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JON LANDAU - photo: Jeff Albertson




PART 2. Interview by Robert Somma. Fusion 10.30.1970

Well, you passed on from opinionated critic to a recording industry person, a producer. There was perhaps a recognition among a number of people around MC5 that you might be the one to produce them. Did the arrival of the MC5 on the scene coincide with your ambition ?

Absolutely. I had met Danny [Fields] and eventually, after meeting him, he invited me down to Elektra and I met Jac Holzman and at that time, which was in '67 or so, Jac offered me a job. He'd offer me a gig training me as a producer on the basis of some letters I had sent to Elektra and simultaneously that's when Wexler at Atlantic took a look of interest in what I was doing because I was writing all this soul stuff about what he was doing and he seemed to like it. In October of '68 Danny was out in Detroit. He saw the 5 and totally freaked, and he tried to get me on the phone and I was away for awhile, and he finally sent me a letter : " I have found it. Please call. "

You trust his taste ?

Well, no but it's interesting - you get a letter and somebody says, " I have found it. " What has he found ? Danny knew about my interest in the Remains and hard rock groups. So I decided what the hell man - I'd go out and see what it's all about. I didn't know about John Sinclair from the White Panthers or anything. So I get out there and Danny's out there and Sinclair is waiting at the airport. I never met anybody like Sinclair. The man was just immense. I mean, not physically : when you shake hands with John Sinclair you're shaking hands with somebody. Let me tell you, he just had a presence. We drove to Ann Arbor, it's at 1510 Hill Street - the White Panthers. I was intimidated. These people were too far out. No doubt about it. Nobody introduced me to the band when I got there. During the day all I saw was these big people - they were big heavy people. They were White Panthers and physically, most of them, at that time were just big. I didn't know who was in the band and who wasn't in the band. Just sitting around smoking shit and they're looking through the latest Rolling Stone. I had some article in it and I couldn't tell if they were relating to me as if I was press. Or whatever. Anyway, I was just sitting there and I just didn't know what to make of all this. So finally - there were about 40 or 50 people living there - there was dinner for about fifteen people and then they went out to play a gig. So the band all took off and Sinclair and I and Danny and Bruce Botnick, who engineered and co-produced the Elektra album, we all went out there. I don't think the band was signed as of yet. We drove about two hours man and I've never been in the Midwest and it's a pretty strange place to be if you've never been there. This flatness everybody talks about, really it's just a different kind of place. So we drove for it seemed like hours and we finally got to some teen club. It was like a mile down some big dirt road and we're driving down the road - a long drive - and we get down there and there were all these kids as far as the eye could see. It was a small kind of place and I couldn't believe it . So we went in and it was all fifteen or sixteen year old kids, totally zonked out - wearing reasonably straight clothes but freaked out. And this is the first time I've seen the MC5 and I really don't know what is going on. There hasn't been that much talk that I can relate to since I go there.

Sinclair was obviously in control ?

Oh John ? Yeah, yeah. John was just absolutely pre-eminent in a not un-positive kind of way. I'm just giving you, as I remember it, my reaction the first time seeing them. There was no publicity about them at this point. No knowledge. I never heard of John Sinclair, I didn't know about the White Panthers, it was all before any of that. So finally we went backstage and I'm sitting there backstage and Wayne and Fred, the two guitarists, are tuning up with these tune-up amps - the loudest tuning up I've ever heard in my life. I could tell they could really play - and they were the two people in the band that can really play. And they were just sittin' there doing this funky Chuck Berry kind of stuff. I hadn't really talked with either of them but I just got a good feeling from them. So finally they came on and there were all these kids. Everybody in the band runs on stage, they just run on stage and then there's this guy with this blonde hair all dressed in black with his back to the audience. Everybody's pointing to him while the guitars are feeding back and Wayne says, " Let me introduce you to our spiritual leader, Jesse Crawford, " and Jesse turned around and gave this rap, and I've heard him give this rap a million times but I never heard him give it like he gave it that night. The rap at the beginning of the Elektra album, that's like a parody of what he did. And he stood up there and the fuckin' earth shook. I mean it was unfuckin' real ! And he'd bring the whole thing to a climax and then they'd go into " Ramblin' Rose , " the great MC5 set opener, and then " Kick Out The Jams " and " Come Together . " The sound was all fucked up. I didn't like the sound. I couldn't relate to it. Nobody could handle it. It was too noisy. Until you were ten minutes into it, you couldn't distinguish anything. Then the kids were in an absolute frenzy. Rock'n'roll hysteria for the first ten minutes. And then I immediately got the flash that they had no place to go with it. It started with an unbelievable explosion, and then there was no place to go and it started to get boring and then the power failed. This winds up being the highlight of the evening. Rob starts yelling at the club owner that the power's gone. And then he starts screaming, " Power ! Power ! " as a chant. It was just bizarre. And the whole place was screaming " Power ! " - all these kids. They're just shaking their fists and chanting, " Power ! Power ! " It was scary, and then the power goes on. I personally did not interpret it as a mystical intervention of the Lord but I think a lot of people there may have. I figured the power was gonna go on sooner or later - he's just screaming and hopin' it'll last until it goes on you know. Well, it goes on. And he says, " When I was twelve years old I heard this song on the radio and I knew I was gonna have to stand on a stage and sing the song, man, " and then he went into " Tutti Frutti . " And that was just great. But by the end of the set it was boring, because it was too much undifferentiated sound. So what happened was they got done with the whole thing and then they destroyed their equipment at the end…

Broke it literally ?

