Phoenix songwriter Eddy Detroit walks slowly and talks fast.
Both qualities are easy to account for. At 59, his body is worn from years of psychedelic experimentation, S&M sex, and a mix of what he describes as Karmic retribution and ailments passed down through his Lebanese heritage. But his mind is like a whirling dervish, and he rattles of stories about Iggy Pop, his past lives as a silent movie star and archeologist, his unabashed love of women's feet, and his mythic history in Phoenix with little time to catch up. He ricochets among decades and sometimes veers into entirely new topics, only to pick up exactly where he left off.
"I like the variety," Detroit says, leading me into his small mobile home in West Phoenix, and clearing off a chair for me to sit on. "No wife, no kids, no girlfriend. I don't even want one. I'm having too much fun at 59, like I did when I was 15. In '67, I turned out to be a hippie," he says trailing off. "I've got a whole bunch of archives here that you're going to love . . ."
The archives are scattered haphazardly around the floor. "Welcome to the House of Clutter," he says. The floors are covered in old pictures, fliers, and magazines. "All this stuff is in kind of bad shape. Like me."
Cassettes by The Beatles and Howlin' Wolf are strewn across the counter, and CDs, books, a jar of peanut butter, and DVDs boasting Prison Girls triple features are spread across a small table, and the windows are covered by collages of women cut out from magazines. There are drums in the corner, and near a portable DVD player are a couple of brand-new copies of Eddy Detroit Meets The Sun City Girls, the inaugural vinyl release by Ammit Records, the record label offshoot of downtown record store Revolver Records.
The record features three tracks: "Shango," recorded in 1983 at Tony's Italian Pizza in Tempe; "Pyxxymphony," recorded on a Teac four-track in 1993; and "Ya Boo," in a condemned house in downtown Phoenix in 1984. At the time, Charlie Gocher and Alan and Richard Bishop, better known as The Sun City Girls, occupied the house. The trio appears on all three tracks, backing Detroit, who plays conga.
"They were living in this old house on 15th and Roosevelt — the place was almost abandoned. I don't think they had any running water or anything. I had a mountain dulcimer, all these folk instruments and string instruments. Charlie was with them — he's passed away now — but he started singing this voodoo chant. There's good voodoo and bad. Sometimes I get tempted to do the bad, and that's pretty dangerous stuff. But I'm like Donald Duck: I don't give a fuck. You can print that."
Most Internet search results for Detroit connect him to The Sun City Girls. He still speaks with the Bishops, who gave their blessing for Detroit and Ammit to release the recordings, which Detroit had stored with hundreds of unreleased tapes, from unheard Eddy Detroit folk records to free jazz from the U-Bang-E Quartet, a group Detroit formed with some African musicians in the '90s.
Though Detroit is thought of as a shadowy, reclusive figure in the musical underground, he's disarmingly open in person, willing to talk about his disability checks, his sexual quirks — at one point he puts on a video in which a punk show recorded at The El Ranch de Las Muertos art gallery devolved into on-stage sex acts between Detroit and his then girlfriend (she also appears on the cover of the new single, painted as a cheetah) — and the youthful rebellion that led him to the biker-hippie subculture.
"I come from a wealthy family. My parents were very worried about me. I was just a very angry young guy, for whatever reason," he says. In 1963, he started playing drums in a rock 'n' roll cover band called The Premieres, but he truly immersed himself in the music in 1967.
"[That] was the year I made the breakthrough," he says. "A friend of mine, his brother came back from Vietnam, and he brought back a whole bunch of Vietnamese pot. I got so stoned, I couldn't move, man. I thought I was in an airplane."
A grade-school dropout, Detroit explored an alternative education. He joined the White Panther party in Detroit and investigated the pre-punk sounds of the The Stooges and MC5 ("We all smoked dope on the state Capitol and got beat up by the cops"). He spent the '70s moving between London and Hollywood. In England, he spent time with songwriter Mary Hopkin, who would marry Tony Visconti, who produced albums by Detroit's biggest musical influence, Marc Bolan of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Bolan would achieve stardom with the glittery T. Rex incarnation of the band, but Detroit prefers the folkier sound of the early records. Flipping through Kodak prints of Hopkin and Ringo Starr outside Apple Studios, Detroit laughs. "I was in love with this girl. That's a long time ago, bud. That's a long time ago."
In L.A., he fell in love with the sound of avant-garde music and the burgeoning punk sound. His Permanent Wave Band, which mixed distorted guitars and Detroit's frenetic hand drums, played at clubs like The Masque. Detroit left L.A. in 1981, moving to Phoenix, where rent was more reasonable. He immersed himself in the scene, playing around with Meat Puppets, JFA, Mighty Sphincter, and more. His crazed, Satanic-leaning folk-punk quickly endeared him to local weirdos. ("I'm no longer a Satanist," he says. "I'm not into that no more. That's old hat; I went through that phase.")
Throughout the '90s, he worked as an operator for Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends Network and managed an underground coffeehouse, The Grotto, where he also lived. He continued making albums, releasing them himself, including 1997's Jungle Captive, and Street of Dreams in 2010. That same year, Assophone Records re-pressed his legendary 1982 release, Immortal Gods, whose cover features a headless Detroit atop a horse with a shoeless flower girl he spotted on the street, posing in front of South Mountain's Mystery Castle.
"I've always been a magnet for the bizarre. That's the same with my music. Nobody plays the kind of music I play. Acid-folk . . . I'm still doing that today. Because it's obscure music."
Sitting in his House of Clutter, Detroit draws out his mandolin to play some new songs, offering a sneak peak at his next record, The Vagabond. Due in the spring and recorded with his friends at Revolver Records, the songs are whimsical but rooted in somber themes. The title track softly states, "In the twilight of the night, you can find the treasure of your mind / Whatever is true for you is true," while the second selection, "The Bittersweet Critter," moves toward more uncertain places, focusing on a "darkness that makes you ache."
"You've got to sway from [negative to positive]," Detroit says. "If you stay on one side, then that's all you're going to be; you're just going to be negative, you know? You end up committing suicide or doing yourself in. I can dwell on the negative side for quite some time, but you've got to pull yourself out of it. It's not easy to pull yourself out of it. I don't want to hurt anybody; I'm a peace-loving hippie. But, boy, I'll tell ya, pull my trigger the wrong way and I got to be careful. I've got to bite my tongue."