a small group of black kids from Detroit who flew their freak flag with a band called Death. A highly talented and unquestioningly visionary music group that was the opposite of Motown’s sweet-beat syncopated soul and the gold-lamé hump-and-pump of Parliament funk. Death can rightfully claim to be the first band to have injected 1,000 ccs of untamed “punk” adrenaline into the quickly hardening veins of 1970s homogenized, commoditized, corporatized rock music. Three black siblings from Detroit’s who, eventually with two other extended family members, formed a band that boldly, arrogantly, joyfully dared to push sound (including ear-shattering speaker feedback) beyond its then-accepted limits. Their lightening flash, thunderous rock music was accompanied by a whirlwind of razor-sharp lyrics that simultaneously assaulted minds and jolted bodies into spasms (think of body-slamming on a crowded high school gym floor while your parents were at home sipping Schlitz beer and watching The Rockford Files). Unfortunately, these visionaries would soon (and rudely) discover from both Black and white audiences and music producers that each had subconsciously accepted the music industry’s “ghettoization” of popular music: Blacks, with your blues, soul, and jazz over here; whites with your rock, country (thanks to a virulently racist Henry Ford), and old-country folk ballads over here. And nary the twain shall meet. A type of segregation that, to a large extent, still exists today.
I only happen to mention Death because innocently enough, a number of folks still believe the heyday of music innovation in Detroit culminated—and ultimately settled like grandma’s fond and faded armchair memories—with Motown Records. Never mind blues legend John Lee Hooker once electrified the blues here between his two-years of production line shifts at Ford Motor Company. Or that the inner-city mega-watt-motherboard-digital-incubator for a majority of today’s techno/electronica/trance dance music was then and is now Detroit (Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, etc.). Bottom line is, when you come to The D, after you make your pilgrimage to the absolutely moving shrine of the Motown Museum, you’ll soon discover this joint is still hoppin’ and boppin’, jukin’ and jivin’, humpin’ and krumpin’, poppin’, lockin’, and praisin’ with whatever music you have a king-sized/queen-sized/LGBTQ+-sized appetite for—including Brahms, Beethoven, Margaret Allison Bonds, and George Bridgetower. We gotcha covered, baby.
While August Snow prefers electronica, ’60s-’70s soul, blues, world, and Tejano, he still occasionally makes his way through his late father’s collection of CDs including Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, and Marcus Belgrave (all Detroit boys). On occasion, he will venture out for an evening of live music and good food at Northern Lights Lounge (660 W Baltimore St., northernlightslounge.com) where he is always hopeful of catching one of the last of the Motown “Funk Brothers” tearin’ it up. Or, he might saunter into Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (20510 Livernois Ave., ), where the walls still exude the bright essence of jazz luminaries such as Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Sarah Vaughan. And under moderate protest and only at the request of his lady love, Dr. Tatina Stadtmueller, will August don his Tom Ford tuxedo to accompany her to a classical concert or nationally touring Broadway show at the Detroit Opera House (1526 Broadway St.).
A Band Called Death – documentary available on YouTube, Amazon Prime, etc.
High Tech Soul – documentary available on YouTube, some streaming services
Betty Davis – Betty: They Say I’m Different – documentary available on YouTube, Amazon Prime