Alice Cooper was a band, and a man, that originated in Phoenix (via Detroit) featuring Vincent Furnier (vocals), Glen Buxton & Michael Bruce (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). The group’s performances are some of the first examples of overtly theatrical rock, meant to shock and excite young audiences of the 70’s. Because of their antics and stage sets that included guillotine, live snakes, baby dolls, fake blood, spiders and an electric chair, the group was banned more than once in multiple countries. In 1974 after 7 albums and countless concert dates, the group took a hiatus. Furnier legally adopted the name Alice Cooper, and embarked on a long and fruitful solo career.
His first solo record, Welcome To My Nightmare (1975), is a concept album that takes a journey through the childhood nightmares of Steven, the central character. The album, though less gritty than prior works with the full Alice Cooper band, is a classic in the rock genre, spawning a television special, international tour, and concert movie of the same name. These concerts, and the film that captures them represent a milestone in the presentation of a rock concert as a theatrical experience.
The Welcome To My Nightmare concert film, taken from a performance at Wembley Pool in September 1975 (with added footage from Shepperton Studios) was produced, directed, and choreographed by David Winters. The movie had a limited run in 1976, at which time I saw the film at a local theater outside Los Angeles and was struck by the brilliant performance, along with the rapturous audience that night. It captures the fantastic theatrical production, complete with dancers depicting skeletons, spiders, and other characters, and featuring narration by Vincent Price. In one segment Cooper decapitates and kills an 8-foot-tall Cyclops, in another he battles with giant spiders, and throughout he plays the lead showman, rocking the crowd, and even dancing in a chorus line, clad in a white tuxedo, recalling elements of Vaudeville. One of the most unique and striking set pieces of the show, designed for the song “Escape” features Cooper and four dancers appearing onto the stage by leaping out of a movie screen, and then dancing in and out of the ongoing film. The concert ends with a series of tracks that better feature his band, which includes Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter (Guitars) and Whitey Glan (Drums).
Of the many rock bands in the 70’s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. Sets and costume designs, some created by Disney studios combined to create a stunning evening of macabre entertainment.
Of their place in history, Cooper sums it up best in the documentary interview: “From the very inception of Alice Cooper [the idea] was, there are so many rock heroes, we need a rock villain. I want to be the rock villain. I want to be the personified Captain Hook of rock. I don’t want to be Peter Pan. But I wanted Alice to also … have a sense of humor. I enjoyed playing the heavy… a bizarre vaudevillian character.” Later, he adds, “We couldn’t go on stage and do a straight rock n roll show – we had to do it theatrically.” With many number one hits, awards, and a place in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Alice Cooper hit those marks and sustained a long and successful career in music.
Though the film is a bit dark, it is of high enough quality to be enjoyable, and does capture this show for posterity. The 1999 Rhino Entertainment DVD release, clocking in at 109 minutes, includes an interview and commentary track with Cooper, and a few other extras. Also of note, there is a television special called Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (1975) that preceded this film, and is itself heralded as an early example of long form video, featuring the entire album plus an additional track, and appearances by Vincent Price. The show won a Grammy award for Best Music Video, Long Form in 1984. While it was released on home video, it has not been issued on DVD. Instead, the best way to see what the commotion and controversy was all about back in 1975 is the Welcome To My Nightmare film.
For those interested in more on Alice Cooper, the band, and the man, consider picking up the brilliant documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014) which is every bit as artfully presented as his unique stage shows. It provides deep insight into the madness that created the Alice Cooper character, a persona that almost killed the man.
Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)
Executive Producer Willam Silberkleit
Producer, Director & Choreographer David Winters
Set Designer Jim Newton, Costume Designer Casey Spencer, Special Costumes Jack Shaften, Make-up Delores Wells.
This fall The Musical Box is taking their production of the Genesis tour for 1973’s Selling England By The Pound (hereafter SEBTP) to Europe once again. Also a series of these shows are booked in Canada next April 2016, including one night for them to stage the Foxtrot show. I’ve seen The Musical Box many times over the last 5 years, including Foxtrot, SEBTP, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
The performances are striking in their accuracy, transporting this viewer and those in the audience to a time long ago, when to many listeners, Genesis owned the English progressive rock mantle. The experience of seeing this band is something better than tribute. They actually recreate these shows down to the set design, including slides, costumes, and props, and very faithfully perform the live music itself, with the same interpretation the band employed during the shows from the era.
