Rock for Joy

Jun 13, 2007 at 12:00 am

There are those who dread turning 30 and those who embrace it. Local artist, model, toy maker, jewelry creator and concessionista Gwen Joy is in the latter group. In fact, the fetching Gemini is making sure that the commemoration of her three decades on the planet is no mere party, art show, DJ night or concert — but all four rolled into one. And the artists, DJs and musicians joining in the, uh, joyous festivities not only represent some of the most talented folks in the city, many happen to be somewhat legendary the world over — from auto designer/painter Camilo Pardo to photographer Leni Sinclair. Take musical headliners Black Merda. These Motor City pioneers of psych-funk (or "black rock") have a history that stretches back to Western High School circa 1960. There, blues-obsessed guitar-slingers Anthony "Wolf" Hawkins and VC "The Mighty V!" Veasey joined forces with drummer Tyrone "Snake" Hite to form the Impacs. Almost immediately they were recruited as session musicians by both Don Davis and Fortune Records. In fact, the band's lean attack surfaced behind Nathaniel Mayer's hypnotic "I Had A Dream" in summer 1963. By '65 they'd changed their name to the Soul Agents and backed Edwin Starr on his smash hit "Agent Double O Soul." The band became Black Merda in 1968 after discovering Hendrix's Are You Experienced?

What gave Merda its timeless edge was a certain rawness — a supercharged take on lowdown juke-joint vibes and gnarly soul. They inevitably splintered after releasing a second album in 1972, only to be (re)discovered in ensuing decades. 2004 saw CD reissues and a band reunion, which boiled over with intensity — still, a Merda live appearance is rare.

Sharing the b-day bill are the Ultimate Ovations, a sweet soul harmony group that got together about the time Merda called it quits. They cut local hip-swivelin' classics like "Chameleon Man" and "Showdown." They've hit a stride lately since hooking up with guitarists Jeff Meier (Joy's husband) and Dan Kroha (aka Danny Doll Rod, who'll be DJing later in the evening along with Bootsy X, DJ Genius and Crawdaddy Simone). The group has made it a point to release a 45 every few years or so, and its latest — the first on Meier's newly minted Eleganza Records — is at the pressing plant right now.


8 p.m., Saturday, June 16, at the Corktown Tavern, 1716 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-964-5103; $8.

Michael Hurtt is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]