Music Features

The Many Lives and Wild Times of Phoenix DIY Legend Eddy Detroit

Eddy Detroit.
Eddy Detroit. Jim Louvau

Eddy Detroit is looking for the copy of Late Show magazine with the full-color spread of him sucking the toes of a French porn star.

He’s upended his archives, which he keeps in a vinyl grocery bag, onto the mattress in the combination bedroom/living room of his tiny midtown apartment.

“Here’s a review of one of my shows from the Hollywood Reporter,” Detroit says, tossing aside a yellowed news clipping. “Here’s a flyer for a set I did at the Whisky a Go-Go. Oh, this is that picture of Nico and me when we were hanging out in London.”

A poster promoting his recent European tour flutters to the ground and lands beside a nightstand cluttered with tarot cards, prescription pill bottles, and a pamphlet extolling the virtues of St. Jude. In a corner, a neatly stacked micro-drum set waits for Detroit’s next performance.

“Hey, look at this!” he shouts, holding up a 45 record in a crumpled picture sleeve. “This is Puppy and the Hand Jobs when they did a cover of my song ‘Plan Nine.’”

He waves the single in the air and utters a phrase he uses often to punctuate his many, occasionally shocking litanies: “That’s another story!”

Eddy Detroit has a lot of stories, many of them documented in this half-century’s worth of clippings and career detritus spread across his worn mattress. They tell the tale of several lives, all of them lived by one diminutive Lebanese bongo player.

click to enlarge Sucking toes. - EDDY DETROIT
Sucking toes.
Eddy Detroit

Detroit, who’s just about to celebrate his 68th birthday, remembers every minute of the lives he’s lived, although not always in chronological order. He bounces from the 2009 affair he had with a retired stripper (“She was high priestess in the Hollywood witchcraft coven I belonged to in the ’70s”) to a story about how he came to appear in the final episode of the 1980s primetime soap Dynasty (“The casting guy liked the three-point cadet’s hat I was wearing”), which reminds him of the time he studied mandolin with famed guitarist Al Casey (“Because when I was 10, a psychic told me I was going to play a string instrument one day”).

As a musician, Detroit is mostly known as a percussionist, primarily in DIY punk-rock and jazz bands that play here and abroad. His indie-label albums and singles quickly become collector’s items and are routinely bootlegged. He pretty much invented acoustic punk (out of necessity, when the music club he ran in the Nineties didn’t have an amplifier) and has played onstage and on recordings with everyone from punk monarchs Sun City Girls to folkie Denny Dougherty of The Mamas and the Papas.

Some know Detroit as a pagan philosopher; others think of him as that tarot card guy from Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends Network. Somewhere in between, and often concurrently, he’s been a door-to-door salesman, a band manager, and a marijuana dealer. And always, always a locally renowned musician.

“Here it is!” Detroit cries, unearthing a wrinkled magazine and flipping through its pages. “That’s me there,” he says, pointing to a photo of a bearded man in leather gear, gazing up at a mostly naked woman. “I’m sucking her toes. It was a toe-sucking-scene. We shot that at 5 o’clock in the morning, you know. Yeah.”

He squints dreamily at the photos. “That’s another story,” he says, mostly to himself. “Wow, wow, wow. What a life.”

click to enlarge Detroit in 1978, behind the Whisky a Go-Go. - EDDY DETROIT
Detroit in 1978, behind the Whisky a Go-Go.
Eddy Detroit

Motown might be a very different town had Eddy Detroit stayed there. Instead, he moved to Phoenix.

“I got here on June 2 of 1981,” Detroit says. “And I just started doing things.”

He isn’t kidding. Over nearly 40 years, Detroit has become Phoenix’s own DIY hero, equal parts showman and shaman, “doing things” on and off local stages.

“There are two Eddys,” says Sun City Girls’ Alan Bishop. “There’s the mythological Eddy with his freak-of-the-world persona, a guy who knows everything about B movies and a dozen other topics. And then there’s Eddy the musician, an amazing percussionist with a brilliant sense of rhythm and tempo, and a singer/songwriter with an impressive catalog. I think sometimes the musician Eddy gets overshadowed by the other one.”

Both of the Eddy Detroits have lived on the edge and on stages large and small in Hollywood, London, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Laveen. But he started out in the city for which he’s stage-named. Detroit’s dad ran an auto parts store and a grocery; his maternal grandfather invented the crinkle-cut French-fried potato. Born Edward Michael Dunn in 1952, Detroit was the youngest of three children.

