I often wonder about my interest in seeking out wise older men to learn from. Perhaps it is because, although I had both grandmothers, I never had a grandfather, on either side. How I would know what I was missing, I have no idea. But perhaps there is something in there that goes way back in the human race that wants to have a grandfather, someone separate from one’s father with perhaps more life wisdom, some kindness, and hopefully a little time on their hands, enough for a grandkid or two.
What I never found in a grandfather I found in the great blues artists of Chicago. How did I get close enough to know them? That started with me serving them food and drink at the landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals in 1969 and 1970, and at the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz festival. Even more influencing was interviewing and spending time with scores of the finest blues artists. That sealed the deal. I was hooked.
Anyway I got close enough to encounter the kindness for others in their life experience, no matter what color you were. They had seen it all, or most of it, and the great ones were way beyond pettiness. Artists like Big Mama Thornton, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Roosevelt Sykes, and others were accepting and nourishing. Of course there were players that were stand-offish and not friendly, but they were in the minority. Without thinking, I immediately took these great beings as my mentors.
For about six years I pretty much studied Black music, the blues in particular. I played the records and played along with the records. I supplemented that by playing live music in the Prime Movers Blues Band from 1965 on. I stopped playing, more or less, in the spring of 1971. And I went to Chicago to see the blues artists playing live, and hosted them when I could. James Cotton and his entire band stayed with us for, if I remember right, some weeks.
I can’t say much for my playing, but I do know that I did not lose respect for the great blues players. I was always the student, and never graduated to arrogance in this area. I feel the same today. I was never trying to get anywhere and I did not get far in that regard. It was enough to hear, study, and attempt to play the blues.
When it came to white boys playing the blues, our greatest influence was that first Paul Butterfield Blues Band album which came out in the fall of 1965. They were our heroes, and we got to know them some. Whenever they played in Detroit or near us, we would go. And we traveled to Chicago just to hear them play. I was told that Paul Butterfield himself said that the Prime Movers were the second-best white blues band in the country. Of course the Butterfield band was the best, and they were, no doubt about it.
For a while we would do the same songs they did, many of which were the same songs the great blues masters did.
“One More Heartache" is a 1966 single recorded by Marvin Gaye for Motown Records.
That was a recording from 1967 of me playing harmonica in the Prime Movers Blues Band.
Hello and Welcome to “Friends of the Sixties,” a series of short videos on the scene, way back then.
I’m Michael Erlewine, founder of the All-Music Guide, the largest music site on the Internet. Today I’m here to talk about the my band the Prime Movers Blues Band. My brother Dan Erlewine and I formed in in the summer of 1965. I plan to talk about the history of the band and some of the players in another podcast. First let’s just listen to the what the Prime Movers sounded like.
I am sorry that I can’t point you to an album of Prime Movers music. I am working on one. The problem is that we really have only two surviving recordings of the Prime Movers Blues Band and they literally came out of someone’s basement a few years ago. One is a set we did at the Schwaben Inn on Ashley Street in Ann Arbor, and it has Iggy Pop on drums. The other set is, as far as I can tell, rom Clint’s club, a black bar on Anne Street in Ann Arbor, where we often played, but I am not sure what time frame is, 1966 or perhaps 1967. It has either Iggy on drums or Jessie Crawford. Not sure who is on bass, but perhaps Ilene Silverman.
Neither set is professionally recorded, just someone with a tape recorder who was there at the time. This is back in the age of reel-to-real tapes, so folks didn’t carry around a tape recorder in their pocket. They had to haul it in, find an outlet, and set it up on a chair or in a booth.
I have mixed feelings about sharing these recordings. What we have here is one set each from two different time periods, a single copy of songs that we must have done hundreds of times, with no chance to pick the best of three or more versions. Here we are stuck with the best of one version, and lucky to have that.
It is clear from the length of some of these that we were in a bar, where we played until 2 AM, and obviously were stretching out tunes to fill time, but also having fun as we went along.
There is no room here to play each song in its entirety, since many tunes are longer than this whole segment itself, so the best I can do is give you a sample so that you could see what we were up to. I will try to show some nice photos of the band.
