Sonny Vincent in studio 2010

QUESTIONS: Goran Polak

GP - I'm a huge fan of The Stooges, MC5 and Sonics's Rendezvous Band, so could You tell us something about Your connection with Detroit legends like Scott & Ron Asheton, Wayne Kramer and Scott Morgan? Are You still in contact with them?

SV - I first meet Scott Asheton from the Stooges and Rob Tyner of the MC5 at a show of mine that I was doing with my band 'Shotgun Rationale'. We were on tour and playing in Detroit at the famous/infamous Majestic Ballroom. That night I met tons of people and a lot of the local band people, it was quite a party and as I remember one friend of Tyners had to be put in a bathtub of cold water to bring him back to a situation where he could stand up and speak understandable sentences.
The next day Scott Asheton and Scott Morgan brought me around Ann Arbor and downtown Detroit and visited people around town. I had a couple of friends there from when I had played Detroit in 1977 when I was touring with the Dead Boys/Testors tour of America, so we stopped in on them too. Each place we visited had it's own stash of drugs and alcohol, so by the end of the visit I was really hung over, to say the least. One thing I noticed though was that the quality of the stuff there was quite high, I guess they were professional! All that monkey business aside it was a great time to be there . At that time Detroit and Ann Arbor were really quite nice, and the whole experience for me was positive (well except the hangovers!). Remember when I came back to visit the second time and I was picked up at the airport and again driven all around Detroit and Ann Arbor and I was presented with all the landmarks. Very cool to drive with them and be shown all the places that figured important in their lives. "Here's the Fun House where the Stooges lived and rehearsed and there is the commune the MC5 and John Sinclair had, the 'Trans Love'". It was a really special. They made me feel like a visiting Prince from another province, I know that might sound strange but there was a warmness about the Detroit people, and they put a lot of effort into making me feel at home. I even met some of their parents. Scott Morgans Dad showed me his back yard garden and all the work he had done on it. The Asheton brothers Mom, Ann Asheton and I had lunch together in town, where she told me all the stories from her perspective ("Oh that Jim (Iggy) was always eating my cakes and then leaving chocolate fingerprints on my milk cartons!") Eventually I spent more and more time there in Michighan and made many friendships and musician pals. Ron Asheton mixed and co- produced my 'Parallax In Wonderland' album, Wayne Kramer became a close comrade who I recorded with and hung out with many times over the years. I have kept in touch with pals like Hiawatha Baily, Scott Morgan, Gary Rasmussen and others. I always felt that I got a special view into the Detroit scene and history. They introduced me to a view of their experience of RockNroll from the 60' on and what it was like for them in those days during the 60's through the 70's. It was an honor to have this attention given to me. I gained something special from the warm feeling of community there.
We also had some jam sessions in Detroit in those times that I still have on cassette somewhere in a trunk. Later in 1997 Scott Asheton was in my band and we rehearsed at his sisters place with Steve Baise (Devil Dogs) to get ready for a European/U.S tour. And subsequently me and Scott recorded a few albums together.

GP - Any 'good memories' about playing with them?

SV - Playing with Scott Asheton is effortless; he is living breathing Rocknroll.. The groove is relentless and natural. He understands how songs work, the structure and intent and he already does everything you might suggest before its needed to be mentioned.
Wayne Kramer has a very 'over the top' ability to unleash an amazing amount of power through his guitar playing. The thing about Wayne is that he is not just 'riffing' but he is tapping into something, going to the source. Like unlocking something more through his playing. It's hard to explain but I guess anyone can know what I mean from hearing him. It's all there in the music, Add to that the fact that when you are around Wayne you are well aware that he is operating on a very soulful level. Where he goes with his speeches, his conversation, the stories he tells, it all has basically the same goal, the same path like in his music. He is interested in the 'real' and the heart of things. It's obvious when you see him working that his goal is to reach the inner core. I'm not trying to say he is some sort of Guru spiritual Master, but that word 'Master' does often come up when people I know talk of Wayne.
Well.. I could go on here, on and on, Ronnie Asheton was so sharp and witty and once you got to know him he revealed a very sensitive side of himself.
Scott Morgan is a gentleman and a ripping talent, Gary is so fuckin cool too, Steve Mackay, James Williamson, the list is long and from me the details are full of proclamations of integrity and soul. It's just that way, I'm not trying to romanticize or look back with fondness. These guys all came from a post hippy, radical revolutionary community and it is something real.

