Kim Silarski: #RecordDet Interview

Carleton Gholz: Welcome to Record Detroit Record DET with the Detroit Sound Conservancy. We are at the Urban Bean Coffee House at the corner of Griswold and Grand River. Tonight is December the 15th, 2014 where this is the second to last record before a little holiday party. And then we’ll go into adjourn for the holidays and be back in the new year. My name is Carleton Gholz, the Executive Director of the Detroit Sound Conservancy and I’m here with Kim Silarski, I am saying that right?

Kim Silarski: Yes you are.  

Gholz: I am. And Kim we’ll get right to it. Briefly describe who you are and what is your relationship to Detroit music?  

Silarski: I was actually raised by Detroit music. My dad was an independent professional musician in Detroit in the days of the supper clubs and the busy downtown hotels actually raised four kids, no health insurance on a musician salary. So the relationship started kind of early. I spent some time in my career working at WDET at the days, during the days when there was real music, seven days a week, including live music in drive time. Which now seems like the golden age, right. Had some experiences there. Now I’m at the Arab American Museum and I am proud to say that I work on Concert of Colors, which is approaching, I think this year will be 23. It’ll be 25 years pretty soon. So it’s been a blast.  

Gholz:  What was the first Detroit record you remember hearing? What was it? How’d you hear it and what’d you think?  

 I think I probably heard a ton of Detroit music on a transistor radio owned by my older siblings, but I didn’t know what it was cause I was four or five years younger. My first experience that I can recall that I have physical evidence of was seeing Carolyn Striho at Tracks sometime in the early 1980s. And I thought she was amazing. She was about a year or two younger than me and I wanted to be her. 

Silarski: I bought her 45, Danger Boy, I still have it. And I got to write her a 30 years late fan letter a couple of years ago when, she was, she was bucking to get on to the Don Was Review and she did do that eventually. But first it took this love letter from me to tell her how I always wanted to be Carolyn Striho cause I thought she was so talented and so beautiful and so amazing and she was and is.

Gholz:  That’s great. What was the let’s go to the next one here. What was the first or best, there’s a couple ways you can answer this question, you know, but what was the first or best Detroit live music performance you remember hearing? I mean you, you’ve been lucky to be part of the Concert of Colors, so, but  don’t do that one. So try to pick something else here. Live music performance. You remember hearing, who was it, where was it? Who’d you go with? 

Silarski: I think I’ve been very, very blessed to be married to a DJ who gets to go to a lot of concerts and a lot of meet and greets in some backstages. And so I’ve had that advantage and opportunity, but a show that really made an impact on me was just a few years ago and it was Jack White at Masonic, right. I don’t know if he’d already paid off the taxes or not. The album before Lazaretto, the name escapes me now. And that concert was amazing because I had never seen the Whites, The White Stripes, I wasn’t really into them. Jack is related to my husband. It just wasn’t my thing at my time. My head was somewhere else. So my first time seeing Jack performed live was at Masonic. And I know Jack’s mother, Aunt Teresa. I know her as Aunt Teresa, she’s Jacquelyn’s mother, right.  So we’re sitting in our seats and a couple of rows ahead of us. It’s a tiny little senior citizen woman, like bouncing up and down and singing all the lyrics. That was Aunt Teresa. She was at the Jack White concert and knew all the songs and it turns out she’s very musically conversant and those two are very tight. But that show amazed me because I had not yet listened to Blunderbuss. This is the CD I had not yet listened to. Blunderbuss and I hope this still qualifies as Detroit music even though he’s relocated. But, so my first time hearing it was live and it was amazing. And he was touring with two bands.

 One was an all girl band, one was an all boy band and we had the all girl band and they kicked ass. 

It was, I love the art direction, there was like the whole light blue color theme the all girl band. And it was just probably the most amazing musical experience I’ll ever have. In terms of something that I feel is really, you know, has the essence of the city and our town and was forged here even though it’s no longer based here. 

Gholz: Yeah. And of course when he did help them out, you know, I think Jack still counts. I’d say Jack definitely counts, so.  Motown is known the world over. Most people answer that question as a Motown, but the record, you know, the first record, most people say Motown…


Silarski: See, I heard all those things, but I was too little. 

