Biking to Detroit’s musical heritage

Detroit has a tremendous history, which makes for some great biking destinations.

Yesterday I rode to 635 Belmont Street just north of Detroit’s Arden Park-East Boston Historic District. This is where Diana Ross grew up until she was 14 and her family moved to the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, those abandoned towers just north of Ford Field.

The Brewster-Douglass projects were also home to Lily Tomlin, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Smokey Robinson. And, Bettye Lavette lived across the alley from Smokey.

Bettye has an amazing story. She recorded a hit single when she was just 16, but little success followed. She spent 40 years trying to make it in the music business. Much of that time was spent in the Locker Room Lounge on Livernois not too far north from the University of Detroit-Mercy campus.

While her fortunes have turned around with her two most recent albums, in this interview, she reflects on her less successful times.

This evening I’m going to a place [in Detroit] called The Locker Room, which is what the “Old Soldiers” song is really about [to me]. I was in there at least two nights a week, whenever I could get a ride. The Spinners hung out in there and sat at the big shot end of the bar, and I sat at the dirty end as they called it. But I would send all of my tabs up to the big shot end [laughs]. I hung there for 10 or 15 years…so often people would come in and say things like “Didn’t you used to be Bettye Lavette?” or “Do you still sing” A lot of love happened there, a lot of drunk happened there, a lot of crying…but I know that I can always go there.

Bettye’s video for “Old Soldiers” was filmed at the Locker Room.

[Yes, the Locker Room Lounge is on the 2009 Beers and Gears ride. We’ll be at the dirty end.]


  1. Comment by Kevin on November 11, 2009 11:53 am

    Great post! When/ where is the Beers and Gears ride? Sounds fun –> is it open to others?

  2. Comment by Todd Scott on November 11, 2009 12:00 pm

    Yeah, it’s a group ride that others can join in so long as you can ride about 35 miles at a moderate pace and not complain too much. 🙂

    We’re starting at the Starbucks in Downtown Royal Oak this Saturday at 11:45AM. We have stops planned for six classic, off the beaten path Detroit bars.

  3. Pingback by Beers and Gears Detroit Bar Tour | on November 16, 2009 11:13 am

    […] Curtis (6.5 mile.) Cleo was working behind the bar and was awesome. I’d already mentioned the music history behind this bar, including it being Bettye Lavette’s stomping grounds. As it turns out, her cousin was […]

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