Press enter after choosing selection
Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Fred LaBour, former writer for The Michigan Daily and member of the musical group Riders in the Sky

When: March 18, 2024

Fred LaBour
Fred "Too Slim" LaBour (Photo courtesy of Riders in the Sky)

In this episode, AADL Talks to "Too Slim" Fred LaBour. Fred is a member of Riders in the Sky, an American Country and Western music and comedy quartet that has performed together since 1977. From '67 to '71, Fred was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan where he covered sports and wrote music reviews for The Michigan Daily. Fred discusses the campus culture that shaped his career and he walks us through a day in the life of a too-slim "wise ass" English major whose satirical review of the Beatles’ "Abbey Road" album propelled the “Paul McCartney is Dead” urban legend that took the country by storm.

Read Fred's October 14, 1969 "Paul is Dead" article in The Michigan Daily.

Check out Riders in the Sky in the AADL catalog. The group is also featured on the following CDs: Toy Story Favorites, Toy Story 2, Disney Pixar All Time Favorites, and Woody's Roundup.



  • [00:00:08] AMY CANTU: Hi, this is Amy.
  • [00:00:10] KATRINA ANBENDER: This is Katrina.
  • [00:00:11] AMY CANTU: In this episode, AADL talks to Fred LaBour. Fred is a member of Riders in the Sky, an American Western and comedy group, where he's known by his stage name "Too Slim." But prior to this, Fred was a student at the University of Michigan from 1967 to 1971 where he covered sports and wrote music reviews at the Michigan Daily, and where he helped to popularize the Paul McCartney is Dead urban legend. Fred talks about his memories of working at the Daily, the culture he experienced in Ann Arbor and how it impacted his career. Well, Hi Fred, and thanks so much for coming to talk with us today.
  • [00:00:49] FRED LABOUR: Well, my pleasure. It's a thrill to be considered part of the history of Ann Arbor. It was such an important city to me in my formative years. Actually, all my years are still formative, but those were pretty critical years for me.
  • [00:01:06] AMY CANTU: Can you give us a little bit of background, where you were born and raised and what brought you to Ann Arbor to study and why?
  • [00:01:13] FRED LABOUR: Sure. I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I graduated from high school in 1966 and moved to Ann Arbor that year and moved into West Quad and had two roommates who were both musicians, as it turned out, and I was interested in music too and graduated in '71. Then stayed in town for another year and moved to Nashville after that. But my dad had gone to Michigan. There was that. It was always a place where I was... When I applied for colleges, it was, like, Harvard and Dartmouth and Michigan. I got wait-listed at Dartmouth and Harvard was not going to happen for me. Michigan came very early to the table and said, Come on down, so I did. I was glad I did too.
  • [00:02:19] KATRINA ANBENDER: We understand you came to Ann Arbor and to the University to study environmental science, is that right?
  • [00:02:25] FRED LABOUR: No, I came to study English. I spent three years in the English department, and then I got so burned out on the academic life and the way people were talking about literature and I wanted something more real-worldish. I went to the School of Natural Resources and got an associate degree in Wildlife Management, actually. But I started working for... My real story begins when I worked at the Daily. I was in January of my freshman year, I walked into the Daily. Actually, I hobbled into the Daily. I hurt my knee, so I was on crutches for about three months and I went into the Daily, and that was my home. I said, Ok, this is what I want to do. I worked there for three years and made a lot of friends, and that became the center of my life for all that time.
  • [00:03:26] AMY CANTU: We want to ask you a lot about your time at the Daily. I understand that you wrote sports and eventually music reviews. Can you talk a bit about some of the writing that you did?
