By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Media personality, former concert promoter and visual arts teacher Russ Gibb died of heart failure Tuesday, April 30, at the age of 87 at Garden City Hospital.
Gibb began having respiratory distress while at Heartland Health Care Center, 26001 Ford Road in Dearborn Heights, Andy Fradkin, who was Gibb’s former student and power of attorney, told the Associated Press.
Gibb was born in Dearborn in 1931 as a son of Scottish natives.
He graduated from Michigan State University in 1953 with a degree in educational radio and television administration.
Gibb then began working as teacher in Howell and floor director at WWJ TV in Detroit on the weekends before landing a job at WKNR-AM in Dearborn in 1963.
After a visit to San Francisco in 1966, Gibb returned inspired and acquired the Grande Ballroom, 8592 Grand Ave. in Detroit, that same year.
He brought local, national and international talent like Jagged Edge, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Iggy Pop to Detroit.
He served as a concert promoter until the venue closed its doors in 1972.
Gibb began hosting America’s first coast-to-coast telephone call-in show named “Night Call” also in 1966. During his time as a disc jockey at WKNR, he became known for the “Paul is Dead” urban legend story in October 1969.
The conspiracy was brought to light by callers who listed clues from the Beatles songs on air speculating that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966 and was replaced. This led Gibb to leave the country and relocate to London.
Upon his return he went to Los Angeles where he briefly work in the record industry.
By the 1970s, Gibb returned to producing live shows with the Goose Lake Pop Festival which attracted audiences of over 250,000 people.
Next, he drew inspiration from a state-of-the-art video system he installed for Mick Jagger in London to developing cable television.
Gibb was able to purchase the Michigan cable licenses and franchise rights for Dearborn and Wayne in the 70s. With both cities now wired and connected for cable, Gibb sold the rights and licenses a few years later making him a millionaire.
In 1975, Gibb became interested in politics when he joined The National Director of Youth Education for the Bicentennial White House coordinating youth activities.
A couple of years later, Gibb began teaching again at Dearborn High School where he spent over 20 years as a visual arts instructor teaching video and media production.
During the 1980s and 1990s he mentored film students Mike Cody, Tom DeCerchio, Steve Turner, Kevin Knox and Andrew Erickson.
The video program still lives on today and is named the Russ Gibb Digital Media Center in Gibb’s honor. It includes a state-of-the-art facility which has produced hundreds of long and short award-winning films made by students.
Finally in 1987, Gibb began hosting his own local access cable named “Russ Gibb at Random” and also hosted WCSX-FM’s “Rock Chronicles” radio show the following year.
Following Gibb’s death, messages from friends and colleagues began poring in.
“When nobody else would book us, Uncle Russ would,” Alice Cooper said about Gibb according to the Oakland Press. “He gave the Alice Cooper group an early footing in Detroit. Not only was he at the Grande, but he was everywhere. Everybody knew him, he was a total Detroit rocker. He was as much a part of the Detroit rock scene as the MC5 or The Stooges or Alice Cooper.”
MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer tweeted, “My dear old friend Russ Gibb has departed this earth. He will be sorely missed. He was one of a kind.”
Anna Hrnjak, a former student of Gibb’s, shared her sentiments on Twitter.
“I was fortunate to be a student of Russ’s from ’84-’86,” Hrnjak wrote. “He made a tremendous impact on my life and also helped develop and curate the paths of so many talented kids. Sorry to hear of his passing.”
Artist and songwriter Joe Kidd wrote about Gibb’s importance to artists and music in a Facebook post.
“We just heard the devastating news that Dear Uncle Russ Gibb has died,” Kidd said. “As I sit here at the table, while the storm rages outside, I reflect upon one of the most influential men in the lives of countless young people living in the late 1960s. Russ provided a platform for a rebellion that revolutionized the local culture and allowed it to become a global force in the struggle for freedom and equal justice.”
Funeral services or memorial plans had not been announced as of press time.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)