An Interview With The Original MC5 Bassplayer

By Ken Shimamoto (July 24, 2002)

    When Wayne Kramer played Dallas in July 2002, he dedicated the show to "all bassplayers, past, present, and future" (in the weeks surrounding the start of the "Adult World" tour, Dee Dee Ramone, John Entwistle, and Ray Brown had all left the planet), then introduced a slight, grey-haired man standing near the stage as Pat Burrows, the original bassplayer from the MC5. In the winter of 1964, Pat and drummer Bob Gaspar joined the embryonic group called the Motor City Five after Wayne had unsuccessfully tried to teach Rob Tyner to play bass. Early in 1965, Rob rejoined the band as lead singer.

    The band was playing record hops then, like WKNR's "Keener Caravan" of which Wayne recalls, "We'd play, then Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye would come out and lip-synch their latest hit." It was during Pat's tenure that the MC5 opened for the Dave Clark Five at Cobo Hall in Detroit. The accepted version of Pat's departure from the band has been that Wayne forced him out to make room for Michael Davis. (Wayne: "We were looking to go in a different direction musically, and Pat was an in-the-pocket Detroit guy.") Pat has a slightly different version of the story, and various other recollections of those days (and the ones that followed). He joined us from his home in Dallas on July 24, 2002.

Left to right: W.Kramer - Pat Burrows - Rob Tyner - Fred Smith
Photo: Emil Bacilla

K: How long had it been since you saw Wayne before the show Saturday?

P: Years and years. We'd talk on the phone. In fact, I was supposed to hook up with him in Dallas three or four years ago, but I was out of town and I missed him. But we always stayed in touch a little bit on the phone.

K: When Ken Kelley interviewed him for Addicted to Noise six or seven years ago, I remember Wayne asking, "If anybody knows where Pat Burrows is, let me know."

P: When I saw him, he was so happy to see me, because I hadn't seen him....I moved down to San Antonio, was down there for about three years, and I got married and moved back up here [Dallas] because of that the week he and [Wayne's ex-wife] Marjorie broke up and she went back home, and I didn't know that. I figured we'd hook up one way or another.

K: So you guys always stayed in touch over the years?

P: No, not really...over SEVERAL years we did. After I left the group, we stayed in touch for years, when I was back in Michigan, then when I moved to Texas we didn't, for years. But we were always cool. Wayne's a very cool guy, he's just very laid back...a people person. Him and I have always been cool. In fact, the other night, he said, "Man, I have to apologize to you for something," and I said, "You don't have to apologize to me for ANYTHING, especially for something that happened 25 years ago, whether it's something stupid or whatever. We were always cool, you've always been good to me." He's always been that way. Fred [Smith] too.

K: So you've been in Texas for about 15 years ago?

P: More than that...about 18.

K: What do you do?

P: I work at the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas.

K: You joined the MC5 in the winter of '64?

P: Fred, Wayne, and myself, and a guy named Bob Gaspar started the MC5.

K: Back in Lincoln Park...

P: Lincoln Park, Southgate, know, suburbs of Detroit.

K: Was that the first band that you played in?

P: I'd played in bands before that.

K: Kinda inspired by the British Invasion?

P: No, we played a lot of blues at first, a lot of R&B. The Stones, the early Stones; before they were rock, they were blues..."The Spider and the Fly." That's what we were doing. The TAMI and Wayne went to watch the TAMI Show one night at the drive-in and that was what we were all about. Old James Brown, blues, rock, everything. It was ALL of that; it was just MUSIC. It wasn't about any particular TYPE of music. Back then, that's what we did. We were kind of an R&B group, and we were very popular in Detroit for that kind of music. We were good, we had fun, we enjoyed it. It was me and Fred and Wayne, and Rob Tyner joined us after, and a drummer named Bob Gaspar. This was before Dennis [Thompson] and Michael [Davis]. When I left, Michael replaced me, and Dennis replaced Gaspar, but that was like 1966, and they went different, they went political, they went rock...HARD rock, and it was a whole different thing, but it was still musical. We had an old manager, a guy that backed us up on a bunch of Vox equipment. We were the first group in Detroit to have Vox equipment, and we had it all.

K: Just like the Beatles!

P: Right. This guy paid for all this equipment, and kind of sponsored us. He was from Lincoln Park.

K: I was looking at some of Emil Bacilla's photos of the early Five on

the Internet. That skinny kid with the Beatle bass is you?

P: Yep. Great little bass. They were made somewhere in Europe, and I'd use it. Wayne got mad at me about that, that I went to a Fender bass. It was funny, it was a thing that they wanted to do, and I didn't care; at the time, that's what I wanted to play. They were mad at me about it, they wanted to maintain that English thing, and then they realized later that it didn't matter. That's what I wanted to play, and now Wayne plays a Fender, he laughs about it. He said, "Man, I'm sorry that that happened," and I said, " big deal." I still play a Fender. Do you play?

