Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Love interviews, Johnny Echols and Michael Stuart-Ware, part one

Love: From Da Capo, To Forever Changes
Part one
interviews and introduction by Daniel Coston
Originally published in the Big Takeover Magazine, summer 2012 issue

For many years, much has been discussed and dissected about the essential 1960s group Love, and their leader, Arthur Lee. For all of the stories and myths that still get tossed in the air, what is absolutely concrete about their story is their albums. What started as an excellent garage-rock leaning quintet on their 1965 self-titled debut, quickly grew and changed into something else entirely. Their following album, 1967's Da Capo, flung open the doors of jazz and rock fusion, while still burning brightly with the garage rock classic "Seven & Seven Is." But by 1968, all of that had changed again, and had dovetailed into one of the best albums of the 1960s, Forever Changes.

While Lee carried the Love name until his death in 2006, it was that original lineup of Lee, guitarist Bryan MacLean, guitarist Johnny Echols, bassist Ken Forssi, and drummer Snoppy Pfisterer (later replaced by Michael Stuart-Ware on Da Capo, and Forever Changes), that remains the favorite of many fans. Every member of the group contributed something unique to the music on these albums, which we'll be focusing on for this story.

Johnny Echols and Michael Stuart-Ware take us through the creation of Da Capo, and the sometimes complicated road to Forever Changes.

BT: How did Michael and Tjay come to join the band?

Johnny Echols: I had played with Tjay at the Sea Witch, (a local night spot) and we had become good friends. So when we decided to change directions on Da Capo, he was our first choice, he fit right in.

Michael Stuart-Ware: I was playing drums with the Sons of Adam.  We were the house band at the new Gazzarri's on Sunset, but occasionally on our night off (Tuesday) we visited other clubs.  Like maybe over to Ciro's to catch The Byrds, or over to The Trip to catch Donovan. The clientele at Gazzarri's was the elite of Hollywood, actors and directors and other rich people with a lot of money to blow.  Fancy place Gazzarri's was, with neon lights and crystal chandeliers and a red velvet staircase and a car parking crew that wore red vests and black slacks.

Bido Litos was unlike any of the other clubs in Hollywood. It was old school.  A beatnik-era club that had been "The Gaslight" back in the older days, Lenny Bruce had done stand-up, and shot smack in the bathroom there. An old red brick place with an enormous wrought-iron gate, a dumpster out front, a sequentially-firing red light bulb sign over the front door in the shape of an arrow, and located on an alley, Cosmo Alley, the club backed onto The Ivar Theater, a half block from Hollywood Blvd. No car parking crew at Bito's.  Love was the house band at Bido Lito's, or at least they played there a lot.  The clientele at Bido Lito's was art students and hippies, no actors or directors whatsoever.

The Sons of Adam had dropped in at Bido Lito's to catch a set from time to time.  I saw the band play there when Don Conka was drumming with the group, then later, after the first album was released, with Snoop on drums.  Bido Lito's was the place where other bands would come to donate a guest set on their nights off from where ever they played regularly, because it was... unique.

So, one Tuesday night, The Sons of Adam played a set at Bido Lito's and Arthur and Bryan were in the audience and they liked my drumming, and Love was looking to replace Snoop. I was nursing a ginger ale at the bar after our set, when Arthur came over and introduced himself and ask me to join up with Love and I said, no thanks.  Why?  Because The Sons of Adam had just played one of the greatest sets we ever played, and the place was still vibrating and I loved the guys in The Sons of Adam and we were on top of our game, doing movies (The Slender Thread) modeling assignments (for GQ and Leslie Speakers) and recording for Decca and playing all the time, so why would I want to jump ship?  We were square, almost as square as the clientele at Gazzarri's.  We didn't even drink booze, or smoke weed. Just the music.

Love was great and taking Hollywood by storm, but everybody knew they were a drug band.  What happened to Conka?   Oh yeah.  "Signed D.C.", it was right on the album.
"You, I'll Be Following," "My Flash On You." It was all right there. Listen to the words.   And to top it off, sometimes people would come into Gazzarri's and tell us they just left Bido Lito's because Arthur got pulled off the stage and arrested for possession, so everybody had to leave. No band.

A few months later, The Sons of Adam and Love began to play gigs together in L.A. and San Francisco and I got to know the guys in Love, and then out of nowhere, The Sons of Adam began to argue a lot, because we had kind of stalled out, and I lost my fear of the drugs and in late-August of '66 I accepted Arthur's invitation to join Love.  Fortunately, they still wanted me.

BT: How did those lineup changes affect the songs? Did the band become more

Echols: We were always experimental, the new lineup afforded us the opportunity  to push the envelop a bit, and venture into jazz-rock something Arthur and  I had always wanted to do.

