Punchy and angular, Retro came together when several members connected through the Cass Corridor arts scene and Detroit public radio in late 1978.
At the time, poet/writer James Atkinson was living in the corridor and had become associates with writer Dennis Teichman who hosted WDET’s Dimension show. Through his girlfriend at the time, Frank Callis started playing and recording demos in the radio station’s studios with Atkinson and guitarist Dan Cicchelli. Around the same time, Martin Bandyke was doing guest spots on Dimension playing records. Bandyke had already been a drummer for The Zooks with Gearld Sicolvan. So, when Bandyke was offered an opportunity to jam with Atkinson, Callis and Cicchelli, he asked if he could bring along Siclovan. While some of the early rehearsals took place in WDET’s large studio, originally used for the Lone Ranger radio show in the 1930s at then WXYZ radio inside the Maccabees Building. The band later practiced in the suburbs, at Alvin’s, and also on a storefront on Willis in the Cass Corridor.
After eight months of rehearsals, Retro’s first gig was at the Silver Bird in 1979 on a bill with R.U.R. after a contact with the band’s manager through Dearborn Music. After meeting Vince Bannon, Retro started to get shows at Bookie’s Club 870 opening for numerous acts such as Iggy Pop, Gang of Four, Simple Minds, and Pere Ubu. The band also opened for Robert Fripp at Harpo’s and John Cale at Second Chance. While taking those opportunities, Retro also stayed close to its roots in the Cass Corridor playing notable venues such as Alvin’s.
The band released a 7-inch single in 1980 – “U Boat” b/w “Picture Plane” – featuring a white cross image. For several months after, the band would play using a large Swiss flag as a stage backdrop. A second release, a 12-inch six-track split EP with Trainable, was released in 1981 by Transcity Records. Retro did receive some interest from A&M Records at the time, but a deal failed to materialize.
Following an argument with Atkinson, Callis says he was fired by from Retro. Siclovan says the firing, without the consultation of the rest of the band, was sort of “the beginning of the end” of Retro. Callis was replaced by Ralph Valdez, WDET DJ and former member of Algebra Mothers. Around the same time another member of the A-Moms, Larry Rosa, joined Retro on keyboards.
Retro continued on until a planned “final show” in March 1982 at Alvin’s on Cass Avenue near Wayne State University, just a few blocks from where the band was formed at WDET.
After Callis was let go, he met up with Dave Rice and went on to join L-Seven. Starting in 1983, Bandyke and Valdez took over Dimension before getting their own separate daily radio shows on WDET starting around 1990. The pair would host on the station until 2005. Bandyke continues his work in radio as a host on Ann Arbor’s WQKL 107.1FM. Valdez continues to work in the arts in Metro Detroit including assisting with the annual Concert of Colors events. Siclovan continues to record and release music. Atkinson, who authored several books including “Beneath the Brutes” and “Seduced and Abandoned”, died in 2004.
Music from Retro can be found on bandcamp.