Tag Archives: The Hentchmen

From underground obscurity to international phenomenon: “It Came From Detroit”

2 Mar

It Came From DetroitThank goodness I moved to Detroit when I did. If I’d arrived in the 1990s, I probably wouldn’t have been able to hold down a steady job or get any sleep because I would have spent every spare dollar and minute in a scuzzy bar somewhere downtown listening to garage bands.

I know this thanks to a very thoughtful gift from my cousins-in-law: a copy of the 2013 documentary, It Came from Detroit, chronicling the garage scene before, during and after the White Stripes made it big and gave the world a glimpse of the home-grown music scene.

The way the musicians tell it in the film, many of these bands were formed out of boredom by music geeks who clogged the aisles of record stores looking for albums by early 1960s American bands like Bay City’s own ? and the Mysterians. Having no experience playing an instrument wasn’t necessarily a barrier; friends would pick up a guitar or a pair of drum sticks and jump right in. As more bands formed, they took over whatever space was cheap and available (dive bars, bowling alleys, stripper transvestite clubs) to play for whoever would show up. The sound – fuzzed up, fun and really loud – was dubbed “Detroit garage rock.”

The crowds grew, the bands (which often shared or swapped players) got better known around town, and while they weren’t exactly able to quit their day jobs, bands like The Demolition Doll Rods, Electric Six and The Detroit Cobras were able to play rock music their way – as this video from The Gories shows:

 

Then came Jack and Meg White.

Jack had played with a number of Detroit bands like Rocket 455 and the Hentchmen, but once the White Stripes started, they were on a different trajectory. The documentary uses their rise to the top as a line of demarcation between a time when music was just a way for friends to get together by making music, and one in which Detroit bands like the Von Bondies were getting national praise and international exposure … which didn’t last long.

It Came From Detroit took ten years to film and features dozens of interviews and music clips. I’m glad that many of these bands are still playing (I’ve seen a couple recently) and grateful their commitment to having fun onstage hasn’t waned. And as for those that are hiatus or broke up long ago, at least we can experience some of that Motor City magic on screen. As my cousin writes,

Looking back it was by far the most enjoyable job I have ever had. For 9 years 3-4 nights a week my job was to go witness great rock and roll shows, well for the most part at least.

There are lots of stories to go along with all those shows. It did kind of dampen my enthusiasm of seeing national acts in larger venues, knowing that I saw so many great bands that were just as good and many times far better than those big touring bands.

Buy the documentary, spread the word, and share your experiences here. In the meantime, enjoy this clip from Ann Arbor-based The Paybacks:

 

See you on the flip side …

Right Around the Corner: The Detroit Cobras at the UFO Factory

29 Dec

Tied and TrueThis year has been a personal best for concerts. I saw some of my favorite bands of all time and went to nearly every major Detroit venue, many featuring not just places to sit but actual seats. It’s been grand.

My final show of 2014 was a departure. I and my intrepid concert buddy Lois ventured to the UFO Factory in Corktown to see a local favorite I’ve wanted to catch live for a long time: the Detroit Cobras. This outfit’s specialty is doing lesser-known R&B songs with a pumped-up tempo. One of my favorites is “Right Around the Corner,” originally recorded by newly-minted Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the “5” Royales:

Having missed the Detroit Cobras the last time they were in town, I made sure to buy tickets in advance. (Lois’ comment: “At these low prices, I’m guessing there are no seats.” Correct.) Another sign this was not going to be the usual Ticketmastered affair: my online receipt confirmed the date of the show as follows:

Start Date: December 27, 2014 9:00 PM
End Date: December 28, 2014 2:00 AM

I made a note to myself to use those Starbucks gift cards I got for Christmas. It was going to be a long night.

Tim V. of The Hentchmen

Tim Purrier of The Hentchmen

There were three warm-up acts on the bill, all of them new to me: Twine Time (not too bad, featuring a drummer who looked like he had just gotten his learner’s permit); J. Walker & the Crossguards (meh); and The Hentchmen. These three guys have played together for more than 20 years; Jack White sat in with them back in the old days. The guitarist, Tim Purrier, is a force of nature, unleashing muscular garage rock with every song. Great, great stuff.

When the Hentchmen wrapped up, it was after midnight. By then the place was filled to capacity with an admirable mix of age groups, although it was pretty much an all-white crowd, as has been the case at all of the shows I’ve attended out here (even Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings’ audience wasn’t particularly diverse). Some local rock stalwarts were rumored to be in the room: one of The Romantics was standing in the back, along with a guy from The Howling Diablos. The DJ kept things lively, blasting punk singles louder than any of the bands; Lois gamely shielded her eardrums. Finally some of the Cobras got onstage to set up. We were more than ready.

Rachel Nagy

Rachel Nagy and a Cobra

The constants of the band over the last two decades have been singer Rachel Nagy and guitarist “Mary Cobra” Ramirez. They look like the gals you want with you in a bar fight: tough and battle-tested. Nagy was the last one on stage, puffing on an e-cigarette and adjusting her t-shirt to better feature her tattoos. They got on with the show, kicking out three or four boppy, garaged-up songs in 15 minutes.

Before one of the tunes ended, however, Nagy left the stage. The remaining band members took it in stride, cracking lame jokes to cover for a few minutes. Then she returned to explain her absence, looking a bit worse for wear:

“Clearly I’m not as punk rock as I used to be,” she admitted. “I don’t throw up onstage anymore.”

Dearie me …

Whatever the cause for her indisposition (heat stroke? jello shots? stomach flu?), Nagy and the band got back into the groove. By 1:15, the 25-ish lead singer of Twine Time, boozy and uninhibited, was attempting to chat Lois up, and I had had enough of contending with the giant photographer blocking my view. The ink of our hand stamps had faded; we’d proven our mettle; it was time to go home to the suburbs.

I have gone to more concerts in five years in Detroit than the rest of my years combined. No doubt this has to do with my advancing age, knowing I’d better do it now before my aching back won’t let me stand in General Admission anymore. Still, rock music isn’t some fountain of youth for me. It’s not my aspiration, either; as much as I wish I could have sung back-up for Joe Cocker, I would have wanted to do so in 1969. And Lord knows no matter how many shows I attend, “cool” will never be synonymous with my name.

I simply like to feel the music as well as hear it, surrounded by fellow members of the tribe, especially when friends and/or family agree to share, or at least humor, my obsession. It’s fun; it’s silly; it’s glorious; it’s rock and roll.

May the journey continue in the New Year and beyond.

See you on the flip side … and here’s to more music in 2015!

P.S. A special thank you to everyone who has bought, read, reviewed and talked up Love and Other B-Sides. You helped make 2014 truly spectacular!

Lisa Peers talks a lot

the source for communications insights and observations 

Sixty Something

Observations, insights, hindsight, and forward thinking

timeweleftthisworldtoday

This world's so mixed up everywhere you go

keepsmealive

"No dress rehearsal, this is our life."

No Rhyme Or Reason

Positive/Thought Provoking Essays on One Fan's Love of Music

the EARL of SWIRL

"to be average scares the hell out of me"

Every Hit Song Ever...from A to Z!

Talk about.........Pop Music!

All You Need Is The Beatles

(Not just about The Beatles!)

Publication Coach

& Gray-Grant Communications

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

Television Blues

A new online music channel

Mixed Tape Masterpiece

an ode to the songs (and radio stations) that shaped my life

Cave of Fame

Digging through relics while becoming one myself

My Effin Life

It's not profane, it's my life.