Then how did the band differ live from what they recorded in the studio?
I would say probably it was just--it was an energy that we were really good at. We did know how to engage the audience, and Solomon was a tremendous front man performer-wise. He could really radiate David's guitar-playing, and his particular thing. Everybody was charismatic. I can talk about myself a little bit. Chester was totally a charismatic character on stage, big hair and playing electric violin and standing over in the corner, you never saw his face. John, our drummer, who was kind of a good looking guy who was kind of our Ringo Starr kind of guy. We all wore weird clothes. Solomon was one of the first guys with that real long, scraggly hair, and was wearing like gypsy costumes and that big shirt. There was a time when we had a lot of dancers, which I wasn't particularly into, belly dancers and flamenco dancers and chicks running around. When we'd play at the Avalon and that kind of stuff, every once in a while we'd have something like that happen.
As a live performing band, we were always really good. Because all of us had played all of our lives. I started playing when I was fifteen, and Lindley the same and, everybody had been playing in groups since they were, started playing. Playing live for us was just like rolling off a log. Because we knew how to play, we weren't just playing the notes. We could play extended solos. All of us were soloists, so if something needed to go another five minutes, it could, it didn't sound like we were falling apart, it usually got better. Our musicianship was even more evident, probably live, than it probably was on record.
Although you had left by the third album, what did you think of the things the band put out without you?
I think they did a good job too. It depends on how you like to listen to music. Some people like to listen to the things in sequence. The third album basically relates to the first two, pretty much. I think Bernice basically doesn't relate much to anything, except itself. Most of that stuff that was on Bernice was supposed to be on Bernice. It was recorded with Chester. It never came out, because they didn't want to put it out.
All the stuff that was on the third record, I would say, we were playing live. Except for maybe the banjo thing. "Cuckoo" we did, sure, "Petite Fleur," we were doing that one. Actually, I was kind of the Cajun guy of the band, really, even though that was the one, like, "Louisiana Man" was the one I brought to the second album. That's "Jolie Blonde," really. It's another version of the same song. We always sort of toyed with doing "Jolie Blonde," and this particular one is a version of "Jolie Blonde," that's called "Petite Fleur." That was specific to that band, but we had been working in the Cajun area previous to that particular record. So that was a song that, yes, we were in fact performing.
All of that stuff was pretty much a residue of the first band, but had been basically encapsulated with the third band. They did a good job, I think that's a good record. I happen to really like "Greenwood Sidee" and a lot of the "Cuckoo" as well. I love David's banjo piece. He's one of my favorite banjo players. He's a great banjo player. He always had trouble with ganglions, little growths that you grow on your knobs of your elbows and stuff from overuse. He would get these little knobs. In fact, the same thing happened to Leo Kottke. He had to stop using fingerpicks. And that's what happened with David. He was using fingerpicks, and he was using so much torque that he built these ganglions up in his wrist. There would be these little lumps that would be about as big as Hershey Kiss. I think that's why he gave up playing banjo, 'cause it was affecting his ability to play. Leo Kottke had to give up playing for over a year because he was developing the same thing. He overtaxed his wrist, and stopped. He had to stop using fingerpicking and start all over again. David had the same problem with fingerpicks and banjo. I think he was seven straight years winner of the Topanga Canyon Banjo contest, which was sort of the big banjo contest every year. He always won. He always did something really unique, and of all his instruments, he's the most unique as a banjo player. It's really a shame that he doesn't play very much.
While you were still in Kaleidoscope you did this amazing psychedelic/R&B hybrid record backing Larry Williams and Johnny "Guitar" Watson, "Nobody."
One of the best records I ever played on, because of the people on there. Chester didn't play on that. John played congas, and the drummer on that was Earl Palmer. And I played bass. It was one of the most remarkable situations at the time. Because we had gotten to know Larry Williams, 'cause he was A&R director at the time at OKeh. He and Johnny Guitar Watson were like best friends, and they showed up at the session with matching coupe de villes, matching suits, and matching hats, with chicks on their arm, I don't know who the chicks were, wives and girlfriends or what. One of the cars was chocolate brown, and the other one was like deep burgundy. And the suits were deep burgundy, and the suits were chocolate brown. It was like the coolest. They walked in simultaneously together, they looked like two cool guys coming out. It was a really beautiful session. The guys were really nice to us. They really liked us an awful lot. We were treated with respect. I think it was pretty right-on that they brought in their own drummer, and I was very pleased to be able to be the bass player on it. David and Solomon were the two other--David played the harp guitar, and Solomon played saz. Chester didn't get to play on that one, which was really too bad. They just didn't feel that violin and/or his keyboard thing was what they needed on that, which was really too bad. I think John Vidican ended up playing some percussion. But even the major conga stuff in there, I think, is Larry.
