Can you imagine the surprise in our editorial office when we received a box of T-shirts that seemed to come straight out of the 1970s, emblazoned with names firmly lodged in the past, including … Pine Knob?
The shirts, despite being brand-new, had a faded, vintage look to them that would cause any native Detroiter north of 40 to do a double-take. Pine Fucking Knob? For real? That and several other iconic memories are the work of shirt-maker Todd Truman and his Superieur Brand T-shirt line.
Though he’s from the west side of the state — Truman laughs and says, “I’m from Fremont, home of Gerber Baby Foods” — the 57-year-old says, “I thought maybe it was something people on the east side of the state might gravitate toward. … I didn’t really create the Pine Knob shirts with any anticipation of them resonating. It was just something I have memories of, going to Pine Knob.” Truman saw several shows there, including the Stills-Young band and what he calls “the ill-fated Tom Petty tour with the Replacements opening. That one kind of stands out.”
Wait, somebody from the west side of the state who’s actually fond of Detroit? Isn’t that where attitudes about Detroit can range from hostile to oblivious? Truman confesses, “I kinda grew up that way. But I went to Ferris in the late 1970s and a lot of the guys and girls there were from the Detroit area. They had a big hockey program, it was a blue-collar kind of college and there were lots of people from Detroit.”
Truman has produced T-shirts since the 1990s, when he made them for a band he was in. Then he began working for the apparel business, in what he calls the “most bottom rung of the fashion industry.” He says, “I got tired over the years of being an independent, spending my money trying to develop other people’s clothing. Plus I’ve always been a T-shirt-and-jeans kind of guy. I thought, ‘I can do this. Let’s get serious about it and see if I can create something that means something to somebody else.’ … I thought at first it was kinda cool to honor Michigan by doing … not terribly obscure places but — I didn’t want to do the obvious tourist places like Saugatuck or Traverse City, even though there are probably little places within those towns that are cool. … A lot of them are things you’d see driving around Michigan, like some billboard you had to pass by if you went to the beach, or a pit stop or just something you see out the car window on your way someplace else.”
One of his simplest tops has a logo from the now-defunct Lee’s Chop Suey in Ypsilanti. Truman says, “I really liked the artwork, so I did it. That’s probably the old duffer in me, that those kinds of things are attractive to me. I was Googling defunct Ann Arbor-area restaurants and through Google Images there popped up the Lee’s image. It looked like it was actually boarded up at the time, and the logo was painted on the side of the building. It’s just kind of random sometimes.”
It was a similar case with Royal Oak’s Junkyard Guitars, which is actually still open. Truman says, “I’d never heard of them. I was just going up and down Woodward for work and saw that and said that would be cool on a T-shirt.” Truman got the guitar shop’s permission, with the proviso that, “If you sell more than, like, 100, we want in on it.”
Then there’s the attractive three-color shirt for Thunderbird Raceway, a dirt track north of Muskegon. Truman says, “It’s almost like demolition derby. Guys take their beat-to-shit cars or whatever on an oval track and it’s like if you wanted to be in NASCAR fantasyland on a junk level. It’s kind of like Rockem Sockem Robots: Take ’em out there and beat the crap out of the car driving next to you. Whoever makes it to the finish line wins.”
All of the shirts, ranging from XXL T’s to slim ladies’ thermals, sport a faded, well-loved look. “I thought they’d look cooler if they looked like you’ve had them for 10 years,” Truman says, “or I try to make them look like that … they’re a bit affected but, I’d still rather do that than make them look polished. I like them beat-up looking, I guess.”
The hottest item, of course, is Truman’s Pine Knob shirt. “I think that I’ve sold probably a little bit over 1,000 of those and still haven’t had a cease-and-desist order,” he says with a chuckle. “I will always think of it as Pine Knob. It’s just that stubborn kind of streak. And I had a really, really hard time just trying to find the artwork I found. It was like somebody went in and tried to erase any kind of Pine Knob Music Theatre imagery or anything. There was very little for me to pull from.”
Superieur Brand T-shirts are available at Caruso Caruso in Birmingham and online at superieurbrandclothing.com.