Detroit’s Grande Ballroom – Where Hard Rock and Punk Were Born
This is a rabbit-hole story. A simple tweet said that on this day in 1969 Led Zeppelin played the Grande Ballroom in Detroit.
Not being from Detroit, my morning show partner told me a story, but first, he corrected my pronunciation. It's "Gran-dee," he said. And then, he proceeded to tell me pretty much everyone who ever played the Grande Ballroom. And the list is long. But here's the kicker. It stopped being a rock and roll shrine 50 years ago.
The building's current owners are the Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church. But a group of fans with memories has been working with the owners and some GoFundMe money exploring a restoration project. This goes hand in hand with the fact that Grande building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This blog will give you an idea of where the project stands. It's slow, but reading some of the stories, you realize that not only is there rock and roll history inside those walls, but also all this architectural beauty, with ornate fixtures and columns. A building like this just oozes history. It's just the place needs some serious repairs.
The Grande Ballroom's history harkens back to a different time and age. The story starts in the 1920s when it opened as a dance hall and a place to enjoy music. Crowds of well over 1500 were not uncommon. But after World War II, people's habits were changing and the Grande was hurting. Eventually, some young people needed a place for rock and roll, and some history was about to be made. An argument could be made that this was where hard rock and punk were born. Bands like the MC5 and The Stooges started here, and the big names that played here, though they weren't necessarily big names back then, that long list is impressive.
"Russ Gibb, a social studies teacher at Maples Junior High School in Dearborn was a popular local radio DJ at the time. Gibb took a trip out to San Francisco to visit a friend in early 1966 and paid a visit to the storied Fillmore Auditorium and saw The Byrds. When he returned to Detroit, he set out to bring Bill Graham's Fillmore to the Motor City." - HistoryDetroit.org
On its first night, some 60 people showed up for the MC5, but once these shows started, people came, and came in droves. Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds, Cream, (The) Pink Floyd, Canned Heat, the Jeff Beck Group, The Byrds, Chuck Berry, the Velvet Underground, the Steve Miller Band, and John Lee Hooker. Looking at this database, in 1968, there's Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Electric Prunes, The Who, Procol Harum, and, of course, Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes.
Alas, the Grande's time was short. The last concert was New Years Eve 1972, a victim of economics and greed. The big bands would play the Olympia, nearby on Grand River Avenue. The building itself hasn't been completely empty for fifty years, but it has. It'll be interesting to see what the next few years bring.