Blog: Scott Hamilton

If you're looking for the same 'ol song and dance, keep movin'. Detroit music producer Scott Stone of Small Stone Records will be dishing on the good, the bad, and the ugly: overpriced concert tickets, the death of the record store, and the new record business rising from the ashes of the old guard that killed it in the first place.

Scott Hamilton - Post 1: Detroit's Musical Legacy (or Why I Don't Sign Local Bands)

A strange thing happened the other day.  Somebody on the radio actually paid attention to music from the motor city. It was on NPR of all places, and it wasn't just some throwaway piece, it came from none other than Don Gonyea.  It wasn't about some brawl that Eminem had gotten into.  It wasn't about Bob Ritchie’s (oops, sorry I meant to say Kid Rock's) most recent break-up or reconciliation with Pam Anderson.  It wasn't about the White Hypes or some garage band that you've never heard of that are supposed to be the next big thing.  It was about the city’s musical pedigree.  It was about how Detroit just can't seem to make anything of its highly touted music scene.

Now, Detroit is Rock City.  I know because I heard it over and over again in the summer of 1976.  Sitting in my bedroom watching the needle slip across that spinning piece of black wax, I was all about Kiss and Kiss seemed to think that Detroit had cornered the market on what Rock and Roll was all about.  And, if you think about it in 1976, we had. 

In under a decade, Detroit had become a veritable epicenter of rock and roll.  The Stooges and the MC5, Ted Nugent, Funkadelic, Alice Cooper, even Bob Seger were all products of Detroit just as much as the Mustang and the Charger.  They all pushed boundaries, they all drew crowds and they could all tear a room down with the amps only cranked to 5 (well Seger might have need to use 8).

But as the '70s drew to a close, the well seemed to run dry.  As countless teens continued to blare Detroit Rock City from their car stereos all Detroit could muster was the Romantics.  It wasn't for a lack of good or even great bands but Detroit just couldn't seem to get the music out of the city limits anymore. 

All through the punk era we heard about new bands from New York, hardcore bands from D.C., the whole SST contingent on the other coast, Minneapolis, Chicago, but never Detroit.  Bands like the Meatmen, Seduce, and Negative Approach all played with the big names as they came to town but ask any teen at the mall in a Ramones t-shirt who they were and all you'll elicit is a blank stare.

And so began the curse of Detroit.  Berry Gordy packed up what was left of Motown Records and it was like the magic was sucked out of the city.  Oh, once every decade or so we'll offer up some competent musicians with a gimmick to keep the world in awe of Detroit, but it is by no means our best or our brightest. 

In the late '70s and early '80s it was The Romantics and Madonna.  In the '90s we offered up the thoughtful and skilled talents of Big Chief, who vainly tried to give the masses a healthy serving of funk and rock not seen together in such a fashion since the days of Funkadelic, which was quickly passed over for the more radio ready Sponge that the record buying public ate up with a spoon.  The end of the '90s allowed Detroit to give rise to the return of the white rapper with Kid Rock, ICP, and Eminem.     

It's almost not a surprise that the local scene can't pull it together enough to dazzle the world the way the Stooges and the 5 did so many years ago.  A brother and sister team (or a husband and wife duo or whatever the White Hypes are claiming to be this week) can enthrall the world enough to be able foist the talent-less moanings of the Von Bondies onto the record (read as MP3) buying public.  And when we catapult them to semi-stardom based off of an overly vampy TV theme song, it's almost time to throw in the towel.  

On any given night you can walk into some shitty bar and see a local act aping one of the musical geniuses that Detroit has offered up to the world.  At Small's it'll be some band trying their best to be the stooges.  Memphis Smoke has the market cornered on the Seger wanna bes.  Finding the Alice Cooper-ites might be a little more expensive, they'll have had an in with Clear Channel or Live Nation and will have scored an opening slot for some tier C touring act.  And if you want to find an act that thinks they’re the next White Hypes look no further than the Magic Stick, seven days a week.

So there Don Gonyea, I know you weren't asking for an answer but you got one. Why can't Detroit cash in on its musical legacy?  Because almost everybody is busy trying to recreate classic music, not make classic music.  Maybe that's why I don't sign bands from Detroit much anymore.