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Dennis Loren Q&A

Dennis Loren worked with Iggy & The Stooges designing their famous 1973 poster! Dennis talks about his time with Iggy & the Stooges with Jennifer Otter-Bickerdike the author of the upcoming Why Vinyl Matters.

Who were your pop heroes growing up and why?

Dennis: I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1946 and graduated from high school in 1964. I always loved art and music in equal measure. My taste in music has always been extremely eclectic. Growing up in the 1950s, I heard and enjoyed much of the music of that first generation of rock & rollers, especially the songs of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Buddy Holly & The Crickets, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, Ray Charles, Eddie Cochran, The Drifters, The Coasters, Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps, Bo Diddley and James Brown. In those days – AM radio stations that appealed to young people – played a mix of styles that were all considered rock & roll. There weren’t all of the sub-genres that music critics and record company marketing people would later use to describe those different styles, such as r&b, doo-wop, rockabilly, instrumental rock and soul. In junior high school, I played in an instrumental rock band and we fashioned our sound after bands like The Ventures. In the early 1960s my interest broadened to include folk (Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and others), blues (Son House, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, BB King and others) and the solo artists and vocal groups of hometown label Motown (The Miracles, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas, Stevie Wonder and others). Detroit, being in close proximity to Canada, I often listened to a radio station called CKLW. It was on this radio station that I first heard the music of The Beatles in 1963, a good year before their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. By 1964 the British Invasion was in full swing and in response to that new American groups were springing up across the country. At this time I was in a band with my brother David and we loved the music of English groups, such as The Bealtes, Them (with Van Morrison), The Animals, The Searchers, The Pretty Things, The Yardbirds, The Zombies and The Rolling Stones. In 1965 the first American groups that hit the airwaves, in response to the British Invasion were The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful. They married the lyrics of folk to electric guitars and a rock beat and created a sound that would soon be described as folk-rock. This whole gumbo of sound certainly influenced me and so many other young people in the Detroit area. One could hear The Supremes one moment and then The Yardbirds, Booker T & The MGs, The Hollies and The Lovin’ Spoonful within the same 15 minute block of time on the radio. Very early, I began to buy records (both 45 rpm singles and LPs) by groups and solo artists that I liked, after I first heard them on the radio. You opened a big can of worms with this question, because I have a long list of favorites – ha!!!’

When and where did you first hear/see Iggy & The Stooges?

I had been drafted in September of 1965 and spent most of 1966 stationed in Turkey. I would finish my time in the army at the Presido of San Francisco. Upon my discharge I decided to stay in San Francisco, because of the vibrant music and art scene that was happening there. I joined a band and began designing concert posters. I kept in touch with my friends and family members by letter and frequent phone calls. I was aware of what was going on musically in the Detroit area. My friend Bill White played the bass in the Amboy Dukes and was on the first album, before he too got drafted. I visited my family during the holidays and on other occasions, such as attending my brother David’s wedding in 1968. During these visits I would go to concerts at the Grande Ballroom and other local venues with my brother or friends. I saw both The MC5 and The Stooges at the Grande. Iggy’s group was still called The Psychedelic Stooges in those days. My reaction was one of amazement. Iggy did things on stage that I had never seen before. Music in the Detroit area had developed very differently to what I had been experiencing in San Francisco. It reflected growing up in a factory town with all that entailed. Alienated suburban youth frustrated by not only the Vietnam War, but looking forward to few opportunities beyond a future working in an auto factory. This frustration found a release in a form of high energy rock & roll. Loud, aggressive and in your face!!! The MC5 and The Stooges soon found themselves in the forefront of this new sound. It was cutting edge and many considered it dangerous. Detroit audiences in those day used terms like “killer,” “heavy” and “dangerous.”

Why was the Whisky notorious in 1970?

