Sonic's Rendezvous Band: The One That Got Away

NEXT YEAR IN ISHPEMING AT THE SPORTSMAN'S BAR

SCOTT MORGAN: My relationship with Fred ultimately proved to be our undoing, I think, because it became, instead of a partnership, more like a competition. Maybe that's not the right word, but it became dysfunctional in its own way. Not in a REALLY bad way, but just enough that it became like an unhealthy dynamic. I got to the point where I wasn't singing much anymore, my songs were being VETOED and stuff like that, and I just felt like it was time to move.

I never really had a problem with Fred, between the two of us on a personal level, but on a business level, the way he got me out of the band...he was too detached, and willing to let things flow...if it was flowing in his direction, he didn't really mind. That was when I sensed all the negative energy towards the end.

To be fair to Fred, I was not very stable at that point, and that didn't help. Just like girl problems, just the usual relationships, breaking up with a girl, it kinda threw me off. I became almost the Brian Jones of the band, where I was just kinda PUSHED OUT, slowly. It felt like I was being EASED OUT. It was an uncomfortable situation for me, and it got to the point where either I was gonna quit or they were gonna fire me, and actually it's just six of one and half a dozen of the other.

I think the handwriting was on the wall for about six months. Fred got married...not only did he not invite us to the wedding; he didn't even TELL US about it! So the next time we were rehearsing in this hole in the wall down in Woodward, right in the middle of the ghetto, and these homeless people knockin' on our door in the middle of rehearsal, and goin' "Don't open that door!" So we came in one day and over the previous weekend, Fred had gotten married. We had HEARD about it, so we're going, "Hey, Fred. What'd you do over the weekend?" "What d'you mean?" "We heard a little RUMOR that something happened over the weekend." "What are you talking about?" "Well, we kinda heard you got married." And he's going, "Where'd you hear that?"

So things were already getting a little strange at that point. Pretty soon, it got to the point where it was becoming seriously dysfunctional, so we were going to this place called Union Street, which was right downtown Woodward. We were hanging out there, and we would have meetings every couple of weeks, and we would have these cryptic conversations. "Well, what do you wanna do?" "Play some gigs or something." "Really? Where do you wanna play?" And then nothing would happen, then we'd have ANOTHER meeting, and the same thing would happen, and nothing would happen.

And then finally, they had done one benefit for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, because Fred was a big fan, Fred and Patti both were big fans, and they scheduled the second one, and they had everybody's name on it but mine, and I'm going, "This CAN'T be an accident." So I told 'em, "I'm goin' on vacation. See ya." Fred called me up. "It was just a mistake!" and I'm going like, "Well, I'm sorry; I've got something planned." And that didn't help; I didn't show up for that.

The final blow was that Fred and Scott and Gary decided that they were gonna continue without me (or Fred had decided, whatever), and he had Gary call me up and say that I wasn't in the band any longer. So I thought, why couldn't Fred just call me? But apparently he wanted GARY to tell me, 'cause he couldn't bring himself to call me.

GARY RASMUSSEN: It was startin' to wind down around then, because Fred and Patti had moved in together. Patti had pretty much stopped playing with her band to be with Fred, and I think both of them wanted something different than they had. I think they wanted to have some kids and stuff that they hadn't had. So Patti kinda stopped playing with her band, and Fred kinda stopped playing with ours. I'm sure that all of those band guys on both sides are going, "What the fuck, man? What the hell is going on?" In one way thinking, "This could be something good," and in another way thinking, "Lame shit happens. Fred's going with Patti to Berlin! Her band ain't playing, and our band ain't playing."

We were still doing some things. Like I said, we'd still get together down at the studio and hang out and play together. By that time, Scott [Morgan] wasn't coming anymore, but it'd be me and Scott Asheton and Fred, and we were doing some of the benefits for the DSO and little things like that, but it wasn't like having a band and working on it every week and playing all the time. After Scott was out of the band, Fred and me and Scott Asheton would still go down to Artie Fields Studio down in Detroit. We weren't like "making a record" or anything; we were just going down there and playing. Just getting together and playing. Sometimes he'd turn the machine on, and I'd say 90% of the time, he didn't. We'd just get together and play, and then we'd go and get totally drunk! That's basically what it was. Of course, everyone's going, "What the HELL are you guys doing?" Mostly our girlfriends and things. "Well, um, I dunno, but I'm sure it's got some meaning. I'm sure there's a reason for it."

I don't think a lot of people realize what that band was. There's so much beyond what people knew about it, too. Because whenever we would rehearse, we'd always start off just playing. Not any song, but just sort of free jazz kind of stuff, and we'd do that for a half hour before we'd ever start working on this song or that song or anything like that. And that would always go all kinds of different places. It wasn't really like the heavy rock stuff that everyone thinks of when they think of that band. All that kinda stuff was in that band, really, and I don't think a lot of people realize that there was more than what people know, because we were all pretty much influenced by a lot of that jazz. Fred was for sure, but all of us were. We even played some Miles Davis kinda stuff...stretchin' out, do whatever the hell. Pick a key and start playing and see where it goes; it can go anywhere, go anywhere we'll take it, and to me, that's the best music we ever played. Better than the music that we played for people!

SCOTT MORGAN: So then they went in and did "Sweet Nothing" and a couple of other tracks at Artie Fields, where we recorded "Electrophonic Tonic," and [the MC5 had] also done "High Time" there, and we did the Rationals album. But they never finished those tracks; they just did basic tracks, they never put any solos or vocals on them. And that was it.

