As an eight-year-old growing up in Buenos Aires, Claudia Leo learned English so she could understand the words to the Kiss song, “Detroit Rock City.” Now she’s nurturing a new scene at the Heidelberg’s Club Above.

In the early 1990s national acts like Soundgarden, Urge Overkill, and the Jayhawks played the Heidelberg. Leo wants to turn the well-worn venue into a top nightspot again. She’s brought in a new sound system, better lighting, a stage backdrop, carpeting and paint, and a green room for the bands. But the biggest change is Leo herself: the kind of energetic, in-the-know booking agent the club’s been lacking for a long time.

“Ann Arbor is starving for some good rock and roll,” Leo contends. “I just really want the local music community to get to see original, unique acts and get them to discover stuff. I don’t want to bring for the twenty-fifth time in a row this same college band that tours around the country. I want variety, I want new, I want exciting, I want rock and roll.”

Leo has connections as well as passion. She’s played bass or drums in many local bands, most notably the Avatars, and was part of the late-90s explosion of Detroit garage-band rock, often playing shows with the likes of the White Stripes. Her shows are fresh but exhibit a keen sense of rock history: she terms some of her multi-band music nights a “Rock and Roll Circus” after an old Rolling Stones concept, and her Club Above debut show last spring featured the Sixties icons Question Mark and the Mysterians.

With thick dark hair and thin-framed glasses, Leo, thirty-seven, says her own rock history began around 1980, when her older brother played her a Kiss record. “Detroit Rock City” floored her. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that is so rocking, I need to know what they’re saying.’ So I basically went to my mom and said, ‘I need to learn this language.’ I didn’t even know what it was.”

Leo learned English so well that she converted the family garage into an English language school. By 1991 she had earned enough money from teaching to take a trip to Detroit. The first concert she saw in the United States was at the Heidelberg.

Leo enrolled at the U-M and started playing in local bands while earning a degree in English and philosophy of the arts. In 2001, on a trip to Argentina, she met Charlie Lorenzi, who had started a record label, No Fun Records, named after the Stooges song, “No Fun.” They bonded over their love of Detroit music; Lorenzi moved here and they played in each other’s bands. They married in 2005 and now run the indie label together.

Earlier this year, Heidelberg owner Ray Kouza contacted Leo, who had long wanted another prime local venue for bands she was representing. Mike Holloway, the Heidelberg’s general manager, says attendance for live music has nearly tripled since Leo took over booking the Club Above on Thursdays and Saturdays.

“I think that Claudia just does things the right way,” says Will Stewart, a local musician and music reviewer. “She’s really well connected with a community of musicians that isn’t generally tapped into in Ann Arbor….the garage/soul kind of high-energy rock and roll.”

Stewart says Leo has “been able to plant the seeds to sort of rejuvenate a scene that has been in hibernation around Ann Arbor for many years.”