feature/interview: Rich La Bonte!
accomplished sci-fi writer and musical eclectic ... Rich La Bonte! back in 2006 or so i wrote all 'bout him here and the material he had posted on his website [www.flatdisk.net] from long gone 70s eps and an album or two as well. he had posted his favorite tracks in an order of his own choice, and i found the whole mess totally mind blowing. imagine a singer, a REALLY GOOD singer, i mean the man performed in the original Godspell, doing homespun pop mellowisms that float yer head right off into never neverland back to back with insanely hep and speedy punk/new wave ditties that crunch and buzz round the room ... and his voice works just as well
on these too ... like a less pretentious tom verlaine ... and on the psychy ooze he sounds both turns lou reed after whippets and john lennon's airier moments which in american form through all kinds of looking glasses come out sounding like pure BOBB TRIMBLE which is crazy in and of itself, but i'll bet you one could be easily fooled by a few of these tracks. but various comparisons aside, Rich is a way-cool songwriter and musician crossing all kinds of 70s boundaries firmly embedding him in my chimney shrine to other heroes of a similar stripe like Todd Tamanend Clark, R. Stevie Moore, and George Brigman. they all lived it from the hilts of
their living rooms and the bad assness of this flows forever on every thing they cut. Rich gets the least recognition of any, and it still surprises me. this shit aches for a JUICY 2-cd reish set like the todd clark ish ... like whoa ... so anyhow ramblings aside, i'll let the man open up his vaults for all of you as we discussed his musical past over e-mail the past week. and i encourage a plundering of his uploaded mp3s here ... my favorite collection is the "We Are All Experimental Models" one which plays like an album ... and a gorgeous
stirring one at that. without further ado, here's the words from the man himself:
1) how would you classify your music in the spectrum of sounds that was the 1970s? i hear such an array of styles in your work, face melting psychedelic folk rock that soars into the sky, and oozing proto-plasmic punk material that totally demolishes - what were your influences?
2) did you play live much? if so did you have a standing band for any period of time?
3) how did your work as an author affect your musical creativity?
This is for a blog, right, because I started to answer the first question and I realized I was answering all three, so here goes. (Minimal editing on my part. Feel free, etc.) I am born eclectic. My influences started in the 50s. By the 70s I was pretty much formed. I got a tape recorder from my dad when I was 11 and figured out how to record a piano backwards. That's true and I still love that sound. The first two singles I bought were Bird Dog by the Everly Brothers and Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis, and both were a big leap for me. Before that I liked what I heard on Top 40 radio and saw on TV. Later, a jazz drummer named Dick Kilgore got me into Monk and Mingus and Art Blakey. I bought an electric guitar at that time and started
playing, mostly singing in garage bands. I had a pretty good voice and as no one I knew could cut Beatles, or any of the vocal oriented stuff of the
day, I did Jagger and Eric Burdon and Dylan covers. In 1965 I went to Ithaca New York and joined up with a band called the huns (always lower case.) Playing in the huns gave me working capital, so I bought every album and single I could get my hands on. The group was a Stones / Kinks cover band at heart but we matriculated into six part harmonies and folk rock and
originals. We played 40 songs with a play list of 80, three hours, two times a week on the average and it was a union band, by which I mean
AFL-CIO American Federation of Musicians. Ithaca was owned by the union and you couldn't play there unless you joined. There were 40 venues within a ten mile radius and I don't know how many bands, and we all got union scale. The band went through two incarnations and dissolved. I left Ithaca and got a job as a gopher for an industrial film house in NYC and eventually became a film editor. The film job tanked and Gordon Furlong got me into a band in NYC with a girl singer named Joanne Jonas. The band tanked and Jonas got herself a part in the original cast of Godspell and me an audition for the Godspell band. Steve Schwartz hired me because I could hit a high C in falsetto. Godspell gave me enough money to buy a Teac 4-track SimulSync 15 / 7 ips recorder and a slightly used EMS Synthi A. I owned more than one instrument too. (Big man in the head!) By then I was listening to everything from Apple Records (there was no Apple Computers) to Zappa. I regularly saw major and minor acts in small venues in the Village, where I lived through most of this while playing Godspell six nights a week. Jimi Hendrix, Frank and his boys, Muddy, John Lee Hooker, Blues Project, Youngbloods and local bands like The Magicians and The Flying Machine. Not
to mention the Fillmore East. I remember seeing the Kinks and the Airplane - the rest are a blur.
