Friday, September 28, 2018



Promoter Gene Smiltnick designed posters for dozens of acts signed to his Bands Unlimited booking agency, based in Escanaba.

These eye-catching broadsheets usually contained pictures of the group, taken in studio or at local sites, and information about their latest show, or dance.

Generating word-of-mouth advertising, posters were a main format to publicize appearances by local rock outfits.

They used to decorate store windows and school bulletin boards. Common back in the day, these posters are hard to find collector items now.

Outdated ones quickly hit the refuse bin, although a few survived, posted proudly on teenage bedroom walls.

Take the Riot Squad, for example. Active from 1965-1973, they were featured on a number of placards, including the one shown here.

Measuring 17 by 22 inches, this early poster promoted the young quintet's gig at the Gladstone Legion Hall on Sunday, March 10, 1968. It urged "casual dress" and noted a $1 admission charge to the 2-5 p. m. event.

Peninsula Records, printed prominently on the poster, released a Riot Squad 45 rpm record "Come On, Let's Go"/ "Ferry 'Cross the Mersey."

This collection displays the various graphics and textual messages used in Smiltneck's posters, circa 1969-1970.

They now serve as a storehouse of memories.


 photo squad 1.jpg

Pictured are Bob Anzalone, bass; Greg Curran, lead vocals; Jim Joque, rhythm guitar; Dan Curran, percussion; Brendan Williams, lead guitar. With numerous personnel changes through the years, the group played a reunion show for Escanaba's sesquicentennial in 2013.


 photo infinite blue best.jpg Pictured from left are John Smith, guitar; Steve Toohill, bass; Jim Bardowski, drums; Sam Steffke, keyboards. All members of the Menominee group also sang. They released a single "Black Train"/"Lies" on the Tevar imprint and held a reunion show in 2013.


 photo them best.jpg

Pictured from left are Loreene Zeno, Jane Brkopac, Larry Willette, Bob Derouin, Greg Swank. This group lasted just a short time as members were recruited by other bands, including Riot Squad.


 photo upstairs best 2.jpg

Pictured clockwise from top: Kim Erickson, Dennis Combs, Dick Peterson, Dave Berndt. An earlier version included Mick Van Effen. The location of the bathroom in a band member's home inspired the moniker.


 photo flood best_1.jpg

Pictured clockwise from top: Tom Vardigan, Terry Steede, John Adams, Mark Olivares. Also known as Johnstown Flood after an 1889 tragedy claiming 2,000 lives. Flood won an "amateur" Battle of the Bands contest at the U. P. State Fair organized by John Chown. An "all aged" 14 version of the band included Joel Coplan.


 photo porridge.jpg Pictured from top: Brendan Williams, Mitch Jensen, Dan Curran, Tom McGovern, Dale Stannard. Also pictured in the oval photo is roadie Gary Buckley, referred to by the group as "our slave." Another incarnation of the band comprised Jensen, Williams, Loreene Zeno and Bob Derouin.


 photo lectric.jpg Pictured from left are Tim Brostrom, Ron Faccio, Marc Maga, Dave Cass. Late bluesman Jim "Smiley" Lewis was also a member at one time.


 photo chocklit best.jpg

Pictured are Mike Buckley, Jim Shomin, Duane Slagstad, Dan McDonald. Escanaba's Greg Tolman was also a one time member of the band with the uniquely spelled name.


 photo phrophets best.jpg

Pictured are Dave Watchorn, Larry Olivares, Jay Olivares, and Larry Williams. Mike Steede was not in the group at this time. Jim Nelson was another founding member. The original 45 record "Baba-Do-Wah"/ "I Told You" is credited to the group. Sadly, Jay Olivares, Steede and Watchorn have passed away.


 photo insanity.jpg

Pictured are Doug Sjoquist, drums; Matt Gadnis, keyboards; Mitch Jensen, bass; Brendan Williams, lead guitar; Phyllis Sexton, vocals. The poster features hand drawn artwork. The group's name is included in the lyrics of the song "I Can't See Your Face" by the Doors. ###

Monday, September 24, 2018


 photo retirement pictue smaller.jpg


The last column I wrote for this blog was published June 8, 2011. Yes, that's more than seven years ago.

In that installment, I summarized what I learned from writing over 300 weekly columns for Rock n Roll Graffiti and, while moving on, promised occasional updates.

Well, that occasion has finally arrived.

Don't ask me if I've been too busy to write, but my wife Sue and I did retire from the Record Rack.

We closed the shop on July 25, 2015, exactly 30 years from the date we opened. We invited several hundred of our friends to a bash featuring local musical favorites Tohubohu. Band leader John Beck honored us with an clever original song he composed.

That final get-together included the premiere of a film about the Record Rack compiled by videographer Nick Jensen of Iron Mountain, to say nothing of free pizza and soda.

While we downplayed it at the time, we had planned our retirement for about a year. We sold most of our memorabilia, including the much-envied Kiss bicentennial mirror and Metallica's "Master of Puppets" album cover signed by the late bassist Cliff Burton, as well as hundreds of autographed photos and other mementoes.

Closing meant emptying a 2,500-square foot building of merchandise, fixtures and equipment. It was exhausting. We donated the remaining unsold stock to the Escanaba Public Library, Bay College Library and Goodwill.

In the midst of closing we added to the chaos by moving our personal residence from Escanaba's southside neighborhood to a vintage Victorian home on Ogden Ave.

Moving included transporting my very large collection of LP records. Long-players are very heavy and it took months to alphabetize several thousand titles, collected over the last half century. Did I mention, it was exhausting?

Later we sold the commercial property at 1212 Ludington St. to Peggy O'Connell who runs her "Positively" store from that location.

We still see our "old" friends and customers when we're out and about and we do miss seeing folks on a regular basis. We also miss the excitement of opening shipping boxes full of much-anticipated new releases.

Just this month saw the release of 19-CD Grateful Dead box set, a new album from Paul McCartney called "Egypt Station" and a collection of early singles from Bob Seger on the Cameo-Parkway label.

All three of these releases are getting extended time on my compact disc player.

CD's, however, are rapidly declining in popularity, while records are enjoying a slight resurgence.

Which brings us to Alexa. If you don't know Alexa is a voice-activated music delivery system, among other things. We got one back in 2015 when we were busy closing the shop and moving.

We debuted her during an Independence Day party and before long, many of our friends and relatives had ordered one. You just name the song and Alexa plays it for you. That makes playing music almost effortless.

While records and CD's are now dispensable, I still play them virtually every day. I'm that busy.

 photo hammock.jpg

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Artist Rex Rubenzer drew this caricature
of music columnist Steve Seymour for a book cover.


I couldn't have guessed how receptive readers would be when Escanaba Daily Press editor Rick Rudden invited me to write a weekly column's for the newspaper's "That's Entertainment" section in July, 2005. It soon evolved into my blog, Rock n Roll Graffiti.

Like me, Rudden was a graduate of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. We had known each other from the time I worked at the Daily Press while Rudden was a student. He figured a column would be a chance to combine my fondness for writing with my love of music.

In fact, rock 'n' roll music grabbed my attention as a teenager about the same time I become interested in journalism. I worked on a number of high school and college newspapers and magazines.

By the time Rudden and I talked about a column, 25 years had passed since my time in the local newspaper's editorial department.

Beyond that I'd worked in public relations for the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress before opening the Record Rack with my wife Sue in 1985.

