Monday, April 23, 2012

Louder Than Love-The Grande Ballroom Story

Louder Than Love-The Grande Ballroom Story

Tony D’Annunzio Producer/Director

Louder Than Love is a film that needed to be made. It is a documentary that is both natural and stylized using film, photos and interviews with some of the major figures involved with the Grande Ballroom from 1966 - 1970. It has a gutsy realism that documents a time of upheaval in the American zeitgeist, a blip in the cheesy processed culture that relied on conformity and the ascendance of the status quo. It seemed that millions of young campus radicals across the country believed America needed a major overhaul. Music became a guiding force that seemed to influence every stratum of our society. It was a time of unrest, fueled by a burgeoning class of people from every race, creed and color who dared to challenge the idea of normalcy. The civil rights movement inspired the Black Panther Party, women’s liberation and children’s rights. John Sinclair’s White Panther radicalism created the scaffolding for the MC5 to explore new forms of industrial music and free speech.  It was a time of change when freedom of expression took on a brand new hue and cry. It was most evident in the ascendance Rock Music as an art form on par with the classical masters. Bach and Beethoven moved aside for the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones. For many the era signaled a crisis of materialism and the emptiness of the acquisition of wealth. It was a transformative era of spiritual awakening, our first experience of romantic love and beauty.

 D’Annunzio has awakened a sleeping beast, the remnants of our better selves before the rot set in. We aged but we did not forget. The release of this film is a sweet validation of our capacity to embrace life in the moment, to be free from the invisible shackles of a failed and punitive state and rediscover the soundtrack of our youth. It is louder than love.

Tony D’Annunzio is a renaissance man with a sense of honor and purpose. His commitment to the Louder Than Love project was impenetrable. D’Annunzio never for a second gave up his dream even at the worst of times when he was ignored or when he faced uncertain cross roads. He is man who can smile broadly and mean it. He can belly laugh out loud and get you laughing with him. He has been around the world but will talk to you like the guy next door cutting the grass and taking out the trash. He never gets chesty with a false sense of importance and he will never shoot you down with a bullet of bourgeois snootiness. He is a self-made man; his father’s son. He is a force of nature and that’s what it took to make this film happen

I’ve read that you have over 22 years of network TV including all the major networks and VH1, MTV, MSNBC, Fox. You have a diverse resume, music, arts, and politics. Can you tell me about some of the experiences in television that prepared you for producing and directing this massive historical project like “Louder Than Love?”

Sure. The experiences that I’ve had over the last 22 years have all kind of brought me to this point of making my own documentary. I got into this business 22 years ago. I was 20 years old, and I got in to it because of my love for music and my love for sports. I was at school, in college, and I just didn’t know where I wanted to go, and I found this career path. It instantly gave me incredible drive that I didn’t even know I had in me. My dad had always said to me If you find something you like, you’ll never work a day in your life. I can honestly say I’ve never worked a day in my life. I love what I do, and my love for my job has made me able to be part of some of the biggest productions in the world because of it. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but six of the last seven presidents I’ve worked on Super Bowls, on the NBA championships, I’ve worked with the Rolling Stones, I’ve worked with the Who, doing commercials for them, I’ve helped design the presentation and the stage that brought the Super Bowl to Detroit. We had an audience of 32 NFL owners in Atlanta, Georgia, and we brought our presentation down. We sold the NFL owners that chartered our place to have the Super Bowl. There’s a lot more productions that I’ve done over the last 22 years that have been all world class. It was at the 20 year mark that I realized how incredible my life had been because of this, because of my job. I was talking to one of my dear friends that I went to broadcasting school with. He got into radio, I got into television. He works for WIN in Detroit. He was able to meet and interview some of his biggest icons, and we shared that commonality through our lives. He said, “What haven’t you done?” At that point I finally realized, wow, I had done everything I said I would do.  So I think the answer to your question is the 22 years of experience led me to realize that I can do what I wanted to do originally, and I’m fortunate enough to have the ways and means to do it. Because of my love for music and because of the documentaries I knew it would take some time, so I wanted to find subject matter that would be interesting, and that subject ended up being the Grande Ballroom.

