An Oral History of Detroit Punk Rock

In Detroit’s empty buildings and troubled streets, restless kids squatted, ran punk clubs, pressed their own records, and made their own magazine. They mostly stayed out of trouble.

Steve Miller | Detroit Rock City | DaCapo Press | June 2013 | 39 minutes (7,835 words)

 

Detroit is known for many things: Motown, automobiles, decline and rebirth. This is the story of Detroit’s punk and hardcore music scenes, which thrived in the suffering city center between the late-1970s and mid-80s. Told by the players themselves, it’s adapted from Steve Miller’s lively, larger oral history Detroit Rock City, which covers everyone from Iggy and the Stooges to the Gories to the White StripesOur thanks to Miller and DaCapo for sharing this with the Longreads community.

* * *

Don Was (Was (Not Was) bassist, vocalist; Traitors, vocalist, producer; Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Iggy Pop): So in the seventies I used to read the Village Voice, and I started seeing the ads for CBGB and these bands with the crazy names…and I told Jack [Tann, friend and local music producer] about it: “There must be some way to create something like that here. There must be bands like this here.” I formed a band called the Traitors, and Jack became a punk rock promoter, which wasn’t the way to approach music like that. It was supposed to look cooler than to go in like P. T. Barnum.

Mark Norton (Ramrods, 27 vocalist, journalist, Creem magazine): We were trying to figure out what was next. I called CBGB in ’75 or early ’76; there was a girl who tended bar there named Susan Palermo, she worked there for ages. And she would tell Hilly Kristal: “Hey, there’s this crazy guy from Detroit—he’s calling again.” I’d say, “Could you just put the phone down so I could listen to the groups?” I heard part of a set by the Talking Heads like that. It sounded like it was through a phone, but I was getting all excited, you know—this sounds like what I like. My phone bill was incredible, $200 bucks. In the summer of 1976 I went to New York City. I saw the second Dead Boys show at CBGB. I saw the Dictators. Handsome Dick and his girlfriend at the time, Jodi at the time, said, “Who are you?” I said, “I’m from Detroit.” They said, “Have you ever seen the Stooges?” “Yeah man, I saw them millions of times, the best shows, the ones in Detroit.” I was thinking, “none of these people have seen shit.’

Chris Panackia , aka Cool Chris (sound man at every locale in Detroit): The only people that could stand punk rock music were the gays, and Bookie’s was a drag bar, so they accepted them as “look at them. They’re different.” “They’re expressing themselves.” Bookie’s became the place that you could play. Bookie’s had its clique, and there were a lot of bands that weren’t in that clique. Such as Cinecyde. The Mutants really weren’t. Bookie’s bands were the 27, which is what the Ramrods became. Coldcock, the Sillies, the Algebra Mothers, RUR. Vince Bannon and Scott Campbell had…Bookie’s because it was handed to them basically. You know, “Okay, let’s do this punk rock music. We got a place.” To get a straight bar to allow these bands that drew flies to play at a Friday and Saturday night was nearly impossible. What bar owner is going to say, “Oh yeah, you guys can play your originals, wreck the place, and have no people”? Perfect for a bar owner. Loves that, right? There really wasn’t another venue.

Tesco Vee (Meatmen, Blight, vocalist, editor, Touch and Go magazine): We’d go to see everyone at Bookie’s, like the Revillos, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Gang of Four, the Effigies, and the Misfits many times. You know it’s funny—all the Detroit bands would warm up all those national acts—the Mutants, the Algebra Mothers, Flirt, the Cubes, the Sillies. We talked about them a lot in Touch and Go. It was like new wavy stuff, but still it was new music, and we covered new music, and it was probably just to fill up the pages. That’s not very nice is it?

Steve McGuire (Traitors, bassist): When we hooked up with Don and they had this whole floor of an old Westinghouse factor at I-94 and Trumbull, with all this old equipment from United Sound and Sound Suite. It was our rehearsal place. I had quit high school and started living there and experimenting. When I first met Don I thought this was our ticket; we’re going to make it. I was so naive. There were blurbs of the Sex Pistols, and I thought the Traitors and the Sex Pistols were in a race, and whoever won would be kings.

Gary Reichel (Cinecyde, vocalist): They basically hired the bands and marched them down to one of the Birmingham salons to get the punk rock haircuts. They had a slick flyer to give to club owners. “And we’ll handle everything. The three bands will all tour. We’ll use the same equipment. You don’t have to worry about time between bands.” That’s how they were selling it. And they had bigger aspirations than that. They wanted to get them signed.

