Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Like the Last 30 Years Never Happened: Understanding Detroit Rock Music Through Oral History

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

James Foust (Advisor)

Second Advisor

John Warren (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Victoria Ekstrand (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Andrew Schocket (Committee Member)


This study was conducted to better understand Detroit’s unusual amount of rock music success. From the 1960s on, Detroit has continuously produced some of the nations most successful and influential rock and roll musicians. Through oral history research, this study looked specifically at the musical industry (record labels and radio stations), musical artists (recording artists and recording studios), and musical outlets (music venues and music retailers) with the intention to better uncover the aspects that allow the Detroit community to maintain an ongoing rock music success streak.

Through conducted interviews with many influential Detroit orientated musical leaders as well as referencing scarce existing literature, this study finds four distinct avenues that lead to Detroit’s longitudinal success. The study references the aspect of defiance as one of the key traits that allows Detroit to evade musical homogenization. This study also finds that Detroit’s unique publicity outlets (radio stations, music publications, counterculture promotions, and venues) offer a stronger voice and a larger audience for local musicians that translates into a larger musical fan base for Detroit musicians. This study documents how the unique suburban layout around the Detroit community provides segmented pockets of unique creativity. Finally, this study acknowledges that Detroit has maintained the direction and overall ideals of the early rock music pioneers of 1960s without letting evolving cultural trends dilute the regional music climate.