Jack White celebrates opening of Third Man’s new Detroit vinyl pressing plant

Posted on 28 February 2017
By Khyle Deen
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A buoyant Jack White was at his Third Man Records store in Detroit for a special occasion, toasting to 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 vinyls piled up out of eight shiny Newbilt presses. “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 sky high as White and company officially unveiled the 10,000-square-foot operation, privately on Friday, and publicly on Saturday. It’s said to be the first recording pressing plant in the US with all-new equipment in 35 years.

Performances from rapper Danny Brown, Third Man Detroit-based country act the Craig Brown Band, and Detroit singer-songwriter Kelley Stoltz all took place back at the store. The real party though, was in the large converted car park, where guests watched black jumpsuit and white lab coat wearing Third Man workers press red vinyl copies of albums by The White Stripes, Stooges, MC5 and others.

Tents were pitched on the pavement outside, groups stayed all-night so they could be among the first to see the plant when the store opened that 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 White accompanied his mother – who pressed a Stooges album herself at the plant – around the party, he added that it meant a great deal to have the plant operating in his 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 partied hard into Saturday’s early 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.”