MC5 - A True Testimonial

Written by Alan McGee
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The forthcoming release of MC5: A True Testimonial (whose release has been held up after many, many legal problems) will seal the legacy of Fred "Sonic" Smith, the genius guitarist with the MC5. If you've ever found yourself saying "MC5, what a band!", A True Testimonial will leave you reeling for days with the power of MC5: not just with the music, but with the philosophy of the band.

Far from myth, it's scary exactly how close the MC5 came to their penned John Sinclair manifesto of "dope, guns and fucking in the streets". Their contribution to America's counterculture was heavier than heavy, soundtracking the riots, the despair, the upheaval of late 60s Detroit. MC5 were not about good vibes but revolution.

Fred "Sonic" Smith was the archetypical quiet one of the group, yet he was the main architect of their sound, entirely taking over the direction of the MC5's radical final album High Time. The drugged-out fallout and depressing aftermath makes for uneasy viewing. The documentary ends with the MC5 returning to Le Grande Ballroom for a final gig as the MC3, stoned out of their minds and reduced to an MC2 when Wayne Kramer absconds midway through a song.

After the heartbreaking debacle Smith found himself falling back into regular guy mode and hooking up with Scott Morgan of the Rationals, Gary Rasmussen of the Up and finally Rock Action of the Stooges to making some of the heaviest guitar music ever know to man know as Sonic's Rendezvous Band. It's interesting to note that after MC5 broke up Smith never lived in the past or traded on his past credentials (which in the early 70s were barely worth anything in any case). When the other bandmates took out various reconstituted versions of the MC5 out on the road, Smith focused on writing new original material and playing live so hard that his fingers would be a bloodied mess by the end of the show. Detroit was his muse, and Smith focused all his energies within the city in order to create "high energy music", an all-encompassing term that he believed could be either John Coltrane or Patti Smith. Live shows, meanwhile, were characterised as "high energy expressive". Smith enjoyed people who exploded on stage - and what little documentation of Sonic's Rendezvous Band remains proves that they did exactly that.

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They released exactly one single, Fred "Sonic" Smith's statement of intent. Sonic's Rendezvous Band's City Slang still remains one of the most intense electrifying rock records recorded in 1977, easily ranking alongside the MC5 catalogue if not the entire punk rock canon of that landmark year. In 2001 I bought a reissued copy and took it over to Detroit where I was DJing with BP Fallon. The room was full of every Detroit garage band who went on to make their impact the following year. I played City Slang, a song which defines what living in Detroit was about, and Fred "Sonic" Smith's manager came up and handed me the original single (number 003 out of a pressing of 1000).

I can't underestimate how incredible I find this song. After hundred of plays, I still can't get enough. Fred "Sonic" Smith managed to do what many have not: create a rock'n'roll legacy of pure excitement with a single 7inch. This is not a veneration of the dead: City Slang remains one of the most alive records I've ever heard. What happened next is very typical of Smith, according to what I've heard about him. He quit the band, he left the music scene behind, married Patti Smith and they both concerned themselves with raising a family.

Smith's next recorded work was on Patti Smith's People Have the Power in 1988. He unexpectedly passed away in '91. At the time the only people who praised City Slang publicly in the press were Courtney Love and Bobby Gillespie. I found a few years ago that Courtney Love had ordered 20 copies of City Slang and sent them out to Bono and others. If only she had sent a copy to Sting; it would have shamed him from reuniting the Police and possibly recording again. Now that would have been something

© Words – Alan McGee (Original article appeared in The Guardian – Used by Kind permission)
Read 4981 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 15:36
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Alan McGee

Alan McGee

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ZANI was conceived in late 2008 and the fan base gradually grew by word of mouth. Key contributors came from those of the music, film and fashion industry and the voice of ZANI grew louder. So, when in 2013 investor, contributor and fan of ZANI Alan McGee* offered his support to help restyle and relaunch the site it was inevitable that traffic would increase dramatically and continues to grow. *Alan McGee co-founder of Creation Records and new label 359 Music..


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