Rolling Stone's Hundred Best

#32 -- Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

By Bob Seger

I used to go to the Motown revues, and the Miracles always closed the show. They were that good, and everybody knew it. Not flash at all. The Supremes had bigger hits. The Temptations had the better dance moves. The Miracles did it with pure music.

Back then the radio played the rougher stuff, like "Do You Love Me," by the Contours, only at night. Smokey Robinson -- they played him all day. Everybody loved his songs, and he had a leg up on all the other singers, with that slightly raspy, very high voice. Smokey was smoky. He could rasp in falsetto, which is hard to do and perfect for a sad ballad like "The Tears of a Clown" or "The Tracks of My Tears."

Smokey wrote his own stuff, so he had an originality or individualism that maybe the other Motown greats didn't. He was a lyric man as well as a melody man, a musicians' musician. It's kinda like Hollywood, where you have the star, and then you have the actors' actor. Gene Hackman -- when was the last time that guy gave a bad performance? Smokey was the Gene Hackman of Motown.

I grew up in the black neighborhoods of Ann Arbor, Michigan, so I didn't think in terms of black music or white music. It was all just music to me. Smokey's first hit, "Shop Around," was one of the first records I bought. Later on when my brother went into the service and I was the sole support of my mother, I was playing bars six nights a week, five forty-five-minute sets a night. This was '63-'67, and I could make the most money playing in a trio. We had a medley of six Smokey songs that we played at least twice every night: "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," "Shop Around," "Bad Girl," "Way Over There" and a couple of others. It was a survival move -- the people demanded it. Also, if you were after a girl in the audience, it was always a good idea to do some Smokey.

Smokey was also known as the nicest guy at Motown, which you hear in his voice. I used to do a Canadian television show called Swingin' Time, and everyone from Detroit would show up: the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations. All of them nice people, but Smokey was particularly a gentleman. I saw him again around '87 at an awards show. I was able to tell him how much I appreciated his writing, and all the money I made playing his songs in bars. I have great memories. Thank you, Smokey.

(From RS 946, April 15, 2004)  

'60s radical takes long trip back to his roots

White Panthers' Plamondon surfaces with memoir

October 27, 2004




Lawrence (Pun) Plamondon lives quietly in the west Michigan town of Delton. Plamondon, who helped lead the White Panther Party and went into hiding after a bombing, has written a memoir. "I had people telling me that my story is ... amazing, man," he said.

In rural western Michigan, at the end of a mile-long dirt road, past a sign warning trespassers to keep out, lives a man who once became famous because he tried to change the world.

He was a young revolutionary who cofounded the White Panther Party, a fugitive on the FBI's most wanted list, a suspect in the bombing of a CIA building in Ann Arbor.

He was a pot-smoking, acid-dropping militant who wanted to free all political prisoners and called for an end to money.

"Everything free for everybody," was his mantra.

Lawrence (Pun) Plamondon's radicalism made him a household name.

Then he disappeared for 30 years.

Now, after putting his story on paper, Plamondon is stepping back into the light. Late last week, his memoir, "Lost From the Ottawa: The Story of the Journey Back," hit bookshelves in metro Detroit.

"I had people telling me that my story is ... amazing, man," Plamondon, 59, said.

The story begins in a state mental hospital in Traverse City.

Troubled childhood

His father was a 52-year-old alcoholic. His mother was a 39-year-old woman being treated for syphilis. He was half-Ottawa Indian; she was part-Ojibwa. While institutionalized, they conceived a son.

Their boy was adopted by a Traverse City couple, who called him Lawrence Robert Plamondon.

His childhood was troubled, and Plamondon left home as a teenager. At the age of 21, he wound up in Detroit. It was 1967, a turbulent year of riot, war protests and counterculture.

On Plum Street, a hippie enclave near Tiger Stadium, he saw young people with long hair, strands of beads hanging from their necks, and sandals on their feet. He began to make friends with writers, musicians, and poet Allen Ginsberg, a New Yorker who was one of the era's most-famous troublemakers.

