Tony D’Annunzio’s Louder Than Love – The Grande Ballroom Story Captures the Essence of a Music era in Detroit. Tony talks about his passion for Family, Music and the Motor City
Louder Than Love-The Grande Ball Room Story has played to sold out crowds at 12 film festivals across the country. Sold out at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, was hand picked by Michael Moore to show at The Traverse City Film Festival and won “Best Documentary” at the Las Vegas Film Festival.
Louder Than Love Link click HERE.
JAR – You were born and raised in Detroit?
Tony D’Annunzio – Yes, I was born at 8 Mile and Gratiot, technically East Detroit. Born down in Detroit. Raised here, and I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve traveled the world for work and this is the place I love.
JAR – Obviously you’re a music fan.
TD – I’m a huge music fan. Music to me is right up there with family. When I hear music it brings me to different places. Some people have senses like smell…they smell something and it takes them back in memory. For some people it’s a picture. For me it’s music and when I hear music (different kinds of music) it will bring me to a different time and place. I grew up in a big Italian family and music was always on in the house. My dad listened to big band, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. My brother turned me on to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and then I slowly started learning about the Detroit mark and it’s been a passion of mine ever since.
JAR – How did you become interested in the Grande Ballroom?
TD – The Grande Ballroom has always been this kind of legendary place-If you weren’t born in that era, I wasn’t lucky enough to have gone there. I was born July 4th of 1966, the Grande opened in October of 66 so I missed the whole time frame of the Grande. You grow up and you hear about it from cousins, uncles and friends that are older and they would say “man The Who for three dollars and Led Zeppelin on their first American tour”. Those were the national acts. Take it a step further with the local bands that started there-Ted Nugent, Iggy Pop, The MC5, Alice Cooper, Third Power, Savage Grace and The Frost (Dick Wagner) Holy Smokes. The Grande had just been this legendary place that I just wanted to know about and as a music fan I just wanted to learn more.
JAR – What type of support did you get from family and friends through out the project?
TD– Well my wife did the catering (Ha, ha), obviously my mom, I give her a lot of credit and my brother John. Karl Rausch at Forest Post Productions did all the editing for me. This was a self-funded project. I had a lot of support from friends and family. Not so much monetarily although a lot of people did help out. Just knowing that they were on my side and they were going to support me was a big help. I personally have been doing production here in the Detroit area since 1987. I graduated from Specs Howard. There were only three major networks at that time, ABC, NBC and CBS. I started working right at the time of the birth of cable. I always tell people if there’s three or four letters in the stations name I worked for them. I’m proud of my work history over the last 20 years. I have had the honor of meeting six of the last seven Presidents of the United States.
JAR- I take it you have worked with with some big names in the industry
TD – I’ve worked with some of my biggest music icons. I’ve worked with Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and The Who. I met my wife when I was working on the Horde Festival (Blues Traveler, Black Crowes, Dave Matthews and more) show in 1995. I have done Super Bowl’s and World Series.
JAR -How did the idea come about- where were or what were you thinking when you first thought about doing a documentary on the Grande Ballroom?
TD – At the twenty-year mark of my professional career I had a “Come to Jesus” moment with a friend of mine. We were talking about things we hadn’t done and for me that was making a documentary. That was why I got into this business in the first place. All of this great stuff I told you about, it got in the way… but in a good way. It was time for Tony to do something for Tony and it was this documentary. A friend of mine, Mike Staff, (WRIF fame and Mike Staff Productions) is the one who challenged me. He asked what haven’t you done? I said wow… I got into this business to make a documentary and he said, “why not now, you have to challenge yourself”. That was New Years Eve 2007 going into 2008.
JAR – What challenges did you come across before and/or during the project?
TD – I hemmed and hawed at the beginning as people usually do. I made excuses. Then I realized Mike was right… you have to challenge yourself. There are times as a parent (My daughter is twelve, my son is eight) when I saw that my kids were challenged everyday in learning how to read, write, and even how to socialize. We as adults forget that. I was complacent and thought it was time to put a challenge out. I never gave up. My wife Sherry never questioned why I was doing this.
Jar – When did you decide it was going to be the Grande Ballroom (Louder Than Love)?
TD – Because of my love for music and to make a documentary with any substance it was going to take three to five years to do this. I decided if your going to do a project for three to five years you’ve got to have some resilience and you’ve got to have something you love. Detroit was on the top of the list for music and for me that was a big thing. So I started thinking what stories haven’t been told and I thought about the Grande Ballroom. I did some research and nobody had ever done a documentary about it.
JAR – So here you come a guy born in 1966, the same year the Grande opened, you would never be there and you decide to produce a documentary on it. I viewed the movie in Ann Arbor and I’m looking around at a crowd that was made up of Grande Patrons. I was amazed at the reception
TD – Yeah, Yeah that’s exactly right. The viewing crowds are made up of the 45-65 year old demographic. The younger ones have heard the stories from older siblings or other family members or friends who were there. I think that is the reason why I got some of the interviews I did (Dick Wagner, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Roger Daltrey and many more). These artists were very excited about what they had done and they wanted to tell their story in their voice.