 Did you speak to Michael Moore at all?  He’s a Flint native.

You know, it’s funny because I worked with Michael for the last four or five years. He would request our crew to shoot this stuff for CNN, for HBO. I worked with him 20, 25 times over the last 20 years - always been very nice. You know what’s weird about that is that even while I was doing this production I was always hesitant to cross that line of my side project with my day job. It’s not until recently that I realized that this side project is pretty substantial, and it’s more than just a little film that’s going to come out. It’s going to have some power in it. Even in working with Michael, I never announced that “Hey, I’ve been doing this project. Would you be interested?” One time I gave one of his assistants a trailer and said if he had the time to look at it, please take a look at it. Within the last few months I’ve been contacted by him and the programmer from the Traverse City Film Festival.

They’ve got the finished work in front of them, and hopefully it will be submitted and shown in Traverse City. It wasn’t until I was really far down the path with the movie that I realized that he grew up in Flint with rock and roll and was a DJ there, and he knew all these people that I’m talking about. It probably would have been a really great interview for this project. It’s unfortunate I never really made the connection.

 Was there anyone  who inspired you during this time in life, during the network TV time?

Oh, gosh. Yeah. You know my entire adult life has been in production. These are people that I call friend. These are people who are not only my friends, but friends of my family, that know my kids. One thing you have to realize, Bo, is that when I got into production, this was the late ‘80s there were only three major networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS. Fox wasn’t even really a network at that point. Cable was coming on, but it wasn’t a 24-hour thing. It might be on for five or six hours and then it would have pay TV, a phone-in or something. When I came into this, I was young and cable was young, and so I was working for a network like MTV when they showed music videos.

Did you have a mentor?

Yes - Woody Robertson.  He became one of my nearest and dearest friends. Woody passed away recently. He had been in the business since 1963 and started with the ABC affiliate in Washington, DC.  He took me under his wings, and we were doing Lions football games back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. He was the director. He was not only a director for sports, but he did music videos, and broadcast television, and documentaries. He treated everyone as an equal. There wasn’t a hierarchy, of well, you’re just a PA. Everybody was involved. He’s one of many people that I was able to meet and that got me along the way. It was probably about five years ago when I worked on a documentary for Discovery that was called “Future Car,” and it was actually a pretty well received documentary. It was then I realized that a long format project was something I really wanted to do on my own, and some of the people that I worked with on that. It’s kind of wild because, like I said, I don’t feel I’ve ever worked a day in my life and yet I’ve done some of the most amazing productions. It takes moments like this, though, where I think back and think, wow, I could spend weeks telling you all the productions I was on and all the people because each one had an amazing story too. Twelve, fifteen, sixteen hours, maybe even more, a day doing these productions, you really become part of a family when you’re doing this. It’s been an amazing road, and I’m really blessed to have been a part of it. I’m grateful. It’s a labor of love instead of a 9 to 5 job.

The production community here in Detroit is rather large, but I’ve been fortunate enough where one company I worked for had an office in Vegas. I worked all over the world doing production and as I said, at a higher level. So I’ve always worked with the upper echelon of producers and production people other than cam operators and lighting directors and whatever. The common thread is that no one is in this business to fail and if you don’t come into it with a team mentality, things are not going to get done right. You have to be a people person, you have to be creative, and you have to be willing to put your time in to get the job done. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the best in the business, and like I said, the people I work with are called friends too. To me, that is the one thing that I take out of all this. They’re not only just co-workers. They are people that I would like to call up and have a beer with. That’s how much I enjoy their company.

Is there an experience that stood out for you back in your time in television? Any one thing in particular that just blew you away? Like being part of a particular movie or show or documentary.

Wow. You know, this is how I’ll put that. I’ve been married for 13 years now to the point that when I come home, I barely even talk about work because I’m so excited to see my kids and my wife and stuff. My wife and I will be at a dinner party and someone will say, “Oh, what have you done?”  And any given week…Like for instance, this last week I interviewed Mitt Romney and Santorum; tomorrow I leave for Milwaukee for a basketball game. I did the Red Wings game last week. This is all stuff I’ve done in the last five days.

