There once was, and is again, a rock and roll band from Detroit called The Rockets. A helluva rock band. No big hits, but Detroit rock radio embraced them, and they were local heroes from 1972 until they faded away in 1983.
The pedigree that made them noteworthy were two leaders that were driving forces behind the Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. Johnny (Bee) Badanjek (drums) and Jim McCarty (guitar) both fueled the R&B rock and roll craziness of Ryder’s sound, and, as musicians do, eventually left the band to do their own thing.
They became the Rockets.
You could have dubbed them “Kings of the Openers”; they opened for the big rock bands of the time – and not just in Detroit. They traveled with KISS, Seger, ZZ Top, among many. But they never could get any bigger than that. Never had a big radio hit beyond the Motor City. But even the band’s later stuff , like “Rollin’ By The Record Machine” elicited a vintage Bob Seger energy.
With lead vocalist Dave Gilbert, the Rockets reached their biggest success in 1979 with a Top 40 hit doing a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”. The hard partying Gilbert ended up taking a job hanging drywall, and died in 2001 at age 49.
Badanjek is one of rocks truly great drummers. And McCarty an engaging, gritty rock guitarist. They had continued to play music, just not together. That changed when they formed the Motor City Music Review in 2009, a Motown/rock and roll cover-type band. Then into a band called the Hell Drivers, with new frontman Jim Edwards. Things started to happen.
Promoters in Detroit and Flint and Toledo started to call. How about a Rockets show? So they morphed back into The Rockets. And if the story ended here, with the band playing bars in Detroit, it would still be good, right?
But it turns out lots of rock music fans over the age of 40 in Michigan rememeber The Rockets. They were given the Distinguished Achievement Award at this year’s 19th annual Detroit Music Awards. And it also turns out The Rockets reunited are still a damn good, old school rock band.
They opened for the J. Geils Band at the big outdoor amphitheatre (DTE Energy, formerly Pine Knob) at the end of August and, according to reports on the web, were fantastic. And to me, they are a band that were the blue-collar band in Michigan that might have deserved a better end. Maybe this is a final chapter of their music career, it will add a nice coda to the story.
I grew up in southern Michigan, from 1975 through 1989. The Rockets were all over the Detroit radio stations – we would drive 30 minutes north and get on I-94 to cruise so we could to listen to WRIF to hear Detroit music.
Their sound was vintage 70’s rock and roll. And the new sound is still the old sound.
Click the links below – it’s a good primer; hear 2010 versions of their music too.
Someone with The Rockets organization has a clue; there is updated info on the web, including a virtual jukebox filled with their music at the Reverb Nation website, both from their five albums and recently recorded stuff.
Blogger review of J Geils/Rockets Detroit show – click here
Excellent piece in the Detroit Free Press about the band – click here
Blogger who saw just saw a live show at a July 4th festival in Michigan – click here
Hear the Rockets – 2010 and before – click here