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Rock legend debunked: Redemption, Goose Lake and the lost Stooge

Jim Cassily's live recording of the Stooges at Goose Lake clears up a popular myth about the band, and his family is proud he's the one telling it

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Jim Cassily is disproving a piece of rock mythology, 15 years after his death.

An audio engineer, Cassily was rolling tape at the Goose Lake International Music Festival, awash in talent and swarmed by fans 50 years ago this weekend just outside of Jackson. Among other performances, he captured a blistering Stooges set that forever changed the band’s trajectory and was thought for generations to be lost to time.

Goose Lake International Music Festival, August 7-9, 1970 in Jackson, Michigan.

As the story’s been told, original Stooges bassist Dave Alexander was so out of his mind on stage that night that he didn’t play a single lick, infuriating frontman Iggy Pop, who fired him from the band immediately after the show, marking the beginning of the end of the Stooges.

That’s the way Third Man Records’ Ben Blackwell always heard the tale, but when Cassily’s recording of the performance arrived on his desk three years ago, that’s not what he heard.

How that tape ended up on his desk — and how it was packaged into a live album to be released Friday by Third Man — is a story of buried treasure, the fanciful nature of rock folklore and long overdue redemption, both for Alexander and Cassily’s family.

Drawn to music

Cassily was a Detroit musician and a role player in the city’s bustling music community in the 1960s and 1970s.

After graduating from Denby High School on the city's east side and later Western Michigan University, he worked in various facets of the music industry in his early 20s.

Jim Cassily, center, was an audio engineer and producer who worked with Teegarden & Van Winkle, Bob Seger and more.

“He did some touring with Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell. He had some fun years doing that,” says his ex-wife, Melanie Rogers. “He never called himself a roadie, he never used that word to me ever, but I’m sure that’s what he was.”

In 1968, while working with Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign team, Cassily met Tulsa, Oklahoma, folk-rock duo Teegarden & Van Winkle. He becametheir manager and convinced them to move to Michigan, where they recorded their hit 1970 single “God, Love and Rock & Roll.”

The song’s popularity landed the pair as both performers and emcees at Goose Lake, a sprawling, three-day rock-and-roll free-for-all, which was billed as Michigan’s Woodstock. Held one year after the iconic celebration of peace, love and music, Goose Lake drew a reported attendance of 200,000 fans to a 400-acre plot of land in Leoni Township, more than triple the 60,000 that were expected to attend.

Working with Teegarden & Van Winkle brought Cassily to Goose Lake, and using his wily powers of connection, he documented many of the weekend’s sets on professional recording equipment. Cassily’s family isn’t sure if he was officially hired by promoters to record the festival, but he managed to roll tape on sets by John Drake’s Shakedown, Litter, New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, Flock, Chicago, Third Power, Mountain, James Gang and Mitch Ryder, as well as Saturday night’s set by the Stooges.

The Stooges were on a tear, having released their second album, the gestating, raw, experimental “Fun House” just one month prior. The band’s 45-minute set, which ran from 8:45-9:30 p.m., saw them ripping through the entirety of the new album.

The Stooges perform at the Goose Lake International Music Festival.

As legend would have it, Alexander was so wasted that he never touched his bass, Iggy Pop provoked the crowd to tear down the crowd-control barriers and the plug was pulled early in the set. With no known recording of the performance, that’s the way the story has been told for much of 50 years.

And that’s the way it would continue to be told, had it not been for the unearthing of a box of tapes that sat untouched for decades. 

Committed to tape

Melanie Rogers attended the Goose Lake fest as well, not with Cassily, but with her “radical hippie boyfriend” at the time.

“The music was wonderful, but I found it a little too seedy for me, even as much of a hippie as I was at that time,” she says. “There were people running around doing very indecent things. I was put off by a lot of it.”

Goose Lake International Music Festival, August 7-9, 1970 in Jackson, Michigan.

Melanie didn’t meet Cassily until eight years later, and they married in 1980. The couple moved from Ann Arbor to Brighton together, and eventually settled in Wyoming, just outside of Grand Rapids, in 1987 with their two children, Joshua and Kassandra.

In each move, Cassily lugged along boxes of recordings, which eventually were stored in the basement of their family’s 180-year-old family farmhouse. There they sat for decades along with almost two centuries of belongings, artifacts and other odds and ends.

