The David Roberts Interview

Crawfish of Love Septober Octember

No one knew what to think when we first saw a band called the “Crawfish of Love.” The stage was strewn with surreal artwork, a manikin head, several TV sets turned on to random channels or static, guitar amplifiers, drums, and five musicians that looked like they were conspiring mischief among themselves.

Andy King on bass and Scott Sisson on drums were such a formidable rhythm section that they were, and still are, often sought out to work as side-men for other bands and recording artists. Pat Ogilvie was lead guitarist extraordinaire. I remember after one fiery, tone-perfect, feedback-fueled guitar solo, Dave Roberts proclaimed from the stage, “Pat’s been listening to Blue Cheer!” Pat, too, has been sought by area band leaders who need a professional guitarist. The Crawfish line-up varied from time to time. I remember some impressive acoustic guitar fretwork by Steve Pruett at some of the Applejack’s gigs. I’m told that Michael Pearson played some swirling, spiraling electric guitar at some shows I didn’t get to see.  Brian Barr spiced the music with bongos, chimes, maracas, and other percussion. In his tie-dyed shirts and long blond hair, Brian looked like a surfer bohemian straight from 1967 San Francisco.

David Roberts

David Roberts – late 1980s or early 1990s

David Roberts

David Roberts circa 2012

The band was always evolving and full of surprises. On one hand, they were top-notch musicians. Their musical bag included rock, jazz, reggae, and folk. But they also did weird stuff. How can I describe it? Between covers of Minor Swing by Django Reinhardt or I’ll Sleep When I”m Dead by Warren Zevon, the the Crawfish sprang songs on us about a living inside of a green bell pepper, or the Creature From the Black Lagoon looming toward you on Little Talbot Island, or “singing through bread” with actual slices of bread on stage to sing through. Some people I brought to see their shows didn’t like it. They didn’t get it. Among those of us who liked it, there was no need to explain. And there were a lot of us who loved it. At a Crawfish of Love concert, people from all around who had never met each other could share their taste for, not only good music, but a bizarre experiences. Sometimes they headlined shows, other times they became the back-up band for some big-name performers. We’ll talk more about that later in the following interview I did with the Crawfish of Love band leader David Roberts::::

Bill: I remember you telling me that one of your influences was the “cut-up” writing technique used by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin.

Dave: What I liked most about the Burroughs Cut Up stuff was the absurdity and nonsense of the word flow. I know Burroughs, Bowles, and the others thought eventually the cut ups lead to profound mystical messages but I never had that experience. I’ve just always been tickled by human voices speaking in normal voice tones saying things that violate all rules of syntax. Actually, more than the Burroughs cut ups I was highly influenced by the speech patterns of schizophrenics, particularly undifferentiated schizophrenics, to which I was exposed during viewing training films and doing my internship to earn my master’s degree in psychological counseling from the University of North Florida in 1978. I interned at the old University Hospital Mental Health unit on 8th street and we saw a daily flow of fresh schizophrenics. They speak in a pattern called “word salad,” which really is almost impossible to ad-lib. I was also influenced by the old party game called “Bloopers” where you would fill in a story full of blank spaces with words you had chosen prior to seeing the story. They came printed on pads and there were several series of them. The pre-chosen words sometimes led to hilarious sentences. This goes way back to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I’ve also always been able to hear the taste of food in words since I was about 5 years old. For example, the word “example” tastes like the meat filling from Chef Boyardee’s canned ravioli. The word “work” tastes like oatmeal cookies and coffee to me. The word “tape” tastes like butterscotch. Not all words make me taste tastes in my mind. The word “computer,” for example, doesn’t taste like anything but there is a certain “orange” smell to it. I was thinking these thoughts long before I knew who Burroughs was. But I guess the streak of urban discomfort and darkness in my stuff is most greatly influenced by Burroughs sidekick junkie raconteur Herbert Huncke. His book The Evening Sun Turned Crimson from 1975 is the ultimate account of the underbelly of the beast. Look for that one on E-Bay if you can find it. It’s the book Jim Carroll wished he could’ve written. Huncke led the life Carroll tries to capture in his vanilla trust-funded accounts of addiction.

