Blues and good news

Whoever winds up winning the mayor’s race in November, and whoever we end up with on City Council, Detroit’s future will still be largely decided by the people who live here and work here. Without a strong core of citizens committed to improving the quality of life in this city, citizens who are willing to take on a large part of the responsibility themselves without waiting to see which way the wind is blowing in City Hall, we might as well give it up.

Given how aggravating, even infuriating, life can sometimes be in this city, it’s a lot to ask of anyone to keep the faith and keep on plugging. With the city facing the very real possibility of receivership, the ridiculously high taxes and insurance rates, the ongoing flight of middle-class residents out of the city, and on and on, it’s not hard to understand why someone might not want to take a risk on Detroit. Taking that kind of risk can require faith above and beyond the call of duty, and I’ve expressed my own reservations and frustrations about this city that I love right here in this column.

So this is why I take heart in what’s going on at Cobo Joe’s. Located downtown near the intersection of Congress and Cass behind Cobo Center, the medium-sized hockey bar first opened in 1987 and was owned and operated for 18 years by Joe and Judy Kosky. The late ’80s and early ’90s weren’t exactly the city’s boom years, and downtown was far more of a ghost town than it is today. But business was good enough to keep the doors open and to attract a steady clientele and establish a reputation.

Then, in December 2004, the Koskys decided to sell the place. Depending on who bought it, any number of things could have happened, not all of them good. Downtown is littered with memories of places that used to be this and used to be that.

Rick Tressler, now retired from the UAW for three years, had never considered the idea of running a bar, but he’d always loved Cobo Joe’s and in the back of his mind had always thought it would be pretty cool if he could have a place like that.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to own Cobo Joe’s,” says Tressler, who’s been a close friend of the Koskys for more than 30 years. Joe Kosky “always knew that I wanted Cobo Joe’s, a legendary piece of downtown Detroit.”

So once Kosky let him know he was selling the bar, Tressler hooked up with his partner, Dick Cadreau, and the two went in together to buy it. Tressler admits he knew nothing about the bar business, which is a primary reason why he brought in Cadreau, “who has been self-employed all his life.” There’ve been the expected frustrations that come with running a bar, but overall Tressler says he and Cadreau are Detroit boosters to the bone and have no regrets about their business venture.

“For me, operating it has been like putting on a pair of shoes that you’ve always owned,” Tressler says, stopping to chat on an afternoon when customer traffic has let up some.

A lifelong resident of metro Detroit, Tressler made the decision to move right into the heart of downtown four years ago. You don’t have to talk to him long to figure out he’s the type who likes to be involved and in the thick of things. A close watcher of the city’s political and cultural scene, Tressler is convinced that a bar like Cobo Joe’s can help revitalize Detroit, and he and Cadreau see bringing live music — blues, to be specific — to the club as a key to that revitalization. Cadreau and Tressler also figure live music is another way to generate revenue, apart from hockey.

OK, it’s confession time. Anyone who’s committed to keeping the blues alive in the city has my full attention. I also confess that I’ve performed at Cobo Joe’s a few times since the club began hosting regular Tuesday night jam sessions several months ago, after Detroit’s first MC2 music conference. Cobo Joe’s was chosen to host the blues acts throughout the event.

That said, it should also be said that Cobo Joe’s is hardly the only small business in downtown Detroit committed to staying and helping to improve the entertainment scene. But Cobo Joe’s is definitely the only downtown club — and just about the only club in the city besides Nancy Whiskey’s in Corktown — that has any type of commitment to the blues. The Music Menu closed more than a year ago, and the Soup Kitchen has been dead and gone for considerably longer than that, which has put a serious hurt on the blues scene in the city that produced John Lee Hooker and so many other greats.

That probably explains why, on one of the hardest nights of the week to draw a crowd, a steady stream of local blues talent has been finding its way to Cobo Joe’s. Although the jam technically starts at 8 p.m. and goes until midnight, the predictably nocturnal crowd doesn’t usually start to show until after 10 or so.

It’s not a large crowd, at least not yet, but judging by the different faces you’re likely to see there each week mixed in with the regulars, it’s clear word has begun to spread. All a musician needs to know to show up is that there’s an appreciative crowd; all a listener needs to hear is that there’s good music. Cobo Joe’s is providing both, and in the process is helping to attract more people downtown after hours.

“Detroit’s a happening place,” Tressler says.

Thanks to folks like Tressler and Cadreau.


Welcome to the mayor’s race, Mr. Hendrix.

Last week, as expected, Freman Hendrix won the Detroit primary by a rather hefty margin of 10 percentage points. Much has been made of the fact that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick now has the dubious distinction of being the first incumbent mayor in nearly 60 years to come in second in a primary election. And without a doubt, Kilpatrick has some serious work ahead of him to turn the tables around before November and somehow earn a second term.

But it didn’t take more than 24 hours for Hendrix’s rather lengthy honeymoon to come to a screeching halt. Wednesday’s Free Press characterized the primary winner as “the charisma-challenged Hendrix.” Wednesday evening, Channel 7’s Editorial/Public Affairs Director Chuck Stokes pointed out that many of those who voted for Hendrix did so because they wanted “anybody but Kwame,” not because they are necessarily crazy about Hendrix. Kilpatrick, on the other hand, got his votes from a solid base of committed supporters and a “sympathy vote” contingent who believe he deserves a second chance. Stokes pointed out that Hendrix’s lead is actually a little soft and vulnerable unless he can convince his supporters that he’s not just “anybody but Kwame,” he’s the Man with the Master Plan.

To top it all off, Channel 7’s resident pit bull, Steve Wilson, who’d been specializing in embarrassing Kilpatrick, has now apparently refocused his journalistic blowtorch on Hendrix. Not long after Stokes’ analysis of the polling results, Wilson interviewed a seething Hendrix about what appear to be some rather questionable investments and a curious financial relationship with Comerica Bank, which appears to have granted him a loan of more than $1 million even though he only has about one-fifth that amount in collateral.

So why is the target now on Hendrix’s back? Easy. He’s the front-runner, the honeymoon is over, the media is getting bored beating up on Kilpatrick, and he’s fresh meat.

Welcome to the mayor’s race, Mr. Hendrix.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit writer, editor and musician. Send comments to [email protected]
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