Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Grande Ballroom - Detroit's Sixties Rock Mecca

In the late Sixties, the place in Detroit to hear the best high energy, heavy metal rock music was the stage of the Grande Ballroom on 8952 Grand River Boulevard.

People of my Boomer generation can only imagine what the ballroom looked like in its heyday of the Thirties and Forties. But in the Sixties, it was all but a run down tenement--the perfect venue for the post apocalyptic brand of music Detroit's angst ridden white males were churning out in those days.

Soon, the word went out to the international rock and roll community that the Grande was the place to play if you wanted to connect with a live audience. Savoy Brown's classic album A Step Further may be the foremost example of that.

Local Detroit blues dynamo Dick Wagner and his band Frost rocked the house for their debut album Rock and Roll Music. Both of these albums preserve the musical madness and delirium that audiences experienced here. The Grande Ballroom was a Detroit icon that became legendary.

The tune Kick Out the Jams by the MC5 (Motor City 5) became the rock anthem for the place. Famous world class rock and roll musicians from London and California showed up and sat in with established and local groups for many one of a kind musical experiences. Some of the performances were filmed in Super 8 and never seen publicly before.

The following link is a trailer for a film documentary on the Grande Ballroom's fabled Rock and Roll era--fifty years in the making.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Michael Kay - Sitting on a Dock by the Bay?

For some unknown reason, my thoughts have turned to a friend of mind I haven't seen or heard from in forty years - Mike Kay. We went to junior high school in Dearborn Heights together; then my family moved to Allen Park, so we went to different high schools, but we still remained friends. It was the Vietnam era, and he joined the Navy, while I went to Eastern Michigan University.

He and I were watching some 8mm home movies, which my parents took of sharecroppers in Arkansas in 1963. Mike was inspired to paint what he saw in his mind's eye - an oil painting of two weary black women trying to cool down after a long, exhausting day in the fields. Sitting on a dock, they dangle their tired feet in the water and contemplate eternity. Mike's vision was, no doubt, also inspired by Otis Redding's iconic song. I call the painting - Dock Ladies.

My mother purchased this evocative painting from Mike for fifty dollars in 1965, and she passed it on to me before she died. I have proudly displayed it in my home for many years, but when I remarried, my wife wanted to put her art on the walls. The two weary black ladies have had their faces turned to the wall of my closet for the last five years. Many people have wanted to buy this painting from me over the years, but it is not for sale.

When Mike originally painted this scene, he placed a watermelon between the ladies, that they appeared to be too tired to finish. When he realized that this could be construed as politically incorrect (a term which had not been coined yet), he painted a small wild flower in its place. Even the daisy looks wilted, but it adds a sensitive touch of beauty to the otherwise oppressive tone.

Mike fell off my radar one day many years ago. He moved to Traverse City, Michigan, and was involved in community theater there as a set designer and artist. When several of my letters to him were returned with no forwarding address, I lost touch with him. My efforts to locate him over the years haven't been successful.

If you are out there, Mike, contact me with some information, so I can get your painting back to you. It deserves to see the light of day. By the way, how the hell are you?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Dutch Psychic--Peter Hurkos

I was just settling into an interview with someone who knew John Norman Collins. It was a late lunch meeting at Haab's--downtown Ypsilanti's oldest and finest restaurant. I overheard two women, sitting in a booth adjacent to us, talking in hushed tones about John Collins and those times. What a coincidence!

After the lunch crowd, the restaurant was almost empty, so I interjected myself into their conversation. "Ladies! I'm in town this week doing research and interviewing people for a book I'm writing about John Norman Collins."

Both ladies said in unison, "Really?" One of the women had worked for the county police as a dispatcher at that time, and the other claimed to be a psychic.

"How amazing is this?" I said. "I just learned something new about Peter Hurkos--the Danish psychic who was summoned onto the unsolved murdercases by an Ann Arbor citizens' group."

"He helped solve the Boston Strangler case, didn't he," the lady psychic added.

Peter Hurkos being fingerprinted.
"Not really," I said. "He played a controversial role in that case. Boston police arrested him for impersonating an officer when he aggressively interrogated an emotionally disturbed man. He was told to leave town or face a judge.

Back in Los Angeles, he parlayed his experience into a nightclub act. Hurkos entered the coed killing media circus in an attempt to punch up his waning career."

Hurkos was hired for one day as a consultant for the disturbing Tony Curtis movie The Boston Strangler--a film John Collins was obsessed with. Years later, Hurkos was hired to appear in a cameo role in the movie version of the Collins' killings entitled Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep--which began filming in 1969 but was never released.

I explained to the ladies, "Mr. Archie Allen--head of an Ann Arbor citizens' group--offered Peter Hurkos $1,100 for expenses to come down from LA to look into this case. Hurkos asked for $2,500 plus expenses and was insulted when the group could not raise more money. He reluctantly agreed to come anyway because of all the potential free publicity generated from this case--especially if he got lucky and helped solve it."

"The man had powers," the lady psychic insisted. "He was a painter who fell off a ladder and banged his head, or something like that. I don't remember exactly. From then on, he could sense people and events from handling their things. He had the gift."

"Yes, I know. That was his claim to fame."

The former police dispatcher added, "Yes, that's right. I remember Lieutenant William Mulholland--an investigator on the case--saying, "He (Hurkos) is making a believer out of me."

John Sinclair
Well," I continued, "do you know who the citizens' group was?" I gave the psychic another chance to divine the answer. She could not.

"Remember, John Sinclair? He was always in trouble with the Washtenaw County sheriff."

"Yes, we do!"

"Sinclair and a bunch of his followers were tired of the police harassment they were getting, so they offered to help. They wanted to show they were responsible, caring members of the Ann Arbor community. One of their members said she thought there might be something cosmic or supernatural going on with this case, so why not try to get a psychic involved?"

"That's interesting," the women agreed

"My theory is they wanted to throw a wildcard into the mix and make the police look stupid. Soon afterwards, the Washtenaw County police were called the Keystone Kops by the Detroit Free Press."

Sheriff Douglas Harvey
"I remember how upset Sheriff Harvey was with that reporter," the former dispatcher said.

"Harvey did take it personally," I agreed. "I also discovered John Collins came into close contact with Hurkos just before Hurkos left town for LA. Peter Hurkos did not have the slightest clue. I got that information from someone who was there with Collins."