The Grande Ballroom Story - Louder Than Love

The Grande Ballroom Story

LOUDER THAN LOVE is the story of the Grande Ballroom—birthplace of the Detroit rock music scene. Bands like MC5, Iggy & the Stooges, Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes, Alice Cooper and many more got their start here. The Grande not only influenced Michigan musicians but inspired bands from all over the U.S. and Europe. Legendary acts like Led Zeppelin, Cream, BB King, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and the Who graced the stage at the Grande on a regular basis.

(The last we heard, the producer is still seeking distribution funding for this film.)

The Ash Grove: Mick Jagger Gets the Blues

In his Ashgrove recording, guitarist Dave Alvin laments the loss of a favorite Los Angeles club, a venue that should be on the National Register of Historic Places. It would have to be in an urn, however—the Ash Grove burned not once, but three times.

Ed Pearl (an uncle of Spirit's Randy California) founded the 250-seat Ash Grove in 1958. "I started with the perfect show," says Pearl. "Brownie McGhee, Guy Carawan… McGhee was the Southern folk-bluesman who, at the time, hadn't quite yet formed his famous alliance with harmonica partner Sonny Terry; Carawan is best known for adapting We Shall Overcome with Pete Seeger.”

Going forward, stage acts would include Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, June Carter, Arlo Guthrie, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Jerry Garcia, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Son House, Mose Allison, Hoyt Axton, Eric Burdon, the Byrds, Canned Heat, Commander Cody, Albert Collins, Larry Coryell, James Cotton, Jose Feliciano, Firesign Theater, Robben Ford, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Ahmad Jamal, Dr. John, Albert King, Charles Mingus, Pharoah Sanders, Spirit, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, "Big Mama" Thornton, the Chambers Brothers, Flying Burrito Brothers, Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. Many other acts also appeared at the Ash Grove over the years.

On his way out of the Ash Grove one night, Mick Jagger,
a frequent visitor to the club, shook Pearl's hand in gratitude.
He simply wanted to thank Pearl for all the entertainment
– and no doubt musical education – the club had given him.

Robert Hilburn, LA Times music critic, 1973

Everybody hung out at the Ash Grove. It was there that Jim (Roger) McGuinn met David Crosby before forming the Byrds, and a chance encounter of Linda Ronstadt's led to the formation of the Stone Ponys.

Listen to Dave Alvin's tribute, Ashgrove, in its entirety

"I always had two or three cheap recorders going…," [Pearl] explains. "I'd just turn them on because I wanted to listen… Ry, Taj, and the rest of us liked to listen to the old guys." Some 3,000 hours of recorded live performances at the Ash Grove have survived. Many of these recordings may be streamed live or purchased from Wolfgang's Vault.

Currently in production, Ash Grove Burning is a documentary by Sundance award-winning filmmaker Aiyana Elliott. Hers is perhaps not
a recognized name in music circles until one learns she is the daughter of Grammy-Award winner, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, a regular Ash Grove performer. Being very patient while it loads, you may view the movie trailer online

Freeform Radio Master—Dave Dixon On WABX

It was 1967 and, if we were lucky, once in a great while we might hear something cool on AM radio—Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth being a harbinger of what was to come. In the autumn of that year, Detroit’s WABX-FM began broadcasting The Troubador, an experimental show, for an hour each week.

For the first time we could listen to an eclectic mix of blues, rock, folk and jazz all within the same program. And in stereo, no less. Within six months the X was broadcasting similar programming for most of each day. For this listener, there was never any looking back at the limited, uneven, preformatted AM station offerings we had had to endure up to that point. (Remember the Zombies being followed by Percy Faith?)

As an impressionable 15-year-old music hound, I would frequently call and have lengthy conversations with the DJs while ostensibly doing homework. John Small, who soon moved over to WKNR-FM, was always very welcoming. Then ABX added Dave Dixon to its staff; he would go on to become the esteemed leader of the legendary "Air Aces."

Dixon had a “golden ear,” introducing attentive listeners to cross-cultural music on a world scale. Only on his show could one be exposed to such gems as Paul Horn’s Inside the Taj Mahal, Gandharva from Beaver & Krause, Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park and Harry Nilsson’s The Point (a complete LP side). In between, he might have mixed in a cut from John Mayall’s Blues From Laurel Canyon, some Savoy Brown (with original vocalist Chris Youlden), Cat Mother & the All-Night Newsboys and a track from Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad release. Toss in some Brian Auger Trinity (featuring Julie Driscoll on vocals) and Laura Nyro singing Eli's Coming for good measure. Not to be overlooked, Detroit artists such as Frost (Dick Wagner), the Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent), SRC and the Stooges (Iggy Pop) would also be integrated into the mix.

Often Dixon wouldn’t play an entire track. Instead he would seamlessly blend portions of disparate genres into a cohesive audio excursion that might last an hour, interrupted only for a FCC-mandated station ID break. His instrument was comprised of matching turntables, a mixing console and a headphone set.

I miss the days when I was INFORMED [about] new
music… even the music I didn't like I grew to appreciate
for its uniqueness. It was truly an education back
then… How will [this generation] expand [its musical]

horizons?? Surely not from corporate radio stations.

Smogboy, from At Detroit forum, 12/10/06

During his career Dixon was fired from more than one station, being labeled as gruff and argumentative. While that very well may be true, to this listener—and frequent caller—he always had time to talk about music, share what he knew, and be an encourager. This was perhaps most important, for I had started on a voyage of musical discovery long before Dave Dixon and WABX, and wondered why others didn’t seem to find music as important to their daily existence. Instead of snuffing out that desire, his unique ability as audio interpreter, alchemist and promoter fortified my quest to be ever on the alert for recordings of interest.

Today the closest one can get to freeform programming in this style rests with college radio stations having limited range, unless they're also streaming on the Internet such as WNMC in Traverse City, Michigan. While it doesn't quite match Dixon's artistry, the Internet's Radio Paradise does a credible job of filling the void left by the demise of freeform terrestial radio. (Albeit Dixon's shows were sometimes extraterrestial.)

Dixon left ABX in 1974. After 10 years in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale market, he returned to Detroit, where for several years he played the same type of unique music mix on public station WDET as he had during those heady days of the “Air Aces.”

Listen to a 1990 Dave Dixon aircheck while he was on WDET:

After a few years doing a talk show on WXYT in Detroit, Dixon died at home in May of 1999 at age 60. His legacy is that of programming shows in the way that a painter chooses colors and textures, painstakenly and deliberately applying them on an aural canvas to provide much more than a fleeting impression.