From PETER CAVANAUGH 's Book
|LOCAL DJ * A Rock'n'roll History|
I had seen the band initially at Delta College outside the Tri-City airport near Saginaw in late January. I worked with them for the first time at the "Foxy Lady" in Bay City a few months later. The club had a capacity for eight hundred. Twelve hundred were packed inside. Another five hundred were turned away.
The road crew had arrived hours earlier. A towering wall of Marshall speaker cabinets stood behind five microphones, four guitar amplifiers and a raised drum set. The sound system stretched across the entire length of the stage and from floor to ceiling. The equipment area was surrounded by lighting racks. Scaffolding covered with additional speakers jutted-out from the stage at almost every angle. Directly across the room were mounted three elevated "super-trooper" spotlights, each with a separate operator. There was no introduction for the first set.
The five member group simply took the stage and detonated an absolutely perfect, astoundingly balanced, forty-minute performance of the greatest early Rock n' Roll in the history of the music form. Songs by Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley blasted forth with energized rebirth in staggering sequence. Their awesome salute to all which had come before was nearly hypnotic in effect. They finished "Rock 'n Roll Music" by Chuck Berry and took a break. Their credentials had been more than adequately presented. After twenty minutes, a tall, blond, long-haired, heavily muscled "freak" jumped upon the stage, grabbed a microphone and began to preach. J. C. Crawford doubled as road manager and "Spiritual Advisor" to the band. Jimmy Swaggert, Oral Roberts and Billy Graham, on their very best days, have never reached J. C. Crawford' s level that night of incomparable, incendiary, crowd-whipping incitement.
"Brothers and Sisters; let me see a sea of hands out there! Let me see a sea of hands! Let me hear a little Revolution out there, Brothers!. A little Revolution out there!"
"Brothers and Sisters, the time has come when you must choose! You must choose, Brothers, you must choose! You must choose whether you will make a difference on this planet! You must choose whether you are going to be the problem or whether you are going to be the solution!"
"You must testify, Brothers and Sisters. You must testify! And I want to know! Are you ready to testify? Are you ready to testify?"
"I give you a Testimonial!
The group had quietly and almost invisibly taken their places on stage behind Mr. Crawford. At "Five", they took total command. A whining, screaming, thundering, supersonic roar literally shook the walls of the cinder-block building as guitar players Fred "Sonic" Smith and Wayne Kramer hit the opening chords of "Ramblin' Rose". Lead singer Rob Tyner lunged for the microphone and wailed with abandon. All the "super-troopers" had been fired directly at Rob upon the utterance of his first shrieked syllable. The decibel level had doubled from the first set and the lighting tree had sprung to life with reds, greens, yellows and blues alternating color illumination every second drum beat. Strobe lights on either side added to visual stimulations hovering at overload.
To emphasize lyric content, Tyner reached down and shook his concealed pecker. Did he have a license for that thing? Michael Jackson "grabs his crotch". Rob Tyner went right for the cock. There is a difference. The audience was far past mere appreciation or enjoyment. It was all way too much to ever dance or bounce-around to. The crowd was paralyzed. They were captured. Taken. Frozen. Stoned. Zapped. Fried.
For their single "love ballad", Rob chose a "random" female from the throng and pulled her by hand from the floor onto the stage. Fingers caressing her throat, he reached for the top of a very loose blouse and gently and slowly tugged downward until enormous bare, white breasts became plainly visible. They rose and fell, offering full spectacular view ending only a centimeter above nipple-level. Tenderly nestling his microphone into a secure resting place between the now publicly displayed pair, Rob leaned forward and whispered the song title directly into her exposed chest. As the band kicked-in and the words to "I Want You Right Now" were recited with soaring ferocity, the "volunteer" began erotically swaying back and forth in mesmerized trance. The sexual tension was finally broken only at the end of the song when Rob politely retrieved his microphone, sincerely offered thanks for able-bodied assistance and helped his subject off the stage. He was quite the gentleman.