From the beginning my column took a nostalgic look at Michigan's stars, local musicians and beloved international rock legends, all from a personal, Upper Peninsula perspective. Early columns dealt with the Woodtick Music Festival, Ted Nugent's show at the U. P. State Fair and the passing of local bluesman Jim "Smiley" Lewis.

The first person to comment on my debut column was Escanaba musician and raconteur Mike Bastian. He struck up a conversation with me about the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and we've been friends until he died in 2014.

In the summer of 2007, fellow Escanaba High School graduate Tim Mulvaney suggested I compile my columns into a book.

"Rock 'n' Roll Graffiti" was published that fall, with the help of my niece Jackie Hughes who provided the computer expertise the project required. The book was printed by Instant Publisher, the short-run publishing division of Funcraft Publishing Co., based in Collierville, Tenn.

The blog contains the complete series, including over 200 columns not in the book, and can be accessed at any time by computer. Over the years, the blog site was received over 231,000 hits and hundreds of emails.

One surprising email came from Cheryl Brewster of Tennessee in response to a column I published in early 2009 titled "Cars, engines inspire recordings. " The story mentioned my Grand-Uncle Johnny Seymour who drove in the Indianapolis 500 six times, after racing Indian motorcycles in the 1910s and 1920s. Ms. Brewster informed me that Uncle Johnny was her grandfather and that her family had been searching for relatives for years.

With over 300 installments over six years, I covered a lot of material including a considerable amount of original research. I'm most proud of presenting information about the thriving garage band scene based in the U. P. during the 1960s, not previously acknowledged. Although Michigan's rock 'n' roll history concentrates on the southeastern part of the state, groups from north of the Mackinac Bridge issued a number of strong 45 rpm singles and generated considerable fan interest.

In addition to writing about bands from the U. P., I have attempted to collect and preserve their vinyl recordings. Most of the music originated from rare 1960s era 45 rpm singles issued on small independent labels.

The U. P. has an outstanding musical heritage and we have every right to be proud of it. I know I am.

Editor's note: This column was originally published June 8, 2011 and is newly revised.


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Fogerty ranks as concert favorite

John Fogerty, left, and John Mellencamp
performed together for a number of shows
during 2005.


The four times I've seen John Fogerty stand out from the dozens of great concerts I've witnessed over the years.

I'd first heard his recordings of "Suzie Q." and "I Put A Spell On You" on the radio in the fall of 1968 when he fronted Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Fogerty perfected the southern sounds of the Louisiana bayou on those two cover songs and thereafter on an incredible string of hits.

The breakthrough single, "Proud Mary" became the group's signature song and one of my favorites almost from the first time I heard it.

"Bad Moon Rising," "Green River" and "Down On The Corner" appeared in rapid succession in 1969 on the Fantasy label.

Not just the group's leader, Fogerty composed, produced and arranged the songs in addition to playing lead guitar and singing. He was accompanied by his brother Tom on rhythm guitar, Stu Cook on bass and Doug Clifford on drums.

More hits like "Travelin' Band," "Up Around the Bend" and "Lookin' Out My Back Door" followed in 1970. "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and "Sweet Hitch-Hiker" were Top Ten hits in 1971, but CCR broke up in 1972 before I had a chance to see them in concert.

Fogerty went solo that year, issuing his "Blue Ridge Rangers" album. A self-titled long-player appeared in 1975, but except for a solitary single, Fogerty fell silent for a decade. He emerged with the magnificent "Centerfield" LP in 1985 which contained "The Old Man Down the Road."

The lackluster "Eye of the Zombie" came out a year later and Fogerty went into another extended period of inactivity.

Finally, I got to see Fogerty perform on Labor Day, Sept. 2, 1995 during the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Fogerty, who played a black Les Paul guitar, was introduced by Johnny Cash. With backing by Booker T. & the MG's, Fogerty tore through the classics "Born On The Bayou" and "Fortunate Son." Near the end of the program he returned to perform "In The Midnight Hour" with Sam Moore.

I loved seeing Fogerty perform, even if was just a few minutes.

The next time I saw Fogerty was Tuesday, May 27, 1997 at Chicago's House of Blues, a small venue by comparison. The guitarist and singer was promoting his new "Blue Moon Swamp" album with a show on the eve of his 52nd birthday.

Where 60,000 attended the Cleveland concert, the Chicago crowd numbered in the hundreds and my wife Sue and I even found a place to sit. On that evening, just the 6th show of the tour, we were treated to a setlist comprising 28 songs, including Creedence and solo material.

Fogerty began with "Born On The Bayou," a traditional opener; then played a string of Creedence gems, including "Green River," "Lodi" and "Lookin' Out My Back Door." From the new album he debuted "Bring It On Down To Jellyroll," "Southern Streamline," "A Hundred And Ten In The Shade," "Joy Of My Life," "Swamp River Days," "Hot Rod Heart," "Blueboy" and "Walking In A Hurricane."

The new songs had a definite Creedence flavor to them and were received enthusiastically by the audience.

A surprise to me, Fogerty also played the traditional number "Workin' On A Building" from his first solo LP.

Opening act the Fairfield Four returned to the stage to provide backing vocals for "The Midnight Special." Fogerty played his baseball bat-shaped guitar during "Centerfield," the title track from his first comeback album.
Near the end of the program, Fogerty brought out the black Les Paul he used at the Hall of Fame Concert for "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," "Bad Moon Rising" and "Fortunate Son."

he encore was "Proud Mary" and "Travelin' Band."

Backed by a crack band, including drummer Kenny Aronoff, Sue and I left knowing we had seen one of the greatest concerts ever.

By the time we saw Fogerty again, he was touring behind another new album, this time "Deja Vu (All Over Again)." The memorable show took place on July 4, 2005 at the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mount Pleasant, also home to Central Michigan University where I went to school in the early 1970s.

In fact, Fogerty was touring in tandem with fellow roots-rocker John Mellencamp. Sue and I secured seats near the stage for the Independence Day program, sitting amongst members of Mellencamp's fan organization called Club Cherry Bomb.

Fogerty took to the stage first, opening with "Travelin' Band," the number he ended his Chicago concert with eight years before. The veteran rocker performed 14 Creedence classics, plus a handful of solo hits, including "Deja Vu (All Over Again)." A powerful anti-war statement, the song was released as the country's military response in Iraq and Afghanistan was growing. "Did that voice inside you say I've seen this all before," Fogerty sang, comparing current events with the Vietnam War era.

A few songs into his set, Mellencamp called Fogerty back on stage. Seated next to one another, the two rockers performed Fogerty's "Green River," trading vocals as they went along. They did the same with Mellencamp's "Scarecrow."

By the time we saw Fogerty for a fourth time at Milwaukee's Riverside Ballroom on Nov. 19, 2009, we almost knew what to expect. Once again our favorite swamp rocker was touring with a new album, rumored at first to be called "Return of the Blue Ridge Rangers." Instead, it was given the clumsy title "The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again."

Still, Fogerty was in fine form and delivered 16 Creedence classics, six solo tracks and four numbers from the new album.

The new numbers comprised "When Will I Be Loved," written by Phil Everly; "Paradise," composed by John Prine; "Back Home Again," penned by John Denver; and "Garden Party," by Rick Nelson.