K: I play guitar. Everybody in Texas plays, don't they?

P: Everybody might play a little bit. What do you play?

K: Lately I've just been doing some sub gigs with blues bands. Blues, rock'n'roll, anything. I've gigged with country bands down here.

P: That's where I'm at. I'm an old professional, I've played some church music and I can read chord charts and fake it, and I don't want to get back into it full time, but I know I can still dust off a lot of people.

K: There's all kinds of outlets. You can go to the blues jams. Going back to the early days of the Five, what kind of gigs were you guys playing?

P: Back then, they were called record hops. It was on the radio all the time. You'd listen to radio...CKLW was one, in Windsor, Ontario, that would push the MC5 all the time. We were supposed to play with the Rolling Stones. We had a gig set up, and the editor of one of the large papers in Detroit...his kid had a band, and somehow he got us bumped off. Yeah! We were supposed to play like Detroit, Toronto, Montreal with the Stones, and this kid's father got us bumped off, two or three days before the show. Wayne and Fred were devastated! And we didn't get to play the shows; this other group did. I felt bad about it, but I didn't take it as bad as Fred. Fred, I thought, was going to commit suicide! It didn't happen.

K: You guys DID open for the Dave Clark Five at Cobo Hall!

P: Exactly. We opened for the Dave Clark Five, and then they even threw some crumbs at us. They said, "Here's some tickets to some other shows." We didn't want 'em. We said, "Nah, we don't want that shit." That's where we played with Terry Knight and the Pack, who turned out to be Grand Funk....Mark Farner. We played with them a couple of times. My memory's not real good. I'm trying to think of all the groups back then. If Bob Gaspar were here, he'd be able to snap all those groups off to you. I can't remember 'em all, 'cause it just doesn't matter to me. For HIM it would, because that was his pie in the sky. For me, it wasn't. I had a lot of fun with some great guys, but Gaspar, man, he'd be here right now spitting out names to you. And Wayne would be able to tell you a lot of names of guys back there. When I came back in '69 after the military, I started playing again and improved my reading, and I started playing again in clubs and a little bit of session work in Detroit, and that was MY thrill...playing with some of the older Motown musicians. I was thrilled to be in the studio with guys whose names I'd read on albums. Then later on, me and Wayne hooked up again and talked about these guys and laughed and said, "Wow, it all goes around."

K: Talk a bit about what the guys in the Five were like, as teenagers playing this music. I get the impression that you personally weren't so sold on the idea of being a rock'n'roll star.

P: I wasn't. I was there in the original stages of the band, before everything really happened. I was in it from the beginning. I knew 'em as GUYS....Rob was a good, good guy. So was Fred. Fred was laid back. Smoked a lot of cigarettes. Always late for everything. Fred had that show business....he always expected people to wait on him. But that was Fred...he was always late, he would always want people to pick him up, he was the quintessential rock star. Always. Wayne was always business-minded. Business-considerate. Wayne always had a business mind, was always polite. Fred never gave a shit whether anybody cared about anything. Fred was Fred. But Wayne always cared. Had a good mind. Didn't try to insult anybody because he knew, shit, we gotta be nice to people. Rob Tyner was a gentleman, total gentleman. The other guys, Michael and Dennis, I knew very little, just as friends. I knew Wayne would always survive as a person, because he was always able to look at you and talk to you and not lie to you, and always be gentle. You could talk to him and tell he wasn't a liar...Wayne's not a liar. You're going to get the truth from Wayne, but you'll get it gentle. Hell, I remember him as a kid. We talked about that the other night. I said, "Man, we were 15 years old!" Still the same way. There was something inside him...I attribute it to his mother. She was a sweet lady, and she brought him up the best she could, and did good. We had a good connection the other night. You go back years ago, he treated me like a little brother (although we were the same age). Wayne was the same guy years ago as he is now...he's a listener. He's not a bigmouth. He'll listen, and he'll let you say what you've got to say, and if he has a disagreement with you, he'll let you say what you have to say, and he doesn't get arrogant. He'll say his piece...and he was like that at 16 years old. He used to have a little motorcycle, a little Yamaha, and we used to go all over Detroit on that Yamaha! I reminded him of that, and he laughed...he forgot about that. It brought smiles on his face. I said, "Do you remember the summer we cut all the grass" (at some big refinery where he worked), and I painted his mother's house, and it brought back memories. They were good years. He was a positive person then, and he's still a positive person. He wasn't negative, even though a lot of people could look at his message and say "That's negative," he's not about that. One thing I can say about Wayne is that every time I've talked to Wayne over the years since I left the band in '65, '66, every contact we had was pleasant, was good, he was always, "Come on over. Let's talk. Let's do this, let's do that." He was always good. And Fred was, too, when he was straight. A few times when Fred looked at me, I don't think he knew who I was, but that was 1967, 1968...he was high! And Rob was, too...Rob was like a brother.

