Out of our tree

Jun 9, 2004 at 12:00 am

Reader response from our genealogical “Century of Sound” music tree brimmed with both glowing salutations and roaring disapproval. The phone rang and rang and my e-mail box exploded with notes filled with contemptuous blather and blowjobian adulation, saying we either walk on water or should be lynched.

Incensed members of marginal groups new and old complained about being left off the limbs. Others — including many old-timers — called to say thanks for not overlooking them. Basically, it was a predictable response.

We did, certainly, set ourselves up like bowling pins, as the margin for error was huge, hence fuck-ups and oversights were inevitable. But, remember, nowhere on this tree did we use the words final, irrefutable or conclusive. No, going in we knew we’d be revising this tree, taking response into consideration. From this project’s inception, we’d planned a second, updated tree (version 2.0). It will be issued in glossy, roll-up poster form in conjunction with Metro Times’ 2004 “Best of Detroit” edition in September. Version 2.0 will not be inserted into Metro Times.

A few artists were inadvertently left on the wayside. Big names too, such as the Hentchmen, that Detroit-essential hinge between indie and garage — one that also happens to be suspiciously absent on many historical lists of contemporary Detroit rock ’n’ roll.

One Hentchmen fan wrote: “I was casually looking over the music tree in last week’s issue, mentally checking off names and nodding in agreement, when I noticed something was terribly wrong. Where were the Hentchmen? I quickly scanned over the tree again with the same unfortunate results.

“Now, I said to myself, ‘This really was a massive undertaking on the part of the authors. Certainly they can’t be expected to include everyone and, really, they did a great job.’ But, wait … no. This was wrong! Here were all of the Hentchmen’s contemporaries, bands they’ve played with numerous times, bands whose first shows were opening for them, bands that even include Hentchmen members past and present, but no Hentchmen! How can this be?”

Well, it can’t be.

Missing too were pop-soul group the Dramatics, gold-selling soul singer Kem, riff merchants Speedball, ’80s dark-hued metalists Halloween, jazzy stalwarts The Sun Messengers, among others. Our bad.

Some names on the tree appeared out of place, particularly in the upper reaches where the timeline became a stretchy elastic wonder; too many names, not enough space. A few names chosen to appear on the tree inexplicably disappeared during the production process. We’ll do our best to address said gaffes on the final tree in September.

Following is a quick sampling of reader response. One guy obviously beside himself typed: “BRILLIANT! BRILLIANT! BRILLIANT! JUST ABSOLUTELY FUCKING BRILLIANT!”

Another wrote: “Congratulations to you and to the Metro Times for a wonderful article and genealogical tree reflecting a century of music in Detroit. What an enormous undertaking, superbly accomplished. You, Nate, and the Metro Times are to be commended for your efforts. It’s all too common these days for historians to leave out one or more aspects of a topic. You’ve captured the spectrum — not an easy task. I was very happy to see that you didn’t overlook the immensely important Polish-American ‘branch.’”

A detractor wrote: “If it wasn’t for Champtown there will be no Eminem, Kid Rock, Hush, Da Ruckus, or Esham. Champtown have played roles in every name mentioned above. Champtown and Esham created Detroit hip hop on the East Side period. Facts can’t be denied. You got a lot of homework to do. …”

A local jazz historian brought up this: “I’d love to claim Teddy Wilson, Lawrence ‘Speed’ Webb (an Indiana guy), Mamie Smith and Nat Towles as Detroiters, but possibly excepting Wilson (who lived here briefly in the ’20s) there ain’t much to claim. A few jobs (here) does not a resident make.”

One letter said, “Hey, you guys did a great job. But I knew you could not exactly get all of them. Under doo-wop you left off two groups, which are The Precisions and the Royal Jokers. In person, the Precisions’ stage presentation was a riot. Just like Little Anthony and The Imperials. Keep up the good work. Detroit badly needs a strong link to its past.”

Here’s the best bellyache: “Well, what I can tell from your ‘Detroit music tree,’ is that you, and perhaps Mr. Nate … stayed up way too long to get this done correctly.” He froths on to say that I should be fired, and calls our tree a failure and worthless, an “exercise in cheesy art/whatever it is.” Yeah!

Now, be sure to check our tree-related stories of music, “Century of Sound — The Lost History,” which starts this week with the cover piece on the MC5. Next week will see a music section feature on forgotten female gangsta rapper BOSS. The series will run throughout the summer.



Speaking of Detroit musical history: In an article occasioned by the recent death of drummer Elvin Jones, Metro Times contributing editor Herb Boyd quoted Detroit drummer George Goldsmith on the beauty of Jones’ playing (“Master of time — stilled,” Metro Times, May 26). Sadly, just days after that article appeared, Goldsmith, 64, too, passed, after a long battle with diabetes. Goldsmith, who spent years in New York and Los Angeles as well as Detroit, played with artists ranging from Barry Harris to Aretha Franklin. His feelings about jazz were summed up in the name of the group he led: Endangered Species.

Brian Smith is Metro Times music editor. E-mail [email protected]