Thelonius Fonk featuring Ronrico Morris
In that band, we used to have family meetings at the manager’s house and talk things out as a group, sort of a band encounter session. I remember one time, they all took a vote on who in the band had the strongest personality, and I was the hands-down winner. Go figure. I guess that’s why Ron had a nickname for me, “Hugh Bucking-Horse Hitchcock”. He’d seen me tell a few people off in my day. Oh, I always wanted it my way, all right. I guess I behaved sort of like an alpha musician in my world of bands.
I remember one sad scene when I, of all people, decided I wanted to play drums on a song one night, which was a bad idea, because I don’t really play drums. I wanted to play Herb Alpert’s “Rise” which was Bugs’ showpiece tune. I think Ron had learned the bass part (or not) but the two of us were switching up instruments. I had been SO confident that I could play it, but guess what, I couldn’t… after about thirty seconds, Bugs held up his fist in the universal musician hand-sign for “end this pig” 🙂 Which I didn’t want to do, to save face, but… the song died a sad death. I mean silly scenes from a nightmare, chapter 36…
As I recall, things pretty much deteriorated with Ron and Air Condo. I don’t think it was my fault at all, but to be honest I don’t remember. I do know that it wasn’t easy for Ron (or me) to fit in, and the whole car issue peaked, leaving some very bad taste when Ron didn’t show up for gigs and that sort of thing, and him being my friend, I probably was not always on the bread and butter side of the argument.
My recollection was that it was such a disaster with Air Condo that Air Condo decided to throw in the towel and shut down the band after about four months. To be fair, we were really trying to take the place of some very popular guys who’d been there two years before us, and all Ron and I cared about was throwing down with serious funk, no matter whose feelings got hurt, so… really it’s understandable. They had a great following, but it was for a very different band before we got in. On Air Condo’s last night, I remember Kent Strange and Sonny Winston of Flyin Easy were at at the gig, offering me the gig back with them, which I took. I stayed with them for about a year, and then went with a group called Frosted.
But Ron was a real trip. He would go through these heavy financial problems where he would have to pawn his drum set. A friend of mine once commented, “yeah that’s like pawning your dick.” LOL But in hindsight, I agree… eventually Ron got arrested for breaking into a pawn shop trying to get his drums back. The last band I’d gotten him into was Wingspan with Sonny Winston. I remember on our first gig, Ron had just gotten back a drum set he’d had in pawn for a long time. The music we played involved a lot of hitting the snare drum on the backbeat, every time around the groove. He told me that day, every time he hit the snare drum made him feel better and better. And I could certainly see it in his eyes. He didn’t play like tee-tee tee-tee ta, he played like pdrdrd-bang smash kazang! Great player.
One of his less pleasant talents was the ability to make things disappear, like money, cigarettes, cars, that sort of thing. For example, he would say “I’m going to the store, you want anything?” I’d say “yeah, get me a pack of cigarettes,” and hand him a ten dollar bill. Cigs were like $1.50 in those days. So he’d come back with the cigs and give me like $3.50 in change, and I’d say what the….? He’d always have some really lame, but complex series of excuses which he would run off in this sort of whiney voice. “Well, you see, Huey, man, I ran into this problem, see, I needed to get x and then y happened, man,”. This whole song and dance is intrinsic to the meaning of the phrase “Quit Cryin'”, for me. It embodies the entire spirit of the phrase!
One time, Ron made a whole car disappear! I’d needed a ride to the airport, so I asked Ron to give me a ride. He didn’t have a car, so I let him use mine and asked him to return it to my house afterwards. I told him he could use it while I was gone, if he really needed it. When I returned five days later, the car was no longer in evidence — Ron had another one of his great stories, about oil leaks, transmission fluid, and that he had to leave it at a gas station in Willow Run by I-94. Oh well, it wasn’t a great car, my first car to be exact – a 67 Chevy Impala which cost me $300. So I sort of shrugged my shoulders and let it go. Never saw nor heard from that car again! My friendship with Ron continued, however.
And he WAS a TRIP! One time, we were with Air Condo playing at a huge dance club in Dearborn called Coral Gables (I had a Thai girlfriend in those days and she pronounced it Colly Gurbles). The stage was set up with a big drum platform in the back, the drummer towered over everyone else like a thunder god. There was another band that played the club periodically and they were called Saxony. During our break, as we watched the giant crowd dance to the loud stereo system, the manager of the club came up to our singer and gave him a napkin upon which had been written, “Announce Saxony,” meaning to let people know they would be there the following week. On this napkin, the word “Saxony” was on a separate line from the word “Announce”, and the singer, who was a bit of a joker, took out a pen and wrote “Fuck” before the word Saxony, so the result was that the napkin now said “Announce Fuck Saxony”. A few minutes later, we went onstage and turned on our amps and got ready to go, and Ron climbed up the massive drum platform and mounted his drumset. Ron was the one that counted off the songs, so we were waiting for him to count it and start the show. Just then, the singer handed him the napkin and told him to do the announcement. No one believed anyone would actually say this, but Ron, great guy, looks at the napkin, grabs his microphone, and in a booming voice says “We are Air Condo, and FUCK SAXONY! 1, 2, 3, 4,” and the band started into “It’s So Funny how We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Cliff Richards or some such disco nonsense. I could hardly play, though, because I was trying not to split my gut laughing.
In another band I was in with Ron, we would just do impromptu silliness. For example, once we broke into a ska version of Nelson Riddle’s Batman theme. “When yer runnin round yer house, and yer tryin to catch a mouse, call for Batman,” Ron ad libbed over a fast ska beat.
