Rock music has become something very different from what it originally was. The caricature of rock created by the media is about dumb, over-sexed, probably older guys making asses out of themselves for fun and profit. Their ex-wives star on reality TV shows. Anybody with a whiff of charisma and strong audience response, whatever their role in life be it banker, athlete, doctor, lawyer, politician, chef, comedian, scientist, radio pundit, are all now called “rock stars” as if fame is the only measure of that honorific.
But rock in its glory days was androgynous and smart, transgressive and liberating. David Bowie poolside in the ‘70s talking about the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Patti Smith quoting Rumi and Rimbaud. Mick Jagger reading from Keats after Brian Jones died. Rock was about freedom, counterculture, art, facing the truth about love and life, instead of hiding behind sentimental traditions. Jim Morrison’s stoned rambling was studded with enlightening references to Nietzsche and ancient Greek tragedy. I always thought of rock music as something like an alternate spirituality, a pagan revival, American Metaphysical Religion with guitars and drums, a direct evolution from the public rituals of Congo Square in New Orleans.
Like any religion, rock has its saints or mahatmas. In my sojourn as an outsider skirting the edges of rock I’ve been fortunate to meet a few. Show promoters, band managers, record company guys; for every ten or twenty creeps you meet that one magical soul who really puts you and your music over everything else and who are friends without profiting from you, helping you learn about your art, and yourself, and the world, generously sharing their knowledge, contacts, equipment, venues and encouragement. But for me ichiban mahatma has been Nitebob.
Nitebob in the ‘70s
So many people have great Nitebob stories I can’t decide which would be more fun, a YouTube channel of his reminiscing about all the amazing things he’s seen and done, or a channel of people telling about their favorite experiences with him.
Here’s a few of my Nitebob stories. We’re talking about a guy who played guitar jamming with AC/DC at their prime in a Holiday Inn bar but when my band was asked to play a hippie festival’s distant ostracized punk stage when Nitebob happened to be in town, we performed an impromptu atrocity, a pretty much unrehearsed set, with Bob on guitar and the great singer Alana Davis on bass, while ten people watched us, including a dismayed Jack Douglas, the famous producer of so many classic rock records, while waves of dragonflies flew all around. The chaos and can do “who cares if we make asses out of ourselves” spirit we brought to the performance made it a gig to remember for a guy who saw the Doors in Asbury Park NJ in 1967 and 1968, and who saw the MC5 play a high school in Detroit.
Then there was the time Nitebob and Mike Barile mixed our DNA record at Unique, the recording studio that used to be right off Times Square where Tupac got shot. Besides the sorcerer-like skills I witnessed when those two got to work on those big analog machines, every night when Nitebob drove Ronnie and me back to his flat full of treasures collected over a lifetime of being blessed by the goddess Rock, he’d go find a guitar and hand it to Ronnie to play. When he handed Ronnie a B.C. Rich Mockingbird Ronnie wrinkled up his nose in disdain but then was stunned to find a signature in permanent marker from Joe Perry on a guitar he used on Aerosmith’s Rocks tour. Turned out to be a really nice guitar. Another night Ronnie carefully strummed a real live 1958 Gibson Explorer.
Nitebob never fails to make me feel like a princess. Need to know about the most obscure piece of gear? I call him first. Need to know how get a certain sound. Call Bob. Having a hissy fit because I can’t sing my own song the way I want? Nitebob has a story to tell me about Iggy, or Michael Stipe, or Carl Palmer, or Keith Richards, or Steve Tyler, or Johnny Thunders, or William Burroughs, all from his own experiences.
Nitebob outside Max’s Kansas City, second from the right.
How many archetypal moments has this man witnessed? Nitebob was there in a store called We Buy Guitars on 48th Street in NYC when Johnny Thunders bought his iconic TV Yellow Les Paul Jr. guitar. Nitebob put the Grover tuners on it so it would stay in tune. Nitebob witnessed and set up the recording gear for arguably the first and greatest of all punk bootlegs Metallic KO by Iggy and the Stooges, about which rock critic Lester Bangs waxed so poetic. The Fender Cybertwin amp has a Nitebob setting.
Nitebob is about to go out on the road with Steely Dan again, including seven nights at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in Autumn. I never appreciated the Dan until Bob started working with them and their comedic genius and grooving musical perfectionism won me over.
On Facebook Nitebob provides a stream of hot guitars and hotrods while championing fundraisers for injured, sick and abandoned cats. He’s got the voice and demeanor of the rough New Yorker. When you walk down the street with Nitebob in NYC it seems like people everywhere wave and call out his name. He’s the proverbial New Yorker with a heart, and all us bands are his bedraggled cats. Who’s going to care about all us cats if Nitebob doesn’t?
And now a few words with the man.
What was Al Hanson’s impact on your life and what did he teach you about art?
Al Hansen was my mentor while studying art at Rutgers. I was into painting and sculpture. I participated in several of Al’s “Happenings” in NYC playing guitar. He insisted on randomness. He told me I had to “let go.” He told me I should keep what I was doing art-wise as a personal expression, and pursue music as a career. He took me to a Happy Hour at Max’s Kansas City, where several prominent artists waited for the free food, their only meal of the day. That was an eye opener. Al said only your estate makes money after you die. Then we went to visit John and Yoko on Bank Street. The next day I was offered a job running a rehearsal studio in what became Soho. I never went back to school.
