Kaleidoscope Interview with Chris Darrow

June 19, 2011

Kaleidoscope Interview with Chris Darrow

Thank you very much for agreeing to do
this interview about your band. You started in a band called the Re-Organized
Dry City Players back in 1963? Can you tell me about them?
The band was my first group and it was a
bluegrass/old timey band.  There were
four guys: Roger Palos, my best friend and he played guitar, Pete Madlem, on
banjo and Dobro, Pete Fullerton (later in the WE FIVE) on bass and me on
mandolin, fiddle and vocals.  We all sang
harmonies but I sang most of the lead vocals. 
We were all in high school and lived in Claremont, California.  Later on the members changed a bit and Bob
Warford took over on banjo and Bill Stamps played bass.
I know that David Lindley was in the Mad
Mountain Ramblers, how did you guys meet?
We met at a place called the Cat’s Pajamas
in Arcadia, California.  They had a
hootenanny night on Thursday night and anyone could play there.  It was mostly bluegrass bands and guys like
Clarence White would play with his band, the County Boys (later the Kentucky
Colonels) regularly.  I was there with
Charlie Zetterberg on banjo, Fritz Mulhauser on guitar and I played mandolin
and sang.  David came up after our set
and asked if I would be interested in joining their band, as one of the members
was quitting.  I said I would, but that I
still wanted to stay with my own band, The Dry City Players as well.  He said fine and that’s how it started.
Did the Re-Organized Dry City Players or
the Mad Mountain Ramblers ever recorded something?
No, we never did.
Around 1964 you and David started a band
called The Dry City Scat Band. There was also Richard Greene on the fiddle,
Pete Madlem on banjo and Steve Cahill on vocals and guitar. You released an EP
called Sounds. Can you tell me the story about this recording…
The band became a combination of the Dry
City Players and the Mad Mt. Ramblers, with some of the same members blending
together.  When The Mad Mt. Ramblers
played at Disneyland (1962-64) there was David on banjo and fiddle, Steve
Cahill on guitar, Bob Warford on banjo and Dobro, Phil Cleveland on bass and me
on mandolin, fiddle and vocals.  This was
the band that transformed into the Dry City Scat Band.  Pete Madlem came back and Richard Greene was
the new guy.  We played a lot all around
southern California and were one of the best bluegrass bands in the area.  We played a lot at the Ash Grove in
Hollywood, and did a major summer tour for Pepsi Cola in the summer of
1964.  I had left the band before they
recorded the EP.
Then you went to form a new band called
The Floggs. What can you tell me about this band?
After I left the band the Scat Band in
1964, I decided, after hearing the bands from the English Invasion, like the
Stones, Them, Beatles, Animals, etc., that I would start my own band.  We were originally called the Fabulous T.J.
Floggs.  T.J. is short for the border
town of Tijuana, Mexico.  It started out
with Roger Palos on bass, Bill Stamps on lead guitar, Tommy Salisbury on drums
and me on rhythm guitar and lead vocals. 
We played covers and originals, mostly written by me.  An organ player named Hugh Kohler joined
after a while and then we were a five-piece group.  After Roger left to get a job, I took over
the bass role.  We were a great band and
recorded a 7-song demo that should come out sometime on TAXIM records.  Three of the songs from the demo, If the
Night, Move on Down the Line (became Pulsating Dream) and Hesitation Blues were
later to appear on Side Trips, the first Kaleidoscope record.  I was married, had a child, was going to
school full time and wanted to play music. 
The band was not as serious as I was at the time, so I dissolved the
band.  While working in the Scripps
College Art Gallery one night, I got a call from David Lindley asking me if I
would be interested in joining a band that was forming.  I said yes, immediately.  I quit school and jumped right in!
David Lindley started playing as a duo with
Solomon Feldthouse. Soon after the Kaleidoscope was born. Please share a story
about the beginning of Kaleidoscope.
I was the last to join, so I have very
little information on the early part with David and Solomon.  They had done a couple of things in the
studio for EPIC with Barry Friedman, and were pretty sure that there was a
recording deal in the works.  The band
was originally supposed to be a “leaderless band”, and for a time it was.  Anyone who brought a song to the group, and
we agreed on it, got to be the leader for that time.  The first two albums were pretty much that
How do you remember the first recording
sessions you had?
The first session produced seven
songs.  We were very well rehearsed and
had hardly any experience in the studio, so it was quite a feat.  I don’t remember anything specifically,
except that we recorded in the big CBS studio where they recorded the big bands
like Benny Goodman.  It was a very large
room with high ceilings.  Brian
Ross-Myring was the engineer.  That was
where I learned a lot  about how a record
was recorded and made.  It changed my
Around 1966 you released your first 45’s
called Please / Elevator Man on Epic. How did you get a contract to record for
I was young and didn’t know anything about
the music business.  We had a manager
named Michael Goldburg, who handled our affairs, so I presume he was the one
that got the deal for us.
Many other singles were released and in
1967 you released your debut album called Side Trips. The album has some very
interesting ideas. I really enjoy diverse styles range from eastern type psych,
to country rock, to folk, with some ragtime elements…Can you tell me how the
record was recorded and produced? How many copies were made and who did the
cover artwork?