A look at Jim Cassily's collection of recordings that was kept in storage for years.

Joshua Rogers, Cassily’s son, was aware of his father’s tapes going back to the early 1990s, when he used the basement as a rehearsal space for his band, The Vantrells. He knew the tapes were important to his father but he didn’t know that they contained a small but pivotal piece of rock history.

After working with Bob Seger, the Ohio Players, Funkadelic and more as an engineer and producer, Cassily phased out of the industry in the 1980s. He continued to work in the audio field, tinkering with various inventions, developing a low-noise amplifier used in early satellite TV dishes, and later a device he called the Interactive Metronome, which was used to improve timing, rhythm and attention in special needs children and adults.

That device earned Cassily the nickname “The Timedoc” and write-ups in trade publications, but Joshua thinks his father missed the music industry.

Jim Cassily's recording of the Stooges' performance at the Goose Lake International Music Festival is being released by Third Man Records on Friday.

“It felt like he was he was trying to find that next thing that was going to be another big hit that he'd come so close to doing in the past,” says Joshua, who now lives in Chicago. “It was hard seeing how down he would get about it not panning out all the time.”

Cassily died in 2005, at age 60, of lung cancer. The family sold their Wyoming home in August 2016, and Joshua took possession of his father’s boxes of audio recordings.

He found 230 tapes, among them a box labeled “Goose Lake.” Suspecting they might be of interest, he enlisted childhood friend Derek Phillips, who got hold of Jack White’s Third Man Records and let them know he had something they might want to hear.

A box of tapes labeled Goose Lake contained unheard performances from the 1970 rock festival, including a pivotal performance by the Stooges.

Rewriting history

Third Man’s Ben Blackwell first heard about Cassily’s recording of the Goose Lake Stooges set in September of 2017. Since Third Man traffics in historical recordings and all manner of Detroit-centric ephemera, it’s not unusual for him to be pitched ideas about this or that lost performance from far-off corners of rock history.

“There's all kinds of stuff flying around in orbit,” says Blackwell, Third Man's co-founder and co-owner. “You have to decide to focus on what seems likely or probable for your time.”

Third Man Records' Ben Blackwell in his Nashville office, which is lined with a massive photo of the Stooges.

But for a Stooges fanatic whose office is decked out wall-to-wall in Stooges memorabilia, the promise of a recording from the band’s infamous Goose Lake performance was especially enticing. Blackwell told Joshua to bring the tapes to Nashville so he could have them transferred to digital files, no strings attached. 

Joshua drove his 2010 Honda Fit  to Third Man’s headquarters in Nashville a few weeks later. Blackwell took them to Welcome to 1979, a nearby studio, where they were transferred to a hard drive.

When Blackwell got the hard drive back, he realized he was hearing an unfiltered piece of rock history. “I’m the first person to be in the position to confirm or deny this lore,” he says.

So, as any Stooges fan would do, he cued it up on his office stereo system and cranked the volume, “loud to the point of being rude,” he says. “If you get the possibility of hearing unheard Stooges recordings, you want the whole office to say, ‘What the (expletive) is going on here?’” 

Jim Cassily's recording of the Stooges' performance from Goose Lake International Music Festival was in storage for decades.

The first thing Blackwell was listening for was Alexander’s bass, “because I’ve been told my entire life it wouldn’t be there.” But there it was, clearly audible on opener “Loose,”  contradicting years of rock storytelling.  

What happened next is the scene in the movie you wouldn’t believe if it was in a movie: Within five minutes, Jack White stormed into Blackwell’s office, unexpected and unannounced.

“He asks, ‘what’s this?’" Blackwell says. "And I have this huge grin on my face and I say, ‘Stooges, live at Goose Lake.’ And he looks at me and he says, ‘Can we put this out?’”

The short answer was yes. The longer answer was he needed Iggy's approval. 

Mastering the sound

It was July 2018 and Iggy’s manager, Henry McGroggan, was due in Ann Arbor for a tribute concert for late Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton at the Blind Pig. Blackwell told him he had something he wanted to play for him, so they met at Third Man’s Cass Corridor location.

