The Assemblage

John Orlich has recently written a book about The SRC, a band that he refers to as “the kings” of Detroit area bands during the ‘60s. Perhaps more interesting, however, is the fact that Orlich himself was the drummer for another Detroit band, The Stuart Avery Assemblage and, later The Assemblage.

“I still have a pair of shoes he [Jimmy Page] forgot to put in his footlocker when our band shared a dressing room with The Yardbirds at the Grande Ballroom.”

An Interview with John Orlich A Major Player in Detroit’s Rock Scene during the ‘60s

Lance Monthly (LM): How did you first get interested in music?

John Orlich (JO): I was about six years old and we lived in Detroit. Around 1958 my brother, who was eight years older than me, had a band called The Starliters (not the famous Joey Dee group). They were way cool—wore white sport coats and ties over black shirts. He was my influence, and introduced me to not only rock n’ roll but to classical music and jazz. He played guitar. I would become a drummer. I also loved movie theme music, like Exodus, and, of course everything from West Side Story.

LM: Was the Stuart Avery Assemblage your first band?

JO: My first band was The Jaywalkers. We were a bunch of eighth-grade frats who wore white dickies under cranberry V-neck sweaters, and penny loafers with tight, white Levis. I‘d played drums for all of maybe a month. Of course Wipe Out was the thing back then. I couldn’t play it, but the guitarist could. So when we’d do that song we’d swap spots. But I didn’t play guitar at all—for that song I just pretended. I turned the volume knob completely off and the other guitarist covered. But I accidentally brushed the knob with my hand and this blaring noise came out as I strummed a pretend chord. Everyone just looked at me weird. We played one gig: the eighth-grade sock hop. The band was together for maybe a month or two. I also sung “Gloria” that night (I can’t sing a note).

I later had a band called The American Gas Company. What’s cool is that the lead guitarist of that band, Tom Wellin, went on to become the conductor for the Bismarck Symphony Orchestra in North Dakota. This band happened during the infamous Summer of Love, 1967. Recently Tom and I got in touch (ain’t the Internet wonderful?). We hadn’t spoken since 1967. Over the phone we re-constructed our original set list (we had one set): “Hey Little Girl” by The Syndicate of Sound, “Hey Joe” by The Leaves, and a few tunes like The Byrds’ version of Dylan’s “My Back Pages” comprised most of the set.

In 1968 The Stuart Avery Assemblage needed a drummer; their original drummer, James Render (so like Keith Moon!) was embarking on an art career. I got in The Assemblage because one of their roadies knew a guy in yet another basement band with [which I was in], and The Assemblage needed to borrow an amp. The roadie and Paul Kingery, the lead guitarist, came to my house to pick up the amp: a Fender Dual Showman, if I recall correctly. Paul was impressed with my double-bass drum kit. Paul exclaimed, “Holy Who!” and the next thing you know, I was in the band. I wasn’t very good back then. The Assemblage had been together not even a year when I got in.

LM: When was the Stuart Avery Assemblage formed?

JO: The group was formed in 1967 by Stuart Avery Goldbaum, the lead singer. Stu had been a roadie for the Detroit group The Mushrooms (from where Glenn Frey of The Eagles would be derived). Stu, [who] once told me that he got sick of lugging equipment, said, “hell I can sing” and then started the task of hand picking the members of the group. He was very professional in his approach and attitude, and he was only, maybe 16.

The lineup changed over the years:

Stuart Avery – lead singer and front man
James Render, John Orlich, Spencer Hirsch – drummers
Paul Kingery – lead guitar
Dave Harrison – rhythm guitar
Jim Borrisen, Wally Stahl – bass
Tim Lambert, Robin Robins – keyboards

On our album some of Motown’s now infamous Funk Brothers provided overdubs. Two girls, Cynthia and Alison, provided backing vocals.

I was the second, and longest staying drummer, and the drummer who did the recording on the album and the single release, “Satisfaction.” First drummer, James Render, had quit pursuing a graphic arts career. Later he became a successful doctor of veterinary medicine. Drummer, Spencer Hirsch followed after me. He also did some recording with the group later: a tune called “Shotgun,” which never got released. Spencer later was the drummer for the punk band, The Motor City Bad Boys, and then the bluesy Howlin’ Diablos. Dave Harrison got kicked out when the band decided it didn’t need a rhythm guitarist. Tim Lambert, the original keyboardist, played a small Wurlitzer electric piano when I first got in the band, but would later swap it for an Estey theatre organ. Robin Robins, from the second-tier Detroit group, The Virgin Dawn, took Tim’s place at mid-recording of the album.

