Mike Marino – CJOM, Tim Buckley, The Rock and Roll Farm, and The Grande Old Dame

The 70’s in Detroit! Live local bands, rock and roll venues were everywhere! Beer was cheap at the clubs and it was a Rock and Roll solar system as were most large cities with local live music!

I’ve written many pieces about radio..mostly major highlights I experienced, but there were also those little pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that gave life to that career and not just a few laughs so I will explore my cranial caverns of memory to let them fall to the digital page, that is if they agree to….

Tim Buckley at the Rock and Roll Farm bar in Detroit.

The Rock and Roll Farm was a small club and most importantly the house band was Bob Seger so that should give you an idea of its’ status in the Detroit Rock Scene of the ‘70s. It was also my dive of choice when working at CJOM radio  in Detroit-Windsor.

The owners, two brothers who in any other life might have been Jesse and Frank James were good friends of mine and on certain nights I would invite booking agents, record execs, band managers, radio people to the parties I held there. That way agents met bands, etc…and I was the facilitator..worked out fine and dandy…I made friends who made money and as a result along with my rock radio credentials.

One show in particular at the Rock and Roll Farm was the Tim Buckley show…he and Terry Reid faves in those days, and still are. I made all the arrangements for the bash..my people paid no cover and drinks were half price at our pushed together tables of two dozen or so guests near the stage.

One of my guests was my lawyer and he was also the son of the owner of the grand old Fox Theater in downtown Detroit. He was also a cocaine dealer.

The Outrageously Beautiful Fox Theater Detroit

We excused ourselves from the party during the opening act…Salem Witchcraft, and headed for the restroom were we proceed to snow blow so to speak…just then one of the bouncers, a new guy stormed in and busted us and took us to the office to see Mike and Tommy, the owners…as we walked in bouncer behind us..we saw Mike bent over his desk snorting a rather long line. Had to laugh. He looked up and said to the bouncer, “What?”

His bust just got busted and he left the room to do his job which meant back off. We added some more coke and we were in hog heaven.

We finally returned to our table and Buckley was due on stage in five or so minutes so took my place next to my Wife #1 the blonde bombshell who could dance the night away to rock and roll…

Once Buckley was about half way through his set one of the WRIF guys pulled out a joint and passed it around…I took a rather large drag or two and everything went haywire…it was some top grade weed with PCP added…

Once the show was over…I was helped outside and promptly fell of the cub into the Michigan Avenue at 1:30 or so in the morning. My car was parked out front and the other couple we came with got in front…Rick drove and I got placed in the back seat lying down head on wife’s lap…the next morning I woke up in bed and asked my wife…”How was the Buckley show?”

I had forgotten I was there…That’s why cocaine and PCP don’t mix. But Rock and Roll Does…..

Grande Ballroom: Detroit’s Rock and Roll Bordello

The Grande Ballroom is part of the rock and roll roots and psyche of the Motor City. It’s as much a part of us as the Detroit Tigers, the auto industry and labor unions. You can cannot extract one of those elements without a fight.

In the late Sixties and ’70’s the Grande erupted into second life as a entertainment venue headlining the top rock acts of the era from the volcanic sounds of Cream to the street fighting chutzpah of the MC5. The Who exploded on stage, Hendrix sent the crowd into a hormonal frenzy and fire with his incendiary guitar playing, while Iggy and Stooges and Ted Nugent rallied the rock and roll testosterone and if the MC5 were kicking out the jams…then Ted and Iggy were kicking them in the balls. It was the predecessor of Detroit’s live rock and roll era and in it’s wake emerged the Eastowne Theater, the Vanity, Harpos and the famed Michigan Palace. These venues saw everyone on stage from Aerosmith to David Bowie and Queen, Roxy Music and The Velvet Underground. But…but…the Grande was the grand dame…the other venues were prostitutes in a house of rock and

Detroit radio personality Russ Gibb, who purchased and retooled the Grande, had been approached many times with Grande projects, but he says Tony D’Annunzio’s film “Louder Than Love” felt different.
(Photo courtesy Tom Wright)

roll ill repute but the Grande was the elegant madam who you respected but couldn’t fuck. This classy lady was not for sale…actually she was when promoter Russ Gibb teamed up with real estate mogul Gabe Glantz to reopen the venue which had fallen into disrepair. There is the Grand Prix race but when the business venture started to fall apart they referred to each other as the Grande Pricks!

