Bassist Gary Rasmussen Tells the Up Story
G: We grew up in Detroit.
K: You started playing music at age 9 with your brother Bob. What kind of music were you playing then?
G: Really kinda folk music, like Smothers Brothers stuff. We didn’t play out that way, but that was the idea when we got started. Homer and Jethro! We had an album from somewhere.
K: And your brother was playing guitar before you?
G: We actually got a guitar at Christmas that we were supposed to share. We took lessons for maybe a year, year and a half, something like that.
K: How’d you wind up switching to bass?
G: My brother is two years older than me, so when I was 11, he was 13, playing guitar with a band, and they needed a bass player, so that’s why I started playing bass.
K: You used to play with [drummer] Dave Palmer, who later played in the Amboy Dukes?
G: We started out as the Galaxy 5, and that was Dave Palmer, my brother and me, and a guy named Charlie Martin, just a guy in the neighborhood, playing guitar, and a saxophone player – can’t even think of his name. I was 13 years old, so that’s like 1963. We were playing all instrumentals like Ventures and stuff like that, nobody was really singing. It wasn’t too much later that the Beach Boys and Beatles got big, and we started kinda switchin’ over. Of course, when you’re that young, you’re not really out there singing much, anyway. But with the British Invasion and all that stuff, we started being more like a band with singing in it.
K: You guys once opened for the Capitols of “Cool Jerk” fame.
G: Yeah, the band changed its name then. We were the Citations, and we all had matching outfits…matching vests and stuff, and there was a guy on Detroit radio named Dave Schaeffer, he was actually the program director for CKLW. He would do sock hops on the weekends, so we were like “his band” – he’d drag us along to all these sock hops. It was in a lot of teen kind of clubs and roller skating rinks and those kinda things. People would be skating to the music! A lot of ‘em would be in Canada, like Windsor, Kingsville, kind of close, but within an hour or so of Detroit…Port Huron, Michigan. So we’d play live and he’d spin records and talk, and they’d always have one famous, something-that-was-on-the-radio kind of band, maybe Question Mark and the Mysterians, or one time it was the Capitols. What they would do is, they would come and just lip-synch to their record. So we were playing in Windsor with the Capitols, and they were coming to do their one song, and the record player wasn’t working right, so they asked if we could do that song. I was probably 13 or 14 or something…young! So we played that one song, and they sang it!
K: It seems like there were a lot of places to play within in hour of Detroit back then.
G: Yeah. I was in junior high when I was doin’ that, and awhile after that, they started having a lot of teen clubs, because they had those TV shows, Shindig and Hullabaloo, and in Michigan, maybe in other places, there were Hullabaloo clubs. There were quite a few of ‘em; every little city would have their little teen club. We played a lot of those., and a lot of high schools. It just started from there, and then we stopped doing the radio shows, ‘cause we never got paid. We were just kids, and they’d say, “It’s great exposure.” I still hear that: “It’s a great exposure gig!”
K: How’d the transition take place from the Citations to the Up?
G: We changed the name of the band to the Brand X, which was with [rhythm guitarist] Steve Farmer, who also ended up being in the Amboy Dukes. Ted Nugent called and was looking to put a band together. Ted had been living in Chicago, and he was in Detroit, and we sorta knew him, didn’t really know him, but he was hangin’ around the same kind of places, the same clubs where we were going to watch other bands. There was a band that was popular in Detroit called the Lourds [who became the Amboy Dukes, led by Nugent and singer John Drake], and we’d go to their gigs and watch ‘em. They were a little older than we were, and they were kinda like role models for us. When Dave Palmer joined the Amboy Dukes, we started looking for other players.
We ended up talking to Frank Bach, who was the singer for the Up, but before that, he was working at the Grande Ballroom, which had just opened up [in October 1966]. He was the MC there when it first opened up. So we got together with him and then found a drummer, Victor Perrino, and then we became the Up and just kinda started hangin’ out around the Wayne State [University] campus in downtown Detroit. There was kind of a scene goin’ on there – hippies and all that stuff.
K: What kind of music were you playing in the early days of the Up?
G: By that time, we were pretty influenced by the MC5. We’d been going to a lot of shows and playing a lot of shows all along, like the Yardley had a big show in the state fairgrounds in Detroit, which was like the Yardbirds, the Blues Magoos, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, the Velvet Underground – quite a show, actually, for back then. After the British Invasion came through, we were actually playing a lot of songs by the Kinks and Yardbirds and that kind of music. Then we saw the MC5 play and since we were kinda hangin’ out with them, we probably started buying bigger amplifiers and turnin’ it up.