Bill: Your CD, Septober Octember, seems to mythologize North Florida the way Faulkner did with Mississippi, Tennessee Williams with New Orleans, or Jack London and Robert Service did with the Yukon. It’s also got some very funny moments.

Dave: I wanted the CD to reflect the geography of North Florida more than mythologize the region or it’s people. I wanted the slow syrupy water from the swamp-water runoff mud trail. I wanted the heat from a moonless 2 a.m. August moment staring across Trout River at Jackie’s Seafood. I wanted the decayed horseshoe crab shell placed on my head like a helmet while standing in the dunes at Talbot Island…not up to anything in the dunes…just standing. And yeah, sure, there’s Winn Dixie stuff on it too but it relies on the things one might see out of the corner of your eye around here while looking at something else. Like you’re looking ahead at a carousel in the forest but you find yourself noticing the bandannas lying along the edge of the soccer practice field next to the forest…really more interested in the bandannas than the carousel. Septober Octember is not meant to be a comedy CD at all. It’s meant to help you smell the beauty in the vapor coming from a small pot of macaroni as the ice cold wind blows and mixes the vapor into your nostrils blowing across a highly-polished wood floor in a Riverside apartment. It calls to those times in my life when I could pay attention more to the edge of tape grass on a February swamp bank than to a trailer full of lawn mowers following me constantly draining what’s left of my zeitgeist like little gas-powered Draculas. Septober Octember was my celebration of stuffing and gravy, new green onions in the spring, and the weird Gideon’s Bible Dr. John holds on the cover of his seminal 1969 album, Babylon. Recording it was an absolute joy.

Bill: Didn’t you follow the Grateful Dead on tour one summer?

Dave: No. I have a bunch of friends who did, though. Indeed, I was and to a small degree still am a Dead fan, but no, I couldn’t stand to do something like that. The Dead could be disappointing sometimes in concert, particularly toward the end when Garcia was consumed for the umpteenth time with drugs. I also resented the “rules” of the Deadhead world, a supposed “free thinking” group of folks who have very strict rules for behavior, appearance and comportment. But, to be sure, between the years of 1968 to 1995 I was a major appreciator of the Gratefule Dead’s improvisational excursions on their “space” instrumental passages. I was actually consumed by their music from 1973’s Wake of the Flood album up through the last days of the performing Crawfish. I would go running in those days with 90 minutes of Dead on my Walkman and Crawfish shows started to get very Dead-like due to that subconscious influence. Andy King complained about it back then. I disagreed with him then but now I think he was right. When I listen to Crawfish tapes circa 1988 up to the end in 1998 it does sound too Deadish. It kind of ruined the originality thing we debuted with in 86 and 87, probably the heyday of the Crawfish. I remember you up on stage with us at Applejack’s in 1987 singing Let’s Cook the Dog, which I think was your tune. Those were the early days when I had a clearer vision for the band.

Bill: Dave, you’re a teacher. What’s the deal with algebra? I mean, who uses that stuff except people going into science or engineering? Why can’t it be an elective?

Dave: Algebra requires 3rd-level intellectual thinking because it utilizes the problem-solving areas of your brain. Humans hate algebra for the same reasons that humans hate physical exercise…it’s hard, not fun, requires dedication and actually calls for increased challenge. Also, third level operation increases the likelihood for failure and humans fear failure. But the fact is, utilizing this third level of the brain ( called “application” by the way ) forces the brain to function in ways, problem-solving ways, that “pave the way” for future problem solving, and not just in mathematics. You need experience in third-level cognition in everything from changing a flat tire to performing a delicate surgery. It’s like a mental workout for future needed performance the same way that physical exercise prepares one for future needed performance. Algebra is good.

