Archive for the ‘interview’ Category

Patrick Moraz: MAPping Out the Future, Part Two

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: Speaking of Moog, the K2000 dates from the period when Dr. R.A. (Bob) Moog was doing work for Kurzweil; he actually created many of the sounds for the K2000.

Patrick Moraz: Even farther back – in 1975, forty years ago! – I had recorded the backing tracks for The Story of I in Brazil. Sixteen percussionists recorded on twenty-four track tape. Bob was in Buffalo and had developed the Polymoog. And he came with it to me and to Keith [Emerson]. And in the first three weeks of [that] September, I was able to invite Bob and his [first] wife [Shirleigh] to the villa where I was staying in Geneva. So he was with me for the first three weeks of the recording sessions for I. Some of the sounds you hear were very, very enhanced by his genius tweaking, so to speak. Bless his memory; he was a very, very good friend.

I remember [Bob Moog's work on the K2000] very well! Because at the time – and even in 1985, before Bob Moog came to Kurzweil – I was one of their very first endorsers. At the 1985 NAMM show in Anaheim, I was representing Kurzweil. At that time I played Mozart‘s “Concerto #13 in G” [whistles melody], and I recorded all of the sequences note by note, just exactly. And I had learned the flute part by heart. I played it at the big party for Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil and I have remained friends ever since.

I love Kurzweil keyboards; I still have three of them, including a K2500, and the new PC3. And I have the my old sounds saved. What I like about Kurzweil is the touch of their keyboards. For me, it feels very good, because it has a lot of possibilities and dynamics: pre-touch, touch, and aftertouch.

And on this album with Greg Alban [MAP: Moraz Alban Project], I was able to include some licks exactly the way they were played, not edited afterward or anything like that. I was born in Switzerland, a country known for its precision, for making the trains arrive to the minute when they were supposed to arrive. And the precision of the watches. So I grew up in that very precise environment.

When I was thirteen, I broke my right arm. And six weeks later when I was getting the cast removed, I was offered a pair of roller skates! So of course my friends came with two bicycles and a rope, and they said, “Okay, try your roller skates!” And I did, and I broke the four fingers of my right hand. My hand still shows the architecture of that accident. I was told by some of my teachers – I was preparing to be a competitor in a classical music competition – “You will never play classical music.”

But not only was I able to train my left hand, to learn “Concerto for the Left Hand” by Maurice Ravel, I was able to compose more and more of my own music. Which I was unable to play!

BK: We’ve touched upon this a bit already. One of the things that I find appealing about the Moraz Alban Project album is that while the music is rooted in fusion/progressive styles, there’s a strong emphasis on memorable melodies. That’s something that’s often lost in ambitious music of the progressive type. When you’re composing, is the idea of a “hook” central to your goals?

PM: Absolutely. It’s such a natural process. I was fortunate – I thank God all the time…or whomever’s up there or out there in the universe – when I started choosing the sort of life I was going to lead. I was fortunate to play with some very good jazz musicians; some very famous ones, and some less-famous ones. And then as I progressed – I had a trio at the time – the two agents that worked on my behalf helped me learn about the strength of melody. Learning to play standards – “Autumn Leaves,” “’Round Midnight,” “Blue Moon” and so on – really helped me. The agents told me, “Patrick, if you want to succeed in your music – whether you’re playing, or composing for another band who will play your music – always make sure that there is a very strong and memorable melody.” It should be based on between three, four, seven notes. But it must be memorable. And then you can do whatever you want with it after that; it doesn’t matter, because the melody is what the people remember.

One must remember that when you compose your music, you are alone with yourself. But when people hear it for the first time and after, they only hear it maybe three time a year! And they want to remember something, and that’s the melody. So I always remember that.

BK: Are there any plans for live dates to promote Moraz Alban Project?

PM: Not only are we discussing and planning how we’re going to do that, because we’re all players – and if I may say so, we’re playing our asses off – I’m also planning to do some concerts by myself. More than ever, I’m back in the saddle to record. I have multiple projects in the pipeline, and they will come out as they come out. I also have some classic music in preparation, and some other new stuff that’s going to knock your socks off.

But yes, to answer your question precisely, we’re in the planning stages to do some MAP live dates. Not only promotional dates, but proper concerts.

BK: I know that one of your projects in development is a symphony in four movements…

PM: I’ve always been interested in composing larger and larger works, and this project – which has been in development for years now – is called A Way to Freedom. I don’t want to talk too much about it; I want to keep it a surprise. But what I can tell you is that it’s not just one CD, one album. It’s a bunch of different works for myself at the piano, with a band, with a trio, orchestra and choirs. That’s why it’s taking so long. In this kind of work, you can never say exactly when it’s going to be ready.

I have other symphonic works [in development] as well, including the completion of my “Children’s Concerto” for orchestra. I’ve added some orchestral colors to it…but I like to keep some mystery about what I’m doing!

I have also been expressing myself by writing poems, either in French or in English. And I’ve already recorded some of them. And I’ve almost completed a double CD with my other group in Switzerland; that’s going to come out..probably not this year or next year, but after that. I have at least two other albums schedule to come out. But for now, MAP is taking priority. I’m extremely interested in its development. I’m involved in the promotional aspect of it, which I’ve never been able to do [before], really. Not for, what, forty years? [laughs]

Note: Here, the “official” part of our interview ends. But our conversation continues, and Patrick Moraz relates a story he believes I might find interesting. He’s correct.

PM: One day, I was at the NAMM Show; maybe twelve years ago. And I met Mr. [Ikutaro] Kakehashi from Roland. I had been endorsing for Roland at the time for many years in different countries. We eventually came to talk about the Octapad MIDI electronic drum that Roland came out with in 1985.

I just happened to tell him that in 1975, I invented an ancestor of the Octapad – and I used it on my first solo album, The Story of I – and it’s even in the promotional video that was done in ’76. It had ten pads, and it was analog and digital at the time. It didn’t have a sequencer. The guy who built it did so to my specifications and design. And he also built a sequencer that had eight tracks of ten thousand notes each. And we hooked those two machines together for the recording of I. There are even some old tapes lingering of experiments I did with it.

So when I told Mr. Kakehashi that I didn’t patent my idea, he said, “Oh, Mr. Moraz, you should have patented it!” And he said, “Come with me.”

The same night he took me to the Roland warehouse, and he said, “Mr. Moraz, this is for you.” And he gave me one of the first electric, MIDI – but sounding very acoustic – harpsichords. It’s called the C80. And I still have it in my studio!

[At this point, Moraz walks away from the phone, across the room to where the C80 is set up.]

And it’s still the first thing that I play each day!

[Moraz proceeds to perform a roughly one-minute piece on the Roland C80 harpsichord, live, over the telephone, for his audience of one.]

I love that instrument! When I put the light on in the studio, it comes into my path before going to the other instruments. It has the shape of a harpsichord; it’s beautiful. And the sound of that instrument is absolutely staggering.