Stuart-Ware: The lineup changes allowed the band to move in a new direction, away from the "folk rock" genre  into what would have to be characterized as "jazz rock."  With Arthur, diversity was of paramount importance, and the first three Love albums were a study in diversity... a trilogy of folk rock, jazz rock and baroque-influenced symphonic rock.

BT: What are your overall recollections of the Da Capo sessions?

Echols: We had a new producer Paul Rothchild, and a much better engineer in Dave Hassinger, so the actual recording went very smooth. Though it took a while for the new songs to reveal themselves, and the music to gel.

“Stephanie Knows Who” was really a fun song to play, we had never really played it before we got to the studio, and it took quite a bit of trial and error to find the right time. It was written with the idea of having a 5/4 time signature ala “Take Five.” It was hard to play at that tempo, and even harder to dance to. When we couldn’t make it work, we tried a kind of modified 6/8 or a jazz
waltz kind of thing, which seemed to fit the song much better. Tjay and I worked out the solos, which wound up being one of the first jazz/rock fusion jams.

“Que Vida,” and “The Castle” were both worked out in the studio, with Paul Rothchild breathing down our necks. He had expected to be producing an album much like the first Love album, he was rather taken aback, by the abrupt change in musical direction, and was not sure where we were going with Da Capo. He was also less than pleased with our habit of writing the songs in the studio, rather than having them completed beforehand. Dave Hassinger, the engineer, was great. He told Paul to lighten up. “This is great material, cut them some slack!” After the mild dressing down from Dave, Paul came around, and indeed cut us some slack.

BT: How was it decided as to what songs would be brought into the studio?

Echols: We had a variety of songs we were working on, the ones chosen were the ones that best fit the "new" direction the group was headed in.

Stuart-Ware: We put the songs together up at Arthur's house in the canyon, on Brier, I think it was. He wrote almost all the songs and the arrangements except for Bryan's "Orange Skies,” and the John Lee Hooker jam, "Revelation," which was written and arranged by Johnny, who also sang the primary vocal.

I remember we took occasional and regular breaks to smoke Arthur's blond Afghan while he went out on his deck and pulled a pigeon out of it's comfy home in the big cage and let it fly.  The mood was bright and cheery and everybody in the band was the best of friends.

We never played the songs off Da Capo before we went into the studio, except for "Revelation," which the band played with Conka on drums, long before I was in the group.  We practiced the songs for a few weeks up at Arthur's pad, then we went into the studio.  The first side was recorded at RCA Studios with Dave Hassinger engineering.  Side two was recorded at Sunset Sound with Bruce Botnick engineering.

BT: What are your recollections of the “Seven & Seven Is” session? My
understanding is that Snoopy played the drums on that session, and it
was a lot of hard work. How did the coda, after the explosion, come

Echols: “Seven and Seven Is,” was without doubt the most difficult song we ever did, as far as the actual recording process was concerned. I kept getting negative feedback from Bruce Botnick, who didn't understand what we were trying to  accomplish. The group needed an engineer who was willing to push the envelope and not use the same old recording techniques used with "normal" songs.

We wanted controlled chaos, with lots of compression, a distorted bass, and over the top "high end" (which was a no-no at the time.) We also needed to have mic bleed on the bass, track, but not on the guitar tracks. Add to that the drums needed to perfectly match the tempo of the vibrato, which gave poor "Snoopy" fits, though I must admit he surprised me, by actually pulling it off. The blues tune that we play after the explosion, was a song I had written as a stand-alone instrumental. After hearing the
playback we realized something else was needed, so we added the explosion, and my blues joint.

BT: How did the band put together new songs?

Echols: Usually Arthur, Bryan or whomever, was writing something they thought was interesting, showed the other group members an outline. Which usually consisted of a few words, and a basic melody. Most times we, in a very informal manner started to work out our individual parts. After a lot of back and forth, and a whole lot of changes, a song would
emerge. Contrary to popular misconception, [all] "Love" songs were very much, a group effort.

Stuart-Ware: Arthur played the tunes on his black Gibson acoustic and then we all wrote our own parts.  He never really made any suggestions as to what any of us should play, that I can recall.  Each guy was master of his own destiny.

BT: How often were you aware of what Arthur, or Bryan were writing about,
or what had inspired the songs?

Echols: As I alluded to earlier, there were always songs at various stages of completion. We saw each other almost daily, so we were all pretty much aware of what the others were doing.

Stuart-Ware: Was I aware of the content and what inspired the songs?  Not really.  You have to remember I came from the first album, where the lyrical content was a little more obvious.  "Mushroom Clouds", "Message To Pretty," social commentary and love songs, punctuated by an occasional song about the drug world.  But then came "Da Capo" "The Castle"?I knew the band lived in a big house everybody called The Castle just before I joined up, and "She Comes In Colours", yeah, I knew what that was about, but "Que Vida"?  Not a clue.

