“(Producer Jack Tann) said I don’t mean to disrespect by this name and, we were like “yeah, well what is it?”, he said “The Niggers”. We looked at each other, we looked at Jack, and he was sitting there scared to death,” said Reno Richards.

The roots of one of the first all-Black groups to play and tour as a punk rock band starts in an eastside Detroit neighborhood near French Road and Shoemaker around 1970. That was when Kenny “Reno” Richards, who was about 13 at the time, started an R&B group with some middle school friends. Within two years the group had a manager, Ace Jones, and was called The Salt & Pepper Band (or SPB) while featuring a White piano player and horn section. It was around this time the group started to branch out into jazz and blues as their manager got them bigger gigs,  including one playing a George McGovern for President campaign event in Metro Detroit. The group followed up the bigger local shows by a tour of the Midwest and the South, including a show at Tuskegee University in Alabama. According to Discogs, The Salt & Pepper Band backed up Jones on two singles – one in 1976 and one in 1977.

A few years earlier around 1975 just before the singles a four-piece version of The Salt & Pepper Band started playing heavy rock and roll music.

Sometime in 1977 Jones took the band to meet Jack Tann and Don Fagenson (later known as Grammy-winning producer Don Was) after seeing an ad in a Detroit paper seeking an all-Black band to play punk rock. At the time Tann and Fagenson were looking to produce several acts to cater to the emerging punk rock market. Richards said their unnamed band rehearsed for about six months before Tann suggested the new name in a meeting, showing them the dictionary definition of the word, and saying it was ironic because it meant things the band was not, like “lazy” and “shiftless”. Richards said when it was suggested his bandmates stepped out, took a few minutes to think about it, and then decided to go forward with it because they figured it would get attention and bring in an audience.

“Man, that’s a hell of a name. That is not us, especially me. I remember going by my mom’s and the article in the Detroit Free Press was coming out the next day. I was 21, married two years, but I knew I had to tell my mom about this first. I told her we changed the name of the band and she said “well, what is it?” I told her to sit down and then I told her “we decided on the name The Niggers”. I remember she looked at me and said “WHAT?!?” It was a trip, man. My father was like “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU, BOY?” I told them the name doesn’t bother me at all. You taught me I’m not that. But still, they asked, “why do you want that name?” I told them, people are going to take notice and we felt it was time because people had been saying that name for centuries behind doors… let’s see if they can say it to our faces? What we wanted from people was for them to see it and go “WHAT? We’ve got to see these guys”,” said Richards.

The Detroit Free Press ran a February 26th, 1978 article on the band. By this time they had recorded at least one demo, a song entitled “Crazy White Bitch”.

“See, it’s a barrier between black and white, that word. We’re trying to break that barrier, like Richard Pryor. You got to smash it, to go beyond, and we feel like we bringin’ people more closer together. We’re trying to help, and I really like I love everybody… we really want people to understand. We ain’t out to offend no one. But things have got to change. And we gonna be part of that.” – Toby Davis Richards to the Detroit Free Press (February 26th, 1978)

In a six-page booklet created to drum up business for the Motor City Revue, it states: “The only Black New Wave band in the world, The Niggers make their national debut in February with The Motor City Revue.

Trading off the explosive nature of their name, The Niggers will automatically generate curiosity, notoriety and excitement as they travel from city to city. The Niggers are much more than an outrageous name. They are a powerful music mutation destined to gain national recognition.

Combined with The Traitors and The Pigs they make the Motor City Revue the most unusual package offered in 1978.”

Producer Ace Jones, wearing a turban and a black leather jacket, told the Detroit Free Press in the same article that as a blues guitarist in his 40s and originally from Alabama, understood the concerns about the name.

“I’ve been with these boys, keep ’em together, since they was 13. Now they are 20, 21 years old. They played jazz, they played the blues, they played waltz and polka music when I got ’em work at parties in Bloomfield Hills. They played for migrant workers, and I taught ’em Latin music.

I was nervous about the name. I asked 50 people – white and black – about it. These were my friends. A couple said, “Ace, you’re crazy.” But most of ’em said it’s time words like this that were said in private should be bought out there.

Sure, we want to cash in and go to the top. It ain’t been easy. Can you blame us? We got a gimmick. But we ain’t sellin’ ourselves-or the people-out.”

To help drum up business a six-page booklet was created for The Motor City Revue, it stated: “The only Black New Wave band in the world, The Niggers make their national debut in February with The Motor City Revue.