I think the song's a great song, I always loved the song. They wanted to be psychedelic R&B. They thought it was natural. They just said, this is natural, man, this fits great. And I thought it did too. Apparently there was some kind of problem that had to do with--I think both those guys were involved with like dealing coke and all kinds of stuff. There was all kinds of weird kind of undercover stuff that I'd always heard about between those guys. There was a lot of sort of drug use, and they were maybe even pimps too. There was some kind of thing that happened between Larry Williams and the stations on some kind of payola level--it didn't get paid off--and that record just bombed. The radio stations refused to pay it. There was some kind of nefarious goings-on that had to do with those guys that just sunk that record. That was another one I just thought, man, this is a hit, man, what a great, beautiful record this is. And it just never saw the light of day. It came out, I have a copy of the 45, but I think other than what I have, a promotional copy, I don't know if I've ever seen one that had a really yellow label, that had the real OKeh label on it, that wasn't promotional. So I don't know how far it went. But as far as something that was, that really got to what they were doing, I thought it was a brilliant idea. It really didn't have anything to do with failing. I thought we did a beautiful job.
I remember going up to their offices and sitting around talking and, "I think you guys are great, man. What do you think of this?" And they [said], Sure, man, we can do that. We would love it." So we were all--I have a big huge collection of 45s and stuff, I'm a rock and roll guy from the fifties. So both of those guys were meant something to me besides that. It was some kind of weird snare in the record business, and they just ostracized Larry Williams. As I recall, it was some kind of behind-the-scenes stuff that kept that record.
What was the story with how Chester Crill destroyed the organ the last night you played with the band in the 1960s?
I had gone to New York to fulfill this obligation with the band, which I was happy to do. I didn't have any problems with the guys in the band, really, at that time. I figured I was probably going to go back to school or something. I was approached by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Then I went to see them open for the Doors, they played with the Doors at Hunter College and I went to see them there. I got offered a gig, and I said sure, I'll take it, and ran into Morrison, who I hadn't seen in a while. He was basically obviously on ether that night. I had this real interesting time in New York, and I was trying to make the best of the situation. Bob Neuwirth had put me in contact with Zal Yanovsky and Richard Greene and Billy Mundi. We were thinking of actually starting a band together back there. I was just kind of wandering around going to clubs and living in a friend of mine's place. Finally, when we went through the...our first job was at the Scene in New York. The Scene, at that particular time, was being run by Steve Paul, who managed Tiny Tim and Johnny Winter and the Chambers Brothers. Tiny Tim was the sort of the host for the night. He would introduce the acts and stuff. He'd play a little song in between sets, and it was us and Nico and Rick Derringer was head of the house band, the McCoys. They had the jam night on Thursday. So we did a gig there.
Cafe a Go Go was supposed to hire us. They didn't like us. They'd just come to see us, and they thought we were horrible, so they canceled our gig after we'd already gone there. We ended up playing at this place called Fun City, which was this probably front for a whorehouse on 42nd Street. It was like lined with go-go dancers and playing in the middle of the day nobody and chicks running around half-clothed. It was pretty raunchy, and pictures of Frankie Lymon all over the place. He must have played there back before OD'ed or something. So New York at that time, we did as best we could.
Our next gig was going to be up in Boston. My best friend, Bob Siggins, was living in Boston at the time, and his wife Betsy was running the Club 47. She was the booker for that. I knew I was going to be able to stay at his house, and it was going to be kind of nice. He had set up the situation--somebody was out of town, and they actually found a house for the band to stay in, so it didn't cost them any money. I ended staying at Siggins' house. But at that time, people like Joni Mitchell and Geoff Muldaur and Judy Collins and whichever people would come in. So it was pretty nice, and so the gig we had in Boston was a place called the Catacombs. At the time we were playing there, Buck Owens was also playing around the corner. Jim Rooney of Keith and Rooney, Jim Rooney was also running the show there, and he also had worked with Betsy at the Club 47. I'd go back and forth and go and see the Buck Owens show, and then come back and do the gig, and then I'd go back and see the Buck Owens show, and then I'd come back and do the gig.
The last night of gig at the Catacombs, this was going to be my last gig with the band. Chester was playing this C-3 Hammond organ, which was one of our big prized possessions. Apparently, we were being chased by the finance company saying there was all this money owed on it. It was like either give it back, or pay all this money. At the end of the last song of the last set, we were up on this--I can remember Richard Greene was there that night, and so was Bill Keith. We were onstage, and all of a sudden Chester just--and this stage was probably eight to ten feet off the floor, it was really high off the floor, and there was a big long dancefloor, and then this sort of bleacher seating around. At the end of our last song, while Chester kept the whole feedback thing, he just pushed the entire organ off the stage and just left it there. We ended up just walking out. So that was a very infamous ending to the C-3. I don't think there was ever a Hammond organ used in the band after that anymore. You might ask Chester that, I don't know.