  • [00:03:40] FRED LABOUR: I did. I took the Intro English class at whatever, English 101, whatever it was called, and went in for a conference with my teacher and he said, "You can write." Which was like, Whoa, I didn't know that... To hear it from somebody else, you know. It was really important to me. He said, "What are you going to do?" I said, "I don't know, I want to work for the... I want to see if I can work at the Daily." He said, "What are you going to write about?" I said, "I think I'll write sports." He said, "Well, you're good enough to write at the front page, you know." [LAUGHING} Which I thought was pretty hilarious. Mr. Bluestone, I think was his name, Bluestein or Bluestone or something like that. I went to the Daily and so it was the night that Flaming Creatures was the movie that was at Cinema Guild and that famous night. That happened that night and there were three astronauts that perished in a fire on board their training capsule. Both of these things happened that night. The newsroom was going nuts, and there were teletypes out at the end of the...Bang! Bang! Bang! And a lot of clicking and ringing. I was like, this is great! This is where it's happening. And the people, they were so smart and so funny. I was like, this is for me. I was hooked immediately and I was a terrible sports writer, because I was always trying to put jokes in. We were at cross purposes at some time. I had one meeting with the sports writer after I'd been night editor over the summer, and I had put nothing but jokes into the paper. He took me aside and said, "Some people buy the paper so they can see the scores." Like what their team did. You can do some jokes, but can you at least put the scores in?" Then I became more of an arts page person doing music reviews and stuff like that.
  • [00:06:10] AMY CANTU: Your music reviews and your reviews of some of the performances in Ann Arbor... I saw that you described yourself as "snotty." You had some things to say. Sometimes the reviews weren't kind or weren't fun.
  • [00:06:26] FRED LABOUR: No, I was a terrible critic, and I was a wise ass. I was just this kid who didn't know anything, just a wise-ass kid. Since then I've come to revere good criticism. I think it's important and it can be extremely useful. I was none of those things. I was just a kid showing off and being a jackass. I had a good friend named John Gray, who was also like that, although he was smarter than me.
  • [00:07:01] KATRINA ANBENDER: As part of your time here and some of your reviews in the Daily, it seems like you saw a lot of different concerts at venues here. Canterbury House. Can you talk about what that was like if there were any memorable music events you remember witnessing at that time?
  • [00:07:17] FRED LABOUR: Memorable music events. Well, there was the stuff that came through Hill Auditorium, Segovia, Simon and Garfunkel, the operas that... I saw Aida there, or was it Tosca? It might have been Tosca. And touring Broadway companies would come and dance companies. Jose, the guy who had a set of South American dance company and the Lovin' Spoonful and the Beach Boys, and the Byrds and Miles Davis. At Canterbury House, there was Neil Young where they recorded "Sugar Mountain" which made it onto an album. My friend Gray went to that show, and we knew it was being recorded, and he was determined to be on the recording. At the end of every song, he went, he coughed. If you listen to the end of "Sugar Mountain," you can hear a guy go [cough].
  • [00:08:31] AMY CANTU: That's him?
  • [00:08:32] FRED LABOUR: That's him. That's the level of humor we're dealing with here. But I saw... Buddy Guy, was great. Trying to think of some, but the local people were great, too, there was the kid, the guy that played guitar at Canterbury House. I can't remember his name. But there was just a lot of good music around. Plus Ramblin' Jack Elliott would come through and Gordon Lightfoot was at Canterbury House in those days and Joni Mitchell and these were all and the folk boom was still going on. Jim Kweskin Jug Band and some of the old blues guys Sonny Terry and what's his name, [Brownie] McGhee, were there. That was what was going on, as well as the jazz players that were in town, too. I was always listening to a lot of music.
  • [00:09:43] AMY CANTU: That was the era too of the Blues and Jazz Festival, the Blues Festival first and then the Jazz and Blues.
  • [00:09:51] FRED LABOUR: Yeah, those came along a little bit later. In 1968, the Daily sent photographers to the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals. I went along to go with them. I got to see all the greats at Newport. From Duke Ellington and Ray Charles and all these people at the height of their powers. Then for the folk festival, I've seen Janis Joplin and man, so many great stuff. That wasn't in Ann Arbor, but that was the deal. I went with the photographers because a lot of my friends were photographers, Tom Copi and Andy Sacks and Jay Cassidy, and then later on Sara Krulwich came to town. They were all my closest friends and we went to the Jazz festival. Here's a good anecdote and we were in this right in front of the stage. There was the press pit and then a snow fence and then the great unwashed behind us. I had a pass so I could be right up there and get a really good look and they would say before the show, they'd say, "Hey, we're going to the beach. Do you want to go?" I was like, "No, I don't want to go to the beach." I was like, "No, I came all this way. I want to hear this great music." They'd go, and then they'd come back and do it. This went on for the whole festival, by the end they said, "Well, we thought you smoked, but I guess you don't smoke pot." I was like, "Yeah, I would do that." They said, "Well, that's what we did." I said, "That was 'going to the beach'? " [LAUGHING] I was blissfully straight when I was watching all this incredible music.
