The Ann Arbor music scene, from Paul Robeson to Frank Allison …on episode 28 of the Saturday Six Pack

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After the last several episodes, where we had so many guests, and so many things to get through, I enjoyed the relaxed pace of this most recent edition of the Saturday Six Pack. I’d left us a lot of breathing room when planning the show, thinking that, just maybe, Marshall Crenshaw might stop by, seeing as how he was just down at the end of the street, preparing to do an acoustic set as part of the 9th annual Ypsi Songfest. As it turned out, though, he never showed. Maybe he’d heard that I intended to critique his performances as “Lightning” Mel Ratner on The Adventures of Pete & Pete and John Lennon in Beatlemania. Or, maybe he was just didn’t see how visiting a tiny, micro-watt AM station with a broken antenna could possibly help his career. Whatever the reason, he didn’t make the trip down Washington Street, leaving me a lot of time between my scheduled guests, which turned out to be a really good thing, as I had more time to meander around and see where our conversations might lead. I wasn’t in any rush, and I think that made for better radio. Hopefully you’ll agree.

[If you would like to listen to episode twenty-eight of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]

During our first segment, we talked with legendary Ann Arbor songwriter Frank Allison. We talked about the old days, when his band, Frank Allison and the Odd Sox, was at the top of the local music scene, playing for packed houses of absolutely giddy college students. We talked about the phenomenon of “Oddsockdom,” and the young women who would choreograph dances to each of the band’s new songs. And we talked about what happened as his voice stopped doing what he wanted it to, and as record labels turned to embrace grunge. And, perhaps more importantly, we talked about what he’s up to these days, running the Clinton Theater, stealing musical instruments from his kids, and taking pictures of bugs… Yes, apparently, when he’s not writing new songs, he’s hunting down interesting insects and taking their portraits.

Here’s Frank, along with Gillian Ream from the Ypsilanti District Library, telling us about Ypsi Songfest, which he’d played at earlier in the day.

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I don’t want to give too much away, as I think you should just listen, but I really enjoyed my conversation with Allison. Among other things, we discussed how he’d taught himself music on his grandmother’s chord organ, his early dreams of fame, what it was like to tour the Soviet Union, how he stole studio time from George Clinton, and his decision not to perform under his real name. And we also talked quite a bit about the theater business, and whether or not, in his opinion, Ypsilanti, like Clinton, could support a small movie house.

Oh, and I also tried to pitch him on the idea of a split 7″ that would have him on one side, covering songs by the Laughing Hyenas, and John Brannon on the other, covering Odd Sox songs from the same time period. I’m sure I’ll never get around to it, but I think it could be a really cool way to mark the fact that 25 years have passed since they fronted the two biggest bands in Ann Arbor. Who knows… if we sold enough copies, maybe we could afford to put up a plaque or two around town. Or, better yet, maybe we could have a bunch of musicians narrate an audio walking tour of downtown, telling stories about things that happened on certain street corners, or describing bars that no longer exist. [Actually, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced this could be awesome. Someone remind me of this in a few years, when I’ve got enough time for another project, OK?]

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Then, at the 1:17-mark, we welcomed in University of Michigan Professor Emeritus Dr. Willis Patterson, the founder and director of the local chorale group Our Own Thing Chorale. What started as a pretty straightforward interview about his founding of the group in 1970 took a turn toward the incredible when, on a whim, I decided to mention a story that SDS founder Alan Haber had told me some time ago about Paul Robeson not being allowed to sing and speak in Ann Arbor during the height of McCarthyism, in 1959. As it turned out, Patterson had a story of his own about Robeson, having been taken backstage as a young man to meet him at an event in Ann Arbor in 1943, setting in motion a chain of events that would lead him to become an accomplished singer himself, and an historian of African American art songs. Here’s Patterson telling me of his work to discover, preserve, and publish early African American musical compositions which might have otherwise been lost forever. [We also talked a bit about what it was like growing up as an African American in Ann Arbor in the 1930s, a subject which Patterson said he’d be happy to come back on the show and discuss in more length at a later date.]

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And we also talked with Patterson’s young protege Kira Monae Turner, who will be performing on October 4 with Our Own Thing Chorale at Ypsilanti’s Community Church of God. We talked about her love of opera, and her dream of making a career in the industry after graduating from college. She even sang a little bit for us at the very end of the show.

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Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything, and Brian Robb for running the board, making sure the bills paid, and insuring that the toilet paper stays stocked. Thanks also to Modern Lady Fitness for contributing this week’s intro track, and Dr. Peter Larson for sending in yet another song from his apartment in Kenya. [Pete’s song airs at the 1:13-mark.]

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

AND NOW, THANKS TO SCIENCE, YOU CAN LSTEN FOR YOURSELF:

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6 Comments

  1. Peter Larson
    Posted October 1, 2015 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    This was a great show.

    Frank seems like a great guy. I wish I had known him better when I was around more.

    I liked that you wouldn’t say the title to my song on the air.

  2. site admin
    Posted October 1, 2015 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    The song title in question was “Girl Guts.”

  3. Kim
    Posted October 1, 2015 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Dr. Patterson has the most incredible voice I’ve ever heard. You should get him to record intros for the show the next time he’s on.

  4. Jean Henry
    Posted October 2, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I only saw Allison once back in the day, because I was mostly a shut in. He was everywhere. From what I remember, I prefer his singing style now. What he needs to do to bend his voice around the dysphonia sounds pretty great to my ears.
    Glad he’s still at it.
    Plus bugs.

  5. Posted October 2, 2015 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, lots of cool, interesting voices on this episode.

  6. Alan Goldsmith
    Posted October 11, 2015 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    Great interview and post. Thank you.

5 Trackbacks

  1. […] IN WASHTENAW COUNTY… After kicking things off with the awesome into song written by our recent guest Frank Allison, we jumped right into things with Eastern Michigan University Senior Ramone Williams, […]

  2. […] IN WASHTENAW COUNTY… After kicking things off with the awesome into song written by our recent guest Frank Allison, we jumped right into things with Eastern Michigan University Senior Ramone Williams, […]

  3. […] STUDENTS IN WASHTENAW COUNTY… After kicking things off with the awesome into song written by our recent guest Frank Allison, we jumped right into things with Eastern Michigan University student Ramone […]

  4. […] [Episode 42 of the Saturday Six Pack was recorded live on April 2, 2016, in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the studies of AM1700 Radio… Oh, and this episode began with an intro by the great Frank Allison, who was on our show a few months back.] […]

  5. […] [Episode 43 of the Saturday Six Pack was recorded live on April 2, 2016, in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the studies of AM1700 Radio… Oh, and this episode began with an intro by the great Frank Allison, who was on our show a few months back.] […]

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