2000s M.C.Five Gateway

This Q/A was conducted via email someday in 2000. "Ultraveteran rock critic/journalist/biographer" Dave Marsh was patient and kind enough to enlighten some points of history as the MC5 Gateway was about to tell the story of the MC5 - still an untold story at that time - and the questions to Mr Marsh are as they are.

Q : When did you see the M.C.Five for the first time on stage? Do you remember this first time?
Dave Marsh : The first one was, I think, with the Fugs at the Grande Ballroom, late '67--I remember "Empty Heart" and/or "C.C.Rider." It does get a little blurry after all this time. Something Rob played harp on for like 20 minutes. Then there was that New Year's Eve--'67 turning into '68 (unless that was the same show, which I doubt), quite an amazing performance and that one I'm SURE had "C.C.Rider," which is one of the great lost MC5 renditions, if you ask me.
I remember it well enough to tell you about the light show and what the joint smelled like.

Did you know them before that? Did you make their acquintance at Wayne State University?
I was a freshman in college the next autumn--'68, right after the Democratic National Convention in D.C., right before the album recording (which I didn't get to go to). I met a guy named Ken Dabish whose brother had been in the Detroit House of Correction with Sinclair. We started showing up at a lot of Five shows and met the band, John, and most important for me, Bob Rudnick, who became a great friend and mentor for the rest of his life.

You were a student at WSU for two months in 1969 just before you met J.Sinclair, the M.C.Five etc. and you were living above the 5th Estate office, right? What would you say about the popularity of the M.C.Five in this area in '69?
They were the Beatles.

Do you remember the exact date of release of the album "Kick Out The Jams"?
No. I remember buying it early in '69 or something. I don't remember the exact date.

In Spring/Summer 69 were the radios playing that record a lot? The uncensored version too?
WABX was. I never heard the uncensored version on the air.

Can you discuss the 'Fuck Hudson's ad' affair, right before Atlantic Records and J.Wexler became part of the story through Danny Fields.
I wasn't part of that. The person you want to find is Robin Sommer, in Detroit. He designed the ad. He's a hostile motherfucker (but a terrific artist) but if he figures out you are serious, he can be very helpful. 

Were you in relations with the other journalists (Peter Werbe/5th Estate ; Ken Kelley/Ann Arbor Argus i believe, etc.) and with the DJs of the Detroit radios?
Werbe I knew from even years before that, when I was an aspiring high school journalist--I met him and Frank Joyce and Harvey Ovshinsky as early as maybe spring '66--certainly not any later than the next spring. And I did little bits of writing for the Fifth Estate.
Rudnick and his partner Dennis Frawley had their Kokaine Karma radio show on WABX (it was originally on WFMU in New Jersey, which is basically, NYC). So through them I met a lot of disc jockeys; Dan Carlisle of WABX, WKNR, etc later lived in the Creem house. Jerry Lubin was around; a few more--a guy called Mike Shannon at WRIF? Everyone knew anyone, a little bit, by late '69 or early '70, I guess. Before Rudnick and Sinclair and I basically talked my way into Creem, I didn't know anyone but them, really.

In mid-April 1969, have you heard of a prime F.Smith's and J.Sinclair's trial in Pontiac?
Yes, I attended it. It was about a mile from my parents house. We went there for lunch one day but nobody was home. The neighbors thought that the thugs had invaded for real.

Which sort of a crowd was attending the concert of the M.C.Five? Was there a circle of fans and followers?
It was kids--some of them were in high school or college, some of them had jobs, some of them couldn't find jobs for all I know. But it was kids--under 25, probably mostly under 21 you know. The local hipsters liked the band, if they liked rock'n'roll at all, but it was 1200 kids or whatever at the Grande--there weren't enough hipsters to fill a good-sized two story house, I don't think.

Here are some names that seemed to be important in the M.C.Five's circle - who were they and what were they doing for the band : Steve Harnadek, Ron Levine, Jerry Younkins, Robin Sommers.
Robin (also Creem's first art director) was the art director for the Ann Arbor Sun, the White Panther paper. Jerry Younkins I never knew; he was I think one of the leading lights of the Artists Workshop, which was Sinclair's publishing/artistic jazz'n'poetry outlet pre-Five and WPP. Steve was the main MC5 roadie. Ron Levine I do not remember.

Did you know J.Crawford and Panther White?
Jesse (J.C.) I knew very well at that time; Panther I knew, not as well. Jesse would let me intro the band--imitating him imitating Jimmy Swaggart--a time or two.

In April 5, 1969 a review (L.Bangs' one) of the album 'Kick Out The Jams' is published in Creem magazine. Do you believe it had a major impact on the group's spirit - bad impact or else...?
No, not on the spirit--everybody was already pissed off at know-nothing hippies who didn't like high energy rock'n'roll. I know for a fact it had a lot of impact on Elektra's spirit, esp. because there were scumbags like Bill Harvey who already wanted the band gone.

In March 1969 the M.C.Five are badly received on the West Coast. What can you say about it?
I don't know enough about it to say anything.

