"Our parents didn't have nothin'. But when we wanted something we'd just nag them about it. We just want things to go our way. If a party was not gettin' down, we'd leave--if we couldn't change it we'd leave. So one day we got really blasted and we were saying, 'You know, we ain't nothin' but a bunch of brats, we just crazy. ' And then Ben, the next day after he crashed down, he came back and he said, 'We should name our band BRAT. ' And just like attack all those people in the system."
Like many a suburb scattered out around the outskirts of Detroit, Mt. Clemens never quite lived up to the Amerikan dream. Along the lakefront and canals off of Lake St. Clair there are the cute little cottages and sprawling ranch homes of the so-called "upper middle class. " And along Gratiot Avenue, the shiny, clean plastic and neon of the drive-in burger stops and the big new shopping centers. But, like any other city living off the automobile industry, there are greasers, poor people, black people too. And ghettos. And dope.
It was three years ago in bad Mt. Clemens that the Brat were born. Still in high school, guitarist Ben Brewers, bass player Nat Peterson, and drummer Larry Blunt had been jamming together and asked Mark Carter, a friend of theirs who was playing Hammond organ in a band called Lord Seally's Grass, to join up with them. Marvin Howard, the lead singer in Lord Seally's Grass, came along too, and for awhile that was the Brat.
Two black and three white rowdy, young, dope-loving rock and roll musicians in a band with a name like that were bound to get in trouble. And by their second job, trouble had found them and had started to follow them all over the Northeast side. Nat and Larry tell the story:
NAT: "There was fighting going on with some greasers who was drunk..."
LARRY: "We all stopped playing and we were just fighting. And then we ended up playing again. We continued to fight when we were in Mt. Clemens..."
NAT: "Dudes would follow our blue van and wanna just hassle us... "
LARRY: "One time at practice we ended up fighting again and Nat ended up with four stitches in his head."
NAT: "Every time we got in fights somebody ended up screwed up, cut up, or something. Now we just try to avoid that stuff."
The Brat's struggle to survive and play together led them on a search for a place to live together, a house of their own to practice and work together in on an uninterrupted, regular basis. Their first hideout was out on 20 Mile Road, an old abandoned farm that they took over without even bothering to check with the landlord.
"We just went there, and we seen it, we liked it, and we moved in," Mark says. They were only there three days when Clinton Township police raided a party they were having and chased them away.
The Brat's reputation followed them to their next house, which the Clinton police closed after less than a month's residence with a late night drug bust. It was out on Gratiot and 10 1/2 Mile Road and, Mark explains, "We moved in last April 24 and were busted June 10." The cops broke in the doors that night when only Marvin was at home, pointed guns, sucked water out of the toilets, tore apart the house, and only managed to find a few marijuana seeds in a vacuum cleaner bag.
The bust never stuck, but Marvin flipped out and quit the band and the police used the fuss caused by the phony raid to evict the Brat. When Ben, Larry, and Nat returned to the house a week later to pick up their stuff:
BEN: "Four Clinton Township police cars pulled up...They told me to stop throwing my frisbee in the yard...then said 'Put the frisbee in the trunk,' and I said 'No.' I just wondered what the deal was. So they forced me to put it in the trunk and then they started beating my ass and telling me to get in their car...So they took Larry and me down to the police station, after a few blows to the head."
MARK: "Then they called the landlord and he told the pigs that we could come there and get what we wanted but after two weeks we couldn't come there anymore."
At their next job the Brat had to find a fill-in drummer for Larry, who was still being held in jail--and they had no lead singer. Leon Mills, a vocalist with a band called Cold Steel, was in the audience and came up and sang on a few tunes. After the set Leon and the Brat made a pact - and the Brat became then as it is now: Leon, Mark, Nat, Larry, and Ben. The Brat continued to kick 'em out, and the police knew about it.
