Sonic's Rendezvous Band: The One That Got Away
I SEE THE PARTY LIGHTS
DENIZ TEK: A lot of the times I saw them, they were in small towns in Michigan, sometimes even very rural, not even in a town, but in a roadhouse or a bar which I think some people would consider to be redneck-type bars, and they'd be playing. I think the first time I saw 'em was '76...maybe really late '75 or early '76; it was that winter. They were playing at the Roadhouse, which was one of those kind of bars that I was talking about before, at Whitmore Lake, which is about 10 miles or so north of Ann Arbor. Ten or 15 miles, it's up U.S. 23, and get off the freeway and it's just this bar and grill. You would not expect there to be a good band in there. My brother and I were out at a student bar, drinking beer and talking, and we happened to see an advertisement for that show. It was already pretty late, and the band would've already started, but we got in my brother's car and drove up there just to check it out 'cause the roster was so great! Scott Morgan, Fred Smith, Scott Asheton, Gary Rasmussen...I had no idea they were playing together until I saw that advertisement. Went up there, went in there, got there in the middle of their set and the music blew the top of my head off. It was incredible!
I had left at a pretty good time (I left Michigan in '71) and then I came back briefly in '72 or 3, and there was nothing happening musically, and then when I came back in '76, there was nothing happening at all. I didn't see any good bands I really liked. There was nothing going on, nothing to compare with what we were doing in Sydney [with Radio Birdman] until I saw these guys, and it was like life was breathed into me, and [here was] a new source of energy and raw material and learning that I could tap into, that I hadn't had for so long. I really felt isolated before that, but then when I saw those guys, I thought, "Wow, this is where the stream of real music has gone. Sometimes it goes below the surface of the ground, and comes up somewhere else, and you never know where it's going to reappear." And there it was. It hadn't died out, and it just made me so happy. I usually never dance at a gig, I just sit in the back and watch. But I had to dance; I was dancing. I couldn't stop myself from doing it!
SCOTT MORGAN: Cover bands were all getting the money. There were some bands who had major record deals, like the Ramones, Patti Smith, and Cheap Trick, and they had big-time management and booking, and major record labels, and they could do pretty well, but we were just one of the local bands playing original music and there just wasn't much of a market for it, so we had a hard time working and making much money.
DENIZ TEK: When I saw these guys, the rest of Michigan was a wasteland...In Michigan, the Five and the Stooges weren't the big deal that they are in Paris or Berlin or somewhere like that. When they were going, when I was a junior and a senior in high school, the MC5 were fairly well respected because they had a hit with "Kick Out the Jams," and everybody heard it on the radio. They were NEVER afforded the respect of Bob Seger or Ted Nugent or any of these other guys. They were just sort of regarded as these radicals that played music and had wild shows, but most of the average people in Michigan wouldn't really know about it. And the Stooges were even much less respected than the MC5. In those days, they were considered lunatics or a joke. They were regarded by the kids in my school as too strange to even think about.
You have to realize that in Ann Arbor, Michigan, most of the town is students...50 to 60,000 students and about an equal number of residents, and most of the residents are not particularly interested in music, and the students are, but the students only come for four years, then they go away.. So the students that were there in '76 weren't the ones that were there in '68, and this new crop of students comes in and they don't know the Five or the Stooges from a hole in the ground, 'cause those were a local phenomenon in both place and in time. So no, I don't think their reputation worked either against or for them. It probably didn't make any difference at all, except to attract a few hardcore people who would know about it, like me.
GARY RASMUSSEN: If they DID know who the guys were and what we were doin', a lot of people wanted us to play MC5 tunes, or play Stooges tunes, or play Rationals tunes. And we pretty much decided (I think MOST of that came from Fred) -- that's not what we're about; that's what we WERE, and this is something different. We're doing what we're doing NOW! Fred was writing songs, and Scott was writing songs, and the band would get together and we'd work 'em out, and that's what we were doing!
SCOTT MORGAN: The ground rule that Fred and I set at the beginning, and it was mostly Fred's idea, but I agreed with it, [was] that we would not do any Rationals or MC5 songs...or Stooges, once Scott was in the band, or Mitch Ryder songs with Ron, or Catfish songs. Starting a clean slate, and anything we covered would just be some obscure R&B tune...that was part of our M.O. Everybody would pick out an obscure R&B tune like "Ramblin' Rose" or something like that to cover.
GARY RASMUSSEN: We weren't covering any of OUR old songs, so if we did a cover tune, it'd be something different, something that we liked. But of course, if we had played the stuff that people wanted us to play, we would have worked more, and probably made more money. On the other hand, we wouldn't have gotten all the songs together that we ended up having, because the focus was on what we were trying to do THEN, not on what we had done before.