The MC-5 concluded the night's performance with their quintessential anthem:
"And right now---right now---right now---right now---it's time to-----
-------------KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHER-FUCKER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The song had become a hit across much of the Midwest. The words "Brothers and Sisters" had been substituted on the recording in place of "Mother-Fucker" for radio exposure. Restraint unleashed, the audience jumped up and down, undulating as one with the pulsating beat. After the group finished and left the stage, raptured applause continued unabated for ten full minutes. The MC-5 did no encores.
John Sinclair was the group's founder/creator/manager.
John had moved to the Ann Arbor area years before and had attended school at the University of Michigan. When the counterculture first blossomed and love seemed everywhere, John had grown his hair long and recited beautiful poetry in the coffee-houses and parks. He was a peaceful man and worked for an end to the Vietnam struggle and all future wars. He spoke of freedom and tolerance. Of brotherhood and understanding. Of tender thoughts and soft, sweet dreams. He was arrested by the police for smoking marijuana. They threw him in jail, then beat the living shit out of him. Fuck that.
Establishing a commune of like-minded souls on Hill Street, John founded the "White Panther Party". This was patterned after the revolutionary "Black Panther Party", except you could join without actually being black. There was "solidarity" between both Panther groups. John now believed that only a true Revolution would turn things around. Fuck the government. Fuck the "pigs". Fuck the establishment. Power to the people. Right on.
Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer, Fred Smith, Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson hailed from the Detroit area and were archetypical struggling musicians. They had played individually with various bands through time, but had yet to enjoy "making it" in any significant manner. John Sinclair had come to love Rock 'n Roll. He pondered how wonderful it would be if the White Panthers could have a "house band". Everyone could live together, work together, eat together, sleep together and even fuck together. John eventually got to write those exact words on the MC-5's first album cover.
John and the band never fucked each other. They had plenty of females, women who waited on the Revolution hand and foot. Despite protestations to the contrary, the Revolution was really coming down as a "guys'" kind of deal. "Freedom" for women meant that they would be released from the tyranny and chains of the established social order and become "free" to serve their men. For the Revolution. All in all, the musicians thought it looked like a pretty fair deal. They'd have a place to sleep, food to eat, booze to drink, dope to smoke and women to ball. It sure beat the shit out of 'Nam. They had assumed the name "Motor City Five", being from Detroit and all. This was soon shortened it to "MC-5". That had sort of a hip, ethereal ring to it, like "MC2", which was Einstein's formula expressing relativity theory.
Time! Space! Energy! Light! Cool!! Love it!!! MC-5!!!!!
And what great positioning. Talk about marketing. You want SPIN?
These guys weren't just a bunch of long-haired dudes playing loud music. No goddamned way. They were fucking Revolutionaries. They just might jump off that son-of-a-bitchin' stage and blow somebody's brains out right in the middle of set. Who could ever be sure they wouldn't? Bad? You want really bad? You want really, truly, capital "B" Bad, Revolutionary Rock 'n Roll Guerrillas ready to kick ass and kill?? You want a FUCKING TESTIMONIAL to ultimate REVOLUTIONARY EVIL? A group parents could REALLY HATE?????
The MC-5 totally got into it. They practiced long and hard, month after month. John Sinclair was a brilliant thinker and thoroughly in touch with both intellect and emotions. John knew music and production and the art of dramatic staging. The MC-5 weren't just a band. They were theater. The band never knew exactly what the "Revolution" was or how it might involve them or what it might become. Who cared? They were the Revolution. They were the focal point. They were the show. That's really all that mattered. They were the best live Rock 'n Roll band I'd ever seen, bar none. I wanted them for Sherwood Forest.
John Sinclair had graduated from Davison High School where his mother still taught English. John had earned substantial notoriety from his encounters with the law and his widely publicized comments on how fucked the country was and especially how fucked the "pig/jerk-off/asshole/prick-cops" were in their "blue Nazi uniforms" with their "limp-dick attitudes" and "cock-sucking mentalities". John was quite the talker. Even though the popular press was restricted to publishing highly edited versions of his pronouncements, the essential message conveyed was abundantly clear. John Sinclair was a cop-hater.