However, a song that had great significance from Da Capo, was good old, "Stephanie Knows Who."  Everybody knows by now, that Arthur and Bryan were both vying for the affections of the beautiful Stephanie sometime before the Da Capo sessions got underway, but I think perhaps most people underestimate the damage done to Arthur and Bryan's friendship when Stephanie went back to Bryan, just before the album was recorded.  Elektra followed through with the original plan and "Stephanie" was made song one on side one, and we performed it in public at every concert.  I mean, yeah, Stephanie knows who, and it's Bryan, not Arthur, like he thought. I got the feeling that it was something that Arthur figured for a while he could live with, but eventually the humiliation factor became too much.

I know it sounds like a lot of soap opera crap but that episode became a cancer that eventually destroyed the band.  My opinion only.  Maybe I'm making too much of it.  I just know that at first they were great friends, then a wall grew up between them, for some reason.  It happens in a lot of bands, actually.  Very common.

BT: Where was Do Capo recorded?

Echols: Da Capo was recorded at RCA studios, in Hollywood.

BT: How much of Da Capo had been played live, before you recorded the album?

Echols: “Revelation” was the only song from Da Capo, that we played live before the
recording sessions.

BT: What are your favorite songs on Da Capo, and why?

Echols: “Stephanie Knows Who,” and “The Castle,” were my favorite from the Da Capo Sessions. I chose "Stephanie" because of the counterpoint between Tjay  and I. Although “Seven and Seven Is” would have to be my overall favorite. It allowed us to go to a whole other place as musicians, and was a precursor of things to come. I add the caveat because it was recorded at another studio with a different engineer.

BT: The entire side two of Da Capo is taken up by “Revelation”, which had
been a part of your live show. How was that decided to make that part
of the album?

Echols: “Revelation,” aka "John Lee Hooker" was always slated to be on the album.
This is really an under-rated song. The live version is really cool, one of
the first true fusion "jam" songs, which allowed the musicians to really
"stretch out," and take long instrumental solo's. It was meant to be "live
in studio," with the audience from Bito Lido's dancing in the studio as we
played. The musicians Union stepped-in and nixed the idea, claiming that
since they would be heard on the record, they were in effect acting as
de-facto, musicians, and needed to join the union, and pay dues.

Stuart-Ware: I used my regular single-mounted tom set of Ludwigs for the first side of the album and Snoop's double-mounted tom set for "Revelation" because I had to take a solo and I figured another tom would be useful.  Funny way to put it, I know. "I had to take a solo," but the truth is, I was never really a drum solo kind of drummer.   I always thought drums sounded best when they were used to compliment the overall sound of a composition, interwoven into the fabric, so to speak, but I know that everybody taking a solo on "Revelation" was an important part of what "Revelation" was all about, so I did what I could do. I mean, but do I dig Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones?   Well, of course.

BT: Johnny, what guitars were you using on Da Capo?

Echols: I used a 1952 Les Paul gold top, a Mosrite double neck, a 1954 Stratosphere, double neck, and several Martin acoustics.

BT: Michael, what drums did you use on Da Capo?

Ware: I played a basic set of Ludwigs, one small (9x12") mounted tom, a chrome (5 1/2x14") snare, one 16x16" floor tom, standard bass drum (18x20"), Zildjian cymbals, (a light 16"crash, a medium-weight 20" ride and 14" hi hats). Sparkling silver finish.

BT: Describe Bryan's playing style, and influences.

Bryan was deeply influenced by bluegrass music. He liked finger pickers, like J.E. Mainer and the Mountaineers, Jimmie Rodgers, Maybelle Carter and Alton Delmore, etc.. He developed a style that was truly his own. He knew just how to move in and around the chords I was playing, so we never got in each other’s way. Great timing!

BT: Johnny, talk about your guitar playing style, and influences.

Echols: I’m more of a Jazz/R&B player, with a touch of Spanish thrown in to round out the mix. So I would describe my style of play as being rather  eclectic. I loved Johnny ”Guitar” Watson, Django Reinhardt, Luther Allison, Kenny Burrell, Wes Mongomery, and Gabor Szabo. Each of them was a fantastic guitar player,though their style of play was completely unique unto themselves.

BT: Johnny, talk about the guitar interplay between you and Bryan. How did you  ever each other come up with, or even mesh guitar parts?

Usually we would begin a song with Arthur and I working the kinks out together, before playing them for the rest of the group. He would sing the song for me, playing very rudimentary chords,(Arthur was a novice guitar player at best) and I would find the right chords. Once in a while he would change the song entirely after hearing them with the correct chords, and realizing it didn’t
sound all that great. Or didn’t sound like Love.

Next we’d get together with Bryan, who had a fantastic sense of counterpoint, and instinctively knew just the right thing to play to bring the song alive. We would often work out the acoustic rhythm with the two of us playing the same parts, Later he would juxtapose a finger picking part and I would add flourishes, or a lead solo on the electric guitar.