Which role Danny Fields (just before he drops out of Elektra to find a job at Atlantic) played when the negociations have begun between Atlantic/Jerry Wexler and the M.C.Five.
You should ask Danny.

Was John Sinclair involved in the negociations too?

ask Danny

What the atmosphere was it like during the Back In The USA recording period?
Things were both the highest they'd ever been--the band had sold some records, they had a slightly different lifestyle, they had cars and a house for just themselves not the 2 billion othe people who lived at the White Panther houses on Hill Street in Ann Arbor; they were out in Hamburg, which is NW of Ann Arbor (or NE, I can't remember and I just drove through there a week ago--NE, probably). There was turmoil because of John's legal situation, because the band was so controversial, because Landau's production approach stripped the band down and rebuilt for the purpose of that album, I think. And because the social revolution of the previous decade and a half was spiralling into dissolution, of course.

Next in July 1969, Sinclair is condemned to prison while the M.C.Five are finishing the rehearsals for 'Back In The USA.' In the end of the summer they play together with the Stooges in New York City. Can you discuss the coexistence of those (great) 2 bands in the same area.
Well, they coexisted the same way that the MC5 and the Rationals co-existed; the way that the Five coexisted with Nugent or Seger or P-Funk. There were MANY more than 2 great bands in town. The Five and the Stooges had high energy noise in common; they all lived around Ann Arbor (although so did the Rats and Seger); they were booked by the same people. Aside from that, as I look back on it, they did NOT have that much in common that they didn't have in common with five or ten other bands. Maybe Ron Asheton's guitar style had a lot to do with Wayne's (not Fred's so much). That'd be about it.

At this time Gary Grimshaw is on the run and Pun Plamondon becomes the leader of the White Panther Party. Did you know P.Plamondon well? What sort of an individual he was?
I knew Pun the way a kid knows someone he kind of hero-worships somebody who is intently serious, very gentle and powerful at the same time, wild and angry at the same time, wide open to such a kid. He was--and I presume, is--a great human spirit. He meant what he said politically, and paid the price. I think of all of the White Panthers, in a funny way, he had the least charisma and the most burning intensity. He was Che, not Fidel.

Pun Plamondon - John Sinclair - Wayne Kramer
Pun Plamondon - John Sinclair - Wayne Kramer
Photo by Leni Sinclair - used with permission

You made the acquintance with the M.C.Five in '69, right? Here are some names among the people who were close to the band : Emil Bacilla, Gary Grimshaw, Steve Harnadek, Jesse Crawford, John and Leni Sinclair, Pun and Genie Plamondon, Bob Rudnick, Dennis Frawley, Robin Sommers, Ron Levine, Russ Gibb, Jeep Holland... Where they all close friends to the band?
I doubt if the band considered Russ Gibb, a nefarious concert promoter a friend. Maybe. And like I say, I don't remember Ron Levine--I probably should, but I don't. Emil I never knew although I know I met him at a couple of points. Others? Barry Kramer at Creem, I guess, was in that circle. Some artists. Werbe and Joyce and Ovshinsky, probably. Ken Kelley for sure. Skip Taube. The Up and esp. Frank Bach. A lot of the other musicians, but you'd have to ask Wayne or someone.

In Fall of 1969 Peter Cavanaugh produces an M.C.Five concert in Davison (See his book 'Local DJ' wherein some chapters are relating to this event). He is also a DJ at WTAC. Were the radios a major impact on the Michigan scene?
The radio stations is why there WAS a scene. People like Pete--Pete above all -- played records by local bands and Pete particularly loved high energy rock'n'roll, which is why stuff like the Who's "I Can't Explain" and "My Generation" became local hits. Later, the FM rock stations took it a step further and got involved with the growing rock'n'roll community, helping promote the bands and espousing some of the political issues we wanted to talk about.

Were the White Panthers Party or the M.C.Five themselves connected with any of the radios of Detroit? Where they connected with any newspapers?
Everything was connected; like I say, there weren't that many people. Rudnick and Frawley lived at Hill Street and had the radio show on 'ABX. They were connected closely to the Argus and the Fifth Estate--John used to write a column for the FE, I think Kelley might have wound up living at Hill Street. I did a kind of news show onn 'KNR when I was at Creem.

In March 1970 J.C.Crawford is still 'MCeing' and the M.C.Five are playing the 'Free John Sinclair Fund' concert altough someone warned the band to separate from their former political entourage. But was it the own will of the M.C.Five to separate from its political image?
Ask them. I don't think they did that, so I can't tell you. I think they CHANGED their political image but I don't think they separated from politics, ever. I think Wayne would tell you the same thing. I don't know about Dennis or Michael. Rob would have agreed in part--he would have defined some of what he did away from politics, but he always had a vision that centered in social change so what IS the difference? Fred, well, Fred hooked up with Patti Smith and wrote "People Have the Power." How political is THAT?