You know what I mean. And so I’ll start telling people about it and they’ll be like “holy shit.” The funny part about this is I’ve kept all my passes, my laminates, ticket stubs, and all this stuff. I went to school here in Southfield and I give back every once in a while. They do this thing where they’ll bring in someone who  graduated and they’ll bring me out and they’ll say, “Tony’s been in the business for 20 years,” and I don’t even say anything. I just bring out my box full of laminates, and I just dump them on the table. I’ll pull them out and I’ll go, “This is when I met President Ford, this is when I was on the field at the Super Bowl, and this is when I did a commercial for the Rolling Stones,”  - and so it’s my life - in passes and laminates. I think the one thing that sticks out for me because it’s so personal is that I met my wife there was a festival years ago called the Horn Festival which was a part of the Blues Traveler, the Black Crowes tour. I met my wife during the tour and so that changed my life. I’m happily married and I’ve two beautiful kids and a beautiful house, so that to me is the most but it isn’t glamorous or high profile.

 I was at the acceptance speech for Obama at Grant Park when he won…the first African-American president of the United States of America. I’ve been in the locker room in the World Series. I drank out of the Stanley Cup and I’ve been on the stage with the Rolling Stones. You know, I’m living’ the dream. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m bragging, but all this stuff has brought me to the point where I’m at today. If I would have tried to make a project of this nature back 20 years ago when I first started, it probably would have been a good project and fun to watch but it was all the production I’ve done and all the experiences I’ve had that have allowed me to make this movie. Although this has been a self-funded, independent project, when people see this they are going to be blow away at how beautiful it was shot, how beautiful it ended.

I’m just excited to show people because everything I’ve done to this point even has added to what I’m doing now. They were all important. But the most memorable event would be when I met my wife. That’s really changed my world.

 Love is more important than anything else.

Yeah, you know you’ve got nothing without it because I wouldn’t be able to share this with anybody, you know. My daughter’s 11 and my son’s 8. When I started doing this, I actually made a conscious effort because I saw my daughter, my son in school, you know, learning to read, learning to write, and realizing that at every point in your life you’ve got to challenge yourself. Twenty years into the business I was running out of challenges. I couldn’t have picked a worse time in the economy to make a project of this nature because nobody wanted to help fund it or help sponsor it. This was all self-funded. It was all done on my own dime, on my own time, but I challenged myself because I think that everybody, no matter where we are financially you need to challenge yourself. That in and of itself will bring about good. I saw this in my kids. I saw my son struggle with learning to read for a little bit. I saw when the light bulb when on, and he realized that, “Wow, I can do this.” So think that everybody needs to challenge themselves, even if they’ve been in the business for 10 years, 20 years because it’s important that we do that, you know. I think that’s only going to make you better.

To tackle this massive project, you must be a music lover. What music inspired you during your formative years?

Well, my memories are built around music. When I hear a song, it brings me to a point. I grew up in a big Italian family on the east side of Detroit and music was part of the day. My dad had Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Glen Miller records. He got married and had kids when he was older, so this was late ‘60s. My dad wasn’t a hippie; he was old school - World War II, Dean Martin, and that kind of stuff. My uncles all played accordion or piano or whatever, and whenever the family got together there was always music. I remember when my brother put on a Beatles album, and I’d never heard anything like this was blown away by it. I was only six years old. What really blew me was the Rolling Stones. Because for me the Beatles were great but the Stones were grittier and dirtier, and there was something about that I liked. The Rolling Stones turned me on to Aerosmith; who turned me on to Ted Nugent who turned me on to Zeppelin - then going backwards and listening to Chuck Barry and some of the blues that the Stones had done. It was just amazing. I can remember being down in the basement with my cousins and I can picture the needle going on the record - We Sold Our Souls for Rock and Roll was playing. The first time I heard Black Sabbath I almost shit my pants because I’d never heard music this heavy.

