Rob Tyner, lead vocalist and songwriter supreme for the MC5 died at the young age of 46 in 1991. Heart attack… After his passing, the MC4 played at the State Theater in Detroit to help raise money for his wife and children. We did the missing man formation like the Air Force jets do. We left a mike on center stage and we played a short set dedicated to this wonderful man.
Rob was a master philosopher, inventor, cartoonist, singer, and all around creative dynamo. And he could dance his ass off onstage. Take that the Who! Each man was so animated onstage it was hard to focus on any one. You got to move brother! You got to move!
He was also my best friend in the band. I learned a lot about life from him. On tours we roomed together and Rob took care of me in my bad boy (drug-wise) days. He used to calm me down when I was junk-sick and literally climbing the walls kicking smack cold turkey.
He constantly tried to persuade me to quit my ugly habit. Hell, sometimes when I was climbing the ceilings in Europe on tour, sicker than hell in a hotel, he would massage my neck and shoulders to calm me down somewhat. I should have taken his advice…I was in agony many, many times. Just wasn’t ready to quit yet…Did so in 1972 for good.
When we lived in the beat community (The Artist’s Workshop), I used to hang out in his room. He had a drafting board that he used to create his ideas. And believe me when I tell you he had plenty. Just hangin’ out with him was inspirational for me. He had that kind of charisma in spades. He loved to laugh at the world and it’s absurdities. He was a lampoon champion. He had a gift for turning his futuristic take on life, and they came forth in his lyrics.
He had a hell of a time with his hair in the beginning. We were all growing our hair as long as we could. Poor Rob, his hair would just not do what he desired it to do. He tried perms. curling irons, you name it, just to try and get those tight curls to obey, to straighten out. So one day he just said f**k it and let it all grow out, and Voila, the first American band with a white lead singer with hair bigger than any Black Panther Brother I ever met. Looked good on him too. Real good.
We had a zillion laughs together at the Workshop and I helped him pen some of the lyrics he wrote for the band. He used me as a devil’s advocate straight man/fall guy to romance his lyrical craft. This was fun I tell you, big fun. He did 95% of the work though. But it felt good just to create with him. To sit with him.
Once, in Europe, two drunken motorcycle dudes were making fun of us and his hair in a pub in England. I catapulted off the barstool and pushed one guy down, and broke a mug and threatened to use it on the other guy’s face. Good thing they scrammed, because I would’ve killed the one loud-mouthed moron. I think this story remains secret with Rob and me, because we never told the rest of the boys in the band. I wouldn’t let anybody make fun of Rob. He was my beloved wingman.
He had a voice that other rock singers could only dream of having, policeman too. We were all in a German pub one night after a show in Berlin, and we were getting annihilated with a crew of off duty German police. We were having a singdown, I guess you would call it.
We were loud as hell (coppers too) and they would sing German folk and military songs and we would sing rock songs. So one of the Germans sings a solo song and it was very fine indeed. Then Rob got up on the table and sang the sweetest, most soulful version of “Georgia” by Ray Charles that I ever heard. We told the Germans we won, and they agreed and we finished the evening drinking and laughing the night away. God, such unforgettable good times I swear.
One time Rob’s back went out at a gig so bad, he had to lay down onstage, legs up all akimbo, but he kept on singing the song. All the while he was trying to get the rest of the band’s attention to his plight that he was in serious pain and could not get up. After that tune, we couldn’t help ourselves making light of the situation on the mikes. Rob was pissed and thought it none to funny at all. Fred and Wayne then dragged him off the stage to the right and let him lay down. What a trooper! He said go into the next tune and he sang it backstage. We stifled our laughs and then attended to Rob’s condition. Memories, I got a million.
Reminds me of when I used to pretend to faint while drumming just to get a rise out of the crowd. We were crazy I tell you. I used to lose 6-7 pounds from each performance in sweat and would easily break 10-15 sticks per show. Had to. Those Marshall stacks were too much to compete with. The drums were not miked in those days.
So you had to play through the wall of sound like a maniac. Next time around it’s the harmonica for me. Finally, I must add that I do miss Rob dearly. Fred too. I could go on and on, good times and bad times. It is so sad that they are no longer with us in present time. Who knows what we might have accomplished over the years? No one will ever know… RIP MY BROTHERS
MGT Photos by Charlie Auringer Purchase Prints From the Back Stage Gallery HERE