“My parents fought quite a bit,” he shrugs. “My uncle got shot over some gambling debts when I was 5. My dad lost his auto parts store in the 1967 Detroit riots. I was inside the store when it got bombed. I had a weird childhood full of trauma.”

Detroit got kicked out of every public and private school he attended, always for the same infraction: drumming on the desk. “My mother was mad,” he says, “but she had to admit I had pretty good rhythm.” Mrs. Dunn sent her 11-year-old son off to take drum lessons. A few years later, Detroit met his idol, world-famous drummer Gene Krupa.

“After I talked to Gene,” he says, “I knew I wanted to be a drummer.”

In the meantime, he was a teenage pot dealer. “I finally said, ‘Screw this, I’m going to London.’ I sold enough pot to buy a ticket to England, dropped out of 10th grade, and was gone.”

The 16-year-old worked as a street musician in London, where garage music was percolating in 1968. “I made all kind of money playing my Moroccan bongos on the sidewalks of London,” he exclaims. “The faster I played, the more I made. I had $100 days! It was better money than I could have made in the clubs.”

Detroit began splitting his time between Hollywood and London, hanging out with German actress/singer Nico, rock band The Velvet Underground, and punk icon Iggy Pop before finally settling in the Hollywood Hills in 1972 at the height of the Laurel Canyon folk-rock scene.

click to enlarge Hanging out with Nico. - EDDY DETROIT
Hanging out with Nico.
Eddy Detroit
“I had a room at the old Tom Mix mansion,” Detroit says. “I used to go down to the Canyon and smoke pot with Joni Mitchell. I was selling weed for a living, and my pot dealer was Thelma Camacho from Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. My next-door neighbor was Denny Dougherty.”

Many of Detroit’s best stories feature famous co-stars.

“Some of them are probably true, too,” Bishop says with a laugh. “I’ve seen enough of what’s true in his life to believe that all of it is. Like about how he was there when Ringo Starr found out the Beatles were breaking up. You think, ‘Did it happen? I don’t know, I wasn’t there.’ But then he shows you the picture he took of Ringo looking sad outside Apple Records, and you see he’s friends with Ringo on Facebook, and you think, of course. It’s so Eddy. You see him hanging out with Iggy Pop and you think, ‘Yes, it’s the Eddy Detroit experience.’”

“Everything Eddy says seems true,” agrees actress Dina Ousley, who appeared with Warren Beatty in Shampoo and in Detroit’s all-time favorite movie, the cult classic Trip With the Teacher. “I think it’s because he’s tried everything.”

Detroit even tried marriage once. “It wasn’t the right thing to do,” he admits. “I let my mother talk me into going back to Detroit in 1972 and open a record store. White Moon Records. We did okay but it wasn’t what I wanted. This woman came in one day wearing these flowing red robes, and I married her and took her back to Hollywood.”

He got work as a session musician, playing as Edward Dunn on records by Bearns and Dexter and former Eric Burdon and War member Ray Estrada, among others. In his spare time, Detroit was hanging with hippies, playing naked acoustic jams on the nude beach in Malibu. But his wife wasn’t into music.

“She was into drinking,” he explains. “And cheating on me. So we split up and I became a midnight cowboy from Ipanema.”

But even midnight cowboys need to pay the bills. Session work and the occasional live gig weren’t cutting it, so Detroit got himself a day job selling family portraits door to door with a company called Stardust Studios.

“I met a lot of winos and bikers,” he remembers. “A lot of really bad convicts. I had a van back then and I would go downtown and pick up drunks. ‘Hey, you guys want to make some wine money?’ I’d drop them off in a neighborhood to sell portrait coupons. I’d go drink coffee at a Denny’s and take a cut of their sales. I did that for 41 years. A real adventure.”

For a while, he joined a Los Angeles voodoo and witchcraft coven as temple drummer, attending Sunday meetings where belly dancers would make ritual offerings to pagan gods. He played drums behind The Mamas and the Papas’ Dougherty at the men’s prison in Long Beach and released a solo single titled “Down at Party Beach.”

