Sonics Rendezvous - Fred “Sonic” Smith (Orchide-Detroit)
The loudest sound you’ll hear on this is the bottom of the barrel being scraped.
The intentions were probably sound. Assembling a collection of previously unheard works-in-progress by the man who was a driving force in rock and roll’s most criminally under-recognised band makes perfect sense.
Provided the raw material you have is bountiful and of premium grade.
It wasn’t and it is not.
A few of these songs have been heard before in their full glory. Sonics Rendezvous Band’s former road manager Freddie Brooks released them through his old label, Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts, on the seminal “Sweet Nothing” live album (1998) and the follow-up “City Slang” EP (1999).
Giving credit where it was due, the world was a better place for those records. It was a revelation to hear Sonics Rendezvous Band via decent live recordings. Very few of us were there to experience them in the flesh. The treatment of the band was reverential and deserved.
For this release, Brooks stripped off the rest of the band and re-issued some live cuts with Fred Smith’s guitar in not-so-splendid isolation. The rest of the album is acoustic run-throughs, recorded by Sonic at home or his manager’s place.
There’s a demo or soundcheck take of the very fine instrumental “China Fields” that varies from the previously released version as it features only three of the members of Sonics Rendezvous Band. Whether that was by accident or design isn’t clear. There's also a brief grab of Sonic mucking around on "People Have The Power", included as a hidden track. How enigmatic.
It’s all bizarre and just a little creepy. It smacks of the posthumous tinkering that went on with Jim Hendrix’s sprawling legacy of lost and woodshedded recordings before his estate stepped in and put the house in order.
Revisionism sucks. Sonics Rendezvous Band started as a loose collective and grew into a vehicle with a couple of drivers. The two principals drifted apart but the band's life cycle was much like many others. Viewed over the entirety of its existence, it was much more than just one man.
Online rumours of a treasure trove of astounding Sonic Smith recordings have been bouncing around for more than a decade. It all seemed too good to be true. Meanwhile, UK label Easy Action actually stepped up to the plate with a procession of significant archival releases. Brooks wasn’t happy with those, considering himself to be the solitary keeper of the Sonic Smith flame. So why bother with this collection so late in the game?
Brooks recently laughably claimed Easy Action’s “Space Age Blues” live set was an attempt to cash in on the passing of then-bassist Ron Cooke. With all respect to the late Ron Cooke, Sonics Rendezvous Band hardly made him a household name. The royalty stream from that and similar releases wouldn’t have been buying anyone condominiums in the Bahamas.
Caveat emptor. Sonic Smith deserved much better.