Hollywood Horror Film Features Michigan Garage Rock

Parasomnia, the newest film from director William Malone, is the first-ever Hollywood movie to feature 60’s garage rock from Michigan on its soundtrack. Bill Malone knows more than a little bit about Michigan’s vibrant garage band scene of the 1960’s. He lived it as the bass player and principal songwriter for the Lansing-area teen band, The Plagues. The Plagues recorded three British Invasion-influenced singles during 1965 and 1966 at Dave Kalmbach’s Great Lakes Recording Studio in Sparta, Michigan.

When The Plagues broke up, Malone moved to California. Interested in mask making and producing 8mm films since childhood, Malone eventually found work at a movie studio, and he designed the mask used for the character Michael Myers for the 1978 hit horror film Halloween.The Plagues - Malone on leftThe Plagues - Malone on left

After taking classes in film direction at UCLA, Bill wrote and directed a small sci-fi horror movie called Scared To Death in 1980. He followed it with a bigger budgeted film in the horror genre in 1984 called Creature starring Klaus Kinski.

For the next fourteen years, Malone served as a director in several episodic television series including Freddy’s Nightmares, Tales From The Crypt, and Sleepwalkers.

In 1999, Bill was hired to direct the remake of the 1958 horror classic, House On Haunted Hill starring Geoffrey Rush in the role first made famous by Vincent Price. Malone had enjoyed watching the original version of the film several times while growing up in Lansing.

In 2002, William Malone directed Feardotcom starring Stephen Dorff as a police detective investigating a website that kills its viewers. Parasomnia posterParasomnia poster

Bill’s most recent film project is Parasomnia. It’s a horror thriller centered on sleep disorders that involve abnormal and unnatural movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions and dreams. Of special interest to Michigan rock fans is the fact that Malone drew on his own musical history to incorporate a plot line in the film involving the music of some of the Michigan garage bands from the 60’s.

Malone found my website by looking up information on Michigan bands on the Internet. He sent me an email containing links to two videos that he had put together using songs from the Plagues. I responded that I would like to find out more about the Michigan music connection in Parasomnia, and so we set up the following telephone interview.

William Malone telephone interview:

MRRL: First off, when was Parasomnia shot? Was the film made last year?

WM: It was shot over 2007 and 2008 because we were shooting it in bits and pieces. But it was mostly in 2007, and it took over two and a half, almost three years to finish the picture because it has a lot of visual effects in it.

MRRL: Did you write the screenplay or was it adapted from another source?

WM: No, I wrote the screenplay from an idea that I had. When I finished it, I thought about either sending it around to the studios and having them make it, or making it myself.  A friend of mine had been bugging me about investing in a movie and I really felt this was the right movie to make as an independent film. I figured if I gave it over to the studios, the kibosh would be put on a lot of the things that I wanted to put in there, including the garage band music I wanted to use.

MRRL: Did you film the movie in the U.S.?

WM: Yeah, It was shot here actually in Hollywood. The way it looks, I tried to make it sort of non-specific. But it has a Midwest sort of feel to it. Even though Parasomnia was shot here, I picked locations that had more of a Midwestern look.

MRRL: Michigan has been trying to make the state attractive to filmmakers, any thoughts about ever shooting something in Michigan?

WM: Well actually I’ve gotten a couple calls on projects to shoot in Michigan. Of course I’d love to come back and shoot in the state because I know it so well. I love Michigan, and it would be great fun to do something back there.

MRRL: Let me get into the part of your film that I’m most interested in. Is there any reason why you chose to use songs from Michigan garage bands for Parasomnia?

WM: It was something that I had wanted to do for a long time. First of all, I thought there were a lot of great little bands around when I was playing in the Plagues. There was The Sheffields, and The Bossmen, The Chancellors, The Ones, The Ferraris, and The Saharas…all these bands. And I thought nobody has ever paid them any due. I thought it would be interesting to make a film where we used that.  So when I was writing Parasomnia, I was thinking that it would be kind of cool if the main character is a kid who collects garage band music. At the time when I wrote it, I didn’t realize that there was actually any interest in that stuff at all.

So anyway, it plays sort of an important part in the film actually. In fact, the main character in the film is looking for a Bossmen record throughout the entire movie. The ending of the film of course is where we actually hear the Bossmen play “You’re The Girl For Me”.

