fred smith's obituary from the village voice, 1994

The Motor City lost another one of its musical native sons when Fred Sonic Smith died last Friday in Detroit's St. John's Hospital. According to family friends, Smith was admitted midweek after collapsing at home, but succumbed on Friday to heart failure. He was 45.

Smith played guitar (along with Wayne Kramer) for MC5, and his thick, muscular riffs provided the ballistic brawn behind the band's sweaty mix of fist-pumping revolutionary rhetoric and head-banging incendiary protoo-metal. On the band's second album, Back in the USA, Smith penned and sang the melodic teen anthem, "Shakin' Street." He also wrote half the songs on the Five's final and best album, 1971's High Time, including the band's finest officially released moment, the heavy-metal meltdown "Skunk (Sonicaly Speaking)," which prophetically heralded a marriage between high-energy riff rock and high-intensity free jazz. After the Five's dissolution Smith formed the supergroup Sonic's Rendezvous Band with fellow Detroits from the Stooges, the Up, and the Rationals.

Splitting from the rock scene for married life, Smith settled in 1980 in the Detroit suburb of St. Clair Shores, maintaining an almost invisible existence as Mr. Patti Smith. Smith raised two children (son Jackson, 12, and daughter Jessie, 7) with his high-profile wife. In 1988, breaking a decade-long silence, Sonic cowrote and coproduced all the songs on Patti's comeback LP Dream of Life, and the couple collaborated on a song for the soundtrack to Wim Wenders's 1991 film Until The End of the World.

At the time of his death Smith was working on a compilation of Sonic's Rendezvous live material and writing songs for an upcoming album with Patti. "He was teaching her guitar," said former Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye from the Smith home on Monday, "That was always one of her dreams, to learn how to play guitar. She showed me all her chords, and she plays them pretty well." (A grieving Patti declined to offer any comment.)

"I'm heartbroken," Kramer told Rockbeat Sunday. "We learned how to play in bands together. I'm just proud to have played music with Fred, and to have been in one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time with him."

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