Bill: Well, fine, then. Now that you put it like that…okay. Let’s get back to music. You guys have managed to play with some legendary performers. Tell me about working with those big-time collaborations.

Dave: By “big-time collaborations” I guess you mean the seven shows the Crawfish of Love did between 1996 and 1998 with three of the San Francisco psychedelic Haight-Ashbury luminaries: Gary Duncan from Quicksilver Messenger Service, David LaFlamme from It’s A Beautiful Day, and Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company. They were all wonderful and they were all horrible and every shade in between. The Crawfish burned with such intensity of devotion and discipleship in learning and performing the repertoires of all three bands that I’m afraid it burned us up. I did all the financing and lost a small fortune, so that ultimately is the strongest stamp it all placed upon me. Yeah, it was great to play with those guys on a certain level, but what I went through to do it was enough to cloud over the fun. Now, if someone else was paying for it all I could’ve enjoyed it more. My mood and level of crap I was willing to take steadily disintegrated from the first gig with Duncan up to the point where when Sam Andrew showed up to do his shows with us in 1998 I wanted absolutely none of his shit and before long he and I were not really on speaking terms, although technically the Sam Andrew shows were the best of all. He was real hard to deal with and I was real hard to deal with too. I had had it at that point with egos and temperaments and I could tell people had it with mine. We all felt relief when those gigs were over and it really was the end of the Crawfish. Pat (Ogilvie) didn’t even play the Sam Andrew show anyway and if Pat isn’t there it can’t really be a Crawfish gig to me. At that point, in 1998, we were invited twice a year to play Beth and Randy Judy’s Magnolia Fest and Spring Fest on the Suwannee River and Pat and I decided to scrap the group and play acoustic tunes from our 1973 repertoires. It was a period of great cleansing and refreshment to both of us and we formally stopped playing any gigs except the festivals. We developed quite a little following using the Crawfish of Love name but not doing Crawfish material. We turned our backs on it. We recorded what we felt was as perfect a CD as we could record in Septober Octember. It was just what we wanted. No need to do it again. We also hated playing music in bars late into the morning hours so we just went with the festival gigs. We were invited to play the festival up to 2002 and then we stopped getting invited. So our course had been run and now we exist only on the most special occasions. We did reunite the original band last August at Brenda Walker’s Chinacat Festival and played a set of the original 1987 Applejack’s repertoires. It went over well with the hippies old and young and it was great fun but it was enough to keep me satisfied for a long time.

Bill: Would you ever consider more Crawfish of Love concerts?

Dave: The only gigs I really miss are the Magnoliafest and Suwannee Springfest gigs. I loved playing under those mossy oaks lining the Suwannee River. I would gladly reconvene the Crawfish under any format to play on the Suwannee again. But basically, I dislike playing music in bars late at night hanging around a bunch of drunks and drug users and cheaters and club owners and managers and band members who can’t make it tonight and all the absolute shit that goes with trying to play music on this very low rung in which I abide. To me the biggest names I’ve played with are Scott Sisson, Steve Pruett, Andy King, Pat Ogilvie, and a couple more.

Bill: I need to get a petition started. “Bring the Crawfish back to Magnolia!” Seriously.

Some of his former students from Terry Parker High School with David Roberts (front & center with black shirt)

Some of his former students from Terry Parker High School with David Roberts (front & center with black shirt)

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Joe Meek: Vintage Vinyl and Vice

The fascinating saga of record producer Joe Meek is described by Jan Reetze on her Joe Meek Page, as, “a short life somewhere on the fine line between vision and lunacy . . . oversped, funny, sad, euphoric, depressed; a rollercoaster trip with a dramatic showdown.”

 The True Vine Record Shop quotes Kate Hodges of Bizarre Magazine:

Joe Meek made some of the most spooky-sounding records of the 1960s, and they soundtracked a life that included murder, suicide, inventing Goth, communicating with cats, and holding black magic séances. He’s been called “the Ed Wood of lo-fi”.