BK: With the studio and the various projects we’ve discussed, it seems that you’re busier now than you’ve ever been.

PM. Yes. Because my children are grown up, and because I’m not committed, contracted yet – yet! [laughs] – to tour with a big band with my music, I have more time. And I’ve developed a very interesting studio here in Florida. And I was asked to play on the Cruise to the Edge; I was supposed to play two concerts, but the promoter asked me to play an extra piano concert, which I of course accepted very, very excitedly. Because I love to play something spontaneous and impromptu; that’s the last bastion of our emotional humankind expression.

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Patrick Moraz: MAPping Out the Future, Part One

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Quick: name a famous Swiss rock musician.

Okay, a few of you might be able to name-check Celtic Frost, Brainticket, or Yello. But for those who aren’t hopeless music nerds, there’s pretty much only one answer: Patrick Moraz. The keyboard virtuoso first came to fame – in the rock idiom, anyway – as a member of Yes from 1974-1976. After a couple of years as a solo artist, Moraz played with The Moody Blues from 1978 to 1990.

But his esteemed career extends well before – and well beyond – those two high-profile rock gigs. Before joining Yes, he was a member of progressive rock trio Refugee, alongside two ex-members of The Nice, Lee Jackson and Brian Davison. And even before all that, the classically-trained pianist had a thriving (if not yet world-renowned) career as a jazz artist. His 1976 solo debut album, The Story of I, is highly regarded as an early example of the synthesis of progressive and “world” music.

He has released more than twenty albums since that debut – including two with acclaimed drummer Bill Bruford – and remains very busy with composing and performing. His latest release is MAP: Moraz Alban Project. A collaborative effort with American drummer Greg Alban, the album exclusively features music, themes and arrangements by Moraz.

The keyboard legend currently lives in Florida. I recently chatted with him about his life, career, new album, and future plans. What follows is an edited transcript.

Bill Kopp: I’ve long been a fan of keyboard-based music that makes use of then-current technology. But one of the traps into which that kind of music can fall is having a “dated” sound. For example, when you hear a Synclavier, it pretty much screams very early 1980s. And the Mellotron, my favorite instrument, is associated with the late 60s and early 70s. How do you approach technology in a way that avoids creating something that will sound “stuck in time” a few years down the line?

Patrick Moraz: The nature of your question is very interesting. As you know, Moraz Alban Project is not a solo album; it was commissioned by my very good friend Greg Alban. And the music I wanted to compose, I didn’t want it to have too many sounds that were completely out of this world. Because the music is fairly simple…well, it depends for whom [laughs]!

How I approach keyboards: of course I’m always into the newest technology, but I always keep a foot not only in the past, but in the legacy of sonic hierarchy, if you will. In terms of acoustic instruments [like] harpsichord, organ, and percussion instruments from Africa and Brazil, in the last few hundred years we’ve had them sounding better and better and better.

Drummer Greg Alban
Even nowadays in terms of sampling instruments, nothing will replace the real McCoy, so to speak. But they’ve really improved. At the end of the day, music is music. A sound is a sound. But creating it – using those sounds, and here I’m talking about modern technology – are artists like Isao Tomita. Even now, fifty years into this sonic hierarchy, I feel able to produce amazing sounds, whether they are completely analog, analog and digital, or sampled. It’s a world; no, it’s more than a world: it’s a universe!

Creativity is about combining these in within a state of dynamic tension, creating a balance between the extreme forces of sounds from five thousand years ago and modern synthesizers built one or two years ago. To be able to combine these, and also to play live with a drummer, a bassist and so on, really knocking doors down, that’s what it’s about. It’s about people playing at the height of their ability, at the highest level of information transfer. To put it mildly! [laughs]

BK: So Greg Alban asked you to compose music to which he could add drums. Can I take that to mean that you composed, arranged and recorded the music, and then he went in and added his drum parts? Or did the sessions unfold some other way?

PM: No, no. No. Some other way. It was a balance between the two. We played together and jammed and so on. The music was composed, first and foremost. Actually I composed more than [the] nine pieces – at least fourteen pieces – and then I let him choose the ones that felt the most comfortable. And when I say “comfortable,” I’ll tell you what: he took the challenge to play the drums on “Jazz in the Night,” which is such a challenge for a drummer. Because although one can tap your foot to it in 4/4, it’s never really in 4/4. He said [to me], “I’d rather not read the music; I’d rather not even write it down. I’m going to listen to it.” He’s very good. Absolutely fantastic.

Greg and I and [bassist] John Avila, we can now play that music with our eyes closed! We can play it the way it is [written], but we can also jam. And that’s what we will do for the next album. We are really, really determined to put out a bunch of albums together. We had so much fun making this album, and we still have fun listening to it now!

BK: You’ve worked in many idioms – progressive, fusion, jazz, and world music. When you’re composing music, do you approach it from a point of view such as, “Okay, now I’m going to write some music destined for a world music project”? Or do the works sort of tell you, “this is what kind of music we are”?

PM: Not at all. Really, in that respect, psychologically and artistically speaking, having paid my dues, I’m still learning and being influenced.

One day when I was sixteen, I met John Lewis from The Modern Jazz Quartet. He was in Switzerland for a concert and a sort of masterclass. And he told me, “Patrick, I love the way you play, and the way you understand music. You are not [held back] by any boundaries or barriers. Your mind can assimilate and express a lot of different ideas. And I’m urging you to carry this on further, and to listen to the music of the world, and interact with the people [who make it].”

Since then, I was fortunate enough to go to Africa three times, when I was still very young. 1952, 1953 and so on. And after that I went to Japan with a very good friend, and I was chosen as musical director for a ballet with a band that [included] four percussionists and eighteen lady dancers. We toured the whole Far East. That really helped me, not only to assimilate, but to become comfortable in every kind of musical idiom. Well…maybe not every, but quite many!

I also met Pierre Boulez when I was very young, and met Karlheinz Stockhausen several times in the studio. And that’s where I got the knack to learn everything I could about synthesis and contemporary music, whether symphonic or on an individual basis.

What I”m saying here is that I’m really comfortable in many idioms: I love Armenian music. I love polyrhythms. I love Buddy Holly. For this album, I wanted to make it palatable. For some people it might sound complex; for others, it may sound extremely easy. “Canyon Afternoon,” for example, I composed in only one take. I played it with the guys, and that’s how it came about. The other pieces – like “The Drums Also Solo” – that’s one I had in mind for a long time. When I used to play with Bill Bruford, we used to have a great piece with a drum solo, composed originally by Max Roach. I admired Roach so much, because at the time he was playing with the top jazzers of his time. I was fortunate enough even to jam once with him…

But anyway, Bill had a piece called “The Drum Also Waltzes.” Having recently seen that extraordinary movie Whiplash, one realizes how intense and difficult [it is] to play drums in any kind of capacity. It’s ironic that near the beginning of the movie, they have the scene with the famous jazz drummer Buddy Rich. He says, “If you can’t play jazz, just join a rock ‘n’ roll band.” I have a very good friend of mine, Jacob Armen – on whose album I played a piece called “Cachaça” [originally on The Story of I] – and his album will be out very soon…I don’t know when. He played a “drum battle” with Buddy Rich when he was eight! So when I saw that Buddy Rich line in the movie, that really made me laugh. Because, I’ll tell you what: at the end of the day, it’s the feel and the beat, and a band is only as good as its drummer. And sometimes it’s very good to have the beat laid down very simply, not with millions of notes. (Though that’s good too.) Parts of this work with Greg show that very simple things can be [expressed] with a beat that is able to be followed by the general population of listeners.

