Detroiters have left an indelible mark on the face of American music. Nuances of Detroit can be heard in blues, jazz, rockabilly, soul and hip hop. So much so, that the city has secured itself a coveted spot in the annals of modern music history: We gave birth to Motown, made garage rock a household word and have produced some of the most magnetic rock stars in the world.
So when Detroit expat and music wonk Jeff Meier, Matt Weingarten (aka DJ Fine Wine), old-school PR flack S.R. Boland and music venue owner and attorney Darren Grow decided to put together the Detroit Musical Heritage Foundation (DMHF), it was only fitting that they dug deep to find the movers and shakers from generations past, though many have been forgotten.
Scratch that its because weve forgotten who they are.
Enter Meier, an important cog in Detroits garage rock scene. Many know him as one of the founding members of garage godheads the Detroit Cobras. He also helped found ephemeral rock groups Rocket 455 and the Nervobeats. He now plays guitar with Nathaniel Mayer and the Fabulous Shanks.
Earlier this year, Meier hooked up with Weingarten, whose highly regarded freeform radio program, Downtown Soulville on WFMU-FM in New Jersey, has a worldwide following, thanks to the Internet. Both are devotees of roots music. For years, they tossed around the idea of putting together a Detroit-themed festival that would focus on the virtues of music from the past. The kind of music, Meier says, a lot of people try to copy, but just dont do right.
The two friends saw the development of the DMHF as the way to get this done. If all goes to plan, the festival will happen next summer. Theyve decided to model their festival after the highly successful Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. But instead of the Stomps obscure offering of blues, jazz, swamp pop and surf guitar, the DMHFs festival will focus on historically important Detroit music.
There are a lot of festivals around town, but none of them really have any kind of continuity between music of the past and whats happening now, Meier says. Hopefully, we can bridge that.
Its almost personal to him.
Id just like to see these people get their due, Meier says about the nearly forgotten roots music acts from Detroit. If you are going to listen to rock n roll, why not listen to the real deal?
Though Detroit-based record labels such as Fortune and D-Town put out countless R&B, soul and rock n roll records in the 1940s to the 1970s, only a handful of artists were ever financially rewarded for their contributions; even fewer were able to eke out careers. The DMHF is intended to make this right.
Meiers current gig with Mayer is an apt example of his commitment to keeping things real. While attending a music festival a few years back, Meier had the pleasure of seeing Mayer perform. He was doing James Brown covers back then, Meier says. After the show, I asked if hed like to play a show with my band [the Shanks]. Weve been playing together ever since. Hes back to writing his own songs now and hes never sounded better.
This week, the DMHF kicks off its efforts by hosting an inaugural ball. DJ Fine Wine will spin, and performances include a rare appearance by urban rock legends Black Merda, singer-songwriter Cody Black, Ellington Fugi Jordan and, of course, Nathaniel Mayer and the Fabulous Shanks.
With the legal and promotional skills of Grow and Boland, Meier and Weingarten say theyd like to generate some corporate interest in next summers festival. We just need to find some people who are sympathetic to our cause, Meier says.
Weingarten adds: Theres a worldwide audience for Detroit music; people will come to see this stuff.