What inspired you to champion so many cats in need by donating and using your Facebook page to get your pet loving friends to do the same?
I like cats. I have lived with cats for over 33 years.. On Facebook, I read the story of a kitten with a broken jaw that needed to raise the money for surgery. I wanted to help. I thought, the best way was to donate and get some of my Facebook friends to donate a couple bucks as well. It was not easy to get my friends to donate. I discovered local rescue groups on FB. I donate to help animals I will never meet.
What was the first song you remember hearing that turned you to the rock (dark) side?
Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones.
Do you really have two books written, one with secrets not to be revealed until after you’ve shuffled off your mortal coil?
Two books, yes. Everybody is doing books now. I am looking into a different method of delivering my stories.
What are the best shows you ever saw?
Stooges Michigan Palace Oct 1973
The Who Fillmore East 1969
Silver Ginger 5, Scala, London 2000
The Ron Asheton Tribute 2011
The Stones at Madison Square Garden 1969
Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon Long Island 1975
The Stooges at Max’s 1973
The Indecent in Boston 2013
Aerosmith Detroit 1975
Silvertide London 2004
You took Steven Tyler to see Spinal Tap when it was first in the theaters, what’s your favorite scene, do you remember his?
I had seen a screening of Spinal Tap in NYC. Aerosmith was rehearsing for the 1984 Back in the Saddle tour in Boston when I suggested we go see it. Steven Tyler came with us to see the film. Steven was really enjoying it until it came to the dressing room food scene. Aerosmith had an obsession about dressing room food, especially turkey on the bone. Steven flipped out. My favorite scene? “It goes to 11.”
Iggy and Nitebob
What was your favorite thing about working with Iggy and the Stooges and your least favorite?
Best thing was how powerful the shows were. The Stooges were the first band to fly me to a gig outside NYC.
Least fave – I only did a handful of shows with them.
What was your favorite thing about working with the New York Dolls and your least favorite?
First band I ever saw go from local to global. I met them at the rehearsal studio I worked at. They were raw, there was a scene, it was fun. Least fave is that Johnny, Jerry, and Artie are no longer around.
What’s the one piece of gear you wish you never sold?
My 1959 Les Paul.
What was a gig you wish you had taken?
Recording the Silver Ginger 5 record.
Do you ever sleep?
I do sleep and enjoy it.
What’s your favorite guitar, pedal and amp set up these days?
Erlewine Automatic guitar, Barber Burn Unit version 1, Strymon El Capistan delay, Reinhardt 18 watt amp.
Do you have any plans for your photography?
My mom was in a photo unit during the second world war. We always had cameras around growing up. I started taking pictures at Custom Car shows, which also had bands playing, so I took photos of them. Unfortunately those have been lost. I have a lot of photographs. I think I will start putting them on a website.
What’s your favorite decade for music?
What’s your least favorite decade for music?
I don’t have one.
How many countries have you been to? Which country has changed the most and how?
If you could play a show there, I have probably been there. Never been to Antarctica. I think Spain has changed the most in regard to music, it’s a great country to play shows in.
Name five relatively unknown bands past or present that you think more people should know about.
What happened to the music business?
They ignored file sharing until it was too late. Now there are very few record stores, and you can promote and distribute via the Internet. Spotify is ripping bands off by not paying what artists deserve. But the rise of Pledge Music, which is fan supported recording projects is hope on the horizon for bands and solo performers that have an existing fan base. The Ginger Wildheart projects have been ultra successful, the 555 triple CD set, The Frankenstein Effect, Mutation, and Hey Hello, all within 18 months, and you are involved with the process. You get updates, you hear songs develop. A unique experience. Jesse Malin, Garland Jeffries, and Bernard Fowler are examples of successful, fan-funded records. Don’t have a fan base? Get one by working the Internet, think global, there is more respect and desire for music outside the USA.
What advice do you have for young rockers?
Follow your instincts. Play what makes you feel good. Don’t follow – lead and listen to as much music from the past as you can. It’s so easy now to check out music from different decades and genres. Find the joy of making music with people you like. The best bands form organically of people who have similar influences and desires. Go out and play for people – one show is worth weeks of rehearsal.
While young rock bands continue to form and many older bands soldier on, the media all but ignores rock music, dismissing it as an outdated trend. Why do you think that is? Do you think rock is here to stay or is it becoming a specialized subculture like jazz or bluegrass?
There will always be a desire for music. I believe everyday, someone plugs in, turns it up to 11 and has a moment that is unlike any other. Pop culture today has minimized rock; there is no mystery. Everything is on the Internet, it’s not the social event it used to be. Shows are too expensive for young kids, who also can’t get into 21 and up club venues. I have seen young 17-year-olds in bands fascinated with grunge, hair metal, prog and punk.
What is your all time favorite road food?
Ramen and every once in a blue moon, Waffle House.
Article written by Tamra Spivey
Newtopia staff writer TAMRA SPIVEY is a founding member and primary singer of Lucid Nation, executive producer of the documentaries Rap is War and Exile Nation, and associate producer of The Gits documentary. She was art editor and west coast editor of Newtopia Magazine in its former incarnation, collaborating on in depth interviews with whistle blower Michael Ruppert, ACLU and record business honcho Danny Goldberg, and grassroots political strategist Larry Tramutola. Follow her on twitter @MongrelPatriot.