The garage rock trio Demolition Doll Rods take their Detroit roots seriously. Citing the Stooges and MC5 as their touchstones, the band plays the kind of stripped-down (literally) rock & roll that would bring misfortune to the ears of Frank Sinatra. In the 1990s, they released four albums and toured with Iggy Pop, Jon Spencer and the Cramps before tossing in the towel in 2007. They’ve reformed, recorded a new album and are back on the road in 2020.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll is the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression
it has been my misfortune to hear.” – Frank Sinatra
How can something as pedestrian as seeing a rock & roll band in a bar be so transcendent? After all, rock & roll as a way to deliverance is one tired trope, isn’t it? Try telling that to the Demolition Doll Rods, a long-gone trio from Detroit who play some of the most rudimentary, kick-ass backwoods jams — a greasy stew of country, garage rock, blues, and glam. On any given night when they plug in, tune-up, and unleash their brand of high energy Detroit rock, they can blow the doors off any beer joint in town.
Formed in 1994, the Demolition Doll Rods were made up of Margaret Doll Rod on rhythm guitar and vocals, Danny Doll Rod on lead guitar, and Margaret’s sister, Christine on drums. The Doll Rods released four full-length albums and a handful of singles until they took a hiatus in 2007. They reformed in 2019 with new drummer, Shelby Murphy and played a short tour of the Midwest, warming up Jon Spencer and his new band, The Hitmakers. I spoke to Margaret Doll Rod and Danny Doll Rod after their transcendent show at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
PKM: You toured with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in the mid-1990s. Is that how this short, summer tour came together?
MARGARET: He initially asked Danny to play. All the while the Doll Rods have been apart, Danny has been doing his own thing musically. There’s a lot to Danny, a lot to discover in that one little package! He’s really amazing and does so many different things. So anyway, when Jon Spencer asked Danny to tour with him, Danny said, “Well…If you want, the Doll Rods will play.
PKM: How did the Doll Rods initially get together?
DANNY: After The Gories broke up, I was pretty despondent. Margaret had gone on the one and only Gories tour (Europe, Spring ’92) and she got a taste of the rock & roll life and liked it. I think while we were on tour, she started cooking up the idea of starting a band. One day that summer when I was moping around and feeling lost, she told me she had an idea for a band and already had a name, Demolition Doll Rods. I said, “Wow, that’s a good name.” She told me she wanted it to be an all-girl band, but she wanted me to be in it. Would I be a girl in the band? I said, “Yeah!” It sounded like fun to me. Not long after that, I got dolled up in some of her clothes, a mini skirt and a wig, and we went to the Dally In The Alley together (Detroit street fair in the Wayne State University/Cass corridor area). That was my debut. We asked a friend of ours, Karyn Brown, to play drums. She wasn’t a drummer, but she’s a good friend who has great taste in rock & roll and she’s a wild one. She agreed to play. Her boyfriend was a drummer, so we used his kit and practiced in their basement on the southwest side of Detroit.
PKM: What kind of sound were you going for with the Doll Rods?
DANNY: Personally, I was looking to get into some more 70s style punk that we didn’t really get into in The Gories. I was listening to a lot of that stuff at that time. Also, Velvet Underground, blues, glam rock. We could barely play our instruments, so we had to keep it simple. I was just learning to play lead guitar then. I played mainly rhythm guitar in the Gories. Margaret was just learning how to play rock & roll rhythm guitar. She had played folk guitar in church prior to this.
PKM: When the Doll Rods first formed, did you tour constantly?
MARGARET: We toured about half the year. When we were home in Detroit, we played a lot – too much, really. In fact, we were playing so much that we made up another band with another name. We’d wear wigs and glasses and went under another name with a totally different look.
PKM: What was the name of that band?
MARGARET: Little Miss Lead & The Pussy Patrol. Danny played synthesizer, guitar and he also had a beat box. I just had a microphone. I danced and rapped. That’s what we would do if people asked us to play when we were already playing constantly. We’d say, “We can’t do the Doll Rods, but we can do this for you.”
PKM: What are your first memories of hearing music?
MARGARET: I think I was about five. My parents loved Elvis and my dad really loved Johnny Cash. That’s the kind of music I heard occasionally on the AM radio, going to church and back in the car. I thought that was amazing. When I was a little older, I remember our neighbors often blared Bob Seger. And another neighbor was Fireball Kellis. Fireball was trucker and a rockabilly musician. He was missing his front teeth and slicked his hair back, Elvis style. Sometimes he would perform on the roof of his house, rockabilly country music, very upbeat.
PKM: When did you start playing an instrument?
MARGARET: I remember asking for a guitar for Christmas. I think I was about 8 years old and in the third grade. My parents thought it would be good for me to take some lessons, so they sent me to a nun who taught guitar. She wasn’t so bad. One of the first songs she taught me was “One Tin Soldier.” She may have taught me a Glen Campbell song, too. It was just a way to learn chords. And then I played in the choir, as well.
We loved The Stooges and the MC5, but mostly The Stooges. We had a lot of pride in being from the same place and felt like we had to contribute something rocking and wild to that legacy, so that’s a big inspiration.
DANNY: I first started playing guitar when I was 19-years-old. My first guitar was a Vox Hurricane, made in Italy in the mid-Sixties.
PKM: Where did you grow up?
MARGARET: I grew up in a small town about 45 minutes south of Detroit called Rockwood. I went to Catholic grade school there for 8 years and then I went to high school in Gibraltar, Michigan on the Detroit River.
