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Romantics member recalls Detroit unrest with "'67 Riot"

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Mike Skill and his family were relatively safe in their northeast Detroit home on July 23, 1967, when civil unrest broke out to the south.

But they were hardly immune to what had started at 12th Street and Clairmount Avenue.

“We had the National Guard on our street, and us kids were hanging, talking to them,” recalls Skill, a co-founder of the Detroit rock band the Romantics, who just released a new song, “’67 Riot,” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the event. “The news, what all those guys were saying, made it feel like gangs of people were coming into our neighborhood to start trashing and torching everything.

“Even being at a friend’s house around the block, his parents gave me a ride home. I don’t know if it was traumatic, but it definitely ingrained itself in you. It was a disruption to all your senses.”

• Related: Check out the video for “’67 Riot”

Skill’s hard-hitting “’67 Riot” — available via iTunes, Google, CDBaby and other digital retail sites, with a video on YouTube — is a chance for the singer, guitarist and bassist to exorcise some of those feelings. Built on a leaden, guitar-driven groove nodding to vintage Detroit-area bands such as the MC5, the Stooges and the Frost, the song finds Skill singing about a “broken city, broken dreams” and “innocent folk gripped with fear.” He’s sympathetic with the frustrations that led to the violence reaching a despairing conclusion of “so much lost, nothin’ gained, Detroit city filled with pain.”

Skill, who now resides in Portland, Ore., says he began thinking about the song 15 or so years ago and let it evolve gradually

“I had something I thought was a good groove and messed with it for a long time, and maybe a year and a half back I got in a studio and finished it up,” he says. “I wanted to keep the kind of flavor I grew up listening to, all those Detroit bands in the late ’60s — the attitude of the Romantics, but with even more guitar and really attack it.

“I was thinking of those revolutionary times in Detroit as the rock scene came together with the equal rights scene. My friends and I used to go down to Wayne State and hang out by the Fifth Estate paper, the book stores on Cass and all of that. I wanted to capture that whole vibe in the song.”

“’67 Riot” is, in fact, the first of a series of solo songs Skill hopes to release, culminating in a full-length album at some point.

“I’m having fun in the studio,” he says. “I think maybe in a month or so I’ll release something else and just keep things coming. It feels good to be getting stuff out of the studio that I’ve been pulling together.”

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Romantics’ formation and the group’s first single, “Little White Lies.” The group still tours and records sporadically, and Skill expects more of both in the near future — including concerts this fall.

“Y’know it only feels like a few weeks since (fellow musician) Robert Gillespie came in and asked us to open for this thing the MC5 were doing at My Fair Lady,” Skill says. “To still be doing what we’re doing, and doing it well, after 40 years, that’s all you can do. We don’t expect anything righteous. It’s just nice to see we’re still on a good path.”

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