By Todd Houston
Following is an interview with Rockford native Larry Merryman of the Stonefront Band.
Rockford Rocked Interviews (RRI): You are originally from Rockford and an East High School graduate, but relocated to Detroit, Michigan, to form the national recording rock band Stonefront. The entire band lived in Detroit’s famous Garwood mansion! What was that like?
Larry Merryman (LM): Consider this, it was a 47-room mansion with a huge ballroom, Olympic-size swimming pool in the basement, huge all-weather boathouse built onto the mansion capable of being drained for dry-dock purposes, two huge kitchens and, I think, about 15 bedrooms with at least that many baths! It had the second-largest privately owned pipe organ in the country and full-size Steinway grand piano in the ballroom. Lots of folks would stop by on their way through Detroit, including Jeff Beck and Van Morrison. I rest my case.
RRI: That must have been amazing! At what age did you realize that you had a passion for music?
LM: I think I was around 10 or 12 years old when I started sneaking the old transistor radio up under the pillow at night so I could listen to Dick Biondi on WLS. I’d always liked music, probably because my mom would sing and play an old upright piano we had in our house, and I was fascinated by that sound with the melodies and harmonies and all that stuff.
RRI: Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money?
LM: No, but I remember the first record I bought. It was an old MGM Records 45 rpm called Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley. How’s that for different musical taste?
RRI: What was the music scene like here in Rockford in the ’60s?
LM: When I started playing in a band back in the ’60s, the Rockford music scene was actually starting to rock. The “English Invasion” had started, so there were a lot of guys trying to get into that action. I wasn’t really into that kind of stuff back then. I was a California band guy, and liked stuff like Spirit, Moby Grape, Byrds and The Beach Boys. In the ’60s, Rockford had bands like The Paegans, Seeds of Doubt, and Wheezer Lockinger blowing the doors off the joints they played at. Rick Nielsen always had something great going on, either with the Grim Reapers and then Fuse.
RRI: Rumor has it that you’re pretty good friends with Ted Nugent. Is there any truth to that, or just rumor?
LM: Ted Nugent is not one of my favorite people. Here’s a good story about old Uncle Ted.
My band, Stonefront, was on the road with him and Bob Seger when we swung through Rockford and played the Coronado Theatre. My amp blew up during the second song in our set, so my roadies were scrambling around backstage trying to scrape up a replacement. Nugent said that he had one that I could use, but it would cost $100! Bob Seger, on the other hand, couldn’t get one of his amps out on stage fast enough for me to use for free. You can do the math.
RRI: Blues guitar legend Johnny Winters was known to have visited the Garwood mansion on a few occasions. Did you ever get to jam with him?
LM: Johnny Winters, his brother Edgar, Rick Derringer, and all their friends always stayed at the Garwood mansion when they were in town. We spent countless hours jamming away in the ballroom! My most memorable experience with Johnny Winters was when he sat down with Rick Derringer at the pipe organ and did a version of “Let It Be.” It sends chills up and down my spine thinking about it.
RRI: What’s in your iPod or CD player right now? In other words, what music are you listening to these days?
LM: Stonefront, of course (laughs). I don’t have an iPod, and I rarely use CD players for anything but burning. If I listen to any music these days, it comes from groups that aren’t around anymore. Moby Grape, The Byrds, old Keith Urban stuff when he was with the Ranch and a lot of Vince Gill.
RRI: Something you miss most about Rockford?
LM: Mrs. Fisher’s Potato Chips.
RRI: Something you don’t miss about Rockford?
RRI: What’s next for Larry Merryman?
LM: A nap, then I will be collaborating, advising and helping to finish the production on a documentary film that tells the story of Larry Merryman, his band Stonefront, and the years they lived in the infamous 47-room Garwood mansion located on the shores of the Detroit River-Lake St. Clair. I could spend years talking about living in that wonderful mansion and the story that the documentary tells, but I digress. I’ll simply direct you to: www.stonefrontgarwoodyears.com.
RRI: Thanks for chatting with us!
From the Dec. 17-23, 2014, issue