Mike Murphy (The Denizens, the Rushlw-King Combo, the Boners, Hysteric Narcotics): No band got famous out of that whole era except the Romantics, and that’s freaky. It’s not that the Romantics weren’t Detroit, but they were not representative of that scene at all. But maybe that’s why they did get signed. When they were first working they were getting on all the good bills and paid for a rehearsal space and they were on salary, which sure isn’t like the rest of the bands. We were poor. I was working at a 7-Eleven.


Kickstart your weekend reading by getting the week’s best Longreads delivered to your inbox every Friday afternoon.

Sign up


Mike Skill (The Romantics, guitarist, bassist): The Romantics played with the Pigs and the Traitors, with Don Was. It was some place in Oak Park at the school where Don’s dad was the principal.

Don Was: Yeah, my dad was a counselor at the junior high in Oak Park. We got him to book the Traitors and the Romantics just to have a chance to get out and play somewhere. It was disastrous. We got to play, but it was a huge incident for my dad.

Chris Panackia: The Romantics eventually would play three nights at Bookie’s and sell out every night. They played the Silverbird on a Monday night and didn’t announce the show until just before doors. This was right when “Tell It to Carrie” was starting to hit and people were just waiting for them to explode. When they announced it on the radio, 6 Mile and Telegraph became a parking lot. There were probably a thousand people there that couldn’t get in outside.

Bill Kozy (Speedball, guitarist): I was real young, and my pals from Warren Avenue took me and to the Silverbird when the Romantics did a surprise show. Beers were 25 cents. It was this rowdy rock crowd, but things were different than that. The Romantics’ fans looked like late-seventies rock people.

Mike Murphy: People kept saying someone will discover Detroit at that time, like they did in New York and Los Angeles, and it never happened. Then the bands imploded or were erratic, and it was kind of strange that nothing ever happened out of that whole time, the first wave of punk rock. Bands were going to New York and playing shows and showcases.

Katy Hait (Sillies, vocalist, photographer): These bands from other cities would come in—Teenage Head from Toronto, Skafish from Chicago—and we were just as good as those bands. We joked about it because Detroit was such an underdog. Bands from LA and New York would become famous even though they weren’t that great.

Kay Young (photographer): The music was really good, but no one hit like the Ramones or the Cramps did because Detroit was not New York. There were no record label scouts here.

Jerry Vile (The Boners, vocalist, artist, editor, White Noise, Orbit): The whole Detroit punk thing—nobody made it, and there are a lot of reasons. The record covers always looked like shit.

Vince Bannon (Bookie’s, City Club promoter; Coldcock, Sillies, guitarist): The Romantics were the only ones to pull out of Detroit in that era with any kind of substantial deal. You know it’s interesting: Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads told me that all these bands rolled into New York City because there were so many clubs besides CBGB that they would play. They could actually afford to live in the East Village and build a buzz. So you’re an A&R guy in New York, and this band is playing various buildings, and there’s a big buzz. Same thing in LA. The thing you have to remember is, what big bands came out of LA? The first punk rock bands were all signed to independents. It was out of New York where at that time the record capital was, and if you were to make it, you had to go and live in New York and do it. Also, anybody who really made it—from the biggest pop star to the rock-and-roll guy you think is totally underground—their ambition is through the roof. A lot of these guys that were from Detroit, they lived at their parents’ house, they go and play a gig, they come home, and Mom would make them breakfast in the morning.

David Keeps (Destroy All Monsters, manager): Bands from Bookie’s didn’t break out. The bands that did do something had heavy management, people who were willing to invest money in them to get them out of Detroit, like the Romantics. Also in Detroit you didn’t have these bands with money or commitment. You had to have both, and many didn’t. I don’t think anyone was poor; I think that they were mostly suburban kids living in their parents’ houses and didn’t have jobs. They weren’t like dole kids. It wasn’t as if you went to Bookie’s and all these people were from the projects or got ADC. There were kids who wanted to move out of their parents’ and lived in shitty neighborhoods.

Vince Bannon: In 1981 we architected what we were going to do and how we were going to open Clutch Cargo’s. Bookie’s was, I don’t know, getting done. I was in business with another guy, and he took good care of everything, from what our security would look like and so on. But again, we were under the radar. We would have grown exponentially if the media in Detroit would have been supporting what we were doing. In cities like LA you had like KROQ, so you talked to the promoters. It wouldn’t be economic reasons; it would be media reasons. But we couldn’t influence radio. When we moved away from Bookie’s was the same time radio became really corporate. The stations were owned by corporations; Lee Abrams and those guys came in and said, “If you want to grow your radio station in Detroit, play much more Rush and much more Bob Seger and much more Journey.”

People kept saying someone will discover Detroit at that time, like they did in New York and Los Angeles, and it never happened.