K: Were you at the Grande show where the Five opened for Cream and Fred Smith was cracking on Eric Clapton before they went on?
G: It was actually while they were on. They were playing their set. They gave Cream one dressing room and the other side of the stage was the other dressing room that the MC5 had. The Cream was taking solos, and they got to the point where Ginger Baker’s playing his ten-minute, 15-minute drum solo, and Eric Clapton comes down into the dressing room, and Fred was pretty cool. He goes over to him and says, “Why don’t you guys have a rhythm guitar playing in your band?” “Well, we think we can handle it without a rhythm guitar player.” “Well, how come there’s a rhythm guitar on your records, then?” Just giving him shit, basically. But that was the MC5, anyway – they kinda gave everybody a little bit of shit. They were all pretty cocky, especially when they were young, and they felt that the Grande Ballroom and Detroit…that was their home. And they would give people a little bit of shit, just to let ‘em know.
K: You guys once had your gear repossessed during a gig?
G: There was a music store in Detroit, Massomino’s Music, which I believe is still there. They had given us a charge account where we could, on credit, go buy drumsticks and cymbals and strings and stuff. And we probably got out of control with it – got new guitars, y’know. I don’t think the guitars were as big of a problem as everything else. “Well, I need ten pair of sticks,” all that stuff. It got to the point where we owed them a lot of money, and we were playing at the Hideout, which was a teen club back then, run by Punch Andrews, Bob Seger’s manager. We got to the gig and set up our equipment and Joe Massomino walks in the door with two big giant guys and took our guitars! So we got on the microphone and asked the kids in the room if anybody had guitars we could borrow for the night. The kids went home and got some little cheap guitars and brought ‘em up, and we did the gig.
K: You guys had quite a few run-ins with the law back in those days?
G: Not too much. We played a teen club in Ann Arbor – that had to be probably 1967 – called the Fifth Dimension. Somebody at the club at that time came up and gave us a bag of marijuana. Actually it was so crummy that you couldn’t smoke it, it was so bad! Anyway, we stuck it in the glove box of the car and drove back, ‘cause back then we used to drive my mother’s car. My brother had his license. Got back to downtown Detroit, ‘cause my brother was living in the Wayne State area, where the MC5 and John Sinclair and all those people were living, and were unloading the equipment late at night. Police came up and started hassling us, saying, “Somebody complained his dog’s howling at the moon. Is that you guys?” -- that kind of stuff. They ended up searching the car, and there was the bag of marijuana in the glove box, and I panicked and grabbed it, and that was pretty much it. They arrested us, took my brother to jail, and took me to juvenile hall and told me I’d be there ‘til I was 18 – and I was 14! But I was only there for two days. They called me down and my parents were there, and I think I was more afraid of my dad really at that point than anything else that was going on, but [my parents] were real good about it.
K: What did your parents think about you guys doing all this crazy rock ‘n’ roll stuff when you were in high school?
G: I’m kind of amazed that they went along with so much of it. We were pretty determined. My brother had moved out when he was 18 to be with the band, and the band was moving to Ann Arbor, to Hill Street. The MC5 and John [Sinclair] and all those people had moved a couple of months before that, and we found out that the house next door was for rent also, so the band wanted to move there. That was the summer that there was riots in Detroit, a lot of stuff that was going on, they killed Martin Luther King [in Memphis] and it was getting really quite bad where I went to high school – Cooley High School in Detroit, which was probably 70% black then. I guess I was stubborn maybe, because I decided, “I’m going, as soon as summer comes and school is out, I’m going to be with the band in Ann Arbor.” My folks said yeah. They didn’t like it, I don’t think, but they let me go. I was 16. A summer of that, and there was no way I was going to go home! Living in a commune, we had 30something people, the Summer of Love and all that stuff. It was just the times. People were breaking traditions. It was a different world there. A great time to be 16 years old and be the bass player in a rock ‘n’ roll band!
K: What was the scene like at the Grande when you guys played there?