Yeah, and I never saw equipment destroyed the way they destroyed it. I mean they really did it right . No doubt about it - the best equipment destroyers in rock'n'roll history .

Put The Who to shame ?

Absolutely. Absolutely. So we drove back and it was a long drive back. We get back to the house and I'm very uncomfortable. So Danny says, " Let's go back to the hotel and rap about it. " Danny was, it seemed, fairly anxious about what my reaction was. I had a feeling that everybody knew that this was something, but nobody had the foggiest idea of what the hell it was. This is Danny's greatness to me : he could look at the MC5 and, without comprehending it musically, he knew he was looking at something. Where a music critic would've come in and said, " Hey man, this is a lot of bullshit and a lot of jive, " he would say, " Hey man, well, fuck that - this is happening. There's something going on out there. " O.K. So we get back and I start giving Danny my analytic rap - I have a tendency when I see a rock'n'roll group to assess them. If it doesn't knock me over experientially like something like B.B.King could, in the course of an hour's set I check out the bass player and I check out the drummer and for what it's worth I develop my opinions of each of them. I started giving Danny names and he said, " Stop right there man. Write it all down man and I'll pay ya'… Elektra will pay you. Write us a memo of your assessment of this band. " A record company is gonna hire me to tell them about a group that they're gonna sign. So I said, well, this is fantastic. So I went right home and I wrote an unbelievable memo - I mean it was so good it should have been published. Danny had this idea that we should start doing it regularly. We should call it the MC5 Papers and I should trace like the development of the group in these memos and put it together as a book. Well, it didn't work out that way…

Meanwhile Goldstein has written in The Times ?

No. He has not. I'll get to that. I go home and write the memo and Elektra got the memo and xeroxed it up. I had written a memo on Tim Buckley once which is how Jac got interested in my possibly going to work for Elektra - this was similar to that. And I gave him the memo - my individual assessment of each member of the group and hid musical ability and also my opinion about their potential popularity and how they should re-structure their live performances and how they should record. I had an opinion about everything. I was very blunt and it was not my expectation that the group would see it… But Danny sent it out to the group - he told me that. And then invited me out to the recordings - the live nights where they recorded. And he also invited Richard out to that. They paid for it, of course.

Do you think Goldstein was conned into this ?

No. I think that you're referring to New York Scenes and the interview with Danny in which he said, I kind of hit Richard with it - but it's not true. We discussed it but uh…

Well, it was a hype.

It was a hype but I honestly feel that Richard was much farther beyond being hyped than I was. He'd been through this shit more than I had. I was naive about it compared to him. But in any event - my opinion of the group was not necessarily that flattering. I was excited about it, but musically, as I just indicated, I wrote a ten-page critique about what was wrong with it. So anyway, we're at the recording and it was the same scene again, and the show that they recorded was not as good. It was just markedly not as good. I was there in the afternoon. Some of that live album, the Elector album, was recorded in the afternoon with no audience there, just in the Grande Ballroom, empty. And Jab was standing there and if I remember correctly he had a copy of my memo - it was around - I noticed it, you know ? And I got there and Jab made some suggestion and Wan was saying to him, " We don't want to do it like Landau. " I saw I was already involved and so I just didn't say anything the whole time and I watched what they were doing and my feeling was that Elector felt that they had a phenomenon on their hands. Musically I don't think that anybody on the staff had a real concept of the group and therefore they made a logical decision, which was simply to record them more or less unedited live and try and capture the basic excitement without coming to terms with any particular weaknesses of the group which they might have. What I was interested in was how the 5 related to me. I think that basically at the time they were treating me as an above-average writer who kind of intrigued them because from time to time I'd make comments that might provoke them. But I think that Danny at this point was intimating that maybe I should be getting together with them because he knew I had this real love for loud rock'n'roll. This was one of the things I really dug. And Danny was aware that I had some musical background. I made a point, generally speaking, of never bringing that up with people I would meet in any detail because it's not something I would want to bring up. Danny was somebody who was aware of this anyway. So they recorded the album and of course it came out and I think the Elektra album told the truth about the MC5. In a lot of ways it was an accurate report. It was an excellent technical recording of what they did those nights and it betrayed the fact that they [MC5] were not organized, to put it into non-musical language. I think it showed that they had tremendous talent in a lot of ways and a lot of the material was extremely good. As a matter of fact, when we were recording the second MC5 album I think we all wished we could have re-done some of the tunes on the first album but legally that wasn't possible because Elektra owned the rights to the songs for five years. So they came to Boston. They played a disastrous Fillmore gig and they came to Boston a week before then, and I could see it was just not going to work. In Detroit they built up a thing over the years. Fred and Wayne had been plying together since the early '60's, since high school, with various people - the MC5 took different forms, it existed a lot of different ways and the type of band they were, from their own description, was very similar to The Remains back in the early days and, in fact, at one point they dug out some records that they had made years ago, including one called " One of the Guys " which not even the closest fans really knew about and was recorded way back when they were first starting, and musically the record was not only better than anything on the first album, it was better than anything on the second album - I mean they were really together, musically. It's just that they did freak out and they got involved with some misformulations musically. They didn't understand it themselves.