The authorities kept track of such things. The Davison City and Township Police Departments were especially sensitive to the enraged ramblings of this native son. They secretly swore that John Sinclair or his band would never publicly surface in their area of jurisdiction without severe sanction. Sherwood Forest was one slender mile north of Davison, Michigan. I was aware of John Sinclair's ties with Davison. So what? It was a free country. Arrangements were completed for the MC-5 to headline the Grand Opening of Sherwood Forest in Davison on Sunday, October 19, 1969.
Photography by Dean Sherwood
WTRX, still competing with WTAC for contemporary audience, had begun a series of Sunday night dances at the Davison Knights of Columbus Hall, quite near "The Forest". They increased the strength of their band line-up for the 19th with several Detroit groups of marginal consequence and heavily boosted their advertising schedule. Big deal. We produced a killer "End of the World" announcement heralding our MC-5 opening. Posters and flyers were printed and circulated at every record store, bar, shopping mall and theater complex in a fifty-mile wide area. "End of the World" production involved using ten or twelve music cuts within sixty seconds' worth of copy and combining a "Voice of God" delivery with heavy sound processing and elaborate editing to make an event sound like "the End of the World" was at hand. Anything so offered dare not be missed. One key ingredient was to use material from the group being promoted to drive the emotion and intensity of the spoken word. We also dropped in a brief sample of J. C. Crawford's harangue. It worked perfectly. It was showtime.
The event had been scheduled to run from 6 'til 10 p.m. with doors opening at 5:30. The MC-5 were guaranteed $1,000 vs. 50% of admissions. Don Sherwood would receive 50% of net profits after all expenses were deducted and would also contribute the same percentage in the event of a loss. Parker and I would evenly divide or pay the rest. Tickets were priced at $3.00. Expenses totaled $1,550. "Break-even" was five hundred and seventeen tickets sold. Anything past that was profit. It was the essence of Capitalism. The MC-5 did not play without pay. John and I met Don at the park shortly after 3. A few cars were already pulling into the lot. At 4, a line was forming in front of the building and we decided to open the doors. Over a thousand had filled the new hall as we started playing records. When we introduced the opening band, the capacity was becoming strained at 1,500. At 7, we closed the doors with 2,000 bodies crammed wall-to-wall and three or four hundred more turned-away during the next hour.
Exactly at 8:00 -- "Brothers and Sisters, I want to see a sea of hands out there! I want to see a sea of hands!"
Road Manager Crawford was in a particularly buoyant mood. We had been together in the box office only minutes before. I had counted out $3,000 in cash for the group, which represented three times their original guarantee. Power to the People. After thirty minutes or so, I heaved a deep sign of triumphant relief. I reflected. How could the Grand Opening have gone any better? A turn-away crowd, an excellent show, profits for all and happiness everywhere. But hold on, I was forgetting one last little thing to make the night absolutely perfect. In my younger years, I willingly confess, it was often not enough that I, myself, merely win. With the "want it all" impatience and competitive lust of unseasoned youth, it was also emotionally required that others must lose. What was happening at that K. of C. Hall?
The MC-5 had thirty minutes left to play. The crowd, although wildly euphoric over each new song the band introduced, was extremely well-behaved. Everything was under control. Plenty of time for reconnaissance. I jumped in my car and sped up along the long Sherwood Forest driveway leading out to Richfield Road. Taking a right on Richfield, hanging a left on M-15, grabbing another right on Davison Road, and there I was, smack-dab in front of the Knights of Columbus. I turned into the circular driveway. Less than a dozen vehicles were in the lot. All riiiiiiiiiiiight. The win was absolute.
I headed immediately back toward Sherwood. Not five minutes had passed. As I pulled back onto the property and headed past the jammed main parking area, I saw the the hall lights flash-on inside the lodge. Hmmm? The MC-5 weren't schedule to complete their performance for another fifteen minutes. ??? People starting streaming outside. Huh? What? Directly adjacent to the lodge were at least twenty police cars parked at five foot intervals. City of Davison. Davison Township. Richfield Township. Mundy Township. Lapeer Township. Uniformed officers milled about, waving flashlights and directing exiting concert-goers toward their cars.
Ralph Rogers was the Chief of Police of the City of Davison. He was a former U.S. Marine with a quarter-inch crewcut, a pit-bull demeanor and a general attitude wired tighter than a mouse's ass stretched across a barrel. He ran his force the way he used to run his grunt squad in Korea. Tight. Right. Tough. Rough. Steady. Ready.
