While much of America was grooving to the sultry “Summer of Love” sounds in 1967, Detroit was cranking out gritty, raw, pounding music from its epicenter, The Grande Ballroom.
“The Grande Ballroom era is potentially the greatest untold story in rock and roll history,” says Tony D’Annunzio, a native Detroit filmmaker whose documentary film “Louder Than Love” pays tribute to the Grande era. “With everything Detroit has been through in the last several decades, I wanted to let folks know that aside from the automobile industry, the city has some amazing musical history which helped shape American pop culture.”
Almost 50 years ago, in late 1960s, the Grande helped to debut some of America’s most iconic rock bands including the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, and Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, who influenced and inspired bands all over the U.S.
Legendary acts such as Led Zeppelin, Cream, B.B. King, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and the Who played the Grande main stage on a regular basis.
AN ARTIST’S VIEW
Another talented artist who played a vital role in the success of the Grande Ballroom is Gary Grimshaw who designed dozens of colorful posters for the concerts.
Several of Grimshaw’s colorful works will be on display at 6 p.m. on Aug. 1 at the InsideOut Gallery in Traverse City. It’s a chance to raise a glass of LMawby’s “Detroit” to honor Grimshaw’s new limited edition design, a signed and number silkscreen print entitled “The Grande Bands.” This work pays homage to the great musical groups that performed at the historic Detroit venue.
“When I started the (film) project, it was about the music,” explains D’Annunzio. “But as I went along, I realized it was really about the culture that was being built. And a huge part of that was Gary Grimshaw’s art. It screams the ‘60s. He was friends with Rob Tyner (singer for the MC5). He wasn’t a musician, but he used his talents to support the music.”
Born in Detroit in 1946, Grimshaw graduated from nearby Lincoln Park High School. He’s been creating artwork since the age of 20 – that’s 66 years of continuously producing music-related graphic artwork.
“Gary and Rob were just hanging out when Russ Gibb called and wanted a poster,” recalls Laura Grimshaw, Gary’s wife. (Gibb was an influential WABX-FM disc jockey and concert promoter.) “Rob handed the phone to Gary and said ‘Grimshaw, This is for you.’ That first poster, with the flying seagull, was done overnight.”
As he continued to produce the eye-grabbing posters, Grimshaw’s reputation grew steadily as the Grande Ballroom artist and later as the MC5 artist.
“I’ve been trying to get people outside of Detroit to realize the importance Gary Grimshaw had (to the Grande),” says D’Annunzio. “These poster artists gave us a creative edge. It was so profound.”
Grimshaw was part of a collective of promoters, intellectuals, poets, artists and musicians. As a Vietnam vet, he was an antiwar activist and a key player in the White Panther Party, working to reform unfair laws and unjust incarcerations. His work appeared in newspapers, magazines, concert posters, record album covers.
“Gary’s artwork is so amazing,” says D’Annunzio. “Even the letters are rich, voluptuous, sexy and kind of risqué. To do what he did with the lettering in that psychedelic feel. And it was all done at a time with limited resources, no computers, all by hand, primitive by today’s standards. Everything was done from an experimental vantage point.”
For “Louder Than Love” D’Annunzio amassed more than 60 hours of interviews with artists and other insiders from The Grande’s heyday including musical icons B.B. King, Alice Cooper, Roger Daltrey, Scott Morgan, Mark Farner, Tom Morello, Wayne Kramer, Lemmy, Ted Nugent, Henry Rollins, Don Was, Slash, Dick Wagner, and James Williamson.
He also collected more than 500 never-before-seen archival photos -- taken by professional photographers and fans -- of performers such as The Who, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King, Cream, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck Group, MC5, Traffic, and Iron Butterfly.
“We have incredible 8mm film of The Who performing “Tommy” for the first time, including an audio recording by Pete Townsend explaining “Tommy” to The Grande audience. Both have never been seen or heard in any documentary,” says D’Annunzio.
After his Grande years, Grimshaw moved west and worked as an associate art director at the rock and roll magazine CREEM and in San Francisco as art director of Art Rock Gallery.
Over the years, his work has been shown at the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Toledo Art Museum, the College for Creative Studies, the Flint Institute of Arts, and the Eastern Michigan University premier art gallery.
Grimshaw and his wife Laura spent 14 years in San Francisco and Oakland, California, where he continued to create art. For a few years they owned a little art shop called PaperSong.
In 2004 they moved to a home in the Woodbridge Historic District in Detroit, coming full circle to the neighborhood where Grimshaw spent his very influential twenties and produced such a great body of classic ‘60s art.
Despite battling health problems, Grimshaw continues to work, now with repurposed images of earlier creations. Several of his classic Grimshaw designs have received an electronic restoration with new colors for a new purpose.
He began the practice years ago when he restored a flyer that was originally a mimeographed work – black ink on colored paper. He created a digital file, boldly colored it and now “Love-in Detroit” is one of his most popular images.
For more on Grimshaw and his work, visit garygrimshaw.com. For info on the Aug. 1 event, contact Susan Adams at (248) 302-1331 or firstname.lastname@example.org