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The Godz interview with Larry Kessler

If The Monks with their provocative album Black Monk Time were kind of an answer to the early Beatles years, the Godz answered to what was happening at the current time (both albums by The Monks and The Godz were released in 1966) with expensive production of Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds. I ain't saying that is a bad thing, but The Godz kind of answered to the mainstream society with some of the wackiest, sarcastic music, that worked like a rough diamond. They were very influenced by the Fugs, which are the pioneers of wacky folk rock, or maybe freak rock would be better word to use. The rest is history and in the following interview we will discuss some things about them.   

Were all members of the band originally from New York?

I was, Thornton was and McCarthy was Jay Dillon was from Jersey.

You met Jim McCarthy and Paul Thornton in the 49th Street location of the musical instruments store Sam Goody's. How is it possible that three like minded people got the same job in this music store? 

It was a coincidence but Sam goody was the biggest music retailer in the city, so three guys who love music to be working there really isn’t too farfetched. Sam Goody was dealing in records mostly, instruments were a sideline. I was in sales and Thornton and McCarthy were in stock. We were all in the rock – n roll section, which was the smallest section at the time.

Back then there were records for everything, learning languages, speeches, comedy, Broadway soundtracks and on and on. It was a more encompassing experience than it is now.

What were some influences from back when you were just a kid?     

Ray Charles, Buddy Holly , Dion and the Belmonts, that's the music that I liked. When i was a young kid my mother was a big fan of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and swing of the day.

There is very interesting story behind the original idea of band formation. We'd love if you can share it?   

Um, well to start the band.We started at my Apt and, uh, we were just getting high and playing music. It’s funny, the song that sold Bernard Stollman of ESP records was the song "White Cat Heat' .

Both McCarthy and Thornton were turned down by ESP, so I knew that Stollman wouldn’t want anything that sounded like anyone else’s, so I got the band to submit that one. I was already working as a salesman at ESP at that time, so I did have an in.

I invited Stollman to a party where we performed "White Cat Heat'. He loved it and booked 3 hours at A-1 studios in NYC, to cut a single and we did an entire album... He was upset at first but he liked it enough to put it out.

Awhile ago I interviewed Bernard Stollman and he said, that back in the '60s there were only six employed and four of them were members of The Godz. What can you tell us about this?   

Jay Dillion was the Art director, I was the General manager, Thornton was in the stock and Jim McCarthy, I think he was in shipping. I only took the job because Jim pointed it out to me, he didn’t want to be a salesman. I brought them in later. A very particular set of events led to the Godz coming together. Everything happened, just the way it had to happen, to make it a reality.

What is the concept behind The Godz music?
Freedom. Freedom from the music business boundaries, and the boundaries of what was the norm. And it was pretty stretched out at that time if you remember. The Beatles, The Stones were all doing great things, but we just took it further.
Thornton was really freaky when he was with us, but he was also friends with some establishment rock stars of the time , so he never completely let go.

You were not the only band, that managed to produce music, that was really "out there". There were others like you. For instance fellow band from ESP' like Cromagnon and a lot of others like Red Krayola, Nihilist Spasm Band, Hot Poop... How did you like stuff, that were produced by others? You were probably very influenced by The Fugs too?   

I never listened to any of that stuff.... I was too involved with my own music. ... I loved the Fugs but they were never an influence on us musically.... but we loved their attitude and their musical freedom, which they eventually lost when they signed to Warner Bros.

In 1966 you hit the studio and started recording Contact High With The Godz. What are some of the strongest memories from recording this album?   

The engineer loved us and actually played on the record. He never saw anything like us and wanted to be a part of it, so he ran out during the recording and made some noise just to be on the album. I think that was the effect the Godz had on people, they wanted to be a part of it and the basic simplicity of it meant that they could.

What can you say about the writing process?

We worked individually and together on songs. Lot of stuff was on the spot creation. We'd start playing, then someone would start singing and a song would form.

Later on the we would bring individual songs-and try to collaborate. On the 4th album we basically came in and did our own songs with different musicians. The only collaborations on the 4th album was Thornton and I doing "women of the world" and all of us on 'The Wiffenpoof Song.

What was the scene on East Coast? There was a lot happening and I would love if you can make a summary of that special period of time in New York...

I would see a lot of bands come through New York.  I saw , Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin all at the same club, Steve Pauls scene .We were like the in-crowd hippies on the NYC scene, and Steve Paul loved the Godz , so we could go in there any time for nothing and we could see the best bands in the world for free.
One night we went to the Park Place hotel to get high with Jimi Hendrix. We got off the elevator and this girl comes out of the room screaming at him, and he was screaming at her and fighting . I looked at Thornton and said lets get out of here and we departed. That was my Jimi Hendrix experience. The Doors were booked for a whole week at Steve Pauls. We saw them and wow , I also saw Dylan at West Chester...Also Max’s Kansas city was hot later in the scene, many of the pre-punk stars were there along with the Warhol crowd. I meant my wife there as well… It was crazy time.

Who made cover artwork? 