  • [00:11:42] AMY CANTU: I know you've talked about this 1,000 times in your career, but we want to hear it again. We want to hear about the "Paul is Dead" hoax, or however you might want to refer to it -- urban legend. Can you give us a bit of background about how you first heard about it and how you responded to it?
  • [00:12:03] FRED LABOUR: Well, I was driving to Jackson, Michigan on a Sunday morning to go visit some family over there, and I was tuned into...I think it was WKNR, where Uncle Russ Gibb had the show. I missed the original call. But after this, somebody called in and said, "Something's going on with Paul. Something happened to Paul" because there are these weird coincidences. He's wearing a black carnation when the others are wearing red ones and there's a hand over his head in the Sgt Pepper album and at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever" you can hear somebody say, "I buried Paul." I was like, What's going on with Paul? And Russ just wore it out all afternoon. "What's going on with Paul? We don't know!" And that night, I came back to Ann Arbor and I was "Ticket Fred" at Cinema Guild. I was taking tickets. So my friend Jay Cassidy was the projectionist and we got the movie started, and then we were sitting out in the hall, and I told him about this call that I had heard and we just started cracking up and cracking each other up with, Well, what if it's true? You know, oh God, this is so... It was like an early conspiracy theory, that kind of stuff. Also, I had just been assigned to review Abbey Road for the Daily. Abbey Road had just come out. Gray and Leslie Wayne said, You should review Abbey Road. I was trying to think of what to approach the review. So on the way home that night, I was like, That's the review! I can make up the stories. Next morning, I lined up all my Beatle albums in front of my desk down on Wall Street, which was 959 Wall Street and I had this little apartment and invented this ridiculous story -- that Paul had been killed in 1966 and replaced, and then they released clues on the album covers and within the music that this had happened because, as John said, Paul always liked a good joke. What it was, actually, was a satire, I felt, because -- this is at the end of my English experience in the English Department -- I was so fed up with finding meaning in what an artist was doing that probably had nothing to do with what the artist meant, you know. It was like such a shallow way to approach it and I thought it was ripe for satire. So that's what I did. It was like, this is a part of a great conspiracy, and this is what this means, and, you know, "Walrus is Greek for corpse." It's not. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:15:27] AMY CANTU: You just made it up.
  • [00:15:29] FRED LABOUR: In England, when they bury you, you don't wear shoes. So Paul's not wearing shoes crossing that... That's not true and all this stuff that I said was true, and then just picking out clues and making them fit this absurd satire. Anyway, so I banged out the thing, went to class, then carried the pages to John, who was the night editor that night, and gave it to him, and he just started laughing. He completely got it and said, "LaBour, you've scooped the world." He said, "We're going to run this tonight." There was supposed to be some other stuff run. He said, "No, we're going to put the whole page. We're going to do the whole page." He wrote the headline. "McCartney dead, new evidence brought to light" and put these pictures of Paul up and I wrote the thing, "Mr. LaBour says it's all true," thanking George Harrison's sister in Illinois. [LAUGHTER] One of the things about the story is there was sort of -- as any good conspiracy theory -- is there are things that sort of sound... Ok, that could be true. This sounds like that could be true. There was enough of those kind of things that people said, This might be true. Then it came out the next morning and kapow! It became this phenomenon. Before the Internet and all... The first day it got to Detroit radio stations. The second day it got to Chicago, and all of a sudden I was getting all these interview requests and third day it got to New York and then finally Los Angeles. My phone was just ringing, and I was scared. You know, I was like... I didn't... No one's appreciating that this is humor, and there's all these girls calling the Daily in tears. "Oh no, we can't believe poor Paul is dead!" I was like, Oh God, that's not what I intended. It wasn't at all what I intended. Yeah. It went on and on and then I went out to Los Angeles for a TV show. It was a trial to determine what really happened to Paul. Alan Kline was on and Peter Asher and all these big shots and these legendary people and this 19-year-old wiseass from Michigan, F. Lee Bailey was the host of the show. They picked me up at the airport in LA, and I'm like, looking around, like, I'm a kid from Michigan. I don't know anything. They take me in and I have a meeting with Bailey the next morning. He's got all the Beatles records there, and he says, "Tell me about these clues." We're sitting there and we're going through and I said, "You realize I made all this up?" And he looks at me and there's this marvelous beat and he says, "Well, we have an hour of television to do. You're going to have to play along." I said, "Okay." We did the TV show, and I played along.
