The Songwriter Who Tore Time Asunder – Part 2, Amboy Dukes / Who – 1967 Southfield High
“I dream with my eyes open.” – Jules Verne -” Journey to The Center of The Earth”
I was so locked into the ambiance of what was transpiring, I was oblivious to the opening act performing in the auditorium. My entire focus was on what Farmer was relating, and although I would have jumped to see any band from this time period, I sat frozen, unable to pull myself away. I was hypnotized, enthralled by Farmer’s words as he so eloquently gave life to the actions and events of the Amboy Dukes and their relation to the Motor-City and beyond.
Farmer momentarily took a break in his relating of his anecdotes and surveyed the room, grinning widely. ‟Everyone had some of the kool-aid, right?”
Ear-to-ear grins surrounded him as heads bobbed up and down in affirmation.
‟Ya know, as Ted and I developed the Dukes, Ted on lead and myself on rhythm, he had the idea to bring in John Drake from Chicago as front-man. I always preferred being a behind-the-scenes sort of guy—plus John kinda danced and moved around a lot, which added to our visual stage presence. As for me, I knew a kid named Bill White who could not only match Ted note for note, but offer an exciting accompaniment on bass to most any song we played.
‟This collaboration became a major factor in the establishment of the Amboy Dukes’ sound. Psychedelia was taking off, and this is where we evolved from the sound of my original band the Gang, which had more of a ‛Stones-like vibe. Ya gotta keep in mine that in Detroit, it was not just a musical movement, but a very political one as well. I mean, consider that this has always been a working class town; the unions and their labor ideologies were powered with political radicalism, especially during the ‛30s. So it’s only natural to expect this same sort of enthusiasm and power to carry over into the music being created in this area.
‟A great example of this in terms of art—Anyone who has been to the DIA has seen Diego’s mural, a mind-blowing representation of a union of the people and its impact on industry. This depiction of the power of the people—this also applies to the explosion of psychedelia that’s happening throughout the country. It is offering to society a complete revolutionary social change, for the better—an evolution in consciousness, so to speak.
‟Now what does this have to do with our music? I’ll tell ya…. Music is revolution! It changes the way and manner in which people think. Anyone who expands and opens up their mind with drugs or consciousness is onto new thoughts and ideas and a greater perception of existence. Ultimately this becomes a threat to the establishment. And this is a good thing—to alter the status quo—as cultures must evolve, or they will decay.
‟Never doubt what it’s about, and you’ll get along fine, but by seeing the true meaning proves you’ve got a m-i-n-d. My suggestion is inspection of h-u-m-a-n-i-t-y.*
This was brilliant. I was lost in my own head, but somehow brought back to this pocket of time at Southfield High auditorium and what was transpiring in the here and now, in this time-bending alternative reality. Where everyone was smoking—cigarettes or pot—lighting up the room with curvy trails of cosmic illuminations.
Farmer continued. ‟That’s where Rick came in—any band that was worth their salt had keys. Rick Lober is a classically trained keyboardist. His Wagnerian onslaught of the instrument enriched the Dukes, both musically and visually. Our first hit, ‛Baby Please Don’t Go’—which, by the way, we’ll be opening with tonight—highlights this fact. Especially when Ted’s guitar playing mixes with Rick’s frenetic keyboards.”
Rick handed me a joint, chiming in to the conversation. ‟It was after our gig at the Rooster-tail [a nightclub on the banks of the Detroit River] that our management contacted us for this gig here…. We all recognized that this could be a real chance for the band, as we’d now be performing with international touring acts—you know, like those coming in as the English invasion. I mean, how cool is that!”
‟Correct!” continued Steve. ‟Being from Detroit, we were fortunately subjected to more than the typical American’s share of the British invasion via Canadian radio, television and print. Even performers tended to flow through the natural trade route…from Montreal and Toronto, then into Detroit, before branching out and touring in other parts of the U.S.
‟Ya’ know, two stations come to mind—CKLW outta’ Windsor and Kenner 13, WKNR, in Detroit—both were in many ways the radio horn of plenty that supplied us kids with both the music of England and that of our own local area.”
‟Hey, Steve,” exlaimed Rick, ‟let’s not forget Robyn Seymour’s ‛Swingin’ Time’!” This weekly dance show was seen on KCLW-TV every day after school; anyone who was anyone in the area or was touring was usually showcased.
‟Tell us about ‛Journey to the Center of the Mind’.” The request came from someone near the back of the room. As the ‛Dukes’ second album, which went number one nation-wide, had not yet been released, I began to suspect that several in the room were fellow-travelers though time and space. Perhaps, when the moment was right, I should introduce mysef to these people.
