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20 Grand: Still Plenty Grand

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One of the hardiest survivors of the economie depression which has settled on [ the city of Detroit has been the motor town's live music business- an industry which I includes as a principal ingrediënt one of the most 'active and diverse club scènes to be I found anywhere in the country. There areno fewer than ten top-flight music spots I thriving (to one degree or another) in the city, places like Watt's Club Mozambique I and Henry's on Fenkell ("The Strip") and ot-her west side spots like Lowman's WestI side Club, Baker's Keyboard Lounge, and King's Row; Highland Park's Pretzel Bowl; - . I and the east side blues havens Ethel's Lounge, Ben's Hi Chapparal, and Phelp's Lounge. What it means is that people who frequent these places generally get a choice of I seeing one of six to ten different, extremely talented performers on any weekend I night. A large majority of the artists are national recording acts, most are black, all I play either popular r&b,jazz, blues, or some combination therébf- and many have I deep roots and large followings in the área. So the town jumps on the weekends, if I you're around any of these hot music spots. Presently one of the hottest spots in town is the 20 Grand, a Motor City institution which has been operating on the near west side at Warren and 14th for all of 24 years I now. Aside from its incredible history.what further distinguishes. the 20 Grand is a I newly rejuvenated booking policy which lias major talent visiting the club each and I every weekend. January's schedule has, back-to-back, Ron Banks and The Dramatics. . I Chuck Jackson, The Dells, and Johnny Taylor, and more of I that caliber is being confirmed for February. "We're trying to bring new, younger people into the club," ■ says Eli Fountain (pronounced "Fontaine"), who has been talent coördinator at the 20 Grand for the past 10 years. "We want to do something dynamic here again, something a H little more interesting than just bringing in the 'sure-shots' every once in awhile." The "sure-shots" to which Fountain refers are the established [fl artists who have a proven audience in the area. The sporadic appearance of "sure-shots" at some clubs comprises their entire booking policy, reflecting the main failing of the current scène: a general inconsistency and shakiness of scheduling. Many clubs don't know very much in advance who is coming- sometimes no en■I tertainment shows up at all, and places that were smoking last weekend are literally closed this weekend. The 20 Grand, however, seems to have got the problem somewhat under hand at the present, and the Motor City music scène will no doubt benefit from the steady influx of heavy talent. The man mostly responsible for the surge of j activity is Eli Fountain, somewhat of an institution himself in Detroit, B; and his plans for the 20 Grand speak eloquently of his j tion to establish its pre-eminent position on the club scène. Fountain's musical experience goes back to when he studied music while attending grade school on ' the east side of the city. Among his boyhood chunis were Don Davis (who currently heïds-Detroit's Groovesville Productions) and Marvin Gaye. yB A stint in the Marine Corps ended up putting Eli out on the west coast, where he briefly applied his talents on the saxophone inside the California music scène. On returning home he joined old friend Marvin Gayé, with tire then-new Motown record label, as part of the Marvin Gaye Review. Eli's relationship with Motown-although he is rro longeva regular employee of the company-lasts to this day. Producers for the Big M are known to fly Eli in to their new headquarters in Los Angeles when an extra-special hom solo is needed. Eli was the saxophone player at the other end of the spectrum front the funky, screaming tenor of Junior Walker-Fountain's alto hom set sfandards öf beauty in the pop r&b field. He played virtually evefy "pretty" solo needed on Motown hits of the sixties, and gained particular acclaim for his work on The Original's "Baby l'm For Real" record, produced by Marvin Gaye and Gaye's landmark "'What's'Goirr' On" album. Eli's primary interests nowadays are the 20 Grand and Groovesville Productions, which is a recordingpublishingproduction company associated with Johnny Taylor, The Dramatics, and The Dells, among others. He bring considerable "karma" to the 20 Grand, where he started as a musician almost 20 years ago, and he's been organizine hacknn hands and bringine in talent for the last decade.' The 20 Grand has actually been open for business since 1952. I During that time the club has been a bastion of the local industry, being known in the sixties as the high point of success and class for black artists performing in the área. Regular headliners at the 20 Grand included The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Martha and The Vandellas, Marvin Gaye -actually almost all of the talent working for Motown Records- as well as many of the headliners from the once-glorious StaxVolt operation down south. All of the best came to the 20 Grand, and they came regularly. During the last few years the club 's booking became more sporadic, not really sustaining the top-flight nightclub ment that had been established earlier. A smattering of major talent did come through, nonetheless, I as recent performances by songstress Millie Jackson and The Four I Tops are examples. The rebirth of solid action that's I happening now at the 20 Grand is the result of a conscious effort on the part of Fountain and owners Marty Ansner and Bill Kubush to rekindle the spirit of constant high-Ievel artistry that used to be the norm there. To keep things warm and glowing through I ry and March, negotiations are in progress with the likes of Tavares ("lt Only Takes a Minute Girl"), Motown's Dynamic Superiors, and I the impeccable Blue Magie group. "We want to open this place up I again," Fountain explains, "even unify things, as much as possible, as far as race is concerned. We've continued on page II f'- HO i.v I jGRANP,;'., W 'r RON IANKS AND THE ■ j DRAMATICS continua! from page 9 got something happening and we want people to knuw tliat tliey're welconie to sliare it." Most knowledgable observéis would agree: anytliing tliat brings more people,"' and more activily. to the Motor Gty's unique music scène is indeed a goed thing. And. as ol' nght now, the 20 (irand is one ot' the best things happening.