Ralph had learned that John Sinclair's band, a fucking-faggot-hippy-long-haired-bunch of left-wing pukes, was coming to Sherwood Forest, right next to Davison, "City of Flags". These were the kind of people who snuck around in the dark of night obliterating the letter "L" from the illustrious Davison City Motto on all those plaques the local American Legion Chapter had proudly posted all over town. Sinclair was a useless, un-American, Commie, Prick-Bastard, Piece-of-Shit. Military training and instinctive loathing clearly called for something. But, what? You couldn't just shoot the sons-of-bitches crossing the city line. Goddamn it.
Sleepless nights of analysis, phone calls to other area police departments requesting extra manpower, discussions with the County Prosecutor's Office reviewing options under the law and careful scrutiny of the MC5 "Kick out The Jams" album (which Ralph purchased for $6.59 with clenched teeth at K-Mart) finally brought forth an excellent plan. Even as I was only seconds away from the Sherwood Forest entrance drive, the trigger was pulled.
" And right now. Right now. Right now. Right NOW----It's time to--------
-----------------KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHER FUCKER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"Obscenity! Obscenity! Obscenity! They said: "Mother Fucker"! Got that on tape? Did you get the "Mother Fucker?" Alright!"
"Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!"
Fifty helmeted, riot-geared township police officers rushed through the front door at Sherwood Forest and worked their way slowly toward the stage. The crowd parted like the Red Sea. What was this? Part of the show? Heavy! The band finally saw the cops heading in their direction. As one, they collectively flashed a single, simple, solidified and unified vision. Not "Up the Revolution"; not "Fuck the Pigs"; not "Power to the Proletariate". The united thought was something much more personally powerful.
"Holding", to the uninitiated and in this context, means "having illegal, controlled substances on our immediate persons". The MC-5 was not interested in taking on the establishment, fighting for human rights or upholding the sacred revolutionary codes by which they lived and for which they played. Their entire life philosophy and sole purpose on the planet instantaneously transformed into but a single ambition:
"Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!"
As with all great battle plans, the execution of the police maneuver had encountered a number of surprises. Although the crowd of "kids" was enormous, they were all actually quite docile. Everyone seemed more curious than concerned as the officers "stormed" the hall, although "waded tentatively into" would be more honestly descriptive. While many of the men had seen military action and had visited places and enjoyed experiences they'd certainly never shared with their wives and mothers, none of them had ever been on Mars before.
They were surrounded by two thousand deliriously entertained, screaming, shouting, dancing MC-5 enthusiasts. Brilliant lights were flashing every color of the rainbow. That unearthy, piercing, pounding, rolling, strange excuse for music was shaking the ceiling, walls and floor with thundering pulsation. The cops were not only in an unknown universe, but one louder than a carrier deck at full launch. Strategy was to arrest the band for "obscenity", but it took at least five minutes to get through the crowd to the stage. They had thought of sending a few of the troops in through the back door, but had decided every man was needed in the main entry formation should there be problems with "control" or "riot".
The MC-5 finished "Kick Out the Jams" with fifty-five seconds to spare. They thanked everyone for coming and were out-the-door and in-their-van, hurriedly heading for Ann Arbor. The whole bunch were gone almost in less time than you could say "Mother Fucker". They shot by me in a blur as I entered the backstage area.
I hit the stage the same split second as Ralph Rogers. Only very few times in my life have I abandoned all thoughts of reason and deliciously surrendered to the full, pure, powerful passion of furious Irish rage. Rogersí eyes darted sharply about in anxious anticipation.
"Where'd they go?"
"Who the fuck are you?"
"Who the fuck are you?"
"I'm the fuckin' promoter and you're on private fuckin' property!"
"This place is fuckin' closed and you're under fuckin' arrest!"
"For fuckin' what?"
"For fucking obscenity!"
Applause for the group was just beginning to fade. Johnny Parker had joined me on stage with that look on his face that said, in no uncertain terms, they were drivin' ol' Dixie down. He joined the discussion.
"Hey, Jim! Fuck you!"
"This place is fuckin' shut down now and your both under fuckin' arrest!"
