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MC5: Star Ship (Sturgis Armory, 1968)  E-mail
Monday, 16 January 2006 09:10
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Star Ship
MC-5 'Live' at the Sturgis Armory 1968

By John Sinclair

These recordings were made in the summer of 1968 by some teen-aged engineer with a reel-to-reel tape deck plugged into the MC-5's primitive soundboard at a place in western Michigan called the Sturgis Armory, a military installation sometimes rented out to private citizens for use as a dance hall.

The details of this particular MC-5 gig have escaped me over time, but I was working as the band's personal manager during the period 1967-69 and kept their schedule full with engagements of this sort, for which the band would realize the tidy sum of $125 or $135 for an evening's work after driving across the state from our base in Ann Arbor, where we'd retreated in May of 1968 from the unfriendly confines of Detroit.

Often there would be trouble with the police at such gigs, although I don't remember anything of that sort in connection with the Sturgis Armory. We'd be extra careful in a place like that, knowing it was the house of the unholy military and taking most of our pleasure from being allowed to mount their stage and complete our performance without being forcibly detained or cheated out of our pitiful fee.

Offense would typically be taken by the authorities with the band's unbearably loud attack and boisterously irreverent comportment on stage. The more the crowds loved the band, the more the cops hated us. They hated the music, the noise, the fumes of sweat and illicit sex, they hated our long hair and bright clothes and guitars and amplifiers and joints and teenage girls without brassieres or drawers underneath their flowing garments, tight jeans or miniskirts.

They hated the whole thing we were, which was not so unreasonable because we hated them and every motherfucking thing they stood for. We hated it so bad we were happy to see America start burning down all around us. We hated wars and repression and racism and squares being so up tight about everything and sending their police out to fuck with us without restraint. We couldn't stand their fear of getting high and letting go in order to get on up to the next stage of human evolution, wherever it might take us.

Let me put it as simply as possible: We were incredibly open to the possibility of change. We saw change as a positive thing psychic change, cultural change, a change in the music, a change in the way people regarded one another as potential brothers and sisters on the planet Earth and throughout the universe. We wanted the shit to change so bad that we would do anything we could think of to make it happen NOW, and fuck the police if it came to that. We wanted the shit to change, and later for the rest.

That's where the MC-5 was coming from in the summer of 1968, and you can hear it in the music just as plain as day. When the music on this disk was recorded, on the 27th of June, big change was right around the corner, and the 5 was coming into its own in a big way.

Within the next three months the band would build its audience in Detroit and Ann Arbor and throughout Michigan until each show became legendary for the energy transmitted and the thwarted attempts of the police and authorities to shut the whole thing down.

We would travel to Chicago to play the ill-fated Festival of Life at the Democratic National Convention and flee the encroaching hordes of club-wielding police with our heads and equipment intact. And we would land a recording contract with Elektra Records and begin preparing to record our first album "live" at Detroit's Grande Ballroom on October 30-31.

This Sturgis Armory program is noteworthy for the material included in the show. The opening segment, heard to somewhat better advantage on the MC-5's first album for Elektra, had just jelled into place, and other original tunes like "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa" were still coming into focus.

Two major collaborative works, the Troggs' "I Want You" with the Motor City power treatment, and the 5's "Starship" with a Sun Ra poem inserted, were still in development, and a third, "Upper Egypt", with music taken from avant-garde jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders and lyrics composed by this writer, would remain in its experimental stage and never go much further.

But there are still remnants here of the band's apprenticeship days, when what was required were three 45-minute sets of material that would keep the teens dancing and the teen-club operators happy enough to pay up at the end of the night.

Cover tunes like Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," which would show up on the 5's second LP, and the James Brown medley, and the Albert King blues, "Born Under A Bad Sign," combined with other stuff like "Shakin' All Over" and some Chuck Berry tunes and Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" and the latest concoctions by Jimi Hendrix like "Fire" and "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze" and "Manic Depression" to fill in the spaces between MC-5 originals and make up enough sets to get through the evening.

Then there were on-the-spot improvisations like "Revolutionary Blues," once an integral part of the MC-5 experience, where the band would hit a groove and Rob Tyner would make up lyrics as he went along just to see what would happen, and sometimes these would turn into staples of the repertoire once they were fleshed out in the practice room. "Come Together" started like that, and "Starship," and the band's ultimate expression, the night-closing, mind-bending number called "Black To Comm."

"Black To Comm" is one of the things that set the 5 apart from everyone else. An outgrowth of the band's big treatment of Ray Charles' "I Believe to My Soul," "Black To Comm" combined the roughest of riffs, the loudest of power chords, the most spontaneous of improvised lyrics and a plethora of barely-controlled feedback to make a registration of the band's deepest inchoate feelings of rage and rebellion, love and regeneration that would lift their audiences to new heights of participatory madness sort of a musical paradigm of the most intense of acid trips, soaring and crashing in undulating, unremitting waves of passionate sound and fury.

For the members of the band and for their staunchest followers around Detroit and Michigan, "Black To Comm" was the sine qua non of an MC-5 performance. It was what everything built up to all night, and in many ways it was exactly what the MC-5 was all about stretching the music, and everything else in life, as far out as it would go, and taking it from there. More than a musical performance, "Black To Comm" was an experience unto itself, an ever-changing experiment into the possibilities of electronic improvisation which was different every time the MC-5 played it.

It's all here in this evening of music recorded "live" at the Sturgis Armory in June of 1968, and it's a happy occasion to see its release these 30 long years after the fact. Further, affiant sayeth not.

New Orleans
February 28, 1994/
July 9, 1998

The producer would like to offer his thanks to Wayne Kramer, Keith Keller, Mick Webster, Patrick Boissel, and Penny Sinclair, with special thanks to Jerry Brock & Barry Smith at the Louisiana Music Factory, 210 Decatur, New Orleans, LA for their extraordinary assistance and support during the course of this project (C) 1998, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.

Star Ship
MC-5 'Live' at the Sturgis Armory 1968

[1] "Ramblin' Rose" (3:00) (Wilkin/Burch, Cedarwood Publishing, BMI)
[2] "Kick Out The Jams" (3:36) (MC-5, Paradox Music, BMI)
[3] "Come Together" (6:34) (MC-5, Paradox Music, BMI)
[4] "Revolutionary Blues" (6:05) (MC-5, Hill Street Music, BMI)
[5] "I'm The Man For You (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)" (7:00) ((MC-5, Paradox Music, BMI as "Rocket Reducer No. 62")
[6] James Brown Medley (8:03): "Cold Sweat" (James Brown-Alfred Ellis, Dynatone, BMI) > "I Can't Stand Myself" (James Brown, Dynatone,BMI) > "There Was A Time" (James Brown-Bud Hobgood, Golo, BMI) with Rob Tyner / Wayne Kramer intro
[7] "Upper Egypt" (5:51)(Pharaoh Sanders, Duchess Music Corp, BMI/John Sinclair, Big Chief Productions, ASCAP) with intro
[8] "Tutti Frutti" (1:46) (Penniman-Blackwell-LaBostrie, ATV Music, BMI)
[9] "Borderline" (2:54) (MC-5, Total Energy/Paradox Music, BMI)
[10] "Born Under A Bad Sign" (5:15) (Booker T. Jones/William Bell, East/Memphis Music, BMI)
[11] "I Want You" (6:00) (C. Frechter/L. Page, Songs of Polygram International, Inc., BMI)
[12] "Starship" (7:25) (Sun Ra/MC-5, Enterplanetary Music, BMI)
[13] "I Believe to My Soul" (Ray Charles, Unichappell Music, BMI) > "Black To Comm" (MC-5) (15:10)

Produced by John Sinclair for Big Chief Productions

MC-5: Roy Tyner, lead vocals, flute; Wayne Kramer, lead guitar; Fred Smith, lead guitar; Michael Davis, bass; Dennis Thompson, drums.

Recorded 'Live' at the Sturgis Armory, Sturgis, Michigan, June 27, 1968. Digitally transferred from original 7" master tapes by Keith Keller at Chez Flames Recording, New Orleans, September 29, 1993. Edited & assembled by John Sinclair with Keith Keller at Chez Flames Recording, September 30, 1993, and by John Sinclair at WWOZ Radio, New Orleans, October 21, 1993.

(c)(p) 1994, 1998, 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.