The Freeborne interview with Bob Margolin & Dave Codd
Thank you very much for taking your time, Bob and Dave. I would like to ask you first about your childhood and teen years. Where did you grow up and what were some of your influences at the time?
Bob: I was born in 1949 and grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. In about 1957, I began to hear Rock ’n’ Roll on the radio (WCOP, WBZ, WMEX) and I really liked it. I remember in particular Jerry Lee Lewis’ “High School Confidential.” Made me look forward to being a teenager!
Dave: I was born in Pasadena, California and both my parents were professional singers. My father was a tenor and worked for Warner Brothers in Hollywood. Occasionally I will see him in some of their movies from the 40’s and 50’s. My Mom is a soprano and sang mainly opera and light comic opera.
My father also taught singing and had his studio in our home where he and his piano accompanist would give lessons, so our home was always alive with music.
My father also had a vocal quartet that performed primarily on the West Coast and the East Coast. My first gig was at 4 years old at the Western Washington Fair, where my father was headlining, and I was a clown working the audience for the rodeo. That was a blast!- although I have to say I tend to stay away from clowns these days.
My father died when I was 7. When I was almost 10 my Mom decided to move to Boston where my uncle, Boris Goldovsky, had his opera company.
It was the following year, when I was in 5th grade, that I met Nick Carstoiu, who had just moved to Boston from Texas. We immediately became friends because of our love of music.
We went to a school that had a really great music teacher, and, due to her, Nick and my first band was a string quartet with me on viola, Nick on ‘cello, and the beautiful Gomberg twins, who were a year older than we were, on violin. Their father was a violist in the Boston Symphony and he was also my viola teacher.
My Mom was re-married to a big band jazz drummer and we moved out of town, but Nick and I stayed in touch.
Up until this point I had little experience of pop and rock music, but then the Beatles happened and I dropped viola (although I still play) and, because my step-dad was a drummer, and there was a set of drums sitting next to the grand piano in our home, I took up drums. I sang and played drums in 3-4 bands until one dance I played where the guitar player, who wanted to play drums, taught me the chords to “Louie Louie”. We took a break and came back to start the set with that song, and I remember walking up to the mic at edge of the stage and all the girls were right in front of me! That’s when I got a guitar and it was not long before I didn’t play drums anymore.
Your first band was called The Indigos, right? Would you like to share a story about it?
Bob: I had been playing guitar for a year. The band had Bob Levensohn on lead guitar, Steve Starr on drums, and the late David Shapiro sang. I think the band was together from 1965 to mid-1966. Later we got Ken Steiner on bass. We were playing songs we heard on the radio. I remember my friend (from second grade) drummer Lew Lipson coming to one of our rehearsals. Lew was in the first band I ever saw live, playing at Brookline High School in 1962 and he was a much more experienced musician than us. He advised us to listen to the radio and learn the most popular songs.
Dave: Nick and I formed a band called the Missing Links previous to starting the Freeborne. Nick was the lead singer most of the time and played rhythm guitar, I sang lead some and played lead guitar. We did a lot of the tunes that were on the radio and played some blues. For a bunch of kids we played quite a lot in the Boston area. The highlight of that band, for me, was playing a battle of the bands at a club in Boston and during our set Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, and Mark Naftalin from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band- who I’d gone to see the previous night- came in to listen. There I was playing lead guitar for my heroes, and they gave us a big hand.
How did you get signed up by Monitor Records?
Bob: We had signed with a manager named Barry Richards. Barry was a professional bass player (he played bass at my Bar Mitzvah in 1962) who owned a music store in Brookline. He had some family connection to Monitor Records, which mostly put out European folk music, I believe.
Dave: Our manager, Barry Richards, had an “in” with Monitor and he got us signed.
Why the name Freeborne and why the name Peak Impressions?
Bob: You’ll have to ask Nick and Dave about the band name, I’m sure one of them came up with it. I wasn’t crazy about it, but didn’t care enough to say anything. Peak Impressions was the name of a song on the album, I guess we chose it to be the title song.
Dave: Nick and I came up with the name Freeborne, the movie Born Free was in the theaters. We were very open on stage, we never really knew where we might go or end up- we were very free and carried along by that freedom. So it seemed to fit the spirit of the band.