NAT: "The pig was just hassling us all over. We would play and they would come in and tell us not to play our instruments or we would go to jail. At one job at Selfridge Air Force Base they thought we was giving dope to all the kids. So they brought marijuana-sniffing dogs and surrounded the place. We just split out of there without even playing." They only got to practice twice all the rest of the summer, but they played at a lot of places, including at what they consider their biggest gig, the Goose Lake Pop Festival. The Detroit based STP Coalition had forced rock promoter Russ Gibb to put three people's bands on the popstar packed bill, and Brat was one of them (along with Up and Loring James.)
Although they played at the beginning of the show early Saturday afternoon there were almost 100,000 people up on their feet and dancing by the end of their set.
One month ago the Brat finally found a house they could settle down in, here in Ann Arbor out on Newport Road across from Forsythe Junior High School. When asked why they made the move here, the Bratsters leave no doubt that it was first and foremost a survival tactic. "It's because of the pigs, " Nat says. Back home, "the judge told us if they seen us hanging around together they's send us to prison."
Last Wednesday Marsha Rabideau from the RPP and myself were out at the Brat's house passing joints and talking to the band about rock and roll music. Here's some of what went down:
SUN: You really killed 'em in the parks here in Ann Arbor last Sunday. How do you like Ann Arbor audiences?
LEON: "Gettin' DOWN!"
NAT: "There's a lot of energy in the crowds..."
SUN: What about the music scene in general? A lot of people are saying rock and roll is dying...
MARK: "There's definitely a ruling class in the Detroit music scene. The people who are controlling it took everything over and they use only the bands that they like. And for new bands it's really hard."
NAT: "It seems like the honks have taken over all the music scene now. And they want that money for themselves. So they'd rather use big bands with big names so they can make the money. And all the smaller bands that have a decent groove so they can get the people down, they won 't give 'em a chance."
SUN: What effect does that kind of stuff have on the Brat?
NAT: "When we walk on stage and they see there's black and white people playing together - that's like a revolution right there. We got turned down a whole lot of places because there was black people in the band. We call up and they ask us, 'Who's in the band? What color are you?' And we say there's a few black people in the band and they say, 'No, we don't want your business!'."
SUN: Do you think people in the audience react to that?
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Rock and Roll Dope
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NAT: "They be expecting us to play soul music. But I don 't know what music we play, I just think it's high-energy-rock-and-roll-nasty-funk."
LEON: "People say rock and roll is dead because they're dead. They don't have no groove."
NAT: "They don't make it lively. If a band is good, you can get a groove goin' when you play--so if you go on stage straight, you can come off high."
SUN: Do you think there's a connection between what kind of dope a band takes and the kind of music they play?
NAT: "You can tell some bands play some riff constantly, over and over again through the whole song, da doom doom doom, da doom doom doom, over and over again through the whole song, and then one change. You can tell they doin' bogus dope by that. Heroin, you know. Jive. Because it's cool to them, you know, it's hip because they got this nod goin' and they don't care. Too many changes is a hassle when you're trying to nod, you know?"
SUN: What kinds of dope would you call bogus dope?
LARRY: "Coke, THC."
SUN: Is it possible for a band to play high energy music if they're taking down dope?
NAT: "You can, but..."
LEON: "You won't do it good."
SUN: Let's talk about your music.
LEON: "It's mostly old-time, revived."
NAT: "Like we've got three or four originals."
SUN: What kind of stuff do you write about?
LEON: "We write primarily about what we're up against."
NAT: "Like the music is the people, you know. And if the people would get together this is the sound they would make. Really heavy, high energy, nasty, funk. That's what it is."
SUN: What about the future?
MARK: "We're all living together in this house because it's what we all chose to do for the rest of our lives - there's really nothing any of us can do but play..."
LARRY: "We wanna play rock and roll music and get the people down."
SUN: Do you think you'll be able to break through all the barriers...?
NAT: "Yeah, I know it'll happen. We want black and white people to come together and just live like human beings together. Then's why we're playing like this. And we won't stop until we get it like that, the whole Nation, you know!"
KICKIN' OUT THE JAMS AT DIANA OUGHTON MEMORIAL PARK