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xiv introduction ınTroducTıon xv M. L. Liebler Heaven was Detroit!” This a line from a faux letter sent to Detroit music journalist Dave Marsh from the legendary rock writer Lester Bangs in 1986.The slight problem was that Bangs had passed away four years earlier, so who actually wrote the letter is something of a mystery. Lester Bangs was one of the best-known and most iconic American rock writers of his generation (as portrayed in the film Almost Famous), and he cut his teeth right here in Detroit writing for Creem magazine. Bangs’s letter to Marsh arrived from heaven on Lester’s own “cloud stationery,” and I swear it’s true. I saw it for myself on the Internets. In that infamous 1986 letter,“Lester”wrote,“You know that jive about ‘if there’s a rock ’n’ roll heaven, they must have a hell of a band up there’?”Bangs went on to say,“It’s a nightmare.The only musicians [here] in heaven are Jim Croce, Karen Carpenter, Cass Elliot, and Bobby Bloom singing ‘Montego Bay’over and over.” Bangs concludes his heaven-sent letter by writing, “Take it from me Dave. Heaven was Detroit, Michigan.Who woulda thunk it?” “Heaven was Detroit.” Is it really possible that a single place like the Motor City, a working-class, blue-collar, industrial-turned-postindustrial city, could have created such original, divine, unique American music for more than one hundred years from jazz to hip-hop and everything in between? Well, believe it! Detroit has done, and continues to do, just that. In early twentieth-century Detroit, the sounds of American jazz first crept up Woodward out of Paradise Valley and up Hastings Street in Black Bottom where the great John Lee Hooker, fresh off a double shift on the line, and others played and recorded at JoeVon Battle’s Record Store and Studio. The world was being given a cultural gift unmatched by any other city anywhere. These sounds of early Detroit would eventually move a little farther north to Fortune Records on Linwood and then over to Hitsville U.S.A. on West Grand Boulevard, in the shadows of the General Motors Building. It was at this location where an old house and a converted garage gave rise to the combination of blues and R&B that produced “the sound of young America.” Berry Gordy took what was once called “race music” and played only on African American stations, and he reimagined it as a new innovative music, thus creating the Motown sound. This new style of soul music became the sound track to the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War and, in general, it attempted to answer the question “What’s going on?” Gordy’s vision boldly claimed this new style of music would bring all people together, and Hitsville U.S.A. did just that then, and it still does to this day. However,it is also important to note that before Hitsville, the embryo of what came to be known as “soul music” (the Brits call it “Northern Soul”) was formed in a run-down building located first at 11629 Linwood featuring a dirt-floor studio and a couple of microphones. (The company later moved to the Wayne State campus on Third Street.) As S. R. Boland points out in his essay here,Fortune Records had a raw, tough R&B sound with singers like M. L. Liebler “ xvi ınTroducTıon Andre Williams, Nathaniel Mayer, and the Falcons, all backed by a band led by the great Joe Weaver. I think the role our city has played in creating the Detroit sound is based on the fact that the Motor City has always been a hard town to prosper and make it in. Everything here in the twentieth century depended upon industry, and especially the auto industry. The car business has always produced a feast-or-famine type of mentality. In this type of environment, what is here today will not likely be there tomorrow, and so forth. This helps artists to develop a certain type of art that can continually reinvent and reimagine itself. It is about survival on these mean streets. In this type of world, you have people with an attitude Eminem describes in his famous song from the film 8 Mile titled “Lose Yourself ”: Look, If you had One shot Or one opportunity To seize everything you ever wanted In one moment Would you capture it Or just let it slip? The...


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MARC Record
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