Peak Impressions is one of the tunes on the album and became the title tune. It was meant to be a representation of peaking on LSD and in one review it was described as the best description of an acid trip ever recorded. Nick and I were definitely playing around with that stuff at the time. I remember bringing the tune to a rehearsal and Nick jumped right in and between the two of us we finished off in a matter of minutes.
I would like if you could tell me some of the strongest memories from producing and recording this LP?
Bob: I believe we recorded the album at A&R Studios in New York City. I was very impressed by being in a professional studio. The Fugs had just recorded an album there before us. It was my first recording experience and I remember enjoying it very much. I wanted to play as well as I could. Looking back, I hope I’ve learned a lot since then.
Dave: We recorded at two studios- the first one, I was told later, became Electric Ladyland, and the second was at CBS studios.
We had done some recording in Boston doing radio commercial jingles, etc. There we were hired to be a rock band, not Freeborne, and, because we were all well versed, we played it straight.
Recording the album was very different.
Much larger studios, better recording equipment, engineers of a completely different calibre.
On break, out in the hallways of CBS you never knew who you were going to run into- some of the big names of TV and radio of the day.
For a 17 year old it was pretty heady. And, we were expected to be fully Freeborne, so we had a lot of fun playing recorder or just making noises.
It was also very cool hanging around in the Village in NY. I remember Bob coming back to the hotel from a foray. He had visited a pawn shop and bought a 1955 Gold Top Les Paul for $300. Unfortunately it was stolen a couple of years later.
What gear did you use?
Bob: I think that for most of my time in The Freeborne I had a Gibson SG-style Les Paul guitar and played through a Fender Twin Reverb (loud!) with a Boss Jordan Fuzztone that plugged into the jack of the guitar and opereated with a little switch. Dave Codd had a Guild Starfire sunburst bass and played it through a Sunn bass amplifier. Nick had a Wurlitzer (maybe Hohner) electric piano, and for guitar he had a red Guild Starfire III. He played both through a Kustom amplifier, with rolled & pleated covering. Mike Spiros had a Farfisa combo compact organ, and also played trumpet, saxophone, or recorder into a P.A. microphone. He also sometimes played Nick’s guitar. He also sometimes took one of Lew’s tom-tom’s and played percussion on it with sticks. Spiros was super-talented, could play any instrument well very soon after trying. Lew had Ludwig drums, a gray set.
Dave: I played a Guild Starfire bass through a Sunn amp- very loud- great feedback when you wanted it.
What can you say about the cover artwork?
Bob: It was appropriate to the times.
Dave: still have the cape and coat I’m wearing on the back of the cover- and they still fit. Not many places that I can wear them.
The best artwork never made it to the album. We had a photo session with a nude model that had her body painted. The best shot was one with her sitting in a chair holding Nick’s ‘cello and the five of us standing around and gawking at her.
How many copies were made?
Bob: I have no idea.
Dave: I have no idea how many pressings were done. I was given one copy of the LP at the time, and some of the singles- which I still have.
How did the album sell?
Bob: No idea. I don’t believe I ever got any money from it — or thought about that until just now.
Dave: I have never received any money from sales of the album, so I have no idea how it sold. It did make the 40’s in the top 100 in Cash Box magazine, so it must have sold. I was told at the time that the West Coast, Texas and the East Coast were our best markets.
We were scheduled to go into the studio to do a Japanese version of the album when we fired our manager and lost our deal. I’m not sure how that would have worked because none of us spoke Japanese.
Did you do any touring or just shows?
Bob: We didn’t really tour, just shows. Sometimes we opened for better-known bands, like The Velvet Underground at The Boston Tea Party in 1967 (The Doors were playing the same night at a club called Crosstown Bus, so I never got to see them. I did jam with Robbie Krieger last year in SF though). We once did a show with The Left Banke who had hits with chamber music instruments on them but live, they were a psychedelic rock band.
When we were recording our album in New York, the drinking age was 18 instead of 21 as in Massachusetts. So we went out after the sessions and got legally drunk. That’s the last thing I remember…
Sometime in 1967 or 1968, we played at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine. This was in the middle of the Vietnam War. I remember we were playing this new thing on the radio that had musicians excited but had not exploded as a hit yet — Purple Haze. We also had to play “We Got To Get Out Of This Place,” an Animals song, over and over for the Air Force guys. We rented a trailer and went up in 3 cars, only one made it back. The drive back was hellacious for weather and the cars breaking on a Sunday. Late the next evening we were still riding and the guys had seen the scary movie “Rosemary’s Baby” and were chanting The Lord’s Prayer backwards. Lightning struck right in front of us as soon as they finished. I remember the lightning bolt was pink.