Plamondon made sandals for money. At night he dropped acid, smoked pot and ate hallucinogenic mushrooms while listening to the MC5, The Doors, and Iggy and the Stooges.

Soon he was spending time with people like hippie guru John Sinclair, journalist Peter Werbe and artist Gary Grimshaw, who were running two underground newspapers, the Detroit Sun and the Fifth Estate.

"They all had something going on," Plamondon said. "I wasn't a writer or a musician, but I liked being with those people so I made myself useful wherever I could."

In 1968, Plamondon and friends moved to Ann Arbor, where they set up a commune in two big houses on Hill Street.

By now, Plamondon was becoming more political, and more militant. He was struck by an interview of Huey P. Newton, cofounder of the Black Panther Party. When asked what white people could do to support the Black Panthers, Newton said: "They can form a White Panther Party."

Life on the run

As Plamondon tells it, the White Panther Party was founded in 1968 by Sinclair and him.

They modeled the White Panthers after the Black Panthers, fighting for a clean planet and the freeing of political prisoners. The White Panthers went further, advocating rock 'n' roll, dope, sex in the streets and an end to capitalism. Plamondon took on the affectations of a revolutionary, donning a black motorcycle jacket and a swaggering attitude.

"He was an incredible addition to the group of people who wanted to bring about changes," said Leni Sinclair, a former revolutionary and photographer who was married to John Sinclair. "He was very political-minded, very inquisitive, always studying revolutionary text trying to make himself useful to the struggle of the time."

Plamondon went underground in October 1969 after learning he had been indicted in connection with the bombing of the CIA office in Ann Arbor a year earlier.

He cut his shoulder-length hair short, shaved his beard and began wearing wing-tipped shoes. He traveled incognito for 11 months, bouncing from San Francisco to Seattle to New York to Toronto, Germany, Italy and Algeria.

In May 1969, at the age of 24, he became the first revolutionary to make the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

"I was a fish out of water," Plamondon said of being on the run. "There were no hippie girls, no hippie guys, no rock 'n' roll, no beer. I was lonely and homesick. I came home unannounced."

After sneaking back into the country, he planned to lay low in northern Michigan. In July 1970, Plamondon and two White Panther members hopped into a Volkswagen van for the ride north, chugging beer along the way. South of the Mackinac Bridge, one of the other men began tossing empty beer cans out of the van. A State Police trooper stopped the men, checked their identities and forced them to pick up the trash before continuing on.

Later, police discovered that George Edward Taft III was Plamondon using false ID. He was arrested 50 miles west of St. Ignace.

At a subsequent court appearance, Plamondon told the Free Press that his arrest was the result of "a lack of revolutionary discipline." He spent 32 months in a federal prison as his case wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In proceedings, federal government officials admitted to wiretapping Plamondon's conversations without a warrant. During his trial, U.S. District Judge Damon Keith ordered that the government release the tapes, but the prosecution refused. The Supreme Court eventually found in Plamondon's favor.

"During the trial Pun was hilarious, he was funny, he was totally fearless," said Hugh (Buck) Davis, a Detroit lawyer who represented Plamondon. "The radical theory is that Pun's case helped bring down Nixon."

Plamondon and his friends celebrated his freedom. But within a few years, the White Panther Party began to fall apart, and its members were forced to find new lives.

Finding purpose

Plamondon began driving a semi-truck full of equipment for rock bands including Kiss and Foreigner. He also joined Bob Seger on five tours, working as a driver and personal bodyguard.

By now, Plamondon was drinking heavily and snorting cocaine. Seger eventually fired him.

He moved from Ann Arbor to the west side of the state, where he found work as a janitor.

More often drunk than sober, he wrecked his car, wet himself, puked in public places, and once passed out on the side of the road in a patch of poison ivy. The low point came, he said, when he attempted to rape his best friend's wife. She did not press charges.