  • [00:18:58] KATRINA ANBENDER: In order to be believable by some people, this theory incorporated a lot of details about the Beatles and this close reading of their music, and you said you had all their albums and you lined it up. Can you tell us about your relationship to the Beatles music? Were you a big fan?
  • [00:19:16] FRED LABOUR: I was a huge fan, are you kidding? Yeah, absolutely. I've always been a big music fan. Then when, like so many others of us of a certain age that February 9th, 1964, Ed Sullivan Show: I was already playing guitar and trying to write songs and stuff. That was just like Whoa! I was just, as somebody said, I wanted to have that much fun. The idea that sort of crystallized my notion of being in a band and doing music as a something I wanted to do. It was hugely important to me. Then the British Invasion and all... But music had always been like that. I've been singing since I could talk. When I was two, my family says, "Yeah, you were making racket then." They used to pay me $1 to be quiet. If we pay you $1, will you be quiet for an hour? [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:20:34] AMY CANTU: When did you pick up the bass?
  • [00:20:36] FRED LABOUR: Well, I had a rock and roll band in high school. We're trying to learn Beatles songs and all the hits of the day in Grand Rapids. That band was working, starting to work a lot, and my grades were not good. I'd always been an A student and my grades went down, and my parents said, "This is not going to work. Music is a great hobby. You can't make a living at it. You need to be a doctor or a lawyer" basically. We quit the band, and when I moved to Ann Arbor, I just had a guitar with me that I just played for myself. But as soon as I got out of college, I was like, What do I like to do now that I have this degree? Well, I like music as one of the three things, the other being baseball and the third one being girls, not necessarily in that order. But yeah. I was walking down the street in Ann Arbor and there was a music store and there was a fender bass in the window, and I thought that's it. That's what I want to do. I bought the bass, took it home, started playing along with the records and my friend Andy Sacks had a little jazz trio in town. The way he remembers it is that we had a rehearsal and the bass player didn't come and so I picked up the bass and played because he said, Well, it's just the four strings on the bottom of the guitar, so that's how I started to play. Then when I got to Nashville, then I played in bars. We used to play at Kales Waterfall, which was a supper club out near, what's that hotel begins with a W was out in the West?
  • [00:22:49] KATRINA ANBENDER: Weber's?
