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Heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition

Ypsilanti Man Recalls Glory Days of the Grande Ballroom with Historic Recordings

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Image credit: Jerome Vaughn

Allen Licari recorded several up-and-coming artists when he was just 15.

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An Ypsilanti man has collected a set of rare recordings from Detroit’s Grande Ballroom and is working to get them released to the public. 

Allen Licari was just a teenager when he recorded several young musicians at the historic venue in Detroit. His collection includes Detroit artists such as the MC5, the Amboy Dukes with Ted Nugent and the James Gang with Joe Walsh. Licari says he started recording bands in the 1960s, because he had some big dreams.

Allen Licari: When I was 15, I wanted to be a record producer like the Beatles. On the internet, you’ll find the Rock Soup video, where there’s a bit of an interview with me. Washtenaw County Community College produced it with me, because we were trying to release the stuff

But I wanted to produce stuff like the Beatles. So, I started going around Detroit looking for bands.  I found two bands that I really liked.  One was The Third Power – they didn’t have any gigs, but they sounded really good – and the other was the MC5.  I met them at The Crows’ Nest in St. Clair Shores and I walked up to them and I said, “You guys sound really good.  Can I record you?” They said yes.  So I recorded them for maybe two and a half years. 

I have five of their separate performances.  I have the first time they did Kick Out the Jams before they had that experience with Janis Joplin’s band where they wanted them to get off the stage.  Kick out the jams or get off the stage.  But I have the first time they played it and Rob says, “We have a brand new tune we’d like to play for you called Kick Out the Jams,” and then he counted it down.  So I have some of their coolest music.  I have Ice Pick Slim, which John Sinclair played on.  He might have written it, but it’s just amazing.  These guys were so far ahead of their time. It excites me to be able to try to get this music out to the public.     

Jerome Vaughn: What was it like in the Grande when these performances were going on?  Describe the atmosphere.  What would you see?  What was going on in those days?

Licari:  It was a party.  Everyone was comfortable.  There was no violence.  It was just like a big party and the music was so good.  On the website, I have pictures of the Grande where we shot it in 2011. It’s all dilapidated, but it’s a huge dance floor.

And the way the stage was positioned, with the kinds of amps and stuff, it was just one of the best musical experiences that I’ve been to.  The Roundhouse in London was pretty cool like that acoustic-wise. 

So people would just love the music and they’d hang out with each other.  There was a lot of incense.  That’s when there was a lot of oil light shows, because there was no digital anything.  It was all about the music.

It was a much safer time.  There were no conflicts.  Nobody got beat up.  There weren’t any knives or guns.  But everybody was comfortable.  It was so cool to be able to go there every week and just hear a band that you couldn’t believe how good they were. 

Vaughn:  For people who are younger and never got to the Grande, or may never have heard of the Grande, give me a sense of what they’re missing.  What is the city missing now, the region missing now that the Grande is gone?

Licari:  Oh wow.  There were music clubs everywhere.  You could go out and have a great time with your friends and hear some music. Alcohol really wasn’t involved.  We were all kids back then.  The limit was 16 to get in.  I was 15, so John had to take me in or I managed bands, so a lot of the times The Third Power was playing and that’s who I managed.  And Drew went on to become the Silver Bullet guitar player – Drew Abbott.  So I’d do the set up, because I’d book them, The Third Power.  Then the MC5 would come up.  I’d take the mikes.  I’d re-mike the stage, pull from the PA – and so I was there. 

I got lost thinking about it.  It was so much fun.  It was the best learning how to be an audio engineer experience I could ever have gotten, because I got to mix live.  Mixing Ted was challenging.  But, I’m not sure what you asked me here. 

It’s fun to think about those times. It’s almost like a chunk of society is missing, because you could go there and be with people of all nationalities and colors and they were mostly young people at the time that were into rock-and-roll and you felt safe.  It was a party.  I mean, people just loved the music.

Listen to some of Licari’s recordings here.

Click on the player above to hear Allen Licari discuss his recordings at the Grande Ballroom.

Jerome Vaughn, News Director

Jerome Vaughn is News Director at 101.9 WDET. He joined WDET in 1992 to help chronicle Detroit’s comeback and let people around the world know the truth about his hometown.

jvaughn@wdet.org Follow @jvdet

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