Mark Norton: We went through what I think is called the Middle Child Syndrome. As the middle child, we were fucked anyway. No one was interested in what we were doing. Everyone looked everywhere, but not in their own city or state for the latest trend. “Punk rock sucks.” It especially sucked coming from Detroit. I know where the Ramrods stand: we were and are the lost children between generations. We didn’t exist then, and we don’t really exist now—never did in the first place. We were a chimera, beat-down motherfuckers who knew right from the start in mid-’77, that knew every card in the house was stacked against us, and we liked it. The Ramrods set the stage for those who would know how to navigate the entire mess—hardcore. The hardcore guys came along and ripped the torch out of someone’s hands—it certainly wasn’t ours. We never had the torch in the first place. Bless you guys.

Skid Marx (Flirt, bassist): There were newer bands coming along, and there was a little bit of friction going on between the hardcore, younger punks and the Bookie’s crowd. There were new metal bands, too, that weren’t really Detroit bands or playing Detroit music.

Paul Zimmerman (White Noise, editor): One of the first hardcore bands I saw was Black Flag at Clutch Cargo’s. My wife-to-be and I had gone to a wedding, and we were dressed super-normal. We went in there, and their audience were all in uniforms, and we were like, “Uh oh.” They were all in black, and I’ve always liked black. I wore black to weddings, but that night I didn’t. So that night we were getting some funny looks, and finally she went to the bathroom and I heard this ruckus. These two girls in the bathroom go, “Look at Barbie. Come on, Barbie, huh, Barbie,” and she finally kicked one of the bathroom stalls open and went, “You want to fuck with Barbie? Come on, fuck with Barbie!”

Bob Mulrooney (Ramrods, Coldcock, Bootsey X and the Lovemasters, drummer, vocalist): There were a few hardcore shows at Bookie’s, and people were just going around grinding their heels into my shoes and just wanting to cause trouble. And they were all guys, and I don’t go out for that. I go out to look at girls, and there was no girls there. Hardcore was too negative. I like the look of the Gothic scene—not so much the records, but the Gothic chicks.

Gary Reichel: You’d hear that we were the old people and that we were resisting the new breed. But they never tried to be cool with us.

Dave Rice (L-Seven, guitarist, producer): Black Flag played Bookie’s in summer ’81 with Dez singing. The front was full of new kids. The back was where the older people stood wondering what was going on.

Brian Mullan (sound man, promoter): Bookie’s introduced me to what led me to hardcore. Actually it went backwards. A high school teacher of mine was sitting around with me and my twin brother after school doing an extra credit project. We went to school in a pretty shitty area, Benedict at Outer Drive and Southfield, so we were not having a whole lot of fun. The Catholic schools back then were about as good or bad as public school—no real difference. We grew up at 6 Mile and Greenfield. After the great white flight the house across the street was empty and a moving van pulled up one day and we were all happy: wow someone is moving into that house. The next day we woke up, and all the bricks were gone from the house, so we had to stare at a tar-paper shack for the next year. We all had paper routes for the News and Free Press. The News route was an afternoon route, and it was brutal because on Friday, they all knew you were out collecting. So some Fridays you’d get robbed and others you wouldn’t. Then we got smart and would collect Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so when they caught up to you Friday, their take wouldn’t be so great. So this teacher presented the question to us that day: “You guys aren’t having much fun are you?” “No, not really.” My brother and I had each other, but that was about it. He goes, “You didn’t hear this from me, but I think you guys need to go to this place, place called Bookie’s. It’s on 6 Mile before you get to Woodward.” My brother went before me, and he came back all jacked up and excited. “Man, I went to that place he told us about. It was crazy, man. The guitar player was wearing a wedding dress.” It turns out that it was the Damned. I went a couple weeks later, ’cause I lived on 6 Mile, took the 6 Mile bus. This guy Rob was working the door, and I’m thinking that I looked like I was twelve and there’s no way I’m gonna get in. But the guy just says, “Hey, man. How’s it going?” and he opens the door for me. There weren’t too many people around, and I didn’t know a soul. I was real nervous about going to this new place, and I looked up and there’s Gloria Love, who I didn’t know at the time, had never seen her. She was clad head to toe in leather, and she looked up at me, and she’s like, “Darling, we’ve been waiting for you.” She runs over and grabs my head and buries it in her breasts. I was still a virgin at the time. That’s very much a night that changed my life. That’s why I started going to Bookie’s, which pretty soon introduced me to hardcore when they booked Black Flag.

Dave Rice: The upstarts were coming into the old guard’s headquarters. I use the image of the old guard being kind of crowded into the back half of the bar during a hardcore show looking like somebody farted, you know like “What is this horrible . . . oh my God.” Where the bald kids with bandanas on their legs were right up front. The hardcore thing was just deliberately nihilistic. And homophobic as fuck. Which, I mean—rightfully so—rubbed people the wrong way. But there were hilarious aspects, you know, I mean just the old punk scene was taking place largely at Bookie’s, which was an old gay club, so there was a lot of cross-over there. A lot of those people would come from that kind of Rocky Horror mind set, where even if you weren’t gay, you acted it.