(Gabe and Russ had a falling out and Gabe’s son, Steve took over concert promotions in the city at the venerable Michigan Palace Theater. Russ Gibb faded into the background and it was the age of Glantz. Steve and I became good friends thanks to my work in rock and roll radio at CJOM radio across the river from Detroit..but that is another story! Meanwhile …back to the Grande…..)

The Grande exploded like an entertainment artillery shell during WWII…Detroit was the arsenal of Democracy pumping out war material to defeat the Axis and knock them on their asses…tanks, bombers, artillery, jeeps, ammunition all filed out of the factories as Henry Ford was commissioned by President Roosevelt to organize the assembly lines of Detroit and the town went to work, three shifts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week…the factory workers put their heart and soul into their work and worked hard..but …all work and no play…you know the rest so being Detroiters..yes we work hard..but goddamn it we know how to party and when the work day or week was done…the workers put on their dancing shoes and headed for the Grande Ballroom to kick up their heels while they relaxed from the work of manufacturing Axis ass kicking material.

The Post War Years took their toll on the Grande as well as Detroit’s inner city strata. The affluence of the Motor City was in hyper drive and while the suburbs acted as a sponge to absorb the city residents, the city atrophied and along with it, many of her architectural wonders as it underwent a demise I call the decline and fall of Edifice Rex. The burbs blossomed and the city’s concrete jungle became overgrown with debris and ruins. The Grande faded as fewer people ventured into downtown Detroit for their entertainment. It was multi-plex theaters, snobby dinner theater and ballroom dancing held the same interest level that a paralytic might have in running a marathon.

As the Fifties came and went..the Sixties emerged. A  birth of dubious Beat parentage. Music was more important than ever and venues were needed for it’s presentation. Russ Gibb along with his partner Gabe Glantz together re-opened the old Grande that they used to frequent. Russ had traveled to San Francisco and ended up at the Fillmore Auditorium and a dream was born. (Russ was a DJ in Detroit as well who started the “Paul is Dead rumor..!

Hmmmm….

Russ not only was impressed by the groups he saw but the light shows and artistic playbills that were handed out announcing which groups would be playing on which dates and of course the massive floor with patrons dancing to the psychedelic music illuminated with black lights and the lava lamp effects of the light show as images danced along with the patrons and filled the room along with the smoke of marijuana.

Russ felt he could duplicate the San Francisco Experience in Detroit…but as the wise sage asked..”Are you Experienced?” Remember, the Motor City is not San Francisco just as Gary, Indiana is not Rome. He remembered the Grande on Grand River and Beverly Street…not the best part of town anymore day or night. Would people come and brave the neighborhood to catch a few acts? Maybe..if he had the right ones.

The old girl was in ruin but a little make up and the old girl could be a fraction of what she used to be. The proscenium stage and the wooden dance floor along with full length promenades were still in relatively good shape and he had a vision that the old second floor was funky enough to add to the delightful experience for his “bohemian” patrons who would descend from the suburbs back to the inner city to see groups like Cream, Hendrix and the Who along with local acts, Iggy and the Stooges, The MC5 and Bob Seger…an he was correct in that assumption.

To put the rock and roll blitzkrieg into motion he needed the help of the local hipster community and he found it in John Sinclair..he had the in with all the musicians, artists, writers and photogs on the fringe and a marriage made in rock and roll heaven emerged from their meeting. At the same time..Plum Street the pseudo Haight Ashbury was beginning to flower with head shops, incense, LSD and marijuana. The only thing missing from the equation is that in Haight Ashbury, we came from all over the country, and Europe to form a community. In Detroit, Plum Street was small and merely attracted people from Ann Arbor and Birmingham! Hardly hippies, hardly hip, and not a runaway in the bunch..

