DJ Sue

DJ Sue
Welcome to my blog. I’m a DJ in Second Life and I find myself discussing the music I’m playing with many of those in attendance at my shows. Unfortunately, when I am busy DJing, I can’t participate and discuss the music as fully as I would like. I’m hoping this blog can help change that. Look here before my set to see if I might be playing something interesting today or maybe after to see if discussion on a topic might continue. You are invited to join in the conversation and leave comments.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

It Happened 53 Years Ago


Bob Dylan recording in the studio 53 years ago this week


It happened 53 years ago this week.  Bob Dylan would go into the studio and record a song that would profoundly change him and the music world forever.  During the spring of 1965, the writing was on the wall and Dylan was seriously considering leaving the music world.  He probably would have too if it wasn’t for that one recording session that produced Like a Rolling Stone. The song would spend 12 weeks on the Billboard charts and reach #2.  While that fact shows success, maybe I should mention that Rolling Stone Magazine gave it the #1 position on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” list!

The song started out quite different from the final version we are all familiar with and that story is fascinating and worth telling on this anniversary.

As mentioned above, Dylan was in a bad place during the spring of 1965 and Like a Rolling Stone started out as a rant of hatred written in verse.  Dylan himself described it later as a “long piece of vomit, 20 pages long.”

Dylan and a handpicked troupe of studio musicians, including Mike Bloomfield of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band on guitar, entered the studio to record the song on June 15, 1965.  Bob Dylan played piano and the song actually started out as a waltz in ¾ time.  There were five takes recorded that day and only the fourth (I’ll play it on Wednesday) made it through to the chorus.  Dylan’s voice was going and they called it a day after one more take.

The following day, June 16, they took a different approach.  Bob Dylan would abandon the piano and take up his Fender Startocaster guitar, an electric guitar, and Frank Owen would play the Hammond organ to replace the piano.  While waiting for a couple of necessary people to arrive, they recorded an unofficial take in which you can plainly hear that the song is no longer a folk tune done as a waltz.   With two electric guitars, an electric organ and now in 4/4 time, it had suddenly become a rock and roll song, literally overnight.  It was an improvement but Dylan still knew it was missing something.

In attendance in the studio that day was a 21 year old session guitarist by the name of “Al Kooper.”  (Not to be confused with Alice Cooper.)  He was a guest and just there to observe.  Before the first official take, there was another change made and Frank Owens was moved from the organ to the piano.  With the organ vacant, Kooper saw his chance and asked Producer, Tom Wilson, if he could play the organ.  He claimed to have an organ part in his head that would fit the song really well.  Wilson began objecting, pointing out that Kooper was a guitar player and not an organist. Before he could say “no,” he was called away to take a phone call.  Since Wilson hadn’t actually said “no,” Kooper sat down at the organ.

No one took him seriously.  Wilson came back into the studio and didn’t bother to remove Kooper.  After all, with each instrument recorded to a different track, it would be no problem just removing him from the final mix.

That first take only made it through the first chorus but as they played it back, Dylan noticed the organ and insisted it be turned up in the mix.  There it was and despite the objections of Wilson that Kooper wasn’t an organ player, and despite the fact that Kooper had missed cues and was off in timing, Dylan insisted that it would remain.  The song was now complete and had almost reached its final form.

I say “almost” because there was no written music, just ten pages of verse that Dylan had for lyrical reference.  This led to each take being quite different and Dylan even varied the lyrics from take to take.  It all came together on the fourth official take that day and they found a certain magic on that rendition.  It was the first time they had made it all the way through the song.  Even Wilson admitted, “That sounds good to me.”  They would record eleven more takes that day but none compared to the magic of Take #4.  Take #4 would be mixed down and become the master for the final finished song we all know and love.  It was destined to make history.

21 year old Al Kooper helps Dylan make history

Like a Rolling Stone had gone from a folk tune, written as a waltz to an electric rock and roll tune.  Furthermore, the twenty pages of vomit and hatred that had been its lyrics were now not belittling the listener.  Instead, they were showing the subject that they were lucky and revealing unseen hope to them.  Finally, Dylan has described this song and session as his breakthrough.  He now wanted to move forward with his musical career.  He would go on to make 30 more studio albums and release countless compilations, live albums, videos and more.

The story is far from over and the rollercoaster ride had just begun.  Soon after it was recorded, Columbia Records cancelled its release.  The song was just too “electric” for a folk artist.  Furthermore, at a full six minutes in length, it broke the three minute rule.  For a song to make money, it had to be played on the radio.  Radio stations shunned playing songs over three minutes in length and this one doubled that.

The Newport Folk Festival


Back in 1965, the acoustic folk guitar was sacrosanct to folk music.  Dylan was going to break with tradition and create a great controversy with his song that Columbia relegated to the trash bin.  It was five weeks after the recording session when Bob Dylan did something never done by an artist at the Newport Folk Festival.  He took to the stage with an electric guitar and two musicians from that recording session were among those on stage with him.  Mike Bloomfield also had an electric guitar and now keyboardist, Al Kooper, sat at an electric organ.  They played Like a Rolling Stone to both cheers and boos and many Dylan fans were appalled.  Bob Dylan had sold out…  Bob Dylan had gone electric!

Dylan goes electric at Newport, July 25, 1965

And from the Ashes, the Phoenix Doth Rise


There was one executive at Columbia Records, Shaun Considine, who felt Like a Rolling Stone deserved a chance.  At about the same time as Bob Dylan was pissing off legions of folk music fans at Newport, Considine rescued a discarded acetate of the song.  An acetate is a metal disc with hot vinyl applied to one side and after being pressed, it makes a one sided record.  The entire unit, metal platter and all, can be used temporarily until the official release.

One weekend, he took this acetate to a popular club in New York City and got the DJ to play it.  It was a big hit and the crowd insisted that it be played many times that night.  Soon radio stations were getting requests to play it and it was the radio stations that insisted that Columbia release the song.  Columbia did something that had never been done before.  It broke the rules and immediately released a six minute single. (see below)

Bob Dylan went from being a folk singer to being a rock star.  The rest is, as they say, history.

The six minute single that broke the rules

What you will hear on Wednesday


To say you will experience a metamorphosis is an understatement. As mentioned above, the song starts out as a folk music waltz with a rant of hatred as lyrics.  Through the process of the musicians adlibbing each part and other changes made intentionally, you will hear it transformed to what is arguably the most critically acclaimed songs in music history.  The list below looks like a lot to listen to but it really isn’t. Most takes don’t make it beyond the first chorus and a couple last only 15-20 seconds each.  However, through this you will hear the amazing change.  Here is the list:

June 15, Take #4
June 16, Practice Take
June 16, Takes #1-3
Like a Rolling Stone (Final Release; June 16, Take #4)

Without playing the final version, the remainder of the list only takes about 6 ½ minutes to play.  It really isn’t a lot but I hope you find the changes throughout fascinating.

 June 15 Take #4
This take has Bob playing piano and is done as a waltz.

June 16, Practice Take
While waiting for others to show, some musicians do a practice take. Bob is now on electric guitar along with Mike Bloomfield and Frank Owens is on organ.

June 16, Take #1
Frank Owens is moved to piano and Al Kooper now plays organ.  This is the take where Dylan realizes he has found what was missing.

June 16, Takes  #2 & 3
Both only last 15-20 seconds each.

Like a Rolling Stone
I will play the final release which was produced from that magic Take #4.

Fun Facts


Fun Fact #1: On June 24, 2014, Sotheby’s sold Bob Dylan’s original hand written lyrics for Like a Rolling Stone for a record 2 million dollars.

Fun Fact #2: In the choruses, Dylan makes many rhymes with the word “stone.” Like “complete unknown,” or “direction home.”  At one point he considered lines using “Al Capone.”

Fun Fact #3:  The song originally started out in the key of “A” before changing into the key of “C” in the studio.

Conclusion


This is a song that broke all of the rules and really never should have been.  Despite being too long, it managed to get a lot of airplay and even charted at #2.  It was a song by a folk artist that broke the rules of his genre and went electric.  It defies categorization.  It is undoubtedly a folk tune but no one would deny it is one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded.  In it you can also hear doses of country and the blues.  Top it all off with an organ that gives it a gospel revival touch.  Not only did it save Bob Dylan from quitting music, it changed the course of music history forever.  No longer were artists fettered by an industry demanding conformity.  This song took the British Invasion and tore it up and stuck it back in the faces of the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Join me this Wednesday, June 13, as we watch a plain lump of coal get subjected to such great societal and industrial pressures until all that can emerge is the most beautiful of diamonds.  Join me as we bear witness to greatness being born before our very ears.

How does it feel?”

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Halloween in Spring

Halloween 2011, DJ Sue in skull DJ booth on right, click to enlarge


“I was working in the lab late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight.
For my monster from his slab began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise,
He did the Mash.
He did the Monster Mash.
The Monster Mash,
It was a graveyard smash.”
Bobby “Boris” Pickett, 1962

Spring is here and the last thing on everyone’s mind is Halloween.  That is everyone except me.  Next month I need to begin work on this year’s, “Ninth Annual DJ Sue’s Monster Mashup,” if I’m to be sure to finish it in time.  That’s right; as most of you know, each year I create a two hour long mashup for Halloween.  A “mashup” is where a DJ takes elements from one song, maybe vocals, and combines them with elements from other songs, like music, to make a new song.

The term “Monster Mashup” has double meaning.  The obvious one is its connection with the song quoted at the beginning, the Monster Mash.  In that context it is a dance done by the monsters in that song.  The other meaning is that it is a monster of a mashup.  In other words, this mashup is a beast.  It is a single, two hour mp3.  Maybe that meaning is only obvious to me as I labor for several months putting it together.

So what is it exactly?  It is really a series of mashups mashed together into one big mashup.  Along with the mashups, I mash in additional sound effects, theatrical pieces, song elements and the occasional untouched song.  The fact that it is one big mashup of mashups adds a third level of meaning to the term, “Monster Mashup.”

One thing I’d like to stress is that not all of the mashups I use are mine.   The majority of them are by other DJs but some are my own creations.  The final product is mashed together by me with all of the elements mentioned above.

It’s hard to believe that this will be my ninth this year. The first year I did it, it didn’t look anything like it does today.  In fact, the “mashup” element didn’t really exist.  It was simply called, “DJ Sue’s Monster Mash.”  It was a regular DJ show of Halloween appropriate songs like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London.  I embellished the fades and mixes with some spooky sound effects and stuff.



In 2011, I did my second year and you can see from the poster above, that I had referred to it as a “Monster Mash-up.”  I had intended for the “mashup” part to be a one-time gimmick and go back to calling it the “Monster Mash” the following year.

I had the idea in September and I worked furiously to prepare.  It eventually grew to a long list of mp3’s (music or sound files) and a clipboard full of written instructions that looked something like this:

With 28 seconds left, start Thriller, allow last song to fade.
At 1:28 start thunderstorm #2 on deck #3
Cue C. Daniels on deck #4 to 1:45, play to 1:53, loop 4 measures, beat match and fade in
Cue Ghostbusters on deck #2, change beats per minute to 128
With 28 seconds left, start deck #2, beat match @128, leave decks 3&4

In reality, my shorthand looked more like this for the same steps I just described:

@28 sec Thriller
@1:28 thunder2 deck3
DevilGeorge on 4 to 1:45, @1:53 loop 4 fade
Ghostbusters on 2 to 128 bpm
@28 sec Ghostbusters match leave 3&4

I completed the two hour show and even rehearsed it once.  Those close to me knew what I was doing, including my then SL wife, Autumn Spice. When her friends’ club suddenly needed a DJ for their annual Halloween bash, I was asked if I could do my mashup show twice.  I knew many people would be at both the Friday show (see poster below) and the Monday show (Halloween) so I decided to make up a second one on a second clipboard.  I used about half of the show I already had but I also used stuff I had prepared but didn’t need the first time.  These shows were big hits at both SL’s Metro Club and at a Woman’s Touch.



After the reactions to the two 2011 mashups, I had to do one for 2012.  It was this time out that the final change was made and they took their final form, still used today, and we have Hurricane Sandy to thank for it.  Maybe it’s best that I tell this story as a timeline.  From the poster below, you can see that the Mashup was scheduled for Wednesday, October 31, 2012. I live three miles from the water on the New Jersey Coast.



Friday, October 26: Ordered evacuations began in New Jersey.  I finished preparing the clipboard for the live mashup, still five days away.

Saturday, October 27: I had been watching the Hurricane and its projected path, realizing that it could hit and cause issues with the live Mashup if I were to lose power for a day or so.  I had a great idea.  Since I was planning to rehearse the Mashup on my day off, Saturday, I would flip on the record button and record the rehearsed set. This way, I could give it to Ashra and she could play it on schedule on Halloween if I was unable to log on due to the storm.  My rehearsal was flawless and recorded. The resulting mp3 was 2 hours, 0 minutes and 51 seconds long.

Sunday, October 28: I shared my plan with Ashra and she agreed. We even came up with the idea that I’d make a life-sized cardboard cutout of myself that she could put behind the DJ booth.  Alas, the file was too big to email so it never happened.  Knowing the Hurricane was about 24 hours out and I was not scheduled to do a show on Monday, I logged out of my show Sunday night playing as my last song Riding the Storm Out by REO Speedwagon.  I was still under the impression that I’d make it on Wednesday and be able to do the Mashup live.

Monday, October 29: Sandy made landfall before midnight.  I had already lost power about an hour before.  Through previous hurricanes and what not, I’d rarely lost power and if I did, it was never out for more than a couple of hours. I went to bed confident I’d still make my Monster Mashup just less than two days away.

Tuesday, October 30: The Governor put the estimates to restore power to most people at about a week. For the first time I began to consider, I might not make my Monster Mashup on Halloween.  I counted my blessings.  A couple miles down the road there were homes that were completely destroyed. I emailed people in SL to let them know I was well.

Wednesday, October 31: Still widely regarded today as the “Halloween that never was.”  There was NO trick-or-treating anywhere. I sat at home that night, reading a book by candle light and eating the Snickers bars intended for the trick-or-treaters.  The time for my Monster Mashup came and went and I thought about everyone in SL.

Friday, November 9: After ten days without power, the lights came back on thanks to crews from Ontario, Canada working in my neighborhood.  I was able to log into Second Life and many warm welcomes that evening.  Maya Shadowhawk decided to throw a “Welcome Back Sue” party the following day at her Castle on Park Place.  Everyone knew I had prepared the Monster Mashup and asked if I could play it then.

Saturday, November 10: I had thought the whole time that the Mashup would not be played this year and I would just save it for the following year.  Instead, ten days after Halloween I got to play my Mashup.  It’s a lot of work doing it live and I really wanted to relax and visit with my friends, who were just filled with questions about the storm.  In what I saw as a moment of weakness at the time, I played the prerecorded mp3 instead of doing it live.  As a DJ, I had cued each song and started it at the precise moment I chose.  I shuddered at the thought of a prerecorded DJ show.  Maya and others convinced me that I had put in so much work into it that it was definitely not cheating.

DJ Sue's Welcome Back Party at Castle Shadowhawk

I really enjoyed that party, especially since I didn’t have to work hard during it.  I enjoyed it so much that I have not done a live Monster Mashup since then.  From that one in 2012 onwards, they have all been prerecorded.  The Annual Monster Mashup had achieved its final form.  Below are the posters in order of all the following Monster Mashups, from 2013 through 2017.







This coming Wednesday (June 6)


Here at AWT, we have Christmas in July every year and on July 25th, we decorate and play Christmas music.  So this Wednesday, June 6th, why not have Halloween in the spring?  For my set I will play that two-hour mp3 from 2012 and relive that twisted Halloween one more time, the Halloween Monster Mashup that almost never was.

Each poster above, when you clicked on it in SL, would give you a notecard explaining the event. This usually had a list of the artists mashed together, sometimes other DJs who’s mashes were mashed in and other things.  I will close with the content on that notecard from 2012, the notecard for the show you will hear on Wednesday…

Trick or Treat to the Beat!!!

DJ Sue’s Third Annual Halloween Monster Mashup Party

Wednesday, October 31, at AWT, 2-4 PM SL time

[AWT Landmark]

Yes, it’s scary, very scary.  Sue has taken all your favorite songs and chopped them up.  She has taken them into her laboratory and stitched them all together, bringing them back to life as one big unholy creation.  This year she seemed to delight in taking her chainsaw to Lady Gaga in particular.  You will hear…

666
AC/DC
Alice Cooper
Aqua
The B-52’s
The Bee Gees
The Beasty Boys
Blue Oyster Cult
Book of Love
Britney Spears
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Charlie Daniels
Christina Aguilera
The Doors
Duck Sauce
The Four Seasons
Heart
The Hives
Iron Butterfly
Kiss
Eartha Kitt
Lady Gaga
Led Zeppelin
Maroon5
Nirvana
Obscure
Ram Jam
Ray Parker Jr.
Rush
Bobby “Boris” Pickett
Redbone
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Rolling Stones
Fred Schneider
The Screaming Lord Sutch
The Sex Pistols
Soulsearcher
The Who

…and Many… MANY… MORE!!!!!!!

Are you brave enough to dare and groove to the tunes?  Hope to see you there!

Remember, if you find yourself panicked and in trouble, just close your eyes and keep repeating to yourself… “It is only a mashup…  It is only a mashup.”

DJ Sue makes her entrance, Halloween 2013

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The MC5




I can’t begin to tell the story of the MC5 unless I first talk about the 60’s in general as they can only be understood in the context of the history of that era.  I know, I have spent a lot of time in this blog describing the 60’s and correcting misconceptions but this time I’m not going to be describing hippies, free love or flower children.  There will be no British Invasion or communes.  I’m going to take you on a tour through the seedier side of the 60’s and into the face of rebellion.  The MC5 are deeply connected with things like Abbie Hoffman, the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Chicago, the White Panther Movement, the Chicago Seven and violence on stage at Woodstock.  You see, the MC5 was the most far left and militant band, bordering on anarchy, to come out of the 1960’s.

…And they made some of the most dynamic and amazing music of the era.

They were founded in 1964 in Detroit, Michigan, by Rob Tyner (vocals), Fred Smith (guitar), Wayne Kramer (guitar and shown in the foreground of the above picture), Michael Davis (bass) and Dennis Thompson (drums).  By 1965, they were playing regular gigs in Detroit and entered the studio to record their first single, I Can Only Give You Everything (1966).  (I will play this single on Wednesday.)  The name, “MC5” was shorthand for “Motor City 5,” which they were never really called.

The Black Panther Party


I must now turn attention to our first 60’s history lesson and cover a topic seldom discussed today. Most people have heard of the Black Panthers and with all of the shootouts and violence, their opinions are probably not very high about this group.  To a large degree, this may be deserved but most people forget about the spirit in which they were founded.  The early 60’s saw a lot of police brutality and violence aimed at black people and many saw this problem needing to be addressed.  Originally, the Black Panthers were set up to be more of a neighborhood watch or patrol but instead of looking for crime, they would step in and act as witnesses to racially oriented police brutality and possibly stepping in to defend the victim.  Along with this “neighborhood watch” function there were health clinics, free breakfast for children programs and other community projects.

The police, understandably, saw the Panthers as a threat and confrontation between the two factions became inevitable. FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, referred to them as, "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."  But things started out innocent enough and it was in those early days that the Panthers recruited a white man, John Sinclair, to take action on their behalf.

In 1966 John Sinclair, a Michigan resident, actually approached them and asked what he could do to help their cause.  The result was that Sinclair founded a sister organization called the “White Panthers.”  This group would consist of white people helping their black brothers and sisters in ending police brutality and bringing awareness of the injustices suffered by black people in this country.

The Black Panthers logo on the left and the White Panthers on the right, note that one is the reverse of the other.

Now that Sinclair had the organization, he needed people to fill its ranks.  He needed to make white people not only aware of the plight of their black brethren, but of the movement they could join to fight for racial equality.  In order to get the word out, he started a new enterprise called “Trans-Love Energies.”  This organization could be used to address the social needs of the time in a broader sense, like ending the war in Vietnam, saving the Earth, living as brothers and sisters and of course, ending racial inequities.  The counter culture was heavily centered on music and John Sinclair knew that he would need to utilize music to get his message to young people everywhere.  Since he already had a magazine, the Fifth Estate, to use the printed word, he needed to have his own rock band to help tailor this message through music.

At this time, the MC5 were looking for a new manager. They had already released their first single when they came across Sinclair.  The MC5 now had a manager and Sinclair now had a rock band with which he could influence the youth.  In 1968, they released their second single, Borderline b/w Looking at You, through Trans-Love Energies.  That summer, they went on tour, opening for bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin) and Cream (Eric Clapton).  There was just one problem; instead of warming up the crowd for the headliners, the Five were upstaging them.  The crowds often demanded multiple encores, cutting into the main acts time on stage.

At one particular concert, where they opened for Cream, they burned an American flag on stage and then put up their own pot leaf flag that had the word “KREEP” emblazoned in red letters across it.  The crowd was whipped up into a fervor, one that Clapton and Cream could not overcome.  Eric Clapton was not happy.  Despite only two locally distributed singles, these performances earned them the cover of a January 1969 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine.  (See below.)  John Sinclair had his voice to reach the youth of America.

Click to enlarge

It was on tour in 1968 that they met a group in New York City that called themselves, “Up Against the Wall Motherfucker,” or just the “Motherfuckers” for short.  This group grew out of anti-Vietnam groups in the area.  They embraced much of the counterculture but in an extremely militant fashion.  Abbie Hoffman said they were “the middle-class nightmare... an anti-media media phenomenon simply because their name could not be printed.”  Their name was taken from a poem, Black People, by Amiri Baraka, from the line, “The magic words are: Up against the wall, mother fucker, this is a stick up!” They were associated with many anarchistic activities of the time, including bringing the fences down at Woodstock, making it a free concert.  The MC5 were now involved with the Motherfuckers, along with the White Panthers.

The Democratic National Convention


Up to this point, I brought you to the first week of January 1969.  I need to back up the clock a bit to continue the story and go back to the summer of 1968, before they had become famous.

1968 was a Presidential Election year and the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago.  Soon after the location was announced, various counterculture and radical groups began making plans to stage protests.  It was a ripe target because democratic President, Lyndon Johnson had escalated the war in Vietnam from 23,000 troops when he took office to over 500,000 by the time the convention would take place in August.  Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and the Women Strike for Peace movement were but a few of the groups planning protests at the convention. There was a music festival scheduled in Lincoln Park to protest the war and John Sinclair knew where he needed to take his new-found band, the MC5, to perform.

The city was not blind to the fact that radical groups planned protests in their city during the convention.  Many cities had already broken out in riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. the previous April and tensions only grew after the assassination of Democratic Presidential Candidate, Robert Kennedy weeks earlier.  In the weeks leading up to the convention, Mayor Richard Daley had been publicly declaring over and over again that he would maintain law and order in the City of Chicago during the event.  The Police Department went on overtime shifts and the Illinois National Guard was called out to assure order was maintained.  Finally, while the city could not deny permits for peaceful protests outright, it did drag its feet and created obstacles so that most permits were not processed before the event, making most protests in the city that week, illegal.

The unrest had already begun by Friday, August 23rd, when a number of protesters were arrested.  It continued on Saturday with more arrests and the violence began.  The police would physically clear protesters from areas and protesters began throwing stones at police while chanting “Hey, Hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”  The “Festival of Life” music festival was scheduled to start at 4:00 PM on Sunday.  When the time arrived, the only band to have made it to the Park was the MC5 and they took to the stage.  There have been reports that have the MC5 were on stage for up to ten hours or more.  They simply are not true.  The Five played for less than an hour.

The plan was to have many bands play for a crowd of about 100,000 youth but they didn’t have the permits.  Therefore, there were no porta-potties and the concession stand was operating at full capacity feeding the 3000 that actually showed up.  Furthermore, there was nothing set up in the way of electrical service and all of the equipment was powered by an extension cord that was ran from that concession stand.  After less than an hour, the concession stand was no longer willing to supply the power and unplugged the cord.  It was Abbie Hoffman who started the false rumor that the city and/or police had shut down the festival.  The rioting broke out in earnest this time and the police again began clubbing and arresting protesters until the park was cleared.

Only two other musicians are known to have made the trip to Chicago. Country Joe McDonald was present at the festival but did not perform and Phil Ochs was among those arrested and jailed the day before.  The MC5 was the only band to play the protest at the Democratic National Convention in 1968.  John Sinclair and the MC5 managed to avoid being arrested but many did not, including what has become a famous group, the Chicago Seven.

This group was put on trial to make an example and hopefully show the youth of America what happens when you protest.  They actually started out as the Chicago Eight but Black Panther leader, Bobby Seale, quickly had his charges separated from the rest.  The remaining seven, including Abbie Hoffman, would stand trial in late 1969 on federal charges of conspiracy and inciting a riot.  The country watched on and soon there was a national movement and protesters everywhere carried signs and wore tee shirts that said “free the Chicago Seven.”  Four of the Seven were found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison in 1970.  Those verdicts were overturned on appeal in 1972.

A Farside cartoon inspired by the Chicago 7, click to enlarge

Kick Out the Jams Motherfuckers… er… um… Brothers and Sisters


The Five had released a couple of singles with small record companies but they soon had a contract with one of the big boys, Elektra Records.  The executives at Elektra had heard their singles, recorded in a studio, along with having heard them live.  They made a bold decision to do the unheard of.  The debut album by the MC5, Kick Out the Jams, would be a live album!  They conveyed such energy when they were in front of an audience and they would feed off of it.  It was that energy that had them upstaging the likes of Eric Clapton and Janis Joplin.  The album was a huge success, climbing to #30 on the Billboard Top 200 in the spring of 1969 and is currently ranked #294 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Kick Out the Jams, 1969

Like anything else with the MC5, this album was controversial.

The title track, Kick Out the Jams, opened with the following words: “And right now... right now... right now it's time to... kick out the jams, motherfuckers!”  The song would then start up.  Back in the 1960’s this was not acceptable.  Two years earlier, Elektra had edited the word “higher” out of a Doors’ song, Break on Through, because it could be construed as a drug reference. Elektra wanted it out but the band and Sinclair stuck to their guns and the recording was released as is.

Without the bands knowledge, Elektra did edit out the offending words for the release of a single that they hoped would get airplay and help support the full album. They had doctored it with a recording of Tyner saying, “Kick out the jams brothers and sisters,” instead. The Five were not pleased with this.

(I’ll play both versions on Wednesday. I’ll open with the doctored, clean version and close with the original, uncensored version.)

After the album’s release, it quickly became something of a hot potato.  Stores began to refuse to carry it because of both the vulgar and reactionary content.  Elektra Records, again without the bands permission, removed John Sinclair’s extensive liner notes that were extremely militant and anarchistic.  It then created two forms of the album; one with the doctored, clean version of Kick Out the Jams, described above, and another with the original, uncensored verbiage. Once again, the Five weren’t happy.

This didn’t end the controversy. The “explicit version” would often be confined to remaining behind the counter and only sold to adults. If you found the album in the regular bins, it was probably the clean version. Furthermore, a large department store chain in Michigan, Hudson’s, refused to carry the album all together.  The band responded by taking out a full page ad in the Fifth Estate Magazine that had the MC5 name at the top and showed pictures of the band. Below the picture, in large letters, it said, “FUCK HUDSON’S!” The band, without asking Elektra first, turned the table and put a large Elektra Records logo next to the offending words. Hudson’s countered by refusing to carry any records on the Elektra label, including those by Tom Paxton, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Phil Ochs and the Doors, just to name a few.  It was now Elektra’s turn to not be pleased. (See the ad below.)

The "Fuck Hudson's ad, click to enlarge

Busted!


This whole time that John Sinclair was managing the MC5, he was out on bail and awaiting trial on drug charges in Michigan.  He had been arrested in 1967 for having just two joints (marijuana cigarettes). In July, 1969, he went to trial and was found guilty of these charges.  That same month, the judge sentence him to ten years in prison for just possessing the two joints.  Sinclair had been out on bail for over two years and it was customary to allow the convicted to remain out on bail pending his appeal. The judge denied bail pending appeal and John Sinclair was taken straight into prison to serve his ten years.  It became obvious that the whole thing was twisted to silence Sinclair.

After the Hudson’s incident, Elektra Records dropped the Five both as punishment for what they had done and to hopefully regain the potentially lost sales they were facing. This was immediately followed by John Sinclair being locked in prison for ten years. The MC5 was dealt a devastating one-two punch and lost both their manager and their record contract at the same time, as they were charting on Billboard.

The following month was the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival.  The event needs no introduction from me and John Sinclair, despite sitting in prison in Michigan, managed to have his presence felt.  Abbie Hoffman was present at Woodstock and between sets, took to a microphone on stage and began a diatribe on the plight of John Sinclair.  Later that evening, while the Who were performing, Hoffman came onstage and snatched the microphone away from a shocked Roger Daltry. He continued his rant by saying, “I think this is a pile of shit while John Sinclair rots in prison…” He was interrupted by Pete Townsend who yelled, “Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!” Townsend then charged Hoffman, hitting him with his guitar over the head as Hoffman fell into the pit in front of the stage.  A few weeks after the incident, Hoffman would begin his own trial as one of the Chicago Seven.  You will hear both incidents this August when we recreate Woodstock at AWT.  (I’ll play the longer first diatribe on Wednesday too.)

Epilogue


The MC5 soon signed on with Atlantic Records, which had just been breaking into the Rock music scene with band like Led Zeppelin.  The Five would release only two more albums, Back in the USA in 1970 and High Time in 1971.  Their producer at Atlantic, Jon Landau, tried to restrain them and mold them into something they weren’t and who could blame him considering their recent history?  Also, they were now in the studio to make their next record and not in front of an audience.  The magic was gone and sales were miserable.

The band fell apart but did manage to get together for their Farewell Concert at the same venue where Kick Out the James was recorded. That concert took place on New Year’s Eve, 1972.

 John Sinclair’s plight attracted a lot of attention.  In December 1971, the “John Sinclair Freedom Rally” took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Many musical acts came to perform including Bob Seger, Stevie Wonder and Phil Ochs. The event was headlined by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. John had just written a song called “John Sinclair,” and one of its lyrics, “They gave him ten for two; what else can the bastards do,” became a rallying cry.  A few days after the rally, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered Sinclair’s immediate release after having served well over two years in prison.  They had found a number of improprieties in his trial.  John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band would record John Sinclair and release it on their 1972 album, Some Time in New York City.   (I’ll play this John Lennon song on Wednesday.)

The Black Panthers rapidly declined through the 1970’s amid violence, infighting and controversy.  The White Panthers did not fare much better and by the mid 1970’s they were no longer an entity.  The White Panther logo (shown up above) had been incorporated into the MC5 logo and found its way onto tee shirts, posters and other items.  It has become the last bastion of remembrance of the White Panthers. The Five’s logo, shown at the bottom of the page, incorporated much of what made up their controversial existence. There was a pot leaf in the middle, so reminiscent of John Sinclair’s situation. Written across the bottom is “Motherfuckers,” which is both a tribute to the organization in New York and to their rallying cry on Kick out the Jams. Finally, there is prominently displayed, the White Panther.

As we entered the 21st century, nostalgia for the past dictated a few cleaned up versions of the shirt be produced for sale. One of these appeared on Jennifer Aniston on a 2003 episode of Friends. (See picture below.) One has to wonder how many people realized the significance of the white panther that remained on the logo displayed on Aniston’s chest. (The pot leaf and “motherfuckers” were removed.)

Jen Aniston wears an MC5 shirt on Friends

The MC5 was like a skyrocket. They went up and bursted to our collective “oo’s” and “ah’s” and quickly burned out, leaving with us nothing more than a memory we enjoy recalling.  That fleeting moment forever changed Rock & Roll.  Punk Rock would come into being and become a force to be reckoned with by the middle to late 70’s. Many of those acts would point back to the MC5 as one of their major influences.  If I was asked to describe the Five in one word, it would be “meteoric.”

Fun Facts…


Fun Fact #1: The organization founded by Sinclair, Trans-Love Energies, still exists today though it has a different role. It is now a medical marijuana compassion center in Detroit. It helps patients who need marijuana for medical purposes in Michigan, where it is still illegal.

Fun Fact #2: Jefferson Airplane took the lyrics to their song, We Can Be Together, from a leaflet put out by Up Against the Wall Motherfucker and published under the title, the Outlaw Page.

Fun Fact #3: My favorite MC5 song is off of their failed second album, Back in the USA. It is Shakin’ Street.  The version I will play is not the final released version but a longer version.  The first 12 seconds were cut in the final mix.

Fun Fact #4: Blue Oyster Cult would sometimes open their concerts with a version of Kick Out the Jams, using the "Brothers and Sisters" opening.

Conclusion


If you frequent AWT, you have probably seen the picture at the top of the page here at the club. I used it when I made the landmark giver for the concert platform. Why did I use that picture?  It is one of my favorite musical images from the 60’s.  Though it is a still photograph, it conveys an energy and intensity that just can’t be put into words.  It is a good image to draw someone to a concert.  That energy and intensity captured there is what made the MC5 so special and it only came out when they performed live.  There was just so much of it that even pictures and their debut live album were able to capture it.  That picture is also a poster on the wall of my beach house on Park Place.

In 1969, much of what I have written here could not be published because of the language I have used. I have pulled no punches and described the Five using language they would have used to describe themselves.  I felt anything less would lessen your experience of the Five.  Anyway, we now live in a world where you can use “motherfucker” on a song recording or even on this blog.  Maybe we have the MC5 partially to thank for that.

So, I want all you motherfuckers out there to join me this coming Wednesday, May 30, from 7-9 PM as we kick out the jams at a Woman’s Touch.  If you do, I can promise you one thing… You will never be the same again.

Programing Note: My show is from 7-9 PM SL time but I’m only going to play about one hour and fifteen minutes of MC5 and related stuff like the Abbie Hoffman rant and the John Lennon Song.

The MC5 logo