If you’re a serious jazz head, you may have seen Joe Gallivan’s name in the credits of some heavy records. But even among fanatics and scholars of the music, he’s way more obscure than he should be. A drummer and synthesizer player, Gallivan was a catalyst for one of the greatest albums ever: Love Cry Want’s self-titled 1972 album. (You can read my review of it for Jazz Times here [scroll about half way down].) Recorded in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House (Nixon reputedly ordered aide H.R. Haldeman to have the concert ended prematurely for fear of rioting it might trigger), Love Cry Want didn’t see release until Newjazz.com issued it on CD, 25 years after the fact. But it deserves a place in the pantheon of molten, avant-jazz classics, along with Miles Davis’s On the Corner, Dark Magus, and Get Up With It, Herbie Hancock’s Sextant, Tony Williams Lifetime’s first three albums, and the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra LPs.
Despite being on that level of innovation, Love Cry Want—who featured the phenomenal keyboardist Larry Young, guitarist Nicholas, and drummer Jimmy Molneiri (all of whom are now dead)—have faded into a netherzone of cult status. The Weird Forest label reissued Love Cry Want on vinyl in 2010, but even that didn’t seem to generate much wider interest in the group. There are currently five copies on Discogs selling for $30 and higher.
Besides Love Cry Want, Gallivan has had a long, brilliant musical career, especially his collaborations with saxophonist/flautist/English horn player Charles Austin in the ’70s and ’80s. Their 1977 album Expression to the Winds—which came out on the tiny Miami label Spitball—is a true lost classic: a spacey jazz opus that's at once intimate and immense, tranquil and disorienting. Although the two musicians at times sound like a chamber orchestra version of Sun Ra's Arkestra, or Eric Dolphy circa Out to Lunch on strong hallucinogens, or even the Taj Mahal recordings of New Age flautist Paul Horn, this album is pretty much in its own lane.
Unfortunately, Expression to the Winds is long out of print and unlikely to get a reissue any time soon. The same can be said for nearly all of Gallivan's releases, and this hard-luck situation recurs throughout our conversation. Because even though he's played with some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century onstage and in the studio and flirted with greater exposure over the decades, Joe Gallivan invariably has encountered setbacks and hardships in his dealings with the music industry—of which much more later. That being said, he was one of the first musicians to test Robert Moog's prototype drum synthesizer—along with ELP's Carl Palmer. He still uses the Moog Drum to this day.
Gallivan underwent open heart surgery on Sept 28, 2015 and has just returned to live music circuit in March, when we did this interview. In April he headed to Europe—as he does regularly—to tour, even though he's a septuagenarian. His partner, the author/artist/musician Alicia Bay Laurel (she published the popular back-to-the-land manual Living on the Earth in 1970), instructed me to call Gallivan after noon, as she's a late riser. As it turns out, when I reached him, he'd just woken up, but he quickly shifted into raconteur mode and was going strong for nearly two hours. We covered a lot of ground, including his current musical activities, his work with the incredible electronic-jazz outfit Powerfield (so obscure they have no videos on YouTube), his brilliant and cursed Love Cry Want band mates, the fucked-up nature of the music business, Igor Stravinsky hyping them to a major label, playing music for the Mafia, and other things. This interview is very long, but there are no others with Gallivan on the net. Consider it (over)due diligence for a musician who's dwelled for far too long in obscurity.
The Stranger: When I listen to Expression to the Winds, it sounds like if the Sun Ra Arkestra were condensed into a duo format. It has a really incredible use of space and dynamics, but with a smaller palette of sounds. Despite this limitation, it’s just as interesting what you do with just two people.
Joe Gallivan: Thanks. I think it’s a good representation of what we did. But we didn’t get much of a look. We were around for years, but we always got slighted. I thought we had it together, but I just kept waiting and waiting and sooner or later somebody’s going to figure it out. But evidently not. [laughs]
What were your aims with Expression to the Winds and the other records you did with Charles Austin? Was it all improvised or did you compose those pieces?
Improvised, yes, but Charles and I played a year and a half every day before we made the record. We made a record in Miami that was all acoustic, then when I got electric... I mean, we played every day. This friend of mine who just died, Stan Goldstein, had a key to Criteria Recording Studios; he worked there as an engineer. We were able to go in there every day and rehearse. We also rehearsed at the school where Charles was teaching. His students would leave at 3 in the afternoon and go out one door and we'd come in the other. We'd rehearse till 6:30 and then jump in our cars and go home and change, then go to our night gig. I was working with a piano trio and Charles was working with a quartet. We did that for a long time, playing every day.
So we had our sound pretty well developed before we entered the studio. We actually wrote it down; it was a little book that Charles made. I don't have one now. We basically described how we were playing and what are thoughts were about things. Some of it was about intervals, things like that. We would play a piece and record it. Of course, in those days, recording was not easy. We had reel to reel. So we'd record a piece and listen back and criticize it. It was a lot of work. It was all new for everybody then, free improvisation. We were different, though. There was a core of people in Miami who were different. It wasn’t the same as Chicago or New York.
But we were ignored. People thought, “Miami? What could happen there?” Actually, a lot happened. I mean, I wanted to be in New York, but music was happening in Miami in the ’60s. There was a lot of musical experimentation. But it was only about six or seven people. As a musician, you were able to work six, seven days a week. We were able to support ourselves playing music—maybe not in a grand style. The advantage we had then, we used to do five- or six-hour gigs, seven nights a week. We used to play every day. Now people don’t get together. Everything is thrown together. You have agents putting together bands. They don’t sound good. I’ve heard some bands of famous guys and they sound terrible. They don’t have any direction. I’ve done a few of them and it’s not good musically. I’ve traveled to Europe and Japan and everything. People get together and play the same old same old. There’s no time to create anything.
One time I flew from Maui to Madrid and got off the plane, played for an hour and 15 minutes, got on the plane and flew back. That’s not the way to work. When you’re in the company of people and you start working out ideas and things… I won’t take a lot of gigs because I know the music won’t be good. But if you want to come out to my house [in Phoenix] where I have my gear set up, and play, I’ll play. But don’t expect me to work a gig unless I think the music’s gonna be good. It was the same with Ornette [Coleman]. Ornette played with a lot of people… at his house. Just because he’d play with you at his house doesn’t mean he’d take you out on a gig. He’d play at his house with you for eight hours. Same with me. I like to play, but you don’t want to drop your pants in public, you know? If I go out to play, I want it to be good.
Who’s in your band now?
Ideally, in Europe, I work with bassist Paul Rogers and violinist Anupriya Deotale, who lives in New Delhi. My main partner was Charles Austin, and now he’s in assisted living. He has dementia. He’s basically locked up, which is terrible. Things happened in his life and he just sort of withdrew.
There are a few people I like working duets with, like Evan Parker (though I don’t work much with him). Before I got sick, I worked with Angelica Sanchez. I played drums and synthesizer with her. I’m looking for the next person. With Charles being basically gone, I can play solo gigs on Moog. On my website there are a couple of solo pieces where I’m playing solo synthesizer. It’s not ideal; I like to play with other people. I have people I play with in London. We were also talking about putting together a big band again, Soldiers of the Road, before I got sick. Everything fell on the floor.
Do you ever play with [British avant-garde guitarist] Gary Smith anymore?
I would, but nothing’s come in. I like playing with him. I like the duo record we made and also the Powerfield album with Gary and Pat Thomas. There was an agent in New York who tried to sell the band and people were afraid of it. It was too different for them.
Even in New York they couldn’t handle that?
In New York and even in Europe, people were afraid. It was too intense for them. The agent apologized to me. He said, "I don’t understand." He liked what we did. I liked what we did on [Field Recordings] more than the first record [Electronic Electric Electronic]. We’d been playing together for a while. Somehow nothing happened with that record. It only got reviewed one time. Maybe there’s some bad karma connected with that because we recorded it for this guy in Europe, Trevor Manwaring [Paratactile boss], and he died [in 2004 of cancer]. It went really south. It’s too bad. Gary and I ended up paying for the date. We never recovered from that. Another guy put it out and never paid us. We threatened to sue him. Trevor put Gary and me together. I didn’t know Gary. I brought in Pat Thomas for Powerfield.
Things are always different. It’s a funny thing with people. They say we want something different but we want it to be familiar. I mean, how do you do that?
It’s a paradox.
Yeah. I’m not sure how you cope with that. And they want to compare it to something. Well, most of the things I do don’t compare. I did a record called Innocence with a big group. This guy with [a publication whose name I couldn't decipher] said it sounds like London Jazz Composer Orchestra. I said, "Really? I haven’t heard them. How could it sound like that?" People want to identify and compare. I had to listen to the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra to find out what he was talking about. Evan Parker and Paul Rutherford were actually in LJCO, but other than that, they didn’t have much in common. There are only so many musicians in the world—so many good ones, anyway.
I’ve been marching outside of the mainstream. But I don’t think what I do is so weird that it’s not logical musically. There’s a firm musical basis for what we do. We’re not anything-goes kind of thing. With Charles Austin, people were saying it’s too different. I don’t understand that. I thought that was the idea.
You’ve made a lot of amazing music in your life. Can you express what the guiding principles behind it have been? Any philosophy that would apply to how your music ended up the way it did?
Obviously it has form, content, it has an emotional quality to it, it’s creative, new, something that’s personal. Sometimes it happens with people spontaneously. Sometimes you get together with somebody and you click right away. In general, it’s the other way around. The best music is with people who play together often. I like to work with the same people. There are certain people I feel confident we can actually make something. You take a band like Duke Ellington’s. Those guys played forever. They were together since the late '20s, early '30s, a lot of them. Ellington wrote for the guys in the band. To me they were the first avant-garde band. They changed with the times. You don’t have that anymore because it’s a matter of economics.
People call me. "We’re gonna do this gig over here. Wanna do it?" My usual answer is no, because we haven’t played together, we haven’t rehearsed. I don’t want to be that old guy talking about younger guys, but because they don’t play very much, they don’t know how to develop music. That takes a long time… unless some people have got it more than others. I don’t think people know. They’ve all gone to music schools and are being taught by people who don’t know how to develop music, either. They play a head and then do some doodling. That’s not it. You have to develop music.
If you study composition, you’ll realize how to develop music. Big pieces of art aren’t just a million ideas. Sometimes, yes. Powerfield is a contradiction in a way.
Take a piece like Rite of Spring. It’s built on a very small amount of material. Music is developed. It’s not just this, that, and everything else. Charles stayed on point with music. That’s why I liked to work with him. He brought all kinds of new stuff. There wasn’t a gig we did that he didn’t bring something new. Even so-called free improvisation, you make your commitment to the music and you play that. You just don’t play everything you ever knew in one piece. When you start to play, you have to have something you can work with and use that with the person or persons you’re playing with to make something.
I’m gonna get in trouble right now. There’s so much so-called free, improvised music around now. It all sounds the same. The pieces go on forever. And they’re all saying, "Aren’t we great?" And the answer is, "Probably not." In England they call this style "squeaky bonk." Start out slowly, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Now, avant-garde has become a style. But it can’t be avant-garde if it’s a style. It’s like a club. It’s not a creative act. What are you bringing new to the music? I get sucked into this sometimes. It’s very unsatisfying, musically. People want to get together and do this so-called avant-garde playing. I heard something about people in Montreal playing and it was this year’s version of what happened in the East Village in the ’60s, but done by young white people. We all heard that before.
Love Cry Want was original. The stuff with Charles was original. I did a concert with Evan Parker in the ’70s. the French newspapers wrote “Beyond the Avant-Garde.” That’s all very nice, but no one called us to say, “Can you bring this music for us to hear?” There was a reporter there from TIME or Newsweek. He loved the music and wrote about it, but we got bumped out of the magazine by Bruce Springsteen's latest record. We thought we were gonna get a write-up in TIME. Very few people in the states were hip to Evan at that time. But it didn't happen.
There's this thing called the music industry, which was kind of a no-prisoners concept. The industry ate everything it could. People ask, “Are you in the music business?” I say, “Oh no. I'm in music.”
You're the classic outsider, it seems like.
That's it. It was never a business for me. Obviously, I get paid to work, but it's never a business. I have to work for money sometimes, but it's not a business—it's art. People always tell me to make compromises. “Can you play something we can dance to?” Irving Mills took credit for cowriting songs for the Duke Ellington Band. He didn't write any music. He was just a parasite. He asked Charles if we could put a beat to our music. What language is that? People told us all kinds of things.
CBS said they were going to do stuff with us. They didn't do anything. We got recommended to CBS by Stravinsky. Charles and I were at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami for something. Communities were still somewhat segregated then in Miami [1966-67]. Charles saw a guy he knew from a club where we used to play occasionally. Charles asked him what he was doing there. He said he was driving this Russian guy. Charles asked who it was. Stravinsky. I said, “Do you think we could speak to him?” The manager said they could speak to Stravinsky. They went up to his suite he was sharing with the conductor Robert Craft. Stravinsky asked them if he could hear their music. We had a reel-to-reel in Charles's car. We played him this long tape of our music. He said, “How can you do this in Miami? It's amazing. Do you have anymore?” He listened to two reels of our music! And then he wrote a letter to CBS about us. We're thinking we got it made! We've got Stravinsky on our side.
So Charles goes up to New York to meet CBS. They said they wanted to do something with us and would have Dick Myers be our producer. They asked if we were interested in electronic music and Charles said that I was. They said, “We'll get you a Moog synthesizer.” He came back to Miami and said it looks like it's going to happen. We never heard from them again.
It got funnier. I moved to New York in '69 from Miami. I was trying to figure out how to get over. We could've stayed in Miami forever and never gone anywhere. I'm in bed at 9 in the morning with my girlfriend. The phone rings in the hotel. We're staying in a hotel, $35 a week. You can't get through the door for $35 now. It was John McLure's secretary. He was the head of Masterworks at CBS. John wants to know if you can come over right away. I'm in bed. I can throw on some clothes and come over. I said, “What's this about?” He wants to talk to you. I go over there; it was a few blocks away from the hotel. I walked past Moondog, which was always great. I go up to John McLure's office and he said, “I'm thinking about doing an electronic-rock album.” I said, “That's great.” He said, “It's between you, Bernard Purdie, and Herb Lovelle to do the album.” I said, “If it's rock, I'd hire Bernard Purdie and Herb Lovelle before I'd hire me. That's what they do; that's not what I do. But if it's electronic, then I'd hire me, because they don't do that.” Basically, he wanted me to ghostwrite this album. I said, “I'm not really interested in having somebody else put their name to my music.” He said, “We'll pay you very well.” I said, “I don't care. If you don't mind, I want to go back to bed. This is going nowhere. I can’t give away my stuff like that.”
It was early days with electronics. I had something that nobody else had. Not too many people wanted it, but at least I had something that was different. That’s the music business for you. I’ve lost agents because they wanted to change what you do. You can’t just throw people together. Of course, they would not be happy with what they got. Everything would change if they were happy.
Music is a sacred experience. For me, it’s always been a gift. I’ve played with some incredible people—not necessarily the same type of music that I play, ordinarily. One summer I worked with Duke Pearson and Pepper Adams and Johnny Coles. What an experience! I lived with Duke Pearson in New York in the early '60s. we used to play all day, Duke and I and Coles and Dave Sibley, a bass player from Atlanta. We used to get up and start playing. 6 o’clock the next morning, we’d still be playing. People don’t do that anymore. Then, you could put a band together because everybody played together so much. They all knew how to play music. Pepper was a beautiful soul.
It was horrible in some ways. Segregation was a nightmare, but the musicians themselves were very soulful. There was no limit to what they did. Everybody was just getting by and playing. Nobody was really working a day job.
I had this big band in New York in the early '60s. I went to New York in '58; I was hovering between New York and Miami into the early '60s. I got involved with Charles and I sort of stayed in Miami until the beginning of 69. I had this music for 10 brass, bass, drums, and saxophone, and I ended up doing it with Al Byrd for a while. I called Eric Dolphy and he told me, “No problem. I'll be there. Tell me the time.” I said, “3 o'clock on Monday,” and he was there. Even though I was young and could write a book of things I didn't know then, people were into music.
I had a band in New York that was incredible, in the '60s. Nobody gives a shit. It was another CBS experience. I made an acetate and gave it to Teo Macero. I put a little piece of tape on it, so if he listened to it, he would have to break the tape. So I give it to him and after a few months I call him. “Did you listen to it?” “Yeah. It's not the kind of thing we're interested in.” “Can I pick up the acetate?” They were valuable in those days. It was expensive to get an acetate made. So I went to pick up the acetate at CBS. He had not even listened to it!
In the band I had Byrd, John Coles, Don Ellis, Eddie Bert, Jimmy Knepper, Julius Watkins, Eric Dolphy, Pepper Adams. The band was great. The music business missed an opportunity. We auditioned for this guy, a producer of sorts. He still owes me money from something else. He sold my record for like three different times. Two times he didn't tell me; I found out later. His name will come to me as soon as I get off the phone.
We changed the band a little bit and for the audition we had Herbie Hancock on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams. If you had a record of this band now, you'd probably sell a million copies. But he gave us the short shrift. The band fell apart when we were supposed to sign with Warwick and two weeks before the date, Warwick went out of business, so we never did the date. It was kind of tragic. I had all the music recopied. I spent my last $700 having all the music recopied. So I didn't have any money and we had no date. So I ended up having to take a job playing with somebody else. That band fell through. I worked my way back to Miami.
How did Love Cry Want come together? It's one of the greatest albums I've ever heard.
Larry Young had come to Florida. Charles was subbing in Lionel Hampton's band in Miami and Larry was playing with the band. So I met Larry through Charles. There was a club on 71st Street and Broadway whose name escapes me. Larry was playing there with Tony Williams Lifetime. So I went up there to hear them. Larry came off the bandstand and we started talking. He said, “I'm working next Friday with this guitar player from Washington DC. Do you want to make the gig?” I said sure. So I went to Washington and we ended up doing all these jazz-in-the-park gigs over two weeks, with this guitar player Nicholas. He's another story. That became the band we worked with. Some gigs we added Jimmy Molneiri on drums, whom I loved to play with and was a great guy.
These are three tragic guys. Jimmy Molneiri, according to the people who saw it, was thrown off the roof of a building in the Bronx because the police thought he was a drug dealer. In those times, the police's idea of dealing with drug dealers was they used to throw them off of buildings. What verified that was, the brother of a friend of mine was a policeman and I heard him say that. I would've protested, but my jaw hit my shoe tops. I couldn't believe it. They were saying the judges won't send these guys to prison, so we're throwing them off the roofs. Holy shit! This is bizarre!
Larry froze to death on his parents' doorstep. [Stephen] Nicholas intentionally drank himself to death. I'm the only one still alive from [Love Cry Want]. Nicholas was an amazing character. Not so much a nice guy. I mean, he was very personable, but he also did some very nasty things. Everybody got screwed up by this guy. At that time, he was a lot of fun and was good to play with, but as he got older, he got meaner. He was a very talented guy. He could write, he could draw, he could paint. But he was also kind of a criminal con man. He also has a son who's a chiropractor, who's a nice guy, but he suffered because of his father. I don't mean he hurt him; just that his father was a non-attentive person. He was all about himself. But he was incredibly talented.
I was living in London. Nicholas called me and said, “I've got this wonderful situation in DC. Can you do it?” I said, “I don't know. I'm very entrenched in the London scene.” He said, “Come over and check it out.” It just so happened I was going to take off the next couple of weeks and visit my mother in Florida. I told him I'd stop by in DC and hang out for a couple of days. So I go to DC and he wanted the bass player Tony Mort to play, but we were playing together. Nicholas is telling me all these great things and it turns out he's got a gig in a pizza restaurant! He said, “All these people are interested in us.” I said, “I don't care.”
When I got to Nicholas's house in Washington, I called the Ludwig drum company. I said, “I may be playing in the states. Can you loan me a set of drums?” I had done a movie with Charles called Bird Now for a company in Belgium. My friend David Aaronson was one of the writers for the movie.
They asked us to play for the film, so we did it as a trio with this bass player from New York, Santi Debriano. Ludwig helped me out with a set of drums. A day or two later, I told Nicholas I'm not doing the pizza parlor gig. If you get a real gig, I'll do it. So I went to visit my mother and went back to London.
In the meantime, this guy Nicholas calls Ludwig drum company and says we have a gig in two weeks. Can you send a set of drums for Joe? So Ludwig sends the drums to him and he sells them! And Ludwig was after me, then, asking where's our drums? I don't know; what drums? It ruined the relationship I had with Ludwig. I don't blame them. They thought I was the villain.
I loved Larry. He was a really good person. But he overindulged in some things. He passed out on his parents' doorstep and froze to death. It was one of the saddest stories. What's even worse, they had a private event at CBS studio. A lot of people were there. John McLaughlin. Dexter Gordon played with his quartet. Joe Chambers played solo piano. It was organized by his then-manager, who was not the most wonderful person in the world.
Larry Young was a good man and nobody could play like him. He was the best. With Love Cry Want, he really opened up. It was thrilling. I’ll tell you how good Larry was. We played the Atlantic City Pop Festival. We got there and there was no Hammond organ. There was a Farfisa. Remember them? I said I guess we’re gonna go home. Larry said, no, we’ll play. We did almost a three-hour set and Larry was amazing, on this little piece of junk! That concert was one of the best we ever played. It was Nicholas, Larry, and I. It was a funny date because Larry and I got dosed with LSD after the gig. A guy came around with this big thing of water and we were dehydrated. We drank some water out of this jug and it was loaded with LSD. I don’t know what happened to us. 24 hours later we’re on the boardwalk of Atlantic City holding hands. We didn’t lose each other, because we were out there. We didn’t even know 24 hours had passed. We were the two biggest guys in Atlantic City: Larry was 6’7” and 300 pounds, I’m 6’4”. And we’re holding hands for dear life. We don’t know what the hell is going on. Larry went, “BOING!” and I said, “Yeah.”
We were starting to come down. I told Larry that we’d better get back to the hotel. We found our way back. Larry was a Muslim, so he got on the floor and started to pray. I said, “Larry, you’re facing the wrong way. Mecca’s the other way.” He said, “Thanks, man.” So then we went to bed and when we got up, the promoters had left town. We hadn't gotten paid. He and I and Nicholas and two roadies who used to carry our gear around in a Star Trek truck. So everybody put their money together and there was enough to drive the truck back to DC. Larry and I had enough to buy bus tickets back to New York. It's nice to go back to your house after four or five days and say, “I don't have any money.”
In the meantime, the Star Trek truck gets two flat tires and they don't have enough money to buy tires. Being resourceful, Nicholas, who was of Greek descent, goes into a Greek restaurant and says, “I'm Greek and I have two flat tires.” He then goes around from table to table and gets enough money to buy the tires.
There were no credit cards for people like us. Phil Collins had a credit card; I didn't.
Last time I saw Larry, I was in New York and it was a few hours before I was gonna leave. He says, “Where are you?” I was in a restaurant with this lady in Soho near Spring Street, not far from where Ornette had a place. Larry said, “Don't move; I'll be right there.” So Larry dropped everything he was doing and drove me to the airport, Newark to Kennedy. He had a heart.
We did many movies together. [“Movies” in Gallivan's parlance seems to mean strange adventures.] It was never a normal gig, but you had to love it. We went late to this gig in New Haven in '72. We were an hour and a half late. I don't know what happened. Larry wasn't very good at putting things together. If he was organizing something, you knew it was going to be a movie. People were leaving this big auditorium and Larry jumps out of the car and tells the people to go back inside. So the people go back inside and we went in and played. Nicholas didn't play that gig; James Blood Ulmer did. He was kind of a waste of time. He was totally useless. We had a physical altercation after the gig. I said, “What the hell were you doing?!” I don't get angry very often, but he basically pantomimed the gig. It was my only time working with him. I never want to see him again. He didn't do his job. It's not like we were playing bad. We were playing fine. But basically it was a duo gig with a guitar pantomime. It was strange. At one point I stopped playing and saw [Ulmer's] fingers moving but couldn't hear anything. So I walked over to his amplifier and nothing was coming out. You think you've seen it all and then you see something like this and you go, “I don't believe this guy.”
What can you tell me about the creation of the Love Cry Want album?
It was just a normal band. We did all these gigs in parks. I've talked to people who were at that gig in DC across the street from the White House. The guy who runs Cuneiform Records was at that gig. Eventually, they turned off the power. Nixon didn't like the sound of the band. He professed to be a piano player, but in reality we were too crazy for him.
Love Cry Want got together because Larry brought me to Nicholas and Jimmy Molneiri. Jimmy had such a tragic end. He was very nice and I really liked to play with him. There are only a couple of drummers I really like playing with. There was an Argentinean guy, Jose Cigno, who worked with Ira Sullivan. It's a funny thing: When you play drums, you hardly ever play with other drummers in a band. Most of the gigs we did were as a trio, but we did some gigs with Jimmy as a quartet. He was a fine person. He was from Puerto Rico and kind of lived rough. He could play like crazy. We could play really well together. Love Cry Want did a lot of funny gigs. Every gig was an adventure. For a while, Larry and Nicholas would wear these robes. Sometimes I'd wear my Wilson Pickett outfit.
I worked with Wilson Pickett. I didn't really want to do the gig, but he called me and said he was stuck for a drummer and he kept calling me and I kept saying no. Finally I agreed to do a gig with him. He had a bus that was parked in front of the hotel. We went to New Haven and did this gig that was quite strenuous. He didn't tell me that there were five acts before us. We're playing a big armory, an auditorium, like 10,000 people. I asked Wilson what I should wear. He said wear what you normally wear. So I get there and the whole band's wearing black suits with pink shirts and black ties. I was wearing these red- and white-striped pants with and a blue shirt with white stars. It was hippie days. We didn't think twice about wearing clothes like that. Then I thought, “I look a little different here.” So that was my Wilson Pickett outfit. Now I don't think I'd wear that anywhere—especially here in Phoenix. People have confederate flags on the back of trucks. I can't wait to get out of here. We've been trying to move for a couple of years. Problem is, Alicia fell in 2014 and was in a wheelchair for the good part of a year. Last year, she was in Japan and when she came back I ended up in the hospital. So we're still trying to move out of here.
This was supposed to be only our warehouse, not our house. She has a whole bunch of guitars and I've got drums and synthesizers. I have six Moogs. I'm a person who traveled all over Europe with a set of drums in a duffel bag. My whole life, I never had more stuff than this. Then I got into synthesizers. Moog stopped making the drums and synthesizers I use. I started getting more in case something would break or get stolen, I would have gear to work with. These are things you can't buy in a store. So I ended up with all this gear, which is so against my way of living. We have his and her sound systems and a piano in our warehouse.
I work in Phoenix occasionally with a piano trio—piano, bass, and drums. It's not the style of music I normally play but they're the best two players here that I've found. I prefer to work with the best players as opposed to playing with people who are not that great.
Is it true you were one of the musicians chosen to test the Moog drums?
I got one of the first ones. Moog made two. They gave one to Carl Palmer [of ELP, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster, Asia] and I got the other one. Moog and I had some interchange about the drum, but Palmer, what was he gonna do with it. He’s kind of a rock guy. He got it because he was playing with Keith Emerson, who was a big Moog guy.
Moog was selling them for $2500, which I didn’t have. But somebody sold one through the Village Voice for $900, which I did have. I was playing the keyboard for a couple of years. Bob Moses came over and told me about this drum Moog was making. So I called up Moog and he sent me one. I’ve been playing it ever since.
What do you like about it, compared to more traditional drums?
The pitch possibilities are greater. Have you seen the Moog movie?
Not all the way through.
In the movie, two things stood out. One, he talks about the spirituality of the circuit board. That floored me, even though I knew he was a spiritual guy. Moog heard me play in New York shortly before he died, and he enjoyed it a lot. I played with Graham Haynes. In the movie, Moog said he originally didn’t want to put a keyboard on the synthesizer. His friend convinced him he could never sell it to anybody unless he put a keyboard on it. He reluctantly put a keyboard on his synthesizer. The drum opens up the synthesizer to different things. Because you play drums doesn’t mean you can play a Moog drum. It’s just another kind of trigger. It has incredible range. It’s become part of my way of expressing myself. It’s taken a long time. I would play hours trying to figure out how to play it. There are plenty of books about how to play the saxophone or the guitar or the piano, but there are no books about the synthesizer… well, a few, but they’re mostly crap. It was like inventing a whole new vocabulary for yourself to work with. That’s what I liked about it. At the time, Jan Hammer was playing a Moog. He’s quite good, and actually a pretty good drummer, too. He was playing the keyboard; I don’t play the keyboard as well as he does. I had to find my own way. I believe in using instruments in your own personal way. I worked out my own way of music with the synthesizer because it was a new instrument. It changes still, all the time. Some of the new videos on my website are different from anything I’ve done. They’re kind of orchestral and a lot of long notes. With me, the whole idea is change.
One thing I got from Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, even though it was very controversial, it was a very successful piece in getting him over. But he never wrote another piece like Rite of Spring. Every piece he did was very different, very personal. That’s what I try to do with my records. I try not to make the same record over again. So many people make the same record. Playing different tunes, but if you play the same and have the same concept, you still have the same record; it’s just one long record.
Did you get any money from the Weird Forest vinyl reissue of Love Cry Want?
Originally I got a good deal. I got an advance. The guy was very nice. But he sold the company and the other guy refuses to pay. I’m not of an age now where I can go to his house and beat the crap out of him. Twenty or 30 years ago, it would’ve been my pleasure. I can’t do that now. I just had heart surgery. I can’t hold him upside down and shake him till the money falls out. Those days are past for me. I wanna try to deal with honest people.
This business has always been people not paying you. Even recently I went to Europe to do six or seven gigs. When I got there, there were only five. They don’t bother to tell you one guy canceled. And, “oh, we had this added expense.” People fiddling with the money—it’s always been like that. Are you surprised? Yes and no. But it’s been almost a constant. At the same time, you’re surprised that people, when so little money’s involved, people are so greedy. Also, the fact that people don’t think that we live… I live in a house, I eat food. Somebody has to pay for that stuff.
You could get called for a free gig every day of the week. This is in Hawaii. This is a benefit for the Girl Scouts, we have a benefit for this and that. My thing is, [music] is all I have to sell. It’s not like I got a job in Walmart. I will do benefits for other musicians, but I had to draw the line. Even Greenpeace fucked us about, treated us like idiots. I’ve been screwed so many times, I don’t need one more. Especially these days, people don’t understand that music is our job. People will call you to do a gig in Hong Kong for $20 and a couple of doughnuts or something. One of my students called me and said he was playing a doughnut shop for all the doughnuts he could eat. I said, “Maybe you should reconsider that.” How many doughnuts can one person eat? It’s turned into zoo world.
I must say, it was better working for the Mafia than it is for people these days. All these so-called normal people don’t have any concept about paying musicians. With the Mafia guys, your money would be there at the end of the week.
Wait, you played for the Mafia?
That’s all I did, from age 15 to 30. When I was 15, I worked with these two junkies in this bar on Northwest 7th Avenue in Miami. My mother would go to bed at 9 o’clock and I would leave the house and play from 10:30 to 4:30. She never figured out that I had a job. On the breaks, the junkies would go to the trailer camp, which was around the corner from the club, and shoot up. I’m 15 years old. I hardly have grown-up clothes. And I’m seeing this every night. But I wanted to play. I knew I wanted to do this. That was my opportunity. I learned a lot. I knew more tunes when I was 15 than most young guys know now. I wouldn’t say I was the greatest of the greatest, but I knew something. But the money was always there with these guys. I only had one instance where they only paid us half—some evil guys in Brooklyn.
I’ll tell you one story about Mafia guys. I worked this gig in Miami at Dream Bar. The so-called villains were running it, but they were cool. We had a band room. We go down to the band room on the break. We write music or hang out or whatever. We’d walk in and say good evening to the Mafia guys and go up to play. Then we’d come back down, say good night, and leave. We hardly had any conversations with them. But at the end of the week the money would be there. You wouldn’t have to wait an hour and a half for somebody to find the money.
So I was playing there one night and one of them said, “Hey, kid, come here. You’re a smart guy.” How do you answer that? “You went to college, right?” “I’m actually going to college now.” He said, “I gotta problem. My kid wants me to help her with her algebra homework and I don’t know no algebra. Can you teach me algebra?” I said, “What?” “I need to know algebra.” So we had 45 minutes onstage and 45 minutes off. On our breaks, the bass player and I taught this guy algebra. Afterward he said [gruff voice], “I really appreciate what you guys did for me. If you ever need a job, you come to me. I don’t care who’s here, I’ll give you the job.” I said, “Thanks.” Only one problem: Two years later somebody shot him. I thought that was my safety blanket. He was actually a good guy. I don’t know how many people he killed in his life… but he was nice to me. So I taught the Mafia algebra.