From Iggy and the Stooges and the New York Dolls to Steely Dan: Two Interviews with Legendary Sound Man Nitebob
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.
Nitebob in his natural habitat.
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.
Nitebob’s coat of arms?
It’s been a year since Newtopia’s interview with Nitebob. I’ve interviewed a presidential candidate and former governor, famous filmmakers, the great John Trudell, and who’s more well known than Marianne Williamson? But Nitebob is by far the most popular interview I’ve ever done. Bob is out on tour with Steely Dan again, but he graciously found time to answer more questions.
Don’t know Nitebob? He toured with Iggy and the Stooges and the New York Dolls in the ’70s, has done sound for a who’s who of rock stars in every decade since, and he’s the guy they all turn to when they can’t remember what they were playing, where they were, or what happened. He’s seen rock and roll history from bands like The Doors and MC5 live to being there when the notorious bootleg Metallic K.O. was recorded at an Iggy and the Stooges show. He took Steven Tyler to see Spinal Tap. Bob jammed with Bon Scott’s AC/DC in a hotel bar. He’s the high priest of all things rock and has performed countless good deeds and miracles in service of it.
You can read Newtopia’s first interview with Bob with a biographical introduction here. Now to go in depth with Bob.
NEWTOPIA: As you tour you’ve been taking the opportunity to meet people some of whom you haven’t seen in thirty years. What are you learning from this journey through the past?
NITEBOB: You lose touch with people over the years, the landline goes away, they move. The Internet and Facebook made it easy to re connect. I started contacting people from my past, most of whom were influential in my life. It can be awkward and uncomfortable for some people when you meet up, uncomfortable for them. I am used to it haha. I have found that people don’t change all that much. The same personality traits that were present a long time ago are usually still there. Their lives have changed along with their goals. Some are happy, some are not. It’s like a rock and roll high school reunion.
NEWTOPIA. Your art form is sound, what is it you’re after when you’re mixing and what have you had to change to adapt from the old analog boards of the ’70s to today’s digital systems?
NITEBOB: I want to present the music to an audience in a form that is enjoyable. I feel that the experience of a group of like-minded people gathering to experience live music is one of the most primal experiences. You participate. For me it never gets old. Tiny club, nice theater, Arena or 100,000+ festival. You can’t download it, you have to be there. YouTube is musical voyeurism. When a show ends, it exists in your memory, positive or negative experience. I remember some shows like it was yesterday, others I don’t remember at all. The really great shows are artistically satisfying, but sometimes the really bad ones just will not go away. I love what I do, and consider myself lucky to have this career for over 40 years. Adapting to digital consoles has been easy. If you are computer fluent, the learning curve is fast. It is very convenient; the sound is a different story. I prefer an analog desk because it sounds better to me
NEWTOPIA: Last time we met you played me a recording of the Stooges in rehearsal that you said changed your life. When and where was that and how did it change your life?
NITEBOB: The rehearsal was in the summer of 1973 at CBS Studios in NYC. I was hired to help them with their shows at Max’s Kansas City. I went to the rehearsal to meet them and to be prepared for those shows. I couldn’t believe the fury and intensity of the music. When they were not playing they returned to being cool laid-back guys from Detroit. I was not prepared. At one point Iggy was dancing on top of a grand piano naked. I was sitting next to a union CBS engineer, with a white shirt and tie, in the control room. He turned to me and said, “Does he do this all the time?” Half of the songs they were playing were new, post Raw Power. They were moving forward. You can hear some of the rehearsals and a Max’s gig from the summer of 1973 on the Easy Action Heavy Liquid box set.
NEWTOPIA. One of your own bands was inspired by the MC5 and played the Catholic High School Circuit. Please tell our readers about how you got a sing along going that almost always got the plug pulled on the gig.
NITEBOB: I had a band around 1970 that played a circuit of Catholic high schools in New Jersey. They were great gigs of anywhere from 200 to a 1000 kids a show. They paid great, and you could play every Friday and Saturday. We were influenced by The Yardbirds, The Who, Sly and the Family Stone, Motown, and the MC5. We would start our third set with Kick Out The Jams by the MC5. We had a really good PA and nobody missed the word motherfucker in the opening of the song. Word got around, and we were told that we could not use that word. Our singer would announce that we were going to play it but had been told we could not use that word…but the audience could…we would say Kick Out The Jams, and the audience would scream motherfucker…sometimes we got away with it, but most times they would pull the plug on the power. We eventually replaced it with a crazy version of “I Want To Take You Higher”
NEWTOPIA: Tell us about your dad who worked on the lunar module and your mom the photojournalist war correspondent. How did they influence your own work?
NITEBOB: My father was an engineer and worked for a company called Kearfott that designed flight guidance systems for the government. Influential on a tech level for me because I was introduced to high tech equipment. My dad was also a big fan of music. My Mom was in the photography department of the Navy in WWII. There were cameras around all the time. She loved country music. After the war she worked at RCA making tubes. My house growing up was filled with music, technology and photographs.
NEWTOPIA: What was so fun about the New York Dolls? What was the reaction like to them in the nether regions of America?
NITEBOB: In the early NYC days it was really fun scene. Crazy gigs, hanging at Max’s, lots of girls around. It was like a gang of equals having a good time. To be honest, sometimes the nether region shows were better than the big cities. People letting go, having a good time, it was out. It was special. It was fun. Just listen to Personality Crisis. Now taking The Dolls thru an airport in Knoxville, Tennessee…people would stop and stare at them, like they were from another planet.
