published April 15, 2015 | posted by detroit
By Jon Liebman
April 14, 2015
Ralphe Armstrong is a true music legend. A beast on both upright and electric bass, Armstrong has been active in the professional music scene since he was a teenager, having done stints with everyone from Jeff Beck and Jean-Luc Ponty to John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa and the London Symphony Orchestra.
For years, Armstrong has been lauded in just about every place in the world, except his hometown of Detroit.
On Friday, April 10, Ralphe Armstrong was voted “Best Jazz Instrumentalist” at the Detroit Music Awards, an annual event that recognizes local talent in Grammy-style fashion. Previous DMA award shows have featured performances and guest appearances by the likes of Eminem, Kid Rock, Martha Reeves, Smokey Robinson, Bob Seger, Glenn Frey, Grand Funk Railroad, George Clinton and Ted Nugent.
Armstrong finds it odd that, while a major worldwide force in the music industry, he may have been taken for granted by his longtime friends and colleagues. “The reason why it’s strange is because I didn’t know they had anything like that,” says Armstrong. “I never was invited, I never got an award, I was like, ‘Damn, what happened? Somebody liked me!’”
“It’s funny,” he continues. “You live in the city. When I leave here, it’s a totally different thing, signing autographs. Then when I come home, it’s, ‘Gimme five dollars!’” [Laughs] “It’s totally different, but it’s all good.”
DMA co-founder and award show producer Gary Graff is proud to count Armstrong among Detroit’s music elite. “Ralphe Armstrong is a great example of the pinnacle of Detroit musicianship,” says Graff. “Not only is he a great musician, bandleader, collaborator, arranger – you name it – but he also gives back and pays his knowledge forward so that the music continues to new generations. He’s a treasure, and it was great that the voters saw fit to honor him this year.”
Ralphe Armstrong has always held a special place in his heart for his beloved hometown. “Detroit has got so many great musicians,” he says. “I think that’s what’s keeping me here, man. There’s so much talent!”
Now he’s making an effort to bring other musicians to Detroit so they can experience the city’s vibrancy first-hand. “We’ve got to make this place more cosmopolitan,” he says. “There’s a lot of good things going on here.”
Ralphe has invited his longtime friend Guy Pratt to the city to take part in Armstrong’s newest recording, which he’ll begin making May 11. The album, which will be mostly rock and fusion, will be a tribute to Detroit and will also include other Detroit-based musicians. Armstrong says there is “major label interest” in the upcoming release. “We’re changing the whole perception of Detroit,” he says. “People want to come here!”
Pratt, who has worked with Pink Floyd, Roxy Music and Michael Jackson, is the first on Armstrong’s list of music luminaries he’d like to bring to Detroit. Others in include legendary drummers Lenny White and Narada Michael Walden and Israeli bass sensation Yehuda Kaminsky.
Still “dumbfounded” about receiving his award, Armstrong is proud to be recognized by his neighborhood friends and colleagues. “I’m a big booster of Detroit and I thought the event was nice,” Armstrong said about Friday’s event. “It was wonderful and I appreciate them doing that for me. I’m really elated about it.”