The SEBTP album and tour represent the most uniquely British, pastoral output of the band. Between the “a cappella” opening of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” to the majestic “Firth of Fifth” and melodic refrains of “The Cinema Show” this is where the band really hit their stride. The Musical Box capture the live experience deftly, and hearing the work in it’s live format, complete with visuals, and Peter’s stories, explain what all the fuss was way back in those days. It was even grand to see them wind their way through “The Battle of Epping Forest” usually dismissed by the actual members of Genesis as a bit of a mess.
I talked to one of the founders of The Musical Box and their Artistic Director, Serge Morrissette about these shows and their plans for next year and beyond:
DH: Is there anything we should know about the most current version of these shows? Are there new technologies to aid in the production, or other factors?
For this tour, there is no technical advance that comes into play – we still use old equipment – it’s like a moving museum on stage. The only thing that might change is to stage the “black” show. We’ve been doing the “white” show with the white sets behind the musicians and have done the “black” show less often. Back during the original SEBTP tour when Genesis returned to North America for a second leg of the tour the set list was the same, but they changed the sets and the background was totally black. Visually it makes a difference. The black show has some different slides, but it’s not as nice visually overall because the black curtain does not react to the lights. The white fabric reacts to the lights more effectively. I’m sure it was done on purpose in the beginning, because when they put the sets and arranged the lights over it, they realized it was nice. One example where the black show is better is during “Watcher Of The Skies” which is more dark – it’s a dark song and fits perfectly, while in the white show its like you are in the cloud! If we haven’t been to a venue in the past they usually take the white show because it’s the most spectacular visually. But if we are returning and want to make the presentation different, the black show is available, so we offer it to the promoters there.
In addition to these dates, there are going to be a lot of U.S. shows in February and March. It’s going to be a pretty extensive list of venues, which is surprising. From the beginning we always plan a year in advance. After the last tour of SEBTP/Foxtrot we were wondering if there would be demand for the show again. When the demand is shrinking we select a different tour to present. We thought we would change the shows for 2016 but this U.S. tour will be the biggest we’ve ever done. I don’t understand this phenomenon exactly because it’s the same two concerts again, but for some reason promoters want to buy it so that’s fine with us.
[Ed: in our view these shows are so fantastic and theatrical, many fans will return to see the same concert recreated again and again – just as one might a play or film. Doug saw The Lamb show three times!]
DH: Fans are aware there were occasions where Peter Gabriel was raised from the stage at the end of “Supper’s Ready.” Has Denis done that and how many times did Gabriel actually do it? [Denis Gagne is the lead singer, playing the part of Peter Gabriel]
We have done the flying effect a few times. Genesis did the effect twice, once in London and once in New York City. The thing is, to do that they wanted to do more than one night in the same place because of the installation – it was not a one-night proposition. They had to install the gear, and make sure it was working, and adjust the sets so that the wire can’t be seen. When they did London it was 5 nights – for them at the time the most important series of concerts they had done. They wanted to add something spectacular so they arranged the sets so there was nothing in the middle but a black curtain. You could not see the wire. They continued in New York City, which was also a main venue and something big for the states. It’s about the same for us – we need a stage that can support that effect, so we have done it only as a special event at a larger venue for multiple nights.
DH: I was struck by how effective the simple staging for Foxtrot was – with just a few bits of stagecraft compared to SEBTP.
It’s true. At the beginning Mike Rutherford once told me you put a white curtain on stage with some black lights, and it hides the back line equipment and creates a unique atmosphere… and it’s cheap! It’s surprisingly simple and creates a unique atmosphere.
DH: You’ve most frequently staged the Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound tours. Would you go back to Nursery Crime?
The thing about Nursery Crime is back then the show was only 45 minutes long because Genesis was typically the opening act, or featured with other bands. We would have to do a short show, or combine say Trespass and Nursery Crime so you would have songs repeated. It’s not a matter of interest but more the constraint we have on doing a complete show.
DH: Any plans to present The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway again? Did your license to do these shows expire?
