The Sixties were a time of an incredible musical epiphany, influencing lives perhaps more so than any of the other induldences of that nacent epoc. David Brzezinski, from the St. Norbert's graduation class of 1970, shares its impact on his life at high school's end and life's beginning. Many of us can identify with such passion and devotion. Those were turbulent times for the music megopolis that was Detroit in that decade and a few to follow. Tour with Dave in his musical Wayback Machine. Here are his words.
I've always been interested in music. I bought my first single ("Big Bad John," Jimmy Dean) when I was in the fourth grade, but neither of my parents really listened to music that much. No one in my family played instruments (at least not so you would notice) or really thought about doing so. I would stay up late at night and listen to my tiny transistor radio held close to my ear with the sound turned down until the 9-volt battery gave out.
The Sixties were really special. Like most kids, hearing the Beatles and the other groups were a big inspiration. For years, I was content to just listen. I do remember the night I was listening to Jimi Hendrix (Electric Ladyland) over headphones when I realized that I couldn't just listen anymore. I wanted to play. I don't think I wanted to be famous or rich or the best. I just wanted to play.
I think my younger brother, Mark, had bought a cheap (mostly cardboard?) acoustic guitar and bought a book of Beatles tunes showing the chords. Slowly but surely I began to teach myself how to make the chords and how to play some tunes.
When the first MC5 album came out in 1968, that inspired us to form our first band. The kid down the street (Kevin Newell) had a Murph electric guitar, but no amp. My older brother, Steve, was to be the drummer, but he had no drums. Mark would be the bass player and I would be on guitar. Neither of us had an electric guitar. However, this was an important step, since we began to pull ourselves together musically. I bought a cheap Kent electric guitar ($15) and Mark got a Hofner bass copy. We bought an Ampeg Reverb Rocket amplifier off the greaser-band guy across the street. We would practice and play tunes, but we never played anywhere for anyone. We were very much into the local Detroit music scene that was thriving at that time.
Mark's interest in music was a very important factor for me. He became fast friends with Mike Ferencz at Cherry Hill High School, who was a true musician. He had taken guitar lessons and had talent coming out his ears and fingers. He had professional equipment (a blonde Fender Telecaster and a Vox Royal Guardsman solid state amplifier) and he introduced us to his musical friends, Mark Schutte and Ron Anderson. We would sit for hours on summer nights on Mike's porch on Avondale playing on his Gibson B25 acoustic guitar and picking up licks.
Somewhere in here we got involved with what I call the "Dearborn" faction. I imagine that we met these guys down at the Happy Apple or Wearhouse II or Dearborn Music in downtown West Dearborn. Mark and I formed a band with Dave and Eric Jones. Dave had drums and Eric had a Gibson Les Paul Junior. We'd get together and play songs over at Dave and Eric's house. We would borrow equipment (like Ron's Fender Mustang bass) to give us a better sound. Dave invited a friend over (Don McAlpine) who played trumpet with us (on "Mustang Sally") sometimes. But, we never played anywhere or for anyone. We did a killer version of the Up's "Just Like an Aborigine."
Mike Ferencz, Mark Schutte, my brother Mark, and a new kid from Dearborn Heights, Kevin Snell, on guitar formed a serious band together. Ron and I handled the equipment for them, since I had a 1961 Ford Econoline van. We had named the van "Fred," which led to naming the band, "The Fred Jam Band." This was a serious band. My brother, Mark, got a clear plastic Ampeg bass guitar and Mike got a beautiful curly maple sunburst Gibson Les Paul. They played at parties and various venues, culminating with an outdoor gig at the park in Garden City. But as with most bands, tensions eventually led to a breakup.
Around that time, my older brother, Steve, died in a motorcycle crash on his way to work and by 1972 I decided to go to school down at Wayne State University. Of course, one of the first things to happen down there was that my apartment was broken into and all my instruments and equipment were stolen. Given my progress on playing guitar, I decided not to replace anything and to just focus on being a student.
This (of course) did not last long. When I had free time, I would sometimes wander through the local pawn shops looking for my equipment. I had taken the theft rather personally. I really would get excited looking at all the equipment for sale and when I saw a small mahogany Epiphone acoustic guitar for $90, I put $10 down on the spot. I worked at a local cafeteria mopping floors and every week I would put another $10 towards the guitar until it was mine. It was about the size of a Gibson B25 and was the first "professional" grade instrument I ever owned. I still own (and play) that guitar today.