G: It wasn’t a bar. It wasn’t really a teen club. It was more like a counterculture kind of scene, like the Fillmore. I think the MC5 probably played the first show there. Russ Gibb had been around, and he was an older guy, and he’d seen the things going on in San Francisco and Chicago and other places, with the posters and the art. Really, the whole culture at that time was really something. A lot of it, too, was the war in Vietnam polarized people. When you’re getting a draft card and thinking about going to Vietnam, it’s pretty easy to start making decisions about what side of this you’re on.
K: Do you think that pulled young people together?
G: Well, it had an effect on me. I had already been playing for a long time in bands, and God, you’re that young and you get a draft card and you start thinking, “Man, that’s just not what I want to do at all. No way.” And I think a lot of people did just kinda…it’s the alternative: you just go with it, get drafted and join, or you’re against it.
K: Did any of the guys from the Up get drafted?
G: I was really a little bit younger than most of the people, so by the time I got sent a draft card when I was 18, first they sent me one that said I was 1-A, and you were supposed to go down for a physical at some point, and then they sent you another one and gave you another ranking. At that time, I really believe, I don’t know for sure, but all the people that I lived with had been through it, and they were doing all that crazy junk to get out of it. They’d do anything they could to get out of going: punch a bunch of holes in their arms and say they were a junkie, or say they were gay, anything. I never got called for a physical. I received a second draft card in the mail that said I was a 4-F, so I never had to go. They probably saw the address and said, “Aw, the hell with this!”
K: Didn’t [poster artist] Gary Grimshaw paint a guitar for your brother?
G: Yeah, he did two of ‘em. He did a white Stratocaster, and he painted a rainbow dragon on the guitar -- a rainbow that was shaped like a dragon. It was real cool. Wish I knew what happened to it. It was really nice. When the lights would change on the stage, with the colors on the guitar, it almost looked like the wings would be moving.
K: Isn’t the Fender Precision bass you play today the same one you used in the Up?
G: Yeah, I got that in 1968. Actually, I had another one before that, but it had problems. It got stolen at the Grande Ballroom. When we were doing a gig there, somebody walked off with it. We called up the radio station – back then, WABX was the big radio station in Detroit. I can’t remember which DJ it was, it might have been Dan Carlyle, but he went on the radio and said that I’d had my bass stolen at the Grande Ballroom, and if anyone knew about where it might be, or if they had another one that I could buy for cheap, to call me. So somebody called and said, “I heard on the radio you got your bass stolen. I got one, but I never play it, and I’m willing to sell it,” so I bought it for maybe $175. A ’62. And I still have it!
K: Wasn’t [Cult Heroes singer] Hiawatha Bailey the Up’s roadie at one point?
G: Yep. When we moved to Ann Arbor, he was one of the first people that we actually met. He had kind of a trash hippie pad, crash-house kind of thing going. What happened is, we were having trouble with our drummer Victor Perrino. He was kind of a greaser, a biker, and the rest of us were more like hippies, and we were kind of having trouble with Victor’s brother’s motorcycle club, who would just come and live at our house, and there wasn’t much we could do about it. So we kicked Victor out of the band, and at that time, Scott Bailey had moved down from Traverse City, and he was living in Hiawatha’s house, renting a room in the same house. So we started trying to get Scott to come over. We needed a drummer, so Scott was the drummer, and Hi kinda came along with him shortly after.
K: There’s a story that you guys played a gig in Nebraska and Hiawatha was locked in the back of the equipment truck all the way back to Ann Arbor.
G: Ron Abfaulter was a friend of Scott Bailey’s from Elk Rapids up by Traverse City, and those two guys kinda came as a package, so Ron was a roadie. Then we got Craig Blazier. We played at a high school, I believe it was Dexter or Chelsea, little town just by Ann Arbor, and he called to hire the band for the show. I think he thought we were really quite weird, actually, when we did the thing, but we started hanging out. He turned into our roadie. Ron Abfaulter left, so Craig Blazier became our roadie, and then Hiawatha. And Hiawatha’s kind of a crazy guy, so we played out in Nebraska at this anti-war rally, and I think Craig had had just about enough of Hiawatha, so Hi went around to the back of the truck for something, and Craig locked him in and wouldn’t let him out until we got back to Ann Arbor! Craig’s worked for all kinds of people. He worked with Kiss, now he’s road manager for Bob Seger. He’s been with Bob Seger for years. He worked for Barbara Mandrell for a long time.
K: Talk about the recording of the Up’s single (“Just Like An Aborigine”/“Hassan i Sabbah”).
