Today we pay homage to Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, rhythm guitarist and songwriter with the revolutionary ‘60s Detroit band MC5: a Visionary Motherfucker who died of ill health at the age of just forty-five. More tragically, Sonic’s MC5 career (and role as credible revolutionary commentator) evaporated when he was just half that age, the sudden transition from ‘60s Us-ism into 1970s Me-ism – caused by the Revolution’s failure – forcing upon this obstinate, feisty and determined 23-year-old the role of the ‘has been’ or, even worse: outside Michigan he was a ‘never was’. So, just like his former bandmates and guru/manager John Sinclair, Sonic was forced for the rest of his life to dwell on the ‘mighta beens’ of a United States run not by the cadaverous be-suited proto-corpses of Kapitalism, but by the free-thinking and libertine ‘super patriots’ as envisaged by fellow MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer.
Unfairly forced from the Revolutionary into the role of journeyman musician, the 23-year-old was thereafter highly cautious and selective regarding new band members. Throughout the 1970s, his new bands generally involved former MC5 members, rarely stretching beyond members of former Trans-Love Energies associates, such as the Stooges and the Up. In the mid-70s, however, Sonic – together with former Stooges drummer Scott ‘Rock Action’ Asheton and former Up bassist Gary Rasmussen – enlisted former Rationals lead singer Scott Morgan in order to put together the part-time Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. In a particularly weakened frame of mind, however, when Sonic signed the band up as backing band for Iggy Pop’s European Tour, he conveniently cut his co-star Scott Morgan out of the deal at Iggy’s request. Thereafter, Sonic lived quietly with his new wife, poet Patti Smith, until his death in 1994.
But let us not now give emphasis to the post-revolutionary Frederick, for his idealism was not burned out by drugs or by personal problems, but by the clandestine operations of the highest governmental authorities, all of whom had been determined to deal the ‘60s Revolution an out-and-out Death Blow. NOBODY could have survived what the MC5 were put through, except perhaps those musicians with their own key to the Federal Arsenal. So let us not remember Sonic for the ‘meagre years’, that highly compromised second half of his brief life, but instead commemorate (1) his legendary mouthiness towards band members visiting the Grande Ballroom – Cream’s Jack Bruce reported him for ‘insolence’ – and (2) for his bizarre and determinedly futuristic adoption of pre-Kiss superhero outfit replete with silver cape and a balaclava surmounted with a lightning bolt, and (3) for bringing to the MC5 (while struggling at the end of their career) four songs of such dynamic musical and lyrical intensity that their final LP High Time actually nailed their Revolutionary metaphor at last … albeit AFTER the Revolution had passed by! So please stand up today and raise your cups to Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith. Motherfucker!
[Written by Julian Cope]
i raise a glass to Sonic
may he jump up and down
fur immer in Valhalla – Huzzah !
we all miss Fred a lot. let’s have, a drink to the revolutionary guy, some thoughts to the (almost lost) message from the sixties and a listen to the “5” and Sonic rendez vous again. KOTJM!
brothers & sisters
i wanna see a sea of hands out there.
I had the honor and pleasure of working,living with and seeing Fred Smith perform at the height of his musical prowess he was a force on the guitar the likes of which I have never seen or experienced since the glory days of the MC-5 at the Grande Ballroom,Golden Gate Park. and all gigs I attended as a fan and roadie for the MC-5. He was a musician to the bone never doing anything but making music and being true to his beliefs.there was a purity about and simplicity that gave him a power when he played there was no doubt you were getting all he had to give when you saw him perform.
I can remember how drained he and the band were after a show they left it all on the stage.As has been said many times “you had to be there” he was truly the epitomy of “High Energy” Kick Out The Jams Frederick Dewey Smith your spirit lives on! With Much Love and Admiration
Yes… you had to have been there! I’m glad I was.
I had no idea that he was so young at the time of ‘KOTJ’ or ‘Back in the USA’. Younger than my University-age son is now. Such a hero, gone so soon.
I add little to what has already been said. Only that everytime i hear them i have a smile and feel the urge just freak out motherfucker.
Many times I have enthralled young’uns with tales of seeing the MC5 live back in the glory days of Ann Arbor in the late 60’s – specifically, I think it was March ’69, the Union Ballroom a sea of freeks, w/the Stooges and Red, White and Blues Band in a benefit for the Ann Arbor Argus. A peak rock ‘n roll experience never to be surpassed….
Facing Detroit and raising my glass in a toast to Brother MotherFucker Fred! Lovely tribute, Julian.
By the latter days of the MC5 and then through short lived goups like Ascension, the Scott Morgan band, and finally the great Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, Fred had grown to be about the best lead guitar player on the planet. Pretty fair songwriter also. I have to take issue with “meager years”… Sonic’s Rendezvous Band kicked out the jams for about half a decade and was the sonic equal of the MC5. Lived in A2 in the 70s and went to just about every SRB concert I could get to…
Ah, yes! Many was the night spent in A2 at Chances Are (errr, Second Chance) absolutely blown away by the SRB. These, my friends, were decidedly not ‘meager years’ for Fred or Scotty Morgan–now ill himself with liver failure. One night, enjoyed a show there on the main floor with Patti Smith, accompanied by her sister as her ‘wingman’, no doubt courting Fred at the time. While SRB never recorded more than single, their live bootlegs live on in my Detroit playlist. ‘Looking At You’ indeed!