It might have seemed like the end for Ann Arbor rockers Porchsleeper, when longtime bassist Zach Johnson called it quits last December. "I think he just got tired of driving three drunk idiots all over tarnation," says singer-guitarist Brian Raleigh. Although the split was amicable, the loss of a bassist (and friend) was tough to take, Raleigh says. "I couldn't really fathom replacing Zach."
Thus began half-hearted attempts to find a new bass player via posts on Craigslist and MySpace. "We got a lot of calls from guys who were into Les Claypool and Billy Sheehan," Raleigh continues. "But we're not about to turn into Emerson, Lake & Palmer. We're into rock."
This attitude isn't surprising for a band that has earned a reputation as a hard-drinking, hard-playing live act (you'd be hard- pressed to find a review that does not mention their enthusiasm for booze).
But as months passed without a suitable four-string replacement, Raleigh began doubting Porchsleeper's future. "I thought that maybe this was it. We had a good run. Two records. I think I was mentally prepared to move on." But fate stepped in one day last May, when Raleigh got a phone call from the manager of a legendary Detroit musician.
"He said, 'Stop looking, I have the guy for you. His name is Gary Rasmussen and here's his number," Raleigh says. "I was like, 'Yeah right, Gary Rasmussen wants to be in my fucking band. Fuck you," he laughs. "Turned out to be his number."
Any record store clerk or music wonk from St. Clair Shores to Lincoln Park can tell you who Gary Rasmussen is. One look at the man's musical C.V. reveals a proclivity for being at the right place at exactly the right time. He was a founding member of the Up, a band immersed in the White Panther Party politics and hard rock of the Grande Ballroom scene.
In the '70s Rasmussen was part of the Detroit supergroup Sonic's Rendezvous Band, along with Scott "Rock Action" Asheton, Scott Morgan and Fred "Sonic" Smith of the MC5. The music was a perfect blend of brutal power, stinging solos and soulful tunes. They left little in the way of recordings however, releasing only one proto-punk single and a post-breakup live album.
Sonic's Rendezvous dissolved in the early '80s, leaving Rasmussen plenty of time for session work. Since then he's recorded with Patti Smith, the Scott Morgan Band and Dodge Main, a project that included Morgan, Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson and Radio Birdman's Dennis Tek.
Lately, Rasmussen has kept busy touring with such blues guys as Alvin "Youngblood" Hart and Bill Warton, the "Sauce Boss" (known for cooking authentic Cajun gumbo onstage). Serendipity struck when Rasmussen came across Porchsleeper he was looking for something new.
"They sounded melodic, fast, and loud," Rasmussen says. "All the stuff I'm into. They do it because they love it. Seemed like fun."
What's more, Sonic's Rendezvous Band had an early impact on Porshsleeper's music. "'City Slang' was actually one of the first punk songs I ever heard, when I was about 15 years old, around the same time I got into the Stooges and the MC5," Raleigh says.
The new lineup has so far gone down like a warm shot of whiskey. "It's kind of surreal, but it's working out real well," Raleigh says. "There's a little more melody than there was before. And we are finding new vocal stuff to do."
The inclusion of Rasmussen also places Porchsleeper on one of myriad branches in Detroit rock's family tree. "There are so many truly classic bands from this town. I would never presume to mention Porchsleeper in the same breath as the Rendezvous, the MC5, or hell, even Bittersweet Alley!" Raleigh says. "But if we end up as the tiniest footnote in the encyclopedia of Detroit rock, I couldn't imagine a bigger honor."
He laughs, "Maybe we're just hanging off the cliff a little longer now."
Thursday, June 29, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. With Wayne Kramer.David Acosta is a freeelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]