G: The [band] SRC had a studio in Ann Arbor. Not Morgan Sound, which was a bigger studio they got later, just a house that they had turned into a studio. I believe it was only four tracks; a little studio on Division Street or someplace. I think I’d just moved here, it was 1968, and we went over there and cut a couple of songs.
K: How were you guys affected when John Sinclair went to prison in 1969?
G: Well, I think it affected the commune a lot, really. At the time, the MC5 had been signed [to Atlantic], and when John went to prison, the MC5 moved out of the house and got their own house. They thought they really needed a manager, somebody that could do the work for them, and John was in prison. So the MC5 left and the Up was still there, and the whole focus for those two housefuls of people really became to get John out of jail. There was a lot of energy put towards that; they had the newspapers, the magazines, the artwork – we had quite a scene with Gary Grimshaw living there, and a guy named Al Shamie was a really great artist that I don’t think many people know about. A lot of the focus of that had switched from maybe setting up food co-ops to overthrowing-the-government kind of stuff to get John out of jail. We were playing benefits for it, drawing people together for it, writing articles about it, and just drawing attention to it. And we were the band in that time, and I think most of the money we made probably went to keeping those things going, paying the rent on the houses and stuff.
K: The Up played an SDS rally up in Flint.
G: I thought it was another gig. You could tell from the beginning, “This thing isn’t going to go well.” A friend had just come back from Vietnam. He just got out of Vietnam and he had some of this weed that was the bomb. He had a film canister full. Well, he said, “I’ll drive the band up to this gig.” We said, “That’s fine,” and sent the equipment on up ahead. And we’re going up there and the police stopped us and started hassling us and ended up searching us, and they found this little bit of Vietnamese pot. The guy that was the driver and had the stuff said, “You know, I just came back from Vietnam last week, and this is something I got into while I was there, but don’t mess with me, because I just got back,” and I think the police gave him a break, and they let us go.
So we left after being stopped by the cops and we drove to the gig, and when we got there, it was just a really weird scene, real dark, kinda scary thing going on. It was these radical women, lesbian groups there, SDS people. They were different than we were. We always thought we were kinda radical, but we were rock ‘n’ roll cultural radical, and these people were a lot more serious. At least they thought so. It wasn’t so much cultural as more really anti-government things. They were givin’ us so much shit, just stuff, that we were counter-revolutionary, that we treated women bad, we were male cock-rock and all this stuff they were sayin’ – which might have been true, basically we were doin’ what we were doin’. They just gave us so much shit about it before we even got close to unloading the equipment that we said, “The hell with this. Fuck this.” We just left and went back home. And it turns out that that’s the meeting where they’d all conspired to blow up all these government buildings and all those people ended up going underground. Pretty odd. We ended up not playing, but I think that was a good thing. We just ended up getting out of it, escaping it.
I was kinda for a lot of the political issues that I was involved with, but on the other hand, I was really just into the music end of it – the cultural end of it – and let the other people really worry about the rest of that stuff.
K: Is it true you dropped acid with Timothy Leary?
G: Well, he stayed at our house when he came to Ann Arbor, so we got some when he was there. Didn’t take it with him, but it came with him.
K: Didn’t the Up also play gigs with him?
G: Yeah, we did a few. I think it was Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan. Actually, I was looking through some stuff the other day and I found a flyer: Timothy Leary, the Stooges, and the Up.
K: Talk about your mind-expanding experiences!
G: Yeah, but the [Hill Street Estates] houses were kind of a unique thing. They were kind of famous at the time. We always had people coming by. Abbie Hofman came there. Jane Fonda came and stayed there at the houses. The Hog Farm, they all came and they were hanging up there. At one point, Sun Ra and his band lived there at the houses for, I think, a week or two maybe.
K: Did you guys ever play any music with the Sun Ra band?
G: Yeah, I’d try. These guys were in a whole different league than what we were doing. We were doing kinda rock, and these guys were deep – far out, like old jazz guys. But even then, I’d try to play with them. I don’t know what they thought. They probably thought, “What the hell is this?” But I thought it was cool. That was funny, too, because Sun Ra knew what his guys in the band were doing. Basically what they were doing was coming over to us and going, “Let’s get some hippie girls and get some of that pot stuff! Where are them hippie girls at?” But then they were kinda looking over their shoulder, too, making sure Sun Ra didn’t find out!
K: The Up recorded a song with Alan Ginsberg, didn’t you?
