Archive for the ‘interview’ Category

The Universe of Captain Sensible, Part Two

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: Your album The Universe of Geoffrey Brown is very “visual,” in that it creates a mind movie in the listener’s head, much like old radio programs. Were you looking to put something together that was in line with radio dramas of old, or did that not figure in to your thinking?

Captain Sensible: Yes, I love radio. But I don’t care for film and TV too much, it has to be said. You sussed that did you? Movies did hit all up for you: you’re a passive sponge soaking up whatever you are given, reacting in exactly the way the film creators intend, and your emotions are prodded and controlled at will.

I feel very strongly that we should all be more aware of how we are being manipulated by what we watch. Audio leaves more to your own imagination and your thoughts can wander into areas of your own choosing. Much better, in my opinion.

I listen to BBC Radio 4′s Archers soap about rural English farmers. It’s a bit boring at times, but it’s brilliantly done and it makes me laugh. Some of the characters have been going for 40 years or so! Not the cows, though; they all ended up in pies years ago.

BK: You played some of the Universe songs in the concert documented on Live at the Milky Way. Did it ever occur to you to mount a live-performance version of Universe?

CS: Yes, the songs worked great live. But I feel the audience needs to know the story for interest to be held in some of the more meandering pieces, so I will probably only perform the album in its entirety if we’ve either staged the whole thing theatrically or – cue cries of “hypocrite” – gotten Geoffrey Brown made as a movie prior to gigs.

BK: Copies of The Universe of Geoffrey Brown are not easy to find. For that matter, none of your albums is particularly easy to locate in North America. But of course you’ve enjoyed much greater success in the UK. What do you say to the argument that your work it “too English” to be assimilated by American audiences? (The same argument is sometimes leveled at The Kinks, Small Faces, etc. so you’d be in good company.)

CS: Maybe…I dunno. You won’t find me complaining that I could’ve been a contender or whatever though, as I’ve had a pretty fun time as a muso over the years. I was crap at getting up in the morning, so the jobs I attempted upon leaving school generally only lasted a few days owing to poor timekeeping on behalf of my laziness. Thankfully I am not usually asked to work until the evening these days…although I have missed a few flights over the years.

BK: Your last studio release was in 2002. What are you up to musically these days?

CS: Funny you should ask, as I’ve (laughs) just made a concept album with ex-Damned bassist Paul Gray entitled A Postcard From Britain. It was written and recorded with the aid of some of the acoustic instruments hanging on his living room wall, like bouzouki, sitar, mandolin, et cetera.

We decided to write a bunch of songs which have as their theme things about the UK that we find annoying, amusing, or plain daft. So there’s plenty of potential for material there! The lyrics were mainly written in Paul’s local pub, so as you can imagine we had a real laugh naming names and poking the occasional accusing finger.

Plus of course being a closet progger there’s no shortage of acid tinged guitar solos on the record! Postcard was recorded in a garage in Wales; we love the finished lo-fi feel. Vinyl copies are now available from Easy Action Records. Or as is more normal these days, MP3s from Amazon and iTunes.

BK: What was your reaction when you learned that Aggronautix was doing a Throbblehead of you? Do you think it’s a good likeness?

CS: Yes, not too bad at all! They got the nose right, anyway (laughs). They worked from a picture of me onstage, giving the audience the finger.

But doing one of Captain Sensible? What the makers were thinking, I dunno. But it gave me a good laugh when I saw the Throbblehead for the first time, as can be seen in the video on Aggronautix’s website. And to be in the company of maniacs like GG Allin, Roky Erickson and Jello Biafra is good stuff in my book.

I dig the sales pitch too: “Let the good Captain tell you to ‘sod off’ on a daily basis as he gives you the ole two finger salute. Limited to 1000 numbered units he’s accurately sculpted right down to the beret, seething sneer, and leopard-print pants.”

My own one will blend nicely in a display cabinet with current residents the Dalek, Zippy, Dennis the Menace, Betty Boop, some Homepride Flour men, Doraemon and Commander Shore from Stingray. Which dates me nicely, as you have to be a certain age to know most of those!

Once described by a music paper as “one of the world’s most disgusting slobs,” I see myself as a possible antidote to the slick choreographed mainstream so-called entertainers that make you wanna hurl a brick at the TV screen every time they appear. So with that in mind, I wholeheartedly endorse this excellent new Sensible figurine. Every home should have one.

The Captain Sensible Throbblehead is available from Aggronautix.

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The Universe of Captain Sensible, Part One

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Concept albums have been around for quite awhile. Opinions differ as to which was the first of the lot: some say The Pretty ThingsSF Sorrow, while others pick the most obvious and high-profile release, The Who‘s Tommy. Still other insist that Freak Out by Frank Zappa‘s Mothers of Invention deserves the nod.

All of these are valid choices, as each holds together – to varying degrees – in one form or another. And the “concept” form remained semi-popular through rock history, applied to projects as diverse as Rick Wakeman‘s all-instrumental The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The TubesRemote Control, and XTC‘s Skylarking. But one thing that all of these albums mentioned so far lack is a narrative story line. The interspersing of dialogue between songs is thought by many to diminish the flow of a record, and to make it something other than a standard “album” that can be listened to while driving, working out, whatever.

And when artists have attempted to go that music-and-dialogue route, the commercial and critical response has been divided at best. Jeff Wayne‘s War of the Worlds employed an all-star cast including Richard Burton, and the resulting 2LP set has its fans (me among them). But it didn’t sell in droves. Pete Townshend gave it a serious go with his 1993 Psychoderelict, the (fancifully autobiographical?) story of a washed-up rocker’s attempt at a comeback. Most critics went on record characterizing Psychoderelict as dreadful; me, I loved it and thought it quite entertaining.

Townshend himself thought enough of the work to mount a stage presentation of Psychoderelict, complete with actors reprising their spoken bits onstage. But he (or his record company) also thought little enough of it to release an additional “music only” version of the album, stripped of all the narrative. (I found that version to be stripped of its power and impact as well.)

But the most notable – and for me, successful – of all attempts to fuse story and dialogue with rock music came from a somewhat unlikely source: Captain Sensible, then best known as bassist for seminal UK punk group The Damned.

The Universe of Geoffrey Brown (like Psychoderelict, released in 1993) wasn’t a massive commercial success, and perhaps it didn’t even do well enough in the marketplace to be labeled a cult favorite. But it remains one of my favorite albums. A few years ago, I got the chance to speak with Martin Newell about his role in the creation of the album. And now, I’ve gotten the opportunity to speak directly with the man behind the project – Captain Sensible, aka Ray Burns – about The Universe of Geoffrey Brown. We also chatted a bit about his latest project, and a new limited-edition bobblehead that immortalizes the good Captain in plastic resin.

Bill Kopp: There’s really nothing – at least nothing of which I’m aware – in your music prior to The Universe of Geoffrey Brown that tips your hand as having interest in the sort of concept-album that Universe is. How did the original idea for the album come about?

Captain Sensible: I consider myself incredibly lucky as a music fan to have grown up in the 60s / 70s at a time when rock n roll had just grown up – via Dylan and The Beatles, mainly – and some incredible records were being made. Bands pretty much did whatever they wanted in the studio, which cannot be said of today. Even The Damned had visits from label A&R people occasionally, but we usually sent them off with a flea in their ears.

The first time I heard The Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow, I was transfixed. The concept nature of the album took me on a musical journey…a mind trip, even. It was hugely engrossing, and I started seeking out other records of this kind – like The Moody BluesDays Of Future Passed and Tommy. “One day I will make an album like this,” I promised myself. And that’s how Geoffrey Brown came about.

I took my inspiration from the Cold War rhetoric of Reagan and Thatcher. The question the album asks is, “How did we go from the beautiful love and peace dream of the summer of ’67 to public acceptance of the Dr. Strangelove world of mutually assured nuclear annihilation?” My main character Geoffrey works at the Ministry of Defence, plotting targets for destruction in a nuclear attack. He considers his job normal until his head is turned by a hippie chick one day on a bicycle ride; he decides to do something more creative with his department’s missile tracking technology.

My poet chum Martin Newell – being of the wordy persuasion – brought the characters to life with some excellent scripts, and we got proper actors to perform the between-song dialogue. It all works splendidly if you ask me, although the whole project took two years or so to complete!

BK: When I asked Martin Newell about the album, he told me that you did the one song and then decided to flesh it out to album-length work. Did you find it difficult to put songs together that – along with the spoken bits between – moved the story along?

CS: No, once we had the story mapped out the song ideas flowed easily. In fact, I recommend the concept album idea to all musicians, as it’s a massively creative and fun way to make a record, and connect with your audience by telling a story.

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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part Five / conclusion)

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Continued from Part Four

Bill Kopp: You first rose to fame as a cast member on Where the Action Is. Can you tell me how you got that gig?

Keith Allison: At the time, I was playing with The Crickets, as their guitarist. But when in town, I did all the Boyce and Hart demos at Screen Gems. Sometimes they’d go in at ten in the morning, and they’d cut Joe Osborne on guitars, and various people on drums. And they switched around: sometimes James Burton and myself on guitars. They’d get whoever they could, for whatever the song needed. And Bobby Hart would often play keyboards.

Back then, we’d make ten dollars a song. Three songs was thirty bucks. But thirty was the difference between finishing paying your rent and buying some groceries. So they owed me, like, forty dollars, as I had done four songs the week before. This was April or May of 1965. And I needed to pay my damn rent, or I was gonna get evicted. So I went to Screen Gems, and told Lester Sill – the director of Screen Gems on the west coast – that I needed him to cut me a check. And he said, “ I can’t sign a check unless Boyce or Hart sign a voucher, approving it.” And I asked, “Well, where are they?” “Some television taping. A new show. They’re down at the Whisky-a-Go-Go.” He said, “Take this, go get it signed, bring it back, and I’ll cut you a check.”

So I went down to the Whisky and I saw all these film trucks. I walk in, and I look up. I see Dick Clark. The first time I’ve seen him in person. Dancers and such, too. I saw The Raiders on the staircase, and I said, “Hey, guys!” I already knew them. I had done a show with them in Honolulu, and I had run into them a time or two. I had known them for about a year. Not well, but kind of hi-how-are-you-guys.

Tommy Roe was about to sing “Everybody” onstage. And a stage manager said, “We need butts in seats!” So I sat down. One of the dancers, Joy [Ciro], saw me; I was wearing Levi’s and a Levi’s jacket, a yellow turtleneck, and I had a black leather cap on. And boots. A very sixties British-looking outfit. So Joy knew when the cameras would be on her. I was just clapping along and smiling. The camera did several shots of me, about four or five seconds each.

So after that I went off to Las Vegas with The Crickets, to Texas, playing at the Thunderbird Hotel for a month. Two or three shows a night. And I got this telegram from Dick Clark Productions. They needed me to come in on my day off; they had a prepaid ticket for me at the airport. They gave me the address to meet with the Executive Producer. I thought, “What the heck is this about?”

What had happened was, they got bags of fan mail after that show aired, with this kid with one of the dancers. “Who is that?” And they pulled in everybody they could, asking them who it was. Finally they pulled in the girls from the front office: receptionists, young girls. And one of them said, “Ah! That’s Keith Allison. He plays with The Crickets. They’re supposed to be in Las Vegas right now.” So that’s how they found me.

So I flew in on my day off, and went over to Rosalind Ross‘ house; she lived right behind the Dick Clark offices on Sunset Boulevard. I knocked on her door. She opened it, looked at me and said, “Oh my god! Can you start today? And you play guitar?” I said yes. “Can you dance?” I said, “A little.” She said, “Come on in! We have a guitar here. Would you play something?” So I played “Maybe Baby” and “Not Fade Away,” some Crickets songs.

She said, “Do you mind if we cut your hair?” I said, “What!?” My hair was kinda long and unruly; it wasn’t a proper haircut. They had a hairdresser already there, so they trimmed my hair. Then she said, “We need you at Will Rogers State Beach at seven o’clock tomorrow morning.” I said, “I have to fly back to Vegas tomorrow!” “We know what time your plane is; you’ll be out by noon.” So I started Where the Action Is that morning.

BK: That’s a Cinderella story!

KA: It’s like Lana Turner at Schwab’s Drugstore. So I showed up that day wearing the same outfit: the yellow turtleneck and all. They’d show The Raiders playing, and then they’d cut to me, running down the beach with about 50 to 75 girls screaming and chasing me. They did those teaser shots for weeks, so people would say, “Who is that?” They’d build this thing up; that’s how they presented me.

BK: That’s pretty shrewd marketing.

KA: Then finally one day they’d say, “Well, you’ve been seeing this guy, and now he’s joining our Where the Action Is family. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Keith Allison!” and I said, “Thank you, Dick.” The first song I sang on camera was “When Will I Be Loved” by the Everly Brothers.

But after that first episode, I flew back to Vegas to The Crickets. And my cousin Jerry Allison asked me, “So what happened?” Because he already knew about Rosalind Ross. He knew her from back in the Buddy Holly days when she was an agent with Premier Talent in New York.

“They asked me to join this television show,” I told him. He said, “Really!” So I went back to Los Angeles, and was working on Where the Action Is full time. And then [DCP] didn’t want me playing with The Crickets any more. I kinda felt bad about that. Because I liked playing with them, and my leaving left them hung up, briefly.

BK: I almost didn’t ask you that question. And I am so glad that I did.

Keith Allison’s In Action: The Complete Columbia Side Plus! is available on Real Gone Music.

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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part Four)

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

continued from Part Three

Bill Kopp: A guy I vaguely know put together some unauthorized DVDs of It’s Happening episodes. He sent me copies and I reviewed them. The next day he got a cease-and-desist order from Dick Clark Productions!

Keith Allison: I just talked to the archivist over there [at DCP]. They contacted me; they’re talking about putting together a bunch of Where the Action Is stuff, and putting it out on DVD.

BK: They are finally thinking of doing that?

KA: Well, they contacted me a couple of years ago, and they came back and said it would cost so much money. But [this time] they said, “What if we didn’t use any of the stuff from the record company, but used the stuff that you guys recorded [at Armand Steiner's Sound Recorders]. Who owns that stuff?” I said, “Dick Clark Productions!” We were work-for-hire, and it was cut at Steiner’s or wherever. So all they’d need to do is get song clearances from the publishers.

BK: and that’s the stuff that all us hardcore fans really want! Because those tracks are the whole band – including Revere – playing live in the studio.

KA: Yeah. It’s The Raiders, and me. On guitar and/or piano. And Steve Alaimo and Linda Scott, the whole cast doing the “family numbers,” y’know.

Someone sent me a bunch of DVDs of kinescopes of Where the Action Is. And I was surprised that Steve and I did so many duets. We did medleys of Little Richard songs, and medleys of something else. One of the greatest cuts of all was all of us doing [the doowop arrangement of] “Blue Moon.” [sings the bom-ditty-bom part] We each took part of that part and drew it out; it was the funniest thing you ever heard.

When I joined the show, The Raiders – before they got so busy – would cut fourteen, sixteen songs in an afternoon. And there were no overdubs; it was two-track.

BK: that material is the Holy Grail for Raiders fans…

KA: Do you know that I had the tapes for all those tracks? In a storage place. And I lost it all. Every one of the damn quarter-inch playback tapes. I had every one of ‘em. It was a big box full of ‘em.

BK: When you say “lost…”

KA: The place was robbed, or flooded, or something. All my memorabilia. Amplifiers. Multi-track masters of Ringo and me at Tittenhurst. All kinds of stuff. But the biggest loss was every one of those tracks we cut for Where the Action Is. Evidently, whoever got all that stuff kept the stuff that looked like it was worth money: armoires and stuff. They probably looked at the box of tapes and thought, “Throw this shit out.” They probably had no idea what they had.

BK: One of your original tunes – in fact, the only original on the first release of In Action album – “Freeborn Man” went on to become something of a standard. I don’t know how many versions of it have been recorded…

KA: I don’t either. I’ll tell you, one time – I don’t know what year this would have been…must have been around 1970 – Johnny Cash had the TV show in Nashville. It was very successful. It was eclectic, and a highly watched show. Well, he went on tour with that, and he had The Oak Ridge Boys, Carl Perkins. Anyway, one might my sister called me from San Antonio: “Keith! You won’t believe this, but we went to see the Johnny Cash show. And Carl Perkins opened the show with ‘Freeborn Man’!” And then I found out that all the great bluegrass guys started cutting it.

When I did it, when we put on the vocals, Mark had come in to sing on it with me. After I was finished with that, I was moving on to background vocals for the album with Gary Usher and Glen Campbell. We did that on the all the songs I cut, with the exclusion of The Raiders things. Glen had shown up when we were still working on “Freeborn Man.” And he was in the control room. He said, “That’s a great song! Who wrote that?” I said, “We did.” He asked, “Would you guys send a tape over to Capitol?” So we ran off a quarter-inch tape of it. Then he cut it, and it was going to be his next single.

And then his producer said, “Y’know, I got this other song in. I want to cut this other song before we release ‘Freeborn Man,’ and see how it turns out.” and then they cut “Gentle on My Mind.”

BK: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, huh?

KA: Yeah! How many times can I tell you this kind of story? And every one of ‘em is true.

So he had it in the can. It wasn’t the single, but it ended up on an album. And then he had “By the time I Get to Phoenix.” But it’s on an album called A New Place in the Sun. It sold well over a million copies. And then The Outlaws cut it down in Georgia, and they sold well over a million copies.

BK: Junior Brown did a great version of it…

KA: Bill Monroe cut it. Jerry Lee Lewis cut it. Jimmy Martin cut the definitive bluegrass version of it. Dan Tyminski of Union Station does it; it’s fabulous. One night I was watching TV in bed in New York. I was channel surfing because my wife was already asleep. I ran across some show, a Pine Knob Theatre thing out of Lexington Kentucky. This song starts, and it’s the Rounder Records All-stars. It was Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, and Tony Rice. And they’re into the second verse before I realize. I was half asleep. I bolted straight up in bed and yelled, “Holy shit!” And I turned it way up. It blew me away.

BK: So I guess when you wrote it, you had absolutely no idea it was going to be a hit.

KA: It was well into a life of its own before I even heard about it. It’s kind of like Mike Stoller coming back from Europe, getting off the boat, and Jerry Leiber saying to him, “We’ve got to get to work. We’ve got a hit with ‘Hound Dog.’” And Stoller says, “’Hound Dog’ with Big Mama Thornton?” “No. It’s this kid, Elvis Presley!” “Who the hell is that?” “I don’t know. But the damn thing’s taking off!”

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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part Three)

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Continued from Part Two

Bill Kopp: I ought to know the answer to this, but did any of your solo singles or the In Action album make a dent on the charts?

Keith Allison: They didn’t do much of anything. “Action Action” was what you’d call a turntable hit. The show [Where the Action Is] was on national television five days a week. So it got a lot of coverage. And I went out and did a tour right when it first came out, at the end of the summer of 1966. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and myself co-headlined a tour on the east coast. Lou Christie was on it, The Critters, Tony and the Tigers…several other acts. Lou was pretty popular at the time, and the Detroit Wheels had those two big hits in a row: “Jenny Take a Ride” and “Devil with a Blue Dress.”

Oh…and The Trashmen! Of “Surfin’ Bird” fame. They were the backup band. They backed me up. They had a trash can onstage, came out in overalls. I’d come onstage in my little stage outfit, and there’d be these garbage guys behind me! [laughs] The first day of the tour, we played Nassau Coliseum.

BK: The addition of bonus tracks on this new Real Gone Music collection (“Glitter and Gold,” “I Ain’t Blamin’ You,” “Look at Me,” “Who Do You Love,” “I Don’t Want Nobody But You,” “Birds of a Feather,” “To Know Her Is To Love Her,” “Johnny B. Goode/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Toad Jam Blues,” “Everybody,” and “Wednesday’s Child”) more than double the album’s run time. What’s the story behind these? Are some of them previously unreleased? And if so, when were they recorded in relation to the In Action tracks? And what was their original intended use?

KA: A couple of ‘em were unreleased. One of them has the wrong title [on the new CD]. It should be called “Shakin’ Johnny.” I told Mark [Lindsay], “ I want to cut two songs together like Mitch Ryder does. I love that stuff, and I want something really rockin’.” So we came up with “Johnny B. Goode” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” together. So we went and cut it; it was going to be my next single on Columbia. We were on the road; if I’m not mistaken, we were flying from Boston to Chicago. We got on the plane – Freddy [Weller] was sitting next to me – and Mark came and said to Freddy, “Can you change seats with me? I need to talk to Keith.” He had a long look on his face, and I went, “Uh-oh.”

He said, “I’m sorry. I’ve got some bad news. Before I left the hotel, I was talking to Columbia in New York. They’re not going to release your single.” I said, “What!?” I really liked the thing, and I thought it had a shot at the time. But they had just signed this kid from Texas called Johnny Winter, and he recorded “Johnny B. Goode.” And since they had paid $700,000 for him, Clive [Davis] wanted to get some of his money back. So I said, “Sonofabitch!” [laughs]

That kind of thing happened to me several times. I cut “To Know Her is To Love Her,” and was going to release it. Bobby Vinton cuts it and releases it, and he’s coming off of a number one record, “I Love How You Love Me.” So what can you do? I said, “Well, at least I know I can pick a hit song! It’s just that someone gets them out before I do.” I was so pissed…not at Bobby Vinton, but at the situation. And with Johnny Winter, the same thing. I mean, I like Johnny Winter. I’m really good friends with his brother, Edgar Winter. We go to dinner together; he doesn’t live too far from me.

But it had nothing to do with Johnny; it was a corporate thing, y’know? And I understand it: they did pay a lot of money for Johnny Winter.

BK: It’s almost as if The Raiders‘ curse rubbed off on you. They, of course, cut “Louie, Louie” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”

KA: But they just did “Steppin’ Stone” as an album cut…

And “Louie, Louie” they cut first, and it was number one in Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, and Honolulu. Years ago, when the radio stations in those cities did an oldies weekend, they played The Raiders’ version.

Roger Hart, their manager, took it in to Columbia. They were the very first rock act ever signed to Columbia. In those days, Columbia had Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, The Ray Conniff Singers. They didn’t know what the hell to do [with The Raiders]; the sales people, they hated that stuff. They lost the record! They could have had the hit! They’d say, “I’m not taking that stuff to the stations.” It wasn’t until The Raiders played “Steppin’ Out” at the record convention in Miami. They played for all the Columbia people, and no one knew how huge they were; kids had all watched Where the Action Is all summer long. They turned ‘em loose in that place, and the kids all started screaming and rushing the stage. After that, well hell, the salesmen and promotion people all went, “Holy shit!”

But that’s “corporate city.” They never knew what was going on. All the little independent labels, they were the ones who knew what was going on. The corporate labels would take one of their artists and cover [the indie release] and run ‘em out of business.

BK: A couple cuts (“Who Do You Love” b/w “Don’t Want Nobody But You”) were released on the Amy label in 1968. I am guessing that was right before you officially joined The Raiders, though I believe that you’ve told me before that you were playing on records during that time anyway. So why a single release on a smallish label in 1968?

KA: Amy was a subsidiary of Bell. That one was cut in Memphis; Chips Moman produced it. I hadn’t joined The Raiders yet; that was in the first part of March, 1968. Our road manager at the time was Jerry Williams, and he was from there. The Raiders had just cut Goin’ to Memphis. The r&b stuff. They used American Studios, and they used that whole band with The Memphis Horns.

BK: Except for the single off that LP, I don’t think there are any Raiders on the album, except Mark.

KA: No. They went there, though, and hung out. In fact I stayed in the same hotel.

So I was there, and Chips said, “Scoot him over.” I had left Columbia, and I had been working on a Sonny [Bono] album, a Cher album, and a Sonny and Cher album all in one year, in ’67, right after Where the Action Is went off the air. Sonny said, “You need to get off that label; they aren’t doing anything for you. I’ll get you on Atlantic.”

So [laughs] I broke my contract with Columbia, and I cut some stuff at Gold Star Studios with Sonny producing. And I listened back to those tapes and thought, “He doesn’t understand me, either! He doesn’t get it at all.” It was bizarre sounding. It never came out. It’s in the can somewhere, among the Sonny and Cher files.

So nothing happened with that, and I had left Columbia. So I was free. Then this came up. Chips said, “I think I can cut a hit with Keith.” So I spent a week in Memphis. The tunes he’d got, he had their staff writers bring. He brought ‘em in and said, “Okay, play Keith what you’ve got.” They had this song called “My Little Red Book,” and I thought, “No, that doesn’t suit me, I don’t think.” And that’s about all they had. I went, “Oh, god!”

So I went to the record store and started looking through the old records. And I came up with “Who Do You Love.” And I had written “Don’t Want Nobody But You,” that nobody had heard. So we cut those.

Then the next week after I had left town, after we had cut this stuff, B.J. Thomas goes in there and cuts “Hooked on a Feeling.” And The Boxtops cut “Cry Like a Baby.” So it was luck of the draw, what the writers had the week you came in. If I had come in a week later, they would have had those, and I would have said, “That great! I’ll take that!”

So after being in Memphis – it was cold as hell, must have snowed two feet while I was there – I flew to Detroit and started a tour with The Raiders. We played Cobo Hall, I think, and then started a 35-date early Spring tour. Then I went with Boyce and Hart to do the Seattle Teen Fair. While I was there, I got a call from Dick Clark Productions; they wanted me to come in immediately to co-host a show with Paul [Revere] and Mark [Lindsay] called It’s Happening.

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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part Two)

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: You cut a couple singles with Mark Lindsay and Steve Alaimo as The Unknowns

Keith Allison: Mark and I, of course, were signed to other labels, so that’s what we had to do. We couldn’t put our names on the record. We cut those at Radio Recorders in Santa Monica.

BK: The second Unknowns single was “Tighter.” And I think that is the best version; I think it even beats the (first) official Paul Revere and the Raiders version by a bit.

KA: Y’know, we were working on an album years later; Mark said, “We need more songs! What are we gonna do?” I said, “Why don’t we re-cut ‘Gone Movin’ On’ and ‘Tighter’?” He said, “Yeah, let’s change it up.” So we did it again.

BK: You mention “Gone Movin’ On.” Several years ago when I interviewed Mark for the first time, I mentioned that there’s a really cool UK group version of it. The genre name didn’t exist at the time, but nowadays we’d call it freakbeat. It was by The Factory, the outfit that did “Path Through the Forest” that’s on Nuggets II: British Empire and Beyond. It’s an amazing version from 1968. Mark had never heard it; I sent him a copy.

KA: Really!? Here in Los Angeles we have a record store called Freakbeat. I bought a Raiders album there; it had Collage and Indian Reservation on one CD. An Australian import, I think. It was twenty, twenty-one bucks. I went up to the counter, and the guy looked at it, and he looked at me. And he said, “Are you on this?” I said, “Yeah. And it’s kinda sad when you gotta buy your own record.”

BK: Did he give you a discount?

KA: I don’t think so! [laughs] I also got a vinyl of Ringo‘s Y Not that I played on. I knew that they had made 10,000 units of it on vinyl; they had it in the store. I had seen it one other time; I went back and it was still there. So I thought, what the hell, and I bought it. I don’t even have a record player.

Well, a guy just gave me one recently, so I do have one. It’s one of those new ones where you can transfer to MP3, right into your phone or iPad. I was about to buy a [traditional] one, but he said, “Here! You need to have this.” I still haven’t plugged it in. I guess it works.

BK: It’s well known that you played on a number of Monkees recording dates. Are you on their version of “I Wanna Be Free,” one of the songs you cut as a solo artist? I know the Monkees recorded two very different versions of that song.

KA: No, I don’t think so. That’s Louie Sheton and Gerry McGee on that one. Y’know, some things I don’t know I played on, and some things I do know that I played on. I was surprised: they just did a reissue of The Birds, The Bees and the Monkees. I co-wrote “Annie’s Municipal Court” with Mike Nesmith. And I played guitar on it. And there were a bunch of cuts with Davy [Jones] and/or Micky [Dolenz], cuts that never were released before. And it listed me as playing guitar. “Oh my god!” I vaguely remember going to those dates in the studio with Davy, but I didn’t remember those songs at all. We cut ‘em, and they were gone; we never heard ‘em again. I was pleasantly surprised that I had played on that much of that album, though.

And I played on, uh, Circle…

BK: “Circle Sky”?! Wow…that’s one of their best tunes!

KA: Ah, good! [laughs] That was all cut around the same time as Birds. Nesmith was in the studio, and they were working on stuff, and that one ended up in the movie Head.

BK: On this new In Action collection, there’s a Columbia B-side called “Glitter and Gold.” It’s a really strong cut – unusually strong for a b-side – and I think an exemplar of what we now call “Sunshine Pop.”

KA: Terry Melcher found that one. He got Hal Blaine and, I think, Carol Kaye. I think.

BK: Well, if you’re not sure who played bass on a 60s pop track, say Carol Kaye, and you’ll probably be right.

KA: More often than not, I used Joe Osborne. I never ever hired Carol Kaye, although I did an awful lot of sessions with her. For Sonny and Cher; she was on a lot of sessions for them. Joe was a friend, and I got on with him. Not that there was anything wrong with Carol.

BK: And I believe you told me several years ago that he’s on bass on some later-period Raiders stuff as well…

KA: Yes, he is. Freddy [Weller] had moved back to Atlanta, and Smitty was up in Carmel, and so sometimes it was just Mark and me in town. Now, in the studio, when I was in the group, I nearly always played bass on everything. And guitars. But sometimes, I’d play guitar, Joe would play bass, and Jim Gordon would play drums. We got really tight as a unit. We’d set up in a circle, facing each other.

On [late-period Raiders singles] “Seaboard Line Boogie,” “Song Seller,” all that stuff. The basic tracks were cut with that trio. “Prince of Peace,” “The Shape I’m In.”

BK: The Raiders version of Laura Nyro‘s “Save the Country”?

KA: That’s me on bass. That’s on Collage, isn’t it?

BK: Yes.

KA: The way we used to record, when I joined The Raiders, we’d work on getting a drum sound. And Freddy and I would play acoustic guitars, facing each other. Close to the drums. We were playing as a trio: two guitars, drums. That’s it. We did it with headphones on. And if we needed it for reference, Mark would sing into a mic someplace just so we’d know where we were in the song.

Once that was locked in, Freddy and I would re-record the acoustics. Because they were drowned out by the drums. So then we had a real clean track of exactly the same thing: drums and acoustic guitars. And then I would put on bass. Then we would put on electric guitars. And then we would put on background vocals, and percussion.

And then Mark would put on his lead vocal at the end. So he had a full-on track to work with. He liked to do it by himself. Sometimes we would help him. But he liked singing with everything else done, so it was like doing a show.

Collage and the whole Hard and Heavy (With Marshmallow) albums were done exactly like that. It might be a bizarre-sounding way to do it, but it worked for us. Because if you’ve got it right with two acoustic guitars and drums, you have a track.

Sometimes we’d cut a track with me on bass, Freddy on guitar and Junior [Joe Corerro Jr.] on drums. I think The Raiders’ “Birds of a Feather” was cut that way. And a few others.

When I started recording, [laughs] you had to do everything live! It was mono. When I first started, it was 1959 or so. You’d be scared to death, because you had to get it right. I think Elvis did thirty-six, thirty-eight takes of “Hound Dog” before they got one they liked.

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Keith Allison: Man of Action (Part One)

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Calling singer-songwriter-actor-musician Keith Allison a Zelig of rock music is a bit wide of the mark, but the Texas-born Allison does seem to have shown up at key points in the pop music scene of the 1960s. Originally a member of the post-Buddy Holly lineup of The Crickets, he went on to fame as a cast member of Where the Action Is, co-starring with Paul Revere and the Raiders. He’d play on a number of Raiders studio sessions, and would eventually become a key member of that group, while still doing plenty of session work for others. After his long tenure with The Raiders (1968-1975) ended, he went on to do more music work, and did more film and television acting. Recently he’s appeared on albums by his pal Ringo Starr, and he’s part of a regular gig with Waddy Wachtel in Los Angeles. One of his most notable recent appearances was joining the band at the Wild Honey benefit for autism; he did a cover of The Beatles‘ “Got to Get You Into My Life” with former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber.

Allison released one album back in his Where the Action Is days, the now-rare In Action. Real Gone Music recently reissued that eleven-song album on CD, appending it with a dozen bonus rare and/or unreleased cuts.

I had spoken to Allison before, a few years ago, in connection with a cover story I did on The Raiders for UK magazine Shindig! Then as now, I found him to have an amazing memory for details of the long-distant past, and he was open and engaging about it all. I proudly present this five-part conversation with Keith Allison – bk

Bill Kopp: Several of the cuts on the In Action album – “Louise” and “Good Thing,” in particular) feature the same backing tracks as The Raiders‘ versions, and I have a couple of questions about that. First, did you play on those sessions?

Keith Allison: On “Good Thing,” I put piano on that. A driving thing, a rhythm piano part. You can hear it. With a bunch of glisses [glassandi]. And I sang it. On “Louise…I might have put an electric rhythm guitar part on it. But basically, I didn’t change them much. They didn’t need much; perfect like they were. They’re a little different mix. I liked both the songs at that time, so I went with those. “Louise” was a single for me.

BK: Do you know if your versions or the Raiders ones were released first?

KA: The Raiders’ were. “Good Thing” had already been a hit, and “Louise” was an album cut. I was looking for something to pay homage to The Raiders; we were so close anyway. I talked to [Paul] Revere, and I said, “Look, we’re finishing up this album. Instead of me cutting these tracks from scratch, taking all the time and money to do that, why don’t I just use your tracks, and change ‘em a little bit?” Revere said, “Let me think about it a little bit.” And he called me back and said, “Go ahead.”

Terry Melcher had produced The Raiders tracks. We were on the same label, in the same studio. So they gave us access to those tracks. So we took the masters, ran off duplicate copies of them, and pulled Mark [Lindsay]‘s vocal off.

BK: Not long ago there was a thread on an internet discussion board, about the Raiders playing live. One commenter says he saw the band in the mid 60s before you were a member, but in the period when you would tour and do a set with them backing you. He insists he saw you in the wings with a guitar, playing second guitar behind Drake Levin (or possibly Jim “Harpo” Valley). Can you confirm, deny or otherwise comment on that?

KA: Right after Harpo left the group, Drake came back in. And Phil Volk was on bass. I was on the tour anyway. And there had been a bunch of songs recorded after Drake had gone into the Army [National Guard] and came back out. So he hadn’t been working as a member of the group, but since he was familiar with the early tunes and so forth, he put on the costume and did it. He and Phil knew all the steps. So it was just like the group before Harpo.

But the songs had gotten more complicated guitar-wise. So I said, “Why don’t I play with you guys, but not onstage?” A couple of times, though, I played from behind the Super Beatle amps, next to the drum riser! But it didn’t work out, because I couldn’t hear what I was playing. And then you tend to play too loud. Someone said, “Yeah, it was good, but God! Keith was loud.” So we quit doing that. But yes, I did that a few times. Only to fill in. But only until Drake became more familiar with the songs. That’s my memory of it, anyway.

Melcher brought me in the studio…we started tracking “Hungry,” and then Phil got all bent out of shape. Drake wasn’t there; he was someplace else. Phil got upset because it wasn’t “the group” playing on all the tracks. I don’t think Smitty [drummer Michael Smith] was there either. But we spent several hours working on “Hungry,” and Phil got really despondent about it. There was a version of the song with me, but I think they re-cut it later on. That was one of the first times I played on a Raiders track. And then I played on “Ups and Downs,” and I played on “Him Or Me: What’s it Gonna Be?”

BK: It’s probably one of those things where, at this late date, nobody’s totally sure who’s on the released version…

KA: Yeah. They’d cut something, and then they’d go out of town. And Terry would go through the tapes, pull stuff off, put stuff on. That was a common thing. I think at one point – it might have even been “Hungry” – they pulled Smitty’s drums off and put Hal Blaine on. Which brightened it up and changed it and all that. Melcher would say, “I cannot wait for you guys to be in the studio.” He wanted to be cutting tracks while they were out of town. And that really upset some of ‘em, because they really wanted to play on everything. Which I can understand.

But by the same token, when you cut such good tracks with The Wrecking Crew, who cares?

BK: Good point. I think of the example of Brian Wilson around the time of Pet Sounds. The Beach Boys were on tour – briefly even with Glen Campbell in Brian’s place – and they would show up in the studio and just overdub their vocal parts onto the tracks Brian had cut without them.

KA: They did that way before Pet Sounds. Glen’s playing on “Little Deuce Coupe” and “I Get Around.” He’s playing on “Fun Fun Fun.” He’s playing the twelve-string on “Dance Dance Dance.” Brian knew what he liked, and the people that he wanted. He used Carol Kaye on bass, and Glen on guitar, and Hal on drums. That was the rhythm section. And then he would build and stack it all. In fact, he would often start all the background vocals before they [Carl Wilson, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love etc.] got there.

I went into the studio at Columbia one time. Columbia had eight-track machines – most of the studios did not – and I was walking through Studio A, and Brian was stacking vocals. I guess he was working on “Heroes and Villains.”

BK: Oh, wow

KA: I said to him, “Man! Are you doing this all?” He said, “You wanna sing on it?” I said yeah, so I did “oohs and ahhs” with him for about two hours. He would go on and on and on; he would record two or three tracks, combine them to one, erase all those, and then build up more. But I got to sing with him just because I happened to be walking through the studio. Anybody who came through, they got put to work. Usually.

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Art is Long, Car Rides are Short: The Keith Emerson Interview

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

At age 69, keyboard legend and virtuoso Keith Emerson has slowed down his pace, but ever so slightly. He no longer tours on a level commensurate with his 70s work in Emerson, Lake and Palmer. In fact, his recent performance at Moogfest 2014 here in Asheville was a one-off show, not part of any tour.

Emerson remains vitally involved in music, to be sure. His witty and eminently readable autobiography Pictures of an Exhibitionist was published in 2004, and in the years since ELP effectively ceased operations (save for a reunion concert – another one-off – in 2010), he headlined Moogfests in 2004 and 2006 when the festival was held in New York City. His most recent projects of note include albums and tours with the Keith Emerson Band (featuring Marc Bonilla on guitar and vocals) and an ambitious 2012 album with that group called The Three Fates Project.

At times feeling a bit like a paparazzo, I followed Emerson for much of Moogfest; a mutual friend had promised to do what he could to secure me an interview, though the where-and-when would remain very fluid until the last moment, owing to Emerson’s packed Moogfest schedule. He sat for an extensive Q&A in front of a large audience, did a full concert, attended a press release to announce the unveiling of a modular synth that clones his own Moog, and met with his friend and sometime sound technician André Cholmondeley for a podcast interview.

In what would end up being his final few moments in Asheville this trip, I managed to score several one-on-one minutes with him while we were in a car being driven from one of his appointments to the next. I asked him if – back in the early days – the monophonic nature of the modular Moog (the capability to play only a single note at a time) forced him to rethink or otherwise modify his fast and fluid playing style.

“Not much further than if you were a solo violinist,” Emerson told me. “You can squeeze a lot of things out of the Moog. But it’s just a question of knowing the instrument. It is monophonic, but it does augment the normal keyboard rig, whatever a normal keyboard rig would consist of. And it doesn’t have to be anything exotic.” He noted that the Moog occupies an important place in music history. “Quite honestly, I think the Moog has defined what has become known as progressive rock music today. There’s an awful lot of bands who really want to have a Moog synthesizer. Because it just completes the sound.”

“But,” he replied, circling back to the original question, “I had no problems in thinking that the Moog synthesizer would be able to endorse all of the qualities in music which I was aiming for.”

Having experienced several days straight being barraged with questions about synthesizers and other keyboard instruments, Emerson was happy to talk about his prowess on other instruments. “I did dabble at an instrument that I found in Turkey, something called the zurna, which is a double-reeded instrument. It’s very difficult to play,” he laughed, “mainly because you need the lungs of someone who could blow up a truck tire. So that didn’t last very long.”

He also plays a bit of harmonica, but “I wouldn’t say I’m a very good harmonica player. I can play a bit of blues, which is quite handy sometimes.” He also claims the ability to strum “a few chords” on guitar.

But being Keith Emerson, after all, the conversation soon came back ’round to synthesizers, specifically the Moog, invented by the man who would go on to become a close friend and associate of Emerson, Dr. Robert A. (Bob) Moog. Emerson shared his thoughts on the Moog synthesizer. “It is an innovation. And it’s now coming to be more acceptable not only by the classical orchestra but by most bands.” He recalled that “in the beginning, the Moog synthesizer was considered a threat, because the Musicians’ Union reckoned that it could replace a lot of their players.” And, he added with a sly grin, “I don’t think audiences really understood that what was coming out of that keyboard was actually being played by someone. I think a lot of people in the sixties thought that it was coming out of a tape recorder or something!”

Emerson’s voice won’t be familiar to most fans, as he never sang on ELP records. But he did sing on record…once. He laughed heartily as he recounted the story. “On the soundtrack for Nighthawks with Sylvester Stallone. Sly, as he allowed me to call him, said, ‘I want you to do a version of “I’m a Man.”’ And I said, ‘Why not get Steve Winwood to sing it?’ He said, ‘No, no no.’ I suggested a lot of people, but nothing came up. So in the end, I said, “Well, I’ll sing it.”

Emerson continued. “So I went into the studio, and it was a big party, actually. They made a party out of my recording “I’m a Man.” After about the fourth take, and after about the second glass of wine, I began to think I’d missed my true vocation. I was definitely a great singer!”

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A Chat with Larry Coryell, Part Three

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Continued from Part Two

Bill Kopp: In the entry on you in the Music Hound Jazz book,  the reviewer makes the points that your back catalog is in shameful disarray, with many titles out of print, and that you deserve better. Now, that book was written in the 90s. What’s the state of your catalog today?

Larry Coryell: Oh, I don’t know, man. I’ve recorded for so many different record companies. Thanks to Apple and Steve Jobs, and the Germans who figured out how to push music into a little wire, the record business is over. It’s not even down; it’s finished. The Grammys are a joke. Soon CDs will be obsolete. Nobody knows what the next big…I call it the Next Little Thing…will be. Because they’re trivializing music.

That’s why I am glad that I’m working on projects that are not dependent on the typical business model. The way we operated for all those years was: you make a record, and you get the company to promote it, and you sell it, and you stick with the brand…that’s all over now.

BK: All that said, are there any old albums of yours that are currently unavailable that you’d like to see back in print?

LC: I don’t know anything about that. I have no control over that. Those albums belong to the record companies. And I don’t know if they even have the money to revive any of that stuff.
I just played a tour with Ron Carter last week; that’s why I’m jet-lagged. I was in Japan. And Ron happened to play on a couple tracks from my second album for Vanguard, back in 1969 or thereabouts. And he said, “I want to hear those tracks. Send me the whole album.” I don’t know how I’m gonna do it! I mean, I will, even if I eventually end up finding the vinyl disc and transferring it to a CD.

BK: I think – and I’m not sure at the moment – that one is available on Spotify.

LC: Well, the guy who owns Spotify is an arch-millionaire. All these people who have taken advantage of cybertechnology, because people still love music, they’re making money off of us. What we need is an act of Congress to tax the people who are profiting…who are getting too much of the profits. I mean, anything is possible with legislation. We need a way to give that music back to the composers or the performers, somehow, in a fair way. Justice needs to be served.

I’m sure you’ve heard this from other people in my age bracket before. So I’m not telling you anything new. I’m lucky, because I’m established. And I’ve made hundred and hundreds of records, both as a sideman and as a leader. But today, young people who are just as good or better than me have no chance to get ahead through that process.

It’s just a bunch of fiefdoms; there’s no organized radio stations, and there are much fewer radio stations that play really great music. Over the public airwaves, it’s gone. We used to have people who were kind of gatekeepers, who had good taste. You’d listen to their shows, and let’s say they’d play forty tunes over the course of a few days. And at least five or ten would be ones where you’d want to go out and get those records. Because that’s what I heard, and I hadn’t heard that stuff before.

BK: And it wasn’t based on market research; it was the choices of tastemakers. The whole payola issue aside, if you were a good tastemaker, you were successful. And if you were lousy, you weren’t.

LC: Now, someone will walk up to me on the average of ten times a week and hand me a CD. And I never listen to them. Because the few times that I had, it was terrible.  Because they don’t know what they’re doing. In many cases – not all; this is kind of a generalization – it’s all been done before. And better.

The saving grace about jazz is that you can get two thousand people who are very talented jazz improvisers, and get two thousand versions of, say, “All the Things You Are,” or “Autumn Leaves,” or something like that, and they’ll all be good in their own way. Because it’s personal. Jazz is not about the notes on the paper; it’s about the emotions that are expressed.

BK: Once you establish the head, you can go anywhere with it; you go off and make it your own, and then bring it back at the end.

LC: Sometimes not even that! I just wrote liner notes for a CD [released] in Japan, where they did the standard “Love for Sale,” and in the opening chorus, there’s no melody! And it sounded great that way. I gave them big kudos.

BK: For me, the Cannonball Adderley version with Miles Davis is my favorite.

LC: Ron Carter said something – I’m sure he won’t mind me saying this – talking about Adderley. We were listening to “Jive Samba.” It might have been playing on the radio or something. Ron turns to me and he says, “You don’t have melodies being composed these days.  You can’t hum them.” [Hums the melody line to Nat Adderley's classic.] People don’t write melodies that are hummable any more. Jazz is always complicated. And that’s a tragedy.

Note: at this point, my recorder ran out of space, though our conversation wound on for some twenty minutes more. Coryell discussed his affinity for my hometown of Asheville NC, including tentative plans a few years ago – since abandoned – to relocate here from Florida (the main reason: our airport is too small and remote for the always-on-the-go guitarist). There’s every reason to expect Coryell to follow up The Lift, his recent effort on Wide Hive, with another excellent and endless varying album; at age 71, he shows no signs of slowing down.  – bk

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A Chat with Larry Coryell, Part Two

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: Though you’re certainly grounded at least in part in rock styles, another remarkable quality of your musicianship to me is the way you take more of the jazz player’s approach to arrangement: you’re not stingy about having all the solos. Everybody gets a chance to shine. Is that a conscious goal of yours when arranging songs for recording and/or live performance?

Larry Coryell: Well, if you’re gonna play with other people, you’ve got to let them express themselves. It doesn’t make any sense to me to do otherwise. I know other people have different philosophies.

BK: I mentioned to my friends on Facebook that I would be speaking with you, and a number of my friends and readers commented enthusiastically. One mentioned seeing you in the early 70s on a bill with The Faces and Argent. How was it, playing to rock-festival type crowds? Were they receptive to the fusion-leaning sounds you were turning out?

LC: Yeah. There were really no barriers. During that time, there were no barriers between the definitions of styles so much. Basically, if your group could get out there and ignite excitement in the public, that’s all that mattered.

BK: I think that’s been lost to some degree now; everything’s all about market segmentation.

LC: That’s true. But it’s a reflection of the times. The times in which we were living back then – the late 60s and early 70s – was the sexual revolution. Revolutions were going on. All kinds of weird stuff was going on; go look at the movies that were made at that time. Nothing like the movies that we have now.

BK: Your sons are musicians as well. To what extent did you encourage them to develop musically? It seems like a daunting proposition to pick up the guitar when your dad is Larry Coryell.

LC: For them, it just happened naturally. The youngest one leaned more toward learning jazz harmony early on, and the oldest one took a little bit longer to choose to become a musician. But he wanted to choose a style for himself that was not like either what I do or what his younger brother was doing. So he got into rhythm and blues a lot, and singing.

It was very organic the way they developed; I didn’t really push them at all.

BK: Another one of my readers remarked on the fact that while you can certainly play fast when you want to, you often avoid competing in the “speed demon sweepstakes.” He wants to know if you intentionally made a point of not going there.

LC: Well, when you’re playing a lot of fast stuff, you’ve got to be careful; very often you can end up not playing music. And the goal of all this is to make music. Sometimes the heady technique is required in order to express what you’re trying to do. But you still have to be musical; that’s what really touches the heart.

BK: Another friend mentioned to me that – and I don’t know anything about this – you did a gig in the 70s with Jack Bruce and Mitch Mitchell. Can you tell me about that?

LC: That was a Jack Bruce tour. Jack did a tour in 1971 – I think it was 1971…might have been ’72…some historians can pinpoint the actual year – and we did a big tour of America. We had my keyboard player, who eventually became the keyboard player in Eleventh House, Mike Mandel. So it was Jack on bass, Mitch on drums, Mike on organ, and myself. And we did Jack’s music because it was a Jack Bruce gig. And it was very…interesting.

BK: It would be nice if some live recordings from that tour might turn up…

LC: Well, everybody was so loaded. It was pretty sketchy. Pretty checquered. It all depended on how many sheets to the wind you were. The whole room was loaded. I think Keith Jarrett was the only one who was sober.

BK: We touched on this briefly a few moments ago. Every critical overview of you and your career that I read makes essentially the same point: you are under-appreciated. It’s been suggested that you get bored sticking with one style for very long. And it seems to me that had you decided to stick to one style, you might have enjoyed more commercial success. Because of course record companies – and listeners for that matter – often prefer music they can pigeonhole, that isn’t too demanding of them, that doesn’t challenge their expectations. What do you think about that?

LC: Well, there’s some truth to that. If you jump around styles, market-wise it’s a problem. But you know, I work so much…a lot of the time these days I’ll turn down work because I don’t need the money, and I don’t want to do that particular kind of music.

I had a great year last year. I think that sticking to my guns took awhile, and it was a late-blooming thing. But it’s paid off.

BK: I’ve read that you’ve done transcriptions of Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky for acoustic guitar.

LC: There are recordings of the Rimsky-Korsakov. It came out pretty good. The Stravinsky was checquered; I wasn’t happy with two of those. But the third one – and I can’t even find the record – was a masterpiece. Just by accident, that one worked out.

Last year I was given an assignment to do The Rite of Spring with six guitars, and it didn’t quite work out. It got too crazy, too complicated.

The value of doing all those classical transcriptions was in getting an education for me. Even though I wasn’t aware of it, I was getting an education, [helping me] to do my own classical music. Or classically-oriented music. One of the things that I want to bring to the world of performance is an opera that I wrote, based on Tolstoy‘s War and Peace. It’s isn’t gonna be a real jazz thing; I haven’t figured out where the jazz is gonna go yet.

When you learn to play – for example – The Rite of Spring, a lot of that rubs off on you in your future approaches to composing and playing. So I’m not so eager to perform Stravinsky as I am to perform what I’ve learned from Stravinsky. It was like an extremely serious music lesson. Stravinsky is absolutely amazing.

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