Carleton Gholz: This is #RecordDET, this is Carleton Gholz, the founder of the Detroit Sound Conservancy. We’re at Urban Bean coffee house and it’s December the 8th, 2014. We’re coming down to the last three or four weeks of #RecordDET. Earlier tonight we had Larry Mongo from Cafe d’Mongo coming in and talking about his experiences in the North End and Oak Park and throughout the city. And now we have Craig Maki. I’m saying it right? Craig Maki. So we’ll just go right into the interview here. Craig briefly describe who you are and what is your relationship to Detroit music.
Craig Maki: Well, my name is Craig Maki. I grew up North of Detroit in the suburbs. When I went to college I developed an interest in the college radio station, which was WCBN in Ann Arbor. And I had already developed a taste for collecting records and rockabilly music in particular, which is really kind of hard to find in this area. But in Ann Arbor, there were a few cool record stores that had a few more options. And they also had a rockabilly radio show at WCBN, which was at the time hosted by Rob Miller, who just a few years later moved to Chicago and started Bloodshot Records. So Rob helped me take over his show because he was leaving. And I started looking around for people to interview on the radio show besides just spinning records.
Raw sounding Rock and Roll, Blues, Country and Punk Rock.
Maki: And I found that by tracking people down, I could get more records through them sometimes. So I discovered actually before I took over the show though there was a fellow from Detroit named Tony Fusco who was a big record collector, especially of Fortune Records and local music. And he had a peculiar taste of all his own, which I loved, really raw sounding records. Raw sounding rock and roll, blues, country, and punk rock. But he came down to the show when Rob was doing it. One of the last shows Rob did, I think, and he brought these 45s, just box full of 45s and it was a total blast. And opened my eyes up to Detroit rockabilly music and country. And he had a bunch of things on Fortune Records. So the next weekend I was home, I went over to Kathy’s Record Mart on Eight Mile Road on the East side and he specialized in records from before 1965 I think.
Maki: And I asked him, walked right in and asked him, “do you have any Fortune Records? You know, I do this radio show and I’m really interested.” And he’s just kind of rolled his eyes and said, “okay kid here you go. But is there, they’re kind of expensive” And I think I bought one for $15 at the time. I don’t even remember which one it was. Might’ve been Patty Lynn on High-Q. And anyway so after that I started, I met Eddie Jackson and Don Raider and these guys had been playing country music in Detroit had also cut rockabilly records in the fifties, that’s how I got ahold of them. But their stories about their careers in Detroit and especially a wall of pictures that Eddie had behind his bar just blew me away. I had to know more about it.
There was a huge country music scene in Detroit that nobody ever talked to me about, or even suggested that it existed. And so I met these guys and they had some great stories. So I set out starting to collect them with my interviews and I broadcast them on the radio. Sometimes I would write up little articles that like Blue Suede News would publish, published a couple of them. And from there I decided to write a book.
Maki: And so I realized, these guys made me realize that there was a huge country music scene in Detroit that nobody ever talked to me about, or even suggested that it existed. And so I met these guys and they had some great stories. So I set out starting to collect them with my interviews and I broadcast them on the radio. Sometimes I would write up little articles that like Blue Suede News would publish, published a couple of them. And from there I decided to write a book. And, this was all in my spare time. You know, I was playing music on the side. I was working a full time job. I was doing the radio show once a week and then tracking down these guys to talk to. So it was going very slowly. But in 2000, another country artist, a local guy who was very popular, Swanee Caldwell, passed away from cancer.
Maki: And I ran into this buddy of mine from the West side who was going to Specs Howard School of Broadcasting and he was interning at these classic country radio station out in Ypsilanti, WSDS. And he came up to me at the visitation of Swanee’s funeral and he said, “Man, I’m hearing so many great stories. Somebody should write a book.” And a light bulb went off in my head and I said, “you and I should collaborate.” So we started to do that and Keith took the ball and ran with it. He was doing radio full time, so he had access to phone numbers and people down in Nashville and he got all kinds of leads that within a short amount of time that, you know, it would have taken me at my pace much longer. And he made a bunch of interviews and discoveries.
There was so much good music, really great musicians came from all over the country, during the thirties through the sixties playing country music.