GP - Could You give us some insight of club scene in US now. Is there rock clubs like CBGB or Max's Kansas City, or that kind of clubs disappearing?

SV - There still are clubs with some similarities. On the level of presenting new talent and bands there are many cool places running these days. And some share the qualities that were at CB's- the sense of community and purpose. That being said there is no way to re-experience the same atmosphere though. I must say that the thing that was special and exciting about the times at CB's and Max's was the awareness that something new was happening and something potentially dangerous to the status quo of society. To the general public everything looked and sounded strange and foreign, the clothes, the music the attitude. We felt a sort of charged mercurial inspiration, like as if a crack in the universe was suddenly there and we were trying to split it wide open. These days I feel that there is a sort of 'carrying on of the torch' and the new bands are often still expressing important elements in their music. And thankfully there are still venues today that present these kinds of bands in their clubs. Another thing I remember from those early days was that although there was always a completive edge there was a definite camaraderie everywhere, At the clubs at the record shops, cloths stores and parties.. You never saw people from other bands standing in the back of the club with their arms folded saying "Oh we are better than them". Everyone was into it and each band had it's own merits, there was a wild spirit and people went pretty wild. Sure, there were instances of retarded childishness and jealousy's and a lot of smashed glass. But generally it was people feeling they were onto something cool and they had a good time with it. Quite a charged atmosphere complete with Lydia lunch reciting her words at the bar. (I remember thinking she was so young but so smart)

GP - Joey Ramone said that he is a huge fan of yours. What is Your favorite band, players to share a stage with, people to party with?

SV - That's a tough question. Mainly because it depends on what phase I am in. I don't have any favorites to share a stage with. But I do have a few other musicians',friends, that were like a barrel of friggin insane monkeys. I always had a great time with Bobby Stinson and me and Cheetah Chrome were like a tag team of humor and debauchery for a while, that was fun. But I suppose for sheer scope of hangin out covering the gamut of various experiences from childish pranks, to philosophical discussions to emotional madness , I really enjoyed hangin with Ivan Julian and Sterling Morrison. But there were so many pals and so many things we did, it's not very complete to think of examples on the spot. Tomorrow I will go "Oh! I didn't mention Moe, or Greg Norton, Or Johnny Rio" And that's sort of sad or unsatisfying, to forget to mention people. So many deserving their own chapter in a book.

GP - In several articles I read about Your fight with Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith Group at New York radio in 1980, but there is no real answer what happened. Could you share that secret with us? Do you have any contact with him now?