Tex Newman (RUR, Shock Therapy, Country Bob and the Bloodfarmers, guitarist): There had always been a rivalry between the Elvis Costello people and us. And the big rock bands were also the enemy, and then the bands that wore their tiger-print pants. Bookie’s was punk rock, and the Freezer was for the hardcore shit.

John Brannon (Negative Approach, Laughing Hyenas, Easy Action, vocalist): You want to talk about punk rock, I’m gonna go Stooges, MC5, real Detroit rock. Alice Cooper. The only thing that really carried that on after that was Sonic’s Rendezvous Band and Destroy All Monsters, which were all my heroes from the other bands. Anything else that claimed it was punk rock in Detroit was just a joke. So I lived through that whole ’79 to ’81 thing where new wave took over. So you got all these old Bookie’s bands, you’re all coked out, you’re wearing suits and skinny ties, doing Animals covers or some obscure Brit-sixties shit, and you think you’re fuckin’ punk rock. No, you’re not. No, you’re not.

Larissa [Strickland] and I were living in the City Club, the old women’s club on Elizabeth downtown, and it turned it into a squat. These little boys called the Guardian Angels moved in, which kind of turned into an abandoned building in the middle of Detroit where the crack industry started. It was the basis for New Jack City. As time goes on, people get greedy, you know, and all the cousins start moving in. And the thugs. Everybody’s like, “We’re taking over this building.” All the dope gangs moved in. Everybody in their right mind moved out. Me and Larissa were like, “Fuck it, we’re squatting.” The owner had bailed. He lost all his money and moved to Puerto Rico. Negative Approach practiced there on the third floor in a ballroom. We lived up on the sixth floor. Then it kind of came around, you know, “You’re cool, white boy, but you’re going to have to start paying us protection.” Larissa goes up and goes, “Fuck you, motherfucker!” Okay, that didn’t go over in the ’hood. They were shooting up the halls with shotguns. She had the gun down in her face. We were cool with the main dudes, but when the cousins and the thugs moved in, they didn’t have any respect for the scene. They were going to kill us. They blew the door out with a shotgun after Larissa told them to fuck off.

Chris Moore, AKA Opie (Negative Approach, Crossed Wire, drummer, guitarist, vocalist): This guy pulled a gun on us and said, “I’m sick of you guys making all this noise.” John cooled him down by talking to him.

John Brannon: I was cool for a minute holding off some of the dudes, and then it became a whole ten-story building full of thugs wanting to kill us.

Chris Moore: Before that, John and Larissa lived at the Clubhouse over in the Cass Corridor. But in the City Club they had this cool apartment. The windows were always open and this city noise was coming in, and they had all these records and artwork. I loved hanging out there and them showing me this great art and different music. I got a great education from both John and Larissa.

John Brannon: Me and Pete Zelewski would go to whatever punk gig, and we’re always like, “Who’s this chick?” Larissa stood out. Then we started going to see L-Seven shows. We had Negative Approach together, but they were doing all these big gigs. They opened for Bauhaus at Bookie’s. We met them at some big outdoor gig, and we got along. Then my mother kicked me out of the house. Fifty cents, I take the Jefferson bus, come downtown, walk about three miles over to the Clubhouse from Jefferson, knocked on her door, and was like, “’Sup?” And I’d only met her twice. I’m like, “Um, I need a place to stay.” She says, “Come on in.” I had nowhere to go. I lived with her for about a year first, but we were best friends at that time. Then we actually became a couple.

Sherrie Feight (Strange Fruit, Spastic Rhythm Tarts, vocalist): You’d go to Detroit for a show, you never knew what to wear. So you’d kind of wear what the guys were wearing. The first time I saw Larissa, I was like, “Oh my God.” She was in a slip and combat boots, her hair bleached out, with this milky white skin and those eyes. I wanted to be like her, but there was no way. I was this rich kid and she was from down on Cass; we were from different worlds.

Andy Wendler (Necros, McDonalds, guitarist): We went to see the Clash at the Motor City Roller Rink, and Joe Strummer kicked his roadie. He was pulling the typical rock-star nonsense—kicking his roadie in the chest because his guitar was messed up. We said, “Okay, this is cool. We love it.” When we saw hardcore, it was right away the idea that this is our thing. We were seven years younger than the guys from the Clash, and the first punk wave and stuff. We played little shows, like basement shows and party shows, then actually started playing real shows with the Fix in Lansing at Club DooBee before the Freezer happened. As record collectors, we had all the 27 and Coldcock singles, the Bookie’s bands and all that stuff. We liked it, but it wasn’t us. The one thing that set us apart was that we wanted to do our own thing, and that was always very clear to us. We weren’t gonna try to get in on the end of the Bookie’s thing; we were just gonna do our own thing. We were also too young. There were many times playing Bookie’s and other places with the Misfits, where we’d meet with the manager and he’d say, “Alright, just come in right before you play, or whatever, in the back door or something.” It was always that hassle.