Read more at Jan Reetze Joe Meek Page

Read more at The True Vine Record Store

Jazz Man David Amram Talks About Charlie Parker, Willie Nelson, the Internet, and More

Beat jazz pioneer David Amram has collaborated with Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Willie Nelson, and Charles Mingus. He is a multi-talented musician, composer, conductor, world traveler, scholar, and on top of all that, the first time I phoned the 76-year young dynamo, he was outside fixing a tractor on his farm in upstate New York. Here is the interview I conducted with David Amram during two phone calls that took place on Saturday and Sunday, December 16 and 17, 2006.

Bill: How would you explain the term “orchestral colors”?

David: One of the first people who ever spoke to me of orchestral color was Charlie Parker, in 1952, in my basement apartment in Washington, DC. Parker asked me if I had ever checked out the music of Frederick Delius.

I said, “Bird, we were always told Delius was a minor composer,” because in those days, there was a lot lacking in American music studies, and most music teachers referred to Delius that way.

Bird said, “Check out his orchestration. Frederick Delius was a great orchestral colorist.”

Bill: But what does that mean?

David: Orchestral colors and the art of orchestration is like taking a series of black and white illustrations and filling them in with colors. In symphonic music, those black and white images are the actual notes played; how and who plays them is what you do when you orchestrate something. A composition is like a great painting in that it has contrast, form, takes you to places you’ve never been before, and keeps you wanting more.

Bill: What was Charlie Parker like?

David: Charlie Parker had brilliance and sophistication that the movie Bird didn’t capture. He was very knowledgeable and he was a lifetime student of ‘hang-out-ology’, always learning, open-minded, so he didn’t rank Delius as a “minor” or “major” musician. He heard the music of Delius for what it was. I talk about this is my book Vibrations .

Bill: Your song about Hunter S. Thompson, on the Southern Stories CD, is perfect. It captures Thompson’s life story so simply and yet, so completely. Did you ever meet Hunter?

David: Yes, I first met Hunter in 1959. I had a cabin in Huguenot, New York when Hunter Thompson was a reporter for the Middletown Daily Record. There was a little store I went to for my week’s supply of groceries, and the old man who ran the store hardly said a word, usually just a grunt for ‘hello.’ But finally, one day, the guy said to me, “I’ve seen ’em.”

“Seen what?” I asked.

“The saucer people,” he says. “The flying saucer people in the field across the street.”

“Oh …” I said. “Okay …”

He said, “I’ve only told two people about this. You, and that crazy writer up on the hill.”

Of course, the crazy writer was Hunter Thompson. Years later, when Ron Whitehead and Doug Brinkley organized an award ceremony for Thompson in Louisville, Kentucky, they asked me to be the music director. I had the chance to sit and reminisce with Hunter about the guy in the Superette who saw the saucer people and other, more serious things, as well. Hunter was more than just a crazy Gonzo character, he was first and foremost a serious writer.

Bill: There is another song on Southern Stories, ‘Alfred the Hog’, where you play a flute solo that knocks me out as much as any electric guitar solo. At one point, it sounds like you are playing two flutes at the same time.

David: Thank you, thanks a lot. That instrument is actually an Irish penny-whistle, and yes, on part of the solo, I’m playing two penny-whistles at the same time.

Bill: How did you learn to do that?

David: It just came naturally.

Bill: That figures.

David: The penny-whistle is a versatile instrument. Just as a violin can be used for either classical or bluegrass, the penny-whistle can be used different ways. Audiences in Kenya enjoyed it when I went there for the World Council of Churches and played African music in 1976. Dizzy Gillespie dug how I used the penny-whistle as a jazz instrument when I played with him in Havana in 1977.

Bill: You composed the soundtrack for the original version of The Manchurian Candidate in 1962. I read that Frank Sinatra, the star of the movie, was very pleased with the score you created for that movie. Did you meet Sinatra?

David: I met him in New York a few years after making the film. He said he liked the fact that I’m a jazz musician as well as a classical composer, and he was impressed that I write my own music, orchestrate every note myself, and don’t use ghost writers.