After the release of 'Back In The USA' someone said that the M.C.Five were less a political band and that they became just another rock'n'roll band. Could you feel a changing in their 'live acts' and through the crowd attending their live performances?
Yes, but I don't think that's the reason. I think the reason is that the place they lived, the people they lived with, were torn apart, largely by the intervention of the government but also by the band's failure to be the Beatles out side Detroit, if you know what I mean. The sound changed quite a lot, although I would say they shifted back toward the original sound within six months or so after Landau left. I would also say that drugs had a lot to do with this--hard drugs.
About the crowd, I'm less sure, or have less definite memories. Rock had exploded; lots of people who would have found it unacceptable to go to some hippie rock place 18 months earlier were going now. It wasn't the same crowd, at all.

Early 1970 sees the release of 'Back In The USA' (#137 in the charts), then the band is recording the album 'High Time' in the summer. What is your feeling with regards to the M.C.Five at this time?
I was not in touch with them much after Back In The USA.

July 1970 : the M.C.Five go to Europe to play some shows and they even record 'Sister Anne' in London; soon after that they begin the recording of 'High Time.' What can you say about this period in the life of the M.C.Five?
Nothing. I never ran into them over there; we were out of touch.

What about their European management and Ronan O'Rahilly in particular?
don't know

In Rolling Stone mag (Oct.70) Peter Andrews notices that the M.C.Five popularity is declining in the area. Did you share that same point of view in the Fall of 1970?
I think everything was declining for the local scene by then.

The M.C.Five spent most of the year '72 in Europe. Were they as popular as they used to be in the Detroit area / in the USA?
Probably not in Detroit. They were never very popular in the USA as a whole.

You left Creem magazine in July '73 when the M.C.Five just broke up; what goes down in history from this period?
You want me to write a book? Not an answerable question in less space than that.

Did the M.C.Five have any impact on the next generation of rock'n'roll bands in the 70s. And what about present bands?
Obviously, huge effect on Dolls and Sex Pistols. Maybe the Clash. Possibly Ramones. Present bands too numerous to mention.

The M.C.Five had to deal with the problem of dope. Do you think it had something to do with their disbandment?
No, it had everything to do with it. It was THE reason.

I was wondering if back in those days the (underground or national) magazines were regularly announcing the concert dates. Which ones?

In an article C.Stigliano (Black to Comm magazine) says : "Creem's roots were about as rockism correct as a magazine could have as well. Coming out of the late-60's John Sinclair fueled White Panther rabble-rousing days in Detroit, Creem was the local equiv. of all of those other rock publications that've sprung up around the time people began to look at rock as a "serious" music." What would you say about that?
If the guy thinks that Creem wasn't really much different than other rock magazines, he's a really weird reader.

I guess you knew the M.C.Five well enough to say of they really looked at their music as a 'serious' music, don't you?
It has never occured to me that that would even come up as a question. What do you think, they went though all that shit but would have been just as happy sounding like the Eagles or the Doobie Brothers or Emerson Lake and Palmer? Hell yes they were serious. Still are. Me too.

I did not manage to get the official date of release of both yet, but anyway, the single was out in january 1969 and the album in february 1969, right?
Is that true that Elektra records put the album (intentionally) too shortly after the single (which was well received altough Billboard critized it severely) because the heads of Elektra would have seen an opportunity to make money quickly through the (premature) release of the album?
Also two months later (march/april?) as the original album version had sold over 100,000 copies (according to D.Fields in Rolling Stone May 17, 1969) Elektra decided to repackage the album in dropping the liner notes and the 'motherfucker' word. But i guess it took time to remove the original version from the stores and to release the softened version. So it seems like Elektra would have put the whole things to death. I mean they slowed the sales, didn't they?
There are lots better ways to sabotage an album's commercial prospects than what you mention. Elektra had a large investment in the band. I don't think that everyone at the company wanted to sabotage the band or the album. I think there were people who hated them; I think there were people who loved them; there were probably a whole lot who didn't care and just wanted to get back to Judy Collins. I'm not aware of what billboard said.
There is never, in my experience of 30 plus years, a problem releasing a record "too shortly" after a single--there might be a problem with releasing it too late, or with releasing the single too early or too late, but not the album.
So, I have never heard of any this before, but I don't see how it could be true. But ask Danny.
I think the censored version of the album was done to INCREASE sales--there were lots of radio stations and stores where the album was simply out the question in its uncensored version. Your reading of this is quite bizarre, or at least naive as to the circumstances. I don't mean that the album should have been censored, or that the band wasn't furious that it was censored, or that the band wasn't right to be furious. But the idea that Elektra needed to do anything so elaborate to sabotage it is just plain incorrect. Albums die quite easily from just a little neglect--ask anyone who was involved with Back In The USA.

Useful links :
Jon LANDAU on the recording of MC5's "BACK IN THE USA"
Excerpts from Peter CAVANAUGH's book 'LOCAL DJ' - Chapter 14 "A Testimonial" & chapter 15 "Fucking Obscenity"

Logo designed by Gary Grimshaw 

Find biographical information on many of the personalities cited above at Detroit Area Musical Personalities 

2007 M.C.Five Gateway