In 1976, Stardust sent Detroit to Las Vegas, where he put together a disco cover band called Coconut. “We played the Silver Slipper for $2,600 a week doing shake-shake-shake-your-booty stuff,” he remembers. “Then I saw the Sex Pistols, and everything changed. I started writing punk songs and headed back to Hollywood.”

Detroit thought he could make punk music “more of a kick-ass thing” if he added conga rhythms to it. He got busy writing songs like “I am PazuZu,” and “You Burn Me Out,” mashups of hyper-speed drumming, violin howls and Detroit’s angsty bellowing about the devil, crappy cocktail parties, and all that was wrong with the world. He got booked at punk clubs like the Mask and the Starwood, and hung around outside the Whisky a Go-Go, handing out flyers for his shows to folks exiting concerts by Blondie or the Misfits.

But Hollywood could be a tough town. Detroit worried that he was beginning to lose his way. He joined a satanic worship group and began billing himself as the Laundromat Satanist.

“He asked me to shove him into a dryer at an all-night laundromat after a show one time,” Bishop recalls. “Because he wanted to see what it felt like.”

Bishop says his friend even thought about killing himself. “He said he did, anyway. He tells this story of climbing up onto the Hollywood sign and just before he jumped, the devil appeared and said, ‘There’ll be no butter in hell, Eddy.’ So he climbed down and went home and wrote a song called ‘No Butter in Hell’ instead.”

After a 1981 gig at Phoenix punk club Mad Gardens, Detroit decided to stay. “I knew when I saw this city I would never leave it,” is how he remembers it.

All of a sudden, according to downtown arts archivist Pete Petrisko, “Eddy Detroit was just sort of here one day. And he stuck around.”

click to enlarge Onstage at early L.A. punk club The Mask. - EDDY DETROIT
Onstage at early L.A. punk club The Mask.
Eddy Detroit

By the early ’80s, Petrisko says, Detroit had evolved into a consummate outsider artist. “His musical oeuvre fell somewhere between Leon Redbone and Captain Beefheart. He couldn’t be pigeonholed.”

Detroit’s singular style made him instantly popular at downtown’s alt music clubs. “I opened for the Dickies, and for the Meat Puppets,” Detroit remembers, referring to big-deal punk acts of the day. “I was the first act ever onstage at 11 East Ashland, which was the best club to play. I dressed up as the Pope and performed with Jane Smith,” then a superstar among local performance artists.

His biggest fans claim Detroit invented folk-punk music around this time, but he doesn’t like to take credit for things. “I guess I was doing it before anybody else,” he’ll admit, “but you can’t really invent music. My drumming is based on anger and lust, so I brought that to the music. And I love jazz, like Pharaoh Sanders and Chet Baker. I love Greek folk music, early T-Rex when they were doing folk, Pearls Before Swine, the Incredible String Band. All of that stuff is in my songs and on my records.”

Most of those records are out of print, though Detroit has been reissuing his back catalog this year on various streaming platforms. Meanwhile, the originals sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay. The sleeve artwork on Detroit’s old albums and singles is typical ’80s DIY grunge: grainy images Xeroxed onto bond paper, typewritten song lists and handwritten titling scotch-taped to cardboard sleeves.

“‘Lost in a Silent Movie’ is my most famous song,” Detroit says. “I hear some label is going to re-release my Jungle Captive album, that’s from my S&M period. I want to reprint my last album, Black Crow Gazebo, and maybe Immortal God’s. People love The Philosopher’s Journey, but that’s a really lousy album, I hate that one. It was being bootlegged in Europe awhile back.”

Detroit never made a penny from his music, not really, and by 1992, the door-to-door portrait business was drying up.

“I figured I’d been reading tarot cards since 1970, so why not do it for Dionne Warwick?” he asks. The pop singer had launched her Psychic Friends Network in 1990, offering telephonic prognostication by chummy clairvoyants for $4 a minute. Detroit, who could talk the leg off a chair, was a natural.