BT: I have heard that Forever Changes was originally planned as a double album, with the entire band contributing songs. Johnny, I have read you mention the
song Gethesemene in these plans. Were these other songs ever recorded?
What happened to those songs?

Echols: Forever Changes was originally slated to be a double album, but when we were all set to record, the record company decided it was too expensive, and refused to approve the studio budget. So the project was changed to a single album at the last minute, meaning far fewer songs, which was the direct cause of all the problems that would ensue.

Bryan, as well as I, had worked for months on material that wound up not being on the album. Bryan took the news especially hard, which caused dissension amongst a group of people who had always been very close friends.

Gethsemene is a work in progress, I have enlisted David Angel, Michael Stuart-Ware, Vince Flaherty, members of Baby Lemonade, and many other friends to help bring this project to a fruition. There are several songs written for Forever Changes, and never released while others were started by the group but never finished. It is my sacred duty to complete them, and present them as they would have been played by Love. Hopefully, I will have done them justice.

Stuart-Ware: Was FC originally projected to be a double album?  Could very well be.  Sounds credible, but I wasn't  privy to that information.  I know Bryan had lots more songs that could have been added to the album, as did Johnny.

BT: Talk about the Wrecking Crew sessions for those two songs on Forever
Changes. Did you know that was going to happen?

Echols: As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of dissension among the group members. Bryan's way of dealing with his disappointment was to sulk, and not play his best, which really affected how the sessions were sounding. It was decided we bring in members of the Wrecking crew, to fill-in the slack, it didn't work, they didn't sound like Love. Carol Kaye played acoustic guitar, along with Bryan and I on "Daily Planet," and Don Randi Played piano on "Bummer in the Summer." Otherwise, they were being paid to just sit and do nothing. Astonishingly, Elektra offered Bryan his own solo album, if he would finish Forever Changes. Thus were sown the seeds for the group's eventual demise.

Stuart-Ware: The Wrecking Crew sessions? I'll tell you about those because, here's the way that  happened. Like I said, after Bryan won the battle for Stephanie, everything seemed alright for a while.  We recorded Da Capo in September of '66, and for six or so months we toured a little, and everybody was getting along.  After a while, Arthur decided the direction the group was taking wouldn't necessitate carrying Tjay and Snoop anymore, so they were let go.

Then one day we had a photo shoot with the five remaining guys, up in Laurel Canyon with Bill Harvey, the photographer that Elektra contracted to do most of their stuff.  We had agreed to meet in front of Arthur's pad on Brier, and then we were going to walk up a dirt path to a little remote spot on a hill.

So we're all there at the appointed time, one o'clock. Arthur, Kenny, Johnny, me, and Bill Harvey, but  no Bryan.  He was late.  After we stood there for a while, Arthur starts saying stuff like, "That motherfucker Bryan doesn't give a shit about anything, you know?  He doesn't care about this group."  And the rest of us are saying things like, "Yeah," and Bill Harvey's over by his car putting film in his camera, trying to get away from it all.

Then, out of the blue, Arthur says, "You know what?, We should fire his ass. Bryan doesn't even belong in this band."  We all say, "Yeah, I guess," a little less enthusiastically than before, because we all figured Arthur was just mad that Bryan was late and would cool off when Bryan finally showed up.  So sure enough, in a few minutes Bryan pulls up and gets out of his car and leans over and checks his hair out in his car side view mirror, then he walks over to where we were standing; and right away Arthur says, "Hey listen man, we've been talking, and we all think it would be best if you weren't with this group anymore, right guys?" and he kind of looks around at me and Johnny and Kenny for support, but it was obvious from the expression on Johnny's and Kenny's face's they were thinking the same thing I was. Bryan was an integral and important member of the group, and even though he could be arrogant and insufferable from time to time, we were a much better band with him than we would be without him.   So we all started saying stuff like, "Well, that might be going a little far, Arthur..." trying to calm him down.

But he didn't calm down.  Arthur's eyes got real big and he says, "OH!  Hey, well thanks a lot!  Okay, I get it!" and he got real mad and said, "Come on.  Let's go on up and take the pictures," and he kind of stalked off up the little dirt path.

I think that might have been the moment Arthur decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Suddenly it was him against us, because we sided with Bryan. From then on, we didn't work at all. I had promoters call me and try to book the group through me because Arthur was turning down every opportunity that came our way.  So, we sat around and got high and did nothing until a few weeks before the Forever Changes were to begin.  Then we ran over the tunes a few time up at Arthur's new pad near the top of Kirkwood. The place with the indoor-outdoor swimming pool, and it was a new Arthur, kind of distant and non-communicative.  No joking around, like when we were putting Da Capo together.  All business, it was.

