JON LANDAU WRITER-PRODUCER
PART 2. Interview by Robert Somma. Fusion 10.30.1970
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 ?
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. "
trust his taste ?
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.
was obviously in control ?
? 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…
it literally ?
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 .
The Who to shame ?
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…
Goldstein has written in The Times ?
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.
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…
it was a hype.
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.
they concocted themselves ?
think that certainly John was playing a tremendous influence at
this point -
mean musically ?
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.
it originate with Sinclair and Danny ?
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.
wanted a better situation for themselves as a group ?
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.
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…
at this point was on trial ?
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.
arrived there to be the producer ? On a contract to Atlantic ?
it worked out. Originally it should have been under contract with
Sinclair but with Atlantic…
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…
me say, I arrived with John's complete approval…
point he was still manager of the band ?
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.
is summertime ?
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.
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 ?
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.
were truculent ?
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…
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…
there a written contract ?
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…
from the first album ?
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.
he feel betrayed ?
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.
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.
soon after that, he was in jail ?
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.
any time he got a chance to express his uh… sense of betrayal subsequent
to his being sentenced ?
he proceeded to write letters.
that's what I mean. Didn't he say anything at the time ?
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.
they sign an agreement ?
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.
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. "
they offer for fifteen percent or …
to the entire…
to my proposal which was to take as a specific responsibility providing
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
sources of corruption, so to speak, and what he felt was its decay
stemmed from Danny and you.
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…
when the record had come out ?
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.
it make money for Atlantic ?
didn't… if it did it made a marginal amount, and nothing for them
because they were far into the red…
the current situation ?
substantially in debt.
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.
©1970 by Robert Somma