Maki: And so thanks to him and, our persistence and our helping each other out and keep each other’s spirits lifted through the project. We, finally, took a break from research and then I wrote the book and rewrote it and got it, somehow we got it published. But, this music and this scene, was, very much worth writing about. There was so much good music, really great musicians came from all over the country, during the thirties through the sixties playing country music. That’s the period we concentrated on. And it was, there were a lot of great stories worth, telling because, a lot of them had influence on the greater tradition of country music. There were people who wrote hit songs, nationwide hits songs here. There were people who had worked for very popular bands like Chief Redbird had come up here after working with Otto Gray’s Oklahoma Cowboys during the 20s and 30s. Just, so many, wonderful contributions that Detroit artists made to country music. And, they just, weren’t available in one resource. So that’s what we set out to do with the book.
Gholz: And how has it there’s lots of other questions, but in terms of the book, it’s been out now for almost a year, almost a year. So, how’s it doing and what’s the response been?
Maki: I think it’s doing pretty well. It’s sold well enough that, you know, U of M Press still has the slider up on its homepage, on its website. They have a slider up for the book. So in fact they had to reorder it several times, after it first came out. And one of the people who work there told us that they were, pleasantly surprised. So anyway, the reception has been great. I took it down to the International County Music Conference in May of this year, 2014 and it was very well received there. And I made some connections with other music researchers there who told me how much they enjoyed it, that sort of thing.
Gholz: And you’re gonna say right here on this interview today that you will be a part of the 2015 Detroit Sound Conservancy conference on May 22nd, 2015. Friday, Memorial day weekend, right, Craig?
Maki: Yes, that’s right.
Gholz: Craig, what was the first Detroit record you remember hearing? It doesn’t have to be a rockabilly record. It could be, but what is the first Detroit record you remember hearing? What was it? How did you hear it? What’d you think? Whatever, whatever.
Maki: I think it must’ve been, my mother had an album by the Supremes and it was one of those live albums that they made. So I don’t remember the title, but it was probably that. I thought, I was a small child at the time, she used to love to blast her records on the stereo while she was, taking care of the household. And,but I thought it was all right. Personally, I got into the Beatles about that age too, so that’s, you know, six or seven. And so that was my favorite group, but she played all kinds of music in the house. And that’s the first Detroit record that I remember. In fact, I remember heard my mother pointing out that the Beatles covered that song “Money” and that was actually a Detroit tune. But,
Gholz: So she pointed that out to you.
Maki: She pointed that out.
Gholz: That’s great.
Gholz: You, before you wrote the, before you guys put together that country book, I would have said that for the next question, your answers should be country music, but maybe it’s changed now. What, Motown is known the world over. Describe one aspect of Detroit music history that you wish got more attention. And so I think the answer could be country, but it could be other things too,
Maki: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think we still have a very strong, bluegrass scene here in this area. And I think a lot, a whole book could be written about that. It is a strong genre, I mean they have their own station on satellite radio. And there was a lot of activity up here, from its earliest days until up until the present.
Gholz: I went down to Ecorse for that sort of Sunday thing they did in the park maybe two summers ago. And there were some guys just out there playing. And I don’t know if it’s sort of that bluegrass crew.
Gholz: Yeah, but I know this month, I mean it’s stuff I know about in the sort of way that, you know, somebody who listens to NPR a little bit would know a little bit about bluegrass, it’s a whole world there that I could learn about.
Maki: Yeah it is.
Gholz: What, I’ll answer, ask you some sort of individual questions before we get back to the script, but what’s left? If I’m driving around Detroit and I want to see Motown, I go by Motown. Even now United Sound is sort of back open and running around. We’ve had this kind of conversation before, but what are some physical places or signs that where I could go and take my photo and say, Detroit country music, did something here, like where would I go?
Maki: That’s a good question. I did produce a Google map of Car City Country. It’s called Car City Country, and that shows the locations of all sorts of bars and record shops and recording studios and radio stations that, we touched on in the book or were described by some of the people we interviewed. One of the biggest places to see country music during the 50s was at the Union Hall on 12101 Mack. And now it’s sort of a service drive, but you can go over there and take a look at this great big building. Nowadays the roof has collapsed, but just a few years ago it was still intact. Now it’s just a big wreck of a structure. That’s the only thing that I can think of that’s still around, that somebody could look at.
Gholz: What about, we have talked about this studios in terms of radio studios, right? So, right. So if we were just going by that where would we go? WJR, would we go to the Fisher Building. Would we go to, yeah.