The Whisky A Go-Go was just a bar that had musical entertainment, but happened to be located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood during an exciting time in music history. In the mid-sixties it became the launching pad for so many rock groups living the Los Angeles area, from Love and The Doors to Buffalo Springfield and Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention. Record company A&R people could see visiting acts from out of town and new local talent there without leaving town. The first artist to perform at the Whisky when it opened for business in 1963 and who become famous nationally was Johnny Rivers. At least two of his albums were recorded live at the Whisky, including his hit single “Memphis.” Even The Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin played at the Whisky at the beginning of their careers. As time progressed the club became a legendary place that groups and solo artists wanted to perform at. By the early 1970s, the groups that played at the Whisky reflected the various music trends of the day. Groups as diverse as Steely Dan (when they were still a real band and not just a recording duo), Marc Bolan & T-Rex, The Runaways and Van Halen. The glam and glitter rock of the early 1970s, would soon lead to punk and new wave of the mid-to-late 1970s. The clubs notorious reputation developed no doubt with the kinds of bands that played and the kind of audiences those bands attracted. The Doors (one of the many house bands) were fired because of Jim Morrison’s lewd improvised lyrics and drunken behavior on stage. Charles Manson was even know to hang out there in the late 1960s. Manson once pulled a knife on Eric Burdon (of The Animals) and was thrown out co-owner Mario Magliari. Iggy & The Stooges in many ways, may have been on their last legs (due to drugs and waning interest in the band) when they came to Los Angeles and played at a number of Hollywood clubs, including the Whisky A Go-Go. Iggy’s stage antics certainly added to the clubs reputation. Ray Manzarek of The Doors and Alice Cooper attended some of these shows. Ray even considered asking Iggy to join The Doors to replace Jim Morrison. I have seen a photo of Ray, Alice and Iggy that was taken at the Whisky.

When you designed your famous poster in 1973 for The Stooges, what was important to capture?

I made a high contrast drawing of the band from a record company promotional photograph. What attracted me to the picture was the leering look in Iggy’s eyes. When I colored the poster, I made the whites of his eyes a jaundice yellow. I think that look and color is what makes the poster design stands out. I think I was trying to capture a little bit of that “dangerous” sound from Detroit – ha!!!

Why was this a good venue for The Stooges to play?

Most successful rock bands and concert promoters – across the country and the World – had moved on to using larger venues and arenas by the 1970s. Small clubs like the Whisky would be places where new bands could launch their careers. On the other hand, clubs like these would often feature older groups and solo performers that were no longer on the rise and whose careers may have bottomed out and yet they still had enough “name value” and some drawing power to be hired. Many future LA punk rockers may have seen Iggy & The Stooges at this point. Certainly Iggy’s reputation as “a founding father of punk rock,” may have begun around this time.

What attracted you to The Stooges?

It may have been their attitude more than the music. I don’t think their music was high up on my list of favorites at the time. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the music they played, but I was more attracted to music and lyrics of more progressive rock groups then. It is often said that a person tends to stick with the music that you discovered and gravitated to during your formative years. I had already attended concerts by The Doors, Big Brother & The Holding Company with Janis Joplin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jefferson Airplane, Creem, Spirit, Country Joe & The Fish, Buffalo Springfield, Quicksilver Messenger Service and so many other revolutionary music greats. I certainly wasn’t jaded and I have always kept an open mind for new music and still do. I wasn’t bored and never have been. In retrospect, Iggy & The Stooges are a part of that soundtrack. Yet in all honesty, I probably thought that groups like Procol Harum or Jethro Tull were more important and interesting musically.

Do you think the Stooges are more important in retrospect than they were when they first released their albums?  Why or why not?

Yes, I think they are. Much like the Velvet Underground and other groups that I could mention, they may have been – in many ways – ahead of their time. A good example of this is the San Francisco group The Charlatans. They began in 1965 and played a mix of traditional American and British folk, blues, country, old-timey music and original tunes (mostly written by the great Dan Hicks). They also were the first to use a light show and cleverly designed posters. Today they might be categorized as “Americana.” Yet they did something then that had never been done before. In the middle of many of their songs, they improvised and extended the music. In the beginning, this was thought of as psychedelic, but would later be called “jamming.” The centerpiece of a typical Charlatans set would be a 15 or 20 minute version of the old country-folk song “Alabama Bound.” Other San Francisco groups, such as The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe & The Fish, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, would soon adapt this technique into their music. The Charlatans may not be as well remembered as the other San Francisco groups, but as the Jefferson Airplane’s singer Grace Slick once said, “If it hadn’t been for The Charlatans, there would have been no San Francisco music scene. In the context of punk rock, the same could be said of The Stooges.

