SONIC'S RENDEZVOUS BAND
The Second Chance
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.
Sonic and Scott
Initially, Scott provided most of the original material, but as Fred started
to write more, competition between the two frontmen began to emerge.
SCOTT MORGAN: The way it boiled down was, Fred would sing his songs and I would sing my songs. We tried to write songs together, but just never got off the ground with it. We were each writing our own songs, and it was kind of like an inspirational thing, like Fred would write a new song, then I would write a new song, and then HE'D write a new song, and we kind of inspired each other to be more creative and try something different next time. Our own sound was fresh and progressive. He started writing more and more songs, and that meant that he was singing more songs. I don't think it was initially a conscious decision.
GARY RASMUSSEN: They weren't fighting. It was maybe an unspoken rivalry, in a way. We ALWAYS rehearsed. That's the one thing; we always rehearsed whether we had gigs or not, or anything. We'd get together and play, more than anything. And when Fred would show up with a new song and we'd work on that, then the next week, maybe BECAUSE Fred showed up with a new song, then Scott would show up with a new song. Maybe because Scott did, then the next week, Fred would show up with TWO new songs. It was kinda goin' back and forth like that. I think they were driving each other in a silent way, without ever...I don't think they ever talked about it.
I thought it was actually great, y'know. I didn't really lean one way or another, "Let's do all this or all that." I thought it drove both of them.. I don't think either of them ever wanted it to get to the point where they were doing all the other guy's songs. So they were pretty much pushing each other, although they never talked about it. I think it WAS a good thing.
Scott Morgan: I think Fred always DID want to be a frontman, but I don't think he had the confidence to do it when we first started. I think he realized that I should be the singer, he should be the lead guitar player, which is pretty much the way it started out. But it kind of evolved over five years into a situation where he was writing more and more songs and singing more and more songs, and I'm getting kind of like pushed out of the picture, as far as a singer goes.
In the '76 to '78 period, it was like that, and it was really healthy and it worked really well. And we each had about half the tunes, but as it got more and more Fred and less me, it started getting unbalanced. Like the two [Mack Aborn] records..."Sweet Nothing" was May '78, and that was right at the peak of when we had the perfect balance, it was about half each of our songs, maybe Fred was singing one more than me, but it was fairly well balanced. We never counted that way; we never said, "Well, you sing EXACTLY half and I'll sing EXACTLY half," but when it was about at that period, it seemed to be the strongest. Later on Fred started getting a little more eccentric, I think, and he wanted to try different stuff.
Photo: Robert Matheu
GARY RASMUSSEN: In a lot of ways, it was Fred's band, not because it was like "this is FRED'S band," not like that, but more like when you're trying to work, especially in a band, you're working with all these people...Fred was an odd guy. Not a bogue guy or nothin', but as it turned out, if Fred didn't wanna do it, it wouldn't happen, basically.
Fred would call up and he'd want to know what you felt about everything. "Okay, what do you think about this?" "Well, I think this and this," and you'd talk. "What do you feel about this?" And you'd talk about that. And then you'd say, "Well, Fred, what do YOU think about this?" And he wouldn't really say. He'd go, "Well, y'know, whatever, I've gotta go now." So Fred was always a mysterious kind of a force.
So in a way, I think he kind of led the thing just by being the way that he was. He'd get everyone's opinion on everything, and then he would kinda decide what HE would do. If he wasn't into doing it, we wouldn't do it, because you couldn't persuade him to do anything that he wasn't into doing, whether it meant money or anything. He kinda had his vision of what things were. But it wasn't like we were fighting all the time with him, either. Like I said, he'd want to know everything you thought about everything, but he wouldn't really give up too much of what HE was thinking.
I think he came into his own or something, kinda realized that he could really do this. With that group of people, too. We certainly allowed him to do whatever he wanted to do. And that band evolved totally from the beginning to the end, too. Because when I started with the band, we probably did three quarters Scott Morgan songs and a quarter of Fred's songs. When I thought the band was the best, we were doing about half and half, Scott's and Fred's, and it went on [until] by the end, we were probably doing three quarters Fred's songs, and a quarter Scott's songs.
