Prime Times: Michael Erlewine on The Prime Movers Blues Band, Iggy Pop, and Ann Arbor in the 1960s

MUSIC INTERVIEW

The Prime Movers, late 1965 or 1966: From left: Robert Sheff, James Osterberg, Michael Erlewine, Dan Erlewine, and Jack Dawson.

The Prime Movers, late 1965 or 1966: From left: Robert Sheff, James Osterberg, Michael Erlewine, Dan Erlewine, and Jack Dawson. Image via Bruno Ceriotti and Michael Erlewine.

Though they never released a record in their heyday or topped a concert bill outside their hometown, The Prime Movers were unquestionably one of Ann Arbor’s most important bands of the 1960s.

While some 38 musicians would eventually rotate through the group, its core lineup came to include drummer James Osterberg, christened “Iggy” by the band; keyboardist Robert Sheff, later famed as the avant-garde composer “Blue” Gene Tyranny; guitarist Daniel Erlewine, known today as one of the world’s top luthiers; and vocalist/harmonica player Michael Erlewine, who would go on to found the All Music Guide, All Movie Guide, and a host of spinoffs.

One of the first white American bands to devote themselves to Chicago-style blues when originators like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were still in their prime, the group was regularly on the bill at Ann Arbor’s Canterbury House, Clint’s Club, Mother’s, The Ark, The Schwaben Inn, The Fifth Dimension, and The Depot House. The Prime Movers also appeared at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom and Living End, and even the Fillmore and Matrix in San Francisco. But their devotion to the blues led them to turn down an offer to sign with Motown and split with manager/A-Square Records founder Jeep Holland, who sought to force them into a pop-rock mold. As a result, The Prime Movers’ powerful sound became just a fading memory to those lucky enough to hear them in person. 

But stashed away in the basement of Michael and Daniel Erlewine’s brother Stephen were well-recorded tapes of the group in action at Clint’s Club and The Schwaben Inn. In 2008 a track appeared on the Ace/Big Beat compilation A2 (Of Course), then a 45 rpm single was released by Third Man.

Finally, in late 2019, Sundazed Records’ Modern Harmonic imprint issued a full 10-track CD and two-LP set of The Prime Movers' work. Highlighted by the stabbing, string-bending guitar leads of Dan Erlewine and the soulful organ of Robert Sheff, the 1966-7 recordings also feature the future Iggy Pop singing their Yardbirds-style cover of “I’m a Man,” which reveals more than a hint of what was to come two years later in The Stooges. 

I spoke with Michael Erlewine about the band’s history and the recent release of their music, more than 50 years after it was recorded.

Late-Night Journals: Former Ann Arbor police officer Peter Stipe recalls 18 years on the force in his memoir "Badge 112"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

On the left is author Peter Stipe; on the right is the cover of his book Badge 112

For almost 20 years, Peter Stipe served as a police officer in Ann Arbor. After getting off work late at night, “I would be amped up, go home, and write it all down,” he says. “I wrote a lot of profiles of people at work and their personality quirks.”

The result of all that late-night journaling is now Stipe's memoir, Badge 112.

The idea for putting this writing into a book came from a police inspector Stipe met while visiting his stepbrother: “After hearing me tell stories about my days on the job, he said that I should write a book.”

Stipe began by posting his stories on Facebook.

“I did my test drive there,” he says. “It helped me to figure out how long the stories should be, if I was grabbing people at the beginning, giving a satisfying payoff, and so on.”

He also had people from a variety of backgrounds proofread the material so as “not to err on any sensitive issues.”

Badge 112 is a series of vignettes that allows the reader to drop in and drop out of the book wherever they choose, and Stipe composed his prose in a way inspired by the memoirs of a famous actor.

“David Niven wrote some books about his Hollywood adventures … as a witness to what was going on around him, not as the main character," Stipe says. "I tried to model my writing on that to tell what happened as I witnessed it.”

University of Michigan lecturer Jennifer Sperry Steinorth experimented with an erasure project, which became “Her Read: A Graphic Poem” 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Jennifer Sperry Steinorth and her book "Her Read: A Graphic Poem"

On the pages of Her Read: A Graphic Poem, author Jennifer Sperry Steinorth finds the imp, ocean, mother, pain, love, religion, and womxn. This book of erasure poetry simultaneously works as a graphic poem with artwork from the original text “radically altered” to make new visuals and word art. The source text, which is The Meaning of Art by Herbert Read, is obscured to varying degrees, sometimes visible very faintly under paint or Wite-Out while at other times incorporated into original artwork. 

