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Brett Callwood

Music writer Brett Callwood hopped the briny deep to follow rockers like the Dirt Bombs and Insane Clown Posse (who got big play in his native England) to Detroit in 2008. This week Brett, author of MC5: Sonically Speaking, the first full biography of the harbingers of punk rock, plumbs the local music scene and its old school influences.

Post 2: Heralding the MC5

Most music writers get to a point where they want to write a book. Contributing to publications is great, but a book is a very different beast. It's a huge, time consuming undertaking, but also a uniquely satisfying one.

And so it was that, in 2006, I decided that the time was right for me. I was freelancing full time by now, and I really want to add some meat to my resume. What better title for a writer than "author"?

Writing a book about the MC5 was a no-brainer. There wasn't a full biography of the band available before mine, I believed that there would be interest in such a book, and I believed that I could do the band justice simply because I was and am so passionate about them. As long as I was able to get interviews with at least the three surviving members and John Sinclair, as would prove to be the case, I didn't see any reason why the fact that I'm English and I was born in 1975 should stop me from writing about a Detroit band from the '60s. I was going straight to the horse's mouth, after all.

The English publishing house Independent Music Press, a very cozy and admirable company, agreed to put my MC5 book out in Britain. Better, with the advance I could afford research trips to both Detroit and also Los Angeles (at that time, both Wayne Kramer and Michael Davis of the 5 were based in LA).

Thus, I was able to return to Detroit, this time for a week. After making many friends during my first brief visit, I was offered a sofa to crash on by Phil Dürr, former guitarist of Big Chief and now in Luder – check both of those bands out.

Obviously, I was able to do all of the research necessary during that week. I interviewed Dennis Thompson, the drummer in the MC5, plus Russ Gibb (manager of the Grande Ballroom), Gary Grimshaw (Grande poster artist) and Jackson Smith (son of Fred and Patti). I also attended an excellent concert at the Royal Oak Music Theater, celebrating the 40th anniversary of rock 'n' roll at the Grande Ballroom. Third Power, a local band from back in the day, opened the show and stole it away from the likes of Big Brother & the Holding Company (obviously minus Janis) and Canned Heat.

However, despite my MC5 leanings that trip didn't turn out to be solely about the old. I started to really realize just how eclectic and damned impressive the current Detroit scene is by going to shows at Memphis Smoke, the New Dodge and more – bands like the Terrible Twos, SSM, and Whitey Morgan & the 78s.

Further investigation was warranted.


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