With the July dedication of Lincoln Park’s Motor City 5 historical museum exhibit, former Detroit musician Robert Slap renewed his connection with MC5 drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson and other area luminaries. His travels brought him from rural Indiana for the event
“I always wanted to be an entertainer, whether in music or theatre, and in the 60’s, I got to do both,” said Slap, 64, and also a Los Angeles transplant. “I feel very lucky and privileged to have had those opportunities. They led me to Hollywood and great times in LA, along with a career in composing music, which I always loved the most.”
Assorted musicians and natives scanned the Lincoln Park crowd for long-ago familiar faces from the scene.
Among them was Russ Gibb, 82, who historically offered many of Detroit’s early groups a venue through The Grande Ballroom, an iconic downtown landmark. Gibb, of Dearborn, was Detroit’s quintessential concert-promoter and a radio personality at the former WKNR-FM. He’s still remembered for breaking the Paul (McCartney) Is Dead Beatles rumor back in The Day.
People lined up at the MC5 event to shake his hand or have photos taken with him, while a DJ spun vintage vinyl of other local talent, like the Scott Richard Case (SRC).
Work from band manager John Sinclair’s former wife, Leni, now 71, was also prevalent. The emigrant Magdalene “Leni” Arndt — who escaped East Germany for the U.S., complete with a camera — chronicled so much of the early German jazz scene and her American ex-husband’s musical experiences that she published two books on them. The most recent tome, “Detroit Rocks! A Pictorial History of Motor City Rock and Roll 1965-1975,” debuted in 2014.
Tyner and Smith have since died from heart attacks, in 1991 and 1994 respectively, and Davis — the lone member who originated from Detroit instead of Lincoln Park — died of liver failure in 2012.
The Five, as the group is also known, turned the industry on its head with “Kick Out the Jams, Mother****ers!” as part of its think-revolutionary politics of the time. Often offering nudity during profanity-laced shows, the band’s energy went on to inspire a punk-rock theme as far reaching as Europe. There, the group is credited with establishing the English punk-rock stance of the mid-70s.
Other local performers sharing MC5 shows included Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, and Iggy and the Stooges. That led to MC5 appearing onstage with rock legends Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Yardbirds, and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.
Lincoln Park’s guests spanned from fine artists who have returned to their hometown from San Francisco and other faraway places, and technical sound experts like Jeff Bailey, to homegrown musicians like The Torpedos’ Mike Marshall.
Ron Perry, of American Media Sound & Video, was present to record additional testimonials from various entertainers for his ongoing catalog of local influence, “Detroit Rocks!” Perry’s project spans more than 200 hours of interviews and concert footage, some with local stars who’ve since passed. It studies how each musician and industry insider, from the 1950s to today, was influenced by local predecessors.
“This is for a documentary and progress is ongoing,” said Perry, a former musician who now resides in Jacksonville, Fla. “The goal is to create the definitive document on Detroit rock and roll, and some of our work includes footage with now-dead local luminaries of the music scene.”
Perry promises, however, to not rest until it is done.
A tribute concert and picnic Sunday followed at Kennedy Memorial Park’s Lincoln Park Band Shell, with performances from Rocket 455, Tommy’s Organism and Chatoyant as well as a Key to the City presentation for Thompson from Mayor Thomas Karnes. Various family members from Tyner, Smith and Davis were anticipated to be in attendance.
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