John and I replied in exact phrasing and perfect unison:
Nothing mattered save honor. John headed for the record booth to hit the music. I took the microphone and walked to the front of the stage.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, The MC-5!!!!!!!!!!"
There was a resumption of raucous applause.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we have some visitors tonight. Let's hear it for the cops!!"
Since the MC-5 were truly theatrical, who could tell? Maybe this was part of the show. The crowd cheered wildly for the police.
"Ladies and Gentlemen!! We've got the new Bob Seger album and we're gonna play it all the way through!!"
The affirmative roar drowned out Ralph's yelling for re-enforcements on stage. Opening strains of "Lucifer" filled the room. I emphatically motioned for Chief Rogers to join me in the backstage area. Several friends had whispered interesting information. I'd figured the only move. No turning back. The face of the Chief was scarlet red. His head was spinning. His heart was heaving. He was actually breathless with unmitigated anger. He could not contain or conceal his fierce frustration. The fuckin' Commies had flown the coop.
He couldn't call a car for interception. All of his cars and his buddies' cars were all already at Sherwood. He couldn't call the State Police or the Sheriff. He'd look like a moron and they were a whole separate bunch of pricks. They'd laugh their asses off. But, he still had these fuckin' radio boys. That fuckin' shithead with the glasses admitted he was the goddamn promoter. That's at least one fish in the net; no, two, counting that fuckin' little bastard who called him a chimp.
"You're both under arrest!"
"How many, Chief?"
"You're under arrest!"
"How many cars and vans, Chief?" "How many?"
Rogers shifted his steely gaze back and forth between us. Were these guys druggies? Were they "high"? On that "acid" crap? What the fuck were they saying? Cars? Vans? They were ignoring an arrest. Two arrests!
"At least a dozen, Chief. At least a dozen. Probably more. You're in deep, deep shit!"
Something had strangely shifted. He was in deep shit? They were the ones in the deep shit. Weren't they? Fuck, those Commies got away. Shit! What the fuck are these guys talkin' about?
"What the fuck are you assholes talkin' about?"
"Nice move, Chief. No search warrants. No permission. No witnesses. What were you guys doing? Stealin' shit? Get any tapes? Any radios? Any stereos?"
I assumed my best Dan Berrigan mode and addressed the Chief with measured patience, as though explaining the Gospel of St. Luke to a six year-old child. My voice was evenly modulated without a trace of rancor.
"Chief Rogers, I'm afraid there were witnesses. A number of compaints have already been brought to my attention regarding uniformed police officers breaking into cars and vans tonight in the Sherwood Forest parking lot. The vehicles were unoccupied. I'm sure you are intimately familiar with specific procedures required by law concerning such entry. In the absence of signed search warrants or honest reasonable cause, there is growing speculation that attempted thievery was involved or attempted." The Chief glared at me with lingering contempt, but I had his undivided attention.
"There are also questions concerning your entry into a private facility without permission and potentially endangering the safety and security of a lawful public assembly." Rogers blinked. There was no other change in posture or presence. But, he blinked.
"It's my own suspicion that your officers were searching vehicles for illegal contraband and erroneously felt that they were lawfully doing so. I would also wish to apologize for any untoward language expressed by myself or my partner, Mr. John Parker, who is standing to my left. No disrespect was intended. We were stunned and confused by your sudden appearance and responded on an emotional level highly untypical of our normal demeanor when communicating with members of the law enforcement community. If you feel our conduct requires our arrest, we will offer absolutely no resistance at the conclusion of tonight's presentation"
"Where'd those fuckin' hippies go?"
"Chief Rogers, the MC-5 and their entourage left immediately, fearing an undesired encounter could create a full-scale riot." His voice was much more subdued. Confidence was cracking.
"I want this place shut-down."
"Chief Rogers, this place will be shut-down in exactly ten minutes time. We have announced a ten-o-clock closing on WTAC. We must honor our promise or there could be severe problems with the Federal Communications Commission regarding false, misleading advertising. That could bring in The Bureau." This was really starting to stretch it. Parker was pissing his pants. The Chief whirled about and left the room. We could see him speaking with his officers near the front of the hall. We bid the gathering farewell at 10 PM sharp, plugged the next week's attractions and turned the house lights up.