Maki: Yeah. The, I’m actually now something just jumped into my head too, the Maccabees Building on Woodward,
Maki: Had WXYZ studios and they had a recording studio there that Casey Clark used. There was a recording studio in the Music Hall Building. Of course there were the old studios WJR. and there was the first barn dance that WJR broadcast in the 50s. They had one in the mid-40s during the war, but that only lasted a couple of years because Goodwill, Goodwill-Billes had a barn dance in the forties, but in ‘52, WJR began broadcasting the Big Barn Frolic barn dance. So it was about half an hour. It eventually expanded to an hour, but it was broadcast from the Dairy Workers Union Hall on 2nd Avenue in Highland Park. And last, I knew that building is still intact, so that, I haven’t been by there in a few years for
Gholz: Second and
Maki: Oh gosh, it’s on the map.
Gholz: It’s on the map.
Maki: It’s on the Google map.
Gholz: Check out the Car City Country map on Google. What about rockabilly? This is something that always fascinated me because it wasn’t really my scene, in the 90s, but that the sort of for lack of a better term, Goober and the Peas for instance, right? Like when I sort of discovered them for some reason, they kind of broke a little bit when I was in high school and I don’t even know why particularly it was just there and it was gone from my point of view. I was super, I was a grunge kid, you know, heavier was what I wanted, you know. But for some reason it was there all of a sudden. And there was, I knew there was a scene, I had a sense that there were people out there trying to do this in Detroit. Can you just tell me a little bit about, write, that helped me with that narrative. How did that happen? That nineties sort of, what would you call that? That was a rockabilly moment, right? That’s what you were part of as well, correct?
Maki: Yeah. They’re in the early 90s. Well in Detroit, there were a few bands. I think Goober and the Peas were more country than rockabilly cause
Gholz: Feel free to school me, man.
Maki: Cause people define the, you know, the rockabilly thing as associated that with rock and roll, strictly rock and roll. And these guys were kind of rocking but more in a 90s kind of way. But they were taking traditional country and updating it with modern rock. That’s my opinion. That’s not to be taken with a grain of salt. Anyway the rockabilly scene in America at that time, I just happened to be doing radio at the time, but a whole bunch of bands on the West Coast and down in Texas and down in Tennessee started playing, started working really hard at trying to play the music like it was done originally in the 50s and do it right, record it right. There was a trio down in Austin called High Noon that didn’t use drums. They played it like Elvis Presley did it when he first started out.
Gholz: Right, right, right.
Maki: And big Sandy who’s still going strong, he got his group together around 1991 and cut a great album. And then, Dick Dickerson and Dave Stuckey got together with Dave and Deke Combo, which is fabulous group, all these bands were touring and, and drumming up, connections with Europe, which happened to be going through a similar, generation.
Gholz: And where do you fit and where does your musicianship fit with all of that or what you were, what you’ve been doing?
So I’d hang out there and when he found out that I could pick a little and sing a little, he got me going, you know, and I would sit in with him and his group and stuff. And that kind of boosted my confidence and, helped me develop into a musician who could get together with other guys and play almost anything with them.
Maki: Well, I guess you could say I kind of followed in those guys’ footsteps, trying to do similar stuff. But at the same time when I met Eddie Jackson, he was just a really friendly guy and he had, parties at his house and he would have a Thursday night pool party, a guy, his friends would come over and they’d play pool, shoot pool and, and drink beers. And I was always invited, you know, door was always open. So I’d hang out there and when he found out that I could, pick a little and sing a little, he got me going, you know, and I would sit in with him and his group and stuff. And that kind of boosted my confidence and, helped me develop into a musician who could,
get together with other guys and, and play almost anything with them.
Gholz: Is that the strength of country music to you? That like the blues and like maybe earlier jazz, that it’s a tradition, that it is something where people can sit in, as opposed to maybe some other kinds of music where it’s just esoteric. There’s no, there’s no classics. There’s nothing to like, there’s nothing where we can all sit together. Is that something compelling to you about?
Maki: Well, I think a lot of music that people use their hands to play. You know, they, especially in America, if you could play, you could sit in. I think that, if you look at country musicians and blues musicians and jazz musicians, if they see somebody in the audience they know who can play, they’ll bring them up and ask them to sit in. And I think that’s a great thing about American music.
It’s just amazing that an independent record label developed in Detroit right after the Depression and made all this music.
Gholz: If there was going to be a Detroit Country Day, one day, what day would it be during the year and what song would everybody have to jam to?
Maki: [laughs] That’s a good question, I would, oh boy, I’m not sure what day it would be.
Gholz: Somebody’s birthday?
Maki: Yeah. I don’t know. Cause the song that I would want everybody to sing would be “Hamtramck Mama.”
Gholz: Okay. That would be the song.