Arthur would show us a tune and we would work up our parts and go over the song a few times and Arthur would say, "Yeah, okay, that's good," and we would move on to the next.  So, amazingly enough, in the late summer of '67, when we finally went in the studio to begin laying down the instrumental tracks for the album, we were a little out of practice and couldn't get the first song down in the first few takes, but realistically, we weren't that far off.

So, I look up in the booth and I see Arthur huddling with Bruce Botnick and the Elektra rep who was there, and in a minute Arthur comes out and says, "Hey, look guys, we've been talking and we think it might be a good idea to go ahead and bring studio cats in to lay down the basic instrumental and you guys can do instrumental and vocal overdubs later, and that'll save us all a lot of money.  Is that cool?"

We were all taken aback.  I mean, we just got here. Let's try a little harder to get the first song right before we throw up our hands and wave the white flag.  But Arthur was insistent and Botnick was saying "Yeah, that's a great idea, fellas," So after some discussion, that's what we agreed to do.

Actually, the plan was for us to go ahead and show up anyway, and give the studio people guidance and advice on how to play the parts, so it would have the "Love sound."  On the first day of the new sessions with 'The Wrecking Crew," we all walk in and there are strangers in our chairs, chatting with each other and generally just shooting the breeze, and the next thing I notice is this middle-aged woman wearing glasses and a dress, sitting in the middle of the room thoughtfully studying a chart and holding a Fender bass. Carol Kaye. That was Kenny's replacement.  Then I look over and sitting behind a set of Camco drums is Jim Gordon.  I knew Jim Gordon from when Snoop and I saw The Everly Brothers play at The Hullabaloo. He started playing and touring with the Everly Brothers in 1963 when he was eighteen. That's how good he was.

So I go over and start talking to Jim and we talked about his drums (because nobody but him played Camco drums, it was such an obscure brand), and we talked about how odd it was that more drummers didn't play Camco drums, and I played some stuff on his set and he showed me some riffs and he was a real nice guy.  Then I looked over at Carol Kaye and Kenny, and Kenny is showing her what to play on the first cut they were scheduled to put down, which was "Daily Planet", and the moment was overwhelming.  I mean, here was Kenny Forssi, one of the most dynamic and gifted bassists in Hollywood, the man who captured the imagination of all the Love fans and critics of great music with his work on the first album and who mastered the transmigration from folk rock to the jazz rock of Da Capo without so much as shifting gears, the man who blew everybody's mind with his awesome creativity and gargantuan power on "7&7 Is", and he's being replaced by a woman?  All of a sudden, Arthur walks by Kenny and Carol and he pauses for a moment and listens and says, "That sounds pretty good what you're playing, Kenny.  Why don't you go ahead and play the bass on this cut, and she can play something else, like rhythm guitar or whatever." And he walked away. That's right. And Kenny played the bass on "Daily Planet" and Carol played rhythm guitar.  She complained after every take, too, kept holding her left hand up and shaking it, like the little strings hurt her fingers.

Jim Gordon played the drum part, and did a beautiful job.  You can hear the same licks and technique he used later on, when he played drums with Eric Clapton.  It's unmistakeable. It was an honor to have him replace me, but painful, nonetheless.  They knocked "Daily Planet" out in four or five takes, I guess.  Then they tackled "Andmoreagain."  That was no problem, either.

But the next day, a funny thing happened. The Elektra rep called me and Johnny at home, and said he had listened to the cuts the studio cats and chick laid down, and the results were too plastic, not what the company was looking for at all. And he said he had talked to Arthur, and the new plan was for us to take some time to practice and come back in and do it ourselves.

Part two coming later this year, with the publication of the winter issue of the Big Takeover.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

RIP Doc Watson

I knew about Doc Watson years before I ever got to see him in person. His name was on the lips of every music fan I knew in North Carolina, in my formative years. The seamless interweaving of musical genres, and the seemingly effortless way he played the guitar. And oh, by the way, Doc had been blind since the age of one.

In 1994, the cable TV company I was working with at the time was slated to videotape a two-day music festival at Carowinds. What night did I want to work, they asked me. Friday night, I said. I want to see Doc Watson. So, of course, they booked me for Saturday, and spent the day telling me how great Doc had been the night before. Such was that job, which nearly drove me out of media before I ever really started. Thankfully, that job did not deter me, in the long run.

In the summer of 1998, I finally got to see Doc Watson. It had been a bad month, as I had been through a bad car accident that would leave me emotionally scarred for months. Seeing Doc gave me a reason to be happy, and be happy to be alive. At least I lived to see Doc Watson, I thought at the time. It was also the first time I photographed Doc Watson, and it would not be the last.