Things they concocted themselves ?

Well, I think that certainly John was playing a tremendous influence at this point -

Do you mean musically ?

Yeah. What I understand in retrospect is this… This is a very complicated subject. John hired me and I'm gonna say this and I really mean it : Sinclair I think has unbelievable potential in any number of areas. I think as a rock'n'roll writer and a jazz writer his piece in Jazz & Pop on " Self-determination Music " is fantastic. I think that nobody who I know who's ever met John Sinclair has not been overwhelmed by him. I mean as a personality, he is a commanding figure. He is a figure that you could not possibly not respect. John hired me at the beginning. John knew what I was donna do. We discussed it at length. At one point, when the group was unhappy with some of my attitudes and it came out right in the open and we discussed it, Sinclair made an unequivocal statement, and this is early on and, obviously, this changed later in, but he said he was one hundred percent in favor of what I was doing. Well, to go back for a second, after the Elektra album came out, the 5 toured a lot of places and came on as they do in Detroit, where they built up a tremendous following and built up along with Sinclair a rapport with the audience, a tightness over a period of time. And the audience there was prepared to accept some of the things that an audience that had never seen them before and never heard anything about them would not accept. And this happened in N.Y. This happened in Boston. This happened in many places. In California they were not accepted. But the album was so controversial that it did succeed in taking off commercially, making it to the Top 30. So their business thing was not together. The band was a very expensive band to run. The equipment - they had forty or fifty thousand dollars worth of equipment. They had an unbelievable number of people they were supporting, an incredible entourage. The tour that they planned after the release of the Elektra album was quite frankly a very slip-shod affair, a very hit-and-miss thing. It was planned by John and a local Detroit agent who was certainly not competent enough to handle a project of that magnitude. Plus, I think that there was a general lack of receptiveness outside of Detroit to things that were openly and freely accepted in Detroit. So then finally Jac made a move. I think he just got the feeling for whatever his reasons - I've never discussed this at length with him - that this group is gonna be more trouble than it was worth. And I think in an unparalleled executive magnanimity, he gave them an unconditional release while they had an album in the Top 30 - the best time in the world you could possibly think of to try and find a new record contract would be while you have an album in the Top 30. It's not that difficult. At the time they were angered at him but, really, his conduct could not be faulted. So the day they got the release Wayne called Danny and Danny said to Wayne, why don't you call me [Landau] and Danny was not friendly with Wexler at this point, didn't know him that well. So I called Jerry and I said, " Look, I just got the word that the MC5 received an unconditional release from Elektra. Would you be interested in discussing it with them ? " And he said he would, to tell Danny to call Sinclair and Danny went and saw him and they set up a deal.

Did it originate with Sinclair and Danny ?

Yeah, I would say that Danny took a substantial role in it but John was certainly important and spoke for the band. And at this point different producers were being suggested and I think that Danny acted as the catalyst when we got to the point where I was certainly interested. This was all done around April and May and I'd just graduated from college and the timing was just perfect for me because I did want to graduate. The producer of the MC5 wanted to graduate from Brandeis University, having been there for five years. So we got together on it and I went out there in the early part of June and the MC5 had already left the White Panther Party physically. They moved out of the central location at Ann Arbor, and with the advance money Atlantic had given them had acquired a large house where they all lived in Hamburg, Michigan, almost in the country.

They wanted a better situation for themselves as a group ?