After I quit, Robin also quit to work with me. We attempted a Procol Harum thing but it didn’t work out. One evening I was invited to The SRC’s recording facility in Ann Arbor to do some experimental recording with The SRC (I had known some of them and drummed a lot like their drummer). Robin accompanied me. On the way home we got rear-ended by some guy who had been drinking. Robin hit the windshield. He sued the drunk’s insurance company and collected a bundle that allowed him to outfit himself with state of the art music equipment. Jim Borisen was the original bass player, who has since just sort of fallen off the face of the earth. Where or where is Jim? For a while we had no bass player, but the worse part is that we thought we actually sounded better that way! (Tim played bass pedals). Wally Stahl, a friend of Paul’s, took Jim’s place. Wally had once done some performing with Detroit’s Jagged Edge. Paul Kingery and Stuart Avery were the only originally members that stayed the course.

LM: Where did the band typically play?

JO: In the band’s earliest days it was mostly high school functions. Then, around early 1968, the band graduated to playing local teen clubs, to include Detroit’s infamous Grande Ballroom and Easttown Theatre. We had a great following at a place in Northville called the Cavern. It was actually the gymnasium for the high school, but on the weekends it was a teen venue. We played along with other second-tier area bands like The Wilson Mower Pursuit and The Pack. I was fifteen at the time and it was really weird to have all these nearly still pre-pubescent girls chasing after me, asking for souvenir drumsticks, etc. We wore satin and crushed velvet back then. We worked hard on our show and experimented with smoke bombs and dry ice to produce foggy effects.

We played the whole Detroit circuit. This included the Grande Ballroom, the Easttown Theatre, the Hideout clubs, the Crow’s Nests, Silverbell, the Cavern, the Loft, The Birmingham Palladium (known earlier as the Teen Center and then The Village Pub), Daniel’s Den, The Cave, and the Chicago Underground. There were more, I just can’t think of the names. We also played a lot of outdoor concerts.

LM: Did the Stuart Avery Assemblage ever participate in any Battle of the Bands?

JO: No, that was a thing that was starting to die out then—more of a mid-‘60s, as opposed to late-‘60s, thing. However, we did attempt to organize one for something called the Farmington Founders Day Festival in Farmington, Michigan. We got our picture in the paper because of it and a little caption that gave us credit for organizing the event. However, it never happened.

LM: How far was the band’s “touring” territory?

JO: We mostly played the greater Detroit area that extended from Ann Arbor to Saginaw. It was quite a big area back then; lots of venues. We played Toledo a couple of times.

LM: How would you describe the band’s sound?

JO: Loud! God almighty, other than maybe San Francisco’s Blue Cheer we were the loudest friggin’ band, especially in the earlier days. And I’m sure that I did damage to my hearing. As for influence, it was British all the way, especially The Stones, with a little bit of The Who, and then later Procol Harum and Traffic. We were much enamored of the local band, The SRC (who wasn’t?!) and tried to capture a lot of their visuals and their professionalism on stage. Like The SRC we tried some interpretations of classical pieces.

We did a version of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” later lifting the main theme for a killer original called “Small Dreams.”We also did an excellent version of Strauss’s “Also spach Zarathustra” (better known as the theme to the movie “2001, Space Odyssey”). Later we used part of it for the intro to an original called “Love Saves All” (which I just happen to have a studio tape of ; it had been cut from the album for not being commercial enough, though it shows us at our true creativity).

LM: Did the band have a manager?

JO: Yeah, perhaps too many. At first some chick by the name of Peg Tillika (a friend of Stuart’s or Tim’s) claimed the honor. I think she booked us a couple of local gigs and coordinated getting some custom clothes sewn for us. Then Tim, the first keyboardist handled it, along with Stuart. They did a good job at booking the easier local gigs. Later, the infamous Jeep Holland of A-Square Productions booked us for a while. Jeep also booked The SRC (when they were known as The Scot Richard Case); Scotty Morgan’s stellar group, The Rationals; The Apostles; The Third Power; and a few other top acts.

Next was this guy named Dale Leonard who then ran the Teen Center when it was known as the Village Pub. A shadowy figure, Dale hit the highway mysteriously one day. Eddie “Punch” Andrews, (Seger’s manager, and now also Kid Rock’s) promoted us for a time as did Dave Leone, who long ago with Punch had started the Hideout Clubs. Dave later founded the infamous Detroit booking agency, DMA that also booked us. All of these managers seemed quite willing to work with us. Most of them approached us, since we had a following.