I honestly cannot tell you how many times I've photographed Doc. I have photos of him with so many great musicians. Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, Jim Lauderdale, David Holt and so many more. Seeing Doc sitting alongside Earl Scruggs at Merlefest in 2006 was just awe-inspiring, for me. I met him on more than a few occasions, listening to him tell stories about his rockabilly days, and just growing up in Deep Gap, NC. One of Doc's old classmates in school told me that Doc had been a bit of a troublemaker, and he never lost that sharp streak. But he never lost his independent spirit, and that wish to do what he wanted, and play what he wanted.

Doc Watson influenced us all, in so many ways. In what we listened to, and how a song could be played. The tribute to his late son Merle that grew into Merlefest. The joy that we all felt whenever he appeared on stage. While it is sad to think that there will not be another Doc Watson show to see, what he has left us with is so many great moments, and great songs that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Doc Watson brought so many of us together, so it is appropriate that so many honor him today.

Safe travels, Doc.
-Daniel Coston
May 29, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I Love This Freakin' Band - The Bee Gees (first three albums)

I have been meaning to write this article for some time, but with the recent passing of Robin Gibb, I am reminded again that one's plans are too often like life. Nothing is permanent, only one's momentary perception of it. That being said, while many news outlets have wanted to hold up the band's Saturday Night Fever era is the definitive Bee Gees period, I again feel the need to speak up for the band, and my favorite era of the Brothers Gibb.

If you had written it as a movie script, no one would believe it was plausible. A group of three brothers, born in England but raised in Australia, become singing stars at an early age. Starting off with singing standards from their father's era, they soon become enamored with the sound of the Beatles, and the new rock sounds coming from England, and America. At the dawn of 1967, the brothers, now in their late teens, suddenly move to London as the city is really starting to swing. Within a matter of months, they get signed to a manager with Beatles connections, and write and record their first album, which promptly makes the brothers stars on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet that's exactly what happened.

Despite writing and recording many singles in Australia, the music on 1st (released in that glorious summer of 1967) was entirely written and recorded once the Bee Gees arrived in England. And those songs- "New York Mining Disaster 1941," "In My Own Time," "To Love Somebody," among others- all now considered modern classics. Not bad for three kids (Barry Gibb, age 19, and Robin and Maurice Gibb, age 17) on their first try in the big leagues.

The influences on 1st, as well as their following two albums (Horizontal, released in early 1968, and Idea, released in 1969) seem to be coming from all over the place. Beatlesque pop-rock, baroque and chamber music, orchestral string arrangements, all done with brotherly three-part harmonies. One wants to imagine a beautiful mansion (photographed in hazy technicolor) with the Bee Gees, Zombies, Left Banke, Association, Cryan Shames and Curt Boettcher all walk around in fantastically frilly outfits, drink wine, and ponder the state of the world. And girls. All while singing in multi-part harmony.

The point I should also make is that the Bee Gees were a five-piece band. Guitarist Vince Melouney and drummer Colin Petersen, two fellow Australian ex-pats, helped to make the group the live band that makes these records what they are. Listen to the tight groove of "The Ernest Of Being George," on Horizontal, or Idea's title track, and you hear how musically tight this group was. Special mention should also go to Maurice Gibb, who not only was the balancing force between his brothers, but whose work on piano and organ, as well as bass guitar, just leaps off these albums. The compressed piano sound on "Words," when played at full volume, can still just make you stop to listen.

While 1st has some of the band's best-known songs, I'm partial to Horizontal. Something about the combination of those songs, and the sound of a band really finding their place in the studio, gives Horizontal a remarkable cohesion. Idea comes in as a close third, but when its tracklist includes "Gotta Get A Message To You," "I Started A Joke," "Idea" and "Swan Song," it was still head and shoulders over what else was coming out in 1969.

I know a number of people that feel that the band's fourth album, Odessa (released in late 1969) is their favorite Bee Gees album. And yes, it is a good record, as are their following albums (Two Years On, and Trafalgar). But for me, a sea change had taken place. Gone were the pocket symphonies, in were the grandiose concepts, with moody orchestral-pop sprawling all over the place. For a variety of reasons, the band had moved on, and moved away from the almost innocent beauty of their early albums. Not everyone shares that opinion, but that's just mine.

Sooner or later, all of the present tense of the world passes, and you're left with the work that someone has created. All differently-shaped mirrors of the time in which that work was forged. For me, I still listen to those early Bee Gees albums, and marvel in the possibilities of that moment, and the powerful combination of talent, and belief. I still believe in that, today.

-Daniel Coston
May 24, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

John Love interview

John Love: Whole Lotta Love
an interview by Daniel Coston

John Love has been involved in the arts in Charlotte for many years. Acting, dance, designing, sculpture. Throw an outlet out into the creative wilderness, and he'll throw it back to you in a way that you hadn't thought of. Look through his collective works, and you'll find someone who has done a lot to be proud of, but is still thinking, still searching, and still creating.

When Tangents Magazine ended for the first time in 1998, one of my few regrets was that we'd never done an interview with John. When Tangents started kicking around again some time ago, I immediately set this interview up. It's taken some time to get this interview is front of you, but the subject is well worth it.

Daniel Coston: At what point in your life did you realize that you were going to be an artist?

John Love: Like all children I found being creative to be an invigorating and natural mode of play.  As for knowing that a life of artistry was for me, that was middle school.

Coston: You've never seemed to be tied down to one outlet for for work. Artwork, sculpture, acting, dancing, writing. Is that by choice? And how do you keep a balance with all of your different projects?

Love: Expression is both an absolute necessity and insatiable desire of mine.  The balancing principle is that regardless of the expressive modality the impulse to create comes from an ever-deepening place.  Joy, enthusiasm, skill, talent, curiosity, and opportunity always converge in order to serve the creative idea and/or impulse seeking expression. 

Coston: How do you decide to pursue a creative opportunity for a certain amount of time?

Love: Appetite.  If and when I am ravenous for a particular opportunity or creative impulse the decision has already been for me and the passage of time and investment of energy cease to be a factor.

Coston: I know that you were acting by the time you were in college. How did you get involved in acting?

Love: I dove into the first childhood opportunities to play onstage that were presented to me.  I don’t remember not acting.

Coston: What has been some of your favorite acting gigs?

Love: Whether I’m doing my own work or that of someone else the gig I’m doing in the moment MUST be my favorite.  There is nothing more delectable than the succulence of the now and this intense attention to the present is what it means for me to show up deeply, richly, and authentically.  I also don’t have a tendency to spend an exorbitant amount of time looking back.  Presently my favorite acting gig is my work on my latest performance work “The Diaries of Neequa or She Who Would Be King” which is part of my 2011 Arts & Science Council McColl Award funded interdisciplinary work, FECUND.  

Coston: My wife saw you play Dr. Frank N. Furter in both stage prouductions of Rocky Horror in Charlotte. How was that to do?

Glorious.  Liberating.  Raucous.  Empowering.  Rich.

Coston: Did some of the crowd seem surprised when you (as Dr. Furter) threw it right back at them?

Love: Surprised, thrilled, enthusiastic, and insatiable.

Coston: What has been some of your favorite works in the artwork and sclupture field?

Love: I’m presently working on these experimental pieces that involve wrapping, binding, salt, earth, seeds, fabric, steel, and found object.  I’m fascinated.

Coston: When you start working on a sculpture, or art installation, do you know how it will turn out, or does it change during its creation?

Love: Regardless of the clarity of my vision or the strength of my intentions, I never really know how something is going to turn out.  Change is an inevitability I embrace and look forward to with relish.

Coston: What are you working on now?

Love: Today it was the beginnings of this aural voice work piece.  I’m intrigued.

Coston: What brought you to Charlotte? How has the arts scene in Charlotte (or this region) changed over the years?

Love: I’m a native who has traveled and worked beyond.  The arts scene in Charlotte is like an awkward 11 year old trying to find its way.  With skinned knees and a mottled history of curiously beautiful successes and formidable failures, it’s got a lot to learn about truth, passion, self-invention, innovation, and independence.

Coston: I heard that there was some kerfuffle (to use an old school fifty cent word) over your performance at the TedX conference in 2010. Can you talk about that? (Editor's note: You can see Love's performance on youtube, as well as other outlets.)

Love: Based on my life’s work as a creative being, spiritual presence, and cultural provocateur, I was invited by the host committee and organizers of the inaugural 2010 TEDx Charlotte to participate in any way I chose.  They chose to make me the event’s finale and I presented a performance entitled “Out of the Blur”.

Through an act of cowardice and censorship followed by hubris and inauthenticity, the lead organizer ordered the cutting of the live-internet feed of my performance.  I followed suite with the transparent, fully disclosed, and unvarnished public addressing the situation warranted.  Asses were kicked, pearls were clutched, truths were spun, factions were formed, discussions were had, and lessons were learned, forgotten, ignored, and learned again. Yes, thrilling. 

Coston: Finish this sentence: I will be happy if people get _______ out of my work.

Love: …an indelible experience…

Coston: Open question. Anything that you'd like to talk about?

Love: Enough.  Enough.  Haha!

Coston: Message to the people: What do you want people to know about yourself? And about art, and life?

Love: Anything worth knowing is either in the eyes, bouncing off the flesh, or in the work.  Now all interested parties know where to look.

Friday, May 18, 2012

RIP Doug Dillard


I really thought I would get to see you again sometime, talk to you, and listen to you play. And man, you could play. Your banjo playing had been around me all of my life. Why would I have ever thought that this day would come? Yes, all these come, someday, but for the good ones, we always hope and wish that they would stay a little bit longer. And you, Doug, were one of the good ones.

For many people, Doug Dillard was one of the Darlin boys, which made sporadic appearances on the Andy Griffith Show. In reality, they were the Dillards, a fantastic bluegrass group led by brothers Rodney and Doug Dillard. They never had any lines on the show, but their music did the talking.