The songs were mostly recorded as we did
them live.  We did overdubs and things
like that, but the recording was very straightforward and was produced by Barry
Friedman, who would make suggestions that we tried to comply with.  Not that many copies were made, maybe 10,000,
but I am not sure.  It didn’t ever sell
that well in the old days.  The cover was
done by an artist that Columbia picked who did covers for ESP records, an
avant-garde label from New York.  We were
promised an all color album cover, but got the black and white one
instead.  There was blue lettering on the
back, however.  That’s what they meant, I
guess.  I was a very low budget album, to
be sure!
A Beacon From Mars is your next album
and probably the most well known. It was released in 1968 on Epic. Again we
have a mix of eastern and bizarre psych, with country rock and jugtown
blues…Would you mind telling us how it was made? Again I’m interested in how
many copies were made and also about the cover artwork which is absolutely
After recording the first album with a
producer, we wanted to be our own producer, and wanted to record everything
live, just like onstage.  That’s why the
record sounds so much different than the first one.  Both Beacon from Mars and Taxim were recorded
just like we performed them on stage. 
They were always different each night a gigs, but the studio versions
were as close to a live performance as we could get.  The long cuts are especially astonishing to
me.  No overdubbing, nothing but a live
sound with mikes set up in the room.  We
changed instruments and everything.  So
that was the live record, and probably the best one of the first four albums,
for that reason.  The album cover was a
re- working of an old piece of sheet music that we changed to the title, Beacon
from Mars.  Marty Nelson, a friend of
David and Chester, did the cover itself. 
I have no idea how many record were manufactured.  Like Side Trips, Beacon didn’t really sell
that many either.
I have to ask you about solo by Lindley
in which, on stage, he used a violin bow on electric guitar, that probably
inspired Page to use the same effect later. Jimmy Page called you his favourite
band of all time. Where did Lindley get inspiration to do this?
I have no idea.  We were always trying new things, and since
David, Chester, Solomon and I all played violin, it seems a natural thing to
do.  I am bowing the electric bass at the
beginning of Beacon from Mars.  I did it
over the harmonic of the bass and got an owl like sound at the beginning as
well as some other tones, which you can hear. 
David was a master of that technique, and we are still not sure if Page
took it from David or not.  We know he
and Robert Plant came to see us at the Avalon Ballroom and saw us perform the
What happened after you left the band for a
I quit the band over differences in musical
direction.  As the major songwriter, my
songs were not being performed onstage very much, and I felt that it was time
to leave.  So I did!  The band also had developed factions and it
was no longer a leaderless band.  David
became the major decision maker after I left.
In May 1969 you recorded your third
album called The Incredible Kaleidoscope. What are some of your memories about
this release?
I had left the band by then!
Bernice was your last album. It’s more
guitar driven rock’n’roll, then the previous albums were…why is that?  You contributed two new songs (“Brother
Mary” and “Mickey’s Tune”) to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie
Point, and supported Cream on their American farewell tour. First I would like
to ask about Zabriskie Point, how did you get in contact with Michelangelo and
what is your opinion of the film (I really love this movie). How do you remember shows with Cream?
I wasn’t on any of these things; I was no
longer in the band.
Would you like to share few interesting
stories from touring?
While in New York on our first trip, the
Kaleidoscope was performing at The Scene, opening for Nico.  We were staying at the Albert Hotel.  In our first half hour in town we were robbed
of some of our instruments- the van had been left unattended.  The next morning I went out of the hotel to
see New York for the first time.  As I
approached the corner, I saw a tall, longhaired guy in a full-length fur coat
walking across the street in my direction. 
It was Frank Zappa, and he called out, ‘Hey, Chris, what are you doing
here?’  I invited him to our gig and he
invited me down the street to the Mothers Of Invention’s rehearsal hall.  I had certainly arrived in New York!  That night at the gig, Frank and some of his
band showed for our set.  He was so
