Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Detroit rock scene mourns death of Grande Ballroom founder Russ Gibb, dead at 87

Posted By on Wed, May 1, 2019 at 10:29 AM

click to enlarge Russ Gibb and a friend. - FROM RUSS GIB'S BLOG
  • From Russ Gib's blog
  • Russ Gibb and a friend.
Russ Gibb — aka "Uncle Russ," the former disc jockey, promoter, schoolteacher, and founder of Detroit's storied Grande Ballroom rock 'n' roll venue — died on Tuesday night at the age of 87. According to his family he died of heart failure, The Detroit Free Press reports.

Gibb is best known for founding the Grande Ballroom in 1967, after being inspired by a trip west to the Fillmore in San Francisco. The Grande hosted local, national, and international acts, and nurtured Motor City performers like the Stooges, Ted Nugent, and the MC5, which recorded its debut record there over two nights in 1968 and served as the Grande's house band.

Gibb was also notorious for his stint as a disc jockey on WKNR-FM in 1969, in which he gave airtime to rumors that the Beatles' Paul McCartney died, helping launch the "Paul is dead" conspiracy theory. Given that, it might be no surprise that later he would use his blog to promote Donald Trump's Barack Obama "birther" conspiracy theory in 2011.

Nevertheless, it is his contribution to Detroit's rock scene that will be most remembered.

"He was a real important, iconic person in Detroit culture in the '60s and '70s," WSU English professor M.L. Liebler told The Detroit News. "He will probably [be] remembered as the guy who brought Detroit into the new music scene of its day because the Grande Ballroom was really the iconic music place in the middle of the country."

The MC5's Wayne Kramer took to Twitter to mourn Gibb's death. "My dear old friend Russ Gibb has departed this earth," he wrote. "He will be sorely missed. He was one of a kind."

The Grande has been abandoned for decades, but may have a new lease on life. It earned National Register of Historic Places designation last year, and a structural integrity inspection revealed it could be restored. It's now owned by Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church, so it's unlikely that it will return to its glory days of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll anytime soon, however.

The Grande is located at 8952 Grand River Ave., Detroit.

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