Sinclair invited Russ to hear his group The MC5 and also there that night at rehearsal was Jerry Younkins, who developed a light show, that was also demonstrated. Rob Tyner of the Five introduced Russ that night to his high school buddy Gary Grimshaw, and artist who designed all the Grande posters and playbills. All was in readiness and the curtain would rise on the old Grande (now fixed up and painted like an old hooker on speed, or Herman Goering at a cabaret with full lipstick and rouge treatment) was ready to rock and roll. Local bands had already been lined up as were a host of international acts, or at least would in time be international. D-Day was set for the rock and roll Normandy Invasion during the first weekend of October in 1966. The light show was promoted on the posters and the first act was to be the Jam Kicking Mother Fuckers, the MC5 and a group called the Chosen Few.

The word was spread they came in herds from the burbs…but..not being familiar with the area and also fearful of it did manage after a few wrong turns make to the Grande. The parking lot was something out of Nightmare on Elm Street and the side door entrance on Beverly was like opening the 9th gate to hell.

When you entered the building you paid a cheap admission and would head up the stairs to the second floor. The stairs were as wide as small surf boards and once inside the ballroom…they had stepped through the looking glass to the Mad Hatters party, hosted by Uncle Russ Gibb!

The music pounded…the crowd was typical Dee-troit…loud and proud and danced in time to the music. The patrons were also fueled by drugs and the pulsating light who that projected from the wall of scaffolding erected in the back.

Leni Sinclair

Gary Grimshaw and Leni Sinclair, Johns wife manned the light show from slide projectors and color mixers, while oil was poured along with diverse pigments to augment the effect. Top is all off with left over glitter light balls from the 20’s and it was a hallucinogenic dream scape that transferred the patrons onto another plane of reality that was not plain by any standards.

The crowds swelled from that night on as word spread that something was happening at the Grande Ballroom, and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones? Southbound Freeway, the Spike Drivers, Gang, the Wha, Walking Wounded, the Woolies and Jagged Edge, all local got gigs a the Grande and brought their fans along to join in the fray of hip, hipster and hyper cool. The MC5 became the defacto house band. Friday and Saturday Motor City evenings would never be the same again.

Concert posters by artist Gary Grimshaw for shows that took place                                                      at the Grande.

Soon it’s fame went national and outside groups joined the lineups from Jeff Airplane to the Grateful Dead who were to embark on their first ever national tour, the Grande was the first stop on that journey. If you build it, they will come..and they did, Jeff Beck, Big Brother and Joplin, Procol Harem, the Fugs, Butterfield, Cream, and the Who. On average there were over 1,000 patrons packed in this assembly line of h. Soon newer venues opened, such as the Michigan Palace and the Fox Theater…today the Grande is a hulk, from a historic standpoint in counter culture lore it is an Incredible Hulk..in ruins…alone once again..forgotten by the newer generation who if they drive by the area, would only see one more of Detroit’s ghetto ruins on their way to the mall…The Grande was the center of gravity for the Detee-roit music scene…it was the Grand Dame of Rock and Roll..Deee-troit style. One thing for certain..she may be gone..but not forgotten and goddamn if that place didn’t’ kick out the jams Mother Fuckers!

=MM=

Mike Marino has made his “roadhead” bones and enjoy’s nothing better than a greasy, unfolded map on the seat of the car…a bag of beef jerky and smoked fish and a cream soda to wash it all down as the highway and the steel belts play a meloldy of asphalt. Originally a product of the Motor City, Mike has lived in on the streets and on the beach in Hawaii, as well as in Haight Ashbury and the North Beach neighborhoods in San Francisco. Mike is also founder of the Experimental Theater Workshop, The Spare Change Artists Project, adn the Dung Zen Sustainable Living Project. He is primarily though a freelance magazine writer of pop culture, car culture, travel and history for numerous publications and he enjoys Hawaiian shirts, classic cars, Ed Wood Movies, fuzzy dice and hula dashboard ornaments as well as a good Hemmingway cigar, Corona beer, hiking and backpacking and rummaging through flea markets and auto junkyards.

 

One Response to “Mike Marino – CJOM, Tim Buckley, The Rock and Roll Farm, and The Grande Old Dame”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Well done!

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