  • [00:22:50] FRED LABOUR: Yeah. It was out near there. It was called Kales Waterfall, and it was a supper club and they had a little jazz group. That was my first gig on bass, which actually, I still have a tape of that. Then some friends of mine had started a country band. These were people that were in the School of Natural Resources, guy named Herschel Freeman and a guy named Jeff Weichel who I'd been to summer camp with in Camp Filibert Roth up in Northern Michigan. We played a lot of music up there when we weren't doing our homework and stuff. A girl named Lisa Silver, who was a fabulous singer and violin player, and was also really cute. They had a band and they had a bass player who was not very good, and so they got me to play bass, and then we played country music. We had a regular gig at the Pretzel Bell that was, yeah, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, which was a great gig. We had a lot of fun there. We played a hotel in Ypsilanti too, the State Hotel or something. We were in the lobby. There wasn't a stage. We were in a corner. That was the beginning. We were the Honky Talk Angels, was the name of the band. We were playing a lot. We got to play a lot, and then Herschel had the idea to write songs. He started writing songs. We demoed them in the guys living room and said, "Well, I'm going to take these to Nashville." I had loved country music since I was a kid. I had a rural upbringing with farms, and my sister married a cowboy, so I spent a lot of time in Montana. Nashville was very important to me. It was like Oz to me, sort of. It was a really incredibly cool place. I came down with a Herschel. I got a gig with a magazine called Yes. I think it was called Yes Magazine, and they gave me some money to do a story on what it's like to take a song to Nashville and pitch a song. That paid for my trip. So Herschel and I came down in January, and we walked up and down Music Row, and he was shopping his reel-to-reel tape, and there was some interest there, and so we went back to Ann Arbor, and I thought, Hell's Bells, I can do that. I can... So I started writing songs as well and wrote four songs. Herschel and I came back about six weeks later, two months later. I took one of my songs. I've taken my little four-song demo around and happened to run into a guy who said, "I don't want this, I don't want that. But wait a minute. Let me hear this one." He said, "Yeah, leave this one with me." So I left that one with him. Didn't sign any papers. There was none of that. It was just I'll see what I can do. We went back to Ann Arbor, and we were playing in the bars and having a good time and making money, for God's sake. I was living out in Saline at this hippie farmhouse. I got a call at the end of August saying, "Hey, I think I got our song cut." And I was like, "'Our' song?" I was like, Welcome to the music business. Yeah ok, it became... So I said, "This is easy." You can just write these songs and then they call you up. But then Herschel wanted to go to Nashville. Lisa wanted to go to Nashville. Lisa was going to be the next Linda Ronstadt. Herschel was going to be a songwriter and I thought, Great, I'll be a songwriter, too. We didn't want to be a band anymore, so we split up the band, and the three of us moved to Nashville in the fall of '72 and left Ann Arbor behind. Then we lived here, and we all lived in an apartment together when Herschel knew somebody here, a woman named Lynn Kushner, who had a writing deal. Who knew? We moved into a two-room apartment that had four of us and 10 dogs because Lynn's golden retriever had puppies right before we got there. It was a lot of dogs. A couple of months later, we moved into a proper house where we each actually had our own room and started trying to make something happen in Nashville. And I happened to move in next door to "Ranger Doug."
  • [00:28:11] AMY CANTU: Okay.
  • [00:28:12] FRED LABOUR: Doug Green, who was from... and I did not know him before... I'd heard of him, but I did not know him, and happened to move in next door to him. I saw this guy out in his yard with a Detroit Tiger's hat and playing catch with his little two and four-year-old daughters. Because I'm a lifelong Tigers fan as well, so I went out and we started talking, and my God, he knew who number six was -- Al Kaline, of course. We became fast friends and have been friends and partners now for I don't know, 46 years, 47 years in Riders in the Sky.
  • [00:28:54] KATRINA ANBENDER: Wow. Can you tell us about some of the opportunities your career with Riders in the Sky has provided you? Maybe some highlights. I know you've done some high-profile things?
  • [00:29:08] FRED LABOUR: We've also played Ann Arbor a lot. It was a big deal to me when we played Hill Auditorium. A big deal. We came up and did the folks festival a couple of times because I'd seen all these incredible acts there and to be on that stage was a big deal. We did that a couple of times. We played the Power Center as well as Canterbury House -- not Canterbury House, uh, the Ark, which in fact, we'll be back at the Ark this next November, I think. What was the question?
  • [00:29:44] KATRINA ANBENDER: I was just looking...