I remember I was the person who would listen behind the closed bedroom door when my brother had record player in his room and wouldn’t let me in cause I was the baby sister. So I think a lot of that stuff, I find it with Beatles songs too, when I got a little older I realized I knew all the lyrics to the songs cause I’d heard them all so many times when I was a little kid. So I think the Motown stuff is just, it’s in me, it’s there. I don’t ever remember a time when there wasn’t that music in my life. 

Gholz: So Motown is known the world over. Describe one aspect of Detroit music history that you wished got a little bit more attention.  

Silarski: Oh gosh, that’s a tough one. It really is. I might have to think about that one. Can we go to another tough one? Yeah. I mean there’s just, there’s so much undocumented I mean, I think capturing basic history, even just this date this year, this person, I mean, if you just did the barest skinniest facts, it would take forever. And I’m so glad that you’re on the case Carleton because it will take a huge gargantuan effort. I think that there’s probably some stories to be told from the times when Detroit wasn’t that interesting musically and I’m not sure what those stories are. You know, I think that my dad wasn’t a huge storyteller, but I did hear about all the checks he had no time to cash stuck in his dresser drawer because of all the gigs he had. And it wasn’t a time when people necessarily, when you’re laughing, it wasn’t a time when people necessarily went to like a formal sit down concert, but music was all around the city. Everywhere you went, there was live music and it was local musicians doing it. There’s probably some stories there and there; I don’t know them so you know, someone’s got them. Someone’s got to have them there. But I’m just not sure. What do you think, what would, what would be one of your slices?  

Gholz:  Well, I’ll speak for myself in terms of music that I don’t know enough about and I think of course you don’t know what you don’t know which is that stuff. But there is the, I know, I don’t know enough about, all the different ethnic and global music’s writ large. I mean the stuff that the Concert of Colors does so well I could spend the next couple of years just listening to that material to just to get up on some of those kinds of…  

Silarski: Yeah. And, I mean we don’t capture the whole festival on video. We excerpt it and try to document it. And I got to mention Don Was because he, that is one benefit of not only having him come to town once a year and pull something together for us for free, is that those are all documented on videos and they’re on the internet and they’re available to everybody and they will never, ever, ever go away. So we have, you know, I think most of the people are still alive. I don’t think we’ve lost anybody who’s been on any of the, Don Was Reviews, but each of those performances was captured. 

Gholz: Well, let’s talk about that. So a couple of sort of softball questions specific to you in your work. So can you talk, speak a little bit more about how you got involved in the Arab American Museum, how you got involved, the Concert of Colors and then I would like to ask you some questions about the archiving of the event and how that all goes. So, yeah, it’s just so first of all, how’d you get involved? And…