I am going to start out with a version of “Yonder’s Wall,” probably as we heard it from Junior Wells, but morphed over time into our own style. I am singing and playing harmonica, my brother Dan Erlewine is on lead guitar, Robert Sheff (Blue “Gene” Tyranny) on keyboards, perhaps Ilene Silverman on bass, and either Jim Osterberg (Iggy Pop) or J.C. Crawford on drums.
Here are the Prime Movers.
That was my brother Dan Erlewine on lead guitar, soloing on “endless Blues,” a tune we would play to fill time. Dan and I started the Prime Movers and we played together for many years. Dan went on to play lead guitar for the Sam Lay Blues Band and later he became a famous guitar maker and repairman, making guitars for players like Albert King, Jerry Garcia, and others. He is considered to be the cream of the crop when it comes to knowing about guitar repair and Dan’s books and videos have taught thousands how to setup their guitars and such.
Next, let’s listen to the Prime Mover’s main keyboardist Robert Sheff, better known today as the celebrated avant-garde classical composer and player “Blue” Gene Tyranny. Robert, who travelled with jazz great Carla Bley and others, lives and performs in the New York City area.
When he was with us Robert played a Farisa organ with a Hohner Clavinet sitting on top of it, and he could sight read a full orchestra score. When as the house band for the club “Mother’s,” we backed up famous groups like The Contours and the Shagri-Las, Robert was invaluable. He could just play anything. Here he is soloing on “Endless Blues,” that same tune we just heard from my Dan.
Now let’s listen to Robert Sheff solo in minor key on “Yonder’s Wall,” while I kind of weave in and out on harmonica toward the end of the tune. I hope you enjoyed “Friends of the Sixties.” See you next time.
Now we come to Iggy. There are many, many stories floating around about Iggy Pop and not all of them agree. Everyone claims to have named him Iggy, including me, but I can give you reason. I can only tell you what I remember about Jim Osterberg.
He was “Jim” when I met him and be played drums in a band called The Iguanas, a rock band that mainly played fraternities and local gigs. We liked Jim immediately and he liked us, at least enough to leave his group and join the Prime Movers. Coming from a frat band, we had no idea there was an “Iggy Pop” in that young guy. Initially we called him “Iguana” for a while, just to remind him where he came from. I didn’t say we were always nice. After a bit, we shortened it to “Iggy,” and I guess he liked it because no one forced him to keep that name.
Another myth in my experience is that Iggy was always a “Wild Thing,” always pushing the envelope. Not in my experience. Iggy was a gentleman, at least in how he treated me. I can’t remember every arguing with him. He was polite and not aggressive, in my memory. It did not take long until we decided (at least I did) that we all loved Iggy. He was fun to be around, but he was ambitious too. Nothing wrong with that.
Yet another myth is that Iggy was a lady killer, a real ladies man. Now there is some truth to that, but it is not what you might think. Iggy was not aggressive with ladies. They had to come to him, and they loved him. He would just have to bat his long eyelashes and they would be all over him. So he was attractive to the women, but never had to lift a finger. It just happened.
What does all of this have to do with Iggy playing drums? Nothing. Just wanted to share my view of Iggy as a person. As a drummer, initially he OK, maybe even a little good. He was a quick learner, and worked his ass off at it. When he saw the legendary double-shuffle that the Butterfield Band drummer Sam Lay could do, Iggy couldn’t do it. Who could?
But Sam taught him and Iggy worked for weeks until he could play the hell out of it. Iggy never became a “good” drummer. He became a great drummer, at least for playing blues with us.
Iggy’s ambition never lost strength and eventually he left the band. There was no argument. Perhaps he was afraid to tell me, because I heard it from another person. That was cool. People move on. We soon recruited J.C. Crawford and he played great drums for us. More about J.C. in another program.
Right now I want to play for you a song that Iggy used to like to sing with the band, the Bo Diddley song “I’m a Man,” but Iggy learned by way of Muddy Waters. Here is Iggy singing “I’m a Man” with the Prime Movers Blues Band at the Schwaben Inn.”