About Creem Magazine / Boy Howdy
The CREEM Story
By Joseph J Perazza
CFO of CREEM International, Inc
The following chronology and story is an accumulation of extensive research by the Author, and includes excerpts from some historical articles.
CREEM Magazine was not typical of any other. It was crude, rude, sarcastic, and appealed to the rough and tumble world of blue collar autoworkers. CREEM began in Detroit, and represented the rock ‘n’ roll music of those who lived hard and partied even harder. As the late legendary CREEM reporter Lester Bangs once said, according to former editor Bill Holdship, “Grossness is the true criterion for rock ‘n’ roll, The cruder the clang and grind, the more fun.”1.
CREEM was started by Barry Kramer and Tony Reay in March 1969, during a strike by the two dailies, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. Working out of a small office in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, “they started hawking CREEM on the streets during the strike—that’s how it all began,” said former assistant editor (1976-1980) Linda Barber Roach. It wasn’t hard to find an audience who wanted to read about the music they were listening to, the magazine quickly gained a local following and began publishing monthly.1.
Barry, and therefore CREEM, took an irreverent look at rock ‘n’ roll. He loved music, and he didn’t want to clutter up the book with politics. The whole purpose of doing what we were doing, from his point, was to pay homage to the artists he admired and the music he loved.
“It was the anti-West Coast nemesis sort of thing. It was in the right place at the right time, being in Detroit, because we couldn’t have all that peace, love stuff,” said Robert Matheu, a former photographer and staffer who authored a controversial book, CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine in 2007. “Being from Detroit is a state-of-mind, just like CREEM was a musical state-of-mind.”1.
Alice Cooper once said “the people of Detroit would leave the factory in jeans and leather jackets, pick up their beer, and head to a concert and scream their heads off,” said Robert Matheu. “They work hard in the factory, and go listen to loud screaming rock ‘n’ roll. That’s who CREEM was for.” “Barry was a funny guy, sarcastic, who had a great sense of humor,” recalled former editor Dave DiMartino. “He had a real wacky sense of humor which stemmed from being the man at the top. He wasn’t very focused, but that was part of his charm. He was a creative fellow. I had no problem with him. However, it’s tough to be close to someone who is the entrepreneur. When they become an icon, they’re ruthless.”
The CREEM logo was designed by Bob Wilson, who also wrote a regular comic strip, “Mike and Barney”. The “Mr. Dreamwhip” and “Boy Howdy!” icons were designed by underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, reportedly for $50. Mr. Crumb needed money for a clap shot. Tony Reay offered him $50 for a cover drawing (Barry fought hard to reduce it to $30). Zap comix were just beginning to get national distribution in head shops across the country and he had just done the Janis/Big Brother cover for Columbia. “I paid the money just for the use of his name…I didn’t care if he drew monkeys in a barrel–and actually, neither I nor Barry were that impressed with the results”.
Both appeared on the cover of the second issue as a black and white drawing titled Detroit 1969. For the December 1971 issue, Wilson colored the drawing, which appeared in every following issue in a Creem’s Profiles, a parody of the then-popular Dewar’s Profiles, featuring musicians and bands holding cans of “Boy Howdy!” beer. Although, the bottle pictured in the drawing originally represented a cream container. It was a misconception that it was a beer bottle, Creem decided to let it go that way.
In that era of social and musical upheaval Barry and wife Connie incited rock criticism and submitted it for their burgeoning readership. They lay waste the domineering conventions of rock journalism with fervent reporting on such chest-pounding backyard bad boys as MC5, Amboy Dukes, Grand Funk Railroad, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels; as well as the more androgynous (though no less ferocious) offerings of imports like Led Zeppelin, the Stones, David Bowie, and T.Rex. CREEM employed an indelible coterie of writers of broad literary and cultural scope (and a first-rate sense of fun), including Robert Christgau, Dave Marsh, Patti Smith, Greil Marcus, nowhere-near-famous cubby Cameron Crowe, and of course, the muddy-water stream-of-consciousness of Lester Bangs.2.
Creem was originally based in Detroit, Michigan, but after they were held up at gunpoint, it moved to a farm in then-undeveloped Walled Lake, where the group lived in a commune-like setting for a couple of years. When the FBI had the CREEM communal farm in Walled Lake under surveillance in the early ’70s due to possible revolutionary activities, the final report determined that Barry Kramer was a capitalist at heart (though, much to his credit, the report also notes that Kramer told the government to go f**k themselves when they contacted him about being a snitch).CREEM would eventually settle into swank editorial offices in downtown Birmingham, which certainly spelled success in those years (which included several different editorial lineups) before its 1987 move to Los Angeles — six years after Kramer’s death from a nitrous oxide overdose on Jan. 29, 1981. Bangs, who left the magazine in 1976 and never wrote for it again, died in near poverty at age 33 about a year later from an accidental Darvon overdose in New York City on April 30, 1982. The move to California, following the sale of CREEM to Los Angeles businessman Arnold Levitt (who kept the publication in Detroit for 18 months after purchasing it) would result in the magazine’s demise following years of bleeding money, bad drugs, mismanagement and, ultimately, dwindling readership in changing economic and cultural times.
“What was so cool was the location in Birmingham, right above the old Birmingham Theater,” said Roach. “On the right, when you went up the stairs was this dentist’s office, and maybe a law firm. The rest of the floor was CREEM. It was all still from the ’30s and ’40s, with heavy wood, frosted glass. Think Walter Winchell. And then there was us.” By “us”, Roach refers to Kramer, editors Dave Marsh and Susan Whitall, staff photographer/art director Charlie Auringer, herself, circulation director Ric Siegel, senior editor Jaan Uhelszki, and Bangs. Reay left the magazine shortly after it was founded. Staff and contributors read like a who’s who of a generation of rock writers, critics, photographers and artists: Robert Matheu, Lisa Robinson, Patti Smith, R. Crumb, Cameron Crowe, Penny Valentine, Ben Edmonds, Billy Altman, Nick Tosches, Wayne Robins, Richard C. Walls, Robert Christgau, Georgia Christgau, Richard Meltzer, Richard Riegel, Rick Johnson, Joe Stevens, Nick Kent, John Morthland, Greg Shaw, Ed Ward, Lenny Kaye, Howard Kaylan, Stanley Mouse, Billy Altman, and numerous others.1.
This provided a separation from the entertainment industry in the United States, then focused primarily in Hollywood and New York City, along with the British upbringing of original editor Reay, resulted in a certain irreverence, a deprecatory and humorous tone that permeated the magazine throughout its existence. The magazine became famous for its comical photo captions, which poked fun at rock stars, the industry, and even the magazine itself. Its location also meant it was among the first national publications with in-depth coverage of many popular Detroit-area artists, such as Bob Seger, Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, The MC5, The Stooges, Iggy Pop, and Parliament-Funkadelic, as well as other Midwestern acts such as Raspberries and Cheap Trick. Lester Bangs, often cited as “America’s Greatest Rock Critic,” became editor in 1971. The term “punk rock” was said to have been coined by the magazine in 1971, and the term “heavy metal” was also first used in its pages.
1. Reprinted from an article by Lisa Brody, Downtown publications, 124 West Maple Road, Birmingham, Michigan 48009