JAR – There was a lot of tension in Detroit and the Country in the late 60’s. Besides the Detroit Tigers winning the “68” World Series and the Grande, there really wasn’t a lot of positive energy within Detroit. I’m sure this crossed your mind
TD – In the late 60’s we’re talking racial riots and Vietnam… some pretty significant game changers. When I was asking people about that era in Detroit and asked about the Grande, it lit a little twinkle in their eye. They loved telling about it, because it was a special place. I think there are a lot of other great Detroit stories that are out there and need to be uncovered. I’m kind of done apologizing for Detroit. I don’t think we need to… we live in Detroit, I’m from Detroit and I love the music. I think the documentary is compelling and positive.
JAR – So once you became serious about the project how long did it take you to complete it?
TD – I gave myself three to five years and it took just over four years and it will be a year in April since it’s been released.
JAR – The movie right now is mainly playing film festivals through out the Country along with some exclusive showings from time to time. Correct?
TD – Since April it’s been to twelve different festivals. Some had double showings, 16-18 showings all with capacity crowds. In Las Vegas it won the award for the best documentary. It sold out at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
JAR – Were you surprised at the success the film had outside the Michigan area at the various festivals and showings?
TD – That’s a great question. I knew it was going to do well here in Detroit, but when I started getting some of the interviews from people like Roger Daltrey and BB King on a national level, I knew if the story meant enough for them to do the interviews and tell the story, there were going to be people who would listen. There is a lot of Grande era people that moved all over the country when the population of Detroit dropped from approximately 1.6 million people to Seven hundred and some thousand people.
JAR – Michael Moore actually hand picked your movie to announce at the Traverse City Film Festival. Can you talk about the experience?
TD – Yeah… wow… Michael Moore. The documentary’s – documentary (Laughing). He’s the man. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Michael Moore through out my production career. The Traverse City Film Festival is a little different. You have to be invited. You don’t submit your film. So I got a call from the head programmer of the festival and she told me Michael Moore handpicked my film for the festival. I was floored and still am when I think about it today. When we got up to Traverse City I was introduced to Michael, only this time as a film producer. He asked me if he could introduce my movie. I give Michael Moore and the Traverse City Film Festival people all the credit in the world for making such a great festival here in Michigan.
JAR – There’s conversation with many artists who have graced the Grande. Mark Farner, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Roger Daltrey and many others. What I found amazing is that you could see The Who, Janis Joplin and The James Gang on the same bill for $5.00. Could you imagine that today?
TD – I would take it a step further. It pre dates Lollapalooza. What I thought was cool is that Lollapalooza had these successful festivals with different bands from different genres. When you went to the Grande you could have seen Sun Ra, The Stooges and James Cotton on the same bill. If you were coming for the Stooges you may have then been turned on to James Cotton. The fact that it was five dollars didn’t hurt. There are some great bands in Detroit you can see at three and five dollar venues today- White Shag, Citizen Zero, Jennifer Westwood and many others I’m forgetting and I mean no disrespect. We have great music in Detroit.
JAR – Who’s next from Detroit?
TD – Man, I tell you this is a talent pool. I love Dana’s band 60 Second Crush, I love White Shag (Laura Mendoza) they have got this power band that just kicks ass. I love Jennifer Westwood and Dylan and Jackson… those guys have got a great sound. I love the Infatuations; I love Ty Stone and Citizen Zero. Wow, you know what I’m missing bands… and again no disrespect. It’s just amazing the amount of talent we have here in Detroit. How do we showcase this talent? What’s the next step? We need something locally that incubates these bands.
JAR – I love the setting of the movie shot in the Grande using the stage has the background – what type of visual or style were you trying to portray to your audiences?
TD – Couple of things. Everything I shot in there during the last couple of years reflected the state of condition the Grande was in. When I went in there I had envisioned the photos on the stage and Karl Rausch took it to another level. When he showed me that, it made my hairs stand, I mean wow. When he did that it was just genius in my mind.
JAR – At what point in time did you realize the film would be successful?
TD – Well, how do you gauge success? Success for me was just finishing it. After 20 years of being in production I never saw my work on the big screen. Success for me was showing it at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I’m a storyteller and a filmmaker and I’ve got more of these in me. Thank you very much for saying it’s successful, I mean I know it is and thank you.
JAR – What special ways do you feel your film has touched the fans? Do you get feedback in this arena?
TD – Oh wow. The best thing is the people at the theater, Russ Gibb crying tears of joy, or the people that lived it coming up to me and saying “wow, you did it”. I’ve been telling people about this for years. I think that is super cool. I’m grateful I got to be the person to tell the story.
JAR – As we sit here now coming up on 2013 what would you say your biggest accomplishment is to date?
TD – Wow. No question…two kids and a happy marriage. Without family none of this would have got off the ground. I can’t say enough about the love of my wife. She has been behind me all the way. It’s a great ride and I hope it continues.
JAR – What’s next?
TD – Because I love music, the Paradise Valley story of Detroit. It’s about the Blues and Jazz era. It’s all basically in this area. We are sitting in it. Harmony Park. What an amazing time having what I’m thinking were twelve to fifteen clubs where you could see John Lee Hooker at one and Miles Davis and John Coltrane at another. It’s an era of music that pre dates Motown with a lot of history to be told. Detroit has a lot of stories that still need to be told. I’m proud to be from Detroit and I wear it as a badge of honor.