That would depend on which album you mean. Jay Dillion made the 1st album. Michael Solden and Judy Parker did the 2nd cover. The 3rd cover was done by Cathy Graham and Ruthann Punich from Creem Magazine.
Godzunheit was done by ( Larry thinks for a while ), I don’t remember.

Godz 2 came a year later and was a lot different, still avant-garde, but the elements of psychedelia came into the album. What's the story behind making your second LP? Was it recorded in the same studio? 

Yes it was recorded at A-1 as well. We were using electric instruments at that point. We were rehearsing and we were starting to get good and Stollman was starting to get us gigs. We actually got us a sponsorship from Ampeg. Jay Dillion left after this album and we never saw him again.

What about concerts? I heard you were pretty wild...
When we first started we did folk shows at the Greenwich village clubs, but we were constantly getting thrown out and arguing with audiences who didn’t understand us .... I think that’s why people say we were proto punk.... it was a adversarial role that we would take towards the audience, mostly because we’d be drunk or high. We got kicked out of the Cafe au go- go one snowy night for smoking pot in the club .
We were total anarchists/ punk rock type of thing. We were angry and people did not like us. We were totally misunderstood. You have to understand that people did not do that .
As a performing artist, you did your best, looked nice and appreciated and thanked your audience. You were not supposed to antagonize and berate them. We did some big shows though. We got thrown out of almost every gig we did. We were thrown out the miss Greenwich village pageant , for being too loud and angry.

This was probably why Jay Dillon left, I don’t think he was comfortable with that image and the shows. He wanted us to teach music to kids in schools, that was crazy in itself for us.

Jay Dillon left the band and you recorded two more albums The Third Testament and Godzhundheit. Here we have another wacky music playing. It looks like you proved a point with the second one, that you're a really good musicians and here we have another freak-out, which I personally love. I always look waaay out of the box… 

The Third Testament is where we put a lot of other musicians in the studio with us and had them play other instruments that they would not normally play. So, if you were a drummer you were now on the piano , if you played piano you were on the guitar and so on. They seemed to go along with and enjoy our atonal type of music.

What can you say about the use of hallucinogens? They probably had some impact, especially when recording your second LP...

Yes they did. We were always high on something. Alcohol, as well. Also speed , pot , hash and anything else ... Although we all stayed clear of coke and heroin.... coke was too expensive and heroin was way too scary.

Godzhundheit was your last album. Which members were part of this one?

All three of us, but we were all in other bands at that point. After the Lester Bangs article on The Godz , Stollman wanted us to try and capitalize on it. We all went in the studio and cut this last album with all of our musician friends. Our dynamic on that album was different. It wasn’t strained but it wasn’t friendly. I had recently come back from Baltimore after breaking my neck in a diving accident and I started working for Stollman again. He said that since we all were in other bands he would pay for studio time for us all to record that last album.

What's the craziest story in history of your band?

We did a show for Mehr Ba Ba the guru in North Carolina. When we played We opened up for Mehr Ba Ba and someone spiked the punch with LSD and everyone even cops and security were tripping.

You have a brand new album out called Gift from the Godz. What can you tell us about it?

We started recording it in 2007 in Baltimore. I had some new songs and Jimmy re-did 2 songs that he did with the Godz. Paul Thornton did an original song and 2 covers. He did a Hank Williams song and a cover of Buffy Saint Marie’s “Universal Soldier”.
Jimmy and I wrote 2 songs together “Bustin My Ball” and “Dead and gone”.
All the songs from these sessions are available on the CD GODZ REMASTERED

After the sessions, things started falling apart. Old feelings came back to the surface and we split once again.
I have resolved to keep going and keep the spirit of the Godz alive. I assembled some great new players and started my association with Manta Ray Records in 2010. One of these players Rick Sambuco has been playing with me for the last couple years now, we have a great chemistry together on stage and in the studio. We started up the new band and have been recording new songs. We’ve also rehearsed some Godz favorites and have taken the group out live for some preliminary shows before we hit the road.

We will be out touring to promote “ Gift from the Godz “which was a collaboration of Godz material and new material written for this CD. On the “Gift from the Godz” CD, Paul Thornton did an original song and 2 covers. He did a Hank Williams song and a cover of Buffy Saint Marie’s “Universal Soldier”.

We also did a newer version of “Turn on “ Jay Dillon’s voice is on this and on Women of the World from the 4th album, so it’s kind of like he is on the record with us.
One of the things I like about working with Manta Ray Records , is I get a chance to work with some of the next Generation of producers. On the track “Women of The World”, Manta Ray Records producer Robby Gosweiler took Women of the World into Dubstep mode and put a whole new spin on the Godz sound.

Will you do any shows together with the original Godz?   

Doubtful but anything’s possible. We still stay connected.

Recently, vinyl records started to come back. Do you like this format?   

I love it since I have a record store that sells vintage records

What are you currently listening to and what are you reading?   

I’m reading my grandchildren’s books and listening to my wife, finally.

Anything else to say to our readers?

Thanks for all the support over the years and for keeping the music alive, We’ll see you out on the road. Fans can reach us through Face book

Stay freaky!

Interviews made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
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