Smiling, Steve began to colour in the story…. ‟I’ve just finished writing the lyrics for ‛Journey,’ while Ted is wrapping up with the music. I’ll be doing most of the singing on the second side of this introspective trip, the record being a mini rock-opera of sorts.”** Upon hearing this, Roger Daltry’s and Pete Townsend’s ears seemed to perk up.
‟‛Journey…’ will become our anthem for psychedelia (or LSD, if you will)—in fact, the anthem of a generation or more. Get this—the entire side two of the record is a rock-operetta that involves the ‟A ha” spiritual consciousness of harmonic mind expansion, explored by the imagination, unfettered by limits of distance, time and speed, be this with psychedelics or spiritual self-enrichment, all this for the attainment of enlightenment through space and time.”
I, along with some others, noticed that a few members of the Who, upon hearing what Farmer had just stated, quietly began conferring with each other.
‟But don’t let me get too far ahead of myself in time!” Steve stated. ‟Let me tell ya’ a story…one that involves us—the Dukes—and the style you’ll hear Ted applying in his performance tonight, and how this played out on our tour with Jimi Hendrix. One thing I can say—and I am speaking for myself here, am I not?—is that there are not many people around who could have written a hit record about LSD and then toured and even tripped with the phenomenal Jimi Hendrix. Now, this is just one of my many stories of Hendrix, mind you, completely from my own perspective.”
‟Well, let me begin with our tour with Hendrix in the South. Here we were, having the time of our lives. I mean, imagine being in a band, and not just performing at a gig, but touring as support with Jimi Hendrix. Well, this was where our heads were at and nothing in the world could compete. Hanging out with the Experience, gettin’ high with the band—the parties were cosmically beyond stellar!
‟Now, as we all know, Hendrix is an outstanding guitarist, but here’s the rub—so is Ted. The Duck [a nickname the band gave Ted during the recording of their first album] would do everything Hendrix did in his performances, but as the line-up went—since we were opening for Jimi—Ted wound up doing it first! Night after night! Ya know how the Duck loves to showboat—jumping off the stage, walking through the crowd, playing guitar behind his back, with his teeth…. Well, this was exactly what Hendrix was doing during his performances. Ted even has this fifty-foot cord he uses to play when walking through the audience. So Jimi couldn’t really match Ted’s performance, as the kids at these shows had already seen the moves.
So as it happened, one day Hendrix’s management says to us, in no uncertain terms, that if Ted does this again we’re gonna get booted off the tour. So guess what? On the very next show, Ted being Ted, he does it all again. And guess what—when we showed up at the next show we were not allowed to play. We all stayed, watched the show, got high…and headed back to Detroit once the night was over.
‟Perhaps this is just a fantasy of mine…I mean, now that I look back, I think there may have been a good chance we could have played Woodstock as the Amboy Dukes…. But this Ted episode did not sit well with Hendrix’s, or, as word spread, with a-n-y management. And that’s where our two bands parted ways.”
Rick had no comments to add, as he was off to the side of the room speaking with some of the Who roadies about what to expect from the exploding amps in the band’s SUNN equipment (perfect for the touring band of the day). Special transformers, long chords, they fell apart but kept working; the secret of the success was with the fire and smoke.
Steve continued. ‟Back to ‛Journey,’ though. It certainly opened doors…. What gave me the idea? Well, it’s no secret that it came to me indirectly through Jules Verne. I was watching the movie ‛Journey To The Center of the Earth,’ and that was the catalyst. The unexplored territory of the mind, with its mysteries and secrets of universal creation, so vast and complex.
‟So I began writing, and the lyrics just seemed to come naturally to me.”
‟But what about the guitar intro?” came a question from someone in the group. Here, Rick and Steve both kinda smiled at one another and then looked over at Ted.
‟B-O-N-A-N-Z-A!” came Ted’s reply. (End of Part 2)
Join us in the exciting conclusion where Ted’s LSD trip at the Wilson Mower Pursuit’s band-house gives him a brainstorm on how to avoid the military draft. Also, find out some of the current happenings of Farmer, Nugent, Lober and the rest of this most fascinating Detroit band! All in the final chapter of ‟The Songwriter Who Tore Time Asunder” from The Incredible Adventures of Mischa.
*Carrot more orange than an orange -Steve Farmer 1967
** Journey To The Center of The Mind (April 1968)…predates the Who’s Tommy (rock opera) May 1969 by over a year.
Column made by Michele Dawn Saint Thomas/2015
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