He is a hustler. He uses music as his platform to inspire, bring growth and spread knowledge. If you have ever seen him play records you will see among the crowd a solid core of community friends up front and center. Bruce Bailey is a true Detroiter.
Being born and raised in Detroit directly developed his love for music, he says. “After all, from Motown to techno, us ‘Motor Citians’ have some substantial musical roots. Detroit is known for hard working individuals and I guess that really rubbed off on me.” Initially entering the scene as a promoter he decided to delve deeper into mixing records as he became witness to the inexplicable energy created by the music, the DJ, and the crowd.
His story’s trajectory truly demonstrates how versatile, grinding effort and an attitude that won’t quit can help you achieve your dreams. Bailey is a DJ, a promoter, a music lover and a businessman. Through various avenues and vessels he has established himself by taking opportunities as they come and perpetuating progress. He says, “It’s like working on my craft 24 hours a day is normal or something. I wouldn’t be able to stay relevant today without that instilled work ethic.”
It stretches back to his time spent as an undergraduate student at Western Michigan University. Centrally located between Detroit and Chicago, Bailey (with a foundation of music history from his hometown) started to become increasingly more exposed to Chicago house music. He and his friends were playing vinyl and at the time he says “the record purchasing craze was unbelievable.” They were able to tune into house music on numerous radio stations picked up with his roommate’s high frequency antenna. “I remember many a night (sometimes day) we would sit in the dorm room with sounds blasting, writing down what we thought were the names of new music we had never heard. On weekends we would drive down to the Windy City and purchase vinyl or send word to the Detroit buyers to grab some of this new music we’ve heard.”
As he started to become more established within the scene, Bailey and his partner Vern English worked together to found Tandem Entertainment Company. They both had been spinning since college. “We were getting booked individually at a ridiculous clip. One day we collectively decided that we needed to emerge from the underground way of doing business. So, we added eight or so additional DJs, sound techs and personalities to the team to help cover the plethora of events we couldn’t keep up with beforehand. It not only helped us to totally legitimize the steady stream of revenue but also assist us in multiple tax related ways,” he says. “Over the years ‘The Tandem Brand’ has covered a diverse number of events as our DJ services became mandatory from numerous corporate and underground bookings. To this day The Tandem is the most utilized DJ company in Metro Detroit.”
Throughout Detroit he has held residencies in the city’s most reputable spots. Bailey’s first was at Cheeks, a legendary establishment where Jeff Mills’ Wizard persona came to fruition. The spot was also home to moments like the debut of Inner City’s “Good Life”. In 1991 Bailey went on to become head promoter and resident DJ at Club 246 where he stayed for seven years. It was during this time that DJ Minx got her start, Delano Smith got back behind the decks, and the stage saw the likes of so many local favorites like Norm Talley, Moodymann, Al Ester, and Terrence Parker.
“This is arguably the most historic club in Detroit history and the stories from this era are nothing less than amazing. Probably the most memorable was – well let me set the stage first…” he says. “Club 246 was located on the street level of The Madison Hotel in the thick of Downtown Detroit. The night I was given to run was a Thursday. In the early ‘90s you couldn’t get a continuous weekend night to promote house music at any venue downtown, hence the Thursday night sets began. So, I’d say halfway through my seven year run (on a Sunday if I recall properly) I got a call from the owner saying there was a fire in the building. Now keep in mind all the other businesses within the hotel (including the hotel rooms themselves) were defunct except the ordinarily designed Club 246 and it’s adequately sized walkout patio.”
He continues, “So as you’d guess I’m in limbo regarding this situation as Thursdays were definitely the hottest thing going in Detroit at this time, house music wise. The fire department came out and extinguished the fire and it was a mess throughout the building. I knew we’d be closed for some time with a good possibility of never reopening. To my surprise a few days later I got a call saying that we were gonna try and move forward with opening up – I couldn’t believe it. Somehow we opened and it was super successful. Outta the disaster we got an upgraded sound system (so needed) and for maybe a week or two you could smell faint remnants of smoke, but unbelievably not even for one week did it deter the capacity crowds from supporting.”
After Club 246 closed he moved on to a restaurant called Lola’s in 2002. This residency lasted him about five years which he says “catapulted my brand and solidified a switch, as a week later I became the first resident DJ at TV Lounge.” At the time Bailey’s friend, Tree Graves, was the owner. Formerly called Half Past 3 (now frequently called TV Bar) this venue remains one of the strongest Detroit spots. “You see, Half Past 3 was more so the cool spot for the cities jet setters before transforming into the house/techno mega club that it is today. Sport players and dignitaries flooded the venue on Fridays and the Salsa community filled the joint every Saturday.”
The list of residencies and artists that have performed either inside, on the patio or down the alley at TV Bar is innumerable. With a welcoming atmosphere the club’s energy continues strong longevity to this day for locals and visitors alike. Bailey says, “TV Lounge is a family and I’d like to think I did my share of work in elevating it to the worldwide iconic status it receives today.”
There is an undeniable uniqueness to the Detroit hustle. It is grassroots, unrelenting and if you have seen it before you know there is a genuine confidence embodied in the energy. This is why you see (in many Detroit DJs and producers) this particular attitude which makes their presence so special. Especially during the time before technology, there was a limited accessibility in sharing sounds. It took, as Bailey and so many others did, pushing out hundreds of cassette mixtapes. Speaking to people face-to-face and developing real-time connections was the only accessible avenue anyone had to make their name known. In Bailey’s mind it’s how you set yourself apart.
“Here in Detroit you’d never solely make it in the DJ business if you sat back and waited for clients to contact you. If you excelled here in The D, you must be liked, have a solid game plan and also the intellect to overcome obstacles – hell, I always say if it was easy everyone would be doing it (successfully),” he says. When you see Bailey play on home turf it is so apparent that he has developed and maintained relationships throughout the years. Keeping those personal connections alive is a foundation for success is just about anything.
“Certain things you do dictate your character and I believe that represented mine in the best fashion. Of course my original saying had to go on this sign as marketing waits for no one – ‘the brand don’t build itself.’” – BRUCE BAILEY
There is plenty on the horizon for Bailey starting this spring with the release of his latest EP The Detroit Room through Open Bar Music. He says, “This two track release has been simmering for quite a few months. Additional production by Oscar P and Delano Smith make this a sure fire underground hit for the deep house music fan.”
Additionally, you can also look forward to a two-day boutique festival in Detroit during the last weekend of June at TV Lounge. With efforts from Bailey, the venue’s staff, Josh Guerin and Delano Smith, talent is booked and “people can expect the official announcement sometime early May. Collectively we couldn’t be more excited about our first stab at a local festival.”
Within Bailey is a deeply motivated passion to create and build. He blends together his entrepreneurial spirit and his love for music in a way that is tasteful, genuine and inspiring. The name Bruce Bailey, is more than just a name. “Music for me is a collection of emotions. I love it for the way it brings people together and how it unites communities. Without music there would definitely be a void in my life. I look forward to spreading my love of music around more this year as I have road shows in China, New York, Houston, Chicago, Dallas, North Carolina, Los Angeles and Virginia already set for this year. Yup, I love music…”
Catch Bruce Saturday night in Rochester for Signal > Noise.