As a music lover when you find that band that you’re into, you start searching out. “Well, who influenced them?” There’s got to be some point where it originated. As I started doing that, all signs started pointing towards Detroit, you know, that Grande era with heavier rock and roll. It was a product of  Motown - that can’t be denied, a huge influence here in Detroit. There was this big influence of rock and roll that was going on that had a groove to it, you know Mitch Ryder. Maybe that’s the beginning of it all or Jack Scott, if you want to go back a little but farther.  

Oh, yeah, Jack Scott’s great

It seemed like the Grande gave people a place to do their own thing, to play their own music. I think up until that point there were a lot of people just being cover bands, doing the Rolling Stones, doing the Beatles, and whatever was coming down the pipe. I think the Grande inspired a lot of people. Russ Gibb was incredible - so open to whatever acts were happening in this time was , and it was a very tumultuous time, the strife, the riots. What really blows me away is that whenever I ask people about the Grande, I can see their eyes well up and they go back to this place in Detroit. We’re talking riots, Vietnam - nothing good yet there was this moment of happiness, this sense that it was the best time of their lives and it was all associated with music and the culture around it.

So the Grande let you do this stuff. You can have long hair; you can go to listen to this music. It was like, “Wow, there’s other people like me.”  There’s people in Flint, Traverse City, Holly  and wherever. It wasn’t just in Detroit. It was an urban Michigan thing that was happening.

Yeah, it was a time when great music, new music like the MC5. They played my senior party in high school in 1970. There was great music all over the place. The Michigan bands that played the Grande played Daniel’s Den, for instance. There were great venues all over the state. Kids had a chance to listen to music in a way that hasn’t been that readily accessible since.  I wonder why the Grande ascended to the top.

You know, I don’t think it was actually a climb to the top. I think that from what I’m seeing, it was the first of many. I think it was because it was Detroit. It was Detroit-based. I think that the other clubs you’re talking about all had their own little place. I think that what happened for the Grande, was, first of all, the one thing that really sticks out for the Grande was built was a ballroom in the ‘20s, so the sound and size of the place, from the way I understand it and the tapes that I’ve heard, it was  made for just a live, big band. I’ve met people much smarter than me think that the sound inside there was kind of like being inside of a Stradivarius or a really well-made guitar. It was acoustically perfect.

So if you were a good band in the Grande, you sounded great. If you were a great band inside the Grande, you sounded incredible. Because of that, it motivated you. Because this was the beginning of electrification, you know, a lot of these places you’re talking about were kind of clubs in their own right, you know. I can see that being a big thing as far as the sound systems back in the day where, you know, it was probably hit or miss, what you were coming up against. If you had a place that was acoustically perfect and sounded good, you know, I think that helped it quite a bit. I think the fact was that Russ was allowing bands to be so free. You know, you didn’t really book any cover bands there. They were looking for new acts that were playing their own music. I mean they didn’t mind if you did a cover song, but if you’re doing a cover song, you better do it in your own style. You know what I mean. You hear Motor City Burning from MC5, that’s Johnny Lee Humbert, too. I don’t know – two different songs as far as I’m concerned - both great; both incredible. The other clubs that you’re talking about I think are somewhat obscure today.

Did you ever feel like giving up, with all the people not invested?

There was no chance of giving up when I went into this project. I gave myself three to five years. I finished it in four, so I was on my time schedule. This was something that was going to get done, and I was going to do it. Now whether it’s well received, now that’s a whole different story. I was able to finish it. The one thing I’m very proud of is that it ended up being on my own terms. There were moments during this time when I thought that I needed money to do this, I needed grants; I needed sponsorships. When the doors were closed on those things, it was never a frustrating moment. It was more of a realization that this needs to be done, and it’s going to be done by me. It’s not supposed to be done by anybody else. There’s no supposed to be any corporate sponsorship for this. There isn’t supposed to be a grant that’s going to come down from heaven or a bag of money that I’m going to find on the street. This is just going to get done on my own terms.

