Space Age Blues - Sonics Rendezvous Band (Easy Action)
I originally heard this new release in its raw format three years ago now and was surprised by the laidback feel of it….wow, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band playing a front bar pub type of gig to 25 people….how cool to have seen that? I didn’t even know they did that sort of thing
There’s plenty of on/off stage banter, some jamming and tune ups; it was a nice surprise and refreshing to hear a recording of one of my favourite bands playing in a different situation and early on in their development. This recording joined some of the dots in the band’s history (no they didn’t just appear out of nowhere as this blindingly amazing live band – it took years and plenty of gigs) and fleshes these guys out as players.
The now official release, under the title “Space Age Blues” through Easy Action (UK), has been cleaned up a fair bit, properly edited and mastered with some of the pauses cut out. It flows much better and it’s a great sounding live recording now - way better than when I first heard it. But let me get this outta way first…without hesitation, I can tell you that this is definitely a highly worthy and I’d say essential release for any fans of Sonic’s Rendezvous Band/Scott Morgan/MC5 etc.
"Space Age Blues" is a two-disc release in deluxe digipack with liner notes booklet and great graphics, photos and layout You also get Sonic’s Rendezvous Band doing three sets in a bar, The Huron Inn, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on April 10, 1976. Maybe they were playing for fun, money, favours, beers whatever, these kind of gigs can be a hoot and a good hit out.
As a musician who has played all sorts of gigs (even supported a puppet show once – that’s another story) and done the three-set thing in outta the way places, inner-city pub front bars and parties I could relate to this alter ego of SRB. You get to hear a different facet of these players, no pressure to be anything. In fact, it’s an opportunity to play some other stuff, a bit of a break from being SRB and/or the intensity of doing the usual “live set” (40 minutes on a three-band bill thing?!)
This was a chance to open up and have some fun or play some new songs. As Geoff Ginsberg says in the liner notes: “The band is totally relaxed and while ‘laid back’ is not a term consistent with SRB on any level there is an easy, free flowing, no pressure vibe that makes this show unique…”
There are too many highlights on this to mention them all, but lets just say it will keep you interested all the way through. The first bracket of four Scott Morgan songs in a row is very cool: “Succeed”, “Slow Down, Take a Look”, “Keep On Hustlin’ (if Scott Morgan is Detroit Rock’s Bob Dylan then this song is his “Like a Rolling Stone”!!) and the last song is an early performance of “Dangerous”. Perhaps not so dangerous (as it would later become), but it’s interesting to hear an early version which they still nail.
They close off with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land”. SRB just have that feel and power to make Chuck Berry songs sound much more than the 12-blues from where they come.
What also interested me through this recording was how unobtrusive and complementary Fred Smith is on this, just cruising along keeping the rhythm down, complementing Scott Morgan’s songs and guitar. He steps up and plays some blistering parts too (his second solo on “Slow Down” and the boogie riffing and licks on “Space Age Blues” are off the planet.)
Sonic only sings two songs at the close of the third set, “Do It Again” and “Hearts” and fairly tentatively too (at least compared to Morgan’s confident delivery) so maybe this was very early days. I reckon any fan of the band will tell you that it’s still fascinating. At this point in the band’s history, SRB was (musically) Scott Morgan’s baby.
By the time we get to “Mystically Yours” in the second set, the band is on fire and they completely go to town on this song, which is like some bastard son of MC5’s “Skunk” and “Rammalamma Fa Fa Fa”. One excited punter yells “Rock’n’roll” at the finish of “Mystically Yours” (or was it bassist Ron Cooke?) and it’s great to hear that some many in the small crowd are feeling the music.
I can’t help thinking how good it would be if someone out here in Australia could provide the back up/support needed to bring Scott Morgan out here to play in the way the Hellacopters opened the door for him in Europe a few years back. It probably wouldn’t be financially very lucrative but it would make a lot of people happy – any mega rich fans out there reading this, we are keen to hear from you. In the meantime, I’m a gonna go invest in a Lotto ticket.
Back to the highlights…for me, Scott Asheton is a particular stand out on this release. He’s not at his most ferociously intense but his drumming is like coming home to a baked dinner. It’s familiar and always great and he holds this gig together. When he comes in on those signature beats of his, everything makes sense. I can’t play drums to save myself but as a guitarist, I wish they all played like him with moderation, reliability and consistency. Forget the fancy shit - we all want the groove. We guitarists need somebody to play off and the people wanna dance. Rock Action should be without doubt, required listening for all tub thumpers.
Apart from Fred and the two Scotts, this line-up (in what Ginsberg calls the second era of the band’s three stages) also features WR “Ron” Cooke on bass. He brings a more rock’n’roll/bluesier feel to the band, which complements the sound just as well as Gary Rasmussen would later in the later line-up. Cooke sings on a few tracks and is credited as the writer of the title track “Space Age Blues” and this release is dedicated to his memory as he passed in 2015. He brings a fun edge to the gig which doesn’t really appear in other SRB recordings. There’s some great banter when he calls out to Morgan (or could it be Asheton?): ”Hey Scotty, hey Scotty – you sound good tonight man, you sound good…could it be cos we’re drunk haha!”
The sounds/tones of all on this recording are, to my ears, very classy. The guitars are just in the break up zone for rhythm sounds and kicking into sweet overdrive for solos. There’s plenty of clean bottom end coming from the bass. Asheton’s snare is always cutting through. The band has a great sound on this recording and it really does sound like you are metres away from them rather than hearing a big PA.
It’s all well balanced and whether they are rockin’ or playing some slower blues and soul-tinged covers, that old saying springs to mind about bands: Good ones always have their levels right and can play any room and sound good. It’s not the same foot-to-the floor delivery that you will find on the Easy Action box set live recordings, but a taste of what they were like in April 1976 and hints of what was to come for the band.
“Space Age Blues” was put together by Geoff Ginsberg who also wrote the informative (and not in any way boring) liner notes and was involved in the recent Scott Morgan Box set “Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust”. Hats off to him; his passion and love for Scott Morgan and this style of rock’n’roll deserves a medal if you ask me. It can take a lot of energy to see these things through to release, but knowing Geoff, he’d rather spread the word and wouldn’t want the medal. He’d want more for you to hear this real and true rock’n’roll band so head over to Easy Action and buy a copy.
Stewart Cunningham is the frontman and guitarist for Leadfinger and a former member of the Proton Energy Pills, Brother Brick, Yes-Men, Asteroid B612 and Challenger 7.