This weekend, the Massillon Museum will continue its pop music and culture-themed offerings with a free screening of the new documentary Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story at 2 p.m. Saturday at Lions Lincoln Theatre.
The film falls in line with two of the museum’s current exhibits, Art Out Loud: Psychedelic Posters of the 1960s and Snap! In the Photobooth With Andy Warhol and Friends.
Louder Than Love tells the story of Detroit rock city’s legendary Grande Ballroom during its halcyon days of 1965-1969 when famed Detroit bands such as the MC5, Amboy Dukes and the Stooges provided the city with a kinetic, gritty, freewheeling underground scene that proved to be highly influential on the punk, indie rock, metal and hard rock scenes.
The film was independently funded, produced and directed by proud native Detroiter Tony D’Annunzio and it has made the rounds of nearly 30 film festivals. It earned a best documentary award from the Las Vegas International Film Festival, a best independent Standout Award at the Hell’s Half Mile Movie and Music Festival and has scored 16 consecutive sold-out screenings around the country.
D'Annunzio, a 25-year veteran of broadcast television, will be at the theater for a question-and-answer session following the screening. He has worked on various productions including Super Bowls and Stanley Cup Finals, filmed six of the last seven U.S. presidents and made commercials for the Rolling Stones and the Who.
But despite having been a part of “a lot of really interesting, great stuff,” at the 20-year mark, the 47-year-old realized he needed to challenge himself. He realized he hadn’t fulfilled his dream of making a documentary after a conversation with a friend who simply asked him “What haven’t you done?”
“So I started that day to challenge myself on how to get this done; I had the means and the studio and camera equipment and the knowledge on how to make a movie so the time was right,” D’Annunzio said in a telephone interview from his home in suburban Detroit.
He admits he didn’t immediately have a subject matter, but he gave himself a three- to five-year timeline to get it done.
“If I’m going to do something for three to five years of my life, it better be on something I like and I better be engrossed in it,” he said.
“Music is the reason I got into the business … and having grown up here in Detroit, I’m not of age to have gone to the Grande. I always heard those stories and as I was doing my research I realized the story had never really been told,” D’Annunzio said.
For folks unfamiliar with the Grande, the svelte 71-minute informative and entertaining film is an interesting and illuminating look at the venue’s brief but storied history.
Through the open-minded vision of owner Russ Gibbs with guidance from MC5 manager/political activist John Sinclair and others, the Grande became the nexus of the Fillmore West/Summer of Love San Francisco vibe mixed with the urban, blue-collar grit of the city and the ever-present Motown sound.
Once the club got up and running in the mid- to late 1960s, British rock bands found welcoming, excited audiences waiting for them.
The film is packed with talking-head interviews with people who mostly remember being there, including guitarist Wayne Kramer and drummer Dennis Thompson of the house-band the MC5, Iggy & the Stooges guitarist James Williamson, Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent.
There are also remembrances from artists who recall how competitive and special it was to play the Grande, including Roger Daltrey and B.B. King, who said he was brought to tears by a standing ovation he received from the Grande’s young audience. And there are testimonials from folks such as Slash, music doc regular Henry Rollins, Motorhead frontman Lemmy and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.
Among the grainy archival footage of legendary bands in their prime are photos of the impressive and influential poster art and the amazing show bills. On any given night, Detroit music fans might catch the Stooges opening for B.B. King, the MC5, Sun Ra, Fleetwood Mac, John Lee Hooker and Vanilla Fudge on the same bill or within a day or two of each other — all for less than $5.
“Aren't they incredible? You couldn't even pay for a water at a show like that now,” D’Annunzio said laughing.
The film makes the case that the Grande wasn't just a cool place to see music and hang out and live the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll ethos but the epicenter of a cultural shift in a city whose rhythm was built on eight-hour shifts.
Rather than travel the country chasing down interviewees, D’Annunzio waited for artists to come through Detroit, contacted their management and laid out his vision and his resume to ensure he was taken seriously as a filmmaker. He found that the artists, organizers and several regulars were more than happy to spin their tales of the Grande.
D'Annunzio hopes the films educates viewers about the rich heritage of Detroit music and culture. He said he’s still amazed at how the city’s musicians took their various influences, ran it through their unique Detroit-born-and-bred experiences and produced music that has lasted.
“A lot of the music that came out of the rock scene was heavily influenced by white suburban guys listening to Motown and taking it another step,” he said. “The influences that were around for these guys were really quite amazing and I think that’s part of why the music held its own because it was competitive for sure. But they were liking what other people were doing and it was encouraging and I think that’s [why the] music has stood the test of time.
“One thing you can say for Detroit or Michigan in general is that I don't think there’s a decade that you can [name] that doesn’t have a top-of-the-charts [artist],” he continued. “You can go back to the big bands, to Bill Haley, you can go to Motown. Each decade, it’s like holy [moly], man, even up to today with Jack White and Eminem and those guys.
In addition to D’Annunzio, rock photographer Leni Sinclair, also featured in the film, will talk about her 40-plus years as a music photographer in Detroit and Detroit Rocks! A Pictorial History of Motor City Rock ‘n Roll, her recent book written with poster artist Gary Grimshaw.
There will also be a panel discussion with D’Annunzio, Sinclair and Grimshaw’s wife, Linda, who is coming in her ill husband’s stead.