LM: How large was that following?

JO: For a second-tier Detroit act we were at the very top of the pile. We had cute little girls organizing fan clubs for us and everything.

LM: You mention that The Stuart Avery Assemblage was a “second-tier” band. Who were some of the other bands that you consider “second tier?”

JO: That would include The Wilson Mower Pursuit (Stony now sings with Little Feat), The Jagged Edge, The Third Power, The Up, The Frut, The Popcorn Blizzard (Meatloaf in his early days) and others.

The first-tier was, of course, The SRC, Bob Seger, The Amboy Dukes, The Frost, The MC5, and The Stooges.

As far as I am concerned The SRC were the kings. They had a most unusual sound, which I describe in my book about them as being dark and nouveau. The Amboy Dukes, with Ted Nugent, were, of course, always engrossing. This was the better Nugent too, before all of his “Survival of the Fittest” and “gonzo” crap, back when The Dukes were doing quite musically melodic, yet driving things, like the first album, and also “Journey to the Center of the Mind.” This was undoubtedly the influence of their first keyboardist, Rick Lober, who to this day has been cheated of the glory he deserves for his genius contributions.

For really good musicianship and exceptional vocals, Dick Wagner’s “The Frost” was the best. Dick has done a lot of stuff, played for a while with Alice Cooper too when Alice’s thing became more of a road-show review. Whatever. Of course the best bluesy vocals came from Scotty Morgan of The Rationals. This was a man so committed to his group that he turned down a frontman’s position with Blood, Sweat, and Tears. For anarchy it was, of course, The Five (MC5), or Iggy when he had The (Psychedelic) Stooges. The first time I met Jim Osterberg (Iggy) was around 1967. Locating way-out clothes was hard enough back then, but Jim actually was wearing this dress shirt that had a tiny print of monster heads all over it!

LM: Who were some of the national bands that you either played with or opened for?

JO: We opened for Procol Harum, The Bubble Puppy, The Blues Magoos, Ten Years After, Blood Sweat and Tears, Spirit, Fever Tree, and even TheYardbirds, in May 1968 at the Grande Ballroom, to name a few. We also shared the billing with several first tier Detroit acts such as Bob Seger, The Frost, The MC5, Alice Cooper, The Rationals, and The SRC.

LM: What stands out about the Yardbirds’ gig?

JO: I recall that Jimmy Page was a courteous and sort of shy person. He was much interested in what was happening in Detroit musically. I still have a pair of shoes he forgot to put in his footlocker when our band shared a dressing room with The Yardbirds at the Grande Ballroom. They’re a dark blue suede with an X pattern. I’d pointed them out to him as he was packing up, and he said (and I’ll never forget it): “Just keep ‘em, mate!”

Another memorable gig was when we opened for Alice Cooper at this little joint on Chicago Road in Warren, Michigan called the Chicago Underground. This was before their big hit “Eighteen”; in fact, their album, “Easy Action” had just come out. True, they were very unusual, but they were highly intelligent people that you could carry on great conversations with. I remember the drummer had this drum kit that had pictures of little teddy bears pasted all over it! This was just too weird, even for them, and it made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Alice was doing his thing back then where he’d spin a light bulb (on a cord) around his head, attempting hypnosis on the audience during “Black Juju.” Funny thing, it seemed to work. After the gig we went with them down the street to some small restaurant that was open all night, to get something to eat. The restaurant wouldn’t serve them because they “looked so weird,” and we all got kicked out.

LM: Why did the band shorten its name to The Assemblage?

JO: Tell me that “Stuart Avery Assemblage” is not a bit of a tongue-twister! Also, many times we’d find that our name was so misspelled in promotion that it bordered on comical. I think the worse bastardization was when we played at some high school in Romeo, Michigan, and we were billed as the “Sidney Akery Ensemble” (!).

LM: Did The Stuart Avery Assemblage write many original songs?

JO: Most definitely. But at first we did covers: Yardbird tunes, early Who, Stones, and some Motown. We played pretty much the standard fare that everyone was doing back then. But then, inspired by the sound of The SRC, Traffic, and Procol Harum, we created some really cool, multi-part tunes that borrowed from classical influence. Before long about seventy-five percent of our material was always original.

LM: What were the circumstances that lead to the band signing with Westbound Records?

