Ray De Motte (ex Black Sun)
Black Sun was a proto-punk Detroit spin-off mix of several musical styles and personalities: a typical garage band with pretensions of a unique sound, style and attitude.
Art is uniquely self-generated, learnt, or a combination in which the generation of the art itself is hard to differentiate from the different causes – whether that is learnt or inspired. Black Sun was typical of many bands in that it was influenced by what came before.
There was a record store on St. George’s Terrace in those days (or was it Hay Street?), and on the benches outside young fanatics debated which band was more progressive than another, which one was more heavy, real, technically adept, or simply (and rarely described this way) which one liked the most. This heady mix of youth and pseudo-intellectual discussion of progressive music led to encounters between members of the Black Sun, who were simply sick of the progressives destroying the heart and soul of rock – the thumping beat, aggressive guitar work, and the in-the-face attitude all great rock is based on. This feeling would culminate several years later, perhaps to an extreme some would say, in the punk movement – but already the proto-punks were alive, although of course the Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop, was little known in Western Australia .
Black Sun was a mixture of styles and personalities brought together by accident or fate to create their own unique sound influenced by the sounds that filled the heads of the key members – Ray (“Iggy”) De Motte (me), Tony Kohn, and James Baker.
I came from the United States and had spent time in Ann Arbor enthralled at the Detroit music scene: MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, the UP, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, and nearby Grand Funk Railroad. The heaviest pile driver rock one can imagine before or since happened in Detroit – no one who attended an evening with Iggy and the Stooges followed by the MC5 will ever forget the energy, excitement and sheer pounding of the senses such an evening produced. Listen at full volume to The Stooges’ Fun House album, followed by MC5’s Kick out the Jams and maybe, just maybe, one can grasp a sliver of an impression of what it was like. My influences at the time of Black Sun also included Alice Cooper and Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come.
Tony Kohn, the guitarist, was a dark haired young fellow who always looked like he should have been a beatnik, or attending jazz music classes but had inadvertently fallen in with the wrong crowd. Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple contributed to a unique sound with the chords of Black Sabbath, and guitar solos influenced by Deep Purple – and Cream of all bands – and one felt Kohn went to bed dreaming of the right wah-wah fuzz box combination.
The bass player, Gary, was another American transplant who had been in Perth for a while – he came from the typical Bill Wyman school of stage presence. If my memory serves me correctly, he learnt bass by listening to live Cream albums, but then was shocked to hear Grand Funk live, and subsequently realized his life’s mission was to play the bass guitar with as few notes as possible, as loud as possible, and over and over the same way, to make sure his sounds were the ones you went home with. Kevin Duffy played rhythm. He was out of place: tall, very tall, long blond hair, hippy clothes but always very clean. No one ever found out what his influences were but I suspect a combination of Herman’s Hermits and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He was with the group, left the group, came back; he was a successful farmer of some sort, older than the rest, and one got the impression he loved to play – but opened his eyes and looked at Jim and I and our antics, and needed a break from time to time!
Jim Baker was style – mod style after the fact, glam style before the fact – and his life’s ambition seemed to be more Rod Stewart than Rod Stewart, and maintaining a Charlie Watt meets Keith Moon style of drumming. That was his hallmark musically. So one day he meets up with me and some Stone’s Green Ginger Wine, we listen to the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges – but then relax to the Faces. Tony Kohn comes with his rock opera of Segovia on acid played in a Black Sabbath manner. So Black Sun was born.
We played every ridiculous place one can imagine: pubs until they threw us out, some school functions, maybe one of the Battle of the Bands heats, and some rented halls. We had two roadies who, if they were not born on death row, should have been – beer and cheap girls (maybe they were literate… I am not sure, and maybe their vocabulary exceeded fifty words, maybe not).
The typical band of the time, famous and infamous alike, had a certain required rock band style – the problem was, we didn’t fit. No one played Raw Power followed by Roadhouse Blues, Kick Out The Jams, the strange Black Sun number Milk White Eye and other songs written by the band including its theme song Black Sun, Na Na NaNA ( Ray forgot the original title and he and Jim after a few rather strong drinks sang this one evening), All the Girls Are Pink and Pretty in Detroit City, and a few others lost in the mists of time. (In London in 1977 there was a Black Sun tape floating around Earls Court).
Each set finished with the MC5 number Starship – the song that got the band either yelled at or thrown out of places. Their version of progressive music was a musical nightmare: while Jim kept the beat, Gary hypnotically repeated the same bass sound for up to an hour, Tony engaging in brilliantly original guitar work, while I writhed on the ground issuing guttural sounds as if speaking in tongues. Jim, of course, religiously decided only sparkling jackets and no shirts was for him – many people knew the band because the drummer never wore a shirt.
We dug the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the early Alice Cooper stuff (which one must admit was strange), MC5, of course a few Troggs and Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, and Jim converted all of us to the Faces, whether we wanted to convert or not.
We probably at one time or another played every song on MC5’s Kick Out the Jams and The Stooges’ first two albums. For some odd reason I do not remember hearing Iggy’s I Got a Right (to me, a song that inspired 90% of the punk music scene), but I remember playing it (perhaps we copied it from some bootleg of an Iggy jam session, who knows?).
Finally Tony thought Jim and I were nuts, but he didn’t care; I think he wrote his rock opera, then decided to split it up and put it in every other song’s guitar solo – or so it seemed.
Girls and girls – and Jim attracted them all…usually he had to spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror, adjusting his jacket until he got it right, then he would check his hair, belt, etc. This was when girls would sometimes come in to watch the exercise. It seemed to attract them as light does a moth (and maybe that is why Jim did that, I don’t know… I think he was so dedicated to being a Mod even though that time had passed, that he didn’t notice). The roadies’ van was put to good use transporting equipment and girls, and at one festival far from Perth it was put to extraordinary use repeatedly. At a party one night, with people standing on the rooftop urinating in the street for some odd reason, Jim and I played the Stooges – the place stops dead, one look at Jim with sequins plastered on his jacket, me with my version of an army jacket torn in two but patched together with silver stars. So Jim and I turn up the sound, but remember where the car keys were. Jim had the smallest car in the world – in fact, it was unique, or so it seemed at the time.
Practice was a pain getting everyone together, but when we did it went on for hours and hours and hours. Tony was a perfectionist – Jim and I just wanted a beat. For some reason Jim would periodically stand up on his drum seat and sing some bizarre song in a loud voice. Everyone would go outside and wait until he finished, then he would smile sheepishly, and say let’s just play some solid rock here – Little Queenie by the Stones for some reason would put us all in a good mood.
Hard to remember all the stories but we had fun, even when we were mad we had fun, we created a sound, we delivered a sound, and it was us against the world in those days – co-workers, family, pub owners. We were the sound. There were a lot of good bands in Perth in those days, and since we were far from Sydney, let alone London, we all had to develop our own style – and try to survive, which required a dedication which in turn meant one took the music even more seriously.
Ray De Motte