Pages and lines take on new shapes as the poem is conjured from the existing words and letters. Early on, the poet describes an outlook, noting: 

The Pleasure Principle: The characters in Lydia Conklin’s short story collection, “Rainbow Rainbow,” seek gratification and identity 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Lydia Conklin and her short story collection, “Rainbow Rainbow”

Characters in Lydia Conklin’s Rainbow Rainbow perch on the precipice of something—a decision, a change, the start or end of a relationship, or even the dangerous cliff above a quarry where people swim and occasionally fatally fall.

Each story in this collection probes personal boundaries and desires to see how far the characters will stretch and when they will run in another direction. Queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming identities inform these stories as well as the book title, which is not only the name one of the story but also an Easter egg in one of the other tales, which reveals the meaning of the appellation Rainbow Rainbow.

Conklin is the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Fiction at the University of Michigan and they will be an assistant professor of fiction at Vanderbilt University this fall. 

Throughout the large—and small—turning points the characters face, they seek out their own needs and endure the pain of loss or the fulfillment gained. When distance grows between lesbian partners living in Wyoming, one of them grasps the extent to which their connection has deteriorated because the other was secretly pursuing her passion. On recognizing the shift, the narrator shares, “The words sent a crack of pain down my neck. We’d drifted so far apart. I’d failed to recognize creative euphoria in my own partner, living beside me in the middle of nowhere for three months. What was wrong with me?”

The beginning of the end had already begun. 

Take Me to the "River": Former AADL staffer Shutta Crum discusses her latest book of poetry and her path from librarian to author

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Shutta Crum and her new book of poetry, The Way to the River

Shutta Crum worked for 24 years surrounded by books.

Now the former librarian at Ann Arbor District Library is adding to the stacks she used to stock, writing both children’s books and poetry.

When asked how librarianship connects with writing, Crum talked about how the job motivated her to become an author. “I knew I wanted a book of mine on those library shelves,” she said.

Crum's latest collection of poems, The Way to the River, navigates real and metaphorical waters, from looking for osprey where “Rainwater pelts river water” to recalling tumultuous moments when the poet asks someone terrorizing her, “what door you jimmied / to escape and machete through my memory.” The ever-present passage of time surges through these lines as Crum looks back and ahead. 

The Way to the River begins with the reflection “Why Poetry,” which shares a preface by Crum and her poems, “Aboutness” and “How Poetry Reframes the Moment.” Her depiction of poetry tells us, “Poems are mini stories, fleeting images, quick gestures of recognition and a lilt of music for the soul,” a statement that also aptly describes her poetry. The following poems in the book form the “colorful collage” that Crum sees in poetry. 

The Fine Art of Music: Cece June's lovely, emotional songs are the result of listening and looking

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Cece June

Cece June's family background as gallery owners are her own art history studies help inform the rising Barcelona-Ann Arbor artist's music. Photo courtesy Cece June.

Cece Duran was born and raised in Barcelona, where she is currently spending her summer.

But it's in Ann Arbor where she's building her name as a singer-songwriter under the guise Cece June.

In 2021, June released an EP, Pieces, shot a video for the single "Mine," and played shows at venues in downtown Ann Arbor, and the University of Michigan’s annual Springfest.

June is back with a new single, “Over," which she made with friends from U-M. While the sadder side of Spanish folk music courses through June's songs, she also cites England's Radiohead, Ireland's Damien Rice, and America's Bon Iver—no strangers to melancholy melodies—as influences.

We caught up with June to discuss her acoustic-and-electronics single "Over," the influence of fine art on her music, and her future.

Just Want You to Know Who I Am: Ann Arbor indie-rocker Ceolsige introduces herself to the world on self-titled debut EP

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Ceolsige

Ceolsige takes inspiration from The Beatles, INXS, Goo Goo Dolls, and Muse. Photo by Leisa Thompson Photography.

Ceolsige just wants to introduce herself.

“Right now, with my music, all I’m trying to do is just let people know who I am," said Ann Arbor indie-rock singer-songwriter Kelsey Detering, who just released her debut EP under the artist moniker Ceolsige (pronounced see-ole-sidge), the old English variant of her first name.

"Especially, with this EP, I’m not trying to give any specific take on myself or anything. This is a taste of everything about me in one little package. I’m giving people that so they’ll know who I am as an artist. ‘Ceolsige’ is still me, that’s why I chose it. I don’t overthink my identity that much; I just do what feels right.”

Ceolsige eagerly follows her instincts across four honest, mighty tracks that question life, love, and society. The self-titled EP’s introspective lyrics, vigorous instrumentation, and arena-sized arrangements invite listeners to reflect and travel alongside her.