Blackwell had primed McGroggan on what he had, but the only cleaned-up song was “TV Eye.” When Blackwell put it on, McGroggan instantly perked up and his eyes grew wide. “I wanna hear more!” Blackwell remembers him saying. The other edits were still rough, but when he played him the rest of the recording, “he’s just lighting up, he’s clearly into it.”

They discussed the potential of putting it out and various release dates, and figured they’d hold off until 2020, which aligns with the 50th anniversary of the Goose Lake performance.

That gave time for Blackwell toenlist Vance Powell, a Grammy-winning engineer and producer, to spruce up the sound and bring it to life. He invited Joshua down to Nashville sit in on the session.  

“It was far from a pristine recording, by any means,” says Powell, who has mixed and engineered records for White, Kings of Leon, LeAnn Rimes, Chris Stapleton, Buddy Guy and more. He worked to raise Iggy’s vocals, equalize the track and make the sound more full, he says.

“I didn’t do any computer mumbo jumbo, I didn't make it quieter, I didn't take the noises and buzzes and clicks and pops and distortion out,,” Powell says. “I tried my best to make it an honest playback of the original tapes.”

For Joshua, watching Powell work on his late father’s recordings was a special, intimate experience, and when the session stretched to four hours he blew off his return trip and extended his stay in Nashville so he could see the process through. He didn't want to miss a beat.

Joshua Rogers helped bring the recording his father, Jim Cassily, made of the Stooges' performance at Goose Lake International Music Festival to Third Man Records, who will release it as a live album on Friday.

“This is this is exactly the kind of stuff that that dad just absolutely lived for,” Joshua says. “His spirit was in the studio that day, that's for sure.”

With a cleaned up copy of the recording intact, all that was needed was Iggy’s final OK. It would prove easier said than done.

Telling the story

Flash forward to April of this year:  the pandemic is in full swing, and Blackwell is working from home, taking a phone call in his daughter’s bedroom. On the other end of the phone is McGroggan, who says Iggy’s still not 100% sure about the release. “He doesn’t remember it being that great of a show,” Blackwell is told.

Blackwell relays the message to his team at Third Man and tells them they’re not really pausing on the release but they’re not exactly full speed ahead either. 

Detroit News coverage of the Goose Lake International Music Festival.

“When something like this happens, it’s hard,” says Blackwell. “It’s your biggest fear.”

No Iggy, no release. It’s that simple. Was it that the tapes told a different story than Iggy had been telling for 50 years? Or was he just not into the idea of a live release of the show?

Whatever it was, a week later Blackwell got a call, and Iggy gave his green light. But he wasn’t done having his say with regards to Alexander’s performance. In the album's liner notes, Iggy adjusts the “no bass” narrative but still lays into his bassist.

“Dave was in the wrong key,” Pop says, referring to Alexander’s playing on “Loose,” blasting his performance like a scorned music teacher and saying he went for his chord changes too early. “Four times he makes that same mistake resulting in a complete loss of chorus on the part of the band and the singer, resulting in having to dump the complete hook line and chorus.”

A live album of the Stooges performance at Michigan's Goose Lake International Music Festival will be released in August.

Iggy continues, “Ron and Scott (Asheton) were on fire that night. That’s why this recording sounds so raw and exciting. I did my job, which was to stir (expletive) up. As for the local gossips they’re still gossiping.”

Iggy gets his say, and the rest is up to listeners, who will hear Alexander throughout, despite his shaky beginning. The album's release was announced in June, and it will be released Friday on vinyl, CD and digitally.

Alexander died in February 1975 at the age of 27 of a pulmonary embolism, and after all this time, Blackwell sees the recording as his redemption.

“Listen to his performance on ‘Dirt,’ listen to his performance on ‘Fun House.’ They are solid,” he says. “And if this is what sticks out in Iggy’s memory as a bad Stooges performance, I cannot imagine what an amazing performance would have been. Because these guys are tight.”

The Stooges perform at the Goose Lake International Music Festival in August 1970.

Cassily’s family, meanwhile, sees the album in a different light, and views its release as a tribute to Jim, his spirit and his contributions to the field he loved so dearly.  

“From the very beginning on this, it's always just been about making one small piece of dad’s legacy known,” Joshua says. “That’s been my sole motivation ."

"This is something that he did that’s going to make a lot of people happy," he says — while it makes a lot of rock historians swoon.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama