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Detroit's Rockets re-ignite with different lineup, new music
The Rockets are launching once again. And this time they're planning for a long ride.
The latest incarnation of the venerable Detroit rock group debuts this weekend with the release of a new EP, "Greetings From Detroit," and a show on Saturday, Dec. 28, at the Fillmore Detroit. It's the resumption of a reunion that began during 2009 as the Helldrivers but was interrupted when guitarist Jim McCarty decided to quit in the fall of 2011, focusing now on the band Cactus and his own group.
McCarty's still out, but drummer, songwriter and co-founder Johnny "Bee" Badanjek and frontman Jim Edwards, the See Dick Run singer who stepped in for the late Dave Gilbert, are refueled and ready to get the Rockets rolling again.
"Before (McCarty) decided to leave, we had a motto which was before we leave this earth we want to do one more Rockets album," says Badanjek, 65, who put the Rockets together with McCarty -- a fellow alumnus of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels -- in 1972, naming it after the Rocket Car Wash on Eight Mile Road. "We were on our way to do that with quite a few tunes, but then it came apart. There will never be an original Rockets. That's gone. We did that in the 70s. But you can keep going -- a lot of groups have.
"People think you can't have a band with just one member (from the original lineup). Well...you can. People do it all the time."
The original Rockets, together until 1983, released five studio albums of hard-hitting, meat-and-potatoes rock 'n' roll, as well as a live set recorded at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. It also enjoyed some radio play, particularly in the Midwest with songs such as "Desire," "Rollin' By the Record Machine" and its version of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well." The Helldrivers formed to play music by the Rockets and other iconic Detroit rock groups, and despite initial reservations Badanjek and McCarty, were eventually persuaded by promoters to re-take the more potentially lucrative Rockets name.
The new Rockets opened for Bob Seger and the J. Geils Band and played before an estimated 10,000 on July 2, 2010 at the Stars and Stripes Festival in Mt. Clemens and rolled until McCarty's departure after a show at the MI Fest in Brooklyn. But this past April the group posted a "We're not done yet" message on its Facebook page as Badanjek and Edwards began assembling a fresh lineup that includes Detroit music veterans Joey Gaydos Sr. and Phil "Greasy" Carlisi on guitars, Mike Marshall on bass and Danny Taylor on keyboards.
"Over time we kept getting tons of offers to play, and it just seemed ridiculous that we weren't doing anything," says Edwards, 51. "Bee and I started talking about doing the band again. We talked about the style, the guitar players it would take -- 'cause (McCarty) left some pretty big shoes to fill -- and we finally came up with a pretty good lineup of guys we've known a long time that have a lot of experience.
"Now this band is completely on fire. Everyone has experience on the big stage and understands how to do a big show, and we all work really well together."
It was also important for Badanjek and Edwards to finally put some new music out. The four songs on "Greetings From Detroit" -- including "Detroit Woman" and "Whiskey Head," which the group played live during 2010 and 2011 -- are culled from a large batch Badanjek had ready for a planned full-length album, which he hope is still in the offing.
"I'm always writing, and I've never stopped just because the band might have stopped," the explains the drummer, who was the Rockets' original lead singer during the early 70s. "I would like to make a whole album; we certainly have enough material for it. But that would have taken three or four months to do, and we wanted to get something out fast.
"And in the digital age, as they say, we can just add to it and add to it, and eventually we'll have 12 songs on this CD by adding a couple songs every other month or something like that."
The current Rockets also plan to rev up their performing schedule, and Badanjek says he's confident that the future will only add to the group's stalwart legacy.
"It feels good, y'know, and everybody's into it," he says. "There's no agenda here; it's just to get together and get out there. The band sounds great. The music, the energy level, it's all still there. That's what's most important -- it still sounds like the Rockets.
"So we're just smokin' along. We had to look at ourselves and go, 'Wow, there's no band in town that sounds like this' and just get back to it, like we wanted to do and so many other people want us to do."
The Rockets, Citizen Zero and Horse Cave Trio perform Saturday, Dec. 28, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.67-$35. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com. Former Rockets guitarist Jim McCarty, meanwhile, performs with the Millionaires at the 4th Annual Pre-NYE Bash at 8 p.m. Saturday at Callahan's Music Hall, 2105 South Blvd., Auburn Hills. Tickets are $17.50 and $12.50. Call 248-858-9508 or visit www.atcallahans.com.
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