MAY 12 - BILLINGS "MANNY'S BAR"
Woke to the sound of formulaic country pop for Nascar fans, blaring out of a boom box at 6am. Immediately after that, there was loud banging of hammers. This all coming in through the thin trailer wall, from a site across the driveway where a work crew is putting up a building. They apparently started building yesterday while we were recording at Bob's, and got pretty far on the frame. There was nothing yesterday, and now there is a huge building !! These guys work like demons, hammering these buildings together, apparently taking only 3 or 4 days to finish. They are based in Utah, and travel around the West, taking construction gigs on the run. They have the process finely tuned and the building springs up as if by magic.
We hauled my Mesa amp, Marshall cabinet, and Pearl drum kit into the back of the old red truck …. an '88 Suburban…. and rolled to Manny's at 2 for sound check. After we set up everything, The bar man recommended special laotian egg rolls (in Montana!) made by … his mother! So we had to get egg rolls and they were outstanding.
Back at the trailer, I got the fire going, and prepared a pile of petite steaks using a bbq rub sent to me by my brother Karl for last Christmas. We had about ten friends over, including Dave and Olivia, who are the owners of my trailer; and Olivia's brother Patrick who brought his cute Downs daughter, now 20 months old. She was the delightful hit of the evening. Karen Sanchez drove over from Bozeman, and brought a large firework called "PyRoBotica" to help send the band off on tour. After a case of Pacifico beer and several bottles of red disappeared, the sun finally went down, and Karen lit the fuse to PyroBotica. The fuse caught alight, she ran for cover, and it went off …. excellent fiery orange and super loud explosions over the trailer, shaking the ground. It was even better than the "40,000 Megahertz Feedback", "Crazy Ox", or "City Crasher" fireworks that she lit off last New Year's Eve.
Ron Sanchez didn't make it, because he had to work. Art got on the phone to him, twisted his arm a little. He told Ron that he should claim to have severe uncontrollable diarrhea and take off work. That didn't fly with Ron. He is very conscientious when it comes to work.
We went back to Manny's. The comedian that was on before us was just finishing up. We hung around outside for a while, then went on in and played to a strangely quiet and reserved mix of cowboys, nurses, accountants, friends, and local music people. My old band mate drummer Tony Horton showed up … didn't recognize him at first, without the dreadlocks.
Loaded up the gear, went home, drank Calvados and listened to records until very, very late…. or early …. forgetting of course that the work crew would be blasting away at dawn again. So ended up with only a couple of hours sleep. The next day would be filled with preparations for heading off to the East.
MAY 16 - MICHIGAN - Everything Is Yoga Pants
(The 4 of us flew from Billings, Montana to my hometown Ann Arbor, Michigan on May 14 and we are staying at my brother Karl's house with his family.)
Art and Steve went to a skate park at Livonia with Karl Tek. Anne and I went to Mediterraneo Restaurant to meet Kathy Asheton, walked in, we were the only people in there except for Kathy. I ordered the Tiger Shrimp Saganaki and a greek salad and coffee. Kathy told a tale of woe. She had been relying on a film editor to assemble the DVD of the Stooges RAF benefit show that I played on last April. There was delay after delay, it turned out he had done nothing in a whole year, was evasive, and finally abusive when confronted. Apparently the DVD project is in better hands now. She brought me up to date on Stooge news, as well as Foundation business. She asked me to write a story for the foundation website about the guitar of Ron's that I inherited. Here's what I wrote:
Ronny's Black Stratocaster
In the years after the end of Destroy All Monsters and Dark Carnival, Ron was involved in several exciting music and film projects. Among these were the Wylde Ratttz, a band with Thurston Moore, Don Fleming, Mike Watt and Mark Arm, assembled for the feature film"Velvet Goldmine". I was in very close touch with him in those years, and he shared his enthusiasm for these projects. Ron was always sought out by musicians who understood the importance and seminal influence of his work. Shortly after the Wylde Ratttz, Scott Morgan recruited both Ron and I to play as special guests with the band Powertrane, destroying clubs in Ann Arbor and New York City. Later on, Ron teamed up with brother Scott and Jay Mascis in the Stooges Project, which led directly to the reformation of the Stooges.
