Blog: Brett Callwood

Music writer Brett Callwood hopped the briny deep to follow rockers like the Dirt Bombs and Insane Clown Posse (who got big play in his native England) to Detroit in 2008. This week Brett, author of MC5: Sonically Speaking, the first full biography of the harbingers of punk rock, plumbs the local music scene and its old school influences.

Post 1: From the Land of Shakespeare to the Lap of Rock

As an Englishman living in Metro Detroit through choice, the number one question I get asked by Detroiters is "why?" Meaning, why did I leave the land of Shakespeare, the Beatles, that dude from House, and numerous castles, in order to live in Detroit, the desperate, decrepit death pit. But, see, England isn't really one big scene from Pride and Prejudice, and more importantly, I don't see Detroit the way that Julien Temple described it in his BBC documentary at all.

But for those that still require a why, here's why.

In 1999, I was working an excruciating day job, programming computers. Ever day was worse than the last. However, that was the year I began submitting articles to Kerrang!, a weekly heavy rock magazine in the UK. It was a dream gig. I would spend my evenings attending concerts or listening to CDs, and then I would review them. Not only that, but I got paid for the honor. The assignments got bigger, eventually progressing to interviews and features. I switched publications a few times and, by 2003, I was writing for all of the magazines under the Future Publishing umbrella. Included in this list was and is Classic Rock magazine.

MEANWHILE… this was the early 2000s. People from Detroit often find it hard to believe, but during this period Detroit was everywhere in England. From Eminem (and the huge 8 Mile movie) and Kid Rock to the White Stripes, the Von Bondies, the Dirtbombs and those crazy Insane Clown Posse dudes, the Motor City seemed to be central to everything.

David Bowie, that grand old chief of cool, had long before told his minions to listen to Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Generations later, and we were still listening. Except that it wasn't just Bowie anymore. Now, everyone from Dinosaur Jr. to Green Day to Guns N' Roses was telling us the same thing. Metallica was covering Seger, everyone was covering the MC5's "Kick out the Jams" and, wait a minute, Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent are from Detroit too?

Hence, early in the new millennium, I had come to the conclusion that the vast majority of the bands and artists that I held most dear, old and new, were in fact from the Metro Detroit area.

In 2003, just before Christmas, Classic Rock asked me to travel to Detroit to interview an up and coming band called Gold Cash Gold. The band had just put their debut album out in Britain, Paradise Pawned Vol.1, and Classic Rock wanted a "new band" feature. I liked Gold Cash Gold a lot. I still do, even though they only play the occasional reunion show nowadays. They had a dark, blues rock sound, and three of them, Eric Hoegemeyer, Steve Zuccaro, and Dino Zoyes, had been in the (ironically) Brit-pop influenced Charm Farm. But most of all, I liked Gold Cash Gold because they sounded like Detroit.

Of course, I couldn't get on the plane quickly enough.

I spent one weekend in Detroit during the cold December of '03, and that was enough to confirm that I loved the city and the surrounding area deeply. I saw the band play at Smalls in Hamtramck, and I fell in love with Smalls, and Hamtramck. I went over to their label HQ, Times Beach Records at Rustbelt Studios, Royal Oak. Naturally, I fell in love with Rustbelt and Royal Oak. Times Beach put me up in the Atheneum Hotel in downtown Detroit. Ditto that.

By the time I returned to England with a severe case of the blues (truly, I was homesick for Detroit), I loved the Red Wings, the Tigers, the Pistons, the Lions (YES the Lions), every bar, every band and everything else associated with Metro Detroit.

Most of all, I loved the people. It was only a matter of time before I came back.