NEWTOPIA: You’ve seen sweeping change in this world. You saw band after band ruling the world, music important and valuable, sex, drugs and rock and roll took over the world and now blare out at us from every car commercial and ad for booze. Yet the rock culture seems to be rapidly disappearing. Do you have a theory about what happened?
NITEBOB: The Internet and personal computers have dissipated the rock culture. It was youth culture. Now the youth culture is Instagram and Facebook. Kids are isolated, staring at a laptop screen or a Smartphone. You can watch a band on YouTube from the comfort of your home. By doing that you miss the energy of being in a room with a band playing so loud you can’t think of anything else. Hip Hop seemed more dangerous than Slayer. Look at the popularity of EDM, no band just a DJ and his computer. Shows are too expensive, and young people can’t get into any shows that sell alcohol, so they look elsewhere.
NEWTOPIA: What inspires you to try every day to help cats survive kill shelters and injuries?
NITEBOB: What inspires me? The fact that the simple act of sharing a cat on the euth list on Facebook can help that cat get rescued or adopted, somebody might see it and step up. It’s a positive action that can actually help.
NEWTOPIA. The most unlikely rise you witnessed in the music business and the most tragic fall.
NITEBOB: Rise: Laurie Anderson having a hit single in the UK with Oh Superman. Fall: Record companies ignoring file sharing, which resulted in the destruction of record companies, record store, the concept of an album, tour support, artist development.
NEWTOPIA. You’ve done some work on the definitive B.C. Rich book soon to be published. Tell us a little about what made B.C Rich different from say Fender or Gibson.
NITEBOB: The early BC Rich guitars were the ultimate Southern California guitar of the early 70’s, in my opinion.. Handmade by super skilled craftsmen from Mexico in East LA. Totally hand made, no CNC machines, they even made their own tools. Each one was slightly different. They listened to what the players wanted and incorporated a neck thru design and custom electronics.
NEWTOPIA: Tell us story about your pals The Ramones.
NITEBOB: I was on the Ramones Farewell tour, which was Lollapalooza 1996. I was mixing Psychotica. Our dressing room was always next to the Ramones’ dressing room. The Ramones would run through their songs everyday and fight, everyday. I would go and see them at CB’s because they were fun with short catchy songs, leather jackets and Chuck Taylor sneakers. I never mixed a Ramones show. I did do some projects with Joey and Dee Dee after the Farewell tour.
NEWTOPIA: Did the rock critic Lester Bangs get Metallic K.O. right in his classic reports on Iggy for Creem magazine? You were there. Did Iggy really go to war with that biker in the audience? What actually happened?
NITEBOB: I was there for the Oct 3rd show at the Michigan Palace, which makes up half of Metallic K.O. Just about every Stooges show was about war…audience conflict. At the end of Search and Destroy, if he didn’t come back to the stage, I had to go into the audience and find him by following the microphone cable, and had to carry him back to the stage. There is a detailed description in Paul Trykna’s book Open Up and Bleed.
NEWTOPIA: Now that you’ve helped him with his book, do you think Joe Perry might teach you how to relate to horses?
NITEBOB: Haha, All I did with Joe’s book was submit some photos and clear up some guitar info. I look forward to reading it when it comes out.
NEWTOPIA: But seriously, Bob, you’ve said in the ’70s drugs, guitars and girls were drawn to bands like Aerosmith like screws to a magnet. Pick one of the screws and tell us a story about it
NITEBOB: In the mid 70s there were no vintage guitar stores, guitar dealers would come by shows, bringing their guitars to sell. Pete Alenoff of St Paul, MN was one of those guys with a lot of style. Pete would show up in a metallic red 59 Cadillac loaded with rare vintage guitars and a couple of scantily clad gals to help him bring the guitars in. If you had a day off, Pete would come and pick you up and a night of chaos, girls, and bars would follow. These were different times. We liked to have some fun on our days off, which were few and far between.
Nitebob on tour in the ’70s w/classic BOC t-shirt.
NEWTOPIA: You appear in and you recently attended the premier in NYC of the new Johnny Thunder’s documentary. How’s the film and what was it like to see your friends from the days of the Dolls reunited?
NITEBOB: Ah. Looking For Johnny, very moving, very fair look at Johnny Thunders. Danny Garcia made an excellent documentary. I spent time with Johnny during the New York Dolls and the early days of the Heartbreakers…then our paths diverged. The documentary filled in a lot of blanks for me of his early life and the post Heartbreakers years. Johnny was the guy with the big hair and the too small clothes that you saw at the Fillmore. When I started touring with the dolls, I roomed with JT. That didn’t last long, hahaha. The last third of the movie made me feel really sad. And that sadness pervaded for a couple of weeks after I saw the doc. You cant put your arms around a memory. People like Peter Jordan, Bob Gruen, Lenny Kaye, Walter Lure, Cynthia Ross, Phyllis Stein are still here and still making music…
NEWTOPIA: What gives you hope these days?
NITEBOB: NYC bands like Fraulein, Tempt and The Indecent give me hope for a better musical future. Eddie from Detroit and his band The Sights give me hope. James Williamson and Ginger Wildheart give me hope. Lucid Nation gives me hope.
Tamra Lucid is the author of Making the Ordinary Extraordinary.