I also remember that we had played at a club in Hillsborough, New Hampshire and practiced our party skills after the show. I remember my girlfriend came up there on a bus with a friend, and they started some shit with the local people that was a little uncomfortable for a while.
Dave: We did shows. There we made some outstanding money.
We played with bands like the Velvet Underground- met Andy Warhol, the Left Banke, Tim Hardin, Canned Heat and several others.
What happened next?
Bob, I know that in 1973 you joined Muddy Waters. I would love if you could share a story how this happened. I know he needed a new guitarist….
Bob: There were a few later versions of the Freeborne, just using the name — I wouldn’t say it was much of a commercial advantage. Most of those bands were Blues oriented. None of them recorded anything, just played local gigs in New England. The Freeborne you’re interested in was very influenced by The Blues Project — we used to do some of their songs. I fell deeper into Blues music progressively. In late 1971 I joined the band of Luther “Georgia Boy” “Snake” Johnson. He had played with Muddy and moved to Boston, was playing in mostly African-American clubs, but had a mixed-race audience of musicians who learned a lot from this real ancient (middle-aged) Chicago Bluesman. Then I was in a band called Boston Blues Band which was trying to play Blues authentically.
Dave: We fired our manager, lost our deal, and briefly looked for other management, but the fire was gone.
Nick and I went off to college- he went to the Berklee School of Music, and I was a composition and conducting major at the University of North Texas.
How was playing and talking with Muddy?
Bob: Muddy was one of those very few who had true ‘charisma.’ He affected people in a spiritual way, both with his music and personally. I’ve had a lot of thrills while I was in Mud’s band, but the biggest was playing his blues with him on stage.
What happened to other guys from The Freeborne?
Bob: Lew Lipson was a professional drummer and booking agent until he passed in 2009. You should ask Nick Carstoiu, David Codd, and Mike Spiros to tell you their own stories themselves. They’re experts on that subject.
In 1980s you had your own blues band and you are still very active. Would you like to tell us what have you been doing lately and what are some of your future plans, Bob?
Bob: I’ve been a Blues band leader since leaving Muddy in 1980. You can see what I’ve been doing at: http://www.bobmargolin.com/bio.html
There may be more info about the questions you’ve asked on there too. I am still touring worldwide and am successful in the little Blues World, which is like being a Jumbo Shrimp — still not very big. But I love Blues music.
Thank you so much for this interview! Would you like to add something else?
Bob: I’ll repeat that I am very grateful to my friends in the Freeborne for playing music with them, learning so many important social and musical lessons, and their continuing friendship. They are some of the smartest and most talented people I ever met. I’ve got a good perspective to be sure of that now, but I’ve always appreciated them.
Dave: I moved to Nashville back in the 80’s and have been there since. I played a lot of bluegrass fiddle- I played Bill Monroe’s birthday party with Bill and Ricky Scaggs sitting 10 feet away- although at the time none of us knew it was Bill’s last birthday.
I have my own recording studio, and I’ve done a lot of recording here.
About 6 years ago the Freeborne had a reunion at a gig that Bob had in Boston. It was great seeing everyone and hearing their war stories from over the years.
Nick and I have been in bands together since the Freeborne and have never lost touch with each other. I’ve also stayed in touch with Bob, but I had not had much contact with Lew or Mic.
When Lew Lipson died almost 2 years ago it was a shock to all of us. Bob, Nick and I had a conference call just to share our feelings and during that call, after I confirmed that Bob had recording capabilities- I knew that Nick did- I proposed that we do a tribute to Lew. We recorded a song called Lew’s Blues, each in our own studios, sending files to each other.
This led to an expansion of that effort, and Nick and I are currently working on new Freeborne music- with input from Bob- that has already received airplay in the D.C. area, and in San Francisco.
New Freeborne music that Nick and I are currently working on is that the drummer is my good friend Aaron “A Train” Smith, formerly of the Temptations and a Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer. He and I have been playing together for several years.