JO: Desperation? We’d tried on our own, via two trips to New York, to land a record deal. Back then the A&R schmucks would still listen to a well-recorded basement tape (well, at least 20 seconds of it). As young and savvy as we were, we booked appointments with everybody from RCA and Mercury, to Apple Records. These execs were, for the most part, courteous (believe or not!) and listened to a little bit of our tape. We got a little excited because some guy at RCA said that a subsidiary label of theirs might show some interest.

Nothing happened though. Perhaps the highlight of our whole trip was when walking into Apple Records for our appointment, we encountered Ringo walking out. That was cool. What enabled us to get our contract though was my brother, as mentioned earlier as one of The Starliters. His drummer, Mike, had stayed in the record biz and had secured a few gold records for some pop-pleasers like “Oh How Happy” and “It’s So Nice To Be With You,” as well as some others. He had the connection, and on my brother’s suggestion he agreed to work with us. We had to pay him, but that was okay because he assured us that he could get us signed. Plus, he had a track record. He booked us into two top studios around Detroit at the time, Terra Shirma (where The SRC had also recorded) and Guidio Marasco’s, GM Studio. Of course these were the days of only analog, and eight and sixteen track was the limit then.

We did about a zillion takes for each song before everyone was pleased. We worked a good solid week to get all the tracks down, and my mom had to write notes to my school principle excusing me for recording sessions. (That was the greatest revenge, because I was always getting kicked out of school because of the length of my hair.) Some of Motown’s famous Funk Brothers contributed to our album, and we all have the distinction of having worked with them. And a couple of black chicks did some backing vocals. But our true sound got lost. We had been a really good Detroit hard rock group, but wound up being over-produced, watered-down, and sterilized. It was not us.

LM: Whose idea was it to cover “Satisfaction?”

JO: It was Keith Richards’ idea. He called me up and said, “John, you guys could make this song more famous than us.” Actually, the real story is that it just happened in the studio. In fact, our whole version we created there. We’d never done the song prior to then. It was kind of an experiment. We just kept doing weird things to it, twisting it all around. That’s what’s so great about any [of] Jagger/Richard’s compositions; the material is so primordially raw and perfect that you can just beat the shit out of it and it still stands.

We definitely beat the shit out of it and it stood; at least for awhile, as it got up to number 15 on Detroit’s WKNR and Canada’s power station, CKLW. It was “hit bound” with a bullet in Billboard and received some airplay outside of the Detroit area too. I had quit the band by the time the song came out. The first time I heard it was when Stuart and I were driving around one day. All of a sudden it came on the radio. It didn’t hit us at first that it was us, only that it sounded awfully familiar. Then we both yelled out “It’s us! It’s us!” We stopped at the nearest phone booth and called everyone we knew. That was cool, a feeling that I am very fortunate to have experienced. Since it was our only release, yes, I guess you could say it was “our biggest hit.”

LM: How many Stuart Avery Assemblage recordings exist? Are they any vintage live recordings, or unreleased tracks? Apparently there is a live tape of the band recorded while opening for Procol Harum.

JO: I have to comment on your last remark first about the live recording with Procol Harum: This is a new one on me! I just heard it now, and from you. Where did you learn about this? If this does exist then that recording would feature us at our best; those were the days when we were doing the 2001 theme and bizarre versions of songs such as the Stones’ “We Love You.” Tell me more!

As far as our album goes, it occasionally pops up on eBay. Westbound was an international label and long ago friends told me they saw it in record stores as far away as Paris and Berlin. Recently I saw one on eBay with a European label graphic different than the U.S. release. At one time I heard that about 20,000 copies had been initially pressed. You’d think the other guys and I from the band would know how many copies sold, etc. But, we don’t.

We never found out anything. At one time we went to the musicians union in Detroit (where we had been members) to find things out. They asked if we had used, at the time, an A.F. of M. contract form. Since we hadn’t (hadn’t even known that we maybe should have) we were told “sorry.” We never saw any mechanical royalties from actual units sold. As far as the publishing rights for the song writers, apparently no one saw anything. Those were the days when you used the label’s publishing company. And BMI, who was the performance rights clearing agent, gave us a bunch of double-talk. (This is what happens to naïve teens hell-bent on being stars!)

As far as vintage recordings of the band, I have a basement tape that features us at our truest. It rocks! But the recording quality is pretty poor. I also have a studio tape of the outtakes that got cut from the album because they weren’t commercial enough. I may burn some CD’s and start spreading them around, if anyone’s interested.

LM: Did the band make any local TV appearances?

