I had initially written a marginally long and ill-tempered (go figure) treatise on the sorry state rock & roll is in circa 2015, predicated on the style and substance of the rock & roll produced by the city of Detroit, circa 1969. Unfortunately I accidently wiped it from my computer and as such had to start all over again. Now I lack the energy and patience to rant. Probably just as well, my record is broken and repeats the same verse over and over and over and…
We did have a great trip however. If Joe Young is to be remembered, let it be for the types of shows we gave last weekend in his memory. Here’s how it went down:
KNOXVILLE – April 30
Our routine is pretty much the same anymore. We usually arrive in town early and get a motel before heading over to wherever we’re playing. This was no different. The motels we stay in are usually pretty decent, but this one was a little bit behind the curve. The A/C and TV were relatively ancient and my bed had busted springs. No big deal, really. I suppose had I been more intrepid I could’ve scored us a free room but whatever. Sometimes I just find a nice corner on the floor and sleep there. My buddy Duane Rollick of the Murder Junkies and I have discussed this before. We both have a pretty keen ability to adapt and adjust accordingly. It’s a trait developed from travelling lean and cheap. I feel fortunate to even be in a band that can afford to get a room. However sometimes when the weather is nice I’ve slept in the van, if for no other reason than just to get a little quiet time in my own headspace. The trick is to make the best of every situation and work them to your advantage. Anyway, busted springs didn’t keep me off the bed this trip.
The club is called the Longbranch Saloon. It’s basically an old house gutted out and reconfigured for a bar. The stage is upstairs, which makes load in a treat. After getting our gear in, the promoter shows up with a giant batch of food. We settle down and dig in. While eating the Lookout Mountain Daredevils arrive. They are opening the show tonight. They are comprised of members of Hellstomper and the Stovebolts. Jamie Vayda is the lead singer. He’s also the braintrust and illustrator behind Loud Comix. His wide Erika plays bass. I’ve only got to meet them before briefly at Joe Young’s memorial service last year. It was good to sit down and talk under better circumstances. Their drummer, Joe Thomas shows up and gifts me with a big bag of cool books. Tom Hughes, their guitarist is gonna sit in with us for our cover of ‘Sick Things’ during our set. It’s good to be surrounded with such great people. It is the first anniversary of Joe Youngs passing, but we aren’t gonna mark it with somber reflection. We’re gonna tear it up.
Mondo Braswell and his wife Leslie show up. This is the couple whose wedding we played at last fall. It’s always great to see them. Mondo gifts me with a bottle of Boone’s Farm, an inside joke from long ago. We catch up a bit. I’m impressed and flattered they drove up from Macon, Georgia to see the show.
Sam Boswell turns up. He’s a longtime friend and fan and lives here in Knoxville. He’s the guy responsible for the cool Joe Young video tribute they showed at Joe’s memorial (it’s also on YouTube). He’s filmed a bunch of shows but has come to this one sans camera. I don’t think this room is very accommodating for cameras anyhow. The crowd certainly proves not be…
After a local opener, Lookout Mtn Daredevils take the stage. Jamie is a great frontman – stomping and strutting about like he owns the place. Erika and Joe hold the rhythm while Tom lays some tasty leads over the top. They punctuate their set with a blistering workover of Skynyrd’s ‘Whiskey Rock A Roller’. They remind me a lot of the Flat Tires, but that stands to reason; Jamie tears open his shirt to reveal ‘FREEBORN’ tattooed across his chest. They rock the roadhouse. It gets me itching to play.
We have to wait it out for another local, a pretty sturdy punk band called Cooter Punch. They prove popular with the crowd, and soon people are slam dancing and getting rowdy. A storm comes tearing thru at one point, blowing rain sideways in the open doors. Soon the floors are wet and slick and folks are slipping and falling. I walk downstairs and notice to floorboards above me bending and creaking against the strain of the crowd. All of this just gets me more in the mood to play.
We finally take stage. It’s a tiny stage, too. The people crowd up around us but soon step away when we fire in. Clayton charges into the crowd and spends most of the set standing on the floor due to lack of space. I’m ‘in the zone’; playing probably my best set yet. I don’t know why this is. I don’t question or second guess it; I just play and love it. Soon Clayton introduces Tom for ‘Sick Things’. We hit the first big notes and it sounds MAMMOTH. Tom fires off some sweet leads and we tear Knoxville a new asshole. It is killer.
With hardly a moment or breath we soldier straight on thru ‘Cop Out’ and the rest of the set. The people in the place are really into it. Pretty soon the PA columns are wobbling and trashcans are thrown, strewing beer cans and bottles across the already wet floor. I wash out the room with waves of feedback and lurch into ‘Nothings Cool’. Then it happens – the PA columns gives up its mooring and crashes down across my foot. The pain is intense. It has also knocked my pedals off. I quickly gather my wits and gear before finishing off the set trying not to sell my gimp foot.
After the show we gather up with the Lookout Mtn folks for some pictures and say our good-byes. It was a great way to kick off the weekend. I’d heard Knoxville was a pretty cool town and wasn’t disappointed. Looking forward to going back.
DETROIT – May 1
We wake up early for the all-day drive to Detroit. A quick IHOP breakfast, a stop at a filling station and we hit the highway. I introduce Barry to the simple pleasure of Mike & Ike candy. He calls them jellybeans and soon eats most of them. I snooze a bit, waking up as we pass thru Cincinnati. I enjoy seeing the city skylines of places I’ve only read or heard about. I always wish we were playing these cities on another stop of a never ending tour. However I have to content myself to merely pass by. Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo. Despite its depressed desolation the Rust Belt retains its own unique dignity manifested in salt-of-the-earth working class pride. I enjoy the ride.
We arrive in Detroit around 4PM. The club is located a block down from where Tiger Stadium once stood. The park and ball diamond are all that remain, echoing another era of Detroit’s once glorious past. The city isn’t nearly as large or as desolate as it’s so often made out to be. This area of the city is known as Corktown. It seems quiet, clean and hospitable.
The club is called the Corktown Tavern. As with the Longbranch in Knoxville, it’s a two story venue with the stage upstairs. Load in was a chore but we soon are sitting at the upstairs bar enjoying some pretty awesome food graciously provided by the by the club. The staff is all very cool and accommodating. I enjoy a longneck Schlitz, a novelty in my own hometown. The soundguy, Steve, finds this amusing. He proves to be very laid back. None of my usual soundman hassles this night, thank god.
I suddenly realize what a good time the trip is turning out to be. I make comment on this fact and Gooch thinks I’m marking out because they gave us a deli tray. He keeps this joke up for the rest of the trip; “give Russ a deli-tray and he’s set!” Truth is I just think that the Corktown Tavern is proving itself to be my favorite club yet.
Gooch, Barry and I walk over to the ball field after we eat. This is the spot where KISS held their reunion concert in 1996. I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that this seemingly small space once held 40,000 people. The Detroit skyline stands over us as the sun sets and a full moon rises.
Our pal Lance Runngren shows up. He’s the guitarist in Busby Death Chair, who are opening the show tonight. I met him and his wife Melissa at our show in Louisville. They’re really cool folks and are letting us stay at their house tonight. Lance and I walk over to a convenience store across the street. He tells me he has a gift for me if I want; a piece of the fabled Cobo Arena. I’m a mark for stupid shit like this and I eagerly accept.
Andrew and Lori Toth arrive. I had not yet met them face to face, so it was good to finally do so. They sit in the van with Clayton and I for a bit. I was interested to learn Andrew had once been a minister. It’s always refreshing to discover people who hold spiritual value without the piety that so often accompanies it. Joe Young was spiritual person; we had several long conversations on the subject. My own views are somewhat scattered but I respect anyone who finds an avenue that allows some peace and clarity in their life.
I miss the first band but catch Busby Death Chair. They play a short hard set which they dedicate to Joe. Lance has a killer guitar tone, somewhat reminiscent of Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson. He plays a custom made guitar that I ask him about later. Seems he’s friends with a guy in California who builds them to spec. It leaves me scratching my chin in contemplation, but I know there is no way I can afford something like that right now.