During this transition period, Ron had a distinctive black Stratocaster, which was Japanese made, of late 80's vintage. It was not particularly rare, nor was it an expensive guitar. Ron customized it with an American flag sticker, behind the bridge. He played this beautiful black guitar often during those years, before the Reverend guitar sponsorship. I loved the sound that Ronny got with the Strat, which brought back to life the early days of the Stooges, when Ronny would stand stage right, totally in command, with his skinny white jeans, Go-Kart t-shirt, Iron Cross, and his Stratocaster.
The last time I played on stage with Ronny, he was playing the black Strat, which he so clearly loved. That, in itself, makes the guitar important to me beyond words.
During the Ron Asheton Foundation benefit show at the Michigan Theater, in Ann Arbor in April of 2011, I was delighted to see Ron's black Stratocaster set up with the stage gear. Chris, from the road crew, told me I was welcome to play it. I picked it up on the last song … No Fun, when everyone joined in together on stage. I was hammering away on the guitar, James Williamson on my right, Steve Mackay on my left, Henry Rollins in front of me, muscles straining, pushing back at the surging crowd. The sound was huge. I could feel Ronny there, his spirit encompassing the entire event, but his eternal energy focused and beaming through that guitar.
Backstage after that incredible event, which I consider to be one of the key moments of my life, Scotty told me to keep the guitar. Kathy had wanted me to have it too. I was speechless with gratitude.
I play Ronny's guitar often. When I do, my dear friend is right there with me.
Went back to Karl's house, where Carla had brought back some pizzas. Ate pizza, drank a beer, got ready for the show. As the sun was going down and the western sky's glorious pink, salmon and orange faded to gray, we loaded into the rented black VW Passat and drove east on I94 to the Ypsi exit.
Woodruffs is in the old railroad depot area of Ypsilanti down by the Huron River, full of old civil war era buildings, some restored… going to that neighborhood took me back in time. When I was seventeen, I had a girlfriend who lived down there. Her name was Gay Gardner, and she was into witchcraft. She lived in a dark, abandoned second story ballroom, full of cats, candles, and gauzy parachute drapes hanging over the bed from the high ceiling. She was convinced there were ghosts there. The cats seemed to be watching things moving that I couldn't see. It was pretty spooky, that dark snowy winter of 1970/71. I had met her the summer before when her boyfriend Mitch Miller, who was also gay, took an interest in me. He was working at the waterbed store on South University Ave, when I stopped in to get a cheap bed for my unfurnished flat. I was too young and naive to guess what was going on in his mind, and I was always open to new friends. We hung out for a while and used to drive way out in the boondocks to pick her up after work where she was an exotic dancer at the Anchor Inn. On the way home around 2 in the morning we would stop near the town of Dexter and swim in the river in the moonlight. Soon after that she and I ended up together, to the chagrin of Mitch who felt betrayed by us both. We eventually parted ways, when I moved to Australia at the end of 71. The next time I returned to Ann Arbor in 1973, I was shocked to find out that Gay had died of cancer.
We loaded our gear into Woodruffs, a funky old bar. Chris Taylor's band Blue Snaggletooth had already set up … we plugged in and ran through a couple of songs. I played through a beautiful vintage Marshall Super Lead. Everything was good. Anne set up the merch stand next to Blue Snaggletooth's merch. They had a big suitcase opened up with a dayglo snaggletooth poster on the back inside and they ingeniously had a black light installed permanently in the case so their merch stand was literally ON FIRE … and they were selling BLUE vinyl copies of their album. Their merch display totally upstaged ours but we had a much better looking salesperson so it balanced out.
The first band was called Rainbow Vomit. They had a girl sax player, and a balding hippie type front man. They all had giant "third eyes" painted on their foreheads. The attention to visual aesthetics could have been promising, but they didn't follow through, wearing nondescript t-shirts, baggy jeans … almost but not quite, flip flops. I'm sorry. People just have to try a bit harder… They had a few good riffs (and some very bad ones) which they hammered into the ground, and a lot of noisy high pitched hollering. Their grand finale was a song called Yoga Pants. The girl put the sax down and for several minutes chanted the line "Everything is Yoga Pants! " at megawatt amplified volume, in a broad southeastern Michigan accent.