BK: I know you make extensive use of Kurzweil keyboard gear. I have a K2000 myself. The sounds that come with the keyboard are pretty good; when you’re looking for a specific sound, do you use a preset, tweak an existing sound, or start from scratch? Put another way, do you enjoy the technological side of things – the development of sound textures – as much as you do composing and playing?

PM: Absolutely. I don’t use presets; all the sounds that I have, I’ve created myself. If a pianist plays piano, he has his own style and his own sound. When I play synthesizers, I can have much more advanced sounds, but I can also have my own vocabulary of sounds which I have preserved and tweaked. I learn [how to program each synth] from scratch.

So you have a Kurzweil K2000?

BK: Yes.

PM: That’s like Smithsonian piece! A piece that will never go away. Like a Minimoog. Or a Stradivarius violin.

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The Revelers: Get Ready to Move the Tables and Dance

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Eclectic Louisiana-based group The Revelers make music for dancing. “It has to be danceable,” says multi-instrumentalist Daniel Coolik. “We pride ourselves on being a get-up-and-move sort of band. That’s where we come from. If you play stuff that people can’t dance to, they’re just not going to come out.” When called upon to do so, Coolik says that The Revelers are a “dance hall, club kind of band” who can play a four hour set of “all the old songs you’d want to hear.” The band hoped that people would move tables out of the way and dance for the Sep. 11 date at Asheville NC’s ISIS Restaurant & Music Hall.

Though they’re often referred to as a “supergroup” – they’re all previous members of celebrated Americana acts The Pine Leaf Boys and/or The Red Stick Ramblers – the musicians in The Revelers don’t take themselves too seriously. Their Wikipedia entry includes a number of fanciful “facts” such as this one: “[Daniel Coolik] has since renounced his faith in Bluegrass Music. He’s more into Stax now.” Coolik chuckles and admits that much of that information was put in “just to see how much we could get away with.” He and his bandmates do have a deep affinity for southern soul from the Memphis label, though.

In fact that open-minded approach informs The Revelers’ music. Less genre-specific than the bands out of which it rose, The Revelers fold in healthy amounts of country, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and western swing into their Cajun musical stew. Sometimes described as a Zydeco or “swamp pop” group, The Revelers consciously aim to create music that can’t easily be described with a simple label. “We’re trying to do more rock ‘n’ roll,” Coolik says, though the group’s deep Louisiana roots – not to mention their decision to sing many songs in French – color the music so that it’s always interesting and unique. And he notes that “there’s a lot of crossover between Cajun and country music,” both of which find their way into The Revelers’ sound. “When somebody [in the band] brings a song, we ask ourselves, ‘How does this fit into what we’re doing?’”

What The Revelers are doing is staying busy, both in the studio and on the road. 2014 saw the release of Play the Swamp Pop Classics, Vol. 1, an EP containing four traditional covers. And the group’s most recent effort is the all-originals Get Ready. The ISIS date was a CD release party for the new Get Ready disc, the band’s second full-length release.

Swamp pop is an umbrella term used to describe music from Louisiana, but the label often applies to very disparate styles of music. Coolik describes it as a style of music often made by “Cajun musicians coming out of playing French, Acadian music. They listened to Fats Domino, the rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues that was coming out of New Orleans, that kind of 6/8 beat.” The fact that the musicians came out of southwest Louisiana influenced the way that they played, Coolik says. And like The Revelers’ music, “it was for dancing.”

The band finds itself in demand for a number of different kinds of engagements. “We just played at a concert series in Connecticut, something that we’ve been doing [annually] for a couple of years now,” says Coolik. “We did that, and then we had a nice, easy day gig. We’re playing a club gig in New York City tomorrow, and then a couple concert series dates in Pennsylvania.” And this time of year is the busiest. “We usually try to fill up the summer; it’s not too fun to be in and around Louisiana during the summertime.”

A Louisiana transplant, Daniel Coolik lived in Asheville from 1999 to 2008. “I met the then-Red Stick Ramblers here through friends,” he recalls. And they subsequently met up at a number of regional fiddler’s conventions. Though all of The Revelers are seasoned, touring musicians, the history of their musical style predates all of them. “We played a gig in Rhode Island not long ago,” says Coolik. “An older visiting musician came up to me, looked at us and said, ‘Y’all are so young!’”

An edited version of this feature appeared previously in Mountain Xpress.

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Pugwash: “Don’t Expect One Direction. Expect no direction.”

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Pugwash haven’t become a household word in the United States, but it’s not for lack of effort. With their winning melodies, sharp hooks and winsome lyrics, the Dublin, Ireland-based group is a critics’ darling. The group made its southeastern USA debut at The Altamont Theatre on Friday, September 4.

No less than three separate record labels have compiled the best tracks from the Pugwash catalog (now six albums); the second of those, Giddy, was championed by XTC‘s Andy Partridge and released on his own Ape label. But until the 2015 release of the compilation A Rose in a Garden of Weeds (Omnivore Recordings), none of Pugwash’s music has gotten a proper release in the United States. The favorable reception to that disc has led to Pugwash’s newest set, Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends) set for release on Omnivore the day of the band’s Asheville show.

“This album was made for America,” says Thomas Walsh, Pugwash’s lead singer, guitarist and songwriter. “We always make records first and foremost for ourselves,” he stresses, “but the excitement of this whole project was that we’re actually going to America and tour it, and meet our American fans.” The prospect of American release provided additional motivation for the band: “When you’re sitting in a studio in London in winter, and it’s very cold and snowy and icy outside, you can say to yourself, ‘We’ll be in Arizona or someplace soon, playing a gig!’”

Walsh ruminates on the music business. “Sometimes it doesn’t give you a lot back monetarily, and of course we’re fighting against all this modern-day technology that’s making music become cheap and/or free. So it’s great to still be able to fulfill dreams.” When asked how the music on Play This Intimately differs from the group’s previous material, Walsh breaks into a parody of a hyped-up commercial musician: “It’s the best stuff ever! Hello, Seattle!” After the laughter subsides, he gives a more serious answer. “The latest stuff is always your favorite,” he admits. “I’m always just happy to have written a song, full stop. All I can gauge is that my quality control has been on the ball.” He notes that the songs on the new disc have gotten praise from Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) and Ray Davies (The Kinks), both of whom (plus Partridge) guest on Play This Intimately. “Things like that inspire you beyond belief,” Walsh says.

