Detroit's First and Most Infamous Punk Rock Club
Detroit in the 70's was a city in musical decline. The great ballrooms were gone and no bands were getting signed to record contracts or getting local radio airplay. The few local TV shows that featured Detroit bands were a fading memory. Any band that wanted to play somewhere had to do five sets of corporate mainstream rock. Sometimes, the bar owner even supplied a list of required songs. Nobody but Bob Seger and Ted Nugent got any airplay at all. It was in this environment that The Sillies decided to start their own nightclub just to have somewhere to play in Detroit. Clubs like Max's Kansas City and CBGB were successful, but Detroit had nothing like them. After a few shows at theaters and colleges, The Sillies started looking for a bar that would allow them to book the entertainment. After a couple of shows in a closed-up bar in early 1978, they got the nod to start booking an old supper club on McNichols just west of Woodward, which was a failing gay bar at the time. Just before they were about to play there, Don Was (later of Was/NotWas) and a partner made a deal with the owner to do a couple of shows at Bookie's. The Sillies bided their time and came in March 17 and 18 along with Coldcock and The Denizens. The weekend was so successful, the owner gave control of the bar over to The Sillies. Every weekend after that, there were two or three bands playing whatever they wanted. The Police did their first Midwest show there, as did Ultravox, The Damned, John Cale (of The Velvet Underground), Johnny Thunders (NY Dolls) & The Heartbreakers, and numerous other U.S. and British bands unable to fill Cobo Hall or Masonic Auditorium and with no other nightclub in Detroit doing rock concerts.
"Local" bands such as The Romantics, Sonic Rendezvous (with Scott Morgan and Fred Smith), Destroy All Monsters (Ron Asheton of The Stooges and Mike Davis of The MC5), Wayne Kramer, and The Sillies themselves made Bookie's their second home. Local radio stations took note and began playing some of the new Detroit bands. National magazines like Life and Creem ran stories about the club. Even David Bowie and his band came down after playing one of the big arenas, as did Elvis Costello, Blondie, and other major stars. J. Geils did a surprise performance at Bookie's one night after selling out Pine Knob for three consecutive nights.
Eventually, success bred discontent. Other bars started imitating the Bookie's format and splitting the audience. One Sillies member quit the band and took over running the club for a year, then moved on. The building eventually burned down in the late 80's, a shadow of its former glory. Nevertheless, the course of Detroit music history was changed and original Detroit rock had places to be heard again, as Paycheck's, Lili's, Traxx, and others carried on the torch Bookie's had lit.
Detroit can be proud of its musical heritage and celebrate its past while looking toward the future.