We hit stage and it blurs past. I’m not quite in the same spot as the night before but my foot doesn’t seem to bother me. However I somehow strain my abdominal muscles. It’s happened before at work, lifting heavy things but it is weird to have done it while performing. I downshift a bit, trying to work smart instead of work hard. There are some speaker bins on the floor on both sides of the stage that me and Barry make good use of. A little flash showmanship, sure – but it was fun. I’ve never been above the cheap pops.
After the show we make our way to Lance and Melissa’s. I get a cozy spot shared with some goldfish and turtles. I sleep like a baby. Next thing I know the sun is up and Clayton is giving me my marching orders – we are gonna get some barbecue and check out some sights.
We head over to a suburb of Detroit called Ferndale. If there has been any sort of economic collapse, somebody forgot to tell Ferndale. The streets are lined with all sorts of shops and restaurants busy with throngs of people walking about in the noontime sun. Here we find 'Zeke’s Rock and Roll BBQ'. We are met at the door by Steve Decaulkfyder, the owner. He leads us to a table and generously treats us to our lunch. He shows us around, the walls adorned with the record covers of virtually every band out of Detroit, from Motown to local punk rock singles. The bathroom is papered in old Detroit punk rock flyers. It’s a cool place, and the food was flat out killer.
After eating we wander over to a neighboring record shop. It’s the kind of place I wish Charlotte had; deep, dark and filled with just about any and everything you can imagine. I got lost very quickly browsing about. I am tempted by several offerings but decide to abstain. Before I know it I’m alone, the rest are outside waiting on me. I quickly skedaddle.
Our next stop is the Roseland Park Cemetery, resting place of Rob Tyner, lead singer of the legendary MC5. I have been a fan of the MC5 since I first heard them when I was seventeen. I picked up a copy of ‘Back in The USA’ and never looked back. His grave marker is set beneath a large black marble stone inscribed with “Let Me Be Who I Am” and an etching of the White Panther logo surrounding a stylized rendering of his name. The family name ‘Derminer’ is etched similarly across the back. We take a few pictures and pay respect.
Afterwards we head over the the MC5’s hallowed hall, the Grande Ballroom. It was at the Grande that the '5 recorded their legendary ‘Kick Out The Jams’ album. It now sits vacant and collapsing in on itself. The ballroom occupies the second floor but the bottom is sealed to prevent homeless interlopers and curious travelling rock & roll riff raff such as ourselves. We make several vain attempts at entry but it is of no use. It’s hard to imagine the nights long ago when the air was punctuated with the blasts of guitar fury that no doubt reverberated across the avenues. For me, this place is as iconic and important as the Ryman Auditorium or CBGB’s. It’s sad there is no way to preserve it. I collect some pieces of brick from the foundation to add to my stone from the Cobo that Lance has given me.
We ride back to downtown Detroit and see the façade of the Cobo Arena. The Cobo holds it’s own place in history as the location where KISS recorded part of ‘KISS Alive!’. Bob Seger recorded ‘Live Bullet’ here and for many years it hosted Big Time Wrestling, main evented by the infamous Original Sheik.
By this point it was getting late and we still had to make the trek to Cleveland. We return to Lance’s and say our good-byes. Detroit proved very cool, from the awesome Corktown Tavern to the killer lunch of Zeke’s to the hospitality of Lance and Melissa. It’s something I’ll remember for long time to come.
CLEVELAND – May 2
We make the short trip to Cleveland late in the afternoon. It only takes about two hours and we arrive around 6pm. Cleveland is more like what I expected Detroit to be; somewhat run down and populated with assorted hardscrabble types. This is the city that produced the Dead Boys and Harvey Pekar, so it stands to reason.
The Club is called ‘Now That’s Class’. It is, I discover quickly, a not so clever ironic twist of a phrase. The club is in fact a filthy punk rock club littered with the requisite graffiti, stickers and dirty toilets. This is the last place Joe Young played. The fact of this depresses me somewhat, after the great treatment and overall general upkeep of the Corktown Tavern the night before. We’ve been advertised as “scumbags”, no doubt due to the GG Allin allegiance. Personally it’s not a label I find particularly endearing, but whatever.