We don’t have plans to do it again. We have done it a few times. On the first attempt it took two years to get the rights. It had never been done before. There are some “grand” rights – it’s a type of legal contract – developed to protect musicals, operas, things like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, etc. When you have a concept like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or Genesis’ The Lamb, it’s a story with music, and characters, and things like that. The Lamb is protected by these grand rights. You need a license for the music, which is easy, but also for the story, which is extremely difficult. You have to make agreements with multiple parties as to the value of the music, and story. After that agreement, you have the lawyers draw up a contract, etc. Subsequent tours took about a year to arrange this paperwork, mainly to adjust the terms. It has never been a matter of not allowing us to do it, just about the terms of the contract, which covers two years at a time. We might do it again but we have no plans just now.
DH: What was your involvement in using the repaired slide show for the Genesis Lamb DVD? [Ed: The Musical Box invested significant effort to re-sequence the slides for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tours, and Serge actually did the work to prepare these for the official Genesis Box Set which contains a DVD of The Lamb in 5.1 surround sound, with the slide show visuals during playback. It’s fantastic and worth the price of the whole set.]
I spent an afternoon with Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks at the farm looking at the slide show. It was in 2008 and at that time we were doing the slide show exactly as David Lawrence [original projectionist for the Lamb tour in 1975] had shown us based on his memory and also as we could see in bits of amateur film. Part way into it Tony said “let’s stop. You are replicating what we did, but it’s not what we want. We want the dissolves to come at the right time with the image” and I knew exactly what he meant. Sometimes the guys did not get the slide show right. So Tony said some sequences were wrong and I agreed to change it. I made the adjustments, and sent those back, and they agreed or gave me changes. So that was really fun – to listen to the Lamb with Mike and Tony – Mike said it had been 15 years since he heard the album. Tony had been doing the remixes, so he was more recently familiar. It was an incredible experience.
DH: The Musical Box has gone forward in time to do the Trick of the Tail tour. Have you discussed doing the Wind & Wuthering concert from 1977?
The main problem with Wind & Wuthering is being able to keep to our main objective, which is the exact recreation of the show. Trick of the Tail was pretty easy because it was basically the Lamb show with a few adjustments in terms of size, while Wind was really an arena size show – designed for a much bigger stage. It’s the main limitation; a stage like that would not fit in smaller venues, 1,000 seat theaters, and I’m not sure there would be demand to fill arenas, even though it would be fun to do it. They stopped doing slides and film for Wind because at the time they would have needed more powerful projectors for the larger screens. That’s a problem, as you need more depth, you could burn film, and things like that. That’s when they started to add more laser effects along with other changes.
DH: It was also the last time they had any staging right? There were the flowers that popped up on each side of the stage.
Exactly, after that they did the mirrors for the …And Then There Were Three tour, and after that the custom lighting and that’s another level of effort. Once I was talking to Tony Smith about the evolution of the stage at the time. He said that the reason why they had the moving lights developed is because when they did the show with the mirrors, they needed a lot of spotlight operators – it was a manual lighting effect. At that time they had to use the local union guys in each city. So at the last minute in the afternoon they had to train eight guys on spots to be able to do the show and it was a nightmare for them. So they wondered if there was a way to avoid that – something like a robot to operate the lights. They developed the moving lights after that, which was a major evolution in lighting.
We have the same problem with our tours – about half the venues don’t have a crew, so we can use ours who are trained. The other half we have to use their people – so for example we have one guy at the follow spot, and we teach the operator in the afternoon if that’s required. So for each role we have a double, and the result is not always good when it’s not our crew, though it doesn’t go wrong that often.
DH: What is The Musical Box planning next, after April? How long can you keep this up?
You know, we started back in 1993 just for fun – it was a weekend. Now it’s been 22 years, and we have never thought more than a year in advance, not because of our interest but because we have to gauge the general interest of the audience. We are going to do it as long as we can. We are lucky to have the involvement and support of Genesis. The main advantage of a production like ours is we can change musicians as we recreate the original productions. We never wanted to focus as much on the people as on the productions. Denis is very good, very disciplined and dedicated – it would be difficult to fill that key role if he stopped performing. He keeps in very good shape, and in control of his vocals, so as long as he can do that we don’t have to worry. We don’t have any plans to stop. As long as there are people who want to see it, we will continue.
DH: Make plans to catch The Musical Box this fall, or early next year. You will be happy to like what you know!