MRRL: That’s great! What songs from Michigan bands did you end up using and did you have any difficulty tracking down any of the bands to get permission to use the songs?

WM: Actually it was a bit of an ordeal. I really wanted to use a lot more tunes from other bands but it was very hard to find a lot of these people. But the primary ones I wanted to use, I got. The Sheffields’ “Lovin’ Days Are Through” and I got two tunes by the Bossmen.

Interestingly, I was able to track down Dick Wagner fairly easily because he has a presence on the Internet. I had never met him back when we were playing, although we saw Dick with the Bossmen at a concert in Lansing. I think he was very bemused by the idea that someone wanted to hear some of his songs from 1965. We used “You’re The Girl For Me” and also “Bad Girl”.

Dick was great. He is now living in Arizona and we were able to have him come to Hollywood and do a recording session. We actually re-recorded “You’re The Girl For Me”. I planned to use it at the end of the film. I wanted to start out with the original recording and then segue into the new recording.

The idea was that it had to sound exactly like the original recording. I told Dick that I didn’t want it to sound like a new version of the song. I wanted it to sound like suddenly we recorded it with great equipment, which is what we did. It’s seamless, I have to say. I mean, I was actually shocked at how good it came out. It’s like suddenly you’re listening to the record all new again.

MRRL: Wow! I’m real excited to see the film. Is it in general release?

WM: It hasn’t come out in the U.S. yet. It will be out at the end of the year. It probably will not get a theatrical release, mainly because we don’t have any stars in it. It was always designed as a small movie.

It came out in the U.K. in September and I couldn’t be happier with the reviews of the film. We’ve just been getting rave reviews and a lot of people have mentioned that they like the music. I think it will expose a whole new generation to these bands like the Sheffields, the Bossmen, and I also put in a couple of tunes by the Plagues.

MRRL: Have you collected any Michigan garage band music?

WM: Well I collected it at the time, whenever I could come across that stuff. I picked up the 45’s and I’ve kept them all these years. I have a pretty good collection of the bands I mentioned earlier.

MRRL: There’s a great collection out called “Scream Loud!!! The Fenton Story” of the bands that recorded in Sparta, Michigan, in the old theater where I guess you guys recorded, right?

WM: Yeah, right. Some people misunderstood the whole thing with Fenton Records. I think some people think that Dave Kalmbach actually financed and put those records out. But he actually had sort of a service label and if you wanted to use the Fenton Records label you could, which is the case with the Plagues.

We actually had our own label for our first two 45’s, which was Quarantined Records. When we came to Sparta to record “I’ve Been Through It Before”, Dave Kalmbach asked us if we would consider putting it out on his label. We thought well why not, you know, because he was really good to us as far as the recordings and stuff.

MRRL: So basically when you recorded there you had your choice of labels. You could put a record out on your own label or use Dave’s Fenton label. Do you remember a band called Tonto and the Renegades? The recorded at Sparta and released their singles on the Sound Of The Sceen label.

WM: Yes, I remember Tonto and the Renegades. Oh, I wanted to tell you about something rather interesting that happened to me a week ago. I really had nothing left from the Plagues other than a few records and photos. I got a call from a guy who was in a Michigan band and to whom I had sold my Hofner bass from the Plagues way back when. This was like in 1966, and he had kept it all those years hanging on his wall. He just sold it back to me, so I’ve been reunited with my Plagues’ bass.

MRRL: That is so cool!

WM: It was a very cool thing for him to think of me, and it was kept in amazing condition. What was really interesting is that the original strap that I had put around the neck was still on there, so it was really a flashback to that era.

MRRL: Did you continue playing music after The Plagues broke up?

WM: Well I had a band after that called The Frightened Trees. We played in Michigan for about six months until I moved to California. Out here, I had a band in the 90’s called The Next Insects, and I wrote a lot of songs which were very sort of Plagues-like. We recorded a few of the tunes, but just for our own enjoyment. I continue to write songs. I think that once you start doing that, you can’t stop. It just happens.

MRRL: You also have an outlet in your films where you might be able to use some of that music.

WM: I suppose, although my songwriting is like I drove into a snow bank in 1965 and they just thawed me out! (Laughs) I don’t know if anyone would want to hear it now.