Hiawatha Bailey showed up. He's the ex-black panther who went to federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky with Michael Davis and Wayne Kramer from the MC5, and who was later the front man in the band the Cult Heroes. He's tall and thin, all long arms and legs and graceful like a black spider about to pounce. He was good friends with Ron and Niagara, which was how I met him back in the mid 70's. He was in good form, very happy, and there were warm hugs all round. He is seemingly ageless. He hasn't aged at all in his appearance in 30 years!
Hiawatha once brought a cherry pie he had baked himself, to a Sonics Rendezvous reunion rehearsal. He's one of 16 children from a farm family in Belleville Michigan. He complained, earlier that day when he went to see his dad, his father looked up from the newspaper and squinted at him and said "Which one are YOU?"
Retro Kimmer arrived with a friend of hers who said she had driven up from Virginia Beach. Kimmer tried to take photos of everyone with everyone else, and pretty much achieved that. She wanted a poster of her upcoming Retro Guitar Expo critiqued. I liked the poster except for the Huckleberry Hound figure in the center. I mentioned it and she said "Thank you! Thank you! No one else would tell me the TRUTH!" and she immediately contacted the artist by text, with strict instructions to take Huckleberry Hound out and insert a mod Retro Kimmer image in the center instead.
Hiawatha took a shine to Steve and invited him for a walk behind the club. Steve said, "Hiawatha, we heard you are gay. Is that true?" Hiawatha replied: "I go where I'm needed."
Scott Morgan came along with Maureen. He'd aged 20 years since I saw him last. He's had some bad health problems, and needs help. We arranged to give him all the proceeds from the show. I didn't get much chance to talk to him. That's the trouble with being on tour in a town where you have friends. It's a job and there's no time to spend visiting, usually.
Blue Snaggletooth played. They are sort of like a post psychedelic british rock outfit, somewhere between Sabbath, Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies. Chris Taylor played with so much violent energy it almost took the roof off the bar.
Then we went on. The response was great … by the end of the set people were slamming and running around in circles, and generally going berserk. My brother gave me the lovely compliment that he thought my playing had achieved a "new level"!
We dried off and drove back to Ann Arbor.
MAY 18 - Bowery Electric
We stay at Anne's friend Charlotte's apartment on Kent and S.9th in Williamsburg, a hip neighborhood of Brooklyn. Last August we stayed there during Hurricane Irene, when all the shows were cancelled. Mayor Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of the area. We decided to stay and watch events roll forth. Charlotte's building is right on the East River where she lives with daughter India and giant black poodle Basil. Her apartment is on the 12th floor. There are big windows. It is great to sit and watch the boats and barges go up and down the waterway with the backdrop of Manhattan and the Empire State building. On the day the hurricane was due to arrive, all public transportation was shut down. Eerily, the city was dead quiet. No planes flew. No buses drove. No trains clattered noisily across the Williamsburg bridge. It was like being in the abandoned metropolis of the future in some post apocalyptic sci-fi movie, awaiting final reclamation by nature. It was .. wonderful!
In the evening it started to rain. The rain became torrential. No stores were open. There was a ring at the door …. one of the building managers was taking a survey of who had stayed, rather than evacuated. We thought we were in trouble, but no. Just taking a head count. Apparently a few others had also decided to stay. I asked the guy, whose name was Steve, if he knew any way that we could get some wine. There is no way that we wanted to face the hurricane without some decent wine. Steve thought for a minute, said he'd go ask his gay partner, and that he'd get back to me. I went over by the window to watch the sheets of rain pelting down. Then, the phone rang. It was Steve. He said "Go to apartment 4B. See Vinnie. He'll fix you up." We took the lift down to 4B. Rang the bell, and Vinnie opened the door. He is a wine distributor. His whole apartment is full of wine racks from floor to ceiling. He decided to stay with his wine, and go down with his wine if it came to that! He gave us a good bottle of Napa Valley red. We chatted a while, then went back upstairs.