Bill: Frank Sinatra, Jr. said that the Manchurian Candidate score was an “ingenious combination of polytonality and jazz.” Can you explain what “polytonality” means?

David: Polytonal means using more than one harmonic pattern, or two separate tonal bases at the same time.

Bill: Yeah, Google says, “Using more than one key or tonality simultaneously,” but I still don’t quite understand it. I thought you could only play in one key at a time.

David: Well, for example, you can play a G7 chord and play a D flat against it.

Bill: No doubt, you can. I’ll have to work it. Moving on, I have to ask you this, because there’s a debate going on among some friends of mine. You know that famous black & white photo of Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, you, and Allen Ginsberg, all sitting in the diner? Is that a spoon or a toothpick you are chomping on?

David: I think it was a spoon, as I used to eat yogurt there, but I really have no idea.

We didn’t know that the picture was being taken and it certainly never occurred to us that 48 years later, it would be on the cover of books, in articles, museums, and so on.

We were all smiling and having a good time, laughing and enjoying each others company, NOT a bunch of surly hating “Beatniks” as the Beats are sometimes portrayed.

Bill: It looks like a fun group.

David: None of us had on the “costumes” that Beat people were supposed to wear. There was no such thing as a “Beat movement.” We were all a group of friends hanging out. Especially Kerouac!

Bill: Who was the little kid in Pull My Daisy that played music with you?

David: The kid was Pablo Frank, Robert Frank’s son. A great little guy. All this is in my book Offbeat: Collaborating With Kerouac.

Bill: Did you ever meet William S. Burroughs?

David: Yes, many times.

Bill: I wondered why Burroughs was not in Pull My Daisy.

David: He was not what you would call a gregarious, fun guy. He was fun to listen to when he was talking but he was a very private person.

Bill: I saw you on MySpace recently. What are your thoughts on the internet?

David: My kids got me onto MySpace. Thanks to the internet, the generation of my kids have access for the first time in history to all that magnificent music from all around the world as well as the United States. A gifted army of people, who never get played on the radio and whose CDs you can never buy in record stores, now have a level playing field.

You know, the huge record companies are merging in a last desperate attempt to control the listening habits of people all over the world. But with the web and new means of broadcasting, we are now all pardoned from the solitary confinement of the penitentiary of the globalized entertainment industry. My own kids actually draw audiences for their music on the internet without being part of the music industry. Conversely, a lot of the more obscure stuff I’ve done downloaded. Right now, you can go to YouTube and find Pull My Daisy with Italian subtitles!

As artists, we want to share what we do with others. Of course, we have to pay our rent, buy clothes, take our kids to the dentist, so we have to pay bills. That doesn’t mean you have to ruin your art by trying to become a millionaire in two years.

Now days, in baseball, a batter won’t run out an infield grounder. A basketball player won’t make an assist and only want to score points. These players have been forced, by bad advice, to represent what is wrong in their world rather than what’s right.

That’s why I like playing Farm Aid. Willie Nelson and everyone else at Farm Aid share certain traits: Love of music, caring about other people, inspiring others, and a genuine love and respect for the audience. As a result, all of them are fun to be with.

Bill: Man, you really do play all kinds of music with all kinds of people.

David: Anybody can learn to play any style on whatever instrument they play. You just need to be patient, humble yourself to be with those who know more, and learn the basics. It’s a lifetime job. It’s like learning different dialects. Second generation Cubans, for example, have a different kind of Cuban accent than their parents. In the same way, music changes from generation to generation.

Bill: Do you ever compose in your head without score paper?

David: Oh, yeah. Sure.

Bill: Do you ever think something will sound good until you hear it played, and then decide you need to change it?

David: Not really. By the time I get it on paper, it’s pretty much right as far as the combination of notes. I may decide to change the tempo or things of balance, like soft or loud, to make it work the best.

Bill: Do you ever see musical sounds as geometric shapes?

David: No, I just hear it very clearly.