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President Drake on the Stones, music and memory

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University President Michael Drake performs. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

University President Michael Drake performs. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

On Dec. 5, 1969, three friends left their homes in the middle of the night for Alameda, California. They wanted to get to Altamont Speedway early to camp out and stake their spot for the free Rolling Stones concert the next day.

The trio slept on the grassy hillside in roughly 30-degree weather. There was Jimmy, who lived down the street, high-school friend Pete and a young man by the name of Michael Drake.

Ohio State University President Drake said he has been a fan of the Rolling Stones for most of his life.

“It’s more the whole performance that I find interesting about them. Who they’ve been, and their persona,” Drake said. “I think ‘Gimme Shelter’ is a fascinating song, and I particularly like the the little Mary Clayton vocal.”

The Rolling Stones’ free Altamont show is notorious for its tragic end into debauchery and four deaths, often symbolic as an end to the 1960s.

“We watched the day unfold,” he said. “It was disorganized always, and the violence and disruptions began in the afternoon. There was an uncomfortable vibe about it.”

Drake and his friends left the concert midway through the Stones’ set.

“I’d never left a concert before it was over before,” he said.

Drake said his musical tastes aren’t specific; they instead resemble more of a smorgasboard.

“My musical tastes would be like my tastes in food: If you said, ‘Do you like Mexican or Italian or whatever?’ I’d say, ‘Absolutely,’” he said. “The Rolling Stones I listen to all the time.”

In the late 1960s, during summer and winter breaks from Stanford University, Drake would work at Tower Records in Sacramento, California. He had frequently seen the building, as it was located a mile from his high school and two miles from his house.

“Working there was great because the people behind the counter went to my high school,” he said. “I felt privileged to be able to have that job. It was like a reunion, a perfect place to work.”

Drake would explore the record collection, sampling new records for himself and patrons and then resealing them for sale. While many of his friends were into rock ‘n’ roll, he gravitated more toward jazz and the beginning of fusion, funk-influenced jazz. Some of his favorites were Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, he said.

After medical school, Drake set the guitar down to focus on his career and family. He said he recently picked it back up as something to keep him company when watching games on Saturday. His favorite guitars are his Les Paul, Telecaster and Taylor acoustic guitars. He noted that the first person he saw play a Les Paul was Keith Richards, guitarist for the Stones.

Drake has played guitar in a few fundraisers, but he insists that most everyone is better at it than him.

“It’s really just a hobby for me, and I like it a lot,” he said.

Drake will, however, be turning the hobby into a course next semester.

“(The course) looks at music and how the lyrics and the timbre of music reflect changing social conditions in society,” he said. “One of the things we talk about is how we can communicate with time and people and place with music and song. I think that’s true for all of us. We can hear songs that remind us of those times and places.”

From Alameda to The Oval, Drake will continue to carry a tune.

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