Detroit Leanin': Who Is The Best Motor City Artist Ever?

Categories: All In

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Some places breed music. Due to sheer size, any big city will produce its fair share of talented musicians, and some - Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago - seem to have music in the water supply. But none, arguably, more than Detroit: John Lee Hooker, the Motown diaspora, Aretha Franklin, the MC5, Rare Earth, The Meatmen, The Dirtbombs, the late J Dilla, Detroit Cobras and so forth.

To give you an idea of how much music the Motor City has given us, Rocks Off Sr. originally asked our writers to name their single favorite Detroit artist or group before Bob Seger's show at Toyota Center last month. Here it is barely two weeks later and another one of Detroit's most decorated, Smokey Robinson, is in town at the Arena Theater tomorrow.

Besides The Sound of Young America and the foundations of U.S. proto-punk and hard rock, Detroit is the city that gave us the architects of modern techno, Carl Craig and Juan Atkins, and the rapper who once said "nobody listens to techno." Our personal pick is a group that ties together rock, soul and R&B in a neat little bow - these guys.

But in our writers' eyes, do any of the above surpass the peppermint buzzsaw that is Jack White?

Neph Basedow: While Detroit's surrounding areas boast some impressive roots - Question Mark & the Mysterians were from Bay City and Del Shannon was from Ann Arbor, as were The Stooges... not to mention Madonna - my quick and easy answer for Detroit's best musical spawn is the White Stripes.

It's no secret Jack White is one of my favorite all-time musicians and pretty rock-and-roll faces. And I'm no Detroit buff, but I suspect his tight red pants and white face makeup deemed him a pretty radical trendsetter in mid-'90s Motor City.

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Craig Hlavaty: There was a time when I had a CD case with only Detroit bands inside it, when we all carried those black, zippered cases and hid them under our seats in the car like precious jewels. It was when I worked at Dominos Pizza (which is headquartered in Ann Arbor, like the early Stooges), and was inside the store for long hours doing corporate paperwork and mindless manager crap that if I think long and hard enough about will still make me sweaty.

Anyhow, in 2003, this case featured three Stooges albums - their self-titled debut, Fun House and Raw Power - two MC5 discs, some Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, Iggy's Kill City, the Bob Seger System, and my favorite White Stripes album at the time, Elephant. There was also a few assorted homemade garage comps I made after listening to "Little Steven's Underground Garage" on the Arrow armed with a paper and pen.

I was indoctrinated into Detroit music by my older friend Jason, who actually is a rocket scientist at NASA. So it did take a rocket scientist to change my musical path, showing me an expertly crafted record collection. Who knows where I would be now? I most certainly wouldn't be writing this blog, and I probably wouldn't be writing about music at all.

The first Detroit band in my head is the Stooges, pure and simple. I can't think of many bands, except for the Stones or Turbonegro, who make me feel the same high at maximum volumes. I wanna scream like I'm back in the Marines when "I Wanna Be Your Dog" comes on. My "war face" wants to come out.

I wait for the day that medical science can create a woman that is as sexy and destroying as "Down On the Street." If you don't feel "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell" in your nuts and ovaries, then you don't know me or speak my language. We merely communicate through a greater cultural interpreter.

One of my treasures in my life is a recording I have of an interview I did with Henry Rollins a little over a year ago. We talked about his speaking tour, politics, the world at large, his love of noise music, and lastly, the Stooges.

We must have spent 15 minutes just gushing like Bieberized teen girls about the Stooges. "You have More Power?? You have to have More Power!! No dude, you need the Fun House box set with twelve takes of "Loose" on it!"

I can write glowing raps about shitty pop-stars, and I can wax poetic about a new indie-band that you think I am supposed to like, or I can try to gussy up a local band that could care less who I am, but when it comes to the Stooges I will bleed on my computer for them.

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Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and the Amboy Dukes certainly blew the doors off all those Fords and GM products back in the day and certainly deserve mention along with Rodriquez.

Thursday Girl
Thursday Girl

Nice to see some musical love for my hometown! Growing up there in the very early '70s, Motown's influence was still huge, and Stevie Wonder was pushing the boundaries of R&B. But by the time I left in 1980, things had changed pretty dramatically, both in the music and the city - everything was darker. So far, I'd say Stevie Wonder and Iggy Pop are the most important artists out of Detroit - but that's only because Jack White is still in his early thirties. If he keeps going the way he has, he'll be the monster that destroys us all with a single riff. Also, thank you for keeping Ted Nugent out of this. Detroit wants no part of that imbecile. 

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Doh! How could I forget the Quatro sisters? There is a great comp of Detroit garage bands called Friday at the Hideout. Awesome.


um where is Kid Rock on this list, Kid Rock is Detroit Kid Rock is Rock Kid Rock is Country Kid Rock is Rap Kid Rock waves the confederate flag proudly Kid Rock is America One Nation under Kid Rock


Have to give it up for Del Shannon. Shannon’s haunting falsetto paired with keyboardist Max Crook’s pre-synthesizer Musitron made Shannon’s sound unmistakable. When Shannon first recorded “Runaway” in 1961, it was decided that his singing was flat. On my Rockaeology blog at is the story of how Shannon re-recorded the song at New York’s Bell Sound Studios, where the owner had developed a machine the size of a desk that would enable tapes to be sped up and slowed down. Shannon's vocal was sped up to nearly one-and-a-half times its original speed to bring him into key. Shannon was angry upon hearing the result but the song became an immediate hit.

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