Chief Rogers and his helmeted forces blended into the departing crowd until the building had finally emptied for all except employees and cleaning crew. Don Sherwood was understandably upset. His new hall had debuted with overflowing attendance. He had earned more in one night than in an average two weeks of full operation. At the same time, Ralph Rogers was really mad. The last thing Don or any businessman needed was problems with a pissed-off Police Chief, especially a former Marine agonizing over a failed mission. I agreed that things had to be set straight and the Chief made comfortable. I would review all options and conjure up a plan. There had to be a way.
Stewart Newblatt had been elected a
Circuit Court Judge several years prior and had resigned from the
bench in frustration. He was an honest man with a superlative mind.
Stewart felt that rigid requirements of sentencing had restricted
him from rendering fair judgement in several situations which had
arisen involving certain circumstances not adequately contemplated
by or written into the law. He was a man of principle and passion.
Decades later, he would resign early from the Federal bench over similar
discomforts relating to mandatory sentencing of drug offenders.
The official Ralph Rogers version was that he had been alerted to the appearance of the MC-5 at Sherwood Forest and had assembled a force of uniformed officers to be ready should necessity require professional intervention. As it turned out, the officers had been successful in maintaining the peace. When the group used a "blatant obscenity" during their show, Ralph and his men had approached the stage to demand the performance be stopped. The group abandoned said performance and left the hall immediately. There were no arrests. Chief Rogers promised that all future "rock concerts" at Sherwood Forest would be heavily policed and that there would be arrests for any violations of the law, including the use of obscenity. Don Sherwood was quoted as saying he would certainly abide by any decisions made by the Chief and wanted to "get along". My own quotes related to "misunderstandings" and "missed communications" and the like. No one had spoken to the press about illegal entry, searches or threats. Yet. These matters warranted and awaited private discussion. Charlie Speights arranged a meeting with Stewart Newblatt. Stewart was outraged.
There was no question that Chief Rogers had violated any number of rules and regulations in theoretically condoning a search of any "suspected" vehicles for drugs or drug peraphernalia. In his quest and zest for major ass-burning, he had envisioned confiscating a mountain of shit. He didn't even have a mini-molehill. The MC-5 van had been heavily guarded by White Panther security, concerned more about equipment or van theft than drug concealment. Hell, there wasn't any dope in the van, anyway. Good weed on the road was far too valuable to just leave it hanging around. The guys carried it right on their persons, like disposable jewelry. The rest of the searches had turned up a few roaches and a clip or two. Nothing more.
Newblatt was very clear and wise with his summary of deliberation. While Rogers had acted imprudently and might successfully be called to account, he could probably justify his actions enough to get off with a slight slap on the wrist. No one had been actually arrested and no complaints had been forthcoming on the illegal searches and minimal seizures. He would be waiting in the bushes from that point forward and had every legal right to do so. "Rock Concerts" were not Sunday School picnics. We all knew the nature of the counterculture. It would only be a matter of time before opportunities presented themselves for Chief Rogers to gain glory. An accomodation was desirable. Anything less would guarantee continuing vulnerability and eventual difficulty, if not disaster.
After leaving attorney Newblatt's office, Charlie and I stopped for a few beverages at the Shorthorn on South Dort and thoroughly explored options. During Baseball's off-season, the Shorthorn regularly featured an aspiring organist who was much more widely known as a thirty game winner for the Detroit Tigers. Denny McClain was a fine entertainer off the field as well, substituting melodic booms for fast-ball zooms. It was at the Shorthorn in Flint that Denny McClain was said to have formed certain "associations" which subsequently led him to periodic difficulties with the law in matters of gambling and more serious rambling. Charlie and I were not among such associations, although we would often chat with him about baseball over booze. As Denny finished "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", a Shorthorn favorite, Charlie and I concluded that Chief Rogers had to be approached at the soonest possible time with a conciliatory gesture. I had everything to lose at Sherwood Forest.
|©2001 by Peter Cavanaugh
Printed by permission of the author
|' LOCAL DJ ' is available through http://www.xlibris.com and http://www.petercavanaugh.com|