1960's were an amazing time for art, especially music. All kind of new "directions" and styles were very revolutionary. On It's Psychedelic Baby we are mostly "specialized" in 60's experimental music among other things and it's a great honor for us to share with you one of the most unique and avant-garde approach released, what I would entitle among the most unique and ahead of time, records of the 60's along with United States of America LP and Silver Apples among others. This is an interview I did with Cork Marcheschi, bassist/electronics expert. We covered pretty much the whole story from the start of his carrier till nowadays, when Fifty Foot Hose music will be featured in Billy Bob Thornton film called Jane Mansfield's Car.
It’s really an honor for me to talk about Fifty Foot Hose, one of the essential 60’s psychedelic bands in my opinion. I would like to start with your childhood. Where were you born and what can you tell me about some of the early influences?
I was born in Burlingame, California, this is 15 minutes south of San Francisco. I am first generation Italian/ American. My mother was sang operas and was in the chorus of the San Francisco opera. We lived in a community of immigrants, Italians, Russian, Mexican, Japanese and Greeks.
The parents all spoke broken English and the kids all played together. The smell of all the different foods that would flow into the street was wonderful.
We all lived together with my grand mother and grand father. Great times! The bay area had one great Jazz station - two blues stations and two rock n roll stations. So music was very easy to find and to hear. My friends had older brothers and sisters and when I would be at there houses I would here music I wasn't familiar with and it interested me. And Blues caught my ear at the age of 8. I loved the grove. I also had the accidental opportunity to hear a black church choir. I can still feel the hair on the back of neck going up as I heard the choir shake the church with their power. So black blues based music was my first love.
What was the scene in Burlingame?
There was no scene of any kind in Burlingame. It was a nice small town very close to San Francisco but no music scene.
Were the The Ethix your first band? I would like if you could share a story about them. How did you got together and what was the name of other band members…
My first band was the Hide-away'. It was 1962 and we played for about a year. The drummer quit and I was directed to Gil Sanchez. Gil had some friends that were in bands and he asked them to come to a rehearsal. There I met Gene Sanchez ( no relation to Gil) Gene was a good singer. After a couple of month the guitar player quit and we got Reese Sheets ( latter of the Vegetables) and Wayne Cebalos Latter of ( AUM). This band became the Ethix. We played R n B and worked every weekend at school dances or clubs. We were all under age but had phony ID's.
This band played together for a couple of years. It broke up and I formed a new band with Johnny pichetti on Drums - Bob Noto Guitar - Ken ? on vocals and sax. bill gerst on Key boards and trumpet. This band work a lot of night clubs in the North Beach area of San Francisco. We put out a record Called Skopull. I think It was on the DM label. We joined a musical show and toured California. While on tour we were picked up by an agent who booked us into a Las Vegas Lounge " The El Rancho" We played there for 2 weeks and then went to the "Pussy Cay Ag Go" This was an after hours place where all of the entertainers and show girls would come after work. We played from midnight to 6 AM. I didn't know we needed a special card from the police to work in places that had alcohol and gambling. 3 of the band was under 21 years old so we couldn't work in Las Vegas and had to leave. That was the end of the band. I was so depressed that I went home and did nothing for 3 months. Then I met David blossom on a casual gig and we started to talk about music and what it was and could be. I had been in art school for 4 years and was well aware of avant-garde music. I had owned " Poeme elctronique" since 1962 - this was my introduction.
So David and I got together the next day, talked and listened to records. I played BAD TRIP for him. Electronic music- free jazz - feedback guitar solos etc. We decided to put a band together with the idea that rock n roll was electronic music it just didn't know it yet.
You released only one single, right? It featured Skins / Bad Trip. Where was it recorded and how many copies were made?
BAD TRIP was recorded with bob Noto on Guitar - Bob Gibson screaming and hollering and I played some bass and hit a large card board tube with a stick. We recorded this on a two track SONY in my parents family room. We put Bob in the bath room as a kind of sound booth. It was one take and it was really fun. I wanted to deal with it as Music Concrete so I suggested that the record could be played at any speed.