In the late 70s I moved to Hollywood with 500 LPs and Shari Famous to become the Patti Smith Group of the West Coast but we really got into the local bands instead and I started writing reviews for local rags and FlipSide a couple of times. Shari and I became Rich & Famous and started CMI Records Newsletter to take a poke at a friend of ours who worked at
BMI. (ClassAss Music Industries, with the first two words run together all computery.) Later I changed it to fLAtDiSk because we decided to start a label with Dave Gibson (Moxie Records) doing the pressings. All the groups around us were doing it, so we decided to do it too. Vinyl heaven. Shari and I met Kim Fowley and he was amazed when I knew who his father was. I hung out with him for five years in the mid 80s and we had fun in the studio at all hours of the night, etc. I like Kim. He's a genius and anybody who says otherwise doesn't know the guy. A little outrageous from time to time, maybe. Rich & Famous had no live act for at least the first three years. FlipSide kept ragging us so we got a good band together eventually and did the
rehearsal halls but never played out. I didn't care and she did. After Shari and I broke up, she put together a band with Larry Alcorn and played
out for a while and then worked with Pat Bag (The Bags) in a group called Buffy's Ghost. (There was no BtVS at that time. The name was a Family Affair / Anissa Jones reference.) I think she was a Chili Pepper for a while too. I was in a band called The Clones with Chuck Wada of The Motels who wrote and played great but couldn't sing. He thought he was the next Darby but Darby had better words. FlipSide came to see us and told me I could do better. Only time I ever played bass in a three piece and I never did it again. Play live for money, I mean. Big anglophile, BTW. My record collection, when I had one, was very English. Anthrax to Wire. But also big on Brian Wilson and Beach Boys (separately, please.) West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Agent Orange. Still have some of the old records, transferred from vinyl to cassette to CD. I got my first computer in the early 80s. It was a VIC-20. I could never
afford an Amiga, so I went from there to a C64. Did chip tunes on both. Learned BASIC. Got a job with a system integrator and into PCs at the same time. (The Commodore pays off!) Got into mods. Learned HTML. Wow, this is so too long. Last question: I wrote fiction before I played
an instrument, but after the backward piano. I read everything science fiction when I was a kid. I learned guitar to write songs. I didn't start
thinking about writing actual books until the late 80s. Yes, I'm writing another one now. Once you figure out how, it's hard as hell.
4) did you consider yourself apart of the punk movement? 5) to what
extent were drugs involved? (don't feel obligated to answer if you wish to
be private in this regard - simply, i enjoyed the song Weeds very much.)
6) were all of your records pressed on fLAtDiSk? 7) if you weren't
playing live so much, were the records just sold mailorder then? 8)do you
still keep in touch with kim fowley? how did you know who his father was?
I considered myself apart from the punk movement but Shari Famous is younger than me by about a decade so I always considered her a part of it and I was along for the ride. We were champions of "new wave" when we first arrived in Hollywood - which I saw as a return to the minimalism of 60s rock and folk - but we adapted when we realized that the punk
subculture in LA was much further along than NYC. They were really a very friendly bunch of punks anyway, Geza's "Kill the Hippies" aside. I started smoking pot in Ithaca and did some 60s psychedelics, but never got into the harder stuff. I was pretty alcoholic for a while in
Hollywood, but I also gave up hard liquor in 1980. Nowadays I drink Guinness socially and Diet Coke at home. Weeds is dedicated to my pal Kronos (Kronos and the Felching Vampires on Moxie Records - good luck finding a copy of that one!), who was Dave Gibson's sidekick while Moxie was around. I must have been pretty ripped when I recorded it because I "found" it while listening to old cassettes a couple of years ago. ("What the hell was that!?") My records came out on the Moxie, CMI and fLAtDiSk labels. fLAtDiSk wasn't so much an entity then as an alias. They were all Moxie Records. Like most independent labels in LA during that period, we were distributed by Bomp and another company (Greenway, maybe? I forget the name.) We also
placed them ourselves at stores like Rhino Records on Melrose and took frequent ads in FlipSide and Slash. Shari did all the placing. She could sell anything. Incidentally, she later married Richard Foos, one of the two owners of Rhino Records and is now a practicing psychologist in
Beverly Hills. Who woulda' thunk? I haven't kept in touch with Kim in this century. He left LA for a long while in the 1990s and he doesn't do email. I hear from my friend Deborah Patino (RasZebra, Ringling Sisters, etc.) that he's back there now. We parted as friends and despite his reputation I don't have a bad word to say about the guy. He is every bit the living legend and he's worked with everybody from Doris Day to The Plastic Ono Band. When we did the Son of
Frankenstein LP he told me that I was the first person to produce him since Phil Spector. (Another challenge for rock historians because I don't know what record he was talking about.) Kim is the consummate rock independent.
Kim's father was Douglas Fowley, a character actor in the golden age of Hollywood with a list of credits a mile long. The old man first appeared uncredited in The Thin Man in the early 1930s and continued to work steadily well into his eighties. Usually played gangsters and bad guy
western saloon owners, but he did comedy too and he is probably best remembered as the distraught movie director in Singing in the Rain. Kim and his dad were very estranged when we met, but I think he told me that they reconciled before the old man died. I noticed a likeness watching an old Mr. Moto movie late one night in my Hollywood apartment. Kim went dead
silent when I told him and no wonder: rock and roll mythology had Kim pegged as the illegitimate son of Howard Hughes at the time.
9) what is your connection to r. stevie moore/wfmu (i remember hearing
that song for irwin)? 10) what is the story behind the mayan canals part
of mayan canals? 11) tell me a little about your new stuff (music wise
As I remember it, I was living in West Orange NJ and editing film in NYC working as an assistant to Mark Rappaport for a film Ted Steeg was doing for United Technologies (or somebody like that) and I was writing songs with Shari Famous and she introduced me to Irwin Chusid at WFMU. This is 1976, maybe? Irwin let us do some little bits for his show on tape and we recorded Drums Along the Maple Wood later when we lived in Hollywood and sent him a
copy. (Irwin lived in Maplewood, NJ. That entire Moxie "release" was like 12 acetates in color Xerox sleeves.) Time passes. We either heard R. Stevie on Irwin's shows or Irwin sent us R. Stevie Moore stuff, I don't remember which. Anyway we decided to ask Stevie if he might want a West Coast single on Moxie / CMI if we paid for it. We were trying to help Dave Gibson elevate Moxie and pick up legit acts and we figured we had something in common with Stevie as we were all working out of our living rooms. We went east to meet him and his manager and we signed paper. Stevie sent us his tape and we loved it and decided we should give it the best mastering possible so we took it to Gold Star in Hollywood (Phil Spector was in the house but we did not meet.) Then we took it to Dave and told his pressing plant guy that we wanted bright red vinyl and we R. Stevie Moore's New Wave b/w Same on CMI Records. Got some very nice reviews fromTrouser Press, Rodney played it on KROQ, etc. Time passes. Stevie and Igot back in touch a couple of years ago and even jammed a little up inNorth Jersey with my pal Gordon Furlong. I've done some recent CD coverart for Stevie too. He's got about 300 CDs out, so he's always looking forcover art.Mayan Canals. I'm into the Maya. My family has a distant native NorthAmerican bloodline (Menomonee) and when I was a kid I was puzzled aboutnative origins. The Maya were a genuine mystery at the time and they wereobviously victim to white anthropological prejudice - in the 1920s it wascommonly believed that Maya cities and temples were built by whites whosomehow found their way to Mesoamerica and that the Maya were nothing butignorant slash and burn farmers living in the jungle. Now we know that theMaya had hundreds of cities, many with populations over a hundredthousand, ocean-based trade routes that stretched from Belize to the Bajaof California, etc. One night in the late 70s, Walter Cronkite announcedthat NASA satellites discovered the vestiges of intricate ancient man-madecanal systems in Guatemala that could only have been created by the Maya.The (now rather silly) title tune of the Mayan Canals record was an essayI wrote about the accomplishments of the Maya and their civilizationagainst a Synthi A track. It's silly now because we know so much moreabout them and I was certainly no expert at the time.The mostly instrumental stuff I do today started with mod files in theearly 1990s. I got pretty good at writing mods once Impulse Trackerarrived from Australia, but it was a DOS program so eventually it was notcompatible with my machines. Writing mods was all in the editing - modfiles are created with samples of real instruments as opposed to midigenerated sounds - and I found more modern wav-based editing software tohelp me create MP3s. All of it is an outgrowth of my early interest inelectronic composers like Cage and Stockhausen and my years editing filmand sound. I stopped playing guitar for years and dived into it. I'vesince reunited with my 65 Gibson SG and wrote an actual rock song for thefirst time in decades just last month (sort of Kinks / The Jam tune) but Ihaven't recorded it yet. My voice is still there but not what it used tobe and I'm in no hurry musically.My hardcopy books are science fiction and fantasy. I wrote the first twoin the late 80s and sent them both at once to Ballentine Books, which wasmy favorite sci-fi publisher. A reader at Ballentine sent me a politerejection that said: "Keep trying." I decided not to and the first two released languished for years. In 2000, I put them out myself as ebooks. In 2001, I started Simple Deities and even though I still couldn't get a publisher or literary agent to actually read it, I did enter a Cinescape Magazine literary contest and Simple Deities placed as a finalist. I continued with The Greater Future, which falls into the rather unique sci-fi fantasy
detective mystery genre, and introduced my detective Mike Fixx and his cohorts. Mike returned in Many Teeth (2005) and I decided to take a year off from writing. I officially started the new one in January. From 2002 to 2005 I tried to get publishers and agents to read them, but the book business is strictly pay as you go, much like the so-called major record labels. My attitude now is the same toward both: they are dinosaurs who
will pass away in time because they are no longer needed. The web makes it possible to self publish anything, music, books, movies and even a television series. All you need in the 21st Century is product and a web connection. You can only buy my books online but they are available all over the world thanks to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Well, I'd definitely say that is a wrap (or rap, at least.) I do want to add that my daughter Aimee encourages me in all my arty pursuits and that keeps propelling me forward. Where I am headed I have no idea, but it's a cool ride :o)>
stay tuned folks ... i'll be out of the loop til march 2nd ... seeya later!