Jack White Celebrates Opening of Third Man Pressing Plant in Detroit

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Gary Graff

Cakes at a party for the opening of Third Man Records store in Detroit.

An ebullient Jack White raised a plastic champagne flute on Friday night (Feb. 24) at his Third Man Records store in Detroit, toasting the opening of the Third Man's Pressing plant with a large crowd of invited guests.

"Thank you all for coming to celebrate this," White said as eight shiny Newbilt presses churned out vinyl in the background. "We're all one family. We're all together. This is ours together, and remember this moment, because we're making things beautiful for the next generation."

Spirits were indeed high as White and company officially opened the 10,000-square-foot operation -- privately on Friday and for the public on Saturday -- which is said to be the first recording pressing plant in the U.S. with all-new equipment in 35 years.

Back at the store, there were performances from rapper Danny Brown, Third Man Detroit-based country act the Craig Brown Band, and Detroit singer-songwriter Kelley Stoltz. But the real party was in the large converted municipal parking garage, where guests watched Third Man workers, who wore black jumpsuits and white lab coats, press red vinyl copies of albums by the White Stripes, Stooges, MC5, and techno pioneers Derrick May and Carl Craig, among others.

On the sidewalk outside, meanwhile, a few groups had pitched tents for an all-night stay so they'd be among the first to check out the plant when the store opened on Saturday morning.

"We wanted to be a label that had their own pressing plant," White told Billboard. "It's been a long time since Capitol and Columbia and all those labels had their own pressing plants.

"Wanda Jackson told me a story,” he continued. “She said, 'I couldn't get my records pressed because the Beatles were selling so well they wouldn't let me press my own record at Capitol.’ That was when I first started to say, 'One day Third Man's going to have at least a couple presses.' So now we've got eight. I couldn't ask for anything better than that."

As he squired his mother -- who pressed a Stooges album herself at the plant -- around the party, White added that it means a lot to have the plant operating in his burgeoning home town.

"I went to high school, like, three blocks away," he said. "My mom was an usher at Masonic (Temple). We played at the Gold Dollar. So it's perfect. Out of the darkness comes  the light, and what was considered the roughest neighborhood in Detroit... That's what's so beautiful about this rebirth. It's amazing to be part of it."

Alongside family and friends, Friday's party was also attended by musicians such as Stefanie Eulinberg (from Kid Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker Band); the Detroit Cobras' Mary Ramirez; Danny Kroha; the Oblivians; producer Mike E. Clark (Kid Rock, Insane Clown Posse) and more -- many of whom raged into Saturday's wee hours.

Derrick May beamed as he showed his 12-year-old daughter Soren the operation. "Let's hope that people appreciate it," May said. "Let's hope it inspired a lot of young people. It's right here, right at their fingertips. We're all excited."

White also used the party to bring together record plant operators from around the country -- “a gathering of the families," as one Third Man staffer put it. Many of the attendees who offered counsel as Third Man Pressing was being constructed were invited. They including United Record Pressing, Quality Record Pressing, Record Technology Inc., Rambino Records, Erika Records, Gotta Groove Records, Burlington Record Plant, and Third Man's Detroit neighbor Archer Record Pressing.

"I want us to all be a family and all be on the same team," White explains. "There's no competition. There's a four-month backlog 'cause there's so much demand for vinyl and there's not enough supply. There's not enough machines. Let's all be a family and do this together."

White had Third Man pressing in mind when the Detroit store opened in November 2015. The pressing machines had already been ordered from Germany, while White's brother-in-law Randy Cholewa -- a retired auto industry executive -- researched the business and put into motion a slick, efficient and environmentally-friendly operation, housed in what was once a municipal parking garage.

Third Man Pressing will employ about 20 people and operate one shift to start, during which it has the capacity to crank out about 5,000 records per hour. But it has the capability of going 24 hours, seven days a week if the demand warrants. Third Man store customers will be able to view the proceedings via a window that looks out onto the plant. Tours will be offered. A studio is also being readied that will make recordings of live performances on the stage inside the Third Man store.

While Third Man Records will continue to use Nashville's United Record Pressing for its own product, the company's Ben Blackwell said there are voluminous inquiries from artists and labels both in the U.S. and around the world. Blackwell noted that Blue Note Records president Don Was, another Detroit native, even contacted him pledging his support several months before Third Man even announced the pressing plant.

"My response was, 'How do you even know we're doing a plant? We don't even have presses yet!'" Blackwell said. "We've been slow to promise anything to the dozens of people who are asking and lining up. The goal now is just to get the doors open and then see how it lines up from there."

Nevertheless, Third Man Pressing's future seems as bright as the plant's gleaming yellow floors. "This is not about being nostalgic," White said. "It's about preserving something beautiful for the next generation so they can understand it, too. Tonight and tomorrow, some 12-year-old kid's gonna buy a Stooges record and is gonna get turned on, and that's worth all of this -- every cent, every bit of energy. Everybody here would agree with that, too."

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