By about 2am the storm peaked. There was extreme rain and wind. We went down to the street to watch, went outside to the covered driveway in front of the lobby. Watched the wind blow the trees almost horizontal, getting soaked, and then went back in and said Hi to the two black security guards. One looked like Samuel Jackson, with a wide gap between his two front top teeth. I offered them a drink , and was a bit surprised when they said "Oh yeah!". I went back upstairs and fixed them vodka and tonics with fresh lime wedges. Brought tray of drinks down, and had a nice social time with the guards until about 4am. We went upstairs and said "Goodnight Irene".
Irene kind of fizzled out … there was no major damage in NYC, although there was major flooding in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
So there we were, 9 months later, same place, different scene with beautiful spring weather. Heading for our New York show at the hip club Bowery Electric, we drove over the Williamsburg Bridge across the East River in Keith's van. Keith is best known as the guitarist in The Fleshtones, and is also Anne's ex-husband. But he is also in The Master Plan, which is supporting us for these three east coast shows. Keith has a big white Dodge van that he uses in his business, moving people's stuff, when they change apartments. His business is called "Man With Van" and in that context he has a secret identity, and is known as "Carl". (Due to savage rivalry in the moving van business, he cannot reveal his true name lest his residential details be found out)
Across the bridge in heavy traffic, we crawl into Delancey St and then past Katz's famous deli, and turn right on Bowery. We finally crept up the street and unloaded in front of the club, blocking traffic, only half a block from the old CBGB's, on the same side of Bowery.
We were late, although the sound man was later. In fact he never even showed up. Bowery Electric has its own back line. We checked out the house amps : Fender Deluxe, Vox AC30, Fender DeVille. The Deluxe sounded best, so I chose that one. No sound guy, so we tried to figure out how to run the PA ourselves. Ended up with a very basic kind of soundcheck with the help of Nick who owns the club.
The first band was Daddy Long Legs, featuring the wild harmonica wailing of Brian Hurd. The drummer uses no cymbals, and beats the kit with one stick and one heavy maraca, which he uses to pound the floor tom. The guitar player, a Turkish guy named Murat Akturk, has old school blues down, sounding something like Elmore James. They play raw, edgy blues, like how I imagine the Rolling Stones might have sounded at The Crawdaddy Club in 1963. They finish with a crazed version of Death Train Blues.
Then, The Master Plan: party rock and roll at its finest. Keith is the front man, and likes to engage the crowd, even to the point of jumping into the crowd, and encouraging singalongs. When Andy Shernoff takes the mike on a couple of tunes it sounds very much like his old band The Dictators. A highlight is the "We Like Barbecue" song.
Al Bouchard from the Blue Oyster Cult showed up, and I hung out and chatted with him about his new band, which includes his brother Joe, and Dennis Dunaway from the original Alice Cooper. Dennis was supposed to come by the club after an interview shoot for VH1 up the street, but he didn't show. He texted that his wife insisted that he go home instead. David Fricke from Rolling Stone mag was there too. I recalled how he had attended the Silverchair recording of the song New Race in New York some years back, and I had got him out in front of the mike to sing the shouts at the end of the song with the band….his first recording session as a backup singer.
Our set went great, we really hit some high energy grooves, and played 2 encores. Nick and Diane from the club were pleased. Despite being over time, Diane made us do the second encore, as people were hollering and stomping. For New York City, that was an unusual response, as they are normally TOO COOL.
We loaded out fighting crowds pouring down the stairs for a private party that was starting up at around midnight. Rode in the back of the van with the equipment over the Bridge.
MAY 19 - Terri T / Maxwells
We walked down to the river and caught the Ferry across to the Wall St stop, near the old fish markets … long abandoned but still standing. Then took a cab to World Trade Center, looking up and marveling at the construction of the Freedom Tower at the ground zero site. The new tower will be 1776 feet tall when finished. We hiked down into the depths to the Path train, and caught the train under the Hudson to Jersey. We were ahead of time, so stopped at an Au Bon Pain for a Wasabi Salmon Bagel and coffee, all for under 5 bucks.
Another couple of blocks up Montgomery St and we were at the WFMU radio station. We took the elevator up 3 floors to the studio and began to set up. We sound checked and the engineer was ready to roll when the glamorous Terri T showed up with beer and sandwiches. Terri T was all dressed up, with a scarf, miniskirt, boots, and makeup. She is very tall, towering over us. We sat around eating sandwiches and reading "Weird New Jersey" magazine in the office area while waiting to play, as Terri T in the control room broadcasted various discs of New Race, Visitors, Birdman and several cuts off my solo albums. Anne commandeered the office computer, working the social media to promote the days activities, as she does on all show days. Apparently that is how gigs are advertised these days. Handbills and posters are obsolete, and no one reads actual print media any more to find out what's going on. But it seems like no matter how much you put something on Facebook, though, there are people who don't see it even if they looked at it.
In the studio, we finally got the GO signal, and played six songs live to air, and worked up a sweat. I had to say who we were between songs. There is a little sign in front of the band, taped to the window looking into the control room, reminding us not to say bad words when broadcasting. The sign reads simply: "no shit / no fuck", those apparently being the two words you can't say on the radio.
Because the show was called Terri T's Cherry Blossom Clinic, I made a few clinical jokes while tuning up between songs. I guess it got a bit close to the line when I invited listeners to come by the WFMU station for their free pap smears and HIV screening, since it was a "clinic", and gave the station address over the air. There was laughter in the control room, but it was nervous laughter. Sorry, Terri T!
After we finished playing, I took off my wet shirt to towel off and Terri T said "Oh My God he's taking off his shirt", and came running in to get a photo with me. She brought me a dry Terri T Cherry Blossom T-shirt, which I started to put on, but she said , "No, no!! Only after the photo!"
We got picked up out in front of the station in Keith's van, for the short drive to Hoboken. We set up in Maxwells. I had played there a few years ago with Scott Morgan's Powertrane. It's a great club, attached to a good restaurant and one of the few northern USA venues on our level, that provides dinner for the bands, although it seems to be more common down south. Anne and I had a big salad and a grilled chicken sandwich and fries.
The Master Plan played their set, and we played ours. There were a couple of old guys there who really got into it. They were stoked, and stayed after to let us know.
We got in the back with the gear and drove through the Holland Tunnel, then across town. It was about 2am. I asked Keith to pull over so I could go to a liquor store on Delancey just before the Williamsburg bridge, so I could have a drink before going to bed. The van stopped in an illegal parking zone and I ran over to the store. It was like a bank vault. All the bottles were behind plexiglass, and the store man was behind a barrier with a little speaker and a tray you put your money in. There were weird characters in there screaming at each other, who glared at me when I came in, and although they were in front of the plexiglass, didn't seem to be buying anything. I said "excuse me" and they looked at me like I was from another planet. finally managed to get to the window and pushed the cash into the slot, and got my prosaic bottle of Kendall Jackson merlot, and ran back to the van. We drove over the river to the relative sanity of Brooklyn.
MAY 20 - Philly
We all crammed in the van to start the long haul to Philadelphia. Keith's at the wheel, Anne, Nascha and I are in the back seat, and Art and Steve are in the back with the gear and no seats. The van was going to be too crowded, so we got Keith to head for Newark Airport, which is on the way. Me Art and Steve have reserved a car. Thankfully the tape breaks so the music stops. When we get to Newark, we pile out of the van. Anne and Nascha stay on board, and the van heads off.
We get the car at Enterprise Car Rentals, a sporty black VW. Our one rule about rentals is, they must be black. I decline the GPS option, since it is obviously a no brainer getting back on the highway and heading south to Philly. We headed out of the lot and onto the airport service road. We miss something. It's not obvious. So we immediately get lost in darkest Newark. The wrong road we took can't be got off of. It's all no left turns, barriers, and no U-turns. Like a barbed hook or a candiru fish, which swims up its victims urethra, we can only go deeper. We know we need to go back, but can't. We go way deep into an exceedingly depressed and seedy area of Newark. It looks even worse here than Detroit. I am regretting not being armed. Finally Steve uses his i-Phones' GPS feature and it finally guides us out of trouble and on to the New Jersey Turnpike. Once on the correct highway, we stop for Popeye's Fried Chicken Po'Boy sandwiches, before continuing south.
Later I told Andy Shernoff that we were late because we had ended up in the ass end of Newark, to which he replied: "It's all the ass end!"
The club is in downtown Philly. It's called "Kung Fu Necktie", and is in a funky old tavern. The little stage had red velvet drapes, perfect for an old fashioned strip show or a ventriloquist act. Today's show is an afternoon matinee …. only about 30 people turn up, but among these are our friends Jonathan Sipes, aka "little Jonny Sipes", who was in Deep Reduction; and John Judge aka "Johnny Epiphone", who drove up from DC. Daddy Long Legs played a blistering set to a few people. The Master Plan did their thing, and we did ours. I played through Keith's mid 60's vintage Super Reverb, which sounds spectacular.
Art and Steve met two sisters, Laura and Laurie. Laura had a Ramones T-shirt, but was never old enough to remember them. Laurie was even younger …. maybe in her teens. After the show we got the big group photo in front of Kung Fu Necktie, and headed out. Art and Steve wanted to follow Laurie and Laura in their little Honda Civic. They were going to lead us to Pat's cheese steak place where we could buy a real Philly Cheese Steak: A bread roll full of thin sliced grease-fried meat, fried onions and peppers, and melted cheeze whiz. Apparently the cheeze whiz is essential. If any real cheese is used then it's not an authentic Philly cheese steak. Anyway, the girls randomly drove all over Philadelphia and were driving in circles, or rather, big squares. We followed. I was getting a bit over it. After about half an hour they pulled over in an industrial area. I rolled down our window as Laura walked up. "We know it's around here someplace …. " she says. We made a command decision to abort the cheese steak mission and get on the road. Enough time had been wasted. We said bye, drove off and left the hapless sisters behind.
The traffic was heinous on the way back to NYC. It took us over 3 and a half hours, finally rolled in to Brooklyn, picked up Anne, and got some great late night dinner at the Morelos Taco Truck on the corner of Bedford and N 7th.
The next day, we awoke to a gray sky and rain. It was just a gentle light drizzle at first. The twins went out walking, but then it started pissing down in earnest. It was raining buckets. Art and Steve went into a store, bought big trash bags, and made rain suits. The walked up to a restaurant, with pockets full of cash, but were denied entry because of wearing trash bags!
Anne and I went to Manhattan and met up with David Fricke for lunch and coffee. I first met him at the Big Day Out, where we played in 1994. We had a nice catchup. He is a lovely person, and happens to be the longest serving journalist at Rolling Stone, having started there around 1979. He'd seen the Bowery Electric show, and wrote a nice review:
David's review for Rolling Stone
That night I went on my own to a show on the lower east side. My pal Joe Chontos' band "The Chonto Tamura Sonic Insurgency" was playing at a cultural center on Rivington near Suffolk St. I was asked to sit in on a couple of songs. There were some structured intros and stated themes, but outside of that it was an aural free for all, a total blitz on the senses. I love experimenting on guitar, and had enormous fun finding ways to fit in to their massive edifice of sound, which has been described by reviewers as "post Coltrane free jazz". After dinner we dropped off the gear at Joes' partner An's store. An Ren is a successful fashion designer. She grew up in China, the daughter of one of China's greatest (maybe the greatest) impressionist painters. He was imprisoned for many years (for painting) in Mao's Cultural Revolution, and the family almost starved to death. She overcame all that, and now is involved in presenting her father's formidable body of work to modern China and the world. She was dressed in a fantastic green chiffon see thru dress, and super cool retro green and yellow shoes.
An was on fire. She yelled out "C'mon boys, dinner is on me!" and we went off to a cool Japanese restaurant. We drank a lot of sake and beer, and ate whole grilled smelt fish on skewers, heads eyes and all. An wanted to get martinis after, but it was past 2am and the martini bar was closed.
The next day I did some last minute business at Main Drag Music. I traded in my Rickenbacker 620 for a sweet 1965 cherry Epiphone Coronet.
That afternoon the twins, Anne and I drove back to Newark, dropped the black VW off, and caught the night flight to Madrid on United.