Chris Panackia: Hardcore kids were cool because they didn’t bathe and they had no hair on their head. A lot of them squatted. The hardcore kids played the Freezer, the Clubhouse, Cobb’s Corner. They played places that were just inferior in every respect possible. Even a bathroom was a luxury. The bands wanted beer and to sell a few T-shirts, and that was good enough. They didn’t have any high hopes. One more thing about that whole hardcore thing is, who would have thought John Brannon would be revered by every punk rock, hardcore kid in the world as like the greatest punk rock lead singer ever? I was the only sound guy that helped those punk rock guys out. They would always say, “Yeah, Cool Chris always treated us good, man. You were always really good to us.” I didn’t want to be that rock sound guy—I was one of them.

Corey Rusk (Touch and Go Records, owner; Necros, bassist): I was younger than the other guys in the Necros, so from the time they had driver’s licenses, we were going to Detroit, going to Ann Arbor to get records, or going to Detroit to try and sneak into a show, because we were underage. I quickly realized that my fake ID didn’t work all that often. Once I had a driver’s license, I could go on my own. It really wasn’t ever like I wanted to be a promoter. It seemed like if I put on a show at some rental hall, then it’s all ages and I get to see the band that I really wanna see. So I started renting out halls in the Detroit area when I was seventeen to put on shows of bands that I wanted to see.

This guy pulled a gun on us and said, ‘I’m sick of you guys making all this noise.’

John Brannon: It was all promoted on the phone. You call up one dude. He’d call up six dudes. We’d pass out flyers at the gigs. All this shit was word of mouth. No Internet. No MTV. No radio play. Everything was done with cassette tapes and letters, so you’re talking about creating something out of nothing. It started with fifteen people. We know the first five bands that began it all: the Fix, the Necros, the Meatmen, Negative Approach, L-Seven. You got another scene out of that scene when a bunch of those kids following those bands started magazines and bands and that shit became national. “Okay, we’re bored, we live in Detroit, we’re going to create nothing out of nothing.”

Tesco Vee: The Freezer is where a lot of the next part of Detroit music started. It was about fifty feet by twenty feet wide—just a shit hole. A beautiful shit hole. It was like a frat boy fraternity for hardcore. There were a few girls, but for the most part it was guys.

John Brannon: We never expected anything out of it except to write those songs and play the shows. The fact that Negative Approach were able to make records through Touch and Go Records and get the exposure through Touch and Go magazine was just great. We didn’t know it was going to turn out to be this whole thing.

Tesco Vee: Dave Stimson and I started a label, Touch and Go, named after the magazine we had. We had friends that were in the Necros and the Fix, and these bands were so fucking good and nobody’s going to put their records out, so I have to put them out. I felt like it had to be done. *We were part of something that was great, and we weren’t deluded into thinking our own little thing was great; it really was great. We had some really good bands, and the world needed to hear them. The Necros and the Fix were the two big bands, and then Negative Approach.

Andy Wendler: In the fall of ’80 we ran into Tim Story, who is now a Grammy award–winning producer and composer. But at the time he had a four-track in his basement, and that’s where three songs on the Necros’ first single came from. He just came over and brought his bike and his four-track over and a little mixer, and we just laid it down, and then that was it.

Tesco Vee: Those first records by the Fix and the Necros records sat in various shops. We’d drive them down to Ann Arbor and we’d run and look and, yep there’s still five. Still five Necros. Oh, we sold one Fix for $2. Now those records go for a couple of mortgage payments.

Corey Rusk: The first two Touch and Go releases, the Fix and Necros, were so limited, two hundred of the Fix and one hundred of the Necros. And that seemed like so many: we have five friends. You know, “We don’t know anybody beyond our five friends who would want this.”

Marc Barie: Corey took it from those two releases, the Fix and Necros, and Touch and Go became one of the biggest indie labels in the world. That doesn’t happen accidentally.

Rob Michaels (Bored Youth, Allied, vocalist): Dave Rice and Larissa took me to see the Necros, and the next thing I knew I was friends with all those people. *At that time if you saw someone who looked punk at all, you would cross the street to talk to them—it was a fraternity.

Keith Jackson (Shock Therapy, guitarist): That scene had girls, but they all died. It’s weird when you look at it, like these chicks that were hanging around all seemed to pass away over the years.