Well, I turned out that, on the surface of it, it always seemed that they and John were totally tight. But the fact of the matter was, as it later became evident, the MC5's relationship with John Sinclair in retrospect was based on the following : the MC5 was a greaser band before they met Sinclair who had taken dope and flipped out. They had not freaked out as much as they would when they met Sinclair, but they were already far out. They were not a high school band. But they were starving and the whole thing was completely untogether business-wise, even though they had that energy. Sinclair had gotten his political thing together and he had the underground - he had tremendous impact there. So there was a compromise involved with the MC5 - in a subtle way, and I'm not saying this happened consciously on either part, but the MC5 needed Sinclair and they needed to get into that underground thing ; and they also needed a strong figure to come in and get them organized because there was nobody in the group that could really do it. A guy with a sense of responsibility to get them to jobs on time and get them to pay their bills and get the whole thing moving. Sinclair needed the energy and the vitality that a popular ballsy rock'n'roll band could bring to his political organizing. His concept of the White Panther Party demanded music. He had to have rock'n'roll bands associated with him. It was part of his whole formulation. That was the basic practical thing that brought these two forces together. The MC5 moved in with the White Panthers and, as I understand it, a large portion of the income for up to forty people - enormous phone bills and rent bills and everything - came from them. And in return John managed the MC5 and got them organized and got them together. And there was a communal basis in the thing. Well, it reached a certain point where the 5, without becoming that explicit about it, became dissatisfied with their living conditions. I think that they felt there was a certain injustice to their bringing, in all the money and having it spent for all those people, many of whom they felt were not contributing their share. There were certain people in Ann Arbor who were definitively working for the MC5 and contributing - no question about it. And then there were a lot of people who they didn't know what they were and the 5 felt that they shouldn't be supporting these people. And some of these people didn't like the 5. I think also… there was no place to practice physically. There were a lot of bad conditions like this. And when they got the large house, when they started agitating in terms of bettering their home situation, I think they made the first steps toward realizing that, as much as they sympathized with the White Panthers and John and the whole thing, they were not the same thing. They were a different entity. They were a rock'n'roll band. Not everything the White Panther Party wanted for them was what they wanted for themselves. They could not be a surrogate for the White Panther Party. O.K. So I came out there at the point when they had just received a large amount of money.

How much ?

Uh… $50,000. Which had gone to various places : a down-payment on a house and a variety of things, some directly related to the band, some not. I came out there and I lived in the house for four months, just myself and the band…

Sinclair at this point was on trial ?

Yeah. He was living in Ann Arbor. The trial hadn't gotten really heavy yet… And Bob's wife and his son and Wayne's lady Chris and Sigrid, who is now Fred Smith's wife, and various other people from time to time, but that was the basic thing. Now the day I got there I was treated so fantastically I couldn't believe it.

You arrived there to be the producer ? On a contract to Atlantic ?

Yeah, as it worked out. Originally it should have been under contract with Sinclair but with Atlantic…

I don't want to slide over anything because Sinclair does dispute many items. I don't know of he disputes with you personally but he does have an ax to grind…

Well, let me say, I arrived with John's complete approval…

At this point he was still manager of the band ?

Absolutely. He was complete and sole manager of the band. And my main preoccupation was to establish some means of communication with the MC5. Wayne and I had gotten to be fairly friendly with phone calls and all but I didn't know what it was going to be like in the house. The day after I graduated officially from Brandeis I was on a plane going to Detroit to produce the MC5. Right from the beginning everybody was so loose and I just dug it right off. Well about the second or third day you know I realized we hadn't done anything yet musically. We just rapped and did all kind of funny little things and we started practicing and got the thing going. It became immediately apparent to me that there were certain definitive, isolatable musical weaknesses in the group and I started focusing on that. There were certain people in the band who were very aware of these weaknesses and felt very frustrated by these weaknesses and by the fact that the way things had been going it wasn't possible to express this frustration. Then there were people in the band I thought were defensive and thought the way things were was right, and should just continue that way. And the way I worked with the band was to make my position known and to have people react to it and through an interaction between me and them arrive at some understanding about the direction of the thing. So I was there for two weeks at first and I concentrated almost entirely on just building rapport with the band and gradually making my feelings known. And we practiced and practice for three, four or five days. And we weren't ready for making records but decided that we weren't gonna go anywhere until we went to a studio and everybody heard the results and could decide for themselves whether the way things were was the way things should be. And of course we went in and it was fairly disastrous in the sense that it was not musically good and we came out of that, and they were leaving to go on a two or three week tour and I was going to go home, they were coming to Boston and we were going to have a big meeting Boston to discuss it. So that's what happened. They came to Boston and John and I got together for a while and we both had a long rap - I hadn't seen him that much when I was out there.

This is summertime ?

This is in already late June. And uh… John seemed to feel that I was on the right track. I'm not saying that he necessarily agrees with all the points but I think he felt that there was… he was beginning to feel uneasy about the direction their music had taken before I got there. I think he… generally expressed approval of the idea that the music had to be sharpened up, that it had to pass beyond this point where it was just the loud explosion which I think a lot of times it was.

Is it fair to say that, given that the personal pressure was under, Sinclair was anxious to see this sharpness because he wanted to use it himself for some non-musical goal ? Or did he manifest any kind of an opinion in that way ? Was he able to ?

In the respect John struck me as being totally professional in the sense that he engaged me as a producer and he did not interfere, he made comments on my behalf - supported me at any and all times where such comments would be relevant. And he respected what I was doing. Obviously at the beginning he couldn't predict what it was going to lead to or his reservations about what turned out. I don't want to contradict him - I'm not trying to say that he was with me in the beginning and now he was just unhappy with it. Obviously he didn't know what would result but had been in favor of my becoming the producer and as a professional in the respect the supported me and I appreciated him because I needed it.

They were truculent ?