JO: Yes, the band appeared on one of Robin Seymour’s local teen dance shows that were popular at that time around Detroit called “Gettin’ Together.” This was after I quit the group and the drummer playing is Spencer Hirsch. Also, the two black chicks that we used on the album were on the show, but they were not part of the act.

Stuart and I have both pondered for years over something we call the Assemblage Movie, which was an 8mm effort taken of the band horsing around ala The Monkees. This was shot before I was in the group and features the first drummer, James Render. There are scenes where James piled his drum kit atop the band’s van and they then drove around while he played! Who has this movie? BIG REWARD!

LM: When and why did the band break up?

JO: Like most rock ‘n’ roll breakups it happened in almost elusive stages. Most of us were dissatisfied with the production qualities of the album; in fact, we thought most all of it was cornball. Originally the album was going to be called “Guts.” Stuart’s brother had designed a cover idea—a pencil drawing that spelled out “Guts” with intestines. But Westbound rejected it; thought it distasteful. They said, “Don’t worry; our art department will design something.” Of course, that’s when we should have started worrying.

The result was that lousy collage of cut-out magazine pictures (an “assemblage”) that looks as if some junior high schooler put it together. How clever. Yuck! When we saw an advance copy we all about puked. So, that was a huge thing to try and get passed. Personally, I didn’t want to be in a band that would sound like that album and I didn’t want to be involved in the promotion of something that didn’t sound (or look) like us.

After I quit, Spencer took my place and was pretty much expected to duplicate my drum parts in performance. Of course, that wasn’t fair to Spence. Soon Paul, Wally, and Spencer, formed a group of their own called Stretch Thomas along with Bobby Neil Haralson, who later went on to play bass with The Rockets (aspects of Mitch Ryder’s earlier Detroit Wheels). Stuart worked for a while with Edgar Winter. So, in a nutshell, it was undoubtedly personal dissatisfaction amongst band members that caused the split-up.

LM: What about today. How often, and where, do you perform (if at all)? If not, what keeps you busy?

JO: I still have a keen interest in music. After The Assemblage broke up, I started playing piano a bit—at least to the point where I learned to compose.Always enamored of classical music I delved into baroque music composition. I wrote a lot of involved counterpoint things and even an exposition for a fugue. I still play my drums, of course, and occasionally sit in with other musicians. At 52 now I’m not too interested in being in a band, unless, of course, The Stones came along and said they needed me! Something like that. For the past one and a half years I’ve taken to the electric bass and have been getting into the jazz blues, exploring people like Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

My livelihood for the past twenty-eight years has been professional stained glass. Recently I completed a large 21-panel abstract for a Catholic church that took me nearly a year to do. Also, as an offshoot of my drumming and my glasswork, I developed a unique actual glass-shelled drum ( Alan White of Yes, Tris Imboden of Chicago, and the artist perpetually known as Prince all have some of my drums and have used them in various recording projects. Recently the kit I made Alan was displayed at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle. I also have a deep interest in writing (fiction and memoir) and have recently been promoting my book about The SRC: SRC, Wizards Deeply Missed.

Other band members are doing quite well. Stuart is the chief of marketing operations for the global tea company, The Republic of Tea. He has written some quite inspiring works on being an entrepreneur and has published a series of great books. If anyone has the right to do this, it’s Stu—even as a teenager he guided a band to quite a success!

Paul Kingery, Assemblage’s lead guitarist, has since played with Rick Springfield, Tiffany, and has for a good number of years been the bass player/vocalist for Three Dog Night.

Robin Robins, after The Assemblage breakup, played with Sly and The Family Stone for a bit, and then became a member of Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. Robin lives in Ireland and is the owner of Mid-Atlantic Digital Recording studios. He has produced many top Irish acts.

Other past members of the band work in other music related businesses.

LM: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Stuart Avery Assemblage?

JO: A short but incredible experience, to say the least! This was a disciplined band and Stuart, thankfully, was quite the taskmaster. None of us did drugs, and if we had we would have been thrown out of the band by the other members. I was in the tenth grade when I first got in the band. Naturally, I thought I was king shit. With my newly acquired “local rock star status,” my grades started to slip, badly. Stu told me quite point-blankly that if I didn’t maintain at least a ‘C’ average I’d be kicked out! That set me straight, and then I began to learn what being cool really was all about. To have been part of the Detroit rock scene of the late ‘60s was quite an honor—not that I’m an old fart now!

"Copyrighted and originally printed on The Lance Monthly by Mike Dugo".
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