SV - I speak with Lenny from time to time. Lenny is good people. That story you read is quite true though. I believe the date was 1977 or '78 and I had just finished playing a show with my band Testors. The show was at what was called the 'C.B.G.B. Theater' . It was a theater on second avenue that Hilly bought and began to present some of the bands from CBGB. It was quite wonderful to go from being on the small stage at CB's and suddenly standing on a proper theater stage. It was an older beautiful theater with a balcony and across the stage was a huge velvet curtain. We thought "Wow! Like fuckin' Hendrix!!"
Well… , me and my band Testors had just played a hot set of our songs and after that we were going to be interviewed, 'Live' on a major New York radio station. . There was a podium set up next to the stage with microphones and chairs. The technician said Testors was up next, but just then Richard Hell walked in and they began to interview him, then Lenny walked up and they are interviewing both Richard and Lenny, Eventually I walked up there and there are quite a few details I will leave out because it's a quite long story involving drugs, some whisky and a girl, but the result was that me and Lenny got into a full on physical fight live on that radio station. Chairs flying, microphones ripped out. It was like the Wild West or something. Richard was basically in shock and eventually the whole deal was closed down and the lights came on in the concert hall. I chased Lenny outside and we had another confrontation on the street. Neither of us got terribly damaged, maybe a few cuts and bruises. But it was pretty high charged and wild. Later after Testors came out with our only release back then ('Time Is Mine' single) Lenny wrote a really cool review of it in Rock Scene magazine and that meant a lot to me.
I remember once when I ran into Lenny later in the 80's we had a great time together and he said "God! it's amazing we survived all that stuff from back then" The underlying problem or secret as you say of the whole event is this. As Testors we were sort of the kindergartners around CBGBs, and there was a lot of little games going on with hierarchy and small power trips. "Oh I can get 5 people in free when I come to the door" - " Oh yeah I can get 10". Add to that the fact that Testors was playing to a packed club but it never seemed we could get the same money. And there was a lot of competition for shows since everyone on the planet wanted to play CB's. On that day I felt that something was going good, we were invited to play the Theater and be interviewed live on the radio after our set. Great! But in walks Richard and Lenny! What was I to do? Sit there and listen to them blab about Rimboud and lose all the spotlight for my band Testors? Well … I was very aware of Lenny and Richards speeches about existentialism and anarchy and all the focus …and they were looking very comfortable sitting there and it seemed like they would never stop! So when it looked like they were clearly in the process of stealing my airtime, I decided to show them a bit of my own version of anarchy!!! I walked up to the podium, totally cranked out and announced some crazy epithets! Crash, boom, shit was flyin' ! You can only imagine the mayhem. Live microphones ripped out and crashing to the ground, people fist fighting live on the radio, Chaos! Everyone was shocked, my band, the management, the staff, I even got blacklisted for a short time (I couldn't enter C.B.G.B for a few days, I was banned). The only one who seemed to like what I did was Cheetah!
A week later after days of feeling a bit ostracized from being 'banned' there was a detailed newspaper article about the entire incident. The article portrayed me in the sort of heroic part in this mini passion play and after that I was kind of vindicated and people could see my position. I think it even turned into a bit of good press for Testors at the time. Eventually everything cooled down, but I always knew I did it right. Existentialism, indeed!

GP - Let's talk about Your filmmaking. I've found that beside 'Mannerquin World' you've done much more. Even there was information about Your idea of publishing DVD with Your 16 millimeter works?

SV - Yeah I have made a number of films and some have been in film festivals and museum expositions. I always wish I had more time to do this work. I like it and it's totally different from making music and expressive in a completely other way. I am able over the years to keep producing and working in film but I am always drawn hard by the music and then it takes a while till I have time to work on some of my films. I'm working on some material for a DVD but it will be some time before its done.

GP - Is there any official video recordings of Testors?

SV - There is some, not much but some video/film footage does exist. I have some video material of Testors playing shows and at rehearsal, that will get out there sometime, it's all part of an ongoing project. I also have a video of us playing a show together with the Dead Boys in NYC. And something that I need to find is a super 8 film made in 1978. There was a super 8 film made in NYC of one of our performances by a filmmaker,: We saw this film at his loft but later lost contact. We haven't located it or him yet but I suppose that will surface one of these days.

GP - Where are the Testors bandmembers now?

SV - They are living in NYC. In December I went to a rehearsal studio with them in New York and played the songs. Just for fun. We did that last summer too. Now we decided to do a couple of reunion shows with the original ’77 line up. So I’m looking forward to that. The shows will be in April 2011. One in New York and one in Atlanta

GP - You've spent some time in jail. How that experience influenced Your music? Is life in american prison same what we could find in Hollywood movies?