Why would a gig at the Whisky in 1970 be important/transformative for The Stooges?

I’m not really sure it was, except for the reasons that I mentioned above. You could boil it down to the word “influence.” Like the Velvet Underground, the handful of fans that bought The Stooges’ albums, may have used them as a template to develop their own sound. Much like The Ramones in New York City and many other punk rock bands in both the US and England, did.

In Gimme Danger, Danny Fields says, ‘Iggy and the Stooges re-invented music as we know it’ – how? Why was this important? Has it been more important retrospectively?

Well, one of the reasons Danny Fields may have said that was because he was the “house hippie” when he worked at Elektra Records and was probably the main reason that label came to Detroit and signed both The MC5 and The Stooges. Yet as a major influence – retrospectively – this just happens to be true – ha!!! As MC5 lead singer Rob Tyner once said, “We were punk before punk, metal before metal and MC before Hammer.” The same could be said of The Stooges. Like many groups from the 1960s, time has been kinder to their music, then back when it was first created and recorded.

In the Raw Power documentary, Iggy says that the Stooges, ‘Created new sound with drugs, attitude, youth and a record collection’ – why and how were these crucial ingredients at this particular moment?

Much like a couple of my above answers. I would echo Iggy and say that records, youth and attitude were necessary ingredients. Personally, I have never been attracted to drugs or alcohol. I was always much more attracted to the music and related artwork. Yet I know that certain drugs have had an influence on the music of some people. Iggy once worked in an Ann Arbor record store. There he most likely heard and even bought the records that influenced him the most. He was also the drummer in a couple of groups (The Iguanas and Prime Movers) before forming The Stooges with the Ashton brothers, who had been in a group called The Chosen Few, with singer Scott Richardson, later of SRC. Marijuana and LSD certainly were readily available in music circles in those days. Attitude and energetic performances may have replaced musical ability. So, yes I would say that all of these things became key parts of The Stooges sound. I would have to say, that heroin, speed, uppers and downers were something that really didn’t help the musicians or the music of this era and was the main cause of the early deaths of many talented artists.

Also in Raw Power, Iggy comments, ‘If anybody had your record, they felt like they were the only person for miles that liked this group – everybody else hated them and did not get it – you were special.’ Why was this an important part of the band/fan experience?

For some reason, it was very important to be considered “hip” or “cool” in those days. I’m not totally sure why, except for the fact that many young people DO feel a certain sense of alienation and insecurity. Especially during their teenage years. When they discover something that they can related to, it often leads to finding other people like you. Belonging to a small group of close friends – that like many of the same things that you do – makes you feel less lonely. It also may have had something to do the image of the rebel that stands outside the boring norms of any given era. I can remember being called a non-conformist many times in my youth – ha!!! During my high school days the two largest groups of conforming kids were called “Frats” and “Greasers.” These groups were often based around hair styles, clothes and interest in sports, cars, music and other things. I was in a much smaller group of kids that were derogatorily called “Beatniks” – ha!!! So, I can relate to this. I was probably the first person in my neighborhood to by the first few Bob Dylan albums. My dad – who was a music fan – became a bit worried, because I played those records over and over again, listening to the lyrics. One day he knocked on my bedroom door and asked why this music interested me, because “the guy can’t sing.” I asked him to sit down and listen to the lyrics of the song “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Then I played him the recent single of the same song by Peter, Paul & Mary. He loved melody and harmony and could hear that in their version. He smiled and said, “I get it now. He still can’t sing, but he is a great songwriter.” In many ways, it is hard to describe those days, because we didn’t have all the things we do now, that we take for granted. From cell phones, computers, the internet and social networking. In many ways we were more alone with our own thoughts and discoveries. When joining a group of like-minded friends or a band, we could share many of the things we have discovered or thought about. I think this is how local music scenes begin and a supportive networks develops. This certainly happened in both Liverpool, San Francisco Detroit and other cities in more recent years, such as, Athens, Georgia or Seattle, Washington.

