Photo: Jo Ann Ulheszki
More famous in death then when they were alive, Sonic's Rendezvous Band has attained legendary status in the pantheon of Michigan rock.
They existed from 1975-80 and during that time issued just one 45, the monumental City Slang, original copies of which now change hands for hundreds of dollars. They barely played outside their home state, yet their impact is still felt today, in bands from Stockholm to Seattle to Sydney, and all points inbetween.
Sonic's Rendezvous Band arose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of four of the Motor City's finest proponents of high-energy rock - the MC5, the Stooges, the Rationals, and the Up. The members steadfastly refused to bank on their illustrious pasts. They insisted on a more original kind of expression - hardly a guarantee of steady employment for a local band in the mid-to-late '70s.
Scott Morgan was the instigator of the first version of the band. He and Fred "Sonic" Smith called it the Orchids, for one low-key show on a blizzard-swept Detroit night. Several line-ups later and the pair settled on a backline of Scott "Rock Action" Ashetion (ex-Stooges) on drums and Gary Rasmussen (The Up) on bass.
Bloodied but unbowed by the implosion of his former band, the rabble-rousing MC5,
"Sonic" was fast evolving past his roots in Berry/Stones drive into a guitarist/songwriter/singer of unmatched emotional directness and power. Morgan was the former Rationals' blue-eyed soul-brother supreme Morgan, arguably the finest American rock singer and no slouch as a songwriter and guitarist.
Sonic's Rendezvous Band was more than just a quartet that rocked hard, although they did THAT with a vengeance. The confluence of Fred's spirituality and Scott's soulfulness made them much, much more.
Recent releases of studio and live material - the Sweet Nothing and City Slang albums on Mack Aborn - make it easy to hear what the band could deliver in performance. But Gary Rasmussen has indicated that in rehearsals, the band would warm up with jams a lot more free-form than anything they ever played publicly (although audience recordings of "American Boy" provide a tantalizing taste of what those jams MIGHT have sounded like).
In more ways than one, this band was THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY. It seems criminal that they never found a wider audience in their day _ and begs the question, Why?
Part of it has to do with the fact that they weren't charismatic performers in the way the Five or Stooges were. Scott Morgan freely admits today that "we just stood there looking at our shoes."
Another factor was the depressed state of the local music scene generally and both a lack of major label interest and a reluctance to tour generally, as Sonic Smith moved more into domestic life with wife-to-be Patti Smith.
Then there was the creative tension between Fred Smith and Scott Morgan, itself a positive creative force and a limiting factor at various stages of the band's life. Sonic's Rendezvous Band was arguably the right band in the wrong time. - KEN SHIMAMOTO*
In 1999, the surviving members of Sonic's Rendezvous Band reformed as The Rendezvous Band, co-opting Radio Birdman's Deniz Tek on guitar and playing a one-off show at the Magic Stick in Detroit. The show was captured on an out-of-print album "Getting There is Half the Fun" on Philadelphia's Real O Mind label.
Scott Morgan has continued performing and recording for the past 20 years, sometimes in bands that included Gary Rasmussen and Scott Asheton. His albums "Rock Action," "Scots Pirates," and "Revolutionary Means" are worth seeking out. More recently, he's found a new audience (mainly in Europe) through his recordings and appearances with the Hellacopters, the Hydromatics, and Deniz Tek. He continues to perform with his own Ann Arbor-based band, Scott Morgan's Powertrane, and the European-based Hydromatics. The Hydromatics have recorded many Sonic's Rendezvous Band staples, finally giving them the studio treatment they deserve, on their two albums. Some of those songs remain in Powertrane's set today.
Fred "Sonic" Smith died on Friday, November 4, 1994, at St. John's Hospital in Detroit, several days after collapsing at the home he shared with Patti in St. Clair Shores. He was 45. After his death, Patti relocated to New York City with their son, Jackson, and daughter, Jesse. Jackson HAS inherited his father's ability as a guitarist, as well as his looks.
Gary Rasmussen is a respected elder statesman of the Detroit music scene, playing over 250 gigs a year as a sessionman, with his own band, GRR, and more recently, the rootsy and rustic High Flying Bird.
Scott Asheton divides his time between Florida and Michigan. He plays infrequently, but has toured Europe and recorded with New York punk rocker Sonny Vincent. Most recently, he and brother Ron joined Iggy Pop and new recruit Mike Watt in the reformed Stooges for selected live dates.
(*A full version of this article appears at The I-94 Bar)
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