SCOTT MORGAN: When we first started out, we actually did a LOT of stuff, because didn't have a whole lot of original material...not our own stuff, but lots of other covers. Like Fred sang "Help Me, Rhonda;" I sang "Mama Roux" from Dr. John. We did a lot of R&B covers; we did "I Put A Spell On You," "Harlem Shuffle," stuff like that. It wasn't like we were covering the current hits. Fred did a cover of one of the songs from the first Who album. He liked the Who, he liked the Stones, he was a huge Chuck Berry fan. We all liked the same kind of music. "Party Lights" was just an obscure tune that we grew up with, that was on the radio when we were in junior high or something like that. Claudine Clark; it was the flip side of the record, and somebody flipped it over, and it's like whoa! Pretty cool song.
DENIZ TEK: They were doing quite a few covers. As far as originals, they were doing "Dangerous" and a couple of things like that, that era, and they were doing "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Party Lights," they were doing "Sweet Little Sixteen," songs like that. Fred was singing all those covers. I got the impression that he really was into that kind of music - he must be a deep fan of rock'n'roll, because he was playing those songs great, and singing them like a guitar player would sing them; he had a guitar player's voice. Not a great singing voice, but somehow it was real true, 'cause he wasn't thinking about singing while he was doing it; he was thinking about playing the guitar. And singing is a side effect, so it comes out real true and honest from guys who actually are not thinking about it.
He had a couple of Marshalls...maybe one Marshall cabinet, 4 x 12, and it looked like he was driving it from a Fender Twin; he had a Fender Twin sitting on top of it. I didn't see a Marshall amp. He had his Rickenbacker 450 12-string; no Mosrite, just that Rickenbacker. That's the only guitar I saw him play in that band. He told me that he would listen to jazz saxophone players and try to figure out their solos on the guitar. He'd sit for hours and do that, and I think that might be one of the keys to his technique...originality. Nobody really plays like that! He used to put the pauses in where guys'd take a breath, and I think that's part of it.
Scott played, almost exclusively, chords and rhythm guitar. He would occasionally do a lick, but it was rare. He had a Telecaster or a Broadcaster, something like that. It all worked really well. They occupied different portions of the frequency spectrum. Fred was much more low-mid and smooth sustain, and Scott was more jangly and trebly, Telecaster-type sound.
They did [play larger venues] later on, but at the time, Fred had cowboy boots that were held together with duct tape! They were poor and they were lucky to get drinks and lucky to get a gig where they could make 50 or a hundred bucks, that was what they were getting. They were not appreciated that much locally. I wondered, "How many people in this room know what it is that they're seeing and hearing...know what the quality of it is?" There probably weren't that many at that early stage. But then I went back to Australia and I came back to America, and they were playing bigger shows. They were playing at the Second Chance, which was a pretty big club in Ann Arbor, probably at that time the biggest rock club to play, and they pulled big crowds there, so they had sort of broken through...people had found out.
GARY RASMUSSEN: You keep playing and after awhile, you start developing something. We used to play the Second Chance Bar in Ann Arbor, and we'd tend to do that on Sunday and Monday nights, which are the really off nights of the week to play, but we started having a pretty hardcore fan following. People either hated us or loved us, so it seemed like there'd be a group of people who thought we were the best thing EVER. But it's a small group, y'know, and we were playing Sundays and Mondays there because we were drawing 200 to 300 people into the bar on a Monday night, and we'd ask, "Why don't ya give us a weekend?" And the guy would say, "Well, ANYBODY can fill my room on a weekend!" So we'd get a Monday, where we could put 300 people into his bar. It makes sense from his side.
SCOTT MORGAN: [We] played a lot at the Second Chance; that was our home gig...Chances Are, then it was the Second Chance, then it was just the Chance, and now it's the Nectarine Ballroom; it's a dance club now. That was our house gig; we were there every couple of months on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday; on their off nights. They had like cover bands that would come in and play four nights a week. And then they had some headliners come in, like the Ramones, Cheap Trick, and Patti Smith. Yeah, they had a lot of people coming through there: Emmylou Harris, James Brown played there, Jerry Lee Lewis, all different kinds of people, but for the rock bands, they would hire us to open the show, and then they'd give us the really crummy off nights, like a Tuesday night, to fill the room up, and then they'd give these Top 40 bands four nights and guarantee 'em two thousand bucks or something like that. It was really kind of a drag.
And then we'd play anywhere else we could. We played in Detroit at Bookie's. We played a club out in the middle of nowhere, and we had like two or three nights booked, and NOBODY was there. Just this little redneck bar in the middle of nowhere, southeastern Michigan, down towards Toledo, and the Dictators walked in one night! They were playing in Toledo, and all these guys came in and it's like, whoah! There was like two people sitting at the bar, and we're there, and it was really cool. They'd heard that we were playing, so they drove all the way up from Toledo, which is like 30 miles or something.