DANNY: I grew up on the north side of Detroit just south of 8 Mile – yes that 8 mile. I went to University of Detroit High School. I went to Catholic schools all my life except for kindergarten and first grade I went to a Detroit public school.
PKM: When did you start going into Detroit?
MARGARET: I think I was about 18. I ended up in Detroit because we had to take some test for school that recognized your IQ level. On the form for the test, you had to put down the name of a college you wanted to go to. My family as so poor, I didn’t even think going to college was part of the game plan. So I wrote down a college name – University of Detroit, a Catholic school – that I’d heard from a boy that I worked with. They wrote me back immediately saying that my grades and test scores were so good that I could go to school almost for free. I thought, this is great—room and board and I’ll be in Detroit, the farthest away from home I’d ever been, except for vacations. Just down the street from U of D was my first and favorite club, Bookies a famous club in Detroit that got bands and had a great DJ.
PKM: How did being in Detroit influence your musical style/sound?
DANNY: We loved The Stooges and the MC5, but mostly The Stooges. We had a lot of pride in being from the same place and felt like we had to contribute something rocking and wild to that legacy, so that’s a big inspiration. People ask, “What makes Detroit so great for music?” I always say that it’s all the people from the South who moved here to work in the auto industry. They brought all that great music with them. The Fortune record label (and all their related labels) is a perfect microcosm of Detroit music in the 50’s and early 60’s. There’s doo-wop, R&B, rock & roll, soul, rockabilly, hillbilly, gospel music, proto-funk. All that stuff had an influence on us. Also, I can’t fail to mention Parliament/Funkadelic. Detroit is also a bit of a backwater, and in the 80s and 90s, it was in a serious state of decay, so you had to really make your own thing out of nothing.
Demolition Doll Rods live @ Musikaos (Public TV Show from Brazil) (2001)
PKM: You’ve been known to play with hardly any clothes on. Is it simply for comfort or is there a deeper meaning behind it?
MARGARET: In Catholic school, they made this big deal about wearing uniforms. Their reasoning was that if everybody wears the same thing, nobody would pay attention to clothes and instead, concentrate on their studies.
You’ll notice for the first many years of the Doll Rods, we’re all wearing the exact same uniform. I was running around in a leotard and tights. I never thought of covering myself up. I mean, my mom was taking me to see Madam Butterfly at a very young age. And Madam Butterfly like rips her shirt off and her breasts are exposed. So I was exposed to the art all the time.
We started making leather outfits with Tom the Leather Man, who made outfits for Parliament Funkadelic. And he walked us through the design process.
DANNY: When we started, we wore clothes. I wore mini skirts and tights or panty hose and blouses or t-shirts, but the more we played, the more we wanted to move around on stage and the clothes ended up by the wayside.
The Rolling Stones between 1965 and 1972 were the best-dressed men in the world and that’s where I get most of my fashion inspiration
PKM: Margaret, can you talk about how your view of your body image, in light of your religious upbringing, impacted your sense of self and, ultimately, your style on stage?
MARGARET: [When] the factory my dad worked in closed, we had no money, so there were no new clothes or anything like that. It came at a time when I was growing physically. The clothes I had didn’t fit me. They were too small, too tight and I was developing in every way you could possibly imagine. Like instantly.
It got to the point where the nun said I could no longer stand next to her in church. I had to be put in the back of the choir, which was kind of like in a hallway, so that no one could see me.
Things like this were the first inspiration for doing whatever I could to say that this is the body that God put me in and I have a right to be whoever I want, how ever I want, and you can’t bury me in clothes and shove me in a corner just because of your small mind. And I thought that maybe it was just the mind of the nuns, but I realized it was the mind of most of America.
Funny, none of them are nuns anymore. Every single one of them has left the convent. One is married and the other two are, I believe, lovers.
My mother had taken me to a super backwoods hair salon and I got a long shag and my clothes were too small. All my pants were too short so everything was floods and I was feeling really out of place. Well, that Saturday, a band came on and they were the Bay City Rollers! And their hair was all fucked up and their clothes were all too short, too small and I was like, “Oh, fudge, there’s others out there like me!”
PKM: When you do wear clothes Danny, you are a snappy dresser to say the least. I mean you may have the best footwear in rock-n-roll! How would you describe your style?
DANNY: I think The Rolling Stones between 1965 and 1972 were the best-dressed men in the world and that’s where I get most of my fashion inspiration. I also love Bowie’s style. Other fashion icons for me are Marc Bolan, Eno, and Jimi Hendrix.
PKM: The Doll Rods decided to take a break in 2007. Why? And how many years was it before you played together again?
DANNY: By 2006, we had been a band for 13 years. Personally, I needed a break. Margaret’s sister, Christine, who had been the drummer in the band for almost the whole time, had left the band the year before that, and we had a new drummer, but it wasn’t really working out. We just started playing together again a few months ago with another drummer, Shelby Murphy.
PKM: Danny, you also put out a solo album on Third Man Records. How is that work different from your other music?
DANNY: The solo stuff is very different. It’s all acoustic, old time folk, blues, and gospel songs. It’s the real old roots of all the music I love.
PKM: The Demolition Doll Rods recently played in Spain. Was it a one-off show or did you tour there?
DANNY: The Festival we played in Spain was a one off, but we will do a full European tour after the album comes out.
PKM: What does the future hold for the Doll Rods (and how can we get you to play NYC?)
DANNY: We recorded a new album in September at High Bias Recordings here in Detroit. It will be coming out at some point this year, followed by a U.S and European tour. We’ll definitely be playing NYC!