DETROIT — An old romance is getting rekindled.
Eighteen years after the White Stripes made their first-ever appearance at a small Cass Corridor club, musician Jack White is at last linking back up with the fabled Detroit neighborhood.
Friday will bring the opening of his Third Man Records complex in Detroit — part retail shop, part record plant, part concert space and, if all goes as hoped, a tourist destination that celebrates the neighborhood’s artsy, edgy legacy.
Doors will open at 10 a.m. Friday, with a day of festivities that will include in-store performances by the Gories, Lillie Mae Rische and Margo Price. White, who directed the store’s design, is expected to be on hand.
Housed at 441 Canfield next door to Shinola — in a building now co-owned by that boutique manufacturer and Third Man — the store is a spinoff of the colorful Nashville headquarters White built after leaving Detroit in 2005. But the new site will have its own distinctive claim to fame: a 10,000-square-foot record-pressing operation in back, featuring eight new presses built by a young German firm.
The vinyl plant should be up and running by spring, becoming the first in Detroit since Archer Record Pressing opened on Davison half a century ago. Visitors will be able to watch the action through windows inside the shop.
Nine staffers have already been hired, and two dozen more jobs may be filled by the time the plant is fully operational, said Ben Blackwell, Third Man’s co-founder and vinyl director.
The homecoming project is the latest creative venture from White, who told the Free Press last year that he’s driven by “a need to create something new all the time.”
“From my perspective, he’s always looking for the next big inspiration,” said Third Man co-founder Ben Swank, who runs the company’s book-publishing arm. “It’s so important for him to always move forward. He’s the kind of guy who says: ‘If there’s a line out the door, you should expand.’ And that’s where we’re at. It’s nice to come back to Detroit.”
Third Man’s Nashville store, which draws about 300 daily visitors, is the public face of a company hub that includes studios, distribution facilities and a staff led by Detroit transplants. Alongside the vinyl records and signature yellow-and-black scheme, the wares there are eccentric and offbeat: kitschy novelty items, kiddie turntables, an old-timey recording booth.
“In Nashville, it’s not the crowd you’d get for a regular record store. It’s more of a destination,” said Blackwell. “I don’t want to say ‘souvenir shop,’ but it is more in line with Loretta Lynn’s dude ranch or Willie Nelson’s biodiesel truck stop in Texas than it is with UHF Records in Royal Oak.”
Ever the showman attuned to the power of mystery, White has divulged few specifics about the Detroit store. Third Man staffers have played coy since their June announcement, with Swank joking that “I’m sworn by law to keep secrecy” and saying only that the 4,000-square-foot shop will feature “a dazzling array of contraptions and attractions.”
White’s affection for the Cass Corridor — part of the revitalized district that’s been formally dubbed Midtown — goes even deeper than the White Stripes and the neighborhood venues that incubated Detroit’s garage-rock revival in the late 1990s.
In a 2014 Free Press interview, White recalled a galvanizing day as a 19-year-old when he realized “I can do it myself.”
“There was a moment in the fall in Detroit, getting out of my car and going to a class at Wayne State and parking on Cass and walking,” he said. “I just took a really deep breath, and everything was in front of me. I could do whatever I wanted to do. I wasn’t in high school anymore. I didn’t have to mess around with people who were just goofing around in life.”
While Friday’s store opening will grab the bulk of attention for now, it’s the record plant that could really keep the site humming over the long haul.
Vinyl is built into Third Man’s mission, with an ever-growing catalog of more than 300 titles, including that inaugural White Stripes gig at the Gold Dollar from July 1997. The company has been right in the thick of a wider vinyl resurgence driven by young consumers: Vinyl album sales in the U.S. are up 260% since 2009, according to Nielsen Music, with 9.2 million sold in 2014.
For Blackwell, a longtime vinyl lover with a fascination for long-forgotten Detroit music, the hometown operation is a chance to draw others into his personal passion.
“To be able to walk in and see a vinyl record pressing plant … you can’t just walk into any building and see that every day,” he said. “Folks need to see that, because there’s a beauty to it that’s really compelling.”
For years, Third Man has farmed out its record production to outside plants, which have become increasingly backed up amid the explosive vinyl demand. The need for an in-house option became clear last year, Blackwell said, when Third Man was unable to promptly fill distributors’ orders for White’s Lazaretto album, which went on to sell 200,000 vinyl copies.
“The only way to solve that problem is to have more presses on hand,” he said.
But getting hold of decades-old machines was no easy task and — as far as anyone knew — nobody was building new ones. After a deep search that led to a dead-end in Mexico, Blackwell stumbled onto the German company Newbilt, which had quietly started manufacturing vinyl presses.
With the gear due to head across the Atlantic by boat in December, Blackwell and company have been readying the factory space, installing generators and water lines.
“This goes beyond me starting a record label in my bedroom when I was in high school,” he said with a laugh.
Detroit music will be a big focus, including vinyl reissues of early Motown singles as part of a new deal with Universal Music. Nine Tamla Records titles will hit the shelves Friday, including music by the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Barrett Strong. More Motown is on the way, Blackwell said, and he envisions a Detroit vinyl catalog spanning “all genres across all eras” — perhaps everything from Bob Seger to Carl Craig.
That hometown theme will be emphasized inside the store.
“We want to do lots of in-store (events),” said Swank. “There’s a film series we do in Nashville that we want to do here as well. Poetry readings, art shows. We want all that stuff to carry over. It’s important to be part of the community and cultural conversation.”
A Third Man presence in Detroit was inevitable, said Blackwell, if not part of a grand master plan. The inspiration for the Canfield store grew out of talks earlier this year with Shinola about partnering on other projects.
“Since day one of being set up in Nashville, we’ve always wanted to do something in Detroit,” said Blackwell. “Part of it was getting our footing in Nashville. We couldn’t have done this five years ago. We didn’t have it all figured out. This came about organically — it wasn’t like, ‘OK, we need to go to Detroit, find a space and set up a store.'”
Regardless, said Blackwell, it’s good to be home.
“This was the only place we ever looked to after Nashville,” he said. “Roots and family — all of it is here.”
SOURCE :USA TODAY