“I had to read for Dionne Warwick herself before they’d hire me,” he chuckles. “I had two phones in my house, my phone and the psychic phone. The night before I started, I had a dream that I answered the phone and it caught on fire. I took the job anyway, and I got 40 cents a minute. Dionne got the rest.”

click to enlarge The cover of Detroit’s Shock-A-Lock-A-Lickum. - EDDY DETROIT
The cover of Detroit’s Shock-A-Lock-A-Lickum.
Eddy Detroit
Over the next five years, Detroit built up a huge clientele. A bottled water trillionaire named Martha called every day after he promised her the door-to-door Bible salesman she’d once had an affair with would return to her one day. He told a writer of romance novels in Seattle to take her manuscript with her to a party in Los Angeles, where she showed it to a publisher and got, Detroit swears, a book contract and a huge advance. When he helped a private investigator in Portland find his wife, who’d run off with a heroin dealer, the man offered Detroit a $10,000 cash reward. The Dionne Warwick people wouldn’t let Detroit accept the bonus.

Prince and Esther Williams were regular customers, as was Venezuelan singer/actress Maria Conchita Alonso. Detroit did a reading for Michael Jordan when he was staying at The Phoenician but had to be told who Jordan was. “I don’t do sports,” he explains.

“I’d be over at Eddy’s place,” Bishop remembers, “and he’s in his bathrobe all day, telling old ladies to look in their garbage disposal for their lost wedding ring or whatever. And you’d hear the old ladies yelling, ‘Oh, god, Eddy, you saved my life! It was in the disposal!’”

Most of the fortune hunters were jokers, says Detroit, launching into impersonations of his favorites.

“Hello, Edward? This is Tex from Abilene. Am I gonna get some tail tonight? Hello, Mr. Eddy, I am Abu from Peru, I drink too much, I spend too much, will I ever stop this please?”

Those telephone tarot readings, he says, were 80 percent accurate and helped fund his new project, a coffee house on East Thomas Road called The Grotto. Petrisko remembers it as an old house where Detroit lived in the early ’90s.

“He turned the large front room into a performance space for folk-punk, experimental music, and performance art at a time when coffee houses hosted more traditional acoustic music,” Petrisko says. “At The Grotto, the coffee was secondary.”

Detroit took donations, gave half the money to the performers, and sublet the guesthouse to a friend who killed himself there. Alan Bishop remembers Detroit giving him a tour of The Grotto right after it opened.

“We went into a bedroom and he opened a closet door and there was a guy passed out on the floor. Eddy says, ‘Here’s my new guitar player, I guess he’s asleep.’”

Retired performance artist Manny Hendrix remembers The Grotto as a calm spot in Phoenix’s post-punk scene. “A lot of the clubs were mean, real aggressive,” Hendrix says. “The Grotto was much more chill. One night, I ate a bunch of acid and went there and climbed up onstage and grabbed a tambourine and started playing along with the musicians. They just looked at me and smiled. Any other place they would have torn my dick off.”

The Grotto lasted five years, Detroit reckons. “It was Phoenix’s answer to Andy Warhol’s Factory. We had everything from bank presidents to drag queens there. But then the landlord sold the place to Walgreens and they tore it down.”

click to enlarge The cover of Black Crow Gazebo. - EDDY DETROIT
The cover of Black Crow Gazebo.
Eddy Detroit
Detroit moved to a midtown trailer park called the Aristocrat and joined a local S&M club.

“I’ve got this foot fetish thing going on,” he explains. “So I was real popular at the club because the dominatrices didn’t have anyone to do feet for them. I had appointments as soon as I joined, and I was with them until 2010. I’ve been into the BDSM lifestyle since I was a teenager. I don’t believe in regular relationships. I believe in role playing.”

“He loves women’s toes,” B-movie actress Brenda Fogarty shrugs. “Okay. Whatever. With Eddy, it’s never anything ordinary. And at least he’s upfront about the toe thing.”

Fogarty stars in Detroit’s favorite movie of all time, Trip With the Teacher, a schlocky 1975 crime thriller about a bunch of scantily clad schoolgirls terrorized on a desert field trip.

“It’s a cute little B film,” according to Fogarty, who plays the title role. “It was made on a shoestring, but it has a big cult following. It’s especially big in Guam.”

Meeting Eddy Detroit means hearing all about Trip With the Teacher. He counts among his greatest accomplishments the fact that he has befriended the surviving cast and author of the film, and appears in the commentaries on the recent DVD reissue. He reads the actors’ tarot cards over the phone every weekend and loves the movie so much he organized a reunion of the cast and director Earl Barton.