When Doug left the Dillards in 1967, he jumped into session work, playing with everyone from the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Monkees and many others. Banjo player on "What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round?" Banjo player for the Byrds on their sole tour with Gram Parsons, and on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Two groundbreaking albums with Gene Clark, starting with the bluegrass/country/rock hybird The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark. If you get anything from this piece, go out and find this record. Along the way, Doug showed the bluegrass kids that it was okay to play freaky music, and showed the freaks the possibilities in a banjo.

I first met Doug in 2004, when he and Rodney played in Oakboro, NC. I was an eager fan with a camera, and warmed to Doug immediately. Someone at our table sat up, and nearly took Doug with him. I pulled the table back down, and Doug and I laughed like kids. We went from talking about working with Brian Wilson, to talking about working with Gene Clark. "They worked in similar days," Doug said at one point. "I'd never thought of that, until just now." Man, I wish I had a tape of that.

I saw Doug two more times, including when he and the original Dillards performed for Andy Griffith in Mount Airy, NC in 2006. I always meant to see him more, but life has a way of getting in the way of, well, life. Blink, and its gone. Gone, too soon.

Doug, you were a true individual. A wildcard among the bluegrass set. I wish that I had gotten to tell you in person, just one more time, how good it was to see you again. Maybe again, I'll do that somewhere else. But I think I could have seen you a hundred times, and felt the same way.

Safe travels, Doug, from your friend in North Carolina,
May 18, 2012
photo 2004 Daniel Coston

Sunday, May 13, 2012

New photos from recent travels

Top to Bottom:
Charlie Thomas and the Drifters with Barbara Lewis, Charlotte, NC, April 28, 2012
Dennis Edwards and the Temptations Revue, Charlotte, NC , April 28, 2012
Beach Boys, Raleigh, NC, April 29, 2012
Jesse Colin Young, Columbia, SC, April 22, 2012
Laurence Juber, Charlotte, NC, May 3, 2012
Nick Lowe, Raleigh, NC, May 2, 2012
Left Banke, Annapolis, MD, May 6, 2012
all photos copyright 2012 Daniel Coston

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Music, Photography and Life show intro

For any person, taking a moment to look back on their work can be a surprising experience. Especially if you had not originally planned to work in that field. Back in 1996, I did not intend to start a career as a photographer. I was a writer that was diving headlong into a love of music, and looking for a way to talk about the music and people that I was seeing, and hearing around me. When I couldn't find a photographer that shared my ambitions, I started to take the photos myself.

I have been very lucky to work with a lot of musicians that I admired, and pushed me to find ways of capturing their sounds and visuals in my photographs. Music is not the only subject that I photograph, but it is the subject that continues to drive my work. It is what got me into photography, and is still what I look forward to the most.

For me, the photographs you see here are pieces of my ongoing conversation with the art of music, and the people that play it. The subjects may change, and my ideas change, but it is that continual searching that still propels me. To document the artists that I see and meet, and to hopefully provide visuals glimpses of their sounds, and emotions.

-Daniel Coston
May 9, 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Poster for my new show of photos in Marshall, NC

My thanks to Erich Hubner for putting this show, and poster together.

Come by the show opening on May 11th.

Show introduction coming soon.

The Ghosts Of Opportunity

The Ghosts Of Opportunity

I am 
here again
watching this chandelier fall
in slow motion, 
while those with scissors
claim to be witnesses, 
holding themselves in a well-worn box
that they claim to have never
seen before.
I stand in a
different place,
yet my view is familiar.
And I have no need to travel 
there again.

We once were children
all coming from the same place
of hope and restless anger
railing together at the world
we wanted to 
tear down
tear down
then we could rebuild it all
in masks of our own mirrors
and wishes.

It all got so close,
to sustaining the dreams
of weary dreamers,
but the hands that
hold you back
cam sometimes be your own,
and everything began to
break down
break down
and I walked away
when finally
there was no ship to save.

Circles collide 
over passing pages.
I wanted to believe
in it all again,
to complere the sentence
that I had started
so long ago.
But what trips us
toppled you again,
and once again it all
begins to
fall down
fall down
like before,
but as the shards 
bounce upon the floor,
I see the reflection of things
as they are,
and I see 
where I have to go
and I will go on 
without you.

This freedom
is the saving grace
of this quiet charade,
stepping away from the wreckage
of your inertia, 
and the answers you will never know,
or will ever be willing 
to accept. 
The ghosts of opportunity
have passed through us again, 
howling in voices
you will not hear,
but calls me to places
that I have yet to be,
yet still believe in. 
You may have led me here,
but I am the one
that will lead myself on,
to wherever
I am to go. 

I am here
I am leaving
I was here
I am gone

-Daniel Coston
April, 2012