No. There was a clear division in the band. Wayne and I had earlier established a very close rapport. Many of the things I was pointing out, weaknesses particularly in the rhythm section, I felt were things that were bothering Wayne specifically for a long time. But in the kind of do-your-own-thing type of psychology that existed there, there was no meaningful way he could express himself and I think, in the beginning, Wayne felt that my doing what I was doing was a positive thing and he expressed confidence in me in an early stage. We got together and we were very tight you know ? And to varying degrees Fred and Rob could accept things you know. And most of my criticism was focused on Michael and Dennis at this particular time. And they were not truculent, but they were proud of what they were doing and uh…

Resented criticism ?

Yeah. Absolutely. And what else could you expect, obviously ? But there was never any personal hostility that came out. In other words Dennis and I had disagreements but I related to Dennis fully. We just got along. In Boston Dennis and Rob really got together. Rob could accept some of the things I said but he was really against other things. He thought that I was definitely going to conservatise things and slow things down and I was not far out and a lot of true things, although, in some ways, Rob is the most conservative member of the group. We had a big thing one night and Dennis said to me, " Well look, I'm not gonna play any fascist marching music. " I said, " well look, I'll tell ya' what " - I made this statement first. I said to him - " You can play whatever you want on this record. It's not my job to tell you what kind of music to play. But the only condition that I am going to insist on as a producer in this situation is that whatever it is you're gonna play I think it should be right musically. I mean I think it should be together. If you want to play jazz, if you want to play something that's far out musically, that's fine. And if it's something I can't handle I'll leave. " I never considered my job to make them play something I had on my mind. The only thing I said to him was, " Whatever it is, it's gonna be right. " There were certain things I would not accept and I outlined it to him. And I think that we established and understanding there. And then we had a big meeting with the whole band and all of this got rapped out. And in context of the shows that we were doing at The Ark here, we set up a thing that they would go back home where they still needed to write more songs and they needed more practice and time to dig what was wrong with the things we cut in the studio initially. We took those apart to see what was left of them, and I was gonna come out and we were gonna get together again in two or three weeks, whenever they were ready. And that's what happened. And when I got out there it was like a different situation altogether. I felt that the comments and direction that I had been talking about were taken seriously, that they were into it and the musical growth they made was unbelievable. Just three weeks on this thing. I originally thought they were not particularly well-disciplined musicians. It turned out that they were but they just really had gotten into another thing and that was what they wanted to do and it was more a matter of choice. Whereas previously I thought that there was some ineptness involved. Ann so the rapid, unbelievable improvement from my point of view wasn't really so surprising. I was very impressed. And excited. When I came back for the first few days, I was really totally into it because I had been very depressed by some of the things that I heard. Alright, so this was the beginning of the full thing. So let's talk about Sinclair. John was the manager of the MC5 and…

Was there a written contract ?

No. No written contract. But he had been with them for a two-year period of time, I believe, and he was their manager by virtue of the fact that he was their manager. He was also chairman of the White Panther Party. He was also a defendant in a case involving a charge of his possession of two joints and it was his potential third conviction, which ultimately resulted in his being sentenced to ten years in prison. I think that John was involved in the trial and it was going on as I returned the second time. And the band is intensely involved with what it feels to be its mission, which is to salvage the fact that the first go-around for them was a disaster. It left a basically negative impression and they were in a life and death struggle, incredibly in debt…

Even from the first album ?