  • [00:29:45] FRED LABOUR: Oh, the...I was more interested in the Ann Arbor stuff. Ranger Doug...when we got to talking, he said, "Well, I always have pizza at the Cottage Inn," which I was like, Well, yeah. I practically lived at the Cottage Inn because you could walk through the kitchen... Come out to the Daily, go across the parking lot, and go through the kitchen and you could be at Cottage Inn. We had that in common, and it was funny. We didn't know each other. We both lived on Thompson Street and didn't know each other. We both went to Crazy Jim's and didn't know each other. We started out to play cowboy music in the style of the Sons of the Pioneers and Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey and it was music that was really interesting and fun music to play and which nobody was doing. It was about gone. The Sons of the Pioneers had a few albums in the nostalgia bin and that was about it. I did the jokes and the humor and we started writing a lot of scripts. Ranger Doug was writing songs, Woody was writing songs. The chemistry of the three of us was just great. In fact, it's still great after 46 and a half years. Then Joey came along about 10 years later and added a huge boost to us musically and also as a great friend. Then we just started touring like crazy, and we'd do 241-nighters a year. We never stopped. I looked at the old route sheets. I went months without a day off. It was so much fun that it wasn't like work, it was just like, this is what we do. We were either on the road or recording or writing for I don't know, 20 years, something like that. It was not good for a marriage so until... I had one marriage that did not work out and then I hit the lottery the second time. We found each other, that got what I was doing, and we just became a team. We just did it. She was the best. We were just as my neighbor said, "You guys were bread and butter." She got the fun of it. She designed stuff. She made stuff. All these props, all the clothes. She made my clothes. She made all the stuff for TV, did all the art direction. She was trained as a makeup artist and as a wig. She worked on Broadway in an opera doing wigs and facial hair stuff for opera. That's how that all worked.
  • [00:32:48] KATRINA ANBENDER: One of the things that I wanted to ask you was that you have so many iconic outfits, and I wanted to know where you got your exceptional cactus ties?
  • [00:33:01] FRED LABOUR: The "cac tie"
  • [00:33:03] KATRINA ANBENDER: Cac tie, excuse me. I wondered if it was singular or plural. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:33:08] FRED LABOUR: Yeah, well I guess cactum would be...
  • [00:33:15] KATRINA ANBENDER: But is that the answer? That they were made by...
  • [00:33:20] FRED LABOUR: Yeah, Windy Bill... Riders and Sky used to be me and Ranger Dog and a guy named Windy Bill Collins, when I was playing in a country band here for a guy named Dickie Lee, who was a country star at the time, and Collins who's actually from Detroit and he had a wooden tie that somebody had made as a gag and given [LAUGHTER] to him. When he decided he was not going to be in Riders and Sky anymore, he said, "I'm going to give you this tie." He gave me the tie, so I was wearing that. Then when Roberta - when Bert came along -- she said, "Well, let me make that out of fabric," so she made them out of fabric at the kitchen table and we started selling them. We've sold thousands of those things. It's amazing. But it got the name. It was just a cactus tie, and we did a TV show for Nashville Network. Remember John Hartford, great brilliant songwriter, "Gentle On My Mind"? And a banjo player and just a world-class entertainer and amazing musician and wit. We were doing the TV show and he came in to be our guest and came in and he was like 30 feet away, and he saw me and he said, "Oh, look, Too Slim's wearing a cac tie." I said, "Can I have that?" He said, "Yeah, you can have that, " and it became the cac tie. For a short time, Bert made them at the kitchen table, and then we started finding people to manufacture them and stuff like that, which is still how it works today.
  • [00:35:00] AMY CANTU: Fred, clearly, jokes, humor, being a bit of a smart ass is part of your entire career. [LAUGHTER] I'm wondering...If you look back on your time in Ann Arbor, and particularly with the "Paul McCartney is Dead" bit: It was a really turbulent time for the city. There were teach-ins, sit ins, protests, everything. Did it occur to you at the time that maybe the joke was going to be lost -- or wasn't going to quite make it -- in a city that was wracked and upset about all the things going on? There was also a serial killer on the loose at the time.
