"History is a wonderful thing, if only it was true"

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

NMich Rocks On

Northern Express

Bit in Northern Express on Tom Wright (photographer)
Tom Wright Photography

For the uninitiated, the Grande was a rock palace in the inner city of Detroit which hosted some of the greatest bands in the world at a time when the city's own rock scene was at its peak.

"Part of me wanted to go but another part of me knew that musically Detroit was the place to be," said Wright. "So I told Pete (Townshend) I was going back to Detroit and he agreed that is was a good thing. We decided to connect up when they returned to the U.S. for their next tour."

"I went to the offices of Eye Magazine in New York, which was the music magazine in those days, and told the editors that the music scene wasn‚t happening in New York or California but rather in Detroit," said Wright.

"They looked at me and said okay you go there, photograph the bands, check out the scene and write an article."

It had taken only one show at the Grande a few days earlier to convince Wright that Detroit was at the center of the rock music universe. "The Who just hadn't been recognized until that night they walked into the Grande. Sure, concerts were selling out and their songs were on the radio, but when they took the stage at the Grande it all changed," said Wright.

"They walked in and played three notes and everyone knew the song. That had never happened before, not even in England. The crowd went crazy and I saw what it did for the band; to this day it is among their best live performances ever."

Wright sensed that Detroit and the Grande would be at the center of the emerging rock scene, the crossroads where British and American rock musicians would revolutionize music for years to come.

His perceptions were correct. To this day many legends including Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, The MC5 and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac have all said that their best performances ever were at the Grande.

"I thought after that first Who concert at the Grande it was the first time the crowd had seen anything like that," said Wright. "Then after the show the stage manager said it is like this every night, he mentioned the night before when Cream was there. He also told me about all the great bands in Detroit. So I started thinking that there must be something to this city."

"After Goose Lake, Wright and his three closest friends, 'Chuch' McGee (roadie for the Rolling Stones), Russ Schlagbaum (Pete Townshend's accountant for 10 years and currently in charge of tour logistics for the Rolling Stones), and Patrick Culley (who'd go on to various management responsibilities with Ted Nugent, Rolling Stones, Bill Graham, and The Eagles) boarded a Polish freighter and went to Europe for several months before Wright returned to the states to tour manage and photograph several bands including the The Faces and The James Gang.

'Chuch' McGee lived in the U.P. and passed away last summer during a Rolling Stones rehearsal in Toronto. He had been with the Rolling Stones for 30 years and was Ronnie Wood's guitar tech. Chuch is considered by many as the best roadie ever and his death stunned the group, leaving a usually talkative Mick Jagger speechless as the group left rehearsal.

Chuch was so valued that the whole band flew to his funeral in Marquette and played 'Amazing Grace.

Wright brought the last photo he had taken of Chuch to the funeral and every member of the band asked for a copy of it. When Keith Richards was given a copy of the photo he responded: 'Ah, Tom Wright is a fine photographer with a special touch, he captures the true essence of people.'

When asked about why Wright's photographs were so important to the artists, guitarist Joe Walsh of the James Gang and The Eagles responded: 'You had to have been there and Tom was. Tom Wright is the 'Jack Kerouac' of photography.'"

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