Hillary Waddles (scenester): There were girls, but we were all people’s girlfriends. It just wasn’t the time for that yet—girls didn’t get in bands; you didn’t get the sense that you could be anything but a groupie or a girlfriend.

Gloria Branzei (scenester): It was a little dick fest, and they didn’t like girls. They were too cool for that shit; it slowed them down.

Hillary Waddles: Those kids that got into the straight-edge nonsense really didn’t like girls, some of those guys from Ohio. I was terrified to be down there in that area, but we went. I was a bougie girl from northwest Detroit, and here were all these suburban kids with no survival instincts. I mean, I may have been from there too, but I still grew up in Detroit, and you pay attention.

Gloria Branzei: It was a really violent scene. I would kick someone’s ass for the hell of it. At that time girls and punk rock did not go together at all. It was just rock-and-roll chicks.

Tesco Vee: Washington, DC, had more girls in its scene, but it was a similar scene. In Detroit there were a hundred core kids that made up the entire scene.

Sherrie Feight: Going to shows in Detroit meant you were gonna get hit. I still have a scar on my leg from being in the mosh pit.

Jon Howard (scenester): There were a lot of people who knew about these older clubs before but couldn’t get in because they had ID checks. I knew about these places when I first started shopping for records at places like Sam’s Jams, but I was fifteen. My dad lived in San Francisco at the time, so the winter of ’81 I went to the Mabuhay and saw Dead Kennedys, Husker Du, Church Police, Toxic Rea-sons—all these great bands. I came back here, and we had the Freezer for all ages. It opened the door for music for a lot of people, so kids could see live bands now. And hardcore was the music that was their first experience.

Andy Wendler: The Freezer was on Cass and Willis in downtown Detroit. The guy who ran it was a speed freak, and we could get away with anything we wanted. It was right around the corner from where John and Larissa lived in the Club-house at that time, which was right between Cobb’s Corner and the old Willis Art Gallery.

Hillary Waddles: The Freezer was a crappy place. We went over to the Burger King to use the bathroom. No way I was gonna use the Freezer.

Corey Rusk: Even though it was so inner city, and at the time Cass Corridor was really, really bad, it seems to have gotten cleaned up over the years. At the time all the people living in the slummy areas where the rental halls were at were not accepted. Punk rock was not accepted and was not mainstream, and if you looked like a punk rocker, you weren’t cool; you were a freak. It’s amazing that all these white kids invaded all these inner-city neighborhoods for these punk rock shows, and whatever violence problems there were, were usually between the white kids.

Keith Jackson: A lot of us were from the suburbs, and we all wanted to be down-town where it was tough. And it was. There was no interference, which was fine. Cops never came around, and you were really on your own going to see bands. That stuff out of LA seemed phony to us; they would hang out and then go back to their parents’ homes, and it seemed pretty easy. But at the time in Detroit you could go to a show at a place on Zug Island, and there were no cops, no security. You would bring in generators into a burned-out building, and that was your club. I stabbed a dude in the ass one time at a Subhumans show at Zug Island. There was this huge fight that broke out, and I mean it just kept on going for most of the show. He punched my girlfriend and I had a four-inch blade I carried around, and I stabbed him in the ass.

You would bring in generators into a burned-out building, and that was your club.

Corey Rusk: We were probably mildly entertaining to the residents. They just looked at us like we were freaks too, and we weren’t the white people that they had problems with. We had no race problems.

Brian Mullan: Roaming the Cass Corridor at whatever ungodly hour, we all wore jackboots, had our hair cropped or shaven. …Nobody really got hurt down there because nobody had money. At the time I was taking the Jefferson bus to Nunzio’s to run sound. I made like $15 a show, and then I sold loose joints. I was just surviving.

Andy Wendler: We’d get fucked with occasionally, but we had numbers on our side. We were never there alone. There would be forty kids skateboarding down the middle of the street. John and Larissa had respect in the neighborhood, back when thieves used to abide by that kind of thing, because they lived in the neighborhood. So if you were with John and Larissa, you got a little bit of a pass. It was a big heroin neighborhood in those days, and they were amongst it. The guy who owned Cobb’s Corner got shot in the backroom one night. That was a money thing—he had it. One time the Detroit police pulled up at the Clubhouse and said, “What the hell are you kids doing? Go back to Roseville, you idiots. What are you doing down here?”

Keith Jackson: One night I was with Kirk Morrison from Dead Heroes. City Club had just opened, and we were outside and we heard gunfire, which wasn’t unusual. But a bullet went through my jacket and shattered my collarbone. Some guys dragged me into Detroit Receiving by my arm and said, “Our friend got shot.” The cops actually came to the emergency room and talked to me. They said, “Were you returning fire?”