"There's few regrets in my life, but that's certainly one of them," he said. "I feel a great deal of shame."

After several lost years, his life started yet again in 1981, when he met Lewis Dawaquat, an Ottawa Indian who invited him to sit and smoke a traditional pipe of tobacco. That night, Plamondon told his new friend about the Ottawa father he never knew, about his troubles with alcohol and his shame. His new friend suggested that he learn more about his heritage.

"I started learning the Native American stories," he said. "It might be a story about a rabbit, but actually it was a story about generosity or values or culture. It gave me something to believe in. I finally had something to relate to."

Plamondon has not had a drink in 22 years, and he no longer considers himself a political activist.

Today his long, graying hair is pulled into a ponytail and his once lithe frame has filled out and softened. His pallid complexion hints at the hard life he once lived.

On a 40-acre lot in Barry County, Plamondon shares a home with Patricia Lynn, his wife of 20 years. He earns a living running a carpentry business called Plamondon Inc. and devotes time to telling American Indian stories to young children at libraries and museums. His friends occasionally trek to his home for American Indian celebrations. And he can go anywhere without being chased by cops.

What he has now, he said, is peace.

Posted on Sun, Oct. 16, 2005


Drummer refuses to license band's songs for commercials


Los Angeles Times

Bob Dylan is singing ''The Times They Are A-Changin''' in a television ad for health-care giant Kaiser Permanente these days, and who could argue?

With Led Zeppelin pitching Cadillacs, the Rolling Stones strutting in an Ameriquest Mortgage ad and Paul McCartney warbling for Fidelity Investments, it's clear that the old counterculture heroes of classic rock are now firmly entrenched as the house band of corporate America.

That only makes the case of John Densmore all the more intriguing.

Once, back when rock 'n' roll still seemed dangerous, Densmore was the drummer for the Doors, the band with dark hits such as ''Light My Fire'' and ''People Are Strange.'' That band more or less went into the grave with lead singer Jim Morrison in 1971, but, like all top classic-rock franchises, it now has the chance to exploit a lucrative afterlife in television commercials. Offers keep coming in, such as the $15 million dangled by Cadillac last year to lease the song ''Break On Through (to the Other Side)'' to hawk its luxury SUVs.

To the surprise of the corporation and the chagrin of his former bandmates, Densmore vetoed the idea. He said he did the same when Apple Computer called with a $4 million offer, and every time ''some deodorant company wants to use 'Light My Fire.'''

The reason? Prepare to get a lump in your throat -- or to roll your eyes.

''People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music,'' Densmore said. ''I've had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music, other people say they know someone who didn't commit suicide because of this music.... On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That's not for rent.''

That not only sets the Doors apart from the long, long list of classic-rock acts that have had their songs licensed for major U.S. commercial campaigns, it also has added considerably to Densmore's estrangement from former bandmates Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger, a trio that last set eyes on one another in the Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse last year.

''Everyone wanted him to do it,'' said John Branca, an attorney who worked on the Cadillac proposal. ''I told him that, really, people don't frown on this anymore. It's considered a branding exercise for the music. He told me he just couldn't sell a song to a company that was polluting the world.

"I shook my head," Branca said, "but, hey, you have to respect that. How many of your principles would you reconsider when people start talking millions of dollars?"

Densmore relented once. Back in the 1970s, he agreed to let "Riders on the Storm" be used to sell Pirelli Tires in a TV spot in England. When he saw it he was sick. "I gave every cent to charity. Jim's ghost was in my ear, and I felt terrible. If I needed proof that it was the wrong thing to do, I got it."

Since then, the animus between the drummer and Manzarek and Krieger has intensified, including a bitter dispute over naming rights.

In August, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Gregory W. Alarcon ruled that Manzarek and Krieger could no longer tour together as the Doors of the 21st Century. The pair, with former Cult singer Ian Astbury handling Morrison's vocal duties, were in Canada at the time and grudgingly switched their marquee to the acronym D21C.