Maki: Yeah. Cause that’s the one that really blew everything. You know, blew everything up. I mean it there were records, there might’ve been records before then, but as far as I know there weren’t any because it was so popular that other artists were able to cut records in their footsteps and in the York Brothers footsteps. And then the York Brothers themselves went on to cut like 15 more records before they went and joined the Navy in ‘44. And it’s just amazing that an independent record label developed in Detroit right after the Depression and made all this music. So I think York Brothers laid the foundation, you know.
Gholz: So the release date, whenever “Hamtramck Mama” was released, we all get together. We jam.
It’d have to be maybe
at the empty lot,
maybe in the fall or, yeah.
At Mac or something like that. Well, yeah, we’re at
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all get together,
you know, that’s not a bad idea.
Let’s put this together.
Get a circle of musicians.
Yeah, just do it. I like it.
Gholz: Maki, I’d be any, Finnish folk songs you can play?
Maki: No. I am fourth generation, so I don’t know a whole lot.
Gholz: I’m second and Monkin is the name. So I thought maybe you could teach me some. What, come to a number of meetings and we’ve had, you know, a number of conversations now for a year or so or what have you. And you’ve been supportive of the Sound Conservancy. What’s but we’re still a young group so we don’t, we don’t have that many responsibilities yet, but we’re coming into our responsibilities. So what advice do you have for us? What do you think we should be doing in 2015? What kinds of things would you like to see in terms of music preservation or Detroit music preservation? What are the kinds of things you’d just like to see happen?
Maki: I just, a thought just popped into my head, why not an online radio station and have people, tap people to spin some records or play some interviews and discuss them or something like that. You could also, come up with a quarterly magazine or something like that a journal.
Gholz: We got to get a quarterly newsletter out to the advisors is what we got to do. But we’re a little slow on the uptake for that one, but I’m hoping to have one early in the new year, for that. But is there anything in terms of current country music? The one group I know is Doop and the Inside Outlaws. They’re pretty big is my sense in terms of that sort of scene and they’re more like sort of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, that kind of sound is how I think of them. In my not so, country savvy way. Is there anybody, other kinds of, you know, locally, if I want to hear sort of contemporary country music, I mean the old stuff would be great too, but you know, where would I, where do I go on a Friday night these days in the Metro area?
Maki: I’m not sure cause I don’t get out that much myself. But, every like once a month, the New Way Bar has a Saturday night, that’s strictly honky-tonk music.
Gholz: Where’s the New Way Bar?
Maki: That’s up in from Ferndale on Woodward Avenue. That’s North of Nine Mile.
Maki: And then every Saturday night during the winter time the Flat Rocky Hills club has a bluegrass show. And every Friday night, during the wintertime, the Kentuckians of Michigan host a bluegrass show and potluck dinner at Liberty Park in Romulus. And then there is another group that who
Gholz: in the park in the winter,
Maki: yeah, they have a hall,
Gholz: they have a hall,
Maki: and they also have every August they have a picnic, three-day picnic. And people come and just camp out and play bluegrass and share food. And it’s a really fun time.
Gholz: Is this a good, I’m going to ask a real, scene kind of question. The Kentuckians of Michigan. I’m a northerner kid. I grew up in Northern, kids. Northerners are northerners and northerners. I got nothing, no knowledge of Kentucky. So how’s that scene? Is it something where I could just drop in as long as you, were cool. Is it a cool scene like that?
Maki: Yeah, yeah.
Maki: It’s a great group of people. The Kentuckians of Michigan have been an organization for probably more than 40 years. I know it’s definitely been more than 40 years, maybe even 50. And they’re all just very welcoming people, just real down to earth type folk. And when I was growing up my grandparents spoke Finnish because their parents came from Finland and we would visit the Finnish Kenta halls and Finn Fests and Finnish camp up at Loon Lake. And, it’s the Kentuckians of Michigan sort of remind me of that same kind of experience. You know, these people came from another region, another place and made a life up here in Michigan, and in order to keep up their social ties with people who share similar experiences, they created this group, and, have been running it ever since. And it sort of reminds me of the same kind of thing that the Finns did up here too.
Gholz: I should say third generation. But my grandmother grew up in the Finn Hall, and they put on plays and all that kind of stuff and yeah.
Maki: Mine too.
Gholz: Yeah. But they were all, it was all anarchist Wobblies, old IWW the left wing of the iron mining, out of Minnesota.
Gholz: Yeah. But well, Craig, I really appreciate you, coming down and talking with us and we’ll do that GoPro country tour this year.
Maki: All right, sounds good. Thank you.