Thomas Walsh is ELO Fan Number One, so getting that group’s leader to appear on his album was a dream come true, even if Lynne’s contribution is a (largely unintelligible) shout midway through “Kicking and Screaming,” the album’s lead-off track. “When I was in Jeff’s studio in March – I had popped over for a cuppa tea – I brought over tapes of some early mixes,” Walsh recalls. “At the last minute, I asked him, ‘Would you be into doing something on the record?’ I said it because…well, we’re Irish, so we’re pretty forward.” Lynne happily agreed in principle, but scheduling never quite worked out. In the end, Lynne sent over a brief recording of himself shouting a variation on his spoken (yelled) piece from the outro of The Move‘s original 1971 version of “Do Ya.” In this case, he says, “Look out baby, there’s a pug a-comin’!”

Pugwash’s melodic power pop makes it to the USA largely on the strength of self-booking; though Omnivore helps as they’re able, the band has no tour manager as such. Pugwash is even relying on their opening acts to share their gear. The band is running on a very tight budget. “We’d never get to America if we had to bring our own gear,” Walsh admits. That chance-taking attitude is emblematic of the band’s collective personality. “We hate set lists,” Walsh says. “And we only rehearse for a laugh, because we enjoy it.”

So what should those purchasing a ticket to a Pugwash show expect? Walsh deadpans. “Morbid obesity, alopecia, leathery skin, weird colored faces, lots of hair in the wrong places, accents they can’t understand, and…good music. Don’t expect One Direction; expect no direction.” He adds, “Hopefully every time we count in a song and play it, it’s gonna change your life.”

Personal Note: Though the band I co-founded in 2012, The Glampas, broke up amicably in 2014, we reunited to play an opening-act set for Pugwash at their Asheville date. To say that this was an honor is to engage in understatement of the highest (lowest?) order. And speaking of “Do Ya?”, Thomas joined us onstage and helped me sing it. – bk

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Backstage with Led Zeppelin 2: The Songs Remain Quite Similar

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Recently, I traveled to Charlotte NC to take in a concert that I considered a double bill: tribute bands Led Zeppelin 2 and The Australian Pink Floyd Show. Both put on superb shows that brought the amphitheater crowd to its feet. Before the show started, I enjoyed a few minutes backstage in conversation with Led Zeppelin 2′s guitarist, Paul Kamp. We talked about the group’s approach to material, how they do it, why they do it, and how it all fits into the bigger picture.

Chicago-based tribute band Led Zeppelin 2 grew out of a power trio called Busker Soundcheck; the band actually got started over ten years ago. But at that stage, “It was only a Halloween thing,” says Kamp. “We would play once a year, maybe. And one time we didn’t even play at all for two years. It was a very loose thing; we didn’t even have a name. We were just ‘those guys that play those Led Zeppelin songs.’”

A local club owner in Chicago wanted to book them, but he told the group, “I don’t want it to be on Halloween.” So they booked a Saturday night, and it was a rousing success.

Those who heard the unnamed group liked what they heard, and encouraged the band to take things more seriously. So Kamp and his bandmates did just that. “The very first time that we went on the road to Houston, it was a real eye opener,” Kamp recalls. “It was an 1800-seat venue – we had never played in Houston before – and the place sold out! We don’t even know how people heard about us, because there are other Led Zeppelin tribute bands, too.”

As soon as they went national, Led Zeppelin 2 was drawing big numbers for their shows. “There still are some towns where the crowds are pretty small,” Kamp says with a sly grin, but those are becoming fewer and farther apart these days.

Drummer Ian Lee and bassist/keyboardist Matthew Longbons are relatively new to the group, but vocalist Bruce Lamont is, along with Kamp, a founding member of Led Zeppelin 2. And in addition to getting the sound right, the group pays attention to the gear they use onstage. “Visually, a Gibson Les Paul works the best,” admits Kamp. “Sonically, it works the best, too. And you need to have that double neck guitar to play ‘Thank You.’ And then you need it for “Stairway to Heaven.’ And then you realize you need it for ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ and ‘The Rain Song,’ and so on. Sometimes,” he laughs, “I’ll just pick up that guitar and play it, because it’s pretty cool.” Kamp uses vintage 1970s-era Marshall amplifiers “because I think they sound the best. Not necessarily just because Jimmy Page used them.”

The group draws upon all available resources to inform their performances of the classic Led Zeppelin catalog. “We listen to every recording of a song that we can get our hands on,” Kamp says. “We do some of the songs close to the studio recordings. But even when we’re playing the notes close to the recordings, I think that you’ll find that the dynamics are more like a live rock’n'roll band.” He notes that their version of “Thank You” is “similar to the version that was on the BBC recordings. We do our own thing with sections of it, but we try to capture the tones and the highlights of all the riffs.”

As needed, the band makes some practical compromises to fit the music into a shorter set, such as the hour-long opening set they delivered this night in Charlotte before headliners The Australian Pink Floyd Show took the stage. “’Dazed and Confused’ is twenty-eight minutes long in The Song Remains the Same version,” Kamp laughs. “And there are many other [recorded] versions where it’s thirty-three or more. People may have been willing to sit through the real Led Zeppelin doing that, but honestly, I’m not sure even I want to hear a thirty-three minute version!” Onstage, Led Zeppelin 2 manages to distill the essence of Zep’s songs into more compact readings; their version of “Moby Dick” – complete with obligatory drum solo – is quite satisfying even in a six-minute arrangement.

That approach keeps them connected to their audience. “Sometimes we think, ‘We’ve been flying by the seat of our pant for five minutes,’” Kamp says, “’And we’d better pull it back together so that the audience can feel pulled back together.’ And then you can see it on their faces: ‘Wow, I wasn’t expecting this!’”

Not every Led Zeppelin song is right for a show. “The only Zeppelin song that we just don’t like playing is ‘Fool in the Rain.’ Great drum part, okay vocal part. The guitar riff is – meh – it’s okay. The solo is cool. People like it. But it’s just one that we played four or five times.” The Song Remains the Same‘s “D’yer Maker” is another iffy one for the band. “It’s super popular, and it goes over really well,” Kamp concedes. “But we personally just don’t like playing it.” On the other hand, deep cuts like “Hats Off (To Roy Harper)” is a band favorite. “We’ve played every song on Presence except ‘Tea for One,’ but we cop little licks from that, and throw them into other songs.” All in all, the foursome balances their set with hits and a few less well-known numbers, and in the process they please concertgoers who want an experience that feels like a 1970s-era Led Zeppelin concert.