I spent 45 minutes on a bus with BB King and talked to him about music and about Detroit. I spent almost an hour with Roger Daltrey backstage talking about music and about Detroit. I spent time with Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent talking about this. I was blown away that they accepted my interview but then I was even more blown away when most of them said, “We’ll give you 10 minutes; we’ll give you 15 minutes.”  I would look down at my watch, kind of off to the side and thought, “Holy shit. I’ve been here 45 minutes.” These people really wanted to talk to me about it. I’m almost to a fault honest about the project. You know, this isn’t sold to MTV, I don’t have the escrow release form while I was making it. They heard about the movie, they saw the passion that I put into the trailer, and they realized that the Grande meant enough in their lives that they were going to give me time out of their lives to talk about it. I was never discouraged.

Your passion is clear, and maybe that’s what turned on all these artists, that you could be so committed to your craft

The thing I realized through doing this was that, again, this came down from 20 years of being in the business is that I know what it takes to get these things done. I’m very meticulous when it comes to production, and I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. I know when people are touring, you have your couple of minutes of when you can do this, and so in order to get this job done right you have to talk the talk and speak the speak. If you’re not passionate about it, you know, just like any other human, you can sense fear and realize that “Maybe this guy really doesn’t want this interview.” That’s all I had to sell was the passion for this project, and so it became a lot easier once I had a trailer that I could show people because in this day and age, much like you contacting me, it doesn’t take much to get in contact with anybody today. You’re four clicks away on the computer, you know, from getting pretty much anybody, you know, their email address or their cell phone number and being able to talk to them for five to ten minutes. It’s just a matter of what are you going to do with that five or ten minutes? Is it going to be time wasted on their end, or are they going to want to talk?

Did you do cold calls?

No. I made sure that it was defined as far as what the process was, and that I’m an independent producer of a film and I’ve got a project and here is my storyline. Everything was done top-notch, professional. Because of the Internet, because of the computer and cell phones, everybody has their own printing press. So I’m finding today that some bloggers have more power than columnists from the New York Times because of the impact that they have, so you can’t take for granted what someone is going to do or say. I was going to do this project. In my opinion, John Sinclair, Russ Gibb, Roger Daltrey, Wayne Kramer, any of these individuals could have their own story told about them that would be phenomenal in its own right. 

Tony, how are you preparing yourself for the premier of Louder Than Love?

I can see myself inside the theater. It’s like not even looking at the screen, just looking at the people, at the audience and seeing their reactions because I’ve watched this movie like 400 times already. I just wanted to see what people’s reaction to it is. I’m very excited about this film.

I think they’ll freak out and love it. It just brings us back to a time when things were a little bit different and music mattered, and there was a civil liberties movement. There were some freedoms then that we don’t have now. It really resonates with me. How have people reacted to your project – were they supportive?

Yes, very supportive, though some folks were miffed. They were like, “Who do you think you are to do this? You aren’t even old enough to go to the Grande. I thought, “Really, are you old enough to go there?” It’s kind of like saying, you know, to not have a story about anything in history. I mean, why would you not want to tell a story like this. Because I wasn’t part of it doesn’t mean I can’t tell the story. That’s not even a good reason at all. I mean Ken Burns spent his career doing these incredible documentaries about stuff that I’m dying to know about. You don’t have anybody from the Civil War to talk about it. So when people are saying, “You didn’t go there, you didn’t know or anything.” “You’re right. I didn’t know, but I’m willing to find out, and I’m going to try to find out the best that I can. I’m going to tell, in my opinion, the best story I can. If you don’t like it, this gives other people an opportunity to go make their own movie.

This is such a massive project. It’s historical. It just clicks for me in every which way because I’m a music lover, and some of the best music in the world was there as you know. Did you have any trouble getting footage for the film, you know, footage of the period, time?

In the late 60s, early ‘70s, they used movie cameras, you know those big 8 mm and 16 mm cameras,  it was an event just to take one out. So that was a bit of a challenge. It was amazing once things started rolling and people started realizing what I was doing – it’s the beauty of the internet. I had great folks from the media support me with this project. I have a Facebook page that got a lot of people interested in the film and they started contacting me. “Hey, I’ve got this footage, I’ve got these pictures, hey I know so-and-so.” Things started coming together because of it. The footage I have of the Who at the Grande is incredible. They performed “Tommy”, it’s only three minutes but it has never been seen before.