The band seemed to have really departed from its original vision by the time of its last album in its original incarnation, "Bernice."
This was another song that we did when I was in the band. It was a song called "I'm White and I'm Liberal." "I"m White and I'm Liberal" was a whole thing based on James Brown and "I'm Black and I'm Proud," but it was "Say it strong, I'm white and I'm liberal." It was a whole kind of "fuck you, I'm a white guy" kind of, almost Tubes meets who else, that kind of stuff. This was sort of before all that kind of stuff was happening. Chester wrote Mickey Rat, the comic character. He's a comic book writer, and he's a really good writer, and he's got a very strong sense of humor. He's very theatrical in his interests. He loves movies. So a lot of stuff that Chester started bringing into the band, pretty much after I left. A lot of this was very high conceptual art at the time.
This particular song, "I'm White and I'm Liberal," Chester would come up on stage with a dress on and cowboy boots and cowboy hat and big hair, and you didn't know whether he was a boy or a girl at the time. The last album, he called himself Connie Crill. This was supposed to be the female version of Chester. The record label just thought it was way too far out. They thought it was pretty much bad taste to do that. That was going to be the core of that particular record, "Bernice," and it just didn't...
So a lot of the stuff that came out of that record, even Chester will tell you, he doesn't even know where half some of that stuff comes from. Some of the stuff that came out later on that record on Sony Legacy are outtakes from that particular album, which is just Solomon singing with a bunch of string sections and stuff. They don't even know whether that was really like a Kaleidoscope record or whether they were maybe thinking about doing a Solomon solo record, because it was obviously the end of the line, or they were trying to salvage what they could, or maybe the Stu Phillips thing had a big budget, and he was just spending a bunch of money so he could make some cash. We don't know, because it's all kind of supposition. But that last album, basically, was the death knell for the band, and everybody kind of went off to do their various things. Lagos I think went almost directly with John Mayall, and Lindley moved to England and started working with Terry Reid. Chester, I think that's when he started writing the comic books and everything, right about then. I was already out of there by then, of course. Jeff Kaplan died.
Oz Bock, who was in the band for a while, who was like the worst bass player of all time. It was this weird situation. After the last Kaleidoscope band broke up and it was just Kaplan, David, Lagos, and Oz Bock, who was from Spanky and Our Gang, Linda Ronstadt was looking for a band. I had been playing with her off and on for years. For some reason or another, John Boylan I think was her producer at the time, hired those four guys, me, and Buddy Emmons to be her band at the Whiskey a Go Go Buddy Emmons, he's probably the greatest steel guitar player in the world. So there was me, this band of guys that I hardly even knew that were actually the former Kaleidoscope guys, and her, and Alice Cooper was opening for us at the Whiskey a Go Go. So it was the weirdest combination. And this band did not work at all with Linda. I mean, it lasted one gig. It was the strangest group I've ever seen. But it was the Kaleidoscope. It was Kaleidoscope backing Linda Ronstadt, and it lasted a week. Lindley wasn't in that one, but everybody else of the last band was there.
How do you think the band might have influenced Jimmy Page?
I sent you that particular article where he said we were his favorite band of all time, and he saw us play at the Avalon. During "Beacon from Mars," David and I both played with violin bows. I played the bass, and used to use it to get overtones and those long notes. He was using it to do what he did on the guitar. So there were two of us playing violin bows at the same time. Now I was always under the impression that there was this bad blood between Lindley and Page because David thought that Page had ripped him off. But that's about all I know. I don't know exactly what show that Page saw. I think it was our show in San Francisco at the Avalon, which was the one I'm telling you about, because he claimed it was dancers. It would been through the "Beacon from Mars" period. It's hard for me to say. I don't know if I can clear it up by any means, but I know he was a big Kaleidoscope fan. I know that Robert Plant's a big Kaleidoscope fan. When Swansong started, Jimmy Page called me and was interested in if I had any Kaleidoscope stuff. He was actually very interested in the stuff that ultimately came out on Nesmith's label.
It's also been speculated that he picked up the idea of using a violin bow on an electric guitar from Eddie Phillips of the Creation, who was using it on records in 1966.
Maybe it's one of those things that a good idea is a good idea, and everybody's got a right to it. It might be just coincidence, or it might be somebody seeing one thing or another. I don't know who did it first. The first guy I ever saw do it was David and me, because we were both doing it at the same time. We just did it. How're you gonna make this sound this way? Well, the easiest way would be just to bow it. Why wouldn't I bow an electric bass like I could an acoustic bass? It would be easy, fine, no problem. It never even occurred to us that we were doing anything particularly unique or far out or anything. That's the whole part about it, is that a lot of the instruments we were playing, a lot of the stuff we were doing, was a lot more far out than using the violin bow on a guitar. But I think at that particular time, that was because it was a good show business technique, and it was something that people remembered. I saw that Led Zeppelin thing on TV the other night, and I actually watched them do it. I remember how David did it. The similarity almost in the way Jimmy Page moves around and does stuff to the oud was so reminiscent of the way David did it that I said oh man, it looked like he did rip him off. So maybe you just have to move that way. But I hesitate to say that...I would probably vote for Dave. I don't know about this guy in the Creation. It could be two separate guys on two separate sides of the continent just working something out.
