Detroit Leanin': Who Is The Best Motor City Artist Ever?
Some places breed music. Due to sheer size, any big city will produce its fair share of talented musicians, and some - Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago - seem to have music in the water supply. But none, arguably, more than Detroit: John Lee Hooker, the Motown diaspora, Aretha Franklin, the MC5, Rare Earth, The Meatmen, The Dirtbombs, the late J Dilla, Detroit Cobras and so forth.
To give you an idea of how much music the Motor City has given us, Rocks Off Sr. originally asked our writers to name their single favorite Detroit artist or group before Bob Seger's show at Toyota Center last month. Here it is barely two weeks later and another one of Detroit's most decorated, Smokey Robinson, is in town at the Arena Theater tomorrow.
Besides The Sound of Young America and the foundations of U.S. proto-punk and hard rock, Detroit is the city that gave us the architects of modern techno, Carl Craig and Juan Atkins, and the rapper who once said "nobody listens to techno." Our personal pick is a group that ties together rock, soul and R&B in a neat little bow - these guys.
But in our writers' eyes, do any of the above surpass the peppermint buzzsaw that is Jack White?
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Neph Basedow: While Detroit's surrounding areas boast some impressive roots - Question Mark & the Mysterians were from Bay City and Del Shannon was from Ann Arbor, as were The Stooges... not to mention Madonna - my quick and easy answer for Detroit's best musical spawn is the White Stripes.
It's no secret Jack White is one of my favorite all-time musicians and pretty rock-and-roll faces. And I'm no Detroit buff, but I suspect his tight red pants and white face makeup deemed him a pretty radical trendsetter in mid-'90s Motor City.
Craig Hlavaty: There was a time when I had a CD case with only Detroit bands inside it, when we all carried those black, zippered cases and hid them under our seats in the car like precious jewels. It was when I worked at Dominos Pizza (which is headquartered in Ann Arbor, like the early Stooges), and was inside the store for long hours doing corporate paperwork and mindless manager crap that if I think long and hard enough about will still make me sweaty.
Anyhow, in 2003, this case featured three Stooges albums - their self-titled debut, Fun House and Raw Power - two MC5 discs, some Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, Iggy's Kill City, the Bob Seger System, and my favorite White Stripes album at the time, Elephant. There was also a few assorted homemade garage comps I made after listening to "Little Steven's Underground Garage" on the Arrow armed with a paper and pen.
I was indoctrinated into Detroit music by my older friend Jason, who actually is a rocket scientist at NASA. So it did take a rocket scientist to change my musical path, showing me an expertly crafted record collection. Who knows where I would be now? I most certainly wouldn't be writing this blog, and I probably wouldn't be writing about music at all.
The first Detroit band in my head is the Stooges, pure and simple. I can't think of many bands, except for the Stones or Turbonegro, who make me feel the same high at maximum volumes. I wanna scream like I'm back in the Marines when "I Wanna Be Your Dog" comes on. My "war face" wants to come out.
I wait for the day that medical science can create a woman that is as sexy and destroying as "Down On the Street." If you don't feel "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell" in your nuts and ovaries, then you don't know me or speak my language. We merely communicate through a greater cultural interpreter.
One of my treasures in my life is a recording I have of an interview I did with Henry Rollins a little over a year ago. We talked about his speaking tour, politics, the world at large, his love of noise music, and lastly, the Stooges.
We must have spent 15 minutes just gushing like Bieberized teen girls about the Stooges. "You have More Power?? You have to have More Power!! No dude, you need the Fun House box set with twelve takes of "Loose" on it!"
I can write glowing raps about shitty pop-stars, and I can wax poetic about a new indie-band that you think I am supposed to like, or I can try to gussy up a local band that could care less who I am, but when it comes to the Stooges I will bleed on my computer for them.
Steve Jansen: Stevie Wonder, no doubt. Especially after Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. moved his hit-producing factory to Los Angeles in 1972, which opened up creative freedoms for folks like Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5 to conceptualize and execute, in my opinion, the greatest music in modern history.
Wonder paved the way with his outer planetary string of albums that he cut from 1972 to 1976 (starting with Music of My Mind and ending with Songs in the Key of Life) that feature him in full creative control. Aside from 1961 to 1967 John Coltrane, I have yet to be knocked upside the head by any other musician's consecutive multi-year output like I have with Wonder's.
Jef With One F: Though he broke out in Los Angeles, Alice Cooper spent his early life in Detroit, and for my money there has always been a Motor City toughness about the man. Even in his most flamboyant and glam moments, he just seems to embody a kind of gritty realism that speaks of factories, hard work, smoggy skies, and just a hint of Robocop. He even paid homage to his roots and the multitude of great artists from Detroit in his song "Detroit City" off The Eyes of Alice Cooper. Not his best work, perhaps, but it was kind of cool to have him shout out Insane Clown Posse after he played an evil jukebox on their album The Great Milenko. I don't know what it is about being born in Michigan that turns people into Coopers, Iggy Pops, and Bob Segers, but I sure hope that it keeps going.
Shea Serrano: I guess I'm supposed to pick Eminem here, what with being a rap critic and all, but I'm gonna go with the White Stripes. I can think of at least three separate occasions when something Jack White said or did helped me have sex with someone who likely wouldn't have had sex with me otherwise. I don't think there's a better barometer for measuring how much I favor someone or something than that.
Brittanie Shey: That Baaaad Mothafucker, Andre Williams. Seriously. have you seen the man live?
He's not from Detroit - he was born in Alabama - but he got his career start at Fortune Records. My problem with Detroit Soul, specifically Motown, has always been how manicured and manufactured it was. The idea was to appeal to white people. Andre Williams, on the other hand, has the raunch of the south. He also wrote tons of hits for other artists. "Shake a Tail Feather"? C'mon.
Pete Vonder Haar: Favorite artist from Detroit? Jesus, pick something easy next time, like "Favorite band from England" or "Best guitarist with a first name starting with J."
So no disrespect to Marvin, Aretha, Iggy, Wayne, or Stevie, but I thought I'd look at a couple of probably overlooked Motor City artists:
Broadzilla: I first heard this band in 1999 or thereabouts, probably through word-of-mouth about their debut CD Broadzilla vs. the Tramp-o-Lean on some metal forum . They only produced two albums, and have never come to Texas (in spite of my pleas to lead singer/guitarist Rachel May to try and make SXSW), but their crunchy mix of punk and metal always goes down right with me.
Seduce: If there's a music documentary in more constant rotation among certain members of Rocks Off than The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, I'm not aware of it. Yet the film had one serious problem, and that was failing to present more bands of a recent vintage that weren't laughably bad (I'm looking at you, Odin and London). Happily, Detroit's Seduce were one of the arguable contenders. Not that they ever ended up doing anything, of course.
Suzi Quatro: Oh shut up. Anyone who was...of a certain age when those Leather Tuscadero episodes aired on Happy Days knows what I'm talking about.
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