“He brought us all little bitty Oscars,” giggles Ousley, who plays one of the film’s beleaguered teens. She’s since left acting and co-founded a high-definition makeup company. “We were at this strange little club, the Pig ’n’ Whistle in Hollywood, and Eddy played bongos and Brenda did some of her monologues. It was the sweetest thing. And we were surprised he had time to even come out here, because he’s always got a show someplace.”

Detroit has kept a hectic musical pace well into the 21st century — playing solo gigs at the Mason Jar, performing as a duo with folkie Mishy Katz, and traveling to the U.K. to headline the international TUSK Festival in 2016.

“They flew me out there,” he says of that last gig, sounding delighted. “They even paid for my food. Am I Taylor Swift or something?”

While he was out that way, Detroit figured he’d better do a European tour. “I played African music at the Café OTO in London. In Paris, I had a loft apartment. In Rotterdam, the promoter handed me a big chunk of hash, on the house. Geneva, Antwerp, Belgium, every place I played, someone was nice to me. We sold out eight shows in five countries. One place, the producer greeted me with six pizzas!”

Back home, Detroit founded a jazz trio with a couple of 20-somethings he met at a local festival. “St. Jude got that one for me,” he explains, citing the Catholic patron saint of desperate situations. “He came to me in a dream and said I would be playing jazz music.”

Guitarist Nicky Dewberry heard about that dream the very next day. “I was playing a festival and Eddy was sitting there with his bongos and the first thing he said was, ‘Do you know any horn players? I had a dream last night. Let’s start a jazz band.’ We had our first rehearsal that week and then we played the Clarendon Hotel for two years straight.”

Before COVID-19, Detroit was still regularly playing acoustic punk gigs around town, opening for Fat Gray Cat at Crescent Ballroom and performing with Kembra Pfahler of glam-punk band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. “I’m a big fan of hers,” Detroit says. “She’s a foot dominatrix in New York, and she let me do a foot scene with her at the Mason Jar.”

click to enlarge Detroit’s jazz band features Nicky Newberry on guitar and Matt Crow on trumpet. - EDDY DETROIT
Detroit’s jazz band features Nicky Newberry on guitar and Matt Crow on trumpet.
Eddy Detroit

It’s late 2019 — back when it’s still okay to crowd together in a public place — and Eddy Detroit is onstage at The Rhythm Room, warming up the crowd with one of his stories.

“I played at an open-casket funeral out in Glendale today,” he smirks into the mic. “What a bizarre gig that was.” Long pause. “People were dying to get in there.”

He strums the first few bars of “Plan 9,” an homage to the infamous Ed Wood film of the same name and one of Detroit’s biggest hits. The crowd goes wild. “If you cannot make it there on time / Plan 9, Plan 9!” Detroit yelps. “Are you in my house of dreams / You’re Bela Lugosi’s final scene/Plan 9, Plan 9!”

Detroit doesn’t seem to have given much consideration to the notion of retirement. He’s got livestream gigs coming up with Escargot Jazz and with Mishy Katz. Last week, he headlined the Laveen Folk Festival.

click to enlarge Alan Bishop in Bisbee with Detroit. - MICHAEL PISTRUI
Alan Bishop in Bisbee with Detroit.
Michael Pistrui
When social distancing curtailed live performing, Detroit’s friends shoved him reluctantly into the 21st century.

“He went kicking and screaming to social media, he didn’t do email, he had a flip phone,” Katz reports. “Now he’s got a tablet and a Facebook account, and we’re doing livestream concerts. I think he’s surprised to see how many people show up to hear him play.”

Detroit likes to remind people he has 97 videos on his Real Eddy Detroit YouTube channel, where fans can relive his 1978 Starwood performance or hear him sing “Trailer Trash Girl,” another of his recent hits.

“Eddy Detroit is a lifer,” Bishop says. “He’s a vaudevillian who’s stuck around to say ‘Fuck you’ to getting too old to do DIY music. Not a lot of musicians have done that. He’s one of a kind.”

“I guess I’ve done everything except work a regular job,” Detroit admits. “As long as I can do this, I’m fine,” he says, scooping his congas from the pile of clippings on his bed and thumping a staccato rat-a-tat-tat.

“My mother took me to a fortune teller when I was 10 years old,” he yells over his drumming. “She told me I wasn’t going to just be a drummer. She said I would wind up doing a little bit of everything, and I would be living in a state whose name started with the letter A.”

Eddy Detroit stops drumming and tosses his congas back onto his bed. “But that is another story.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela