AADL Productions Podcast: Michael Erlewine
Tue, 11/02/2010 - 1:36pm
Michael Erlewine, author, archivist, and founder of the All Music Guide spoke with AADL staff about his new book with photographer Stanley Livingston, Blues in Black & White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals. In this interview prior to the public talk, Ann Arbor's old music clubs and coffee shops come alive as Michael takes us on a personal journey of the Ann Arbor music scene circa 1962-1972. He covers a range of musical topics, including the early folk era, when he hitch-hiked with Bob Dylan; the influence of pre-hippie culture on Iggy Pop; the influence of John Sinclair on Ann Arbor culture; and his personal passion for Chicago city blues, which led to the Ann Arbor blues festivals and inspired the formation of his band, The Prime Movers Blues Band, shown below playing at the Schwabin Inn. You can listen to the interview below. You can also view Michael's public talk at the Library.
- [00:00:00.49] [MUSIC PLAYING]
- [00:00:10.19] AMY: Hi, this is Amy.
- [00:00:11.85] ANDREW: And this is Andrew, and you're listening to the AADL Productions Podcast.
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- [00:00:21.39] AMY: In the early 1960s, Michael Erlewine was part of the folk and blues music scene in Ann Arbor. Hitchhiking with Bob Dylan and co-founding the Prime Movers Blues Band, a well known Midwest blues band in which Iggy Pop was the drummer. He later founded the All Music Guide, the largest music review database in the world.
- [00:00:40.84] Michael's knowledge of blues music and musicians led to his participation in organizing the original Ann Arbor blues festivals, the subject of his recent book with photographer Stanley Livingston, Blues in Black and White: The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals. In this interview, Michael talks about some of the legendary musicians who inspired his passion for chronicling popular culture, and his experience as a self-described pre-hippie growing up in Ann Arbor during the 1960s and early 1970s. [MUSIC PLAYING]
- [00:01:11.77] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: I'm still 25 years old. Inside, I had a big experience and it's like you die. So I'm not old inside, I'm still exactly then. So when I'm back in Ann Arbor, it's like wow, this where I grew up, right? But you guys are overcaffeinated now. It's not quite the same. We had one coffee shop, right. Mark's. And before that we had one called The Promethean on East Williams where the Cottage Inn is. That was first to be and this was back, either the late 50s or very early 60s. It was only there for a year or so. They played Shelley Berman records, if you can imagine that. It was a comedian, you probably don't even know who that is. This is a long time ago.
- [00:01:56.46] The history of how folk music turned into modern music and how it stopped being the attempt of-- I traveled with Dylan and hung out with Dylan and helped Dylan put on concerts here. Dylan wasn't writing songs of his own, or very, very few when I knew him. We were all seeing who could be the most authentic, who could trace his song back to the roots deepest, and who could revive that song in the most cool way for the rest of us to go like wow, that's really good. He wasn't singing new stuff. Joan Baez wasn't singing "Diamonds and Rust" or anything like that. She was singing traditional ballads. And everything took place in Michigan Union.
- [00:02:44.82] So the Michigan Union, which is now like a little plaza with lots of food stuff, was three huge flat rooms. Low ceiling rooms with grey Formica tables and chairs. Nasty chairs, I forget what they were. But three giant rooms that one, two, three. Everything, everyone, professors-- and I would be sitting there with Dylan, or Joan Baez, or anyone through town. And the New Lost City Ramblers or The Country Gentlemen. Everything took place there, there was the whole social scene. There wasn't any other place that you could go that, first of all, would hold hundreds of people. Even now, I don't even know whether-- now they have it all into corridors and stuff, but those were huge giant rooms to begin with.
- [00:03:37.22] We wanted something-- we didn't want-- I'm short-haired now, but we didn't want to have short hair, and we didn't want-- I was raised and went to school in the 1950s, so that means that we had to crawl under our desks. You're probably too young for that, but it was because the Soviets were going to bomb us. And so we literally would have drills where we would get under our desks. And for a young kid who believed in the adults, that was a serious thing like, this is serious. And the other terrible thing that society did to us was that modern psychology was having its heyday. It was just really coming soon, so our idea of ourselves was totally tainted by the language of modern psychology. Which was like, you were paranoid, you might be schizophrenic or manic depressive. All these terms, those were the terms that we thought about ourselves as. Because those are the terms that people were enjoying using. They were labelling people, and so you didn't have the sense of-- it wasn't a sense of, well he's a courageous person or he's a compassionate person or he's an equanimous person. It was more like, Erlewine's a little paranoid, which I probably was. Stuff like that.
- [00:04:57.73] So those are two things that we were responding against. Anyway, so one of the movements was an interest in folk music and our roots. Something that was beyond the kind of-- if you look at 50s furniture and stuff, it's all the same. It's that cookie cutter kind of thing. We rebelled. And then there was the whole kind of dark influence of the beat generation. There's a book store on State Street called Bob Marshall's. Bob Marshall's Books had Grove Press. It had all of the Kerouac stuff. We read that, and we were deep into it.
- [00:05:41.79] A good friend, John Sinclair, was another person from here. And I still play music with him, once in while. Played harmonica behind him occasionally, in the last number of years. We were too late, and I think that he might have been the one that told me this first. But it was a correct though, is that, we really were the pre-hippies. We taught the hippies about the liberal arts. The hippies didn't know about literature, but people like myself, my age, we read all the Thomas Mann. We read Roka, we read the best of Goethe. We knew all that stuff, we knew what art was. The hippies didn't, and so we were kind of like-- and this is one of the big influences we would have had on Iggy, because Iggy was cultureless, he had no culture. And so he thought of us, in fact he wrote somewhere that we were kind of effete. Which is somewhat true, I woudn't say we were effete. I think that we were pretty serious in our own set, but we did know-- like one of my band members, Robert Sheff, is now famous avant-garde classical composer called Blue Gene Tyranny in New York, he could read a full orchestra. Whatever you call it, score, I mean 18 parts or whatever. He could sight read it. So that's a specialized thing.
- [00:07:05.33] So we knew all about existentialism. Frithjof Bergmann, you know who that is, he's still around. He was the dashing professor. I thought he was years older, but now that we're older he's not so much older than I am, right. He and I are friends. The folk music scene, which was at the university, was The University of Michigan Folklore Society. There was that scene and there was also the jazz scene in Ann Arbor. And the jazz scene in Ann Arbor, which is something I would like to tell people about because I don't think they understood it. This was before liquor by the glass. What that means is that, you didn't have music in the bars. The music was all in the houses. So people like Bob James, Bob Detweiler, and any number of jazz musicians, everything was taking place in basement apartments or whole houses.
- [00:08:03.17] Do you know, you guys are not old enough, but there was a little coffee place on East Williams called Red's Rite Spot. Red's Rite Spot was another one of these places that everybody went to. And the great thing to eat at Red's Rite Spot would be a cup of coffee and a pecan roll that was grilled. They would cut it, butter it, and grill it. It was just a little place, not as big as this room. Along East Williams, in the same park, just about where Maynard is, was a great big house and they had a huge flag. And it was just high school kids, so hanging out front, and it said Thelonious Monk on it. And had a big silhouette of Thelonious Monk, of who I had no idea, who is now one of my favorite jazz composers, of course. So we would go in, and I would be allowed to go in there. Of course, they wouldn't give us any-- maybe they gave us a little wine or something, but we sure we didn't get any pot. So we were so desperate, we wanted just to be doing what they're doing. We would snort the ashes from the joints, I mean that's pretty desperate, right? But we thought that was something.
- [00:09:10.18] That was our way of-- but there was a whole circuit, what we'd call the folk circuit, that went from Cambridge to New York City to Gerde's Folk City in New York City, to Ann Arbor, not really Detroit, Chicago, University of Chicago, Oberlin, Antioch, Madison, Berkeley. And we all traveled this route, either hitchhiking-- and I've hitchhiked it many times, maybe 10 times to New York and back-- or we piled into some old car that hardly worked and we'd ride it to the West Coast and back.
- [00:09:45.93] So people like Dylan, I can remember sitting with Bob Dylan in the Michigan Union when he was waiting for a review to come back for a performance he did here. I can't remember whether it was the one he did at Ann Arbor High School or the one he did at the Folklore Society. But he was nervous to find out whether he got a bad review. So we're sitting there, drinking coffee and stuff. Finally it came out, Michigan Daily, and it was a pretty good review. But then there he was, he was back with his thumb out on a highway, and hitchhiking out of town.
- [00:10:19.08] We all circulated, it was like the way we identified. Identification was the circulation that we made. The whole country was in touch with each other through these people that moved from place to place and shared. Ramblin' Jack Elliott, The New Lost City Ramblers. Jack Elliot spent a lot of time in Ann Arbor, and had a pretty good time if I remember. There were whole houses that we would all hang out in.
- [00:10:44.96] So as I was trying to get to, the jazz and classical music, there wasn't any blues. Blues were not on anyone's agenda. Blues were first introduced to-- I'm not saying that-- some people knew about blues, but not Ann Arbor. I'm telling the story of Ann Arbor. In Ann Arbor, blues didn't appear until-- the first folk festival was in 1959 at Newport. A big one, that George Wein did. At that thing it was the Kingston Trio, and Joan Baez was introduced to a bunch of people. And, oh, yeah, I was trying to tell you that blues would only be acoustic country blues. City blues, or electric blues, were unheard of. People like myself, we all played guitar. I wasn't any good but, I traveled with a guy who is now no longer living called Perry Lederman.
- [00:11:48.08] Perry Lederman, if Bob Dylan I were in touch, which we're not, we would both take our hats off to him and have to say, this is the greatest instrumentalist that we've ever seen on a guitar. He didn't sing, or he could but it wasn't so great. But he could play-- you're familiar with Roy Orbison. Roy Orbison did something in rock and roll to a song that no one had really done it. He kind of turned it into almost an opera. Just the most beautiful music. But Perry Lederman did the same thing with instrumental folk guitar. [MUSIC PLAYING]
- [00:12:40.76] He could play just the most beautiful music. So I traveled with him for a while. He's made his money by pulling old Martin guitars and Gibson guitars out of people's attics and selling, recognizing what their value in selling them was. So I've seen a huge number of guitars. So my point, I was trying to get at the blues part of it.
- [00:13:03.46] The blues part of it is that it started to come up in the folk festivals as acoustic blues. There was no festival like the ones in this book. There was a little one down in Memphis, a country blues that Robert Palmer, who is a great blues writer-- although his book wasn't near as nice, the one that just came out in the last few years wasn't really as impressive as I was hoping it would be, as I remembered it, so it was just not so interesting to me-- so we wanted to treat the blues music the same as we did the folk, which is like, preserve it. Take care of it. It was precious. And then slowly, it began to leak out, like a racial curtain-- which is the term I use-- that really, it was alive just down the street.
- [00:13:51.80] On Ann Street in Ann Arbor, where we played for a year and a half, used to be one block of Black businesses. Now it's gentrified, it's all gone. But we played at a place called Clint's Club, on Ann Street, right next to another bar, which I can't remember the name of it. But all all the old people liked what we were playing, but young people, the young blacks did not-- they did not like what we were doing. In fact, they were embarrassed for their mothers and fathers to be listening to two white guys try to play the blues, right. And we didn't totally get that, but we kind of did get that. Occasionally someone who didn't like us would say, let's give these guys the clap. But that was like a joke on their part.
- [00:14:44.62] The blues festivals weren't just another festival, but it was a coming together of the blues guys themselves more than anything else. They had never, in their lives, been massed together. There was never any venue for them. There was no place that they could-- that they'd never seen so many of them themselves. So they had like a huge celebration just of their own self. It had nothing to do with what they were showing us. And what they were showing us, we already knew. My involvement was because we had figured this out. We had been to Chicago, we'd gone down and seen these guys live. And that's how we got involved with the blues festival. Not because we were part of the university, but because we were the only group that knew anything about blues and that had studied it. And I never have stopped studying it.
- [00:15:35.15] We never really made albums. I never got done being a student of it. I never felt like, OK, now I can play the blues or now I'm going to write my own blues. I can see why it would be cool if I had. A part of me is happy that I didn't. I respect this music, and there's no one that I knew, and I knew all those guys. Waterfield and Bloomfield, and I respected the Butterfield Band more than any other band that was a racially mixed group.
- [00:16:07.04] AMY: So on the Chitlin' Circuit, as it was known, there were never large venues, were they just small clubs?
- [00:16:12.68] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: No, there were some large venues like in Harlem or in New York. I think Baltimore had one. There were a few large venues but most of them were really, really small venues. And certainly those were not open to-- we used to go into Detroit, it must have been in the middle 60s, and B.B. King would be playing in the gymnasium. And he'd have his whole group. He had a group that was as large as an orchestra, I don't mean numbers but the sound. He'd have Bobby Forte on saxophone, with Jethro on a Hammond organ. [PLAYING EVERYDAY I HAVE THE BLUES]
- [00:17:15.57] There would just be his small band, and there would be beer and fried chicken. Of course we're the only white people there. I mean, everyone says that for a certainty, but it was also true. But how could you ever even hear that music again. It was so incredible, he was such a master, such a regal kind of guy that just commanded respect. So did Muddy Waters, command people's respect. Just being in a room with him, it's just like, no joking. You weren't joking with this guy, it was like he could have been a king or a president. But then there was someone like Howlin' Wolf who would make a fool of himself, but still was pristine. I think the interview in there of Howlin' Wolf is, I'm told by other blues expert, was the best that ever was done. And it's not due to my thing, because I didn't say anything. That was a monologue, I just recorded it. Did you get a chance to read any of that?
- [00:18:19.66] AMY: I did.
- [00:18:20.14] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Isn't that something? Talking about, we needed hearts. That we need to develop our heart, right.
- [00:18:26.34] AMY: He kept saying, I don't have a big head, I have a big heart.
- [00:18:29.32] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: I have a big heart. And he was talking about somebody coming down the road with no head. And see we laugh, because it will happen, it'd just be one big heart. Or they'll have some science thing so they didn't need a head, right. But anyway, I think he was amazing.
- [00:18:46.61] AMY: You said about Howlin' Wolf and Lightnin' Hopkins, they created time. Can you tell me what you meant by that?
- [00:18:54.35] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Sure, I can try. These are things that words aren't really meant to express, but we can try. I heard one the other-- a few years ago, at Wheatland. This is music festival up near where I live, which is a big music festival with about 10,000 people. I heard a guy that played lap steel from down south. I don't know where. I'm trying to remember, what was his name. Maybe it will come to me. But he was making time, and I haven't heard that.
- [00:19:26.07] Mostly what we're getting in blues is what I would call, and this is going to offend some people, I'll say less offensively first. It sounds like this, or what I call this reenactment. We really were reenacting something that was there that's no longer there. And the greatest set maker time that I-- first of all, they are all great. But for me personally, there was a harmonica player called Big Walter Horton that could set and make time better than anyone I've ever seen. And making time means that we have a sense of time.
- [00:20:07.26] Musicians know, who play, that on the really good nights, time can slow down or expand. I don't know what the words are. Again I'll just use words, but I apologize for them. The energy put out by the musician to create the time actually creates not just a slowing down or expanding time, but gives some kind of mental space in which you can think. Maybe it's like clearing out the cobwebs, or it's like giving you time to know about yourself.
- [00:20:45.54] And I learned this years ago in a little bar in town called Mr. Flood's Party. And in that bar when I-- musicians constantly worry about, at least this one, about how they sound. Is it good? And I had a good night, right. I felt like I finally was communicating what I was trying to communicate and I looked out at them, at the audience, And I thought somebody would be giving me the thumbs up or like, you doing good, right. And there wasn't any of that. What it was is everyone was in a trance. Everyone was looking into their own mind, and I suddenly realized, oh, I get it.
- [00:21:26.32] You make space, you make time, and in that time people get some jobs done. Nowadays sometimes I do it by... I work a lot, and I get up at about two or three in the morning and I work until like five, and then somewhere maybe around six or something I watch a little movie or something. It doesn't have to be a whole movie to me, it doesn't make any difference, just a little bit of something. In that time, I'm watching the movie but-- and movie may be the most common form of meditation that we do. Because you are still looking just at a spot on the wall, literally. In that time, I get things done in my mind that I need to do.
- [00:22:09.33] And so the great times and the great blues musicians, but also people like Miles Davis and the great musicians of any kind do it. They are taking over your sense of time. You have the time, you clock time, oh it's this time, that time. They're taking it over and supplanting it or replacing it with-- they're setting the time. They're creating the time for you and you're suddenly caught. Your mind is caught by their, we can say, oh wonderful, isn't he a wonderful guitar player. Yeah, you could say that but you could also say wow, he took me on a trip. He made the time, and in that time I had an experience. I can remember one example that's a good one.
- [00:22:54.41] In Chicago, I went into a tiny little place, I forget the name of it, that Howlin' Wolf was playing. There was nobody there. There was only Howlin' Wolf, and next to him was his guitar player. A wonderful guitar player named Hubert Sumlin. That's it. And we went in and it was also almost totally dark. There's just a little bit of light up where he was, and he was singing like Howlin' Wolf can only sing. [BACK DOOR MAN]
- [00:23:36.93] And for a while, I could say time stopped. It wasn't so much that as that the walls, the place I was in became transparent. [PLAYING BACK DOOR MAN]
- [00:24:02.75] I forgot where I was. I was falling in that. I had to reach inside myself to try to get a hold, there was nothing to get a hold of. He had taken Wolf's voice and the power of his time, musical time, I could have been somewhere in the universe. Just somewhere. There was no place, place had nothing to do with it. And of course we came out of it but it was like, I'll never forget it. That's what I mean by time. Time is that-- their time is better than yours. They can take you deeper than you can get yourself. Like if somebody dies or something happens and suddenly you're popped out of your groove, and you're just like, open again. They can open you up. And so that's what I mean, it probably took more than you wanted to know.
- [00:24:58.62] ANDREW: You mentioned Mr. Flood's Party. Could you talk a little bit about Mr Flood's Party and some of the other venues that you played?
- [00:25:05.62] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Sure. Mr. Flood's Party was not a large bar. I think that probably the wood's still there. A friend of mine, [? Paul Rupa, ?] built that, and I'm not sure who helped him. But it was a beautiful place and it was run by two guys that both are no longer living. One, the guy's name was Buddy Jack who totalled his XKE or something just outside of town. And Ned Duke, who died not too horrible many years ago. And that was kind of an insider place. It wasn't like some strange person that was owning and running. It was people like us that was owning and running, and we knew them, and they knew us and we were all friends.
- [00:25:45.99] Another place we played was the Schwaben Inn. So now I was a townie. So I grew up here. Which means that, just imagine for a minute-- and you are too-- what kind of realism could I have if I grew up in Ann Arbor. Because my idea of the world was very different than someone growing up somewhere else. I had much more, something. So the Schwaben Inn was a place where-- I'll be disrespectful-- what we called pinheads, students, students came and townies came. I can remember one night when there was like nine police cars, because they would break out into fights. They didn't get along. Townies didn't like pinheads, and pinheads didn't like townies. They would get into fights, and so we would have to protect our instruments.
- [00:26:36.90] And there was a guy from Detroit, a Black guy named Washboard Willie. Washboard used to play, I think, on Wednesday nights. He was wonderful. But we would play many different kinds of nights. So Schwaben Inn was a place that stunk of beer. Another one of these low, flat ceilings, cement floors or something. I don't even know if they were cement floors. Never, ever got cleaned up and never recovered from the night before. You'd go in and you'd have to catch your breath a little bit, but then you'd be adjusted after a few minutes. Lots of smoke.
- [00:27:11.07] So there's the Schwaben Inn. We were the first band-- we started in 1965. The Prime Movers Blues Band started in 1965, the same exact time The Grateful Dead started in San Francisco. We didn't know about them and they didn't know about us. We played at fraternities some to make money, but we weren't just a rock and roll band. We were a New Age hippy band, but we were into blues. [MUSIC PLAYING]
- [00:28:09.27] Schwaben Inn was just an old place. Clint's Club on Ann Street was just an old place. Then there began to be special places for this newer kind of music. And one of those special places was a place called The Depot House. And it was a couple guys that built it, and it was down on Ashley, way down there by the train tracks. This had a light show. In fact, we would go and help do the light show, and I got into light shows a little bit. So that was one.
- [00:28:42.13] Then there was a place for big acts called The Fifth Dimension. The Fifth Dimension was along Huron. We used to play The Fifth Dimension after hours. They would have someone like Jimi Hendrix, I saw Jeff Beck there one time. They would come and play, and then we would be playing at Clint's Club. And at two o'clock we'd pack up and go over to The Fifth Dimension and we'd play until dawn. Then we'd be blown out by that time. You couldn't really sleep because you'd just done too much stuff. Then we'd go over in South U to one of the Greek restaurants. It was called The Wheel or something. We all eat as much as we could, because we needed to come down. We needed something to ground us, otherwise we could have just been up forever. God knows what we were doing.
- [00:29:29.07] So there was that kind of place, Fifth Dimension. And I think Peter Andrews will be here tonight, who's one of the great promoters in this city, and Lee Berry's another one, that have done so much for music. He started the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, and he and I talked about doing a book on that so we might. Stanley has photos for that as well. So there's that place.
- [00:29:52.31] There was a little place on Huron called The Odyssey. The Odyssey was-- I think I was the first musician ever to play there. It gradually turned into-- there was a band called Buddies in the Saddle. Every Wednesday night was wine night. Cheap Ripple wine. And you really could get drunk, and it was really not nice. So we would go there. So that was another place-- I mean, we played all kinds of teen clubs around Michigan. That's not Ann Arbor. Eventually the Blind Pig came, and that had all kinds of music for many, many-- but I don't know the more recent, The Nectarine Ballroom, and that was a hippie--
- [00:30:30.17] AMY: Prior to that was the Second Chance and--
- [00:30:33.43] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Second Chance. But this is all much later. I mean, all that's wonderful, but by that time someone was making money on the concept. This was like, The Nectarine Ballroom, Second Chance, all great places. But the soup of the soup, as my Hindu friend says, it's already watered down. These guys already have an agenda. Before it was like, anything-- Schwaben Inn was just, there was no pre-thought. It wasn't special music, it was just music.
- [00:31:04.84] AMY: A couple other places. Do you have memories of Joe's Star Lounge? And you mentioned the Canterbury House in your book.
- [00:31:12.53] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Everyone should mention the Canterbury House. Canterbury House certainly we played at, and The Ark, of course. Dave Siglin, who recently retired from The Ark, first time he ever entered The Ark was to hear my band play. The Prime Movers when it was on Hill Street. The Ark, I have to say, is one of the premier-- it has to be one in the whole country. There are no places like The Ark. The Ark has the integrity of the music for so many years it's almost impossible to repeat. There used to be the place in Cambridge, what was it called though, Club 47. That was like The Ark, but now I think it's called something else. But The Ark is still The Ark, and The Ark is still just as good with their music as they ever were. They deserve a whole lot of appreciation. I don't know how they get it other than they survived, which is kind of a way of appreciating. The Joe Star Lounge-- yeah--
- [00:32:08.28] AMY: Joe Tiboni.
- [00:32:08.96] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Yeah, I know Joe very well. Joe and I served two times on the board of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, with Joe. Second Chance and the Nectarine Ballroom, places like that, I was still around but not interested. It was like, I'm not going to that.
- [00:32:26.25] AMY: What about The People's Ballroom?
- [00:32:28.54] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Well, The People's Ballroom, yeah. That would be better, but that was very brief. You have to realize that a lot of us went to Detroit. One of the places that I played with many groups, including MC5 and stuff like, that was called the Grande Ballroom. And the Grande Ballroom was it was like a take off on, or simultaneous with, but I think it was-- Russ Gibb went out to the west coast, who owned and ran it-- and learned about what was happening in Fillmore. He came back and open the Grande Ballroom.
- [00:33:07.00] The Grande Ballroom was a wonderful place. That would be the place in Detroit that I can remember drinking whiskey with Janis Joplin, stuff like that. Everyone went there. The People's Ballroom was something similar in Ann Arbor that didn't really work, and I forget why it didn't work. You have to realize that my good friend John Sinclair and all those people, at some point came to Ann Arbor, really running away from police.
- [00:33:32.70] We should show, at some point, the history of the influence of the White Panther Party, and those people. As ridiculous as that was to me, really, it had a huge effect. Sun Bakery, and all the kind of stuff that happened in Ann Arbor, that really needs to be documented. I don't know if I have the energy for it, or that much interest in it, but somebody should. John and I didn't start out friendly. John was an outsider, coming in bringing the word, the gospel from Detroit. We didn't need the gospel from Detroit. Ann Arbor was very, very fine just by itself.
- [00:34:10.12] And a good example, John wouldn't like it, but it's absolutely the truth, is that we would be having a concert in the park. In West Park. In fact I can remember playing with Jerry Garcia on the stage, and having a concert there with him. The police would come, just to watch. Our thing was like, get the police to join us. John's thing, and not just necessarily John personally, but was to-- let's antagonize the police as much as we can. Let's really give these pigs some stuff. We were offended by that. That was not in Ann Arbor. And that part of them that they bought, and that's why if I do the book with Peter I get editorial control. I'm not going to have a puff piece where either Peter or John try to sell that it was all good. It wasn't all good. Some of it was good, and some of it was not good. Ann Arbor had stuff before they came that had value that they didn't appreciate, just like the vice versa.
- [00:35:12.12] We were into the arts, we were into music, art, we were not into politics. We were not political. Ann Arbor was not-- I mean, perfunctory yes, we did marches and all kind of stuff. That's not what I mean. Political, I mean we were not into aggressively provoking reaction. We were into trying to, if we possibly could, it's more like Rodney King. Can't we all get along. We wanted that, and they brought that element. We had the picketing and stuff like that. We knew all about that, and how to protest. But it wasn't our nature as a town. And I was part of the town. An integral part at that point. We were all, a small group of us. We didn't want that, and we were kind of overruled. That kind of element came in, that I didn't, and I still don't-- and I'd like to document it. Go on record saying, gee, Sun Bakery, People's Ballroom, all the stuff that they did this wonderful. We could have done all of that, we could have included everybody. That's just me.
- [00:36:25.90] Do you know what ONCE music is? ONCE music was new music in Ann Arbor. John Cage and Robert Sheff, who was my keyboardist-- our keyboardist, not my keyboardist-- were part of a group. George Cacioppo, Philip Krumm, John Cage, new music. Some of it I thought was ridiculous, they would play the same note for 24 hours and people would come and go. I never got into that, but I understood what they were saying, sort of. Never understood enough that I'd want to go repeat it. Wouldn't want to go and have it happen to me twice or something like that.
- [00:37:05.12] But there were these elements. This was Ann Arbor. The film festival, that was Ann Arbor. The whole White Panther Party, which I never fully understood, that really wasn't Ann Arbor. And never really took either, and eventually got just washed away by time. But they did bring the idea of trying to do something for people and with people, that is, Ann Arbor absorbed that. That was good for us. Sun Bakery, all of it. I was also part of helping to be part of Eden Foods. I designed the logo for Eden Foods. The logo came from me. And Michael Potter, and Tim Redmond, Bill Bulduc, these are all friends of mine. And that was a wonderful thing that happened in Ann Arbor, Eden Foods. I think they might be the only natural food thing that's not been aggregated, not been taken over. It's one of very few in the country that have not sold out and just become part of some giant company that's using them as a picture, right.
- [00:38:09.94] ANDREW: So were there strains of the culture that were sort of, shut down or directed and different way, when John Sinclair and the White Panthers came in and sort of took everything over? Where there things that had been going on that ended?
- [00:38:25.67] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: The only thing that ended-- I think I just gave it to you, and some of it's just my own ego-- some of the gentler qualities of Ann Arbor were drowned out. And people easily got into this more rabid, defiant, it kind of drowned out the gentler qualities. Ann Arbor now is something. Back then wasn't. It was on the chain of all the cities. We went to Ann Arbor, but Ann Arbor was certainly not macho. Much more feminine. And the stuff that came out of Detroit-- which is like over a giant salt thing, right, give me a break-- was very young, right. Not in, right. It was very, very aggressive. Or tried to be thought it was. I don't think, at heart, anyone is really.
- [00:39:20.57] But, yeah, I think that Ann Arbor was hurt a little bit by that. And some of that stuff was lost. But I don't think it's lost because it is Ann Arbor. I think Ann Arbor is a feminine oriented town. That doesn't mean feminist, that's not what I mean. I mean, very receptive area, and that not everything is beautiful that is aggressive. You don't have to be a big deal to have value. I think Ann Arbor is a big deal because of its ability to absorb and receive. And we used to put ourselves down for being like, well, gee, we're not like Cambridge, we're not like Berkeley. But really what we are is valuable, and in the long run-- here's a better way of saying it.
- [00:40:08.27] In the East, Asia-- which I've studied Asian philosophy and psychology forever. Receptivity, service, that's another word that means you're going to be my butler to most Americans. No, it means that some people give by helping and being receptive as opposed to thrusting their thoughts and everything on you. I think that was the difference between what Ann Arbor was and the part that came with the White Panther Party that they didn't understand. And I think that it did drown out, somewhat.
- [00:40:45.47] But just as in that thing that Howlin' Wolf said. In his thing it had one little part where he says that, see, we're tramping on the grass. But when we're gone, in a few days we'll be gone or something like that. The sun will come out and rain will fall and the grass will come back up. That part of Ann Arbor couldn't ever be eradicated. But I think it was delayed, or pushed back, by that. Not to say that I don't think that the White Panther people-- and certainly John, I love John-- didn't bring a lot of good stuff. I just think that some of the macho stuff didn't fit. And we bought into it for a while.
- [00:41:24.78] AMY: I was curious. Prior to the White Panthers, there was the Students for a Democratic Society. You said you weren't terribly political, but did you feel that that was--
- [00:41:34.40] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: I knew those guys. I knew Tom Hayden, the Michigan Daily people. That was pretty straight ahead politic stuff. That was stuff we did know that did belong to Ann Arbor. Being part of the art community, we didn't do that. That wasn't that interesting to us, other than it was interesting. Also when it was here I don't think it was as extreme. None of us were extremists, which means, not that we weren't decent people, or we weren't politically responsible, it just means that our way of doing it was much more roundabout or receptive. We weren't going to solve political problems by blowing something up. We were going to solve them by, theoretically at least, by trying to incorporate.
- [00:42:27.65] In Asia, I learned that now. I worked with one great rinpoche, it was this high lama, and there was another rinpoche-type person that was causing problems. So Americans first, our thing is to get back, and let's get rid of that. No, what rinpoche did is bring them closer. Instead of shutting them out and saying, we've got to get rid of this element, he brought him closer and sure enough, a little bit of love and attention, and that guy behaved right. Or whatever he's supposed to, I don't know, it's above my pay grade.
- [00:43:04.80] But I think that Ann Arbor is like that. That you can easily miss the part of Ann Arbor that wants to, and think that it's weak. It's not weak. It's wanting to join together. Wanting to be receptive and to receive, rather than push something. I think that I would hate to see that-- I don't know where it is now, because I don't live there anymore-- but if you do live here, that you monitor that. And I hope that it's still alive and well. I know that women have done well here. Women's causes. And the extreme part of that I don't care for either.
- [00:43:45.02] In general, I think Ann Arbor has done a lot to advance the cause of the feminine principle. I don't just mean women, I mean the feminine principle. Which in Asia, is associated with bodhisattva, the one who's going to serve everyone until everyone's enlightened. That give means to give away there, are not just to give something. It means to receive. So Anyway, I'm probably talking too much about that but, this is what Ann Arbor is to me. It's why part of me would still love to live here, and I might as I get older.
- [00:44:24.03] AMY: I read in an interview something you said about the All Music Guide. How it came about, and your whole idea, being an ex-hippie, was that you just wanted to give all the information away for free. Do you see that as part of Ann Arbor, integral to your--
- [00:44:39.90] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Well, the All Music Guide started just in a little room. And I can tell you what we did, and I think it's reversing itself, and I hope they hear this. I was into music, and so I'll just give one example. Little Richard, he's a rock and roll guy. But Little Richard had like three years, in the late 50s, '57, when he was at his most intense. I've seen a lot of people try to sing Little Richard. No one's ever sang Little Richard. Little Richard reached such a point of intensity within his own consciousness that you can't get there. If you can then you'd have to be like a Dalai Lama or something like that. You just couldn't get there. He got there but then he kept re-recording the same damn stuff for twenty, thirty, still alive. And I love him, I mean, I worshipped Little Richard back then.
- [00:45:35.94] When they begin to reissue, to come out with CDs, they would issue the same tunes but 20 years later. But it wouldn't be said. It would say, this is Little Richard, the best of Little Richard. My thing, I was having some kind of compassion for younger people. It would be a shame if somebody said OK, I'm going to give Little Richard a listen, then they heard that, then they said, oh, that's not so interesting. I want them to hear Little Richard, then they could say, I don't like it.
- [00:46:06.67] And the same with All Music Guide. Before the All Music Guide, the way it was done-- and I think it's reverting to that, someone just told me yesterday that AMG's kind of going back to that-- was that a few big honchos, Dave Marsh, and I have total respect for them. The Rolling Stone Record Guide, they told us. It was more like, this is in, and this is out. And the way that I envisioned the All Music Guide when I did it, and I brought it here to Ann Arbor. When I left it was 150 full-time people and 500 freelance writers, so it was fully developed. I wanted every artist to be treated equally. Not compared to other artists, but only compared to their own work. So that, any artist, I wanted to know what is their best work.
- [00:46:59.00] And maybe I can give you a funny story of it, if I can remember who it was. When it came time to divide up who was going to do the reviews of stuff for one of the books, we'd done dozens of books, I was the head of it. On late night television there would be different kind of crooners. No one wanted to do those guys. Roger Whittaker, and people like that. Anyway, so no one would do them. They all wanted to do Bob Dylan, and stuff like that. So it all ended up on me. I had to do them because no one would do them. And also, I happen to like elevator music. It's hard to explain. I don't like elevator music, but as a genre it's a thing in itself. If anyone hasn't had a little weepy eye in the elevator sometime, they're not human. The funny story is, I didn't necessarily like these guys, but I tried to treat them equally. One time I was up north, I'm trying to remember which one it was but hopefully it will come to me. It was one of the crooners--
- [00:48:08.62] AMY: Engelbert Humperdinck.
- [00:48:09.63] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: That's what it was. It was Engelbert Humperdinck. I just forgot, I'm getting old. My wife and I, she likes to go to the lake and get a cottage. We used to do that. I hate vacations. I just like to do my regular stuff. So I was really bored. And he was playing at Interlochen. And so I said, can't we just go see him. It's terrible music, but it's just for a lark. So we did, we went down there and he came out. Before I knew it I was crying. It was so beautiful, he was singing so beautifully. It just taught me a lesson. It taught me a lesson. That was Engelbert. He was a master at it, right.
- [00:48:52.87] Anyway, that kind of stuff. When I owned it there were no ads on AMG, on the website. There was never sold anything. Obviously, that couldn't keep going because it's a very expensive thing to keep. But that was me, that's my hippie-- I'd like to think of myself as an archivist of our culture. Of the popular culture, music, and we also did one on film. It's one of the two largest databases. The other one's IMDB. And one on games that no one followed through on. I was gone before I could make that happen. And I did posters, I really loved-- I think posters are just incredible.
- [00:49:29.45] AMY: I wanted to ask you, if you don't mind, just about a couple other local people.
- [00:49:33.82] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: If I know them.
- [00:49:35.27] AMY: Madcat Ruth.
- [00:49:36.53] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Madcat Ruth was not part of the first wave. He came toward the end of it. And now I know him and his wife Connie well. I love both of them, and they're really close to my daughter. I have a daughter that's a very talented singer. Madcat is extremely generous. If you go to concert, like if you go to this harvest gathering concert I was telling you about, Madcat will sit, if he's there, with was almost every group if they need him. They'll ask him and he always graces and adds so much to everything he does. He was not part of the early stuff but he's still going now. He just was up at our place recently. When it comes through there, we have a house that people can stay at.
- [00:50:24.98] AMY: Do you play together? Because you played Chicago Blues--
- [00:50:27.04] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: No, I'm not really a harp player any more. Madcat has played consistently for 30 or 40 years. I don't know how long. Long time, so he's really, really good. I would play a little bit with John. Behind John I can play some harmonica still. John Sinclair does that thing where he talks blues poetry to Delta music and Delta blues. And two or three times I've done that with him, I've backed him up. And Seth Bernard, my daughter's boyfriend, partner, he would play. And I taught them how to-- and I did teach some people about how to sing. I never was a good singer myself, but I know all about it. And I taught my daughter, May, quite a bit about it. So, Madcat, I love Madcat.
- [00:51:18.22] ANDREW: You said you had a couple of names to--
- [00:51:20.46] AMY: Ron Brooks?
- [00:51:20.81] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Ron Brooks and I dated the same woman way, way back. A wonderful lady named Cheryl Hayes. First of all, Ron was what I should have mentioned when I was talking about Jazz in Ann Arbor with Bob James, well that would be Ron Brooks because they made an album together. So Ron was always there on the scene, always nice, always a gentleman. He ran the Bird of Paradise for many, many years. I've spent a lot of time there. He gave a lot to Ann Arbor. He's one of those people who, if you have an Ann Arbor Hall of Fame-- which you guys ought to-- he should be in it. Because he brought so much. Running a jazz club is almost impossible. And now it is impossible because you guys don't have any jazz anymore. What happened? What happened that the town can't support just a little jazz club? That's not a good sign. Because jazz, it's a special kind of music. I love jazz. I not only know a little bit about blues, but I know a little bit about jazz.
- [00:52:24.17] AMY: We can't support a newspaper either.
- [00:52:26.32] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: No, but I think that was a premeditated coup on someone's part. They just decided there were going to push it that way. But yeah, the Ann Arbor News, not there anymore, right. So what have you got?
- [00:52:37.60] ANDREW: I think Ann Arbor seemed like a good testing ground for what that corporation sees as maybe the next wave. And if you're going to try something new, Ann Arbor seems like a decent place to do, because people might go for it. So they wanted to see if it would work.
- [00:52:54.13] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: I'm an Internet pioneer, really. I had email in 1979, which tells you something. And I'm one of the first content aggregators that really was successful. We got all kinds of awards from Yahoo and stuff like that. I think it was too soon. I think it wasn't a good decision to do it, and I don't know what I would suggest. But it is moving, and I have an iPad at this point. I haven't done much with it, but I'm very excited about electronic-- and I still run a whole software company. Microsoft and our company are the oldest companies still in existence. The two oldest software companies are Microsoft and Matrix Software, which is in astrology. I'm also an astrologer. I'm more well known as an astrologer than I am with as a music person or anything else in the world.
- [00:53:49.05] ANDREW: We didn't really get into much of the Blues Festival and then how it evolved into the Blues and Jazz Festival.
- [00:53:55.37] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: I know I'm the official historian for the Blues and Jazz Festival, so the first thing I did when I became board member-- more recently with the Ann Arbor Blues-- they promoted that. They didn't want to shine the light on the early festivals for whatever reasons. And they would say, oh, they lost money. I'm the one that went to the Bentley and dug out the figures and showed them exactly. No, no, actually the Ann Arbor Blues Festival of '69 made a profit. Maybe it's like $400. And yes, they lost $25,000 in 1970 because of Goose Lake, which was a rock festival. But you guys pretty much lost money the first time, 1972 Blues and Jazz Festival. Maybe came out even, and I haven't been able to trace that down, the second time and lost $100,000 the third time in 1974. It's not your fault, but then they would say stuff. Oh well, these guys-- the first two blues festivals that were celebrated here, they just had esoteric artists. They were trying to-- and I was sort of saying, duh. Of course they were esoteric, because it was after that that they became less esoteric. And how can you fault them for the purity? And they were.
- [00:55:15.88] The guy, John Fishel, did us a favor. Did Ann Arbor a favor by saying no. Because it was going to be like a British blues John Mayall kind of thing. That was what it was going to be. And he spoke up in a small group of people and said no, I know more about this. And he made it happen. We just happened to be involved because we knew about blues. But I can tell all that story. These other festivals, the other ones-- I love the Blues and Jazz Festival but it was with much more of an agenda in mind. This was a pure, won from the heart kind of thing. That we were going to do it right, and they didn't think about the repercussions. They just thought about, this is the stuff. This is the real stuff. And then even within one year, between '69 and '70, a whole bunch of guys died. And then within a few years you couldn't ever have that again, because they're all gone. So it was a moment in time. It was pretty special. Yeah, I was totally there for that. Maybe not other things.
- [00:56:16.35] ANDREW: I had never heard that, that it was originally going to be Bluesbreakers and Cream and all that. I had no idea.
- [00:56:23.97] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: It was going to be that. It was going to be nice, that would have been nice, but it would have been--
- [00:56:27.95] ANDREW: But totally different.
- [00:56:28.96] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Totally different. These guys, they were all there. I interviewed almost all of them. And the university managed to lose all those tapes.
- [00:56:36.25] AMY: No.
- [00:56:37.09] MICHAEL ERLEWINE: Yeah, I don't have them. And can't seem to find them. We could figure it out. Maybe someone threw them out. And I'm still trying to track down Blues and Jazz Festival I also interviewed, and there's a video for that I did. And Blues and Jazz, I think I might do a book with Peter on that, just like this. But that would also raise a lot of this other stuff, just because it would bring in all the White Panther stuff. I'd love to be part of that where they couldn't control. But be fair. I don't want to take away from them. I think Ann Arbor's something else, before and after that influence. [MUSIC PLAYING]
- [00:57:21.87] ANDREW: You've been listening to the AADL Productions Podcast from the Ann Arbor District Library. We're going to leave you with another sampling of the Prime Movers playing live.
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Prime Movers (Musical Group)
All Music Guide
Ann Arbor Blues Festival
Bob Marshall's Book Shop
Red's Rite Spot
Blue Gene Tyranny [Composer]
University of Michigan Folklore Society
Ann Arbor High School
University of Michigan Daily
New Lost City Ramblers (Musical Group)
Butterfield Blues Band
Wheatland Music Festival
Mr. Flood's Party
The Wheel Restaurant
Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival
Buddies in the Saddle (Musical Group)
The Blind Pig
Joe's Star Lounge
White Panther Party
Ann Arbor Film Festival
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)
Bird of Paradise Jazz Club
The Ann Arbor News
Goose Lake Music Festival
AADL Talks To
Iggy Pop (Jim Osterberg)
Ramblin' Jack Elliott
B. B. King
Big Walter Horton
Robert 'Buddy' Jack
Peter 'Madcat' Ruth
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