Bob Brosnan

When did you meet Fred?

Back in the 60s, I had been laid off from the airline that I worked for. I was hanging out Patti Smith’s house, she was Michael Smith’s wife, waiting for Michael. The next time I met him he invited me to smoke a bone with him and we became buddies. He then made me his sound engineer, just a title only. We had an Ampex machine at Fred’s house, and he’d have me run it. I ended up working with Fred! He gave me my first guitar and taught me how to play. Freddy was a great guy. I really miss him.

Was that the AMPEX recording machine from Capitol records?

Yes, I think the guy from Capitol (Mickey Kapp) sent it down, so we could record down here. We set it up at Fred’s place in Hardee, and recorded some of Fred’s friends. I think later we moved it.

Did Fred ever record with the Ampex or at the Grove?

Yes, one time I recorded Fred, Pete Childs and Jerry Jeff. Jerry Jeff told Fred that Fred’s music had changed, then Jerry Jeff tried to have Peter go to Vassar to do a gig, but Pete wouldn’t go. It was a fun night, it ended when they all passed out. Those were the days when we treated our bodies as if they were amusement parks.

You move with Fred up to Woodstock, when did Fred move up there?

Right around the time of Woodstock, a few months later. He move up there because everyone up there in Woodstock loved him, I mean THEY LOVED HIM! Everyone was in total awe of him. He lived in a cabin next to Big Pink, he had something like five acres there. I moved up there with him soon afterwards.

Do you remember Fred ever recording up in Woodstock?

Yes, we did a few sessions at Bearsville Studios. I remember one time it was Fred on guitar, John Sebastian on harp and guitar and Paul Butterfield on harp. Fred and Butterfield got into a fight, Fred thought that Butterfield was not playing like he should and they started to argue and fight. The best music I ever heard was the music at Fred’s place with Rick Danko, Artie Traum and Fred.

Was Howard Solomon up there, Fred’s manager?

Oh yeah, Howard was there. I’m not sure if it was Howard’s end with Fred or Fred’s beginning with me, but Howard was around at Woodstock.

How did they get along, Fred never seemed to get along with his managers?

They got along. Sometimes not, but they got along. Howard was a pussycat, compared to the other managers in the business, but Fred would drive Howard to desperation. Fred drove all his managers to desperation. Fred wouldn’t do anything for anyone, for any of his managers. People would say “Fred is not doing anything” but he was, he was making a lot of money from his writing royalties. Here is this guy who could have made millions but he wouldn’t do anything , it would drive his managers insane. Fred would drive him Howard nuts. Fred would always get everyone jumping that he was going to do something and then wouldn’t do it, sign up with a manager and make big plans and then he’d do nothing. He would exasperate his managers. But Howard was a pussycat compared to Michael Lang, who was driving Fred nuts.

Why wouldn’t he do anything?

I would ask him why he gave it all up and he would always say the same thing, “They’ll hang you from the highest tree”. He felt that they would steal everything from him, except for his writing, he could write for any publishing and they couldn’t steal that from him, he could write under different names.

Did he write after the 60s?

He liked to write, I can’t prove it but I always thought he wrote “Flight 309 from Tennessee’ cause I sort of recognized his tag on it. One time he was at Angela’s in the Grove playing Pacman and I asked him about that song, if he had written it, since he was pushing to me so much, and gave me THIS LOOK, like ‘how did you know?’. I can’t prove it but I always had a feeling he wrote that, though it wouldn’t be under his name. That was the power he had, his writing, they couldn’t steal his writers royalties, they could steal his publishing , his record sales, but he could write for any publishing house under different names and they couldn’t take that. Remember that song “My Baby Took the Morning Train”? I always had a feeling he wrote that too, the way he pushed that song on me, but it’s nothing I could prove, just a feeling I had from the way he pushed the words on me.

Do you know if Fred played at Sun studios?

Not that I know of, but he did go to Nashville, he helped Kris Kristofferson when he was starting out. I met Kris and he was real nice to me when he found out I worked for Freddy. Fred also played the Opry, I’m not sure when but he definitely played the Opry.

That was around 1969, was he performing at the time?

No, he was bitter about the music industry. The Band wrote Stage Fright about Freddy.

I thought that was about Bob Dylan….

No, it was about Freddy, that’s what the guys in the Band told me; he got in with those guys as soon as he got up to Woodstock. The guys in the Band loved Freddy. Albert Grossman also loved Freddy, he looked like Ben Franklin with long hair, and he was a tough businessman; in fact, he bought a house down in the Grove, not far from Fred’s house at one point.

Did you ever perfom with Fred?

He came down to the Keys when I was doing a gig down there. What happened was that he wanted to record something, I really can’t remember what the song was but he knew I had a great sax player and a great trumpet player, and he went down there, The Lime Tree Lounge. We played a few times up in Woodstock.

When was that?

Sometime in the mid 80s, he told me not to tell the band who he was but right off he starts playing and tells the band “hey play in B flat’ or something and the guys in the band came to me and asked me who this guy was; I took them outside and told them and they settled down. It took them 2 or 3 tries to get the song down but when they did it was beautiful, I don’t remember what the song was but I just remember it was great. Then he did a couple of sets, that was right around the time I lost track of Freddy. He had some personal problems and he left; he would get angry at everyone, he got tired of Miami, and just left one day.

How about Vince Martin, you remember Vince playing with Fred?

Oh yeah! Vince always wanted Fred to work and Fred wouldn’t want to work. I’ll never forget the gig for the Dolphin Project at the Playhouse, when a pigeon got on the roof ! Ask Vince what happened! Vince had a phobia about birds and one got into the Playhouse and was on the roof when he was playing!! It was the funniest thing!

Who else do you remember, how about Buffett?

Sure, Fred knew Jimmy Buffett. He always said, “Buffet took the first exit”, I’m not certain what he meant by that but Fred knew him. He did a Dolphin Project show with Buffett.

Karen Dalton, Tim Hardin?

I loved Karen, she was great, better than Billie Holiday as far as I’m concerned. Timmy was friends with Fred but he went his way towards the end, he went off.

Do you remember the Dolphin Project shows?

Yes, to this day Bobby Ingram and Ric O’Barry are pissed at me over that. The first Dolphin Project show was my first show working for Fred, and he told me to get the tape of the show, he made me promise I’d get it, and when I got it he tore it up! I couldn’t believe he did that, I thought he was going to give it to someone he wanted to give it to
and he just did that!!

Those were great, they were my first gigs with Fred. Fred really was into the whole dolphin thing, he would play to them all the time, swim with them. Sustained chords, those were the chords the Dolphins liked best. Fred would play to them all the time. I remember at one show they did Goodnite Irene, everyone standing there not knowing what to do for an encore and Fred started singing Goodnight Irene. Fred did a Floyd Tillman song, that I remember, Fred loved Floyd Tillman.

How about Dylan, did you ever see Fred and Dylan jam up there in Woodstock?

No, he was around, but I never saw him.

Was there any competition there between the two of them?

No, Fred gave Dylan his start. Tim Hardin, Lou Gossett and Karen Dalton were playing the basket house and they wouldn’t share the basket with Dylan, and Fred made them split it with Dylan.

Did you ever see Fred later while he was in the Keys?

No, I lost track of Fred. I thought he was with Jerry Jeff, thats what I heard, then I heard he was in Cuba, but I really lost track of him.
He had some personal issues that made him retreat from everyone. But Fred was a sweetheart, he really was a great guy. We all lived off Fred at one point or another. You couldn’t buy Fred a beer! He had to be the one buying it!

Toni Ruiz

(special thanks to Charlie Brown and Evan Chern )