Fogerty delved into the Creedence catalog for this show, playing "Cotton Fields," "Ramble Tamble," "Keep On Chooglin'" and "Night Time Is The Right Time."

He even played his seldom-heard solo chestnut, "Comin' Down The Road," now giving title to a long-form DVD showcasing a concert he gave at London's Royal Albert Hall on June 24, 2008.

Fittingly, both the video program and Milwaukee show ended with "Proud Mary," the swamp rock classic and concert favorite which launched Fogerty's hit-filled career more than four decades ago.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Doobie Bros. keep on truckin'

The Doobie Brothers are anchored by founding
members Patrick Simmons, left, and Tom Johnston.


Venerable California rock band the Doobie Brothers played their classic hits and new material at the Island Resort Casino in Harris last weekend.

My wife Sue and I along with our friend Wendy Pepin attended the May 20 concert, looking forward to seeing a band with 30 charting hits in the 1970s and 80s.

There were more than a few motorcycles in the parking lot and a number of folks sporting Harley-Davidson gear, evidence that the band's early fans remained loyal.

The Doobie Brothers were formed in San Jose, Cal. as a quartet in 1970 and both Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons remain from the original line-up.

Of course the band members weren't related at all and took their name from the slang word for a marijuana cigarette.

Now in their early 60s, Johnston and Simmons anchored the concert with their well-honed vocals and impeccable guitar playing.

Although many musicians have been featured in the Doobie Brothers recordings over the years, the two founding members composed most of the group's best-known songs.

For their local shows, the Doobie Brothers comprised John McFee (guitar, violin, harmonica, vocals), John Cowan (bass), Gary Allison (keyboards), Mark Russo (saxophone), and the drumming duo of Ed Toth and Detroit native Tony Pia.

The eight-man band began with "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)." A big hit for the Doobies in 1975, the song was originally recorded by rhythm and blues singer Kim Weston ten years before. Featured on the "Stampede" album, the song was written by the Motown team of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland.

Simmons, his long gray hair flowing out from a black cowboy hat, shared vocals with Johnston on the opener.

Concert staple "Jesus Is Just Alright," a Top 40 hit from 1973, slotted next. The band delivered a faithful version of the song which was the last chart entry for the Byrds in 1970, showcasing their soaring harmonies and Allison's keyboard work.

The Simmons composition "Dangerous" followed as the singer and guitar player led the band through a powerful rendition of his song. Originally released on the 1991 studio album "Brotherhood," the track was included in the biker film "Stone Cold," starring Brian Bosworth. As Simmons sang about the dangers encountered by a Harley rider, McFee added some tasty dobro licks to the track,emphasizing its swampy southern rhythms.

For the next song it was Johnston's turn in the spotlight, as the group performed his hit "Rockin' Down the Highway," another road anthem. The song first appeared on the flipside of the "Jesus" single. Johnston stepped to the edge of the stage for a guitar solo to the delight of the audience.

"Thought we'd come by and play a little rock and roll for you," Johnston told the crowd.

Simmons provided the vocals for "Clear As The Driven Snow," a track included on the "Captain and Me" album, released in 1973.

Next, the band highlighted four songs from 2010's "World Gone Crazy." Their first new studio album in ten years was produced by Ted Templeman, who worked with the Doobies during their hit-making years. (Making a cameo appearance on the long-player is Upper Peninsula resident and Little Feat member Bill Payne, who played a B-3 organ on a number of tracks for the Doobie Brothers in the 1970s.)

The group played an embellished version of Johnston's "Nobody" from the fresh CD, although the song originated years ago. An earlier version of "Nobody" was released as the band's debut single, but failed to chart. The song became a moderate hit when it was re-released in 1974.

"Far From Home," featuring McFee's violin, and the album's title track followed.

The psychedelic "Chateau" completed the brace of new songs and served as a salute to Chateau Liberte, a California biker venue the band played during their early days.

Concert-goers seemed to appreciate the new offerings.

The Doobies returned to their hits with "Takin' It To The Streets," a favorite from the 1976 to 1983 era when singer and keyboardist Michael McDonald was in the band. A No. 3 hit, the McDonald composition brought about a hundred fans to the front of the stage.

Bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson II received a nod when the band performed his 1955 song "Don't Start Me (to) Talkin'." Williamson's take was a No. 3 hit on the R&B chart. Simmons told the crowd, "To get rid of the blues, you have to play the blues."

The band remained in the 1950s with "Little Bitty Pretty One. The song was a hit for R&B singer Bobby Day in 1957 and as long been a concert staple for the Doobie Brothers.

With lots of original material remaining, the band stayed with their own songs for the rest of the program.

The audience cheered with the first notes of "Black Water," the chart-topper from 1975. Simmons sang lead on his signature tune, about the band's love for New Orleans. At one point he substituted "Michigan" for "Mississippi" in the song's original lyrics. The crowd sang along to the tune's familiar refrain: "I'd like to hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama come and take me by the hand."

Johnston's "Long Train Runnin," a Top Ten from 1973 followed. McFee added a harmonica break while Russo played a catchy sax solo.

The band kept the energy level high during a three-song encore.

Fans cheered and clapped along as the band broke into 1973's popular "China Grove," another track from the "Captain And Me" album.

Johnston, Simmons, McFee and Cowan stood at the edge of the stage at one point during the hard-rockin' "Without You" which often receives extended treatment in concert.

To end their program, the Doobie Brothers returned to the beginning by playing their first hit, "Listen To The Music." When released in 1972, the song soon entered public consciousness, provided a blueprint for future hits and remains relevant to this day.

The 17-song set concentrated on the band's 70s hits and skipped over such 80s favorites as "Minute By Minute," "Real Love" and "The Doctor." Their second No. 1, "What A Fool Believes," was also missing in action.
Still, the band has too many hits to squeeze into a 90-minute show.

On tour this year to support "World Gone Crazy," the Doobie Brothers-- with a long history behind them-- show no sign of letting up.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interest in MC5 spans decades

Formed in Lincoln Park, the MC5 had a
brief career, but long-lasting influence.


The first article I wrote about the MC5 appeared on the front page of the May 18, 1971 edition of the Bay Beacon student newspaper.

The five young men who were the subject of the article comprised not only an incendiary rock band, but were at the center of a political movement as well.

Students at Bay College weren't the only ones interested in news about the MC5.

Shortening their name from Motor City Five, the group had a brief and controversial lifespan but a large and lasting influence.

Formed in the Detroit suburb of Lincoln Park, the MC5 consisted of Rob Tyner, lead vocals; Wayne Kramer, Fender guitar; Fred "Sonic" Smith, Mosrite guitar; Michael Davis, Fender bass; and Dennis Thompson, drums.

The band made some national commotion when they played a free concert during an anti-war demonstration at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. Their "Kick Out The Jams" single made some noise the following spring, despite-- or maybe because of-- the use of a curse word.

The band was "guided" by Detroit poet John Sinclair, who disliked the term manager. He got the MC5 a gig as the house band at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, owned by Russ Gibb. It was there they recorded their debut album before a live audience on Oct. 30 and 31, 1968.

By the following summer, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison after giving two marijuana cigarettes to an undercover narcotics officer.

Sinclair was sent to Southern Michigan State Prison in Jackson and later transferred to Marquette Branch Prison in the Upper Peninsula to serve his term. His relationship with the MC5 fell apart.

In a prison interview with Peter Steinberger, Sinclair said his imprisonment was the "best thing that's ever happened to our organization," referring to the White Panthers, Sinclair's group of counter-cultural white socialists looking to further the civil rights movement.

Separate from his political activities, Sinclair listened to music on a record player he bought from another prisoner and reviewed records for Jazz & Pop Magazine. According to his book "Guitar Army," Sinclair's record collection included jazz masters John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp; blues icons John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Paul Butterfield, plus Michigan staples like the Rationals, SRC, Bob Seger, the Up and of course, the MC5.

"Music really keeps me alive, you know?" Sinclair told Steinberger.

As Sinclair put in his time at Marquette, the nation's political climate continued to simmer.

Political activist Lawrence "Pun" Plamondon, who founded the White Panthers with Sinclair, went underground when he learned he was being charged with conspiracy in the bombing of the CIA office in Ann Arbor. Listed on the MC5's first album as "minister of defense," Plamondon secretly returned to lower Michigan after traveling to several foreign locations.

On July 23, 1970, he headed to the U. P. where he planned to hide out in the remote Keweenaw Peninsula. Traveling with two other White Panthers, Plamondon was arrested on US 2&41 near Naubinway, 50 miles west of St. Ignace, following an earlier stop for littering. Their vehicle was filled with guns.

According to his autobiography, "Lost From the Ottawa: The Story of the Journey Back," Plamondon was arrested and taken to the Mackinac County Jail before being moved to Detroit where he was charged with conspiracy and bombing government property.

Sinclair's fortunes improved on Dec. 10, 1971 when the John Sinclair Freedom Rally was held at Crisler Arena on the campus of University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The protest and concert featured ex-Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono, among others.

Sinclair was released on appeal bond three days later and his conviction was overturned. He had spent 29 months behind bars.

Plamondon eventually spent 32 months in prison, but his conviction was also overturned when the government admitted to wiretapping without a warrant.

Of Ottawa descent, Plamondom today is a respected tribal elder who speaks to high school and college students about the radical politics of the 1960s and 70s. Sinclair moved to the Netherlands, but recently talked about Michigan's medical marijuana law in an interview in "Big City Blues" magazine.

The MC5, meanwhile, played their last gig on New Years Eve, 1972, at the Grande Ballroom. Both Tyner and Smith died in the 1990s. Surviving members have held reunion shows in recent years.

Their three original albums stand as achievements to the MC5's musical greatness and provided the blueprint for the 1970s punk movement.

Many people continue to be fascinated by the band.

Film-makers Laurel Legler and David C. Thomas have spent years putting together a feature length documentary about the band, "MC5: A True Testimonial."

The pair collected photographs and silent film clips of the band, including surveillance footage shot by the U. S. government during the 1968 demonstrations in Chicago, and synched it to the band's music.

The documentary was shown at various festivals around the world from 2002 to 2004, drawing praise from critics and fans. However, the film became entangled in a lawsuit over publishing rights.

As one last hurtle to get the film released, Legler and Thomas needed to raise $27,000 to acquire a synchronization license to use the MC5's music in their documentary.

Just weeks ago, they put out a call for financial help with the aid of veteran Detroit music producer Freddie Brooks.

Brooks said he believes the MC5 documentary is "an absolute masterpiece and the film-makers deserve high praise both for their creativity and for their valiant struggle to make this tremendous film a reality."

My wife Sue and I offered our pledge to the effort. Despite more than 100 pledges, the funding goal was not reached.

For now, "MC5: A True Testimonial" will remain unissued, but people close to the project say they will find a way to release it.

I hope so. I would love to see it. Besides, the film provides the musical and visual background for that newspaper article I wrote four decades ago.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gladstone starts festival season

Minnesota-based blues artist Paul Mayasich
will perform at the Rockin' The Bay Music Festival
in Gladstone on Friday, June 18.


A dozen music festivals will take place around the Upper Peninsula this summer, with Gladstone's Rockin' The Bay launching the season.

Now in its third year, Rockin' The Bay Music Festival is scheduled for June 17 & 18 at the Gladstone Yacht Club.

Friday's entertainment includes Red, White & Blues, a blues band from Amasa; Gladstone rockers Uncle Ugly; and Paul Mayasich, a blues act from Minneapolis. Saturday's line-up includes classic Gladstone rock band Feedback; Suns of Memphis, a rockabilly and country band from Menominee; Nate Miller & Unstoppable Company, a blues and rock outfit from Minneapolis; and Greg Waters & the Broad Street Boogie, an Appleton rock band.

Tickets are $15 in advance for both days or $10 per day at the gate. The yacht club sponsors the event as a benefit for the Gladstone Youth Wrestling Club.

Other regional festivals you may want to attend:

Jam Dam Jamboree, Wilson, June 24-26

Returning to this year's event are favorites Monte Lee DeGrave and Grassfire. Further details have not been released.

U. P. Hog Wild BBQ & Music Festival, Kingsford, July 15-16

Two tribute bands will be featured at the 7th annual event, staged at Lodal Park in Kingsford. Bad Animals pays tribute to the rock band Heart, while Cavern Beat owes its inspiration to the Beatles. Those bands and Lock-n-load will play Friday. Performing Saturday will be Oil Can Harry, the top cover band in Wisconsin for 2010; Next Myle; and Feed. Advance two-day tickets are $10, or $15, day of event.

Aura Jamboree & Old-Time Dance, Aura, July 15-16

Marking its 35th anniversary this year, Aura is the longest running music festival in the U. P. Held at the Community Hall and surrounding area, the event features Finnish, country, bluegrass and various types of folk music. A rural Finnish farming community, Aura is located 12 miles northeast of L'Anse. For more information, go to:

Copper Peak Christian Music Festival, Ironwood, July 22-23

Grammy-winning Christian music star Ashley Clevelend will be featured at the Copper Peak event. Other acts set to perform include Big D & the Good News Blues, Yooper Men, Power 3:10, CityPrayz, Farsighted and the Sisters. Tickets are $3 for adults. Children 12 and under are free. For more information go to:

Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival, Marquette, July 22-24

Featuring traditional music styles such as bluegrass, old-time, Cajun, Celtic, acoustic blues and folk, the 33rd annual Hiawatha Festival will be held at Tourist Park in Marquette. The line-up includes Le Vent de Nord, John McCutcheon, Beachley & Scott Band, Cane Creek Cloggers, Ebony Hillbillies, Harmonious Wall, Big Ron Hunter & Ironing Board Sam, Top Drawer with Joel Mabus, Jerry Mills and Tree featuring Lindsay Tomasic and Jesse Fitzpatrick. For more information, to go:

Woodtick Music Festival, Hermansville, Aug. 4-7

The 18th annual Woodtick Music Festival presents acts on two stages. Billy Shears, known for their version of "Eleanor Rigby," tops this year's schedule. Also signed to play are Feed, Stella, Bad Axe Rodeo, Neon Detour, Crossroads, Big Dudee Roo, Runaway Train, Bordertown, Midnight Highway, Total Khaos, Norton & Chartier, Acoustic Khaos, Sawdust Symphony, Grassfire, Willow Ridge and Gary Elson. Described by Brian Whitens as a "homegrown Upper Peninsula-style shindig," Woodtick takes place on grounds located on County Road 388 between Hermansville and Powers. A four-day pass is $45. Tickets are available at the Wildwood Truck Stop in Hermansville, LaBelle's and Sidetrack in Powers, Music Tree in Iron Mountain and Record Rack in Escanaba.

Bayside Music Festival, St. Ignace, Aug. 6

The Bayside Music Festival will be held at the Public Marina in downtown St. Ignace from 4 to 10 p. m. The event includes "great music, food and fun," according to organizers, and ends with fireworks at dusk. Admission for adults is $2.

Grand Marais Music & Arts Festival, Grand Marais, Aug. 12-14

The 31st annual event has been scheduled but the line-up has not yet been announced. Music genres should include bluegrass, blues, classic rock, Americana, rockabilly jazz/rock, acoustic and more. For more information, go to:

Mackinac Island Music Festival, Mackinac Island, Aug. 16-18

According to Mackinac Island musician and festival director Mary McGuire, the 7th annual event will feature music from Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" album. Staged at Mission Point Theatre, an ensemble of musicians will present "Delta Lady," "The Letter," "Cry Me A River," "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" and other songs from Cocker's classic 1970 LP. For additional information, go to:

Porcupine Mountains Music Festival, Ontonagon, Aug. 26-28

Marking its 7th anniversary, this event takes place at the Ski Hill and Chalet area in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park near Ontonagon. Signed to perform this year are Guy Mendilow Band, Grasstowne, Rita Hosking & Cousin Jack, Hoots & Hellmouth, the Red Sea Pedestrians, Ray Bonneville, the Pines, Sista Otis, Seth Bernard & May Erlewine, Charlie Parr, Bathtub Mothers, D. B. Rielly, Roma di Luna, Alison Scott, Kaivama, Conga Se Menne, the Back Room Boys, Black River John, Rory Miller & Dale C. Miller, Doris & the Day Dreams and Yvonne Blake. Tickets are $90 for the weekend or $35 each day. For additional information, go to:

Marquette Area Blues Fest, Marquette, Sept. 3-4

The 8th annual Marquette Area Blues Fest will showcase ten blues acts at Mattson Lower Harbor Park on the weekend before Labor Day. Performing Saturday will be Red, White & Blues; Madcat & Kane; Kilborn Alley Blues Band, Mac Arnold & Plate O' Blues; and headliner Joanne Shaw Taylor. Sunday's line-up consists of Mike Letts & the Marquettes; Gas House Gorillas; the Rusty Wright Band; and headliner Shemekia Copeland. A seven-time Blues Music Award winner, Copeland is the daughter of blues icon Johnny Copeland and records on the Telarc label. Recording for the European Tuf label, Taylor is British guitar master who now lives in Detroit. Adult weekend passes are $40 each, while daily passes are $25 at the gate. For more information visit the Marquette Area Blues Society website.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Omo the Hobo published book

Delta County's Omo the Hobo spent his life as a
traveling troubadour and wrote about his adventures
in an autobiography.


Delta County's Omo the Hobo spent his life as a traveling troubadour and wrote a book to tell about it.

After spending more than three decades on the road, the eccentric "outsider" musician penned his own story in "The Life and Times of Omo the Hobo." I met Omo after he retired to Escanaba in the late 1980s, but I was unaware of his autobiography.

Not long ago retired Escanaba Public Safety Officer Walter Deneau told me about Omo's tome and let me borrow his copy. Omo autographed the book and gave it to Deneau in 1994, along with a long-playing record album.

Featuring a black & white photo of the author on the cover, the 166-page book was self-published in 1980.

The volume may have been a birthday gift to himself as it covers the period from Omo's birth on Oct. 3, 1917 as Wellman Wiley Omohundro, to his 62nd birthday. In his book, Omo included reminiscences of his childhood, family pictures, sheet music for many of his songs and stories about his nomadic life singing and playing guitar to make a living.

Omo was born on the family homestead farm in Fayette to Brigham Iley Omohundro and his wife Geneieve Martha Jones.

The pair moved to Fayette from Missouri shortly after they were married in 1913. Omo was their third child; two others died shortly after birth.

Farm life didn't agree with the young man so he left home at 18. Omo spent the next 13 years as a hobo, doing odd jobs to get along, and even a hitch in the Army during World War II didn't last.

After the war Omo learned how to play the guitar from Bob Alexander in Grants Pass, Ore. Omo said he practiced because he wanted to sound like Gene Autry, known as The Singing Cowboy. His boss at the time laughed at him.

Later in Miami, Fla. Omo got the idea to play in bars for tips and performed for the first time on his 31st birthday.

Hunger gave an anxious Omo the courage to play to a bar crowd, not knowing what to expect. But, patrons clapped for him, he remembered. They passed a hat and Omo left with about ten bucks.

Omo started learning songs from old 78 rpm records. Early on he only knew two songs: "Little Brown Jug" and "Pretty Red Wing."

In Miami, Omo teamed up with another traveling troubadour Happy Bill Pishquer. Pishquer taught Omo more songs and they toured the country together, finally arriving in New York City. There they auditioned for Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour television program and were accepted.

Omo writes in his book that they played "Just Because" and won third prize in July, 1950. They called themselves the The Sunshine Troubadours. They got a summer job offer "and a couple of girlfriends out of it," Omo recalled.

Omo and Pishquer played in Escanaba and at Pavolot's Tavern in Manistique and stayed a few nights at the Omohundro place in Fayette.

Pishquer married soon after and Omo continued on his own. However, he became ill and decided to visit a health ranch in California. There Dr. Bernard Jensen put him on a fast to heal a medical ailment and encouraged Omo to be creative and write his own songs.

In 1958, Omo met Bob Cavanaugh in Tucson, Ariz. and they teamed up for about a year playing high schools in the area. Omo began writing his own songs in Tucson in 1960. The first original songs he composed were "I'm Broke Today" and "You Had Your Way, Now I'll Have Mine."

Sheet music for "I'm Broke Today" is included in the book, copyrighted by Smiley Joe Omohundro, the name he used at that time.

Omo returned to Miami, where he placed a classified ad looking for a female country &western singer. That's how Omo met his future wife Joan Thompson.

They left Miami to travel the country as a duo. In Nashville they played a birthday party for Little Jimmy Dickins, a C&W star known for his humorous novelty songs, earning $25. They also got to meet Ernest Tubb, nicknamed the Texas Troubadour, at the Grand Ole Opry.

Omo and Joan were married in Houston, Texas on Dec. 18, 1961 before they moved on to Los Angeles.

Eager to get some of his compositions on vinyl, Omo used $50 his father sent him to record four of his songs with a band. Omo sang "Shut That Gate," while his wife, billed as Baby Doll Omohundro, sang the others.

Country star Jerry Wallace, famous for "Primrose Lane," was in the studio advising Omo when the songs were recorded.

Omo had two other songs in the can, so they were able to press three 45s on the Accent label. His father had actually sent the money to Omo and his wife to help them return to the Upper Peninsula where the elder Omohundro wanted the two to help run his laundromat in Gladstone.

Not cut out for the laundry business, they returned to the road, with their infant son Tyrone in tow, but marital problems developed. Omo and Joan separated and later divorced.

Back in Los Angeles, Omo met a wealthy widow named Antoinette "Ann" Dewitt. He moved into her late husband's room and wrote another batch of songs. "She gave me lots of ideas for tunes and words," Omo said. "I have her to thank for helping me with writing and paying for some of my records and albums."