Pat Burrows & Rob Tyner - Photo: Emil Bacilla

K: You can't find anyone who'll say a bad word about Rob Tyner.

P: I remember the last few times I saw Rob, I went to some clubs in Detroit...a club called the Red Carpet, and Rob was doing a single act. I was playing blues back then, I had a three or four piece blues band, but I went to see Rob and it was very pleasant. He was very sweet. And he always....that's always the kind of guy he was. Gentle guy.

K: Did Wayne's mom encourage you guys in your musical endeavors back then?

P: Sure she did. She was the one who let everybody stay at the house, drove us around, she had a big white Buick with a black convertible top, I'd say it was a 1963, something like that. She was always there, she was the foundation as far as, "Is this what you guys want to do?" She always provided sustenance, and there's a little tiny sister, her name was Peggy, she was blind, and [Wayne's] sister Kathy was maybe 12 years old. They lived on Robson Street. Well, they lived in Lincoln Park on Taylor, and then they moved out to Robson Street in Detroit, which was right in the middle of the northwest...Grand River, and that's where I stayed with them for a whole summer, in the house with his mom.

K: And other people's parents weren't as supportive?

P: No. Fred's dad was this old country guy...they were all okay, but not like Wayne's mom. She kept telling us, "Y'all need to go over to Motown and talk to them. They need some white people." We didn't. They had a label called Rare Earth...they never really developed. My mother...I didn't have a father; they didn't give a crap. We were bumping around the downriver area there. But Wayne's mom was the one that took us in at three o'clock in the morning, she was the one that tolerated everything. She was STABILITY. Out of everybody. She was a beautician, she had her own shop down on Michigan Avenue, 31st Street in Detroit. She was a self-supporting mom. She was right there for all of us.

K: Very cool. How did the direction of the band change while you were in it?

P: I left the group before they were really successful, and they weren't real hard...they were pretty much an R&B group when Bob Gaspar and I were with them. I left and went in the service in '66, and it wasn't any big change as far as me going. I think the biggest thing with me was I bought a Fender bass and Fred and Wayne were mad. I got rid of this little English wasn't a big deal to me, I don't know. I had a girlfriend, I just went ahead and went in the service. The drummer...I think he was crushed. He asked me years later, "Are you sorry about not being with the group?" I said, "No, not at all." And he really was. With me, there was no bitterness or any of that crap. Sometimes it's time to move on. Everything happens for a reason.

K: Talk about your military service...I take it that you volunteered, you weren't drafted?

P: Right. I went in the Marine Corps in '66, got out in '69. Went to Vietnam.

K: Where did you serve in 'Nam?

P: Khe Sanh, Dong Ha.

K: So you were right in the thick of it.

P: Oh yeah. And I came back when I got out, and I had a chance to contact [Wayne], and we hooked up in some little place in Detroit, and he hugged me just like he did the other night. He didn't try to tell me I was wrong for what I was doing, I didn't try to tell him he was wrong for what I was doing. That's what was great. We hugged each other and we talked back then, and they were pretty high at that time! Then a few years went by and he came in a club I was playing in, playing in a little jazz club, and he walked in with his girlfriend. He saw me, and he dropped everything, and we hooked up again. That was in the seventies. In 1970 or '71, me and Wayne and Fred went to the Michigan Theater and saw Sha Na Na, Little Richard, and B.B. King.

K: Quite a bill!

P: And there was nobody there. It was poorly publicized. Probably a hundred people in the theater. We sat up in the back and watched the show. Little Richard came up and sat with us! He came around and squatted down with me and Wayne and Fred, and watched B.B. King. He still had his little cape on! We talked for maybe a half hour before he had to split. I think that was the last time that me and Wayne and Fred hung out.

K: What did Bob Gaspar do when he left the Five?

P: He went and played country music. There was one guy that he played with that was kind of a big name in Detroit. In fact, the guy was real tight with Willie Nelson. Then Bob died. I didn't know he had died, and I called up there and talked to his mother and father. They told me. I was in a bookstore in San Antonio about two years ago, going through a big, thick book...I've got it right in front of me...called The All Music Guide to Rock. And I thought, "Well, I'm going to look through this book, and I KNOW I'm going to see some names of some people I've at least played with," because I've played with a lot, especially Motown people, I studied with some of the Motown bassplayers. I went to the index in the back, and I come across "Pat Burrows." I started laughing! I went back and pulled the front out, and it said "MC5" and started talking about it. I was almost embarrassed. I felt I'd be lucky to know somebody's name in it, and I'm in it! I bought about ten copies, because they were like $2.50 apiece at the Half Price Books store, and I mailed one to everyone I knew. You know about the book?

K: Yeah. They do their homework!

P: I told my wife, "I'm on the same page as Paul McCartney!" It's still just funny to me.

©2002 by Ken Shimamoto