Ron & I drove around all over Michigan together, doing gigs. Also some gigs in Ohio. We’d smoke multiple packs of Marlboros, eat together at restaurants and “dog” the waitresses. We had a running series of jokes and a running background of the finest funk. At one point we had a notion to record under the title “Partners in Crime”, but that turned out not to be such a good idea, considering his eventual fate, to which I was not a party. But is sure was fun while it lasted.
Ron was responsible for introducing me to many talented and successful musicians around the Detroit area. It was Ron who had brought me together with Lamont Johnson. He had also introduced me to Ricky Rouse, through whom we had gotten gigs with Carolyn Crawford, both of Bohannon ‘fame’ if you will. The were countless others I can’t remember now, but before I met a musician around town, famous or not, I’d always heard of them from Ron first.
[editor’s note — if you want to know who Bohannon is/was — I am sure you have heard the recent dance song where the woman screams “GET ON UP AND DANCE, Y’ALL” bump… bump…bump bump? That song actually was stolen from a Bohannon song called “Let’s Start the Dance”. Bohannon’s version was popular during the 1977 and 1978 period, it had an incredible bassline and of course Carolyn Crawford is the bomb on vocals, having started that whole phrase in the first place… and Ricky Rouse? Please. What an awesome guitarist, pure excitement to be in the same room with the dude. (also on my MySpace friends list now!)]
We also did some studio work, Ron did the demo with me for the Les Harvey Band stuff. He was later replaced by Steve Bray on that project. I have some recordings somewhere, of both of those sessions, I will try to get them out. They are pretty nice actually. He also helped me with some sessions for producer Duane Freeman.
We had a great group he put together, called Sky High. Somewhere Ron had found Luis Resto on keyboards and his brother Mario on guitar, along with Pete Khan of Ann Arbor on saxophone. Luis was a funky little keyboardist, I still have tapes of us recording a tune I wrote called Sunstorm. I later brought him into a Detroit project I was involved with called the Automatix with Bruce Nazarian, for which I was then fired, for good reason, I might add — I was too argumentative — the ol’ Bucking Horse 🙂 Luis later became an award winner for writing and producing Eminem’s music (I got him as a friend on my MySpace page now too 🙂 Sky High was a short-lived phenomenon that truly was Sky High, in a musical sense. We did material by Tom Browne, Joe Sample the Crusaders, Ronnie Laws, Chick Corea, and other jazz greats of the day. In Sky High we had an attitude of heavenly explosion when we hit the stage. When we practiced, it was at Luis and Mario’s parents’ home in Livonia. But the energy just blew up as soon as we started playing, live. It was really a treat for everyone including us.
In the winter of 1977, Ron had me driving us almost daily into Detroit to hang out at Cloudborn Studios with Eugene Lamont Johnson, the bass player from Brainstorm I’ve written about. Lamont was in the studio finishing up his album “Music of the Sun”. Ron had known that Lamont was looking for backup for a tour he’d intended to put on, and I guess Ron and I were the elected parties for the rhythm section, so we hung tough with Lamont for that season. Lamont also came to see some of our gigs, too. [Don’t you think this is like the coolest album cover you’ve ever seen?]
While in the studio with Lamont, I met Kashif Saleem of BT Express, who was working on his own material. I later went to New York and hung out with Kashif in his practice studio there while he practiced his group for a tour. Kashif became very successful as a writer, he wrote “Love Come Down” for Evelyn Champagne King, “Personal” for George Benson, and a slew of others including his own successful albums.
So Ron really was responsible for hooking me up, either directly or indirectly, with a lot of very interesting artists, from which I learned mucho over the several years that this transpired. Ron had a way of finding the right place to hang out and the right people to hang out with. That is, if you liked cutting edge, Detroit funk and R&B.
It was during those days, and especially at Cloudborn studios, Ron coined the phrase “Quit Cryin'”. It was usually in response to one or the other of us whining about something or other, like running out of cigarettes, or that he’d ripped me off for change, or something stupid. “Quit Cryin'” is an all-purpose command that really comes in handy! Try it sometime, when your boss asks you to do something you don’t want to do! Or how about when your wife is in a bad mood, a strategic “Quit Cryin'” really can do wonders!
Ron’s phrase “Quit Cryin'” has always stuck with me, along with his recommended response, which is “I can’t help it!” Or actually, Ron had explained to me the correct inflection, which is “Cain’t Hep It” without the L in help. So at some point, I decided it should become a song. At one point I even promised RonRico half of the writer’s royalty on any song I wrote on the Quit Cryin’ concept. Not that I’m going to make any money, but… I think I fulfilled that obligation the last time I talked to him. I will say this: Ron, I wrote the song, but you invoked the phrase. If you can get a drum set and get yer ass down here and play some fusion, dude I will put your name on the copyright.
I definitely wish Ron was still in the jazz-funk arena. I contacted him in 1990, the last time, took him out for dinner in Ann Arbor, I was overjoyed to see him, but he didn’t seem to be the same person anymore, too many run-ins I guess. What a damn shame. After I went back to Miami he called me up with some kind of scam to ask me for money… which I did send him. That sucked. I honestly don’t think he’s playing or doing anything anymore. Someone, please correct me if I’m wrong. If you got a computer dude you might be reading this, so email me.
When I moved to Miami, I continued to admonish all my new friends to “Quit Cryin'”, and it has sort of become a trade mark for me, and something we always have a lot of fun with. So, Quit Cryin! Cain’t Hep it! And by the way, I have just put up a new mix of the song Quit Cryin on my Myspace page! Check it out… I think you will like the sound effects 🙂
Disclaimer: while this article mentions cigarettes and smoking, I quit smoking in 1982. I do not condone cigarette smoking by anyone.