the civil unrest of July 1967, hundreds of businesses
were looted and burned in Detroit. Despite
being located in a predominantly black neighborhood, one
famous white-owned building remained untouched: the Grande
the morning of July 23, owner and concert promoter Russ
Gibb was on the roof of the ballroom. It was about 2:30
a.m. And it was very hot. “We were up there just doing
whatever you did after a rock show,” Gibb says. “A lot
of kids that worked at the Grade, the hangers-on, they
were on the roof. Hot time, hot city. Hot night in the
Grande occupied the second floor of a two-floor building
at the corner of Grand River and Beverly. It had a small
stage and a small wooden dance floor. Not long after its
opening, it became the gathering place for Detroit’s burgeoning
counter-culture, playing host to some of the biggest names
in folk, rock ’n’ roll, blues, and jazz.
‘Hey, boys, what’s
going on? How come you’re not burning the Grande
And one of the kids looked at him and says, ‘They’ve
got music there, man!’
says a famous singer/songwriter was on stage when the
riot began. “It was after Tim Buckley, who was a good
friend of mine, and his drummer, Carter Collins, who was
black,” Gibb recalls. “They had been staying with me here
in Dearborn at my house, because y’know, in those days,
not all rock ’n’ roll stars moved around in jet planes.
They were just sort of ordinary folk.”
was a hot few days in Detroit, which meant it was hot
inside the Grande. There was no air conditioning, just
a large fan. To escape the heat, Tim, Carter, Russ, and
others escaped to the roof. Later, they heard sirens on
the roof, but ignored them. It was summer in Detroit,
decided it was so hot that we would all drive out in a
convoy to Kensington — go out Grand River and go out to
Kensington Park,” Gibb says. “And so we were out in Kensington
park, sleeping, smoking, drinking, carrying on.” But then
as night turned into morning, and morning turned into
afternoon, the group decided to head back to the Grande.
Singer Tim Buckley and his drummer Carter Collins had
to be back on stage at 6 p.m.
drove down Grand River, unaware of what was happening.
“Now, in those days we didn’t listen to radio — I’m sorry,
but we didn’t,” Gibb says. “We all had cassette players
— 8-track, and that was very hot in our cars, and of course
we were listening to ‘the jams,’ as we called them. For
those uninitiated, that means ‘music.’” The three slowly
make their way back to the Grande, until they come upon
a police barricade.
could see smoke coming out and we said, ‘Oh there must
be a big fire,’” Gibb says. ”We turned on the radio: ‘riot.’
That’s what we heard: ‘riot.’ But our first thought is,
‘Oh my god, that’s down where the Grande is!’ And Tim
says, ‘Oh, my guitar is there,’ and Carter says, “My drums
are there!’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, all the stuff I have
there! My amps and everything.’”
the trio went back to Dearborn and to hatch a plan to
get their stuff, despite the warnings on the radio. “‘Don’t
leave your homes. All citizens stay home!’ It’s like Big
Brother yelling at us,” Gibb says. “We said, ‘to hell
with Big Brother — we’ve got a guitar, we’ve got a set
of drums, and I have my amps!’ All my amps that I’ve paid
for — I’ve gotta go save them!” The three secure a trailer
and get back in the car, when they realize a potential
flaw in their plan.
started out, and we said, ‘Oh my god, Carter is in here,
and he’s a black guy,’” Gibb says. “‘Carter! Get in the
back seat and duck down!’ So he ducks down in the back
seat, and we drive down to about Joy Road and Wyoming
where Detroit turns into. We said, ‘Uh-oh, two white guys
[going into Detroit]!’ So we jumped in the back, and Carter
drove into town.”
they make it to the Grande. The neighborhood is filled
with smoke and damaged buildings. Gunshots are heard in
the background. A neighboring appliance store is being
stripped of its merchandise — what Gibb calls ‘Detroit
shopping.’ But so far, the Grande remains untouched.
were smiling faces and craziness going on,” Gibb says.
“And of course, two white guys looking at all of this,
and all those black faces. We were scared you-know-what
— we couldn’t even urinate, we’re so frightened. And we
get into the Grande to get all of our stuff out. That
was the main aim.” Piece by piece, the three remove their
belongings from the Grande, fully aware of the chaos that
surrounds them. Eventually, they get their trailer loaded.
“Carter, who is a big man and a hell of a drummer, as
we’re coming out of the door, two black youngsters come
running madly down the street,” Gibb says. “And Carter
puts his hands out — he stretches out like he’s going
to capture them, and he does, and they sort of swing back
into him, and he says, ‘Hey, boys, what’s going on? How
come you’re not burning the Grande down?’ And one of the
kids looked at him and says, ‘They’ve got music there,
man!’ and Carter smiles and let them go. But that said
it all. That said it all.”
when so many other businesses burned, did the Grande survive?
Gibbs said the kids they ran into that evening summed
up the reason perfectly: because of the music. The Grande
hosted many musicians — white and black — and they played
to an audience, Gibb says, that didn’t care about skin
color. They only cared about the music. Gibb says music
has the power to bring people together, even today.
“We were downtown at Seldom Blues for dinner not too long
ago, and there was a country and western thing going on
down there, and it was packed with all kind of people,”
Gibb says. “And that was a good sign.” Gibb says music
saved the Grande. And, he says, it will save Detroit.
“It’s the soul of our town,” Gibb says.” Notice I said
‘our town,’ not Dearborn, not Grosse Pointe — ‘our town,’
because ‘our town’ is bigger. It’s called Detroit, and
it’s all of us.”
Grande closed briefly after the riot, but it did reopen.
Led Zeppelin, Chuck Berry, Taj Mahal, Fleetwood Mac —
all of them would later play at the Grade. Tim Buckley
would continue to play music until his death in 1975 at
the age of 28. Carter Collins went on to record for the
‘70s soul band Tower of Power, Laura Nyro, and Leonard
Cohen, among others. Russ Gibb would go on to spend more
than 20 years teaching at Dearborn High School.
the Grande stands abandoned, dilapidated, having closed
in the early ‘70s. But what remains is a powerful lesson:
Despite the riot of 1967, people came back to the Grande
— white and black. They came back for the music, what
Gibb calls “the jams.” And now that people are trying
to reimagine what Detroit could be, the jams remind us
of what’s possible
Ovshinsky wrote and produced this story. It originally
aired in 2007.