photo by Leni Sinclair
A Tribute, Part 2FRED 'SONIC' SMITH
courtesy of Freddie Brooks at Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts: This is from the Rob Tyner Memorial concert at the State Theatre in Detroit, Feb. 22, 1992 (that was Sonic's final public performance). The remaining members of the MC5 were performing together for the last time to raise money for a scholarship fund for Rob's children. Thanks to Bill Lord, an integral part of Mack Aborn, who jumped through a number of hoops in order to get this.
"Hello... I'm Fred "Sonic" Smith. No relation to Sonic the Hedgehog, by the way. I'd like to say hello to Becky and Rob Tyner's kids. They're around here somewhere... I think that one thing we learned with Rob's death is that we're only here for a short time. And you have to try to make your mark. Rob certainly made his mark. Not only in Michigan music, but in the world music scene...
One of my favorite Rob stories was a time in the late Sixties. We were playing in Germany and we all went to this bar after the gig. Slowly, as the night wore on, it grew into a drinking contest between us and these German guys. Then, once everybody got more into the spirit of the evening, it started turning into a singing contest. You know the Germans like to sing their drinking songs and all that sort of thing. We just sat there and kind of observed. Finally it was getting a little on Rob's nerves, and he stood up on top of the table and did one of the most beautiful versions of "Georgia" that I've ever heard. And blew the Germans away. And I think we also won the drinking contest, but I can't remember that well!"
from an interivew by Ken Shimamoto
Rob Tyner was probably the most generous, considerate, respectful, warm, compassionate human being I've ever met. Rob was also probably the most conservative of the five of us, in the sense that he had probably the most down-to-earth values, and he was the first guy that got married and had children.
Rob really cared about people. He bled for the people. Everyone that Rob met, he cared about. If you shook Rob's hand, he was concerned about your well-being. It didn't matter, he was just somebody that was involved with people and what their condition was and he always wanted to make things better for them. He loved the idea that when he was onstage, he was able to teach people something about themselves. He had a vision, and from what I could see, Rob Tyner's vision was for everybody to live in peace and harmony, and he wrote about it...that's what his lyrics were about -- I hate to use the corny phrase (laughs), but Peace and Love, y'know?
So he was genuinely into it, but not on a sappy, flower power level. He believed in the power of people to heal and build and make the world a happy place for everybody. When he gave performances, he was genuinely giving the love that was in him to everybody who was out there in the audience that could receive it. Rob, to me, was the soul of the MC5. When I first met those guys, Rob used to wear a washer of some kind, that he had gotten at work, on a chain around his neck, and he called that his "MC5-ness." That was way back in 1965 or whatever and it symbolized his enthusiasm for the band. Rob Tyner named the band the MC5. We were pulling out onto the freeway and he announced that we should be the MC5. It was Detroit.
I regret I didn't get closer to Rob Tyner, but he had his kind of separate world from the MC5 'cause he was married and his son was born during the heyday of the MC5, so he had his kind of domestic family situation in the midst of all this chaos and dope smoking and partying. I imagine it was difficult for him to maintain his stability and still manage to be the front vocalist of the MC5.
But Rob wasn't a "Pop Star." We gave Rob a lot of shit, especially after we signed with Atlantic and we were definitely pointed for business success. Somehow these things about Rob that we'd just accepted out of hand before turned out to be the things that had to be changed. Rob really took a lot of abuse from the band about things like his weight and the way he dressed and this really dumb stuff, cliche bullshit, but he was really unfairly almost crucified. I remember after we moved out to the country, the band insisted on Rob running fifty laps around the house on a daily basis to lose weight so he could like more like some rock 'n' roll god and appeal to teenage girls. How could we go from this tremendous down-to-earth political stance into being these standard pop star lads? (laughs)
from an interivew by Ken Shimamoto
Rob, I'd have to say, pretty much the intellectual part of the MC5 body. The philosopher, the, how would you call it, the inner space probe artist...(Long pause) Rob the poet, Rob the philosopher, Rob the thinker...
MICHAEL LESHKEVICH (Motor City Music)
I never knew Rob Tyner personally while he was alive. I did know him as an inspirational and soulful singer for The Rob Tyner Band, which played during the late 1970's as the New MC5 in and around the Detroit area. Rob had a way of communicating the intensity of Detroit rock & roll through his songs full of emotion but with a control that was uncharacteristic for many singers of that time. He truly had a way of connecting with the audience and giving them what they wanted. When you heard them play you came away happy and glad you were in attendance. For me I was just a little too young to see Rob Tyner with the original MC5. But as a young teenager in 1972 I got ahold of an original Kick Out the Jams cassette tape, and daily I heard that concert over and over. It really influenced my teenage and early adult years. I had longed to see and hear the MC5, I felt as though I had missed out on something that I wanted to be a part of that was a true expression of my own emotions.
When Wayne Kramer played at the Michigan Palace with a MC5 band, I went to see them hoping to see any of the original band. As I said, when Rob formed the new MC5, I went out to see them and I was glad I did. Back then Rob and his band were called the MC5 and this generated some resentment among the old followers and some of the former band members. All that I can tell you is that when I went to see them I was thrilled to have the chance to see Rob Tyner perform with or without the other members. He really was an entertainer from the heart. This is what seems to come through in Rob's songs and his words; he really cared for the music and the city of Detroit.
As a person, I identify a lot with Rob. He lived a very normal life caring for his family with his wife Becky. They raised 3 children and carried on after the turmoil of the days of the original MC5. My familiarity with Rob Tyner has come from being involved in releasing some of the music that I experienced from Rob Tyner's band back in 1977 & 1978. It has been my pleasure to get to work with former band mates, and friends of his, and especially his wife Becky. I think it has been unfortunate that Rob Tyner has not received the recognition and notoriety that he deserved as a gifted and truly inspirational rock & roll singer from the Motor City. We are putting out a compact disk recording of a show that they did at the Kramer Theatre in Detroit on August 10th, 1977. This is a raw and powerful performance of the high-energy Detroit rock & roll that Rob performed all of his life. I hope that it will give some greater appreciation of this gifted performer and his spirit for the music of the Motor City.
See Part 3 of our tribute:
Michael Leshkevich's liner notes for Rob Tyner's Rock and Roll People CD.
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