SV - It does come out in the music sometimes. It's just part of an ongoing struggle with a corrupt authority. Often I have seen Hollywood movie depictions of prison life and it is close to the way it is. Although in some ways the reality is even more horrible than they can write it.

GP - What is the main reason to have Moe Tucker (Velvet Underground) producing Your first album with Shotgun Rationale?

SV - Shotgun Rationale was pretty raw and we wanted to keep some of the edge that we loved. Often in studios they have so many tracks and producers wind up making bands sound huge and insist on efforts that are 'radio friendly'. I wanted to be 'RockNroll friendly' , not friggin 'radio friendly'!! The main thing I was after was a producer that would not make our music sound like the garbage that was on the radio. That stuff at the time was really soft and without edge. I needed a comrade in the studio to help keep the line. Two people came to mind - Iggy and Moe. Iggy because of the obvious and Moe because after listening to her sing on the Velvets stuff I absolutely knew she was unique and would not destroy us. I contacted Moe and we went to a studio in Atlanta, Georgia. Although the studio was a huge rockstar deal with a zillion tracks and a golf ball drive range and a pool, Moe and us were totally unimpressed with the frills and we went to work making an album. Thanks to Moe the album was not destroyed and actually she helped us grab the songs , shake em and she raised em' up!

GP - Her music is different than Yours, so how it was touring with her? Did You contribute in songwritting for her's albums?

SV - I did contribute some song writing and also some riffs. I really loved playing Moe's music. Over the years I learned more and more what she was looking for. My attitude when I played with Moe was this - In my own music and band I used every effort to reach my own vision, I decided early on that when I played with Moe part of my job was to assist her and support her in reaching her vision. Rather than trying to twist and foist my own various concepts ,I really made efforts to learn what it was she was going for and to help her get there. Perhaps that's why we were playing and making music together for 9 years and other members were there for only a tour or two. Also John Sluggette was in on the spirit of helping Moe reach her vision. Not that others were not, but I believe we were really tapped into that. Then later Sterling came on board and that also was amazing. I had the honor of "Oh Sterl I think you played it this way on the album" Can you imagine? So cool. And what a special person Sterling was. I miss him.
Moe didn't allow us to have single rooms at the hotels so me and Sterling shared a double room while on tour, for years. Lemme tell you.. the stories!! The stuff Sterling told me about his life and experiences!! I could write a book! He told me so many stories about his time in the Velvet Underground and what it was like in the 60's. it was really fascinating, they were all a bit older than me. His stories always had intrigue and debauchery as a framework around each event. Lots of funny stuff about Lou, Eddie and Gerard. Touring with Moe was a high point in my life, I admire her decency and honest direct way. Plus she is always into having fun and a good laugh.

GP - You've worked with many known artists. Could You single out anybody particular?

SV - Single out? No not really, like I said there are a lot of people I have played with. One of the benefits of being a 'solo' guy and not a fixed band is the amount of people you meet in a music situation. I'm not really a 'team' sort of person. Being in a set band was always a bit strange for me and against my nature. Bands are often set up as a sort of 'team' with a "Us against the world" thing as a basis. That was in some ways a limited mentality and approach for me. Certainly there are some benefits to playing with the same line-up for years but I like to play with different people and avoid the suffocating band feeling. For me what's important is the music not the 'company' or the 'team'. I really hate that stuff, even when I was a kid I avoided that. The people I have played with have many different qualities. In this moment I'm remembering the fierce playing of Tony Fate (Bellrays) who went on a U.S./Canadian tour with me around 6 years ago., also intense form and wild commitment came from John 'Speedo' Reise (Rocket From The Crypt). And I have always loved touring with Johnny Rio and Bernward, and Bernadette. Gerg Norton (Husker Du) was inspirational. But the list can go on and on. Like I said. And it's not gonna be accurate unless I put more time into it.



Goran Polak



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