In early 1970, Omo met Juanita Ruby Wood at a bar in Compton, Cal. She also worked with Omo on a number of recordings and performed with him. They were married on Nov. 9, 1979.

Before he died in 1996, Omo released at least 150 singles and played in 48 states, Canada and Mexico. He also released a number of long-playing record albums, 8-tracks, cassettes, joke books and calendars.

Omo counted folk singers Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger among his musical idols.

"I set up many a night writing songs that I thought would make a million but haven't made me a dime so far off of them. God knows I tried. The way it is I survive from day to day playing in clubs and bars trying to make people happy," Omo wrote.

While he rambled from place to place, the narrative in Omo's book also tends to ramble. He can change the subject several times in a single paragraph, making the book difficult to read.

"I'm no writer and don't pretend to be," he wrote. Still, he tells some fascinating stories.

Omo spent over a year cobbling his book together. He paid for a small press run and sold the book for a $5 "donation." Few copies survive.

Today, Omo the Hobo's book stands as rare testimony to the adventurous life of a traveling troubadour.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stadium gone; memories linger

Singer and guitarist Ray Davies led the Kinks through
two songs at the Concert for the Rock And Roll Hall of
Fame in 1995, one of the last times the group played


They tore down Cleveland Municipal Stadium not long after the facility played host to one of its greatest events.

It wasn't a football or baseball game, but the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, featuring the biggest names in pop music.

My wife Sue and I were among the estimated 65,000 fans who witnessed the historic show at the aging structure.

Our $80 tickets got us seats in the upper deck for the show which started at 7:30 p. m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, 1995.

Artists had been rehearsing since midweek at sites around the city including Cleveland State University Convocation Center and Beechwood Studios.

Rumors circulated that artists would perform in unique combinations such as Bruce Springsteen with Jerry Lee Lewis, but a set list was not released prior to the concert.

Just as The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper reported in that day's final edition, Chuck Berry opened the program with his classic "Johnny B. Goode."

The start was entirely fitting since Berry was in the first class to be inducted in the rock hall back in 1986, years before the facility was built.

Besides Berry, other rock pioneers played including Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown and Little Richard.

They were joined by such music legends as John Mellencamp, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers.

Although there were no Beatles or Rolling Stones on the bill, Eric Burdon and the Kinks represented their fellow Britishers.

All told, more than three dozen acts took to the stage during the proceedings which lasted until after 2 a. m.

For me, the show was filled with highlights.

John Mellencamp offered his anthem, R. O. C. K. In The U. S. A," a salute to 60's rock.

Eric Burdon and Bon Jovi stormed through "It's My Life" and "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place," classic numbers by the Animals from 1965.

Johnny Cash performed "Folsom Prison Blues" and was joined by Mellencamp for "Ring of Fire."

Aretha Franklin showed why she's known as the Queen of Soul, with dynamic versions of "I Can't Turn You Loose," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "Freeway of Love."

John Fogerty delivered inspiring takes of the Creedence Clearwater Revival hits "Born On The Bayou" and "Fortunate Son"

Iggy Pop led alternative band Soul Asylum through "Back Door Man," while Lou Reed did the same with "Sweet Jane."

The Kinks impressed the crowd with "All Day And All Of The Night" and "Lola."

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band saluted early rock 'n' roll with "Shake, Rattle & Roll" and "Bo Diddley." They were joined by Jerry Lee Lewis for "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On."

Bruce Hornsby paid tribute to the late Jerry Garcia with the Grateful Dead gems "I Know You Rider" and "Scarlet Begonias."

Bob Dylan pulled "All Along the Watchtower," "Just Like A Woman," "Seeing the Real You At Last," "Highway 61" and "Forever Young" from his songbook.

The Allman Brothers, featuring Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts, played "Blue Sky," "Midnight Rider" and "One Way Out."

James Brown used a horn section, back-up singers and dancers for "Cold Sweat," "It's a Man's World" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)."

Little Richard played a white piano while singing "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Tutti Frutti."

Chuck Berry brought the evening full circle with what appeared to be an impromptu version of his classic "Rock And Roll Music," ending the program after six hours and 40 minutes.

While those were my favorite moments, there were also noteworthy performances by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Melissa Etheridge, Dr. John, Al Green, the Pretenders, Jackson Browne, Gin Blossoms, Sheryl Crow, George Clinton, Heart, Natalie Merchant, Robbie Robertson, Sam Moore, Slash and Boz Scaggs. Booker T. and the M. G.'s were the house band for the evening.

As Berry's guitar fell silent, the crowd filed out of the building knowing they attended a once in a lifetime concert.

Opened in 1931, Cleveland Municipal Stadium served as home to professional sports teams the Browns and the Indians, but also hosted many red letter concerts.

The Beatles played there on Sept. 15, 1964 and again on Aug. 14, 1966, thrilling local teenagers.

On June 25, 1977, 83,199 people attended a concert by Pink Floyd, the British rock band which recorded the "Dark Side of the Moon" album.

A show by the Rolling Stones on July 1, 1978 drew 82,238 paid guests to what is claimed to be the first concert to gross over $1 million.

Aerosmith and the Beach Boys also drew big crowds to the stadium during the 1970s.

Bruce Springsteen brought a horde of fans when he performed on Aug. 7, 1985.

English band the Who followed suit with their engagement on July 19, 1989.

Still, the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame concert may have topped them all.

For Sue and I, the show was our chance to see both Johnny Cash and James Brown. Called the "Godfather of Soul," Brown died on Christmas Day, 2006 at the age of 73.

Cash, meanwhile, died on Sept. 12, 2003 after a career comprising country, rockabilly and rock music. The "Man in black" was 71.

The Cleveland show marked a number of milestones.

The Kinks' performance was one of the last times they appeared together. appearance.

Springsteen and the E Street band played together for the first time in a number of years.

Canadian rocker Robbie Robertson staged the Band's classic song "The Weight," one of the few times he's performed solo.

Judging from the evidence, it can't be denied that Cleveland Municipal Stadium had a rich history.

Yet, it was unceremoniously demolished just months after a momentous show, leaving only memories behind.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Marilyn Monroe paid for trip

Although she was best known as an
actress, Marilyn Monroe also recorded at
least three dozen songs.


Although she had been dead for years, iconic Hollywood movie star Marilyn Monroe paid for my wife Sue and me to vacation in New Orleans.

If that sounds hard to believe, let me explain.

Back in the late 1980s, Sue and I began collecting autographed photos of music celebrities to display in our record store.

We built a substantial collection by writing to stars, trading with other collectors, getting pieces through our distributors, and occasionally going backstage at shows.

One day, while looking through the classifieds in a music collectors magazine called "Goldmine," I noticed an ad offering an autographed Marilyn Monroe photo for sale.

An actress and model, Monroe starred in such movies as "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "Bus Stop" and "Some Like It Hot." As a singer she was known for "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend," "That Old Black Magic" and "I Wanna Be Loved By You."

She recorded material by such well-known songwriters as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael.

Her last musical appearance came in May, 1962 when she purred "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" at Madison Square Garden during a party for John F. Kennedy. She died of an overdose of barbiturates three months later at the age of 36.

A bit doubtful about the Monroe autograph, I contacted the seller and he let me authenticate the signature with an expert before we finalized the deal.

The 8x10 black & white photo was endorsed to a fan and signed in ink. The 1950s era picture, depicting Monroe in a swimsuit, was in good condition except for pin-holes in each corner where it had been displayed.