It was an art projects for me. My love of DADA was fully realized in BAD TRIP.
What happened next after The Ethix?
David Blossom and I looked for people who might be able to play experimental music in the rock world. We found Larry Evan - Guitar - Jerome Kimsey on drums - Nancy Blossom ( Davids wife at the time) sang. I played bass and electronics until the electronics became full time and then we needed a bass player but we never really had a steady one.
We needed to work and make money while we got our music together, So Ii booked us into all of the old clubs we used to play in. I understood that after they heard the band, this would be the last time I could ever play in these straight clubs again. We worked for about 6 months and on a gig some trumpet player suggested that I bring a tape to Brian Rohan a music lawyer and go between with record companies. We made a with 4 to 6 songs -- if not this time - fly free - good bless the child and I can't remember the last one. I brought the tape to Brian and 2 months latter I got a call from him telling me a guy from Mercury records wanted to see the band. We organized a meeting in my parent family room - the same place I recorded Bad Trip. Robin Mc Bride was the agent and he loved the band and signed one the spot.
I know you used custom-made electronic instrument from a combination of elements like theremins, fuzz boxes, a cardboard tube, and a speaker from a World War II bomber and I would love if you could tell us more about this mind blowing instrument?
There was a tube type Theremin - some fuzz tone type devices - a wonderful plastic speaker from a WW2 navy boat. It was amazing.
It was mounted in the wooden book that was the instrument - It faced up and I would put marbles and ball bearings in it and then run very powerful low frequency wave forms through it. The sound was like nothing you have ever heard and the visual of the dancing marbles was great. I had three tone generators - a Hoener Echolette - an electric siren - the squeaky box that sounded like a rat being killed - Two different types of microphones - saw blades - the card board tube - and a spark gap. This would create a very bright and loud arc of electricity. I still have a lot of it.
In 1966 I starting working with Experiments in art and technology - An arts group that looked at merging art and technology. I participated in a some of their events but through EAT - I met Tony Nazzo from the Mills College tape music center. This is the place where Terry Riley did his residence and Don Buchla developed the Buchla Box synthesizer. Any how David and I got to do some work with mature composers and musician in the experimental music world (Through mills college tape music center).
Around late 1966 and 1967 you started to record Cauldron, which is in my opinion along with The United States of America LP the most unique album. What are some of the strongest memories from producing and recording it?
The best memories were of working with David. The two of us were the band. He held the traditional structure of the music together and I brought the experimental and DADA to the Hose. Mercury records had big rehearsal space and all of the bands signed to them would rotate through the rehearsal space. We would be in the space with Mother Earth - Blue Cheer - Doug Sham - Tongue and grove etc.
The recording session that we did at TRIDENT studios in North Beach were great. Dan Healy ( from the grateful dead) was our engineer and he was perfect for getting into all of the weirdness. We made our own reels to hold the tape and made the hole off center to create wobble in the sound. Took the signal from the board and broadcast it FM to a turner and then recorded it out of phase. The studio was below ZIMS a diner so we just had to call up stairs and great food would magically show up.
What gear did you guys use and in what studio did you record it?
Basic tracks at Sierra sound and sweetening at Trident.
Cauldron was released on Limelight Records? How did you get signed up and how many copies were pressed?
I don't know how many were pressed but I think 5,000.
What can you tell me about the cover artwork?
We found this guy who had done some fun posters and understood the electronics part of the band so we gave him the gig.
Let’s talk some more about the album. What is the main concept behind it?
The concept was to expand what contemporary popular music was. I thought the avant-garde could have had a home with this new group of listeners but they turned out to be pretty conservative - intellectually . Drugs were fine - sex was fine - stop the wars was good but when challenged with abstract art., they reacted like conservative people look at a Jackson Pollock painting.
I know this is very hard to answer, but I usually ask all the musicians I do interviews with, to comment the songs from their LP in a few words.
A1 And After
I was so naive to think that what John Cage could do I could do too but I didn't consider my audience. The idea was you turn your stereo way up and walk away. Slowly this rumble tone find resonant frequencies in the floor - walls and ceiling. You feel you are in an earthquake.