We load in amid crackheads, prostitutes and street bums. I hear a rumour that a mental home is located down the street, but I can’t be too sure. Everyone seems crazy here. One guy waddles around talking loudly to himself. “I invented the internet!” he declares to anyone willing to listen. “I know what’s going on!”
Tom Dark arrives. He has an association with ANTiSEEN going back to the mid-eighties. He once led the band Knifedance, a sort of hybrid between sneering Dead Boys style punk and powerful Black Flag style hardcore. Being non-conventional they of course fell thru the cracks, but I always thought they were great. I’m excited to see his new band, Dead Federation, who are opening the show.
A guy comes up to me and asks if I’m Mad Brother Ward. I’m somewhat taken aback. He wants to interview me for his college radio show. We retreat to the van. He surprises me with a knowledge of my history from when I made my own records twenty years ago to my work with band before joining. It’s pretty flattering, but it kinda catches me off guard. I don’t know how well the interview came off; I’m not used to this sort of thing. Interviews are a new thing for me. I write better than I speak, and feel I’m a fairly mediocre writer. So who knows? Anyway, he seemed pleased with it.
The first band is playing and it catches my ear. They are doing a cover of the old KISS tune ‘Rocket Ride’. I walk in to watch. They execute it fairly faithfully. They are dressed in wigs with bandannas and wristbands. I’m told one of the members used to be in Sockeye. Unfortunately I’ve lost my taste for this sort of thing, so I retreat back outside.
Soon after my old pal Jeremy Kursik shows up. Jeremy used to live in Charlotte and was around for the entire Mad Brother Ward run in the early nineties. He helped out a lot back then and later started a band with my guitarist Tom Nalley. That band was better than what Tom and I had done, and I was very jealous. However, now I wish more people had heard them, but it’s lost to time. Anyway, it was good to see him and catch up.
Art Ettinger and his girlfriend Allana arrive. They’ve made the journey over from their hometown of Pittsburgh, a two hour drive. Art is a cool guy; I always enjoy talking to him. He edits a cool horror/exploitation film magazine called Ultra Violent. I barely have time to say ‘hello’ before given the hi-sign to play.
We hit stage and I really lean into it. The crowd seems a bit reserved at first but soon crowd around the front, pumping their fists, shouting along and slam dancing. I’m blown up about four songs in, the heat sapping what little energy I’ve got. The air is thin onstage and I try to gauge myself accordingly. I worry I might be showboating too much anyway. Conversely, Gooch seems to step his game up a notch - his playing is awesome. I love hearing him drive out songs like ‘Cop Out’ and ‘Star Whore’. I feed off his energy a lot; it makes me play harder.
We return for the encore and Clayton takes requests. A girl screams out ‘Hippy Punk’ over and over, so we launch into it. It’s not something we’ve rehearsed or played in several months but it comes together really good. Someone else requests ‘I Wish I Had Killed You When I Had The Chance’. Unfortunately we can’t get it together for that one. It falls apart amid our own laughter. We rally with a scorching version of ‘Violence Now’, closing the set.
Afterward I get to speak with Art and Allana for a few minutes. Barry and Brandon quickly load the gear and we take a few pictures and say our good-byes. We head out under a full moon, Clayton at the wheel. He plugs in his iPod and subjects us all to Hall & Oates for the umpteenth time. We get down the highway a stretch, passing Akron as Daryl Hall croons eternal love to John Hall when a car whips around us erratically. Clayton coolly adjusts his speed as we follow this guy. He weaves from lane to lane and sometimes off into the emergency lane. Several times he nearly goes into the guardrail. A couple of cars try to pass him and are nearly ran off the road for their efforts. That’s when we decide to call the highway patrol. It’s one thing if this idiot wants to kill himself, but its another if we’re gonna watch him take anyone else out. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) he finally exits.
I snooze briefly awaking in time to see the sunrise over the Appalachian Mountains. Not a bad way to cap a trip.
We are gonna take a short breather but summer will see us getting pretty busy with some shows in the local region. New songs are being worked up and some really cool stuff is being planned, a lot of which should be announced shortly. So stay with us, its gonna be a long, hot summer...