 Tom Wright, the Who’s manager, ended up as the manager of the Grande! He actually recorded the original Tommy concert. He gave me a cassette of Pete Townsend explaining what they were going to hear. You know, nobody knew what Tommy was about. In the movie you hear Pete Townsend explaining what this is about. To me it’s chilling because nowadays we know what it’s about but you don’t know…this was like - what the hell is a rock opera? Today we consider almost any form of music to have something conceptual – but back then it was unheard of, especially from a band like the Who that was a three-minute pop-song kind of band that was doing great music but nothing in a long format conceptual thing. It was the first time that’s seen.

Did you use other media to capture the essence of the Grande?

 I have probably 500 archival photos, black and white, color pictures of bands like the MC5, Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, Nugent, Chuck Berry, and Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green. One night John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers were playing, Cream was playing at Olympia and after the show Clapton came over and played with the Bluesbreakers - we have photos of that. I’ve got a lot of great stuff from the MC5. The daughter of the promoter and organizer for Goose Lake gave me a lot of great pictures. We worked out a licensing deal where she allowed me to use photos for the film.  A lot of that stuff has never been seen. I think people are really going to be blown away by the amount of research I’ve done, the songs that are involved with it, the licensed songs I got. I could have gone a hundred different ways. When I originally sat down with this it was a trade story -  so it’s all Detroit bands, not only MC5 but SRC, Savage Grace, Jagged Edge, as well as lesser known bands. Dick Wagner recorded a new song with Jimmy McCarty that we used for the final credits of the movie. He hadn’t written or recorded a song an original song in almost seven or eight years and he gave it to me!

Did you have much help in putting it all together?

One of the things I do want everyone to know is that as much as I’ve done for this project, I’m not an army of one. The ending was all done by Karl Rausch. He and I worked together on this project from day one. He saw my vision and I told him how I wanted some things, but he brought to life. I’ve been in production long enough where I shot most of the interviews but I had friends in the business that came out and shot some of them. I had one of my dear friends at Oakland University, Dr. Jason Schmidt do the interviews, the actual eye camera interviews while I was worried about the technical side of things, the cameras, the lighting, and things like that. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by trying to come in with a camera and do everything myself. I knew enough because of my production background to bring in a nice-size crew for all this stuff. So inasmuch as it was my passion, other people in the production community believed in me enough to take time out of their lives. I was very straightforward. Hey, I  have no budget for this, but would you like to go meet Flash, or would you like to go meet Slash, or would you like to go meet Ted Nugent, and so that was a little carrot. I was very straightforward with people. Like I don’t know where this project is going to go, but if you’d help me out, I’d really appreciate it. I was definitely a labor of love on my own, but I had other people.

 Where will you be showing Louder than Love?

These are the dates that we have lined up so far: Thursday April 5th at the Detroit Art and Film Theater here in Detroit; Monday April 9th at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, part of Martin Van Dyke’s movie series. I’ve been accepted to do the Chicago Film Festival which is April 12-15 and then it was accepted to the Nation Film Festival on April 19-26 and the Nashville Film Festival April 21st. I’ve been contacted by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and we’re looking at a screening date there at the beginning of May. There are some strong possibilities of the Traverse City one and a Mill Valley one in San Francisco as well as I just got sent out for Sidney’s film festival in San Francisco. So there are quite a few…once the first one gets out there, the other festivals kind of look at what’s going on. So I’m kind of setting myself up for film festivals that are music and documentary related so that I can get the audience. Different film festivals have different themes, and so you can’t just go to all the film festivals. There are some that are more for narrative; there are some that are for animation; there are some that are foreign film documentaries. There are literally thousands of festivals nowadays. People have really embraced independent film-making and taken it to a different level, so I’m really overwhelmed by the choices I have. Hopefully once the word gets out, it will kind of snowball and that’s what I’m anticipating.

What I’ve done in the last couple of years is appreciate that you can challenge yourself to do anything you want, no matter where you’re at in life. I honestly believe that

I believe it too. It was so nice talking to you. You’re so gracious.

When are we going to start this interview?

Yeah, I know. It’s just been way too much fun.


Bo White

No comments:

Post a Comment