David Bixby | Interview

November 5, 2011

David Bixby | Interview

Dave Bixby is a singer, songwriter born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dave played with folk bands in high school before cutting off his hippie hair to join a religious group. Dave’s definitive loner acid folk album, ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’, was recorded following a long period of time Dave spent in what he calls “the void”.

A dark, depressive episode after a prolonged period of taking LSD almost daily. Dave came out of the void and turned to God, a journey and transformation ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’ documents. The haunting 1969 album was reissued by Spanish label Guerssen in 2009, catching the attention of private press collectors everywhere.

Dave’s lived a vivid and fascinating life, beginning with his leadership within a Michigan-based Christian cult only known as “The Group”. Always a loner and an adventurer, Dave left the group after being sent to various corners of the country to launch new chapters, built a cabin and lived off the land.

“Each song is a chapter in a book”

Who were your major influences?

David Bixby: The greatest influence on me was water and lots of it.

Michigan is the land of lakes surrounded by the great lakes with white sandy beaches and one hundred feet of sand dunes. I grew up in Rockford Michigan. Rum creek is walking distance from my house. It flows into Rouge River that joins the Grand River, through Grand Rapids and west to Lake Michigan. Some where around Mackinaw Island it merges with Lake Huron. Over Niagara Falls we go into Lake Eire through the through Lake Ontario and out to sea. Sailing down the Atlantic sea board to Florida and beyond I can travel the world. It all starts at Rum creek. Adventures on lakes and rivers made for a fun child hood growing up. I started playing guitar at twelve and managed bar chords at fourteen. I played silver tone long neck banjo and harmonica in a neck rack accompanied by two guitars and vocal harmony. Steve McConnell and Randy Havens. We were a Kingston trio knock off. Our first paid job was a home owner association pool party. We each made fifty dollars. We learned songs by Peter, Paul and Mary, Kingston Trio and Bob Dillon. Everything changed when the Beatles arrived on our shore and the Beach Boys hit AM radio I placed an order in the Sears catalog for a Silverstone electric guitar and a two channel Silvertone piggy back amp. With spring reverb. My first band in high school was the Chalet’s. I drank beer, smoked pot, and had a girlfriend. One of the bands I joined was Peter and the Prophets. We won the battle of the bands. Peter Samuelsson left the band after recording “Johnny of Dreams” single 45 rpm. That made an opening for me.

1966 I bought a 56 Chevy three speed stick on the column. Now I could drive to the beach and live like a hippie and believe in something, what I am not sure. Looking for fun and feeling groovy. Guitar players would congregate in the beach pavilion. The room had and echo and it was filled with picnic tables. Crowds would gather for sing along. An Epiphone 12 string was my beach guitar making me the orchestra and fit songs by the Birds.

1967 While living at the beach I tried belladonna and spent the night in jail. Apparently I jumped out in front of a cop car trying to catch the heads lights. While in jail I had interesting conversations with lots of people who were not there, and the next morning and I couldn’t recall how I got there. There is no enlightenment with belladonna and not very fun. I don’t recommend it. The chief of police called my mom and I was taken home. Mom took me to the psychologist for a professional evaluation of my mental stability. The doctor asked some questions I told him the story. I remember his comment, “damn that must have been hairy”. He told mom was ok and I was released on good behavior, life went on.

Did you release anything prior 1969?

Nothing released prior to 1969. I was in several rock bands from high school to junior college. In-between bands I would play coffee shops. Some of the music of the times. The Moody Blues, Beatles, the Animals, the Kinks, the Doors and always Bob Dylan.

1968 I was in a five piece band called Friends of Mind. We learned the whole flip side of ‘Sergeant Pepper’. Every song back to back ending ‘A Day in the Life’. Winning the battle of the bands, we were offered cash money or a recording contract. We did not have one original song to record so we took the money and ran. I discovered LSD my senior year in high school. My love for adventure took me out where no man has gone and I couldn’t get back. I should have stuck to beer and pot. Dave never came back. My empty body wandered aimlessly for months with not much to say. People I knew seemed strange and unfamiliar. The life I had was deleted and I was eventually reborn.

“Too many acid trips”

In 1969 you released ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’.

Winter of 1968 I was not doing so well. Too many acid trips without enough time in between to decompress and normalize. It left me fragmented and I quietly freaked out. I was in hell with no way to communicate it to anyone.