  • [00:35:43] FRED LABOUR: Yes, there was. It was such an exciting time in the city. With the anti-war protests, with the Black Power movement, with the Panthers and the admittance of black students, then the serial killer, there was always new... And then the riots on South University and the sit-in at the Welfare Mother sit-in where -- I got busted for that one. I just remembered... I'm not a great political thinker. I'm not smart in that way. I loved the theater of it. I loved the excitement of it and the hormones were also raging. I felt like it was edgy in a way, that particular story, but it just felt right to me. It felt like, This is my joke, I'm going to do it the way I want. There was a freedom... Thank God for The Daily and John Gray and Leslie for letting me do it. I came from Grand Rapids where my friends were Dutch Reformed, Polish Catholic. I knew no Black people. There were three Black kids in my high school. There were 1000 kids and there were three Black kids. Coming to Ann Arbor was shocking to me. I had heard about Jewish people but I didn't quite know what that was. All of a sudden I came to Ann Arbor and, Oh my God, there's all these gorgeous Jewish girls, and they're funny and they're smart, and they think I'm funny. Like, Oh my God. This was real different and real attractive to me. Ann Arbor was a smaller town, but there was money here clearly from the car companies. And it was a sort of boom town, the post-war years, and there was money. Then all these smart kids from Detroit and Chicago and New York and Washington were coming here to this great public university. There was just an excitement. It was like stirring the pot with all these great ingredients. You look at the people that came out of the Daily years, the authors and the financial people and the artists and stuff that have come out of that melting pot of talent. That's pretty astounding. These were people that had a lot and a lot going on upstairs and wanted to express it. They were ambitious too, which I've always been. There was that.
  • [00:38:48] KATRINA ANBENDER: Going back to the review: How did it then feel as a fan of The Beatles to think that they were aware of something that you had written?
  • [00:38:59] FRED LABOUR: Well, at first I was chagrined because I didn't want to be a problem to them. But over the years, because I thought, you know, Here's a giant of the 20th-century music, Paul McCartney, and as a bass player, certainly an idol of mine as someone who completely changed the trajectory of that instrument. People are coming up saying, "Well, I understand that you're dead or can you explain why you're not dead and all of these?" [LAUGHTER] It's like, "I'm sorry Paul." But since then, as I've seen interviews with him -- I've never had the chance to meet him, unfortunately, not yet -- but seeing interviews with him, clearly he gets the joke. Clearly, he knows what's going on, and he's played along with it. God bless him. Yeah, I don't feel bad about it anymore. Plus, I also sold millions of records for him to people who played them backwards and then had to go buy more records. When that story came out, I was walking down the street in Ann Arbor that night after -- The Daily had to do another printing of the story because it was such a phenomenon -- I remember walking down -- and they used to sell stacks of like Abbey Road at Campus Drugs -- and they were sold out, and they were sold out of beer. Beer and Beatles records. And you'd walk down any street in Ann Arbor and you could hear The Beatles records everywhere coming out of every house, every apartment, and hear people trying to play them backwards. Just crazy.
  • [00:40:44] AMY CANTU: Wow, that must have been something.
  • [00:40:46] FRED LABOUR: Yeah, so I thought Apple Music should send me a fruit basket or something to [LAUGHTER] commemorate my contribution to one of the great PR campaigns of all time. [LAUGHTER] What I'm not happy about is that since conspiracy theory is such a cancer on the public discourse these days, and I feel a little bit of responsibility for that. I just hate to think that I'd be associated with misinformation and that whole ridiculous manipulative way that's used.
  • [00:41:32] AMY CANTU: It certainly has a very fun association with Ann Arbor, so I don't think you should feel bad about it. It's a great cultural moment for us.
  • [00:41:45] FRED LABOUR: It is for me, too. When we have gigs with Riders, it still comes up. My dear departed wife's sister, first time she met me, she said, "I can't believe you did that to me! I cried so hard." Well, you should have read the whole story. There's enough clues in there that this is all made up so I don't know. Yeah, Ann Arbor. There was so much happening and it was so fun and we played the bars with the Honkey Talk Angels. The Pretzel Bell, Mr. Floods, I think we played Mr. Floods Party, and I used to go to the Old Town. Remember that?
  • [00:42:28] KATRINA ANBENDER: It's still here.
  • [00:42:29] AMY CANTU: Still looks the same.
  • [00:42:31] FRED LABOUR: It is there. There was a Sunday afternoon jazz jam session where sometimes... I was just a baby trying to learn how to play and I got to play there a few times.
  • [00:42:44] KATRINA ANBENDER: We asked you a little bit about music venues and you've mentioned some other places. What were some of your favorite places to go in Ann Arbor to just spend time in when you were here?
