Large as Life & Twice as Loud

by admin  27th Dec 2021 Comments [0]

Mike Brassard of Mike & The Ravens: January 15, 1943 – November 27, 2021

By Will Shade


Buddy Rich – or someone like him – once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up” or words to that effect… but what if you’re not bragging. What if you actually try to hide your light under a bushel but it always explodes like a geyser of Roman candles? What if the moment you open your mouth in either conversation or song, people come to a halt and at the very least say to themselves, “Whoa, what in the world is this?”

That was Mike Brassard. He oozed charisma like mustard on a clean white shirt. He couldn’t help himself.

You were larger than life, Mike, and twice as loud. And you’ll always take twice as much room in my heart as anybody else.

So, how can I say goodbye to my best friend? How do I say goodbye to my brother from another mother? How do I say goodbye to a father figure? And how do I say goodbye to a guy I played air guitar with, a guy who was 25-years-older than me, but we both grinned like insane fools with Link Wray cranked to maximum volume as we danced our keisters off around the studio?

Well, you don’t say goodbye… you say hello to the memories, and there were so many memories…

He called himself the Big Bopper… I said he was a rock ‘n’ roll citizen in a hip-hop world.

I’d tracked Mike down in 2004 as I was putting together a compilation of pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll from New York and Vermont. While Mike wanted to tout the songs of his erstwhile partner, Steve Blodgett, he was reluctant to open up in regard to his own abilities. Anybody who knows me, though, knows that’s a futile endeavor. Before too long, I was flying down to Florida to spirit him north and into the confines of the Saxony Recording Studios.

It was that willingness to squelch his own genius that actually brought his character into sharper focus.

I miss Mike’s generosity of spirit… but mostly I miss his sense of humor… I remember him explaining what it was like to be the nominal adult in a band with Blodgett, Lyford and Young back in 1962.

“It was like babysitting the Three Stooges,” he said… there was no meanness in it… it was simply a statement of fact with some levity thrown in.

I won’t be saying goodbye to Mike. Daily I’m reminded of him. Yesterday I was watching a documentary on Sun Studios. My first instinct was to send him an email, raving about Jerry Lee Lewis… but then I remembered there was nobody on the other end of the line… I sent the email anyway.

I remember manic car rides through the islands in northern Vermont and up into the mountains around Stowe… Mike talking a mile a minute, faster than his Cadillac carried us to Soul Song, his lost Shangri-La… desperate to share every thought and emotion he’d had since he was a teen…

We drove to the location of the town pool in Northfield, the first place he ever heard rock ‘n’ roll broadcast over the PA speakers in the magical summer of ‘55. He wasn’t just waxing nostalgic, though. The songs he had heard over a half-century before were still smoldering in his heart, waiting only for some oxygen to catch fire. Despite protestations to the contrary, he ached to sing again, something he hadn’t done in decades.

We rode down Beekman Street in Plattsburgh, New York to a concrete pad with broken glass, the remnants of a mythical rock ‘n’ roll kingdom called Rollerland where Mike and his assorted jesters, the Ravens, held court in the summer of ‘62… the echoes can still be heard if you stay quiet long enough; you’ll hear the beating of your heart, which sounds like Peter’s kick drum as a quintet of teen boys blazed through “Shout.”

You’ll hear the squeals of the teenyboppers as Mike danced like a dervish possessed of the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll… at 6’3” nobody in the North Country had ever seen a white boy move his feet like that long before there was a Mick Jagger. Mike had learned these stage moves from clandestine pilgrimages to the Apollo in New York City to pay homage to his idol, Jackie Wilson, in 1961. Mike’s tongue glissandos are his aural tip-o’-the hat to Mr. Wilson as well.

The past is a foreign country, and this is a lost world to us now, yet Mike’s stories made it not only palpable and viable for me, but visceral as well. His talent and memories were magic to me…

And we captured that magic like lightning in a bottle 45 years later… I remember Mike suffering from Ramsay-Hunt syndrome, sweating and in pain in the studio. The audio frequencies coming through his headphones caused mini-seizures. I was concerned and asked if he wanted to take a break and come back later and try again.

His reply? ”I’ve waited 45 years to sing and I’m not waiting a second longer…”

That for me was Mike. In pain, but in raptures of ecstasy as the music washed over him and he did what he was put on this earth to do. To bring joy to others… to sing! It took us three albums and thousands of hours, but we did just that… and Mike, a world-class vocalist, staked his claim. He’d always wanted to be known as a singer, an artist… now there is no doubt.

Mike’ll live longer than me… listen to him whistle on “Rovin’,” listen to him sing the “Biggest Fool Around”… listen to him yowl and yawp his way through “Oobie Doobie Do”… listen to him moan like a mountaineer on “Jack o’ Diamonds”… teens yet to be born will discover rock ‘n’ roll and revere Mike’s voice down the years… my 8-year-old boy already knows who he is… and I’ll never forget what he meant to me.

Rave on, Mike, rave on.