Even though Led Zeppelin 2 is a popular draw on the concert circuit – the band stays busy – it’s not an all-consuming endeavor for Kamp and his bandmates. “My wife and I have four companies, and we have three kids,” he says. When he has spare time at home, Kamp still comes up with riffs and original songs that might – at some undefined point in the future – find their way onto a recording.

Kamp is driven to do what he does by a simple and straightforward motivation. “Robert Plant once said that music is supposed to be about people having a good time and celebrating. There’s some kind of magical appeal that Led Zeppelin has. But I think that it goes through Led Zeppelin, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Right down south to the old acoustic Delta blues. And that music came from another continent where drums and music were about celebration. They represented memories of things and people, and rejuvenation.

“People have said this to me many times: ‘I’ve worked all week, and my friend dragged me along to this show. I thought it was gonna suck! But you were really good! I’ve got to admit, I had a really good time!’ And,” Paul Kamp smiles as he picks up his guitar to take the stage, “that’s the best possible kind of reaction we can get.”

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Kim Campbell on Husband Glen Campbell’s Film “I’ll Be Me”

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Glen Campbell has enjoyed a long and distinguished career. He providing hired-gun guitar services on countless pop records of the 1960s (as a member of that loose aggregation known as The Wrecking Crew). He took Brian Wilson‘s place in the touring Beach Boys. He released a long string of highly regarded pop-country albums. He hosted a phenomenally successful variety television show. And he toured relentlessly as a performing musician. But it’s quite likely that history will remember him just as much for the manner in which he chose to end his career.

When Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimers’ Disease in 2011, he and his family made the very significant decision not only to continue recording and performing live, but to go very public with the news about his irreversible medical condition. Campbell recorded and released an album, the pointedly-titled Ghost on the Canvas (2011). He followed that up with a collaborative release with longtime musical associate, composer Jimmy Webb (Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb in Session). And the 2014 film Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me documented his ongoing struggle with Alzheimer’s, specifically focusing on both his personal and family life as well as the long goodbye that was his 150-plus date concert tour. Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me has just been released on DVD.

Back in 2011, Campbell had just finished recording sessions for Ghost on the Canvas with producer Julian Raymond. “We were just getting ready to go out and promote [the album] when we got the diagnosis,” says Glen’s wife, Kim Campbell. She says that Raymond approached his friend, filmmaker James Keach, as well as Keach’s then-wife Jane Seymour, suggesting to them that a documentary film would be “a great opportunity to preserve the legacy of this great entertainer.” It would also chronicle Campbell’s courage in facing Alzheimer’s head on, while continuing to perform as long as he was able.

The product of their combined efforts – Seymour is the film’s Executive Producer – is that rarest of films: deeply engrossing yet (at least for this viewer) extremely difficult to watch. It’s safe to say that anyone whose life has been touched by Alzheimer’s will find many scenes painfully resonant. When I made that observation to Kim Campbell, she correctly guessed that I had some experience with Alzheimer’s (my paternal grandmother suffered from it in her final years, in a time before the disease’s name was in widespread use; we called it dementia or “hardening of the arteries”).

At the start of the film project, Campbell’s dementia was still in its early stages, and he was able to give his enthusiastic consent to the planned concert tour and the making of the documentary. “He felt like it was the most important thing that he could be doing,” says Kim. “More important than the tour, even, was the documentary. There were a few times when we were out on tour when James and Trevor [Albert, co-producer] were not with us. Glen would ask, ‘Where are they? Where are they?’”

Kim would then tell Glen, “They didn’t come on this part of trip.” She laughs when she recalls his reply: “Well, then why are we here? We need to go back to Malibu to be with those guys!” It was important to all involved to let viewers know what Alzheimer’s is really like. “[Glen] wanted to raise awareness,” Kim says. “We were so excited to go to Washington, to urge congress to allocate more funds for research.”

There’s a strong undercurrent of dignity throughout I’ll Be Me; the film doesn’t shy away from showing the real-world effects of Alzheimer’s – the forgetfulness, confusion and even raging – but it never once feels exploitative. The film balances unvarnished storytelling with an understandable desire to show Campbell in a dignified manner. “That’s something we never worried about,” says Kim. “James did the film Walk the Line, about Johnny Cash. And he did such a respectful, beautiful job with that, so we had total confidence in him.”

Kim Campbell hopes that Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me helps to remove the stigma that’s attached to Alzheimer’s. “I hope that it encourages [those dealing with a family member with Alzheimer's] to be honest, to let people know what you’re going through. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Because when you’re honest, people can accept it and help. People don’t always understand Alzheimer’s, so they can be nervous being around you. But it’s a time when you need your friends and family the most.”

Kim is a strong advocate for being open and honest about what the disease can mean. She illustrates that point of view by sharing with me the latest news. “I’m caring for Glen at home now. He is cheerful and content; he’s physically healthy and strong. He does have aphasia, so he can’t really communicate verbally. He’s good with people, but he does have moments when he can be really combative and agitated. You have to learn how to deal with that, how to protect yourself.”

She makes a case in point: “I do have a black eye right now,” she says. “I got punched in the face when I was trying to change Glen’s clothes.” She laughs dryly. “That’s pretty good that after two years of combativeness, this is my first shiner. It happens; it’s part of the disease.” She describes Glen’s physical lashing out as “a natural reaction when somebody is doing something you don’t want them to do, when you can’t communicate well enough to tell them, ‘Stop!’”

Kim Campbell hopes that the film moves those dealing with the disease to “live their lives to the fullest. Keep enjoying every day as it comes, and don’t worry about tomorrow.” And along with caring for her husband and doing her best to enjoy every day, she remains an activist. “James Keach and I have started the I’ll Be Me Alzheimer’s Fund, and we’re looking forward to creating and implementing programs to help caregivers, and to provide funding for young scientists who are researching Alzheimer’s.” They plan to schedule celebrity and musical events in the near future as well. In the meantime, $2 from each purchase of the DVD made through this link will go to the Fund.

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The Knack: Zooming Back from Oblivion, Part 2

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Continued from Part One

Once the backlash set in, though, The Knack‘s record sales figures took a sharp nosedive. …But the Little Girls Understand reached #15 in 1980, but that had more to do with momentum remaining from the popularity of the debut than anything else. The singles from the album charted only briefly. The following year’s Round Trip barely dented the Top 100 album charts, with one single charting briefly, and the other making no chart appearance whatsoever. The band effectively folded in late 1981, and then officially in mid-1982.

Some reunions – with and without original drummer Bruce Gary — his contentious interactions with his bandmates seem to have been a frequent point of stress for the band – followed, but little came of those efforts until the late 1990s. With progressive- (and new wave-) rock hero Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons, U.K.) on board as drummer, the band cut Zoom, an excellent collection of songs that delivered the band’s trademark, slightly snotty (and to some, borderline misogynistic) lyrics set against top-notch melodies. The band updated their sound to fit with the times. One can quibble with the production aesthetic, which now sounds hopelessly dated thanks to Bozzio’s insistent use of a piccolo snare drum. The ace drummer “was in love with that high, cracky snare,” recalls Berton Averre. “It probably wasn’t the best sound for those songs.” Averre defends Bozzio’s role in the band overall, pointing out that “It takes a special drummer to play with The Knack. We ask our drummer to play a lot. There aren’t many drummers who could do it.”

So even with the annoying drum sound, there’s no denying the appeal of tunes like “Pop Is Dead,” the power ballad “Can I Borrow a Kiss,” and the Kinks homage “Terry and Julie Step Out,” among others.

But radio didn’t play Zoom, few reviewers covered it, and the album zoomed (ouch) into oblivion. “As a musician and songwriter, I knew that there was really good stuff on the album,” Averre says. “But I had this funny feeling that nobody was going to give it a listen. And they didn’t. I can’t say I was surprised, but I was crestfallen.” He stands by his pride for the group’s late 90s/early ’00s material. “I do think that if people had heard Zoom…” His voice trails off. “Our lot had been cast, I guess.”

When The Knack played concerts in the new millennium, “One of the lessons we learned when we got back together,” Averre recalls, “was that people would come to our shows, and they’d ask, ‘What happened with you guys? Why is it that you went away?’ We realized how few people were even aware of all of the ‘political’ stuff that was going on.”

One wonders if the “brand” The Knack was an albatross, and if they’d ever considered changing their name. There’s some precedent for that: in the late 1960s, Paul Revere and the Raiders were pegged as hopelessly unhip, so they sent copies of their newest single, the fuzz-rocking “Let Me,” to stations on a disc that pseudonymously credited them as Pink Puzz. The gambit worked for a time. Averre admits that The Knack considered changing their name as well. “Before Doug [Fieger] and I put the band back together, we thought about it.” He winces as he recounts the tale. “We had been back to writing material as a duo [billed as Fieger-Averre], and Doug took some songs to a label. He came back and said, ‘Listen, Bertie. I’ve got good news and bad news.’” The label was interested, and wanted to bill the project as Doug Fieger. “I’m thinking, ‘What’s the good news?’”

Averre figured that nobody knew his name, and that if anybody had the “stink” attached to him, it would be Fieger, not him. On top of that, Averre says, “I had established that this time, I wasn’t going to kind of sit back and say, ‘Okay, [Doug] is the guy that everybody knows.’ I was a fully contributing member, and I deserved my due.” At the end of the day, Averre believes that “a known entity has more potential to open doors, even when it has negative connotations attached to it.” So The Knack they would remain. “If we had changed the name, we would have been starting from square one again,” he notes.

And to a large extent, that’s what happened, anyway. Despite the quality of material on Zoom – to this listener, song for song, it’s the band’s best-ever album – it went nowhere. In a testament to the band’s faith in the material, they would re-release it themselves in 2003, with some bonus tracks. Anyone reading this far will have guessed that Re-Zoom didn’t sell, either. (The 2015 Omnivore reissue of the original Zoom adds several demos that predate the studio sessions.)

In 2002, The Knack decided to put together a live-in-the-studio record, Live From the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun House. That collection featured a number of songs from – you guessed it – Zoom. And with Bozzio gone, replaced by David Henderson (aka Holmes Jones), the Fun House versions have a timeless feel to them, one that presents the songs in a better light. The energy of a live audience helps, too. “One thing you should keep in mind about us,” says Averre, “is that we were a live band. We were a club band. We always had a strong conviction to being able to represent our songs live. To be able to play well, sing well, to give the people the song.” And the Fun House collection is a document of that commitment.

While on initial release, reviews for these albums – and there weren’t many – were on the whole pretty positive, they pretty much flew under the radar of most listeners. Omnivore Recordings‘ reputation provides a kind of seal of approval that says to serious fans of music, “hey, you should take another look at this.” So does Averre feel vindicated by the positive buzz the band is getting now? “I’d replace vindicated with grateful,” he says. “I don’t have the ability to dictate other people’s taste. The only positive frame of mind for a performer is, ‘I love whoever likes us.’”

He connects that thinking to the band’s history. “I think that’s one of the mistakes we made in the early days. When all of that bad stuff was coming down on our heads, what we should have been doing is concentrating on the many people who did like us. Because they’re the only ones that really mattered.” He’s philosophical about the entire saga of The Knack, and offers this perspective: “As time has gone by, all of the extraneous, semi-political bullshit that people would jump on us…it would cease to matter. We’re decades on from that period now. So when people hear our music now, all they’re hearing is a song. Stripped of the “camp” aspect – as in, the camp against us versus the camp for us – they listen, and they think, ‘this is a pretty good band.’”

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The Knack: Zooming Back from Oblivion, Part 1

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

If you’re a rock music fan of a certain age, you know – or knewThe Knack. Their debut album, 1979′s Get the Knack – came out of nowhere and soared up the charts, on the strength of at least two things. First, the high-energy, catchy single “My Sharona,” with its hook-filled arrangement and stuttering rhythmic lines. Two, the massive marketing push Capitol Records put behind the album.

The thing is, as quickly as The Knack rose, they fell. Not due to a drop-off in quality of their music, not due to internal squabbles or substance abuse issues. No, The Knack suffered a backlash, the likes of which have been rarely known in pop music. The idea was that this Los Angeles-based quartet hadn’t paid their dues, that they were somehow inauthentic. And the whiff of that commercial push might have reminded those with long memories of the gambit Columbia tried with Moby Grape on their 1967 debut disc: the label thought it wise to release the contents of the entire album as singles, A and B-sides. Those with their metaphorical knives out decided that the marketing push meant the Grape somehow wasn’t legitimate, and the backlash hurt them.

The Knack’s debut record was produced by Mike Chapman. Chapman was on a career high, having recently scored with production credits for Blondie and Nick Gilder, and – going back a few years, Sweet. Guitarist Berton Averre – the group’s lead guitarist and composer/co-writer of many of their songs – recalls Chapman’s approach in the studio: turn the tape on, and have the band play like they would in a club. Get the Knack effectively captured the band’s sound.

With the benefit of hindsight, both Moby Grape and Get the Knack are now recognized as superb (if slightly flawed) first efforts from bands who – for very different reasons – never again scaled the commercial heights of success.

In Moby Grape’s case, while they continued to turn out occasional gems, they never again did equal the near-perfection of their first record. In the case of The Knack, they too soldiered on, but in their case, they continued to make good albums. In fact, after some missteps, they started making excellent records. But by that time, hardly anyone was listening; several attempted comebacks came to little or nothing, and the band eventually threw in the towel following the death of front man and rhythm guitarist Doug Fieger.

But when they were still active, one of their periodic relaunches yielded a string of three albums that have been unjustly ignored. Nearly two decades after their debut album’s release, The Knack roared back with Zoom (1998), 2001′s Normal as the Next Guy, and – also from 2001 – Live From the Rock ‘n’ Roll Funhouse. Now, in 2015, Grammy-winning label Omnivore Recordings has rescued these three discs from their undeserved, ignominious obscurity, and modern-day listeners – ones who liked the Knack back in ’79 – are getting their first listen to the music contained therein.

But first, back to that backlash. In retrospect, it’s very strange how quickly the band seemed to fall out of favor. It wasn’t as if the style had played itself out; power pop/new wave was still big when MTV kicked off. But The Knack was left behind, prevented from enjoying (and benefiting from) the heightened visibility that MTV offered. “From a personal standpoint, it was traumatic,” says Averre. “It was bewildering how things could turn around as quickly as they did.”

“I did understand why,” Averre emphasizes. “Because what happened was, there were a certain number of people who didn’t like the band. That’s common: some people love a band, some don’t. The guys and gals who didn’t like us happened to be – among others – journalists. Basically, they had the power of the pen, and they would ridicule us.” And their ridicule had a very real effect. “Once you become a joke, that sticks. And it’s hard – if not impossible – to climb back from it.”

After making it clear that he doesn’t consider The Knack in the same league as The Beach Boys, he cites their career arc as another example of what his group experienced. “In the late 1960s, The Beach Boys were a joke. Now you look back and see that Brian Wilson was a true genius of our generation, but throughout the years when they were dismissed as being old fashioned and ‘straight,’ they were making incredible music. But it didn’t matter; it just took a certain amount of years before the stink of having been a joke would wear off. People started listening to that stuff, and thought, ‘Well, jeez…they were great; what was the problem?’”

Averre sees what happened to The Knack in similar terms. “Somebody made us a punchline. And we never recovered from it. It was perception more than anything else.” Meanwhile, it was left to others to continue in the style The Knack had developed, and for those artists to succeed both commercially and from a critical perspective.

There were at least some seeds of truth to the out-of-nowhere knock critics made upon The Knack. It was almost exactly one year – one brief year – between their first gig as The Knack and the release of their first album, on a major label. It’s easy to see how artists who had been toiling in obscurity – as well as their champions – might look upon the foursome who scored a hit with “My Sharona” with some envy. But unlike my handy example of Moby Grape, the Knack weren’t put together by some kind of management team.

The group’s signature sound came together really quickly, says Averre. “We just had a passionate love for certain kinds of music. Doug and I were working together as a songwriting duo, trying to get deals several years before The Knack. Doug said, ‘The live club scene is really happening right now. Let’s put a band together; that’s going to be the best way to get our songs out there.’ And we did. And then Doug and I began writing [like] gangbusters,” he laughs. “Because we had a reason to: ‘Oh, good! We need more songs for the set!’”

One day, Fieger told Averre that they needed an opening song for their live set. And Averre responded by coming up with the music for “Let Me Out.” It was song designed to convey the message, “Here we are; we’ve just taken the stage.” Fieger came up with lyrics that conveyed a starting-the-evening feel. “So it was totally organic how those songs came out,” Averre insists. “It was just [the music] that we were loving at the time, and trying to deliver that.”

The negative press hurt the band, but pressure to follow up their hit also weighed on songwriters Averre and Fieger. “Try coming up with a follow-up to ‘My Sharona,’” laughs Averre. “We’d play a song for somebody, and they’d say, ‘well, it’s pretty good, but it’s not “My Sharona.”’ ‘No shit!’” He recalls that in the years following their hit, they’d have “management types – and take my word for it: they weren’t trying to be funny – tell us ‘Hey, I know! Why don’t you just write another “Sharona!’ Like it’s so simple. ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’”

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The Chocolate Watchband: Give the People What They Want (Part 2)

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Continued from Part One

Chocolate Watchband guitarist Tim Abbott believes that these new versions of the band’s old songs are an “opportunity for us to rewrite history, to make it right.” Because any way you slice it, Richard Polodor‘s “Expo 2000” which leads off the new disc, is a pretty ace psychedelic instrumental, well worth revisiting.

And there was another compelling reason for the re-formed Watchband to record these songs: “None of these songs were on iTunes,” Abbott points out. “They weren’t available to the fans. Universal [Music Group] had control of it.” The band initially released the tracks independently under the title Revolutions Reinvented, and – interestingly enough – right as those versions hit iTunes, Universal decided it was the right time, finally, to make the original versions available, too. “Pretty much par for record companies,” Abbott observes ruefully.

But ultimately, all of the songs featured on I’m Not Like Everybody Else have been staples of the modern-day band’s set list for quite some time. “We’ve been doing these tunes since 1999,” says Abbott. Back then, vocalist David Aguilar rang up Abbott, told him that there was renewed interest in the band, and suggested they get things going again. Their first gig was in San Diego. “The promoter basically paid us to put the band back together,” laughs Abbott. Fans came from all over – as far as Europe – to see the revived Watchband play live. The band were surprised at the positive reception they got. “I knew something was going on,” recalls Abbott, “but I didn’t realize to what extent. When we finished the show, a guy came up to us and said, ‘I want to bring you guys to New York to do a live show. And we want to record it.’ And then another guy said, ‘We want to take you to Rome.’” And all those things did indeed come to pass.

In the wake of that success, The Chocolate Watchband recorded an album of new material. But Abbott admits that “fans didn’t really embrace” it. He concedes that the band “weren’t thinking about our direction; we just made music.” And while the music may have been worthwhile – the band’s current website pointedly makes only the briefest mention of its existence – it didn’t sound at all like the Watchband of old. And that’s what fans want. As Allmusic‘s Bruce Eder wrote in his measured review of Get Away, “coming off of a 32-year layoff from music, do you try to sound like who you were, which is to say, as people remember you, or who you are?” Abbott contends that the material was good, and suggests that the band might revisit and re-record the songs in a style more akin to their signature sound.

That’s what they did – very successfully – for I’m Not Like Everybody Else. “We had an experience in New York,” Abbott says, “where we brought some of our updated-sounding stuff. And what we found was that our fan base just rejected it. We had done our show, and when we came back for an encore, we did new music. And that was the worst possible thing we could have done! We didn’t know, but it was very educational.” He laughs as he recalls something David Aguilar said to him one night, post-show, after running through a set of the Watchband’s best-loved – “genuine” or not – songs. “We should have done these songs back then. They’re good!”

The new album takes its title from a Watchband cover of the classic Kinks song. But the lesson that The Chocolate Watchband learned happens to be the title of a later Kinks album: Give the People What They Want. Abbott observes, “a lot of bands get to evolve. The Beatles: you watched them evolve. There was an evolution of the style, the sound. But we don’t have that privilege, because we basically dropped out, and then we came back. And so our fan base wants The Chocolate Watchband that they love. They don’t want it changed. They don’t want it updated; they don’t want me to shred on guitar. They want to hear it in that style; that’s why they like it.”