appalled at Nico’s caterwauling that he got up after her set and went up on
stage and got behind her Hammond organ. 
He proceeded to start pounding on the keys and screaming the names of
vegetables.  That was his interpretation
of Nico.
What happened after you disbanded? I
know you had reunion around 1976 and you recorded an album called When Scopes
Collide. In the 90’s you released another album, but without Lindley called
Greetings From Kartoonistan…We Ain’t Dead Yet. What can you tell me about
these reunions?
I wasn’t in the band when it
disbanded.  Later on, Chester and I got
the band together for a reunion and each person had a chance to do something
that they wanted.  When Scopes Collide
was recorded in 3 days and mixed, so it was another low budget record.  I happen to like that album.  It had members of the first two bands in the
same room for the first time.  Greetings
From Kartoonistan…We Ain’t Dead Yet is my favorite of all the Kaleidoscope
records.  David decided not to show up
but everyone was much older and better than when we were in our twenties, so
the music is much more mature and sophisticated for my tastes.  Once again the roster of musicians was the
original band and the addition of Paul Lagos on drums and Stuart Brotman on
bass and exotic instruments.
What are you doing these days?
I am still making records and writing
songs.  Last year I won an Emmy for a
song I co-wrote, and a label in England, called Shagrat records, put out a
vinyl EP of a band I had with Bob Mosley from Moby Grape, called the
Darrow/Mosely Band. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/blogs/alternate-take/the-continuing-saga-of-moby-grape-20101013.  I still have my home studio and don’t play
out that much anymore, but occasionally. 
TAXIM Records has most of my recordings for sale and they can be
purchased online http://www.taxim.com/ or through noguru.com. I am still
working with Chester from the Kaleidoscope and we have done a number of
projects over the years.  Our last, Harem
Girl, was released on TAXIM.  Our latest,
Island Girl, should be out sometime in the near future.  I have been in a number of documentaries and
books recently, Harvey Kubernik’s Canyon of Dreams, on the Laurel Canyon scene
of the ‘60s and ‘70s and very nice documentary called, Troubadours: The Rise of
the Singer-Songwriter, which was aired on PBS nationally in America and is now
out as a DVD.
Thank you very much. I’m really happy
we talked about the history of one of the best psychedelic rock bands from the
States. Would you like to add something else I didn’t ask you?
We were all young guys who individually
could have had our own band.  But,
because we were all individuals, who knew how to adapt, we did so with some
type of personal intention.  We were a
one of a kind musical ensemble.  All the
Kaleidoscope members had to learn musical styles and time changes that they had
never played or heard before, and, yet somehow, the band invented a personal
style all their own.  I think we probably
were the first “World Beat” band, as some writers have proposed.  We didn’t set out to do that, but we sure
pulled it off for a while.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
© Copyright
http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/ 2011
  1. ge

    KB: Well you're no Jon Cott! but what you lack in preparedness you make up for in chutzpah and perseverance!! K. was one heckuva band, i sure keep loving that ol' 'Beacon...' Keep it up, a valuable service you provide

  2. Dr X

    Hi. I'm guessing from reading this that you send the artist a list of prepared questions in advance and they reply by filling in the blanks. Is that correct?

    Can I request that you ask the artists about unreleased tracks? For example, on the sleevenotes for the Bacon from Mars compilation (Edsel) they mention several unreleased tracks that never made the albums. Every artist that made songs for Zabriskie Point was reputed to have been asked to do enough for a whole soundtrack. If so they may be other Kaleidoscope tracks from the era. There are several live bootlegs available. Are there any live concerts in the vault. Think how good the HP Lovecraft live was. Finally, the recent compilation of Pulsating Dream is supposed to contain every Epic track. In fact it omits several by mistake and includes the "wrong" version of "Just A Taste".

    No criticism is intended. I'm extremely grateful for the interview.

  3. Bruno Ceriotti

    Good job! If you want to know more about Chris Darrow early years (1944-1966) and also about Kaleidoscope story, take a look here:


    and here:


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