The first album sold well but they didn't make any money from it because they had received advances which had already gone into things. There were large debts involved and there was the basic question of who were the MC5 ? What were they gonna do to follow the first act, which had basically not gone down that well ? I mean they are rock'n'roll stars, they wanted to be rock'n'roll stars and whereas John would always say this negatively, I think of it positively. I mean it's hard for me to conceive of somebody being in a rock'n'roll band whose goal's not to be a rock'n'roll star. That's the most natural thing in the world, regardless of what anyone says. And that's they wanted to be and the thing that most interested me about them was I felt that that's what they were. Wayne Kramer, Fred Smith, Rob Tyner, Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson are rock'n'roll stars and were born that way, that's important. So anyway, there's a lot of tension that's coming to my attention which from time to time I'm drawing out but more often it's simply being brought to me in that I'm living there with them and they talk to me and I'm talking all the time and I'm picking up that they are unhappy. I begin to get the feeling that they never were very political, that this compromise relationship that I discussed before was the basis of their relationship with John, that John wielded a tremendous influence over them as a personality but not as a political teacher. Nobody in the MC5 has ever read The Red Book or ever will ; it just don't happen that way, that's not what they're like. The MC5 are into fast cars, women, and rock'n'roll - they're like they say they are. Anyway, to cover the question of " Is John managing the MC5 ? " or not on the basis of his performance : John is tied up with his trial. John is tied up with his political activities. The MC5 are becoming increasingly aware of themselves as a separate entity, as a rock'n'roll band. They are completely sympathetic with John's activities but they're beginning to ask what I think is a legitimate question : " What is he doing for us ? he is our manager, right ? We require a professional manager. We are a professional rock'n'roll band. There are certain thing that have to be done that are not being done. " This came up, it was discussed and I was involved in the discussions naturally. The weight of my comments were, in general, that John was not functioning as their manager and that this had to be dealt with. I didn't propose what the solution was at this stage, but I simply offered that as an observation. John had not been out to see the band in a long time, had not heard the band play in a long time, had not heard the new songs, this type of thing. The band had him out to the house one day early in June, I believe. And it was one of these things where the band really wanted to talk to him. They wanted to get close to him. They didn't want to lay the big business rap on him - they just wanted to see him. So at this meeting there was all this shit, and people smoked it and smoked it and smoked it. We're all sitting around a table - Jesse, Steve, the road manager, John, myself, the band, and everybody. And it was one of those scenes where nothing could happen. Everybody just got really zonked ; I almost fell asleep on the table. So John finally left and the main issue did not get dealt with. John left and there was this tremendous sense of depression and frustration and Wayne's attitude was - and Wayne was the most assertive at this particular time - " Well, let's tell him to come back, we'll have another meeting. Let's do it - we got to deal with this, " and at this point Wayne and myself and other members of the band discussed this and said, " Well, the thing to do is to have a concrete proposal. " and what they proposed was to modify their relationship with John and to split the management between John and Danny and divide the money accordingly. Well, this is gonna sound incredible to anybody but I was there and I'm speaking truthfully. The conclusion of John's trial was close at ahand. I don't remember the exact time, it came after the second meeting - it was gonna come soon. And, of course, John was very involved with the trial, was very depressed. He had all these things going on. The whole White Panther thing was a complete madhouse at this point. But I do not honestly believe that anybody sitting at that table really consciously felt that John Sinclair was going to jail. Absolutely not. If somebody said to me sitting at the table, " Do you know John Sinclair is going to jail in two weeks ? " I wouldn't have believed it. John did not think in those terms. I think that John was avoiding that particular problem and we were all avoiding that problem and we were discussing things as if John was not going to jail. And the MC5 proposed that he receive a certain percentage in the future and it would be less than what he was getting and certain responsibilities would be transferred to Danny Fields and this type of thing - and John was very nervous. His foot was shaking the whole time. He was nervous.

Did he feel betrayed ?

He tried to make them feel guilty. " After all this, I get cut out ? " He did no deal with the question of what he was doing for them and I think at that particular point he looked upon me as somebody who had infiltrated the ranks and Jesse turned to me and said, "Well what are you getting ? What's your percentage ? " And his point was that I was getting a large percentage.

Was it true ?

I was not getting any percentage from the MC5. I had a separate agreement from Atlantic so there was nothing that I was getting that was being taken away from them. I was supposed to be paid by Atlantic. John finally looked at me and said, " Well, what do you think of all this ? " And, again, I would say that john and I had a good rapport all along during all this. I think John understood me and I think I had a good understanding of him and I said, " Well, john, I think what's happening is that the band is recognizing that they are an individual entity, that, as much as they sympathize with what you're doing, they recognize that they've got their own goals, their own desired, and that your relationship with them is based on your providing them with a service for which they're paying you. And I think what they're trying to tell you - which I agree with them about - is that they are re-evaluating your contribution to this whole thing and they're saying, 'This is how much it's worth', " and that's exactly what was going on. I think it was a rational, understandable, unavoidable thing to happen because the MC5 were very frustrated. The MC5 wanted to go out there and do it. The MC5 still wants to go out there and do it. And at this point there was a question as to how much John was helping them do that and how much he was not. This is independent of any influences I had. It was the basic situation. And I think that understandably John could not handle it. I mean, in the sense that he definitely felt betrayed. He felt that it was totally corrupt - he subsequently expressed his feelings.

So very soon after that, he was in jail ?

Yeah. I think the band the following week played a benefit for him and then we went down the day he was going to be sentenced. And I know when he was sentenced there was a sense of shock. I mean, I was shocked. I was, to put it bluntly. I'd attribute this to my own ignorance. I hadn't been following the day-to-day thing but, quite frankly, I saw john's closest friends, who were at the trial, coming out of the room and they were shocked. I mean shocked not at the severity of the sentence, the outrageousness of the whole thing, but just at the prospect that he was here today and now he's in jail and that's it. I mean he ain't coming back. And he hasn't come back in a year, you know. I mean, he's been there a year now.

Is there any time he got a chance to express his uh… sense of betrayal subsequent to his being sentenced ?

Well, then he proceeded to write letters.

Well, that's what I mean. Didn't he say anything at the time ?

Oh, he did. At the meeting I'm describing, the second meeting where we had where Wayne directly confronted him with the fact that the band wanted to change what he was being paid, he didn't get hysterical but he said, " It's like having done all the work and then being cut out from all the rewards. " And what the band had promised him was a flat percentage of all the live gigs in the future but they felt that he was not involved with their recording work and they didn't think that he should receive anything for the recording work and that Danny should receive something in that area because Danny had been tremendously important as a publicist and energy source. But the band and I very naively didn't realize that they were making a commitment to John which was absurd because they were saying to John that " we'll give you fifteen percent of all the live gigs in the future regardless of what you do. " In other words they were saying to him that, on the basis of what you've already done, no matter what happens in the future, you get that fifteen percent - it's yours.