Densmore had filed the suit in 2003 to block the neo-Doors from using any permutation of the old band's name. In this battle, he was joined by the Morrison estate, which is the late singer's parents and the parents of his late girlfriend, Pamela Courson.

An audit is under way to determine how much money Krieger and Manzarek must turn over from their two years of touring with their old band name. The touring grossed $8 million, court documents show.

Manzarek said the view that Densmore was selflessly protecting the Doors legacy was laughable.

"John is going to get about a million dollars for doing nothing," Manzarek said. "He gets an equal share as us, and we were out there working. A free million bucks. That's a gig I'd like."

Manzarek, whose keyboards strongly contribute to the singular sound of the Doors, said his old friend should join the neo-Doors. "He should come and play drums with us," Manzarek said, "not fight us at every turn."

Even if Densmore is loath to tour and disdainful of Astbury playing the late Morrison ("Nobody can fill those leather pants"), Manzarek said his old mate should allow Doors hits to be used in tasteful commercials that could add flicker to the band's pop-culture memory. He pointed out that Zeppelin and U2 recently relented in their long holdouts against ad licensing and that there was hardly a stigma these days to the practice.

"We're all getting older," said Manzarek, the band's eldest member, now 66. "We should, the three of us, be playing these songs because, hey, the end is always near. Morrison was a poet, and above all, a poet wants his words heard."

Perhaps more years of life would have changed his view, but in 1969 it was quite clear that the poet of the Doors did not want to be a pitchman.

The Doors had formed in 1965. As the decade was ending, they were hailed in some quarters as the "Rolling Stones of America." An advertising firm came to the band with an offer: $50,000 to allow their biggest hit, "Light My Fire," to be used in a commercial for the Buick Opel.

Morrison was in Europe and his bandmates voted in his absence; Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek agreed to the deal. Morrison returned and was furious, vowing to sledgehammer a Buick on stage at every concert if the commercial went forward. It did not.

In November 1970, the lesson learned from the Buick fiasco was put in writing. The Doors members agreed that any licensing agreement would require a unanimous vote. Even before that, the band had agreed that the members would share equally in all music publishing rights, an arrangement that set them apart from most bands.

Those agreements also set the stage for Densmore to be a human handbrake that again and again stops the Doors profit machine from speeding down new avenues.

"There's a lot of pressure, from everyone," Densmore said recently with a weary sigh. "Pressure from the guys, the manager, the (Morrison) estate."

He was sitting in the back-house office of his Santa Monica home. The walls are covered with photos and newspaper clippings, among them a framed Morrison poem about the vantage point of man beyond the grave. Among the lines:

No more money no more fancy dress

This other kingdom seems by far the best....

Morrison is dead but hardly forgotten. Just the opposite, his popularity has surged in the years since his heart gave out.

There was the one-two punch of the 1979 release of the film "Apocalypse Now," with its signature moments using the band's music, and the 1980 publication of the band tell-all book "No One Here Gets Out Alive" by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman. In 1991, another revival was stirred by Oliver Stone's movie "The Doors." Since that film's release, 14 million Doors albums have been sold in the United States alone.

Those album sales combine with the money generated by radio airplay, merchandising and the other royalty streams to put steady deposits into the bank accounts of the surviving members and the Morrison estate.

Still, there are no bigger paydays these days available for classic-rock outfits than the low-sweat licensing deals for television commercials and the warm embrace of the concert road tour. That was underscored last year when Manzarek and Krieger alleged that Densmore had committed a "breach of fiduciary duty" to the Doors partnership. Basically, the argument was that the money now was so good that Densmore couldn't reasonably say no.

When Cadillac offered $15 million last year, the money made Densmore dizzy ("More money than any of us have made on anything we've ever done," he said), but he was resolute. "Robbie was on the fence; Ray wanted to do it," Densmore said. "All of it made me think about this book I want to write. It's about greed."