“The Quetzalcoatl story of a Christ like man walking the America’s captivated my imagination”

Some months later my lead guitar buddy Brian MacInness introduced me to Don DeGraff I ended up in a prayer circle. Prayers went up on my behalf. Nothing really happened and we all went home. That night I did my own praying, fell asleep and a new spirit was born in me. I fasted three days then began to reach out to other people. I seemed to be ok, I felt better emotionally. I saw people’s pain and fear, it was just like mine. I knew what to say to give comfort. Songs began to flood in to me, writing them down I sang them everywhere DeGraff had the first Group meeting at his house with about ten to twelve people and the numbers grew every week eventually needing a bigger building; then we out grew that building. I performed songs every Tuesday night at group meetings. These meetings grew to 300 people. I was asked many times to record an album. I selected twelve songs out of thirty I had written. Each song supported the next song in theme. The Quetzalcoatl story of a Christ like man walking the America’s captivated my imagination becoming the title for the LP. Forty years later in retrospect I would not change anything about this work.

What are some of the strongest memories from recording ‘Ode To Quetzalcoatl’?

I felt ready for the studio. I had been singing these songs at group meetings so I knew the material. In the studio it was awkward having no people to sing to. In the studio it seemed a little lonely. ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’ is a lonely journey so it all worked well. The same time the LP was produced, America sent men to the moon and back. I saw it on our new color television. America was a “can do” nation. Vietnam was snatching up my friends and killing them. The ones that came home were a total mess. I counseled with a lot of returning soldiers on suicide and how to re-enter society. Some killed themselves anyway. Just like what’s happening with our troops coming home today. I received my notification for the draft. I thought “I may be next to bleed out in a rice patty laying on a M16 somewhere across the ocean defending my country from what?”. I made an appointment with the draft board and I handed them a letter from my father stating he had been a marine and fought in WWII. His father fought in WWI and supported my decision to pass on war. Then I handed them ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’. After reading the back cover and asking me some questions. I remember being asked “David do you have any questions for us? Yes, why don’t we deprogram and retrain our soldiers for civilian life after they do the dirty work? WWII left emotional and mental scars on my father and compromised our whole family.” No answer to the question but they thought it was a good question.

They granted me exempted status from the draft for two years 1973 I was called to report back. By then the war was over and the draft was no more. I felt blessed. I organized the songs in an order that carried the theme. A large living room thick carpet and wall drapes dampened the room acoustics. Table lamps lighting two microphones stands were wired into and entertainment center. The recording was done in the living room of Don DeGraff on a reel to reel Robert’s two track. The echo delay was a feature of that machine. I did live takes and listened to them back in stereo echo. It gave a distant big feeling to searching music. I liked what I heard mixed and balanced. I used two Sure 55 large diaphragm microphones. Stereo play back in head phones was fantastic but the LP was mixed to a mono production. The original tapes disappeared.

“Protector of mankind”

Why the name ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’?

Protector of mankind. Quetzalcoatl is a man with Christ like abilities and demeanor who walked central and South America. He never revealed his name. Quetzalcoatl was the name given to him by the people he ministered to. When Cortez sailed from Spain to Mexico he was mistaken for the prophetic return of Quetzalcoatl. The Pyramids of Egypt and Mexico have a connection. I was captivated by this piece of history legend and archeological findings. The spirit of Christ may have visited many lands and people through out time and walks amongst us today.

1977 I visited the temple of Quetzalcoatl in the citadel of Teotihuacán Mexico and received confirmation. My good friend Jessie Castaneda gave the security guard money to let me be in the temple alone at sunset. I went in to the temple and sat on a protruding flat stone carved into a fathered serpents head. Closing my eyes I saw people growing in wisdom and skill as a community. Some were taken up. But many people left behind fell into human sacrifice to multiple gods and perished, leaving behind empty temples of stone.

What can you tell me about the cover artwork?

The left side of the album cover was negative photo of me and guitar turned to white positive silhouette. The right side cover is a symbol of Quetzalcoatl. My testimony on the back cover and song titles. All very simple.

The album was self-released.

