MOTOR CITY ROCKIN' - Various Artists (Independent)
Well-travelled Motor City bassist Ron Cooke has opened up his personal archives for this collection of 17 tracks, attributed to a bunch of names any self-respecting I-94 Barfly will be familiar with.
Cooke was a member of Detroit (the band), was the guy Sonic Smith jammed with in the formative days of what would become Sonic's Rendezvous Band. He was also part of one of the great, largely unheard Midwest bands - the geographically-entitled Detroit - and signed on as a member of Gang War, the Johnny Thunders-Wayne Kramer-led outfit that never fulfilled its potential in the 1980s. All of the above, and others, are represented, and you can read his history here.
OK, suspend expectations of hi-fideilty sound, but don't fret too much either as the aural quality isn't exactly on the nose. If you're the sort of audiophile that loves to put on some weather-beaten '60s seven-inchers (mono, preferably) through an ancient jukebox with a few brews, you won't have an issue. The live recording of Gang War (a snarling "Courageous Cat") is the best example of their sound I've ever heard, and most of the rest ranges from very good to excellent (though, admittedly, I do listen to some fairly ordinary bootlegs). The fact that you won't get this stuff anywhere else means a trace of tape hiss won't be a detraction for most folks.
Getting to the heart of the matter and, musically speaking, most of "Motor City Rockin' " is both prime-grade rockin' rhythm and blues and a fascinating insight into a whole treasure trove of late '60s and early '70s Michigan sounds that slipped through the net.
Of most interest will be the songs billed as the product of the Original Sonic's Rendezvous Band. Many might think it a misnomer, as the "original band", per se, is Cooke and Smith, holed up in a basement, knocking out ideas on bass and guitar. Overdubbed augmentation from latter-day guests (like the very accomplished Steve Dansby on guitar and Detroit band veteran Johnny "Bee" Badanjek on drums) brings these jams into the realm of real songs. The Cooke-penned "Chungo of the Asphalt Jungle", "Space Age Blues" date from 1975, as does "Bells of Good Friday", which also has a rhythm bed from Smith and Cooke. If you're not too precious about overdubs, they all work to varying degrees, even if the band's future direction went in differing directions.
There's an absolutely killer 1978 live version of "Parchment Farm" from the Detroit band that's the last thing recorded by the band's latter-day vocalist Rusty Day. A quartet of tunes from the Brothers of the Road (whose ranks included Scott and Johnny Morgan, as well as Cooke and Cathy Deschaine, later to be a member of Scots Pirates and the Scott Morgan band). These songs confirm that this was a band that could have become something to be reckoned with, had the cards been dealt the right way.
Gang War's "Hoodoo Voodoo" (billed here as "Ho Do Vodo") comes from the 1981 Detroit demo sessions by that band, and all the stories about a very strung-out JT spending a good deal of studio time in the bathroom ring true, with a fairly ordinary vocal on display. That's unlikely to stand in the way of anyone wanting to hear it.
Cooke's bluesy late '60s band, Catfish Hodge, is heard to good effect here on a couple of songs. Steve Dansby bridges 1978 and 2005 with his guitarwork on "Uncle Johns Snuff/Walk Don't Run", a two-parter recorded 27 years apart. Even Elvis' posthumous producers can't boast that sort of lengthy timeline, and those post-death hits don't boast half as much life as this one. As to where to buy it, try here. – The Barman
TO THE REVIEWS PAGE
BACK TO THE BAR