An autograph dealer confirmed that the signature was genuine and offered to buy it for a tidy profit over the $650 we paid.

Using the proceeds from the sale, we were enjoying the musical sites and attractions of the Big Easy just a few weeks later.

Our first order of business was to attend the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, also known as Jazz Fest. It's a popular annual event celebrating the "indigenous music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana."

Held at the Fairgrounds, the festival featured a dozen tents each offering a different style of music.

Along with other fans, we crowded into the gospel tent where an all-black choir sang to the heavens accompanied only by hand-claps from the audience.

Other tents offered bands playing their take on zydeco or Cajun music. Yes, we heard an accordion or two.

There was music for everyone whether it was rhythm & blues, folk, Latin, country, bluegrass, contemporary or traditional jazz.

Outside we listened to the gruff singing of an elderly bluesman who sat under a tree as he played his well-worn guitar.

We heard New Orleans native Dr. John play the piano and sing his classic swamp-rock songs. He's famous for numbers like "Iko, Iko" and "Right Place Wrong Time," a Top Ten hit from 1973.

To complement the music the festival featured food vendors serving a variety of local treats.

At the festival and elsewhere in New Orleans we indulged in po' boys, beignets, crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, pralines and Gulf oysters on the half shell. Pass the Pepto, please.

Sue and I also took in Bourbon St. and the French Quarter, home to Preservation Hall. This historic building is closed during the day, but at night features bands playing New Orleans style jazz.

We stopped at Absinthe Bar, where Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page met his wife, and where Bryan Lee and the Jump Street Five served as house band.

During the day, we were fascinated by musicians playing in Jackson Square.

One evening, we took in a concert headlined by blues master John Lee Hooker, revered for hits like "Boom Boom," "Boogie Chillen" and "I'm In The Mood." In the midst of a comeback, Hooker enchanted a crowd well aware they were in the presence of a living legend.

Also performing was up and coming bluesman Robert Cray. He was having early success with "Smoking Gun," "Right Next Door (Because of Me)" and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark."

The warm-up act on that particular evening was the Radiators. Based in New Orleans, the Radiators combine local music styles with rock and R&B into what they call "fish-head music." Although they've had limited commercial success, the Radiators know how to throw a great party.

Fats Domino-- who gave us "Blueberry Hill," "I'm Walkin'," and "Blue Monday"-- played Jazz Fest many times but missed the year we went. To make up for it we took a trolley car ride past his house before we left New Orleans.

Back home, our experiences turned to memories until Hurricane Katrina struck, turning every one's attention to New Orleans.

Following the hurricane, Domino was reported missing by his long-time manager. However, his daughter later told authorities he was rescued from the second story balcony of his home.

Many of New Orleans' small clubs were destroyed, leaving hundreds of local musicians without jobs. Artists lost their homes, priceless instruments, master recordings and irreplaceable memorabilia.

The awful storm took some music treasurers, but spared the French Quarter and Bourbon St.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival continues to he held each year as it has since 1970, although much of the city is still devastated and tens of thousands of people moved away.

Katrina reminded us how lucky we were to have witnessed the sites and sounds of New Orleans when we did.

Sue and I thoroughly enjoyed that musical adventure, but the most poignant moment occurred at a restaurant during our first evening in the city. Remarkably, the waiter seated us at a table under an imposing painting of Marilyn Monroe wearing a red dress.

The colorful image was a notable contrast to my favorite Monroe movie, a drama called "The Misfits," which was filmed in black & white and sadly became her final film.

Sitting beneath the painting, we ordered lobster and toasted the Hollywood legend who made our trip possible with a stroke of her pen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Motown unites Excels, Coffey

Berry Gordy housed his Motown Record Corp.
in this building at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in
Detroit until 1972.


You might know Motown Record Corp. from gigantic hits by the Miracles, the Temptations or the Supremes, but the venerable Detroit label also has some small Upper Peninsula ties.

Music entrepreneur Berry Gordy incorporated the firm on April 14, 1960 combining Motown with the Tamla label he had founded in early 1959.

By 1961, the company struck gold with "Shop Around," a No. 1 rhythm and blues and No. 2 pop smash by the Miracles, featuring Bill "Smokey" Robinson.

Five girls from Inkster called the Marvelettes became the label's first act to reach No. 1 on the pop chart with "Please Mr. Postman" in the fall of 1961.

Gordy housed his fledgling label in a former photography studio which would become known as Hitsville USA.

With a growing roster of artists, producers, songwriters and session musicians, Motown had more than 100 Top Ten hits during the next decade.

The Miracles added to Motown's success with "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" and "Mickey's Monkey" in 1963, while the Supremes registered their first Top Ten with "Where Did Our Love Go" in 1964.

A trio from Detroit, the Supremes began their stint at Motown singing background vocals for other acts.

With successful acts like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and the Contours, Motown was making a name for itself around the country.

A rock group from Marquette called the Excels were paying attention to the sounds emanating from Detroit.

Comprised of Northern Michigan University students, the Excels decided to drive to the Motor City in search of a recording contract.

According to lead singer Clark Sullivan, the group made the trip to the lower peninsula in the fall of 1964.

Fresh from the U. P., the Excels pulled up to 2648 West Grand Boulevard, the headquarters of Motown.

What the black employees of Motown might have thought of five white boys from northern Michigan isn't known, but the Excels did meet the Supremes.

At that time Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard had another chart-topper to their credit called "Baby Love."

While they were impressed meeting the Supremes, the Excels realized their sound, stressing Beach Boys-style harmony, would not fit with Motown, which had an all-black stable of artists.

Undaunted, the Excels next stopped at United Sound Studio where they met Ollie McLaughlin an influential black disc jockey on WHRV radio in Ann Arbor.

McLaughlin, who owned Carla Records, showed interest in the Excels and asked them to send him a demo tape.

The Excels responded with "Run Girl Run" and "It Isn't So." McLaughlin, who is credited with discovering Del Shannon, liked the songs and signed the group.

In the early summer of 1965, the Excels returned to United Sound Studio to properly record their demos, but the songs weren't released at that time.

Experienced with years of touring, the Excels recorded "Gonna Make You Mine" and "Goodbye Poor Boy" in the summer of 1966 and followed with "I Wanna Be Free" and "Too Much Too Soon" in the fall.

During the summer of 1967, they returned to the studio to tape "Little Innocent Girl" and "Some Kind of Fun." The A side was composed by the songwriting team of Richard Wylie and Tony Hester.

Adding to its professional sheen, the track was arranged by Mike Terry and Dennis Coffey. The single was a moderate success in markets such as Winnepeg, Detroit, Monroe, Muskegon and Traverse City.

Although he grew up in Detroit, Coffey had close ties to the U. P. As a teenager in the early 1950s, Coffey visited his musically-inclined relatives who lived in the tiny Keweenaw Peninsula community of Copper City.

Coffey's cousins, Jim and Marilyn Thompson, introduced him to the guitar, showed him some basic chords and taught him how to play "Under the Double Eagle," a bluegrass standard.

Returning home, Coffey learned songs by Hank Williams Sr., a favorite around his U. P. haunts. He expanded his interests to rockabilly, rock 'n' roll, blues, rhythm & blues and jazz.

With considerable expertise on the guitar, Coffey joined the Royaltones and worked as a session guitarist for independent labels around Detroit.