G: No, that was for the Free John rally with John Lennon at Crisler Arena [in 1971]. The Up put out a single, and on one side was a song called “Free John Now,” and on the other side was Alan Ginsberg doing a prayer for John Sinclair. So we kinda shared a single. He had one side and we had the other, and I think we printed ‘em up to give away at the concert.
K: Do you have any particular memories of that Free John benefit?
G: Oh, I dunno. It was quite a show! God, it had everyone on it, from Stevie Wonder to [free jazz trombonist] Roswell Rudd, David Peel and the Lower East Side, Bob Seger – a bunch of people, a bunch of speakers, like [Black Panther] Bobby Seale. Ed Sanders and the Fugs, Phil Ochs. It was quite a show, all kinds of stuff, everything from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz to folk to everything, and ended up with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and he played acoustic. That was cool, ‘cause they had a lot of people, it was probably Elephant’s Memory up there with them, but they had five or six guys strumming on guitars. I remember I enjoyed the whole thing and it was really good.
They made a movie [Ten for Two] about it. I’m not sure, but I think there’s a couple of different versions of that movie around, and at least here, I don’t know about other places, every once in awhile, like every anniversary, five years or ten years or something, it comes back and you’ll find it somewhere. It shows in some theater. I went to see it and I’m the first thing in the movie! When the movie comes on, it’s me! And I didn’t know that when I first went to see it. I’m sittin’ in this theater, and it comes on, and God, there I am, I’m 40 feet tall! Actually, we don’t even play a whole song in the movie. It’s just pieces of a song, just to get the thing going. But it was kind of a thrill for me back then. I’m like the very first thing for a couple of seconds, then there’s our band for maybe ten or 15 seconds, then we’re done. So I was kinda like, “Well, I can go now!”
K: How did the end of the Up come about?
G: We were in the studio again. We were recording in the new SRC studio, which was a way bigger thing. I think they probably had 16 tracks, a real nice place. We were having a lot of trouble doing the vocals, because Frank [Bach] was really not a singer. He was just a guy. Back then we thought anyone could do anything! Anyone can be anything they want! Which in a way kinda is true – y’know, with all the punk music and everything that came later – a lot of everything is attitude. But I think that I had pretty much gotten to the point where I’d just go, “Basically, this ain’t no good, man.” Frank had a tone problem, he couldn’t sing in tune, and I think I just got frustrated to where the other three members of the band decided, “We’re kickin’ Frank out and getting a singer.”
We were still living in the commune then, and we’d been playing gigs with this band Brat from Mount Clemens. Really, we called up Leon [Mills], he was the singer, and we told him, “This is what we want to do. We want to have a band. We’ve got me and my brother, and what we need is you and your drummer and your guitar player. Let’s do it.” We moved ‘em up to Ann Arbor and put ‘em in the carriage house between the two houses and started the band from there. It turned right from Up to Uprising, and that band was managed by John Sinclair and Peter Andrews. John was out of jail by then and he was managing Mitch Ryder and the Rockets.
Things were never quite the same with those guys. Those guys from Mount Clemens were never really revolutionary guys. Mount Clemens! So it didn’t seem to be working that well with the people living in the commune, so we moved out. We kept it going for a while, another year or so, really just struggling along, playing what we could. We had a booking agency, which is still here – Prism Productions, when they first started out. [future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator] Howard Kramer was the guy that worked at Prism, and he was getting us work. We were renting very, very cheap housing and struggling to pay the bills, playing the gigs, and basically having a really good time.
What happened is, we played a gig and there were a lot of bikers at this thing, and Leon the singer was in the bathroom and this biker came in and goes, “Snort this!” Leon thought it was cocaine and he snorted this stuff, and it was some kind of PCP stuff, and for the next week or so, Leon was totally gone, just out of his mind. He ended up stabbing himself, taking a knife and just plunging it into his stomach. It was really bad, because right when he did that, Howard Kramer had booked us a ton of gigs! We thought, “Finally we’ve got enough work, we’re gonna have money, and things are goin’ well, and then that happened, and Leon was in the hospital. The rest of the band started getting disillusioned with a lot of stuff, pissed off at Leon, and they decided what they’d do is get Nate Pearson, who’s a good singer and a bass player. So basically, they fired me and got Nate Pearson, got rid of Leon, and I think they lasted for not very long afterwards, a few months in that particular configuration.