Eventually, we moved out to the West side of Detroit (near Warren and Southfield) and I commuted down to Wayne State. It was during this period that I got involved with Don McAlpine (the one-time trumpet player) again. He was forming a serious band with his brother (Dick) on bass doing original music. Don had become a great guitar player. What was particularly important was that this was my first guitar playing experience in a serious band and that Don took my playing seriously. To play, I had bought a cheap Rickenbacker copy, but I began looking for something better. Using my experience haunting pawn shops I bought a Music Man 210-65 amplifier and a white 1965 rosewood neck Fender Stratocaster out of pawn shops. I still use both of these as my main musical equipment today.
Don was a little too serious for me. We did play a couple of gigs at bars, but he really wanted to record. We did do some recording in a real recording studio, but that was it. Finally, Don got involved with a guy name Don Was who was recruiting bands to promote. It would involve touring and investment of both time and money by band members. I couldn't just quit school and go on the road, so I quit the band instead. There were other reasons too (since I got married not long after that), but that's another story.
Now things get kinda interesting. I have lots of brothers (6 now) and they grew up listening to Mark and I playing in bands and jamming in the basement. So, when my younger brothers Martin (on guitar) and Mathew (on drums) were putting together a band of their own to play original music, they asked Mark and I to join. This resulted in my first (and only) recording in 1980 on a single. The band was called "Six" and the record was released on Flying Turtle records. I guess we're kinda famous, because we got listed as among the pioneers of the local punk movement (see: http://collectorscum.com/volume3/michigan/ ). My brother Martin wrote both songs and I would not call what we were doing "punk," probably more "new wave."
Anyway, playing with my brothers was a pretty stable gig. When Mark got busy doing other things, we found another bass player. We played at a couple of bars in Ann Arbor (the infamous Joe's Star Lounge) and Detroit. Once the band even opened at a house party for a band called "The Replacements," which was probably our closest brush with fame. I had graduated from Wayne State in 1979 and my wife (Linda) and I moved out to Ann Arbor where I got a job with the Environmental Protection Agency lab. Martin fell in love and moved out to Oregon, so the band thing sorta stopped.
Finally, a few years ago in the early 1990's I started inviting Mark and Mathew over to my basement to play music. Nothing serious, just an opportunity to flex our musical skills. None of us really write songs, so we would just do whatever songs we were thinking about that day, including songs we didn't really know. We would just figure out the chords and go from there. It was so much fun that it became a regular thing. I compiled our notes on how to play songs in a big notebook that we could play from. Mark invited Theo Smith, a fellow who worked with him, to come out of his musical retirement and play keyboards with us.
Anyway, we've gotten so good at this that we began to play in front of people. First at a Halloween party, then at a summertime outdoor open stage venue. Last year we played outside at the Ann Arbor Art Fair and this year we are playing at the Ypsilanti Moose Club that Mark belongs to (see info below). We call ourselves "The Six Foot Poles." Hey, I don't need a musical career at this point in my life, but I get a lot of joy out of playing old classic Sixties music.
Both of my sons play music. Peter (23 year old) plays bass at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor frequently with his band. My younger son, Erik, plays tuba in the school band and is taking bass lessons as well. I guess I might have had some influence on them after all.
My big project is to convert my 450+ vinyl albums to CDs. I figure at the rate I am going it will take me about 10 years. But I love every moment of it, listening to all that stuff again. It reminds me why I play music in the first place.
Our band, The Six Foot Poles, is playing again at the Moose Club in Ypsilanti. It's not quite the Grande Ballroom, but it's a friendly, comfortable place to listen to music, to drink what you like and to dance when the drinks finally hit you. The gig is:
Friday, May 9, 2003, from 9 p.m. to Midnight(?). No Cover.
at the Moose Club, 5506 Stony Creek Road in Ypsilanti Township. (734-483-0900)
From I-94, take the Huron Street exit to Ypsilanti going South.
There are lights at the Eagle Crest Golf Club and at S. Huron River Drive (at about a mile down). The next light is for Stony Creek Road.
Turn Right on Stony Creek Road and the Moose Club will be the first parking lot on the Right hand side (a couple of hundred yards).
Here is a link to a map showing the location.
Just an idea for a Friday night.
David BrzezinskiDave's Band Page