Michael Erlewine

Biography by Terry Jenkins

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Michael Erlewine was a key figure in the Southeastern Michigan rock and blues scene in the late '60s. Michael was the leader of the Prime Movers, and along with his brother Dan, the Erlewines were one…
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Artist Biography by Terry Jenkins

Michael Erlewine was a key figure in the Southeastern Michigan rock and blues scene in the late '60s. Michael was the leader of the Prime Movers, and along with his brother Dan, the Erlewines were one of the best-known and most respected musicians in the area, but his love of music did not begin, or end, with that group. Before founding the Prime Movers in 1965, Erlewine was active in the Michigan folk scene in the late '50s and early '60s. Twenty years after the group's disbandment, he founded the All Music Guide, which became the world's largest database of musical information. Between his start in the folk scene and the beginning of AMG, Erlewine traveled many different roads, but music was never far from his path.

Born July 18, 1941 in Lancaster, PA, Erlewine settled in the Ann Arbor, MI area with his family in the mid-'50s. By the end of the decade, he had become interested in folk music. He began hanging out with members of the Ann Arbor folk scene, including Howard Abrahams, Mark Silber, and Perry Lederman, among others. He also saw a number of different national acts during that time as well, including the Country Gentlemen, New Lost City Ramblers, Joan Baez, and, in particular, Bob Dylan. In the early '60s, he traveled across the country with the supremely gifted guitar-instrumentalist Perry Lederman. Both Erlewine and Lederman hitchhiked for a spell with Dylan in 1961; a while later, he helped organize Dylan's first concert in Ann Arbor.

In the summer of 1965, Erlewine (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) formed a blues band called the Prime Movers with his brother Dan (lead guitar, vocals), Robert Sheff (keyboards, vocals), Robert Vinopal (bass), and Spider Winn (drums). Shortly after the band's formation, Michael began playing amplified harmonica, in addition to lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Jack Dawson replaced Vinopa, and Winn was replaced by James Osterberg, who later became known as Iggy Pop. (The "Iggy Pop" name had its origins in the Prime Movers -- the group called Osterberg "Iguana," since he had once played in the frat rock band the Iguanas, and it was later shortened to "Iggy.")

For a short time at the beginning of their career, the Prime Movers were managed by Jeep Holland, who was the producer and manager for the local rock band the Rationals; he also worked with Bob Seger and Ted Nugent's early band, the Amboy Dukes. Holland helped the Prime Movers reach the teen rock circuit and the group played a few frat parties, but the manager wanted them to streamline their music to straight rock and wear matching jackets, like a British Invasion band. They refused, deciding to remain a hard-driving Chicago blues-style band, partially thanks to the inspiration of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Over the next five years, the Prime Movers were active in various incarnations all led by the Erlewine brothers; Michael also doubled as the group's manager. During that time, the Prime Movers did make some recordings, but they were never released. Michael, however, did appear on a record -- he contributed harmonica to Bob Seger's first album, 1968's Ramblin' Gamblin' Man.

The Prime Movers quietly disbanded in 1970 (Michael and Dan would gig together occasionally over the years, often at Mr. Floods's Pary in Ann Arbor), and Erlewine began playing as a solo piano act in Ann Arbor bars, such as the Odyssey Bar. Following his marriage in 1971, Michael more-or-less retired from performing. He became interested in computers, and in 1977, he started a software company, Matrix Software, which was the first company to specialize in astrological software. Over the next decade, Matrix Software became quite successful.

Although he was no longer a performing musician, Erlewine still had a great love for music. During the '80s, he began to collect CDs. Years ago, he had sold many of his vinyl records, and he was thrilled to reacquire the music he loved on CD. Nevertheless, he became frustrated with the proliferation of re-recordings and poor remasterings that glutted the market. He decided to create a music database that collected accurate reviews and ratings and biographies.

That database, called the All Music Guide, was founded in 1991. Not long after its inception, Russian mathematician and database expert Vladimir Bogdanov came aboard the project. Erlewine and Bogdanov, along with a host of writers and editors, created a database which provided the basis for the first printed edition of the All Music Guide in 1992. Chris Woodstra joined the project as an Editor at the end of the year. Michael's nephew Stephen Thomas Erlewine -- who had been involved with AMG since 1992 -- became an editor in 1994. Throughout the years, AMG's stable of writers continued to grow to well over 300 onsite and off-site writers. AMG has become the largest music database of popular music in the world.