DENIZ TEK: I never talked to Fred about it, but the other guys told me that Fred was an extreme perfectionist, and he was never satisfied, and they did actually attempt to record (or start recording) more songs, but Fred would cancel it because it wasn't going the way he wanted to. He would only have it a certain way and apparently those two songs were the only ones that were working out to his satisfaction. Stereo and mono version of the same song on two sides of a vinyl 45...it'd be nice if there was more! But in a way, it makes it even more special. I think that the Freddie Brooks and Bill Lord CDs are an excellent document of the band...better than I ever expected to find.
Fred was real reclusive. He would just sit there in the dressing room with those guys, and he'd be smoking a cigarette and having a drink, and say nothing. He would occasionally say one or two words to me and smile a little bit, and people later would say, "Wow, he must like you a lot 'cause he said so much to you!" And of course, Scotty Asheton, when you first see him, he's real intimidating, and he doesn't say anything either until you get to know him. So you've got two guys who are stone-faced and intimidating-type characters - I never thought Fred was that intimidating, but Scotty appeared to be dangerous when I first met him. He's NOT; he's real gentle, actually. Scott Morgan, on the other hand, was more willing to talk. He's more of a conversationalist.
"Hill & Brooks"
Management of the band was handled by Chato Hill, a Vietnam veteran, and Freddie
Brooks, a native of Cleburne, Texas, who'd had a White Panther chapter in Fort
Worth (their office was next door to Joe Nick Patoski's record store) before
police harassment led him to flee to Ann Arbor in 1969. Freddie had been staying
with Scott Morgan at Scott's parents' house.
SCOTT MORGAN: Chato [Hill] was Fred's manager, and when Fred and I started working together, Chato naturally became THE MANAGER, because I didn't have a manager. He was managing Sonic's Rendezvous Band. Freddie [Brooks] and I had worked together trying to do something out here in Ann Arbor, forming my own band; Freddie had helped me a little bit with that. So, I brought Freddie into the picture, basically, but once he was IN, he became like Fred's guy.
We tried to hook up Chato and Freddie, call it "Hill & Brooks Management" - 'cause we thought "Hill & Brooks" sounded real pastoral. They weren't goin' for it; they were like oil and water, it just wasn't gonna work, so at that point, Chato became like the "executive manager" and Freddie was like the "working manager," the guy who did all the day-to-day stuff. Chato was like the overseer, the guy who put up the money for us to record "City Slang" -- basically he was like our backer, and Freddie did all the legwork. He did all the booking, and the posters, and roadie-ing, and all that stuff.
It was kind of a watershed period, because "City Slang" came out, and at the time we were putting out our first single, which was a great record, the inner dynamics of the band were changing in a negative way. There was all this acrimony between me and Fred, and it started sending us on a downhill slide that we never recovered from.
The Godfather of Punk
SCOTT MORGAN: I think that the idea was that we would put this single out and then we would get a record deal, but for some reason, it just didn't pan out that way. I dunno. Everything was cookin' on all eight cylinders there: we recorded "City Slang" and "Electrophonic Tonic," we had a really good two-sided record there. We shoulda released that. They probably shoulda never gone to Europe with Iggy, and would have been entirely different. But that's not the way it worked out. Somehow we got derailed around that period, and we never got back on track. It was just a combination of things. If Fred and I had kept the same dynamic where we were sharing the singing duties and the writing duties, we may have gone on.
GARY RASMUSSEN: I think at that time, [Iggy] was having trouble with his record company. He'd been a mess, screwin' up, and he pretty much needed to prove to the record company that he could do a good tour with a good band - it had to be somethin' special - and that he wasn't just a total junkie and all that stuff. He called up and was talking to Scott Asheton to start with, and then to Fred. We knew Iggy because he'd come through with his band and we'd go see 'em, and we'd be playing some awful place down in Detroit, in Cass Corridor or somewhere, and Iggy would be playing at the Masonic Temple; he'd come to our gig after, y'know, and come up onstage. We were all friends.
So at that point, I think he needed something like that, and asked if we would do that - come and do a tour with him and be his band. Scott Thurston was in that band...Scott was already with Iggy, so he knew all of the songs that Iggy was doing, he knew kinda what was going on, so I think Iggy wanted to keep Scott Thurston in on it, so he didn't need Morgan, basically. You don't need another singer...if you ever tried to harmonize with Iggy, you'd realize it's a pretty hard thing to do. But we didn't need another singer, we didn't need another guitar player, so Scott was kinda left out of that one.
SCOTT MORGAN: When they were first offered the job, Fred's going, "I don't think I should go, I don't think I should go," and I'm going, "GO! Come back and the record'll be out and we'll pick up where we left off." Because I was the only one who was not offered a position in this band. So I'm here, and Freddie [Brooks]'s still here, and Chato's here, so we're workin' on getting the record released while they're over there.
In the meantime, this friend of mine wants to take me in the studio and record a couple of songs. So what the hell, those guys are in Europe for six weeks, why not? It wasn't to release; it was just for kicks. We did a ballad called "Satisfying Love," and we did a version of "Cool Breeze." That was with Ron Asheton, and Harry Phillips, who played with Catfish, and Steve Dansby, a local guitar player who's really great. We never released it. We never INTENDED to release it. That's why I felt it was unfair for Fred to tell me that I had to sit here and wait and twiddle my thumbs while they were touring Europe.
GARY RASMUSSEN: We did pretty well. It was all right. [Iggy] was paying us well. RCA Records was covering everything, and we had a bus and equipment people and lights and the whole deal. In '78, Iggy was big in Europe. We were playing in theaters and outdoor venues. Nice shows, really. He was the headliner. "The Godfather of Punk."
In London, the band had a visit from Deniz Tek, then touring Europe with Radio
DENIZ TEK: Fred and I could talk guitars, and I guess that kind of broke the ice, because I had his old guitar, and he was real interested in that.. He offered to buy it back when we were in England. He was over there; the Rendezvous Band minus Morgan was backing Iggy Pop, so we went out to dinner with them and stuff like that, and then we went to their gig at the Music Machine in London. I think we dropped by the soundcheck in the afternoon because Fred had asked to see the guitar.
GARY RASMUSSEN: In Norway, I think there's a city called Orbro, I'm not exactly sure, at an outside festival, kind of sick situation, Iggy was the headliner, and outside, maybe three or four thousand people there. Didn't know it at the time, but found out later that there was some kind of a Norwegian organization of "Fascists Against Punk Music" or something like that. They were organized, a small percentage of the crowd. It coulda been five guys or six people or something. We went up to start playing and right in the first song, these FISH are coming up. Somebody's throwing fish, these herrings. They come up and smack you on the bass or something, these fucking herrings. And you look at each other going "What the hell is this?"
And Iggy is like...it don't take much. He starts sticking his ass out at the audience, "Hey, FUCK YOU, man, fuck you," sticking his ass out, and then people are throwing...it started out fish, and then it turned into OTHER stuff. I saw something coming through one of the big spotlights, you could see shit coming through the big beam of light, and I just caught it between my bass and my shirt, and it was a broken bottle, and it cut the button off my shirt. And I said, "I'm done!" and walked back, I turned my shit off and walked off. Finished! Not worth dyin' about. And at that point, I think 99% of the people there were there to come see the music, and they got pissed off, and they were finding the people that were throwin' stuff and beating the crap out of them. It was kinda like a mini little riot goin' on, so I just stayed backstage, but there was a lot of roadies and security people walking around with big hunks of wood and stuff. But we never did go back out and play. No way! We found out later that in that country, if somebody sends you fish like that, you got a herring on your doorstep, that's supposed to mean something. "Leave or die" or something like that.