“What comes across a lot of my music right now is uncertainty … because of the age I’m at and time going by. I’m like, ‘OK, what’s gonna happen in my life? Am I gonna meet someone? Am I gonna enjoy things? Are we gonna fix this broken world? Are we going to improve things?” said Detering, a University of Michigan alumna and Ann Arbor School of Rock vocal/piano instructor.

“That gets played up more in people’s minds now, especially because uncertainty in life is heightened everywhere and all the time. I’ve picked up even more on that now.”

AADL's new exhibit, "Capturing an Era: The Progressive Lens of Doug Fulton," showcases nearly 30 years of pictures and prose by The Ann Arbor News staffer

VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Doug Fulton out on assignment.

Doug Fulton circa 1970. Photo by Anna Fulton.

Before social media became the defacto visual archives of our times, newspapers employed a full complement of photographs to capture breaking news and everyday occurrences. It was through their lenses that history was recorded, from the significant to the mundane, with the photographers mixing a fine artist's attention to framing and detail along with a documentarian's eye and mentality toward preserving a fleeting moment for eternity.

Doug Fulton worked as a photographer and writer for The Ann Arbor News from 1954 to 1983. While he was a prolific photographic chronicler of our community—from Chrismas cookie making, neighborhood parades, and blues and rock concerts to structure fires, winter storms, and University of Michigan sporting events—he's also remembered for his column covering Michigan nature, parks, hunting, fishing, and the environment, which he illustrated with his photos.

The Ann Arbor District Library is the home for The Ann Arbor News' archives, and the Old News team at AADL culled through thousands of images to curate a new exhibit:

Capturing an Era: The Progressive Lens of Doug Fulton

The exhibition is displayed on the second floor of AADL's downtown location from June 10 to September 5, and it features numerous Fulton photos and articles from throughout his 29-year-career at The Ann Arbor News. Additionally, two walls in the exhibit feature blues and nature photos provided to the library by Fulton's daughter Andrea and son Bruce.

You can read more about the exhibit and Fulton's life here, and you can browse all the photos in AADL's Old News archives here.

Then come back to Pulp and read my interview below with Andrea Fulton-Higgins about her father's background, how he came to learn photography in the Air Force, and his love of music and nature.

"Last Night a Camera Saved My Life: The Photography of Doug Coombe" celebrates one of Washtenaw County's finest chroniclers of Michigan music

MUSIC VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Iggy and The Stooges at the Michigan Theater, April 19, 2011. Photo by Doug Coombe.

Iggy and The Stooges at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, April 19, 2011. Photo by Doug Coombe.

If you've been to a concert in Washtenaw County in the past 30 years, there's a good chance Doug Coombe was at one of them.

From Ypsilanti basement shows to Hill Auditorium and everywhere around Southeastern Michigan, the long-time Ann Arbor record-store clerk turned first-call photographer has documented local and touring artists of all genres with an exacting eye and an unrelenting passion for music.

The genial Coombe's dynamic concert photos are like energy traps, capturing the exact moment a performer has exploded with passion, while his promotional and journalistic musician photos present bands in creative environments that convey their sounds and attitudes through the images.

Coombe loves what he does and the musicians love him right back. You can actually tell the artists like to be photographed by Coombe just by looking at his pictures.

For real: Everybody likes Doug.

CultureVerse is a new-ish gallery space in downtown Ann Arbor and its latest exhibit, Last Night a Camera Saved My Life: The Photography of Doug Coombe, is a love letter not only to the Washtenaw County and Southeast Michigan music scenes but also to the man who captured these small, fleeting moments for all of eternity. 

Fruitful Experiment: Chris Bathgate explores thematic writing on his new album, “The Significance of Peaches” 

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Chris Bathgate photo by Misty Lynn Bergeron

Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Chris Bathgate uses the pump organ as the sonic centerpiece on The Significance of Peaches. Photo by Misty Lyn Bergeron.

Chris Bathgate sees his first album in five years, The Significance of Peaches as "an experiment in thematic writing and recording with limitations … the significance of peaches is not necessarily the thread or some keystone idea. It is like a loose fishing net that I can cast into my life and see what I harvest."

Throughout The Significance of Peaches, released on Ann Arbor's Quite Scientific Records, Bathgate searches for a holistic sense of self while fostering a spiritual connection to the outside world using pithy lyrics and nature-rich imagery set atop a pump-organ-drenched landscape.

“The peach thing is from my total adoration for the stone fruit itself as the corporeal experience of physically eating a peach," said the Ann Arbor indie-folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. "But I’m also interested in the peach as a metaphor throughout history. The thing I became most obsessed with was its use as a way to describe the ephemeral nature of life, time and joy, moments, and carpe diem.