MRRL: To my ears that stuff still sounds great. I loved it back in the 60’s and it’s never really gone away. I still have an extensive collection of records, but most of the stuff I buy today is on CD. I still enjoy listening to the Michigan music from that time period and that’s the reason I put the website together.

WM: What is your experience, where did you first come across this stuff?

MRRL: I grew up in Bay City. Did your band ever play there?

WM: We played Daniel’s Den.

MRRL: That was in Saginaw, which is nearby. We had a teen club in Bay City called Band Canyon and there was Roll-Air, an outdoor roller rink that was a big gathering place in the summer. Roll-Air was one of the early sites for the “Battle of the Bands”. The Bossmen played there regularly. Later on they had bigger names like Bob Seger, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, and The Rationals. I saw a lot of Michigan bands at those places as well as a number of other venues from here to Detroit.

I was a school teacher for 35 years, and I found any number of ways to incorporate rock and roll into the classes I taught. I eventually developed a rock and roll history class as an elective offering at my junior high school, and that really opened the floodgates for me. I wrote a textbook to use for my class and then came up with the idea of starting an on-line hall of fame for Michigan artists. Now that I’m retired, I have a lot of time to devote to it.

WM: That’s great! And it’s great seeing that Michigan bands are getting some recognition. I’ll tell you something. It seems to me, and I’ve got this from going on the Internet, is that what happened with the grunge thing in Seattle seems to be what happened in the Midwest when the Beatles hit. Because it seemed that there was a lot more stuff from our area as well as Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois than there was in any other part of the country.

MRRL: Yeah, it was kind of a magical time. One of the things that I’m most fascinated with about that era was the great number of small, independent record companies that were around. I also think that AM radio was at its peak during that time period and that the stations were open to playing recordings by local artists. By the 70’s the interest in playing locally produced 45’s had all but disappeared.

WM: I think it actually closed even earlier. I remember that when the Plagues released our first record in 1965, it was really easy to get airplay. In fact, they played “Through This World” back to back, which was unheard of. By the time we came out with “I’ve Been Through It Before”, which was only a year later, it was getting harder.

MRRL: “96 Tears” was recorded in a tiny little studio located in the back of a home owned by a Bay City hairdresser in 1966. The only reason that the song became a national hit was because it was first played on local AM stations in Bay City and Saginaw. From there it was picked up by WTAC in Flint and then spread to Detroit-area stations like WKNR and CKLW. It then went nation-wide. It couldn’t have happened if radio stations had been unwilling to play a local recording, but that window of opportunity closed quickly.

WM: It was a very magical time. People have a lot of nostalgia about the 60’s, which is part of the reason why I made Parasomnia. There seemed to be a lot of movies about the “Summer of Love” in 1967, and also films dealing with the hippie things in 1968 and 1969. And I thought “No, no! How about ‘64 and ‘65?” which was just this explosion of the British Invasion and all these local bands. And I thought, “This is an era that has largely been forgotten”.

MRRL: It was a time when kids could be brought together in large numbers by teen bands at dances and clubs through the unifying factor of the music being played.

WM: It’s funny, but I clearly remember our third or fourth gig that we played at Waverly Junior High School in Lansing. It was really like something right out of A Hard Day’s Night. We had screaming teenagers and had to run to the car after our set.

MRRL: The Bossmen used to get similar reactions from their fans in the Bay City-Saginaw area. Dick Wagner had that knack of being able to write Beatle-like songs that got a lot of local radio play. So it was a big deal whenever they played around here. They were our local version of the Beatles.

WM: I had girls parked out in front of my house. It was very heady stuff when you’re seventeen years old, with your girlfriend in your car, and your record gets played on the radio. It was pretty cool. You mentioned The Bossmen being played on the radio, and I actually still remember driving to a recording session in Sparta and hearing “Here’s Congratulations” being played on the radio.

MRRL: Bill, it’s been great talking with you. I want to let people know when Parasomnia will be available. Do you think it will be released directly to DVD?

WM: Yeah, it will probably be out the beginning of the year. I don’t have the exact date yet but when I get it, I will definitely alert you. By the way, the movie is dedicated to the Michigan garage bands and it lists many of them in the ending credits.

These are the links to the two videos that Bill Malone put together using two of the Plagues songs that he wrote during the 60’s. Enjoy!