  • [00:42:55] FRED LABOUR: I went to a lot of movies. I worked at Cinema Guild so I was "Ticket Fred." I worked every night. It was six nights a week doing that, but I've never been a guy that... The Town Bar. The Old whatever Town bar, that was a place where I would go, and I think they had all these cassettes behind the bar and they had Nina Simone and they had all these great cassettes, so I could request that and sit there and listen to that. But I would rather be playing somewhere than going to a bar or something. There was a German place down on Main.
  • [00:43:40] KATRINA ANBENDER: Heidelberg?
  • [00:43:41] FRED LABOUR: Yes.
  • [00:43:42] KATRINA ANBENDER: Also, still here.
  • [00:43:43] FRED LABOUR: Yes. Oh, I saw one of the great fights I ever saw in a bar, with two women. Oh, my God. It was a knockdown drag-out. Whoa! [LAUGHTER] Whoa, violent. The guy said to us, "Keep playing, keep playing!" And the other guy's saying, "Stop! Stop!" Oh, man. Sara and I lived together for a year after I got out of college and she was still at the Daily, and we lived up on Fountain Street upstairs in an apartment, and I was going to be a writer and I tried writing a novel, and it was just so bad. So I finally ditched that and just played music. I'd be playing in the club and I'd come home reeking of cigarette smoke because everybody smoked in those days. Sara would come in reeking from the darkroom at the Daily, and it, it was potent. I wonder if she remembers it.
  • [00:44:42] AMY CANTU: Those were the days.
  • [00:44:45] FRED LABOUR: Oh, I forgot to talk about the [Ann Arbor] Film Festival, all the stuff we did with the Film Festival, and Jay Cassidy was one of my best friends and still is, actually. He was in and George Manupelli and those people I knew tangentially, but I knew him. The Film Festival was big and the whole art that really informed... I'll tell you one thing. That really informed my sense of what art was, was Pat Oleszko, George Manupeli, Ruth Reichl, and the whole Cinema Guild... The Wehrers -- Ann Wehrer and Joe Wehrer -- and the people that were doing conceptual art. I carried that with me to Nashville. When I started doing bits on stage at beer joints and writing scripts, that was a lot of my inspiration, Manupelli, in particular. And doing stuff like bringing a chainsaw. I did one -- The XXX chainsaw massacre -- and I had a real chainsaw that I would bring on. If you want to get attention in a small beer joint, crank up a chainsaw. Everybody pays attention. I would do that and then I would cut up meat. I would have actual meat that I would get at the grocery store and cut it up as part of the shtick of the radio show we were doing. It was a performance art thing to me and it was directly from Ann Arbor. People in Nashville were like, What the hell is he doing?
  • [00:46:36] AMY CANTU: That's great.
  • [00:46:37] FRED LABOUR: People of my age were like, "This is great." It's certainly edgy [LAUGHTER] because there's meat flying around, plus there's a chainsaw.
  • [00:46:45] KATRINA ANBENDER: I feel like you can see some of that inventiveness and creativity in the children's show that you did, which was a filmed endeavor, and even talking about the props and the attire that you would have.
  • [00:46:59] FRED LABOUR: You're right. Definitely, that sense of humor. Ranger Doug has it as well. It's Mad Magazine. It's wasted childhood, reading Mad Magazine, and then the Smothers Brothers, The late great Tommy Smothers. Stan Freberg was huge, and I discovered him at Michigan. My freshman roommate had Stan Freberg's "The History of the United States of America." Pivotal album for me, which I continue to steal from even today. [LAUGHTER] Oh, excuse me, "pay homage to." [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:47:41] AMY CANTU: Well, thank you so much, Fred.
  • [00:47:42] KATRINA ANBENDER: Thank you.
  • [00:47:43] FRED LABOUR: What fun
  • [00:47:44] AMY CANTU: It was great fun. Thank you so much. [MUSIC]
  • [00:47:47] FRED LABOUR: I'll see you soon, I hope.
  • [00:47:50] KATRINA ANBENDER: AADL Talks To is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library. [MUSIC]