As I prepare a manuscript for my own book for next year, I’ve been doing some research on other works that cover progressive, classic and space rock music genres. There is quite a mix out there as anyone interested in music journalism knows. Most of the books I’ve found are about specific bands, such as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, Led Zeppelin and many others. My favorite of these, I Know What I Like by Armando Gallo, long time Genesis biographer was covered in an earlier article. I’ve found a few books that focus on very specific works by those bands, the most excellent of which is Tim Smolko’s Jethro Tull’s Thick and a Brick and A Passion Play: Inside Two Long Songs. Some are by photographers or artists and the best of these is Roger & Martyn Dean’s Magnetic Storm which chronicles Roger’s art and architectural design as well as Martyn’s work creating the fantastic staging Yes deployed during their early years.
Many rock music books make an attempt to cover the entire genre or specifically the progressive rock music genre and these books can be the most difficult to assemble. There is the encyclopedic The Billboard Guide to Progressive Music by Bradley Smith, Progressive Rock Reconsidered by Kevin Holm-Hudson and one that ties prog to the counterculture of the times called Rocking The Classics by Edward Mecan, among others. Often these books end up being for reference only (Billboard Guide) or a bit more academic and stuffy. The best of the books I’ve found that delve into the progressive rock genre and its practitioners is Will Romano’s Mountains Come Out of the Sky.
Romano’s book, reportedly the result of three years of effort, is an excellent, thoroughly researched document that includes interviews with the artists, essays, and vibrant color photos that include album covers, portraits of the artists and live shots. After a nice forward by Bill Bruford, the book begins with the ever-important question “What is Prog?” This is answered quite well in a short essay that includes Romano’s own position on the subject, peppered with quotes from Greg Lake (ELP), Ian McDonald & John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (Yes) and others who present a clear and simple definition. The script moves directly into a study of prog’s early history, and first practitioners including The Beatles, The Moody Blues, and Frank Zappa while charting the impact of the Mellotron and Moog keyboards on the sound of the emerging bands in the scene.
The story continues with chapters devoted to the six largest acts in the genre, starting with Pink Floyd, and continuing with King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Genesis, and Jethro Tull. Each group’s chapter is well researched and composed, including many direct quotes from Romano’s own interviews with band members, producers, engineers, and peers. The material is factual and engaging, detailing the origins of the bands, descriptions of the music and observations as to where it fits in history from today’s perspective. Follow-up chapters cover some other major bands, primarily from the 1970’s. These include groups that were part of the Canterbury scene, some who delivered a sort of Prog Folk sound, bands hailing from American, Italy and Germany, and an additional set of key acts including Camel, Gentle Giant, Marillion. Some of these chapters are lighter on content, particularly when the bands hail from outside the U.K. But Romano makes a defensible case that the birthplace and origin of progressive rock is Britain, and this focus keeps the book from becoming yet another encyclopedic reference, instead allowing him to tell the complete story of the most important acts without becoming ponderous.
Well-read prog fanatics will find bits of new information here, but more importantly, will see that the content on each band details what one must know in order to understand the act and their legacy. I have already used the book to introduce a band to someone who is not so versed, and they attain a quick understanding of the group, it’s key albums, and iconography. In this way the content will please existing and new fans alike. The book includes a bibliography and a discography that includes almost 300 titles, almost all of which I would concur belong in every collector’s library.
Special mention must be made that this volume is referred to as a “visual history” for good reason. The design by Damien Castaneda and color rendering by the printers is exceptional. There is a generous set of photos, including album cover art, band portraits and live shots. Many of these have not been seen before appearing here, and several are quite rare. These have been edited so that the book is colorful and vibrant. An occasional ribbon at the footing allows for key albums to be nicely referenced, with their cover and year of release, and there is a clever design technique overlaying bits of album cover art and labels as portals into the band’s iconography. It’s almost a coffee table book format, and worthy of its sturdy construction.
In summary this is an excellent entry in progressive rock literature. Romano makes the subject relatable, presenting the best quotes by the musicians and readable descriptions of what makes this music special, and why Britain must be considered the birthplace and primary region from which the form emerged and flourished. The choices as to who to include and who to leave for another tome are well made, so we end up with a fine set of bands and commentary. With that, and the excellent visual layout, it’s an instant favorite for this avid reader and collector.
The death of Daevid Allen earlier this year hit fans hard. Daevid was the Australian poet, composer and musician who co-founded Soft Machine and Gong, exploring the outer reaches of space rock and psychadelia to the delight of fans over the world. He was a long term friend of my editor at Gonzo weekly, Jon Downes, and of owner Rob Ayling. He was a very prolific musician both with his own projects and his contributions to other people’s work. One of those collaborators was Don Falcone of Spirits Burning who enjoyed a long association with this artist. I talked with Don about his work with Daevid over the years and the impact this renown musician made on his life.
DH: What was the first record you owned that Daevid was part of?
DF: Technically, it was “You” by Gong. It took some time for me to appreciate it, as it felt a little too produced for my tastes at that moment. What really reeled me in was the live Planet Gong “Floating Anarchy” album, which was Daevid, Gilli, and the Here & Now band. It had all the space elements you’d find with Hawkwind, but it was so different in execution. Not having experienced live Gong yet, this was my first chance to hear Daevid in a heavier, wilder, spacey environment.
DH: How did this early exposure draw you in – what did you see in his art that spoke to you?
DF: At the time of those initial listenings, I thought of Daevid as a confident vocalist, and perhaps a maestro who could assemble and lead musicians to new places. I tended to like the mix of play and intensity he brought to an ensemble, things like “Opium for the People,” and the “Black-Sheep” piece. I wasn’t quite ready for some of the quirkier moments of “You.” I’m not sure if it’s the right analogy, but where I liked Monty Python, Bonzo Dog Band, or even the Bob Calvert “Capt. Lockheed” quirks, I never connected with Frank Zappa, and something about early Gong arrangements initially hit me as more like Zappa. It took some time for me to appreciate Daevid. To be honest, it was easier for me to latch onto the solo, and more instrumental-based adventures of Tim Blake and Steve Hillage, or their work with Clearlight Symphony and Nik Turner.
Early on, I had no clue that Daevid was a master of gliss, and underrated as a guitarist on so many levels. I simply thought that most of what I heard was Steve Hillage in Gong, and Steffe Sharpstrings in Planet Gong. I knew that Daevid has some solo albums, but thought that he did acoustic guitar here and there. It’s funny what you pick up (or don’t pick up) from album covers, reviews, and so on.
It wasn’t really until he was in my home studio that I discovered how much I had been missing. Or, the moments where he performed locally, prior to those sessions, and where I got to see him in person: playing guitar, performing, putting out so much energy and passion.
DH: How did you end up collaborating with Daevid?
DF: I contacted Michael Clare and asked him for help in setting up a session with Daevid at my home studio. Daevid was probably staying at Pierce’s McDowell’s house and I either picked him up there, or dropped him off, or both… I knew that Daevid was visiting San Francisco in those days, and I thought it simply made sense to get him involved with a project that celebrated space rock.
[Michael and Pierce have since become long-time Spirits Burning bass guitar contributors, and are part of the Gong family of musicians, having played in University of Errors and Mother Gong, respectively.]
DH: What stories or anecdotes do you have for the times you worked together – his sense of humanity, of humor, or life?
One year, Daevid showed up for a session with a gift for me. A copy of Robert Calvert’s “Centigrade 232” book/cd. Daevid knew that I was a big fan of Calvert’s poetry and music. I was blown away. It was also kind of serendipitous, in that I had brought Daevid and Robert together on two pieces a few years earlier (when Robert’s wife Jill had given me a tape of the “Centigrade 232” readings, and I had recorded Daevid on the two pieces with Robert’s voice).
Another memorable moment… our first session. I had this piece called “Arc” (or “A Real Creeper”), and after Daevid finished two different gliss parts, he turned to me, and asked if I had anything in the room that he could recite for the piece. I said… well, I do have my college thesis, with a number of poems I wrote. As I played back the piece, Daevid proceeded to flip through my thesis and vocalize various lines of my poetry, interpreting them on the spot, bringing new life to them, experimenting with various ways to actualize them. It was quite amazing. One of my first experiences with Daevid’s ability to improv vocally. This was a predecessor, I guess, to his work on the Weird Biscuit Teatime album, specifically with “Beezlebabble Slush.” For that piece, he improvised vocalizations that were between pre-human and inhuman. Utterly breathtaking: Concurrently scary and inspirational. To be in the same room…
Daevid was also open to try anything. I truly admired (and appreciated) this willingness to let me lead him to a place, where he could do lyrics that I gave him, or as was often the case, where he would turn to his sheets of lyrics. There were funny moments in there too. For example, when I gave him the “Book of Luana” lyrics, and said that one part needed a manic preacher feel, he dived in. Daevid’s tall, and him stamping a foot on the ground while yelling “You can call him the preacher” shook the house here, and got our dog barking quite a bit. When we let her in, she could only look up quizzically at this giant wizard.
The mentions of Daevid as a vocalist barely scrape what he brought to Spirits Burning and other projects we worked on throughout the years. His gliss work remains heavenly, ethereal, haunting. It was always special to be in the same room, as he took the song and me to a place that I could not have imagined. He brought so much to so many SB CDs, as well as brief moments for Astralfish, Quiet Celebration, and Fireclan. But, the gliss workings were just the beginning. When we first got together, I had no idea that Daevid was so adept at guitar improv. I could not have predicted the numerous rhythms and leads that he would do over 12 SB CDs, and a couple “Weird” albums. Daevid’s parts have a way of making a song more creative, passionate, deeper. More than I could have dreamed of.
As the 2010s rolled in, Daevid no longer swooped into the bay area, and our in-person sessions ended. Daevid did continue to work with me remotely. He was using a Pro Tools system that I had helped him set up, and a mic that I had given to him in lieu of a session or two. I think he did some of his vocals for later Gong albums with that setup. I recently looked back at our emails the last few years, and there were the occasional questions about how to do something on Pro Tools. While I was always respectful of Daevid’s time and email address, it was always good to be able to help him in these adventures.
In the Spirits Burning parts that he recorded in Australia, I could see, or rather hear in the files that he sent me, a strong interest in trying to do more things with his voice. For example, on “Bring It Down,” he supplemented the lead and backing vocals with a vocal bass part, and a vocal cymbal part. Things like that.
Perhaps the final joy that Daevid brought to me, was the same joy that he first brought, more than a decade earlier. His support and belief in me as a musician. One passionate musician to another. We all need that sometimes. We’re human. In January of 2015, when Michael (Clare) and I sent Daevid the results of our months of work on the second WBT CD, Daevid responded with more than I could have expected. “you have done a fascinating job of mixing this up for me and I find myself both moved and nicely surprised….. Love to you all and thanks for your patience, your cards and your sweet caring! Huge hug.”
Shortly after, Daevid announced to the world that his time on this world was coming to an end.
DH: How do you think history will view Daevid and his important work?
It’s hard to say… it’s like asking what will be the view of 70s bands that didn’t have hits when we’re all dead and gone.
There will be digital text histories like Wikipedia. Although I do wonder what happens to the band sites that many have started when no one is left to pay for them, or the companies running them are gone…
There will be the aural histories: Various streaming services, posts on the Facebooks of today and tomorrow, and lots of collections that hopefully will get passed down or over to others. Plus, our conversations about Daevid, our ongoing dialogues.
There are also the hidden gems of Daevid’s works. For example, what he has brought to Spirits Burning. Many Daevid and Gong fans are less aware of his amazing contributions to the history of SB.
It’s in all of these histories that Daevid will rest and continue to grow.
DH: Do you have anything still “in the can” to be released of your collaborations?
For Spirits Burning, there are definitely 2-3 songs, maybe a couple more. First, the next Spirits Burning (titled “Starhawk,” and coming out Oct 30, 2015) will end with “So Strong Is Desire,” featuring a vocal duet by Daevid and my wife Karen. Daevid commented that he really liked the piece, and was kind of surprised that I wrote the piece and its words. One of my music cohorts thinks it’s the poppiest thing that Daevid’s ever done. My intent was to capture the psychedelic feel of one of those mid-70’s Hawkwind numbers with Nik Turner and others Hawks singing.
Further down the road will be two pieces on the second SB & Clearlight CD. There’s a piece that I started when I went to an Ableton Live class years ago. I sent it to Daevid and he added guitar and vocals (about a female friend of his ending up at a hospital). He even did some digital cutting and pasting to suggest a different arrangement. Actually, there are two versions that we did. One is an instrumental, which will have Cyrille and Camper Van Beethoven violinist Jonathan Segel on it. The vocal version is currently under new development. They’ll be the bookends for the album.
The big news, is that there is a successor to the Weird Biscuit Teatime album, under the name Daevid Allen Weird Quartet. On vinyl too. It’s Daevid, Michael, me, and drum duties over the album split by Trey (Sabatelli) and Paul (Sears). The album was started a few years ago, when Trey and I worked at Digidesign, and we reserved the studio for us to record in while Daevid and Michael were visiting the bay area. I had started some songs, brought them in, and Daevid, Michael, and Trey played to them. They also did a couple of jams that turned into songs. For the rest of the album, David did vocals and guitar at my home studio. The album was on hold for a few years, for various reasons. Then, in 2014, Michael and I dove back in. Michael doing missing bass parts from Hawaii, me doing new mixes and experiments here. For the pieces that still needed drums or percussion, we brought in Paul, who had worked recently with me in Spirits Burning, as well as on the 2014 Clearlight CD.
DH: What is the next Spirits Burning project?
“Starhawk,” an adaptation of Mack Maloney’s “Starhawk” novel. It’s scheduled for an October release on Gonzo Multimedia.
The starter tracks for the next Spirits Burning & Clearlight album are finished. I’m now reviewing what we have, and deciding what other instruments we need for each piece.
Then, there are a slew of SB projects in the works. I’ll be announcing them on the Spirits Burning Facebook page as they develop.
Daevid touched so many people. Literally, and sonically. He almost always would talk to people before and after shows. Sometimes even during… He was one of those few musicians who could just hang out. He made so many musician friends too, as he was willing to play with so many musicians, in so many different styles and setups. He reached so many listeners, in so many ways.
On a personal note, I feel that he gave life to Spirits Burning, in the sense that he helped get it off the ground, and bring in label interest. It’s something that I’ll always remain thankful for.
The Daevid Allen/Spirits Burning Family Sessions (as best we can remember)
Summer, 1998 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “New Worlds By Design.”
Between September, 2000 and March, 2001 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “Reflections In A Radio Shower.”
Late 2001 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “Found In Nature,” 9 songs for Weird Biscuit Teatime “DJDDAY,” 1 song for Quiet Celebration “Sequel,” and the track “Clear Audient v2.5” for the “Bay Prog CD” and its remix on daevid allen & don falcone “CD “Glissando Grooves.”
December, 2002 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “Found In Nature,” and mixing of 9 songs for Weird Biscuit Teatime “DJDDAY.”
April, 2003 (San Leandro, California; Daevid in the bay area for gig with Makoto & Cotton): 3 songs for Spirits Burning “Alien Injection,” 2 songs for Fireclan “Sunrise to Sunset,” and 6 songs for Spirits Burning “Crazy Fluid.”
November 2006 (San Bruno, California, and Digidesign Studio in Daly City, California; Daevid in the bay area for University of Errors show at the Hemlock): 4 songs for Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart “Earth Born,” plus 11 songs for the follow-up to the Weird Biscuit Teatime album (later renamed as Daevid Allen Weird Quartet).
April, 2007 (San Bruno, California): 3 songs for Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart “Bloodlines , and 11 songs for Spirits Burning “Behold The Action Man.”
May 2010 (San Bruno, California): “The Book of Luana” for Spirits Burning “Crazy Fluid,” and 2 songs for Astralfish “Far Corners.”
2011 to 2013 (remote, from Australia): “Make Believe It Real” for Hawklords “Friends and Relations,” 2 songs for Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart “Make Believe It Real,” 1 song for Spirits Burning & Clearlight “Healthy Music In Large Doses,” 1 song for Spirits Burning “Starhawk,” and 2 songs for Spirits Burning & Clearlight “Roadmaps” (future release).
Recently I wrote glowingly about one of my favorite bands, Supertramp and their recently recovered film of the Breakfast in America tour. Last year they released that stunning video Live in Paris ’79 – one of the best-filmed concerts from any rock band of the era, coming to the market 34 years after the event. It’s about to be re-released along with a CD set of the complete unedited concert. This group was led by a marriage of the uniquely talented principal members, Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies. Both founders planned tours this year, an exciting development for fans of their work.
Supertramp’s radio-friendly sound was a mix of progressive and pop – incorporating elements of rock, blues, jazz, and lots of honky-tonk piano, they balanced light and dark compositions to an exquisite blend. Joined by the accomplished John Helliwell on winds, Dougie Thomson on bass and steady drummer Bob Seibenberg, their core work from Crime of the Century (1974) to Famous Last Words (1982) brought the band increasing success. Their breakup in 1983, which ended with Rick taking over the band, and Roger taking the highway, is one of the saddest in rock history.
After a long absence from the stage, ending around 2005, Roger has been taking the songs he wrote for Supertramp out on the road, staging a continuing series of exceptional concerts, as a duo or with band, his voice and skills as a musician undiminished by time. It’s been more difficult to catch Davies, as travelling under the moniker of Supertramp has been a rarity, particularly in the states. In fact, this year Supertramp booked a series of concerts across Europe, 5 years since they were last seen live there. Unfortunately, just this week, the “Supertramp Forever” tour has been cancelled, citing health issues impacting Davies, who was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma and is fighting the disease. Davies issued this statement:
“I was really looking forward to returning to Europe and playing with the band again and I’m sorry to disappoint everyone who has overwhelmingly supported the upcoming tour. Unfortunately my current health issues have derailed me and right now I need to focus all of my energy on getting well.”
Sad news to be sure, and fans immediately took to the blogosphere to wish Rick well in his recovery. Without these shows we will also miss seeing the accomplished John Helliwell on winds and the rest of the remaining band. Most importantly, as the principal writers hew to their own songs in current shows, we will miss hearing many of Rick’s most enduring compositions, such as “Bloody Well Right”, “Asylum” and “Downstream” to name a few, along with his amazing skills as a pianist most impressively displayed on “Another Man’s Woman”.
Rick and Roger added different skills to the group – Rick a tougher edge – more cynical lyrics backed by a mean honky-tonk piano or roadhouse blues every bit as tight as Elton John. Roger more frequently displayed a gentle, spiritual personality, imploring listeners to open their minds and hearts. His vocals and accompaniment on 12 string acoustic and electric guitars as well as keyboards are stellar. The two composers, when they collaborated, when trading off ideas, alternating vocals – at times even speaking to each other within a song, created a sum that was bigger than the parts, even when they seemed to be coming from different walks of life. Witness lyrics from the bluesy ballad “Just a Normal Day,” from their under-appreciated masterpiece Crisis? What Crisis? (1975):
Rick: Well, I just feel, that every minute’s wasted, My life is unreal….
Roger: …I don’t know what to say; It just seems a normal day
By the time of their best selling release Breakfast in America (1979) Supertramp were mega stars, finally getting a #1 record in the states (#3 in the UK.) Many of the songs from that album are pure pop, and became radio staples, including the title track, “The Logical Song,” “Goodbye Stranger,” and “Take the Long Way Home.” The album also contained several deeper cuts including Roger’s “Child of Vision” – the fabulous workout for dual keys, Roger on Wurlitzer electric keyboard (a signature part of the album’s sound) and Rick on grand piano. Among other tracks, Rick wrote one of his prettiest ballads, “Casual Conversations” sporting the lyrics:
There’s no communication left between us
But is it me or you who’s to blame?
Though the details are debated, it’s clear that Rick and Roger’s union was a fractured affair. They mounted a huge international tour to support Breakfast in America – breaking attendance records at the time – and they released their first live album Paris (1980) taken from the shows at the Pavilion de Paris, 1979. This is the album and now accompanying video that will be re-released this year. The centerpiece of this concert is the one-two punch of Rick’s brilliant vocal and piano work on “Another Man’s Woman” which then leads into Roger’s “Child of Vision.” In the latter, the two play their dual keyboards in harmonic perfection, reminding all viewers that though the union was difficult, great art was created during their time together. After one more album, the aptly titled …Famous Last Words… in 1982 and the tour that followed, Roger and Rick split. The only way to catch these artists since that time has been to see one of them separately. To see Rick Davies, fans will obviously have to wait until a recovery is complete, provided he returns to the stage thereafter. If Roger comes to town, or nearby, consider going out of your way a bit even if you must travel to a concert, as his shows are highly recommended. Any live show with either of these artists is a treat but for now the newly minted Paris concert video is now the best way to see what Supertramp was about when they were still together.