SRB1979 Matheu
Robert Matheu photo

GARY RASMUSSEN: I'm not real sure, I think he always thought that "Down the road, we're gonna do this," because I don't know if Fred realized that time slips by real quick. I talked to Fred after the Sonic's Rendezvous Band for nine years or something -- I talked to him every week -- about "Y'know, I wanna do this. I think I wanna do this. I wanna do that, and I wanna go in the studio." And every week, I'd go, "Yeah! I'm into it, Fred.. Let's go!" And he'd go, "Well, not TODAY." And I'd go, "Well, okay. If not today, when?" He'd go, "Well, I dunno, I'll call you Tuesday." And that's kinda how it went for a long time.

I think [Fred and Patti] just decided to do what they wanted to do, which at that time was have some kids and have a family and they both stopped playing, really. Patti put out a few poetry books; I don't think either of them ever stopped working, but they just stopped working for money! Patti was writing poetry and I think Fred was writing songs and they were raising their children, and they'd go on trips, go to Mexico, go to Germany, go places. I dunno. Fred always talked about "I wanna do this, I wanna do that," and like I said, I don't think he realized how fast time goes by.

We stopped playing about '81 with the Rendezvous Band, and I did the record [Dream of Life] with Patti and Fred in '88. It wasn't 'til after that, I'm not sure of the dates, really, but Fred was all right after that record, and actually, there was a lot of plans for that record. "We'll do this record, we'll tour Europe, we'll play these places, we'll tour America," and all this stuff. And while we were recording that album, Patti found out that she was pregnant with Jesse, their second child, and that pretty much put a stop...the record got done, but the tours never happened and all the follow-up stuff that would have gone along with putting out an album never happened.

It wasn't 'til when Rob Tyner died, we did a benefit and I think Fred was just...it was starting to show then, really, that something might be wrong with Fred. He was lookin' kinda funny, maybe his life just caught up with him. I talked to Patti, and Patti and Fred would be goin', "Oh, Fred has these allergies now." I never wanted to push him on it. I just said, "Oh, well that's too bad. Maybe it's just a little thing he's going through and he'll be better."

MICHAEL DAVIS: [At the February 22, 1992 Rob Tyner memorial show], it seemed like Fred was really tired, and Fred was moving slower than I'd ever seen him move before. In fact, it was so difficult to get Fred to get up out of the chair to go play the set that the stage manager came into the room maybe ten times and finally, on the last time, he said, "We're losin' em, man. They're all going home. You gotta come out now or just pack your guitars away and forget it." Finally, I think I jumped up and said, "Well, if you guys aren't going, I'll go out there and play a solo set. Bye!" And I started to leave and then everybody came. But otherwise, Fred just would not move out of the chair. He was so obnoxiously into his own trip that it was beyond all reason. Finally we went out there and played and it just seemed like something was wrong, but nobody knew what, and Fred wouldn't say if anything was wrong, or if he was feeling bad or whatever.. But I remember Wayne and Dennis and I saying to each other, "The next time I see you will be at Fred's funeral." And that turned out to be the case.

Nobody said that he was [sick], but he sure appeared to be. But then he didn't actually pass away for a couple more years, so I don't know. The only time there was a glimmer of any energy in Fred's eyes was when we saw each other for the first time in the bar when I showed up. I stood directly in front of him and looked into his face and all of a sudden he looked up and he looked at me for about two seconds and his face lit up and he said, "Michael!" and we just kind of embraced right there and then after that he was gone. I mean spiritually. I don't know. His face lit up and we embraced and he was really happy to see me and I was really happy to see him and then after that moment, he withdrew again and this kind of armor went up around him. He shut down. I really don't know how to describe what was wrong with Fred there except that he didn't look well at all and he didn't act well.

FOOTNOTES:

Fred "Sonic" Smith died on Friday, November 4, 1994, at St. John's Hospital in Detroit, several days after collapsing at the home he shared with Patti in St. Clair Shores. He was 45. After his death, Patti relocated to New York City with their son, Jackson, and daughter, Jesse. Jackson has inherited his father's ability as a guitarist, as well as his looks, and performs in his mother's band.

Scott Morgan has continued performing and recording for the past 30 years, sometimes in bands that included Gary Rasmussen and Scott Asheton. His albums "Rock Action," "Scots Pirates," and "Revolutionary Means" are worth seeking out. More recently, he's found a new audience (mainly in Europe) through his recordings and appearances with the Hellacopters, the Hydromatics, The Solution and Deniz Tek. More recently, he recorded with his own band Powertrane (now defunct) and as a solo artist. He is currently recovering from liver disease and again plauying live. 

Gary Rasmussen is a respected elder statesman of the Detroit music scene, at one stage playing over 250 gigs a year as a sessionman and with his own band, GRR.

Scott Asheton rejoined the reformed Stooges in 2003 with his late brother Ron. He has stood down as the band's touring drummer after ill-health although he played on the most recent Iggy & The Stooges album "Ready To Die".

Sonic's Rendezvous Band on the Web

Scott Morgan on the Web

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Photographer Sue Rynski

Photographer Robert Matheu

Tags: stooges, scott, asheton, sonics, mc5, ken, shimamoto, city, band, sonic, gary, rendezvous, fred, smith, rasmussen, action, slang

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  • Guest - Mark Sisto

    Hell of a story. Thanks Saw them a few times. 77 & 79-80 . nothing to add.

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  • Guest - Mike Stroud

    Great article about the great enigmatic Fred Sonic Smith (RIP) post MC5.

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