Original bassist Bill “Flo” Flores is featured on the album, but had to retire shortly thereafter for health reasons. Music journalist/author Alec Palao is the group’s official historian, and he advises the group as well. Some of his most well-regarded advice: “Make it sound correct: make it sound vintage.” So both live onstage and in studio recordings, that’s what The Chocolate Watchband does. Abbott smiles when he cites a Belgian reviewer’s concert writeup: “For just a moment, I felt as if I was 17 years old, at the Fillmore Auditorium watching one of my favorite bands in the world.”

One of the other heroes of the 60s garage/psych era is The Seeds. That group’s keyboard player, Daryl Hooper, has now joined the Watchband for live dates and recording. “We have another album in the can,” says Abbott, “and we’re probably going to finish it in the fall.” Hooper is on the disc, playing both keyboards and guitar.

Based on the band’s early recorded legacy, they’re often thought of as major Rolling Stones acolytes. Not so, says Abbott. “We were kind of a blues-influenced band,” he says, noting that the only song from their albums that ever found its way into their live sets in the 60s was “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” So oddly enough, today’s Chocolate Watchband doesn’t really sound like the vintage band at all. At least not like the vintage band when they played live. “We did a lot of Chicago bluesy kind of things,” Abbott says. Flores and he “were influenced by James Brown and soul. And Gary [Andrijasevich, drummer] had a jazz background. David was an artist. And Mark, who I replaced, was really into Jorma Kaukonen from The Jefferson Airplane.” Not to put too fine of a point on it, but as Abbott says, “the live Chocolate Watchband was nothing like the records.” He laughs and adds, “It is now.”

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The Chocolate Watchband: Give the People What They Want (Part 1)

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Among aficionados of 1960s garage and psychedelic music, The Chocolate Watchband is dearly loved. Though the band’s history is – even by the standards of that era – a mightily convoluted one, the band (and its ersatz versions; more on that subject shortly) left behind some durable music that captures the 1960s zeitgeist.

In many ways, the story of San Jose, California-based The Chocolate Watchband is typical of its time. Richie Unterberger‘s chapter on the band in his 1998 book Unknown Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll is highly recommended; suffice to say that the story is too complicated to recount here. The short version is that while the band recorded a number of excellent sides, producer Ed Cobb (and engineer Richie Polodor) brought in studio musicians to cut additional tunes, ones that the “real” band had nothing to do with. Complicating matters for those who value so-called “authenticity,” some of those not-really-Watchband tracks are very good-to-excellent.

In 2015, many might look back with bemusement (not to mention ridicule) upon 60s bands with “silly” names: Electric Prunes, Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Vanilla Fudge, Strawberry Alarm Clock…you get the idea. It should be noted that these weren’t comedy bands in any sense of the term; no, they were often as deadly serious as, say, Love and The Doors. And while the Watchband didn’t score any megahits along the lines of the Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints” (which featured a lead vocal by a guy who wasn’t even in the group, but that’s yet another story), they created some excellent music.

Oddly enough, The Watchband have some connections to The Grateful Dead. Prior to joining the Watchband, guitarist Tim Abbott played in a band that sometimes featured drummer Bill Kreutzmann “Our regular drummer was a ski bum, and he used to desert us all the time,” Abbott chuckles. “In college, I played with Mickey Hart in The Five of Harts, his band. And I knew Bob Weir; he used to come down to The Chocolate Watchband’s cabin in Los Gatos. One time, in 1967, he brought along what might have been the very first wireless guitar rig, a prototype. And Jerry Garcia helped me get one of my favorite guitars; he worked at a music store.”

Abbott recalls the circumstances of his most memorable Chocolate Watchband concert date of the 1960s. It also happens to have been his first one. “Mark [Loomis] had left the band, and there were a lot of bookings left. They called me in on a Wednesday afternoon: ‘Tim, we’ve got a gig Saturday.’ We rehearsed all the way from Wednesday all the way up to Friday night. Almost without sleeping. Saturday morning, we jumped into the manager’s Lincoln and then, off to Mt. Tamalpais [just north of San Francisco] for the Mount Tam Fantasy Fair.” That festival drew more than 36,000 people on June 10-11, 1967, and featured an eclectic lineup that included Dionne Warwick, The Doors, Tim Buckley, The Byrds, The Merry-Go-Round (with Emitt Rhodes) and many others. “I walked out onstage,” Abbott remembers, “and I thought, ‘this is cool.’”

But that wasn’t all. “When we finished our set, the manager for The Fifth Dimension walked over to me and said, ‘Our guitar player didn’t make it. The band really like the way you played. They want to know if you’d substitute.’ I said yes.” He went over and met the band, and was all set to play with them. “I asked, ‘Do you guys have any charts?’ They said yes and opened their book for me.” He pauses for emphasis. “Not a chord in sight! All written out, ‘golf clubs on fences.’ And I hadn’t sight-read in years. I mean, I could sight read, but not in front of that many people! I asked them, ‘Don’t you have anything with chords on it?’ They said, ‘No, this is what we have.’ Those were studio charts for seasoned studio guys.” Abbott had to bow out, but he still has fond memories of the festival.

Modern-day listeners may know The Chocolate Watchband best through their inclusion on the Nuggets compilations. The original 1972 double LP featured “Let’s Talk About Girls,” an aggressive, macho Rolling Stones-flavored rocker. But when Nuggets was expanded to four CDs in 1998, the band scored two more inclusions: “Sweet Young Thing” (not the Monkees‘ tune) and the immortal “Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-in),” which had been featured in the 1967 teen exploitation film Riot on Sunset Strip.

In the group’s (again, convoluted) heyday, they released three LPs – 1967′s No Way Out, The Inner Mystique in 1968, and 1969′s One Step Beyond – all of which command extremely high prices on today’s collector’s market. And all three feature a mix of originals, covers, actual-group performances, and recordings made without the band’s knowledge or involvement. Their time apparently having passed, The Chocolate Watchband broke up in 1970.

Fast forward more than thirty years. With the renewal of interest in all things garage-psych – thanks in no small part to the aforementioned Nuggets reissue – four key members of the 60s era band reunited and began to play live dates. Various compilations and live discs followed, and eventually the group entered the studio to record a new album. Now available as I’m Not Like Everybody Else, that disc collects thirteen tracks from the band’s history, in newly-recorded (but faithful) versions.

“There were a couple of things that were on our minds,” explains Abbott. Acknowledging that some of the songs weren’t recorded by band members – much less played live at concert dates back then – he says, “There were a few times when the band got to do what it does, but not often. Not to the extent we wanted to. David [Aguilar, lead vocalist] was replaced by a studio guy, and then they took pieces of what we had done, and built new songs out of them.”

“The record companies back then were in complete control,” Abbott says. Understandably, the band wasn’t happy to learn their record label was passing off songs written and performed by others as the Chocolate Watchband. “The band hated ‘em. I remember using those records for target practice,” Abbott says with a chuckle. “And when those albums started going for two, three and four hundred dollars apiece, I started thinking, ‘Oh my god. What have we done?’”

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