By Bob Ruggiero
Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in America’s Loudest City
By Steve Miller
Da Capo Books, 312 pp., $16.99
“It’s this beautiful place where you sacrifice your safety for a shitload of freedom,” Rachel Nagy of the Detroit Cobras says of her band’s namesake city. And while the its largest-looming musical legacy will always rest in that tiny Hitsville U.S.A. house of Motown, the history of Detroit’s rock scene is highly potent and influential.
And it is the toughness of the city, its sociology, and residents that distilled into a similarly tough sound early on. This book is written as an oral history, for which reporter Miller conducted more than 200 interviews with Detroit-based musicians, promoters, DJs, club owners, journalists (including many from Creem magazine), scenesters, and more.
Understandably, the book’s best chapters are the early ones covering Detroit music from the ’60s to mid-’70s, where acts like the MC5, The Stooges, Alice Cooper, Grand Funk Railroad, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, and the criminally underrated The Frost ruled stages.
All of the principals there regale Miller with stories, like when Alice Cooper really knew they should cut “Dead Babies” after he heard raucous applause from inmates at a hospital for the criminally insane located just across the street from their rehearsal studio.
As the city runs into the ’80s, the focus turns to punk and hardcore, and reader interest will wane a bit simply because acts like Gang War, the Necros, Nikki and the Corvettes, Ramrods, Negative Approach, and Dark Carnival are likely to be unfamiliar to many. Nevertheless, Miller (a reporter and editor of Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ’79-’83) gives these years just as much space and importance.
Later, though, Jack White of the White Stripes and Mick Collins and Ko Melina of the Dirtbombs discuss the city’s place in the Great Garage Rock Revival of the early years of this century, and some nods are given to Kid Rock, Eminem, and Insane Clown Posse’s roots there.
“It’s the best rock and roll city ever,” Alice Cooper says in the book of Detroit. And while music nerds could debate the veracity of that thought longer than it takes to listen to The Complete Fun House Sessions, Miller’s book makes the case for the Motor City.