Trading off the explosive nature of their name, The Niggers will automatically generate curiosity, notoriety and excitement as they travel from city to city. The Niggers are much more than an outrageous name. They are a powerful music mutation destined to gain national recognition.

Combined with The Traitors and The Pigs they make the Motor City Revue the most unusual package offered in 1978.”

The band played as part of Tann-Fagenson’s Motor City Revue along with The Traitors and The Pigs at Bookie’s Club 870 on March 3rd and 4th, 1978. The three band bill went on to do shows in Boston, at the Hot Club in Philadelphia, and CBGB in New York later that same month. Richards said he believes his group was the first all-Black band to take on the mantel of “punk rock” and tour under it.

After taking part in the shows in the spring of 1978 guitarist Don McAlpine of The Traitors claims Richards’ band stopped touring as part of the Revue after a dispute about the headlining spot. Richards said he didn’t exactly remember why the group stopped playing with the Revue. But by the Fall of 1978 not only was the band done with its punk rock days but The Motor City Revue ended as The Pigs mutated into several new bands on the punk scene including The Boners and The Rushlow-King Combo just as Don Fagenson started laying the groundwork for his best known musical act with his friend David Weiss as Was (Not Was) premiered in 1979. Richards’s group continued playing R&B gigs in Detroit until it broke up around 1984, then he left for California the same year. As of 2020, Richards still plays bass on his own projects and as a studio musician for hire.

Noted collector, musician, and Third Man Records executive Ben Blackwell said the band’s demos would be a “holy grail” of Detroit’s late 1970’s punk rock scene. There have been efforts to find the band’s recordings over the years as Blackwell said friends of his at the Numero Group record label was planning to reissue the work of producer Ace Jones. In conversations with Jones, he said he did not have any of the group’s material and didn’t know where they might be. Richards said he still remembers the songs and plays them from time-to-time but the copies of the original demo recording from the 1970s have been lost.

 

“Musically, the group was surprisingly good. The material was a cross between Jimi Hendrix and the Funkadelics. It had the feel and punch of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – that could have been because one of the group’s songs used pretty much the same chord changes,” wrote Dave Zurawik, the reporter for the Detroit Free Press.

While guitarist J.C. Richards died in 2012, Reno Richards said he believes his former bandmates live in the Detroit area.

If you happen to have any additional information about the band or recordings please let us know.

Have a story or information to share about The Niggers? You can do that here.

12 thoughts on “The Niggers

  1. “One day they might take me. But they won’t take me alive.
    It’s a dog-eat-dog world, where only the strong survive.
    And I’m a dirty dog! Dirty Dog! Dirty Dog!”

    Dog Jackson from The Niggers’ song, “Dirty Dog”.

    1. This is Reno Richards, The Legend now known as Kennymac, still playing Bass, Trying to get in touch with Don Was….. anyone that knows Don HIT EM UP, and I’m in Sacramento California and I’m looking for Work 🎸🚬✌🏽

  2. When we played The Rat in Boston, the lead guitarist J.C. Richards was nowhere to be found; when Jack Tann called them onstage for their sound check. As previously mentioned, that band sat in at several Traitors rehearsals to copy our style. I grabbed my Les Paul, hopped up on stage, plugged into my Ampeg V4 amp, and banged out the opening chop for their signature song, “Dirty Dog”, so their song check could be completed. I even joined in singing the chorus…”Dirty Dog! Dirty Dog! Dirty Dog! I’m a dirty dog”, so that the sound man, my brother Richard, could set the mic level. When we were done, Dog gaped at me, as did the rest of the band members, and said, “Damn, Don”, by way of a compliment.

      1. Yes, according to the Free Press article, there was a demo. We have been searching of it… so far, not luck.

        1. This is Reno Richards I’m in Sacramento California still playing and trying to contact Don Was, I go by Kennymac on Facebook

      2. This is Reno Richards known as Kennymac now I’m in Sacramento California right now and I’m still playing Bass been trying to find Don Was anyone that see’s this please notify Don Was 4ME….and I’m looking for work …. Yes we did an Album….. Crazy White Bitch which was never Released 🎸🚬✌🏽

  3. This is Reno Richards known as Kennymac now I’m in Sacramento California right now and I’m still playing Bass been trying to find Don Was anyone that see’s this please notify Don Was 4ME….and I’m looking for work 🎸🚬✌🏽

  4. This is Lil Reno, Aka Lil KennyMac Reno’s son…if any songs are found please email them to me @KennethRichards1120@gmail.com I’d love to have some of my Pops old music! S/o to the whole group 💪🏼🔥💯

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