SCOTT MORGAN: I think that [Iggy] really wanted them to give up Sonic's Rendezvous Band and become his backup band and tour the world with him. Well, they did a six week tour of Europe, and then Iggy said, "Now let's do the States," and Fred said, "No, we're done." And there was a little acrimonious, misunderstanding kinda breakup there.
GARY RASMUSSEN: At the time, when we were in Europe doing the tour, actually the "City Slang" record was being pressed here in the States, and Fred had met Patti, and just the timing of everything... Fred had met Patti already, and I think they were deep in love. Fred probably spent all the money we made over there on the telephone talkin' to Patti! He'd be on the phone for HOURS from somewhere. I don't think money really mattered that much to him. I think Fred wanted to come home and see Patti, because it was the beginning of their thing, and we were all thinking really that we've got a record coming out...we kinda thought that this was gonna be something big for us, too. And to tell you the truth, after three months in Europe, doing that kind of a thing, we were exhausted. Hadn't quite figured out yet that you couldn't drink and everything that was there and do everything that showed up! It takes awhile before you realize, "Hey, you know what? You CAN'T do all of it!"
So after three months of that, we were tired! I think everyone was ready to come home. It wasn't really 'til the end of it that Iggy started saying, "You know what? This is a great thing, and it's a great band, and we could take over the world. We could go do Japan, and we could do this and that." Actually, David Bowie was at the last couple of gigs that we did, 'cause like the last gigs we did were in London. He came to the show and he seemed to think we were really quite a powerful band. He invited us, instead of going home, to come with him to, I think he was playing in Glasgow or someplace. I think it was the timing of it, by that time we were all thinking, "God, it's time to go home." Personally I was thinking, "Yeah, let's go!" But I think the other guys were pretty whipped, and it didn't take too much for me to go, "Yeah, okay, I'm ready to go home, too."
Fred and Patti
SCOTT MORGAN: When Fred got back, he just went through the roof that I had recorded while they were over there. I'm going, "Well, this seems a little UNFAIR! You guys just went on a six-week European tour and left me here, and you're all upset that I went in and recorded two DEMOS, not for the purpose of trying to get a record deal for myself, just for the hell of it!" So we had a big falling out about that, and finally I just got mad and said, "I don't want my song on the record." It was just one of those stupid things. It just gets out of hand, and you wish you could change it, but it's too late.
"Electrophonic Tonic" was WRITTEN to be the show opener. Because of the way the songs starts with a big power chord, and then it sorta like winds up until it's full-blast. "City Slang" was supposed to be the show closer; it ends in a big jam-out, rave-up thing at the end. I had the opener and Fred had the closer, but then I lost the opener!
I had recorded "Electrophonic Tonic" in the basement with Fred and Ron Cooke and Scott Asheton, VERY early on in the Rendezvous Band, in my parents' basement. And I told Fred that I liked THAT version better than the one that was coming out on the record, and THAT didn't help. Finally, we just said, well, let's put out "City Slang." We'll just make it a demo, and we'll find some other song to put on the flip side. We'll make it like a promotional copy -- stereo on one side, mono on the other. Well, we never DID find another song...and the other song was gonna be another FRED song, and THAT didn't help, either.
That just unbalanced things even more.
I think at that point Fred had decided that HE was gonna be Sonic's Rendezvous Band, and it was time for me to move away from the center of the stage. Plus he and Patti had started seeing each other around that time, and that changed his way of thinking also. I think she encouraged him a lot, which was GOOD, because I think he had a LOT of stage presence. You could see that from the MC5. He looked really good, he was good at talking to the audience, stuff like that. But his HEALTHY ego...as far as the dynamic between Fred and I, it started getting unhealthy for OUR dynamic.
GARY RASMUSSEN: We got back from the Iggy tour, and we were doin' some gigs with Patti, opening up for her. Not a lot of them, but I think we did the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland and the Avalon in Chicago, the Masonic Temple in Detroit. Really kinda nice places to play, and we were just opening up for them. Patti was really quite popular at that point.
SCOTT MORGAN: Actually, Patti wanted us to open for her on more dates! We did three dates with her: Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. And I think Fred didn't want to do that, because he didn't feel like he should have been opening for Patti, who was fast becoming his girlfriend. I think it's just another ego thing, probably, and I thought, "Well this is STUPID, because it'd be a great opportunity for us to get out and really get in front of some crowds and then maybe do something as a band, like get a record deal and make a whole album or two or three," or whatever.
So we just did the three dates, and they were GREAT dates; we were playing in front of big crowds with a real nice P.A., big stage and stuff, and Patti treated us really well, and we were friends with the band, and everything was going great, but then we stopped and went back to playing these crummy little clubs around Detroit, just whatever local gigs we could get, and it was like, "Why are we DOING this when we could be playing San Francisco opening for Patti?"
GARY RASMUSSEN: And sometimes she would show up at our gigs. We'd play some odd place, playing Chicago or Milwaukee or something and Patti would be there. Patti would be backstage with us and we'd go out to play, and people would be watching us play, and then Patti would come out to watch us play, and everyone would stop watching us play and they'd go WATCH PATTI WATCH US PLAY! So that was kinda weird.
DENIZ TEK: [When I returned to Michigan in 1979, Patti] was around, and they were still playing some of these rural gigs, too, but when they would play in Ann Arbor, they'd play at the Second Chance, and when they would play in Detroit, they'd play at Bookie's, which was kind of a punk...by then, punk had sort of hit and that was a punk club. Destroy All Monsters [an arty Ann Arbor band that had added Ron Asheton and a now-free Michael Davis for rock credibility] played there a lot. But the Second Chance was really a good venue...a big club, and by then, Patti was always around.. I just remember her holding onto her clarinet at the side of stage, and she would occasionally get up and play clarinet. I'm not sure why, but I just remember her clutching that clarinet at the side of the stage and waiting to come up. But I never talked to her. She was really reclusive and didn't talk to me. Maybe she talked to other people and it was just me, but my impression was that she was reclusive and didn't talk to people.
When Patti was around, she would go to these gigs and just...seem real DIFFERENT to the people. You know, these big burly Michigan hunters and fisherman types, backwoods-type guys, or auto worker types would already have consumed a case of beer and they'd come over and try to get Patti to dance and things like that...she'd CRINGE. I never really heard her say anything to any of those guys; she'd just sort of give them this look and cringe and they'd just shrug their shoulders and walk away.
I think she'd probably consider ME a hick, too, because she wouldn't really talk to me, either. When she was around, I was just this guy who would show up with my guitar because Fred would invite me to come down and just play on the song "City Slang" - that was all I did; I didn't sit in for the whole set or anything, it was just for that song, which would usually be the encore. He just liked to have extra guitars on that song, and knew I could play it, and he was a friend of mine, so he'd invite me down. I think I was told by one of the band guys, I don't remember who, that there were 12 guitar tracks on that. There were 12 guitars on that, and the more guitars the better, as far as Fred was concerned.
[Between 1976 and 1979, the band was] not much different. They had some new songs, and more of it was original. They played more originals and...actually, I was going to say better sound, but I never heard them have bad sound anywhere. They were always able to balance their sound real well. Toward the end, they had the "City Slang" single. That was their big finale. But the band itself, I don't think they changed fundamentally. Just bigger crowds. More people. When you're playing to a huge crowd, people are going nuts, it always pushes you a little bit further, and maybe some of the performances were more over the top, a little wilder. They were more laid back in the early days, because they were playing to 20 or 30 people, 40 people in a redneck bar. They were still great, though!
Next year in Ishpeming at the Sportsman's
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.
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.
Photo: Robert Matheu
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 is said
to have inherited his father's ability as a guitarist, as well as his looks.
Scott Morgan has continued performing and recording for the past 20
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, and Deniz Tek.
Gary Rasmussen is a respected elder statesman of the Detroit music scene,
playing over 250 gigs a year as a sessionman and with his own band, GRR.
Scott Asheton divides his time between Florida and Michigan. He plays infrequently, but has toured Europe and recorded with New York punk rocker Sonny Vincent.
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