By ELIZABETH SCHAFER, Associate Editor
If you were around Mt. Pleasant in the ’90s, you may remember the band Red Fish Blue Fish — a soul-infused blues jam band that rocked MP, and later East Lansing and Detroit.
Mid Michigan Community College’s Chief Information Officer, Anthony Freds, was a founding member of the band. Frequently playing at The Bird (yes, The Bird used to have live music) and Rubbles, it all started at the U-Cup near the campus of Central Michigan University. Freds and Adrian Bagale, who later formed Red Fish Blue Fish, played at the U-Cup the week they opened in the late ‘90s.
“It was a Tuesday, we came in and asked the owner if we could play,” Freds recalled. “He said ‘yes,’ then every Tuesday after that we just showed up.” That led to Freds hosting an open mic night that ran for five years.
Let’s take a break here and go back in time to where it all started.
Before 5th grade Freds was looking through his father’s closet. He saw what appeared to be a suitcase. When he opened it he found a blue velvet-lined golden treasure — a saxophone — which he remembers was “literally glowing.”
“This was pre-Lisa Simpson; not many 5th graders wanted to play the saxophone,” Freds said. His eyes lit up as he talked about it. Not really knowing what a saxophone was, Freds asked his father about it several times. He never really got a more detailed explanation, except that it was in fact a saxophone. Freds knew from that moment that was what he wanted to play.
When 5th grade came around, the band instructor approached Freds and asked him what instrument he was interested in. “Saxophone,” he proclaimed proudly. The instructor suggested that maybe he should try the trumpet, or the French horn. Freds wasn’t having it. He wanted to play the saxophone, and he wanted to play his father’s saxophone. Being from the 1800’s the instrument’s sound was absolutely beautiful. Freds won; saxophone it was.
Playing that same sax throughout the years leading up to high school, Freds found himself in his basement room at his mother’s house one night, while his parents had a party upstairs. Freds recalls, “I was down in the basement, I pulled out my horn, and just started playing along with the band.”
Play he did, so much and so well that his stepfather came down during the party and asked him to come upstairs and play. At first he refused, but eventually gave in. This is how Freds got into his first band, Lansing Fabulous Oldies But Goodies Band. Freds played with them all through high school and then some, for a total of seven years. This is also when Freds started dabbling with the harmonica, which he has mastered.
But it was also time for Freds to consider moving forward with a more updated saxophone. While attending high school, his band director let him play a Selmer Marc 6 saxophone, which made him decide to upgrade his personal sax to something more modern. The leader of Lansing Fabulous Oldies But Goodies Band bought Freds a new sax, letting him pay back the money through gigs.
After high school Freds moved to Mt. Pleasant to attend Central Michigan University. This is where Red Fish Blue Fish comes in. I really can’t express in this article the impact that RFBF had on the town. Freds recalled playing at the bars downtown, which he said they oversaturated, explaining that if one bar had a cancellation they were first on the call list.
“We were like firemen; we would get our stuff and just go,” Freds said.
The biggest crowd Freds recalled playing in front of was a rogue Rockin’ Reggae event in which RFBF played and jammed in front of thousands of people. It was the same weekend as Rockin Reggae (which still goes on) but someone just started a different venue and they called RFBF first.
“I’ll never be able to match that feeling of that day, looking out at all the people,” he said. “It’s just so easy to play when you have people dancing and responding.” The band played together for several years, released a CD in 1997 and then (like any other epic band) broke up.
It was at this show that a young college student named Brian Hansen was in the crowd listening. Hansen knew right then that he wanted to play music with Freds. Hansen and Freds would go on to form Bone Soup, which played locally in Mt. Pleasant at Rubbles and the Mt. Pleasant Brewing Company. They are still together. Bone Soup is also a blues jam-type band, and Freds still plays the saxophone, harmonica and vocals. Playing at the MMCC barbeque and other local venues, Freds’ saxophone playing is nothing short of genius.
Hansen is quick to talk about his friendship with Freds, who was the best man at his wedding. “He’s just one of those friends that you can be apart from for awhile, and when you come back together, it’s like no time has passed at all,” he explained.
Their music connection is truly genuine as well. Hansen is the owner of B’s Music in Mt. Pleasant, and said Freds was always supportive of him opening his own store.
“We became a band because it was just an excuse to jam,” Hansen said. “We are definitely kindred spirits.”
While Freds’ music has always been a part of his life, so has education. Before being appointed CIO at MMCC in July 2011, he served the college as Director of Internet Technologies and Distance Education for almost five years. He also has worked as an adjunct instructor at his alma mater, Central Michigan University.
(“Professors who Rock” is an ongoing series about MMCC professors, adjunct faculty, administrators and staff who spend their free time as a part of the local music scene.)