How do you see Kaleidoscope's influence on subsequent bands?
Steve Turner from Mudhoney, I'm one of his favorite guys. He's got all my records. Why would the guy from Mudhoney think that I'm like the coolest guy? Well, he does. One of my girls used to go out with him, and she kept talking about this guy Chris. Camper Van Beethoven, they did owe a debt. They just out and out said they were, David Lowery and those guys were all big Kaleidoscope fans. The guy that was the manager has got a studio up in San Francisco. Wally is basically the son of my one of my dad's best friends. A lot of those Santa Cruz guys were big Kaleidoscope people, because Santa Cruz and Claremont were like sister cities, practically. There are so many people that went to school up there from here that there's this weird kind of Claremont-Santa Cruz connection. Those are just three obvious ones that I can think of right now.
I came to realize, especially in the last few years, since I've been getting calls from guys like you who want to find out stuff, that the lore and the music was really more important than the personalities. That's what I like about it. The fact that the music holds up, people can still listen to the music today and it still has a sense of urgency or some kind of sense of what it is. It's also dated, in some respects. But it's also not dated in other respects. It's got some stuff that's timeless about it. I think that we were the kind of band that affects the band that affects the people. I think we were just--we were a lot more effective on musicians, than we were necessarily on the populace. I think the effect of our music--it's coming out in a lot of different ways than I would have ever expected. Because it wasn't necessarily just through the records, but it was through the music being absorbed by various musicians who heard us play. When you heard us play, you never heard anything like that before. You were from England, or you were from Florida, or those kinds of places, we were weird guys, working with John Lee Hooker-type guys and those kind of guys. We'd just floor those people. They wouldn't know what the fuck was going on. Our stuff was weird.
If you looked at it juxtaposed to nowadays, Marilyn Manson's weird. We would be tame compared to Marilyn Manson or something. But at that particular time, aside from maybe Arthur Brown or something like that, and that was more theatrical than it was weird. We were weird. There weren't very many people that were as weird as us. I mean, HP Lovecraft, any of those guys, they couldn't hold a candle to us. I like that band. To put it in context of the time, we were really weird, compared to how we'd look in this day and age. It's hard to visualize when there weren't people doing weird stuff like that around. It would only be like one or two groups, as opposed to everybody trying to be weird now.
Looking back, do you think there's any way the band could have been more successful than it was?
Probably had we had an Albert Grossman. Grossman should have been our manager. Grossman would have been the perfect manager for the Kaleidoscope. Because ultimately, when we got into doing like folk festivals and Newport and that kind of stuff, that's when a band like that could really do it, because we could really work the room. We were good at the big stuff, festivals, because we could project that weird stuff across for 20,000 people outside on a Saturday afternoon drinking beer and doing acid. So I think if we'd have had a manager that could actually have kept this thing together...cause when I joined the Dirt Band, man, I always got $200 a week, and I always made sure my men got paid. We never had that in the Kaleidoscope. One of the guys who was our manager used to swipe my cough medicine because he wanted to get high. Those guys didn't know how to manage money, and I think they were probably selling drugs out of the back door too.
I really didn't have much to do with that. Mutt Cohen was our lawyer, and I didn't know anything about the music business at that time. I didn't know anything about publishing. I didn't know anything about royalties, I didn't know about any of it. I just wanted to make a record, and get paid playing music. I was just stoked to be able to do that stuff. So I think the naivete of our particular situation, even though we'd all been playing music. We'd all been playing in Disneyland, or clubs and stuff. We were making $50 a night or $100 a night or whatever we were making, so we were all just happy to get paid to play music, so I think for a long time, I think the guys that really made it out of that period were the Albert Grossman type of people.
Bill Graham was a total asshole, but he
got guys deals. So if we'd had a Bill Graham kind of guy on our
at that time, I think it would have been a whole different story.
I think we probably would have owned the fucking music business.
But we didn't have that. We had a guy that worked with Tommy
and the Shondells that didn't know fucking nothing. He and his
tried to produce our second record, and they didn't know what they were
doing. That was the thing that got me kind of disenchanted with
I was being managed by these guys that didn't have any fucking idea
what was going on. I don't know what happened after that. I
think there was actually a change in management after I left the band,
too, to some degree. But I don't even know where it went after
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