Lastly, Iggy states that the Stooges were like, ‘Bridges made between the sounds of the group and the commonality of current consciousness’- how was this a factor in 1970?

Yes, I think this is true and reflected in many of the things I have mentioned in some my answers to your questions. A story that I can share, was about the moment my brother David – who was a few years younger than I – became more aware or conscious. I had an album by a folk singer named Hamilton Camp called “Paths Of Victory” that was released in 1964 on the Elektra label. On this album was a song called “Get Together.” When I got home one evening, David was in the basement and asked me to come down and listen to a song he was working out an arrangement for. He had found it on my Hamilton Camp album. He took his electric guitar and played “Get Together.” We ended up singing this song together using a Byrds like harmony. Three years later, this song would become a big hit for The Youngbloods. Both of us had begun writing songs around this same time and I can still remember the lyrics to most of a song David wrote called “Just Maybe I’m Sad.” “As I walk around the streets of this town, I find nothing here for me. No peace of mind, just a waste of time, a far as I can see. But I’ll take that next road, one never knows, the rate-race of life is confusing me so. They say get out of here boy, your nothing but bad, Oh why can’t they see, just maybe I’m sad.” Alienation and attitude, but also a rise in consciousness. I think many of us were feeling like this in those days.

Anything else about the Stooges, LA in the 70s, Sunset Strip or the Whisky?

I have always felt a close kinship to the music that has come out of the Detroit area. I understand where it is coming from, including the hard work and frustration that comes with creating it and finding an audience for it. I have lived in Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles and spent lengthy times in other cities, such as, Boston, New York City, Nashville and Seattle. Each place has its own charms. The 15 years I spent living and working in the Hollywood/Los Angeles area were important to my music related graphic design career. Yet for some reason I never really felt that I quite fit in. It never felt like home to me. When I was growing up, many people believed that you had to go to New York City or Los Angeles to make it in the music business or other creative fields. And to a certain extent that may have been true, but something must be said for local music scenes that develop and eventually get discovered by a national and international audience. The concert poster design work that I did for the Whisky was important, but not really any more important than the poster work that I did for other venues in other cities or the album covers and CD packages that I did for numerous record labels. The clubs on the Sunset Strip and in the general vicinity were important to the careers of many groups. It was certainly an exciting scene in the 1960s. Yet, I don’t really think playing at the Whisky in 1973, was that important to the career of Iggy & The Stooges. A good example of this is the band Alice Cooper. The group had lived for several years in Los Angeles and recorded two albums for Frank Zappa’s Straight Records label. They played at the Whisky and yet they didn’t find real any success until after they moved to Detroit. San Francisco’s Flamin’ Groovies also spent time in the Detroit area and some of thier sound changed after they played with The MC5 at the Grande Ballroom. During the 1970s, I returned to Detroit and worked with many of the local rock, punk and new wave bands, including Sonic’s Rendezvous Band that included Scott Ashton on drums and Destroy All Monsters with Ron Ashton on guitar. Years later, while living in San Francisco once again, I designed a poster for Iggy & The Stooges reunion concert at the Coachella Music Festival. After computers and the internet, location no longer seemed to be an issue. While still living in the San Francisco area, I began designing concert posters for many younger Detroit bands, such as The White Stripes, The Dirtbombs, The Detroit Cobras, The Von Bondies, Blanche and many others. Since I returned to the Detroit area in 2013, I still do work for musicians and record labels in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, New York City, London, Paris and other locations – ha!!!

If you want to see more about Iggy & The Stooges at the Whisky a Go-Go you can check out our newest Iggy title here