Did they sign an agreement ?

No, there was no signing an agreement. But after he went to jail they realized that they were gonna have to hire a manager and that manager was also gonna want fifteen or twenty percent. So now they're paying thirty-five percent. And they'd have to hire a booking agent, and that's another fifteen percent. So then they'd be paying out fifty percent of their money off the top. The compromise offer that they made to John to square their sense of obligation to him was a very generous offer, in my opinion, considering the fact that they were saying to him, " Well, we'll give you fifteen percent and no longer expect anything. " The possibility that he would go to jail was mentioned ; it was not accepted that seriously but they were just saying " You're entitled, on the basis of what you've already done, to get fifteen percent for an indefinite period of time in the future. " You understand that we're talking about a band that was at this time at least $30,000 in debt after having received an advance of $50,000, and subsequently I obtained for them an additional advance of $15,000. And they had already received, in the past, advances from Elektra. O.K. So what happened was John went to jail and this came as a shock to everybody . The band was intent on fulfilling its obligations to John and proceeded to start playing benefits and in the first month contributed in excess of three or four thousand dollars to John's fund. This is gonna get into a whole other dimension of finances - But at this particular point the MC5 had an accountant who came out from Dan Francisco, a hippy accountant, a charming person, a very good friend of mine who was incompetent, unfortunately. And the true extent of their financial situation didn't become apparent till later in the summer when another accountant came in, Bill Rowe, who did a fantastic job. I don't think that it was really understood what the reality of the situation was. It was not understood by anybody at this point. John went to jail and he started writing negative letters about the band and Wayne, at this point, just wrote John a letter and I thought it was a fantastic letter. It was a beautiful letter. He wrote to John about what he had gotten from John and everything that John did for him. He was also trying to tell John that he was Wayne Kramer and the MC5 were the MC5 and they had to do what they had to do. And they had to make some decisions for themselves and he expressed that. And then financially the question came up of what to do. And I raised this question : My feeling was, as an important force out there, that I did not like the White Panther Party. I like John Sinclair. I respected John Sinclair. I cared about John Sinclair. The White Panther Party, on the other hand, I don't think has any meaning. Just John Sinclair and his friends. I could not see the value of it. My suggestion at this time, and it was only a suggestion, was that the MC5 take upon itself the legal expense of John Sinclair's defense. It seemed to me the most pressing problem was that John Sinclair was in jail, that John Sinclair was in jail for an outrageous law and the way that the band could best serve John Sinclair was by publicizing these facts and providing for his legal defense. I saw this as the most productive course of action. The day John went to jail the White Panther Party issued statements to the effect that Colombo, the judge of the trial, will die and that " the brontosaurus culture is in its death throes - the shit has hit the fan, " etc. etc. My feeling was that these statements expressed people's outrage and frustration but certainly there was nothing going to come of it. Colombo's still alive and the system continues to operate. What I wanted the band to do was to have the band say, " We will simply, as a blanket thing, pay your legal expenses whatever they are. If it's fifteen percent more or less - whatever - we will pay it. That will be our contribution. That is what we will do. We'll play benefits and publicize. " John would hear nothing of this. John's feeling was that the only he should be freed was through political action. Free John Sinclair - various committees would be formed. Whatever money is involved should go to this committee. My feeling was that this money would go to the White Panther Party and that the White Panther Party in my opinion would spend this money, from my own personal point of view, for purposes which were not as relevant as they should have been to the process of getting John Sinclair out. Namely to keep 1510 Hill Street going. I was over-ruled.

By who ?

I was over-ruled by the band. I put it forward as my particular point of view and I argued for it and Wayne, quite correctly I feel in retrospect, said, " Well, it's John's money and he can do what he wants with it - we can not be manipulative about it. We have an obligation to him and the band is gonna to pay it. "

Did they offer for fifteen percent or …

Yup. They did.

As opposed to the entire…

As opposed to my proposal which was to take as a specific responsibility providing for…

His legal expenses.

Yeah, and, by the way, it was not just that we'd go and hire some lawyer up the street. I mean, my idea at that particular time, naive as it might have been, was to provide for outstanding legal defense, and to continue the outstanding legal defense which he was receiving and to pay adequately for it, which had not been done previously. The lawyer was not getting paid right. The band in their earlier period of time used to play benefits in which large amounts of money were raised - $1500, $2000 - and at the beginning it made these payments. But over a period of time - I don't remember what the precise events were - it simply became impractical and impossible for them to make these payments because even the day to day expenses for running the band were not being paid for. For example, at one point the band had two rented cars which was an absolute necessity and nine people living in the house and they needed cars to get to gigs plus cars to live with. I got up one morning at 10 :00 when I usually got up and the cars were gone, the company just took them back. There were thousands of dollars worth of bills involved, there were thousands of dollars worth of gasoline bills, there were thousands of dollars of equipment bills. During the summer, at my urging, the band drastically curtailed its gigs to work on the music and to record it - I undoubtedly curtailed too many gigs. They gave up a lot, the flow of income coming in was very low, comparatively speaking, barely enough to pay the bills to keep things going. There was no profit involved, there was no money available to even make a dent in these debts. We'd gotten to the point where they took the cars away. And then John started publicizing against the band and…

He cited sources of corruption, so to speak, and what he felt was its decay stemmed from Danny and you.

Yeah, well, he wrote… the first letter was to The Village Voice. Of course Danny was being put forward as a possible manager. And eventually, for a brief period of time, he did manage the band but there was on his part a feeling that this was not the area he's function best in, so it didn't last too long. From a practical point of view, I would say that for most of the summer I was involved in a lot of their activities that went beyond just recording. Do they played some benefits and there was a lot of hostility that immediately started being generated and John started writing regularly to the White Panthers denouncing the band and that created tremendous ill will. But the band at this point was still prepared to honor its obligations. About this time the band had asked me if I could, out of my own good relationship with Atlantic, go to them and ask them for an additional $15,000 which was needed to pay the immediate expenses. In other words, the band was so bad off they needed $15,000 immediately and they were talking about giving away forty or fifty percent of their gigs. So I called Wexler and he was totally sympathetic and he sent the check immediately without asking me what the purposes were. My feeling was, I got this $15,000 on my good relationship with Jerry and the purpose of this was to pay some of these bills. A representative of the White Panther Party came down to see us and implored us desperately to give them $1500 or $2000 for a pressing legal need of theirs pertaining to another John Sinclair case. I took a somewhat defensive attitude, that the money was my responsibility. And we discussed it for quite a while and the band said to me, well, give him the money - and the whole purpose of my delaying is that I was gonna give them the money but I was trying to pin them down. I wanted a guarantee that it would go to help John and not to the party. If was had $2000 to kick around I didn't personally think that it should be going to pay the White Panther Party phone bill, which was extravagantly high. I thought it should be going to help Sinclair directly. So it was given with that understanding… that it would go to legal purposes and I subsequently found out that it did not. It went to pay the necessary expenses for the unkeep of the White Panther Party, the house in Ann Arbor. I was angered. Following that the relationship between the MC5 and the White Panther Party completely deteriorated to the point where there was no communication and John had a very hostile attitude towards the band and was communicating that to everybody around Detroit and eventually wrote letters to The Voice; he wrote letters to Rolling Stone, he criticized the band, myself, and Danny. And the band meanwhile was getting more and more into the re-direction of its energy and organizing itself and finding out who they were individually, and I thought that I was involved in an unbelievable positive experience and really it was an exhilarating experience for me to be involved in. They were literally finding themselves. For four months out there, we were recording or practicing every day and everybody was learning everything about themselves. I was doing things that I'd never done. I was relating to situations completely differently. What I got out of the whole thing personally is a whole other thing as far as I'm concerned. And the situation with John just continued to deteriorate until eventually, after I refused to become their manager (a job which they offered me several times), the band did hire another manager - a professional manager. Unfortunately that didn't work out too well…

Is this when the record had come out ?

No. The record didn't come out till January. The record was finished in early October. And by the time I left I had gotten the band an association with frank Barsalona who is the best booking agent in America. That in turn got them associated with a very powerful manager in N.Y. But unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, these things didn't work out either, and there was the whole question of what kind of music we were making and what kind of mistakes the band made and what kind of mistakes I made. And there was still the political thing. With the second MC5 album we did not accomplish what any of us wanted to accomplish.

Did it make money for Atlantic ?

No. It didn't… if it did it made a marginal amount, and nothing for them because they were far into the red…

What's the current situation ?

They're substantially in debt.

Still ?

Yeah, tremendously so. One of the things that happened… the relationship I had with the MC5 during the summer was incredibly intense and productive but I think that when the summer ended and I moved back here and they continued on their own, there was a radical disjunction and I think after that we could never really get together again, because the change, going from a complete extreme of my living there and being actively involved in everything that went on in all their lives and they being actively involved in everything that went on in my life, the extreme difficulty of trying to then develop a fairly detached professional relationship after I left never happened. Now I'm very happy that at this point they are going to proceed on their own. They're gonna do their next album. I think they're gonna produce it themselves. That's as it should be. I think that Sinclair was very involved and had a large role in the statement they made on their first album and that left a lot of things to be desired. I think that my influence is unmistakable on the second album and I think that left a lot of things to be desired, and I think that on the third album they're gonna have to stand on their own. It's gonna be their statement and there isn't going to be any strong influence from any outside sources - you know they're gonna put up or shut up. I think they're gonna put up.

Fusion ©1970 by Robert Somma

I wish to acknowledge the help and support given me

by Jim Lahde who provided us with this article.