First published November 2007
“City City City City City City City City…City Slang!” – the last great record to come out of the whole MC5/Stooges Detroit scene, and the only studio recording ever released by Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. The SRB were formed by ex-MC5 guitarist extraordinaire Fred ”Sonic” Smith with Scott Morgan (vocals and guitar, ex-Rationals), ably backed by Gary Rasmussen (bass, ex-Up) and Scott Asheton (drums, ex-Stooges). So a Detroit ‘supergroup’ who played live extensively from 1975 through to 1981, a killer single in ‘City Slang’ and …nothing. Whilst Detroit label Mack Aborn Rythmic Arts posthumously put out the ‘Sweet Nothing” and “City Slang’ mostly-live CDs no-one has tried to tell the full SRB story until now. The launch of a new eponymous SRB six CD box-set from Easy Action (EARS009) makes it an opportune time to reappraise one of Detroits most underappreciated bands.
The box-set is a real Easy Action labour of love, similar to recent sets from the Stooges and MC5. Each CD comes in a different picture sleeve whilst the accompanying booklet contains some great photographs from Bob Matheu plus extensive sleeve notes from MC5’s Michael Davis and band historian Ken Shimamoto. Only a handful of the 66 tracks are studio recordings, so the bulk are from the bands extensive live repertoire. Inevitably this means a variation in sound quality but most tracks are reasonable and some are good. No Stooges or MC5 material – this was a new band devoted to new material and determined not to live on past glories. The connection to the past comes through covers such as the Stones Heart Of Stone and Flight 505, Dylans Like A Rolling Stones and first generation rockers Promised Land and Sweet Little Sixteen (Chuck Berry), I Believe To My Soul (Ray Charles) and Let The Kids Dance (Bo Diddley).
Sadly Fred died in 1994, so it was down to Scott Morgan to fill in the gaps around the SRB. Why would a London label issue 6CDs by a band who never made it out of the Mid-West ? “ Bob Matheu (ex-Creem Magazine and photographer to the stars) had done some liaison work with Carlton Sandercock at Easy Action on the MC5 box, and he also received the coveted Slap On the Head / Thump On The Chest / Poke In the Eye award for the Stooges ‘Heavy Liquid’ set. When Carlton approached us about doing an SRB box-set my friends the Hurley Brothers had some tapes and there were plenty of boots floating about to chose from. Bob had also made some recordings in the 1970’s.”
Very few studio tracks were ever recorded by the SRB. “The version of Sweet Nothin’ on the final CD was recorded at Artie Fields studio down in Detroit, where we also cut the single version of City Slang and (the projected B-side) Electrophonic Tonic . Succeed, Highjackin’ Love, Mystically Yours, Take A Look and Electrophonic Tonic on CD5 were recorded in my parents basement by a friend of my brother Johnny called Dave Klinger. Dave strung microphone cables down the laundry chute from the top floor of our house and mixed us on a small reel-to reel recorder..”
City Slang came out on Orchide Records in 1978. “We never had a record label other than Orchide Records, which was basically us. We had one or two offers that we declined for one reason or another. We had the material, just not the record distributor. I believe there will be a reissue next year of the 7” single City Slang, backed with the originally-intended B-side Electrophonic Tonic. The first 1000 copies of City Slang were numbered, there were one or two reprintings after that but anything released after 1980 is a bootleg.”
So why didn’t the SRB make it ? Scott again: “We weren’t cut out for multi-platinum, arena-rockin’, fashion-platin’, publicity-hound success. Fred was Sonic Smith by night but he was mild-mannered Fred by day. I was not a shining star when it came to the music biz. And we came along at an awkward transitional period in the music business – we weren’t corporate material.” Just before the release of City Slang the entire SRB (minus Scott) were recruited by Iggy Pop as his backing band to tour Europe, but Scott claims that this was not a problem. “Fred wasn’t sure about going to Europe with Iggy. I kind of encouraged him . It may have been a mistake but I don’t think that’s what changed things for us. When they came back we put out City Slang and everything was back on track.”
Looking back on the SRB today Scott is philosophical. “In the end Fred started it and Fred ended it. I guess he decided he’d had enough for a while and would like to get out of the rat race. He got married (to Patti Smith) and had family and lived happily ever after or something like that. As you can hear from the box we could rock with the best. To us that was the point. None of the other stuff seemed to matter – except maybe the aftershow party!”
If you would like to know more about the SRB www.i94bar.com is highly recommended on all matters Detroit, and here you can read an expanded version of Robert Matheu’s sleeve notes, whilst www.sonicsrendezvous.com gives you an alternative view.