Don’s one of those people who can make you feel a million bucks

Silarski: Well, years ago when I was on the air WDET, I did morning drive and during fundraisers it was my habit to invite my fellow program hosts to come on and fundraise with me. And by doing that I was causing people who normally went on the air at 10:00 PM to get up and be at the studio at 6:00 AM. So you make a few friends and some enemies that way. But Ishmael Ahmed was one of the people that I had on, he was doing a show called Radio Free Earth with Kim Hunter at the time. And I have to say, I don’t know what I ever did to ingratiate myself to Ishmael. Ishmael Ahmed I think is maybe the first and only Muslim Saint in the world. His parents had an Egyptian music store in Detroit and that’s how he grew up.  So he came and recruited me for the museum not long after it opened and I worked there in communications and Ishmael Ahmed is, you know, on the air has been on the air, many, not continuous years, but many years at WDTR, WDET, playing world music, not necessarily local stuff, but he’s completely, enmeshed in that whole scene. He goes to APAP, he goes to Womack’s, you know,  all of the big festivals. So Ishmael hires me at the museum and access the parent of the museum was already producing Concert of Colors, you know, for a number of years and that’s Ishmael’s baby. And he’s the curator and the guiding spirit of that event. And so just by working on public relations and media relations for the festival and marketing, you know, you get involved. And, one year Don Was, came and played with an African musician whose name escapes me.  It’ll come back in a second. And he and Ishmael struck up a friendship and they consider themselves brothers in almost every possible sense of the word. And so out of that brotherhood, that relationship grew. The Don Was Detroit All Star Review, which I think the first year or two was called the Don Was Super Session when we changed the name. And the rest is history. I mean working with Don, Don’s one of those people who can make you feel like a million bucks. You can be right on that corner, stinky and he will make you feel fabulous about yourself. And, but he does that. He’s like very generous with the spirit that he has. And the musicians who come on the review aren’t getting paid. You know, we’re giving them backline in a house band and stuff, but there he’s losing money doing that event.  We can’t afford to pay him what it even costs to put on the review. But my relationship with Don actually started when he asked me to work with him on a Sirius XM Radio program that he was asked to produce. And he wanted to name it Motor City Hayride because Louisiana Hayride I believe the first program that played an Elvis Presley tune and he wanted to riff on that. And Motor City Hayride was on the Outback, Outlaw Country channel, I’m sorry, on Sirius XM, which was, seems like a little strange place, but he’s produced so many of those folks, the classic country artists that maybe not so weird. Don had no idea that I had any radio experience and he asked me to be his producer. I am the producer of the multiple Grammy award winning producer. Right? Yeah, sure. So we set up a bunch of interviews and with different kinds of people. Nat Morris was an a radio host that was the first guest. Don just, he was just telling me stories. It was like, Oh yeah, Nat Morris, you know, used to do dedications. You’d come down to the appliance store where Nat Morris was doing a special appearance and you know, you could say, you know, call out to your class or your high school or whatever. And he wanted to try to capture that spirit in the hayride, the Motor City Hayride didn’t quite make it that far, but everybody we interviewed, we talked about music of course and about Detroit and it was a one hour music program with interview segments that…


Gholz: Those all have all been backed up?

Silarski: I’m sure he’s got them. I’m sure that XM has them. I don’t have them unfortunately. I’d love to hear them. So we worked on that for a few years and then  his schedule just sucked up all his extra time. And then he got hired by Blue Note and now I know he’s still exists because of the occasional text, but he’s more like an idea except for Concert of Colors time when we start curating actually like January, February. And how did you get here . 

Gholz: And how did you get involved in radio when you did radio? I’ve been involved in college radio, different college radio stations of the years, but always listened to DET as a kid and it has changed so many times over the year. So how did that come together for you?  

Silarski: I was attending Wayne State with the intent of being a print journalist, which I’m so glad that I did not do that because I’d be unemployed right now and begging for freelance and I’ve done that enough anyway. But no, seriously, I adore newspapers and, I would be really sad right now if I was a print journalist, I really would be. I feel for all of my colleagues out there. But, so I had a teacher who was adjunct, John Delmonarchy who was on WWJ in mid days for like eions, this guy, he was a long time on air guy,  DJ and he said to me, you have a great voice. Why don’t you go play at the college radio station, which was carrier cable. You could only listen to it in the libraries at Wayne State. I mean, yeah, so good place to get your rookie errors out of the way. And,  so I did that and I just found that I liked it and I didn’t ever have the depth of knowledge, or the time to develop it to do a music program. But I was already a news hound from a very age. And so that’s kind of the direction I went. I worked at a small station. My first radio gig was in Mount Clemens, 1430 AM WDRB the voice of McComb County, which had like three listeners. And one of them was Gus. Gus was the only guy who would call in when it was a call-in show. So another good place. And my news director there was Chuck Wilbur. And within a pretty short time of my arriving there, he went to DET and he brought me with him. And then I just stayed there for a really long time.

Gholz: What Euro, what time periods, what would be the time ?

Silarski: I started 1986 doing the local hosting of All Things Considered and then flipped over to morning edition after Chuck Wilbur did it for a year and didn’t want to do mornings anymore, but

 It was more fun on evenings cause I got to do shift change with Ed Love. And Ed had a day job, he was a mailman and Ed also had a personal life and so Ed wouldn’t always be in studio before 7:00 PM when his show started. So I had a couple of records I knew I could always pull for Ed and he liked to tease me after I no longer work there.