Tim Caldwell (artist): I was in jail one night, and a guy told me the cops came into the apartment building right by the Willis Gallery because he had let loose from the rooftop with a machine gun. He hid on top of the elevator while they searched the premises.

Dave Rice: I lived in a few different buildings around there, briefly in the Clubhouse with this guy Darryl. Darryl and his brother and this friend of ours, Jenny, were there, and a couple of guys came in with their shotgun and just, like, cleaned the place out of as much gear as they could carry. Okay, gotta get a new amp. Gotta get a new guitar. I always played like this slap-together pawnshop crap anyways, so it wasn’t like I lost a ’59 gold top or anything.

Gloria Branzei: Those guys thought they were scaring the people in the neighborhood, but they were fooling themselves. I was in the shooting dens, and I knew what they thought; they just thought we were fucking crazy. But they sure weren’t scared of us.

Corey Rusk: The Freezer was the all-ages reaction to the City Club situation. Somehow we managed to get into a lot of those City Club shows, though we were underage. But the Freezer was just so cool, it didn’t matter.

Brian Mullan: City Club was the old woman’s club off Elizabeth right downtown, a block off Woodward. It was one of Vince Bannon’s big to-dos. Any time there was a big show, whether the Dead Kennedys or the Exploited, the Cramps or whoever, the security guys would always beat up on the punks. So there was a backlash. Bannon was the Establishment, a businessman, and in retrospect I don’t begrudge him that.

Rob Miller (Bloodshot Records, cofounder): I had a humiliating night at City Club. I got a fake ID at the Lindell AC bar and tried to get into a Fear show with it, and the door guys, they laughed at me.

Chris Panackia: Vince was booking bands at City Club before it was opened. And he still was running Bookie’s. The fucking agents went crazy. He goes, “Oh, I got this great place,” and he wouldn’t tell them until they got there. About four or five hundred people in the ballroom could see the band at City Club, but you could put a lot more people in it. In a two-month span he did the Dead Kennedy’s, the Fear, the Cramps, the Rockettes, the Stray Cats, Duran Duran, Haircut 100, Killing Joke, Gun Club, Human League, Circle Jerks, Sparks, the Flesh Eaters, and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. It was the best place to be. The Circle Jerks show was during the Grand Prix downtown, and you got in free if you brought a helmet. One guy brought a helmet.

Vince Bannon: In ’81 we architected what we were going to do and how we were going to open Clutch Cargo’s at the City Club, which is what it was. Clutch Cargo’s was the name of the production, and it was at the City Club.

Corey Rusk: We’d go to City Club because they got bands we wanted to see, plus we would be on some of those bills; Negative Approach played there a lot. The Freezer wasn’t there to put those larger places down. I would help organize those bands at the Freezer, though, and we started get-ting out-of-town touring bands that were open to playing different places. Like when the Misfits played at the Freezer. It was just such a huge time for music. At least to us.

Rob Michaels: There was no consciousness at all of “Hey, this is the town that the Stooges and MC5 were from.” There was this Stooges residue, and there were people we thought of as that. It wasn’t like people didn’t know about those records, but there was no sense of “Hey, this is Detroit and this is what came from here.” It was this sense of “We made this.”

Corey Rusk: Sometime in late spring of ’81 I got a job at a lumberyard, specifically because I wanted to make some money so that the Necros could record another record. I had the idea of the Process of Elimination EP too. So I have to get some money together so I can record all these bands to get a compilation out documenting what’s going on. I was just an amped-up kid. I wanted to do shit. So I worked all summer, loading trucks and saving my money.

Tesco Vee: I officially handed Touch and Go Records over to Corey when I moved to DC in ’82, but he was handling it before that. The Process EP was when the passing of the torch went down. Corey called me up one day, and I realized that I had no interest in running a record label. I was doing it out of necessity, as a companion to the magazine. Corey was like, “I want to take it over,” and I said, “Go for it.” We were friends, and he thought, “This is what I want to do.” And this was a perfect, already established name. I was getting ready to pull up stakes and go to DC. I lost my teaching job, unemployment in Michigan was 16 percent, and I didn’t have money to pay the rent, much less put out records.

Chris Moore: People made fun of Corey behind his back because he was so serious and ambitious. He had such a drive to make something of this music that was happening. He wasn’t much fun, but he really looked out for us in a lot of ways.

Marc Barie: Corey’s dad was really interesting. He manufactured something for the auto industry. One day we were all around Maumee and he took us over there. The line workers looked at us like we were demented. We had all the punk rock chains and boots, and Todd Swalla had a Mohawk. I think Corey got his business sense from his dad, who made a lot of money.

