excellent story this week in a local weekly in Michigan about a club that hosted some of the best bands of the 70s. While that sounds like classic rock Hell, wait a second. Iggy and the Stooges, Captain Beefheart, Bloodrock, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, pre-fame Aerosmith and Kiss, post-fame T.Rex and Big Star all raged at a place called the Brewery in Lansing, Michigan.
From the story: “Tuesday night was tequila night, 25-cent shots. People were shitfaced drunk,” recalled [co-owner Rick] Becker. “I shouldn’t say everyone, most people kept their acts together. But three quarters of the people in there couldn’t legally drive and they didn’t.”
“It is reasonable to say that the City of Lansing has had more than its share of problems at the location of the Brewery,” reads a letter written in July 1974 to the city council by Gerald Graves, who was then mayor of the small town. He included a list of complaints at the Brewery between 1972 and that date.
In 1972 it numbered 64, in 1973 it hit 96. By mid-74, it was at 29.
Rock and roll and crime. Yes, there’s a big dose of stupid in there. But at least it’s a loud stupid.
This was when there were no decibel meters and no bored cops looking to beef up their quotas and city coffers with drunk driving stops. People smoked. The whole place was built on reckless freedom, and is there any better kind?
Still more from the story: Forty years later, it’s easy to recognize the significance of the Brewery and what occurred on its 50-foot stage, but at the time many of the bands were still on the verge of breaking. The venue saw early gigs from Aerosmith, Rush, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton and a beardless ZZ Top, to only name a few.
When a still-budding KISS played the Brewery on Oct. 21, 1974, State News reviewer Kevin Carver complemented the band for its “excellent” showmanship but wasn’t impressed with the “unnecessary spitting and drooling of ‘blood’ by bass guitarist Gene Simmons.”
When the Stooges played there, the student newspaper at nearby Michigan State University, the State News, ran photos that had the professors wondering what was going on. I remember my dad, who was a journalism professor at MSU, bringing home the issue and opening it up and wishing that I was old enough to enter the doors and see the Stooges play. Three weeks later, they’d do their last show ever at the Michigan Palace.
When Dave DiMartino reviewed Aerosmith’s show, he displayed why he would go on to become a star rock critic: “There is an air of stardom about this band, one that cannot go unnoticed for long. Given a little time, this relatively young band will probably make it in a very big way.”
The place turned into the Silver Dollar Saloon, as noted in the story, and hosted more stars; I saw the Tubes on their first U.S. tour in the fall of 1975. Rush came along a couple weeks later, making their 4th or 5th stop. Patti Smith played there in the spring of 1976 on her first U.S. tour, which is when the place began winding down.
The story has a great kicker:
“Every major town has some place that was amazing in its time,” [State News reporter Jack] Bodnar said. “Over the course of decades, you realize it was the pinnacle. There were a lot of places that delivered music, but the Brewery was totally unique, as far as the groups that came through and the vibe. It was probably the greatest bar that’s ever been in East Lansing or Lansing.”
An understatement to be sure. Many towns had them, these little local joints where even big-label bands played, back when rock and roll was still the people’s music.