A2 If Not This Time
One of my favorite cuts - influenced by Shoernberg's 12 tone scale. The room we first played this in was filled peopled we didn't know and they became the perfect audience and sound absorbing material.
A3 Opus 777
All of the little electronic pieces were my sketches. Ideas for things to be extended in the future.
A4 The Things That Concern You
Larry's song - I never liked it
# A5 Opus 11
A6 Red the Sign Post
This song was anthemic. We performed it with passion and and joy.
# A7 For Paula
Rose came from a suggestion by Robin Mc Bride. The line no one can ever smell a rose - is a play on Marcel Duchamp's Why Not sneeze Rose selavy. which refers to EROS.
We wanted to create a soaring feeling.
B2 God Bless the Child
Nancy Liked the song and we thought we would try to see if we could make it new.
This is our expression of a TONE POEM.
You toured with acts like Blue Cheer, Chuck Berry and Fairport Convention…With who else and how do you remember concerts? How did the audience react on your music?
The audiences were usually pretty threatened when presented with things that they didn't understand of had experienced before.
Do you have any crazy stories to share from back in the days?
The craziest concert was when Nancy was nine months pregnant and as big as a house. This job had been booked 11 months in advance and the band they booked is not the band they got? We were playing for an all girl catholic high school, it was very proper and sedate---until we started to play. We started as cool as we could be but the music got the best of us and we ramped up pretty quick. At the beginning of the second set NANCY came out in all hugeness and the crowd went silent. You could hear the air being sucked out of the room. We were all taken by surprise and there was moment of silence as if someone had died. Then I decided we had to just go for it because there was no turning back. We lasted into Red The sign post and no one moved - still staring at Nancy's belly. Finally one couple got dancing and then it was like an explosion of young kid who had been waiting for an excuse to go crazy and they did.
What a night - shoes- jacket - coats - corsages and other bits of clothing were littered all over the dance floor. The chaperons couldn't be heard over the amplifiers and so they gave up trying to control the catholic craziness. These kids didn't know what they were listening to but some how THEY GOT IT!
What happened next? I know most of the members joined the musical Hair, Nancy Blossom becoming the lead in the San Francisco production and later singing in Godspell. How bout you? I know you are very respected sculptor, specializing in public work using neon, plastic, and kinetic characteristics and if you would like to talk about that, it would be much appreciated.
I never separated the music from the sculpture - it all felt the same to me. In 1970 I started to teach art at the Minneapolis COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN.
I also started showing my work. By 1973 I was showing my art in Canada - Germany - New York - San Francisco and other places in the USA.
I moved away from Minneapolis in 1986 and came back to San Francisco where I ended to live the rest of my life.
This summer I was contacted by Billy Bob Thornton (the actor) and he bought 2 Fifty Foot Hose songs for his next movie (2013) I do not have the correct title for the film but you can find it on line under - Jane Mansfield's Car. The band will be getting back together and playing so shows around the opening of the film.
In the mid 90’s you had reunion and you released Live & Unreleased and new studio album Sing Like Scaffold.
Yes - we got back together in 1994 and have remained committed to continuing on in the tradition of the original band.
If I may ask, what important role had psychedelic drugs played back in the 60’s for you guys?
David and I were never into drugs? People who are not aware of new music find that odd - but those familiar with John Cage - Luigi Russolo - Morton Sobotnick etc. Never ask the question since they come from a different contextual place.
Thank you very much for taking your time, Cork. Would you like to add something else?
It was very sad to have David pass away. We had worked together again in 1982 and 83. David had become a recording engineer and he did the sound for feature documentary " Survivors the blues today" The film had John Lee Hooker - Dr. John - Corky Siegal - Archie Shepp etc. We then did a TV show for the black entertainment network. It was called " I am the blues" and featured Willie Dixon. That was the last time we worked together but we kept in touch - we only lived about 1 mile from each other. I miss him.
Message for It’s Psychedelic Baby readers?
Learn from the past so the ignorant of the present do not steel it as their own.