I put bands up all the time, even when I lived with my grandmother. I brought Flipper back to my grandma’s house, which sounds like a potential disaster.

Corey Rusk: I was living with my grandmother in Maumee, Ohio. I had a little recording studio in my basement and so I started recording bands for Touch and Go. All the crappy sounding records were recorded there—the Meatmen EP, the Negative Approach EP. The Blight thing was recorded there, and that was one of the better-sounding things that was recorded there. That was one of the first things that I did there that I thought, “Wow, this sounds really heavy and great.”

Chris Moore: We had the run of Corey’s house, and we had a skateboard ramp we built in the front yard or the driveway. We would record and skate all day and burn ourselves out on that. No one was into drugs or anything. The older guys drank beer, but we just skated.

Corey Rusk: I put bands up all the time, even when I lived with my grandmother. I brought Flipper back to my grandma’s house, which sounds like a potential disaster. But they were so nice to her; we all hung out and had pizza. Suicidal Tendencies also stayed at my grandmother’s. We all went swimming in the river, since the house was on the banks of the Maumee River.

John Brannon: We started going on tour, and we’d have to sneak Opie out of the house because he was fifteen. Opie, Graham—those kids were still in high school. I’m sure, looking back, the parents probably realized what’s going on. Opie would tell his folks, “Oh, I’m going to spend the night at Graham’s house,” and then we’d go out. DC, Philly, and New York, and then be back in time for him to get to school.

Andy Wendler: We did our first real tour with the Misfits. We had made great friends with them, and Corey and Barry were pestering ’em like, “Hey, can we get on those bills?” I don’t really know why we got along with them so well, other than the fact that Jerry and Doyle might as well have been from Ohio. They were just such great, good-natured guys, and we really hit it off with them. Glenn, for whatever he’s become now, was incredibly articulate and artistically talented and had an eye for just really clever, almost iconic graphics. I don’t know—that really appealed to us. We were like, “Wow, they’re like the Ramones but scary.” On the Misfits tour we took Corey’s dad’s ratted-out old Suburban. It was tight, and we had to sleep on top of the gear in the back. It got horrible gas mileage, but it was cheaper than buying or renting something.

Corey Rusk: Russ [Gibb] started showing up at the Freezer. He was hanging out and absorbing it all. Maybe it reminded him of his youth in the sixties. He saw that I was involved in some of those shows at the Freezer. Honestly, I’m socially awkward, and it was more enjoyable to me to have a sort of take-charge attitude and be more like, “I’m gonna do a bunch of the work to make these shows happen, even though I’m not making any money from it.” You know, it’s not my club. I’d do a lot of the flyering, and Russ saw that in me and started trying to talk to me. I totally blew him off in the beginning, like, “Is this dude a cop, or what the fuck is he doing here? Why is there someone this old here?” I was sort of suspicious of him.

Russ Gibb (Grande Ballroom promoter): One of my ex-students came to me and said, “Have you heard Negative Approach?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, there’s a place called the Freezer Theater.” So I went to see them, and they were rehearsing in some fucking little place on Cass somewhere; it looked like a little storefront or something. I saw them and I said, “Wow, this is interesting.” They’re doing things that the MC5 were doing. Now this is fifteen years later. You know, click, click, click, click. Of course I saw money!

John Brannon: He locked onto the scene and saw something that was going on, and he was really into the idea of the youth presenting their art. He had his students come out and tape all these TV shows, and they became the first kind of public access TV shows. And they were doing it on this extreme hard core punk.

Corey Rusk: I don’t think Russ needed to make a living teaching school. And here he was in 1981, teaching media at Dearborn High School. He put a bunch of his own money into helping fund Dearborn High School having its own high school TV studio and station that was probably as good as the local public television station set-up. You look at how forward thinking was this fucker? 1981 was the year that MTV started, and the bulk of America did not have cable TV then. You know, like MTV is a household word, now, but it just like this bizarre upstart concept in 1981, and so for Russ to really see that the future of music was in music video in 1981 and to put his money where his mouth was—to say, “I want the kids in my class to have this experience, because this will prepare them for what is gonna be the future.”

Russ Gibb: We started a show my students did, “Why Be Something That You’re Not?” It had a lot of the bands playing at the Freezer on it.

John Brannon: We were writing the soul music of the suburbs, and the Freezer was perfect. If you want to nail what soul music was for that time, the scene—even though it’s basically a white scene—it is our soul music, man. We’re creative, we’re bored, we’ve got nothing going on—man, we’re creating this shit. The whole thing about being in a band at that point, there was no separation between the kids and the audience and who’s on stage. It was music for the people.

***

Adapted from the book Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City by Steve Miller. Copyright © 2013 by Steve Miller. Reprinted by permission of Da Capo Press, and imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.