 He’d see me and he would say so, Silarski, Silarski and Company. Silarski  and Company in the morning. And I wish I had that on tape because I want to put it on my ringer or something, maybe I’ll still grab it. But it was fun, more fun at night. Cause in the morning it was just me there for four hours by myself. But at night the music coasts were hanging around and I picked up a husband there while I was there. 

Gholz: Right. So let’s see, so last couple of questions here, but, so in terms of, you know, one of the questions we have here is what do you think we lose if we do not preserve Detroit’s musical history? What about Concert of Colors and some of the musical events you’ve done? With Arab American Museum, how important is the archives to what you do and just anything about that.  

Silarski: Yeah. Yeah. At the Arab American Museum, we have a sister series to Concert of Colors called Global Fridays. And we have an excellent engineer, Chris Taylor, who, does all of those shows. And we do record all of those performances, just audio, not video. So we’ve got the museum’s almost 10 years old, so we’ve got 10 years worth of performances. I know that we have a lot of content at the museum that just because of our small size, we’re not able to like process and get it out there, but the intent is that we are collecting this not just for fun. Right. But so that we can share it or stream it or do you know, do something with it. I don’t know that we’re ever, we’re not going to be releasing LPs or anything like that, but that’s all captured.  Concert of Colors aside from the Review and, there’s some video, we have an official videographer and, but we couldn’t possibly tape every single performance because there are simultaneous performance, there’s five or six venues. It would be a really big challenge to do that. We have a great photographer, Doug Coombe, who does document. Doug’s been working on COC for several years now and he does an incredible job. His photos, they just jump out. They’re amazing. He captures all of the, any as much as you possibly can in that medium. I think he captures, even without sound, he captures the essence of the festival. And does it really well. We have all those on Flickr, every single one of them. And so yeah, a festival is kind of an ephemeral thing, it’s not really meant to be, I think it’s meant to be experienced. I dunno if it’s meant to be documented, but I think it’s important that the festival keep on and especially free festivals because we really don’t have very many of those anymore. Right. So yeah. Yeah. 


Gholz:  That’s good.  Advise us, you were, early on in the DSC process, so you advise us very early on. But now that you see you’ve seen us grow up a little bit, what should we be doing and concentrating on in the near future, the next year or two, what would you recommend me focus on? 

Silarski: We are people. We’re losing people. You know, if not every day, there is a whole generation of Detroit musicians who, if we don’t capture an oral history or something, anything that isn’t an existing recording, it will be a sin. It will be an absolute sin. So that’s why, I mean, I know that that’s a core activity, Carleton,  of what you set out to do and what, I was very lucky to be able to just give you the tiniest little brief push. And I wish I could have stayed on, but that, I just think that in and of itself at the Arab American Museum, we’re really focused on oral history too. Not so much because we’re losing people, but when someone passes and we don’t have that oral history, I don’t know that we have one from Casey, Kasem. Casey is from Detroit, Lebanese American. I don’t think we have an oral, I’m pretty sure we don’t have an oral history from him. And that is not right. So the Detroit equivalents, whether they’re people lone… known only locally or nationally or whomever they are, I just think it’s important to hear their stories in their own words. You know, while they’re still healthy enough to tell us those stories. 

Gholz: Give me the first one I’m going to do in January. 

Silarski: I don’t know. What’s the first one you’re going to do?  I don’t know. I don’t know who’s sick or die, you know, I mean, 

Gholz:  I don’t know. Don’t wish them ill. 

Silarski: I don’t, no, no, no, no. I mean, there’s lots of, you know, there’s all the jazz guys, Marcus and Spencer, and, there’s,  Oh gosh, there’s just, there’s too many, some all the best of health and 2015 [laugh]. 

Gholz: Well,  let’s, you and I get together over coffee in the new year and go over the Concert for Colors. You know, them, you know, who’s been on the all star teams and maybe do some triage and  we’ll make some lists.

Silarski:   That sounds great. 

Gholz:  Kim Swarski thank you so much for joining us. 

Silarski: My pleasure. My pleasure. 

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