In 1962, Coffey met Del Shannon and added guitar to "Little Town Flirt," which just missed the Top Ten. Coffey joined his friend again in 1965 when Shannon recorded an entire album of songs by the iconic country star titled "Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams."

By 1968, Coffey found himself working for Motown as a session guitarist. His first recording was for "Cloud Nine," a Top Ten smash for the Temptations. Coffey used his Gibson Firebird guitar for the session.

"I ad-libbed a fast wah-wah effect in the introduction. On the last verse of the song, the groove we were playing was so hot that I just had to jump in and play a solo. I cranked my volume up a bit, closed my eyes and let 'er rip," Coffey said in his autobiography, "Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars."

As a member of the Funk Brothers studio band, Coffey played on more tracks than he can remember, including numerous hits by the Temptations.

Coffey played guitar on "Someday We'll Be Together" by Diana Ross & the Supremes. Johnny Bristol produced the session, co-wrote the song and provided the male vocal. Although the song reached No. 1, Ross decided to leave the group for a solo career.

Coffey's guitar is also heard on Edwin Starr's "War," Freda Payne's "Band of Gold" and Junior Walker's "What Does It Take To Win Your Love."

Born in 1940, Coffey's career reached another high point in 1971 when his single "Scorpio," released on the Sussex label, reached No. 6 on the pop charts.

In the 40 years since then, Coffey has remained active in the music business. On April 26, he'll issue a self-titled album on the Strut label, his first new release in five years.

The Excels released five 45 rpm singles on Carla, their last disc containing the first two tracks they recorded for McLaughlin. Lead singer Clark Sullivan recorded as a solo artist when the Excels disbanded.

Looking to get involved in motion pictures, Gordy moved Motown Record Corporation to Hollywood in 1972.

Thus ended a vibrant chapter in Detroit's musical history which included some small ties to the Upper Peninsula thanks to the Excels and Dennis Coffey.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Hastings St. spawned blues scene

Bluesman John Lee Hooker was photographed
on Detroit's Hastings St. for this album cover.


Unless you're from Detroit, you might not know that Hastings St. gave birth to a thriving blues scene in the 1940s and 1950s.

In fact, the Hastings St. neighborhood gave rise to iconic bluesman John Lee Hooker and lesser luminaries like Johnnie Bassett and Alberta Adams.

Hooker, of course, is known for such influential blues numbers as as "Boogie Chillen," "I'm In The Mood" and "Boom Boom."

My wife Sue and I witnessed one of Hooker's concerts as well as performances by Bassett and Adams.

Hooker was born in Clarksdale, Miss. in either 1917 or 1920, depending on the source. His father was a minister and the young musician first played publicly at church, greatly pleasing his mother. After his father died, his stepfather Will Moore, who was friends with the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Patton and Blind Blake, infused Hooker with a love for the blues.

He left home at about age 14 for Memphis, meeting both B. B. King and Bobby Bland, and working in a movie theater on Beale St.

After stints in Cincinnati and Knoxville, Hooker moved to Detroit during World War II.

The singer and guitarist was right at home performing in the clubs along Hastings St. on the city's east side. Hastings ran north-south through a predominately black neighborhood known as Black Bottom. Originally settled by Jews, the district was transformed by southern migrants looking for work in the burgeoning auto industry.

The Hastings St. neighborhood featured black-owned businesses, clubs and bars which drew acts like Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald.

Famous gospel preacher Rev. Cecil L. Franklin, the father of Aretha Franklin, opened his New Bethel Baptist Church on Hastings St.

The area featured Joe's Record Shop, located at 3530 Hastings St. The store was owned by Joe "Von" Battles, who also produced discs for his JVB Records label.

Hooker often recorded in a studio located in the back of the store. A young Aretha Franklin taped some gospel sides there as well.

While working for Ford Motor Co. Hooker cut his first recordings, teaming up with producer Bernie Besman.

Los Angeles-based Modern Records issued Hooker's debut called "Boogie Chillen" which climbed to the top of the rhythm & blues charts in 1949. The bluesman was so taken by Hastings St. that he mentioned it in the song's lyrics.

"I'm In The Mood" became Hooker's second R&B chart-topper 1951.

During the next four years, Hooker recorded hundreds of tracks for various labels, finally signing with VeeJay in 1955. His hits during this period included "Dimples" in 1956 and "Boom Boom" in 1962.

British band the Animals cut their version of "Boom Boom" two years later, reaching No. 43 on the U. S. charts.

The singer and guitarist recorded the massively-popular LP "Hooker 'N Heat" with blues-rock band Canned Heat in 1970. The disc contained standout tracks like "Peavine" and "Burning Hell."

Most of the 70s were lean years for Hooker, but Led Zeppelin incorporated "Boogie Chillen" into their "Whole Lotta Love" medley, playing it at nearly every show from 1970-1973.

He made a welcome a cameo appearance in the 1980 movie "The Blues Brothers," starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

By 1989 Hooker won a Grammy Award for "The Healer" CD which he recorded with Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt and George Thorogood. The album was a major comeback.

Hooker was well into his fourth decade as a blues performer when Sue and I saw him in concert. The show took place during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, circa 1990. The bill also included Robert Cray, famous for "Smoking Gun" and local favorites the Radiators. There was no doubt, however, that Hooker was the star of the show.

The veteran bluesman sat on a stool at center stage, performing his set in true solo fashion. Hooker needed nothing more than his growling voice, guitar work and foot stomps to propel his music.

We cheered as Hooker played many of his well-known songs.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 and issued two more albums during the decade.

Both Alberta Adams and Johnnie Bassett, meanwhile, were connected to Hooker by way of Hastings St.

Born Roberta Louise Osborn in Indianapolis, Adams was raised by a relative in Detroit. Sources differ whether she was born in 1917 or 1925.

As early as 1942, Adams appeared at a Hastings St. club called B&C, as did Hooker.

She signed with Chicago's Chess Records in 1952 and toured with Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker and others.

Sue and I saw Adams perform in Marquette on Sept. 2, 2006 during the annual Blues Fest. Known as the grand dame of Detroit blues, Adams commanded the stage with the seasoned experience of a singer who has performed for more than 60 years.

Ably recalling some of the classic blues divas of earlier decades, Adams became a sentimental favorite with the crowd for an endearing performance of her song, "Remember Me."

Johnnie Bassett appeared at Blues Fest two years later. Sue and I enjoyed his set on Sept. 7, 2008.

Born in 1935 in Florida, Bassett relocated to Detroit with his family in 1944. He won various talent contests and appeared on "Got a Job" the debut recording by Bill "Smokey" Robinson and the Miracles on the Chess Records imprint.

Bassett also played on stage with Alberta Adams, Hooker and other local blues performers.

During his Marquette show, Bassett opened with "The Cat," by renown film composer Lilo Schifrin and included an inspiring rendition of "Bassett Hound," his theme song.

Today, Adams and Bassett still call Detroit home, although the Hastings St. neighborhood is long gone.

In the early 1960s, the district was largely bull-dozed in an "urban renewal" program, replaced with Lafayette Park and the Chrysler Freeway portion of I-75.

Hooker lived another decade from the time we saw him in New Orleans, winning a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 2000.

When he died on June 21, 2001 Sue and I realised we were fortunate to have seen Hooker before Hastings Street's greatest blues star slipped into history.