I handed two real to real tapes and art to Christian business man in a suit and tie. This man recorded gospel choirs and produced LP’s. The tapes were sent to Nashville Tennessee for pressing. Their art dept developed it out. Thirty days later 1,000 copies arrived and I made history but didn’t really know it. I know it now.

Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?

This album is a concept. Each song is a chapter in a book. The theme throughout is one of stepping out in faith and walking through the darkness into the light.

‘Drug Song’
Is a tragedy, a place of no hope despair and a death of a soul.

‘Free Indeed’
A new life to live with value. A new spirit.

‘I Have Seen Him’
The image of Jesus and clarity of the mission holding a vision of the Kingdom coming. Unseen world.

Regret, self disappointment, remorse and falling short confessional.

‘Morning Sun’
In phase with the turning of the earth. Living is an art to be good at Experience a state of grace and all things seem to work out.

Slumber transformations. Answers to prayers manifest in the creation. Look to reality for the way.

‘Lonely Faces’
Lost souls stuck in hell. I walk the edge. I am helpless to help. Give it up.

‘Open Doors’
Consider the possibilities.

‘666 Revelations’
Apocalypse. Turbulent times for man kind who is turning to the dark side Negative influence on man is bound for a thousand years of noncoruption.

‘Waiting for the Rains’
Baptism, forgiveness and redemption.

‘Secret Forest’
Heaven above starts within.

Sleep Mantra.

In what state of mind were you when you record it?

I felt new, humbled and grateful. When I prayed I got answers and direction. I was moving forward with out doubt. I was going through a metamorphosis with out words to describe my experience. I captured some of it in song.

Did you play any gigs?

When ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’ was in hand the concert bookings increased in colleges, high schools.

How did it sell?

Group members were eager to testify and sell. It was very effective.

What happened next?

The birth of a Christian Cult. Don assumed power and named himself Sir. I had more songs that were not selected for ‘Ode to Q’ and new ones in the making.

Teaming up with Brian MacInnes, Kevin MacInnes and Sandy Johnson added vocal harmony. Brian played lead 12 string guitar and used harmony notes for melody, creating nice transitions through chord changes. Brian and I were in two bands together just out of high school 1967 and 1968. Brian introduced me to Don DeGraff/Sir. Don saw the concerts as opportunity to make money and recruit new members plus he got to sing and play base. Sir used the labor force of group. People were hanging posters, selling tickets and selling records after the concerts. Concert money bought studio time in a real studio for the ‘Harbinger’ LP.

“To prepare the way for the coming of Christ”

Don Degraff

What’s the story about Harbinger?

Harbinger was a creation of Sir using songs I wrote. It was fun to see him accomplish his goal. I really didn’t need credit and did not mind giving to the cause of obvious success. Harbinger means for runner to Christ. To prepare the way for the coming of Christ.

‘Harbinger’ LP was released in 1975, but some people think it was recorded in 1970.

Harbinger was conceived in 1969 shortly after ‘Ode to Q’. by Don DeGraff, released in 1970. A new decade. No credits were on the front or back cover. The studio was mentioned. Sir wanted to be invisible to the world and a star at the same time. For me? I enjoyed performing with other musicians. Harmony vocals made the music experience better. A Christian cult is growing and Harbinger was added to the product line. Sir commissioned art work from group member Rick Van Draught. He painted himself in the sun flowers. Rick believed the value of an artist goes up after death. Rick hung himself but I have never seen any of his paintings hanging around. Be mindful of what you believe in it shapes your destiny.

Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?

‘Cosmic Energy’
Direct contact to the source and a filling up.

‘Time to Clear Your Mind’
Meditation considerations. Baptism metaphor.

Christian cult propaganda. They verses us.

‘Circus World’
Christian bible students who never had an encounter with Christ. They rely on what they have been taught and want to argue the point with out a testimony.

Discovery of another world in dream sleep.

‘The More You Know’
Once you get it you can’t share it you can only live it.

The promise of God. A change in values.

‘All of the Truth’
Redemption break through.

‘Open Doors’
Like it says open your mind and hart to the light. We are afraid of change even good change.

‘Ode to Elias’
An epic song to patronize Sir who clamed the mantel of Elias, in the Old Testament who returned as John the Baptist of the New Testament. Archetype to appear in the last days as Sir.

Did you play any shows?

Large venues were donated to us to put on our own concerts like the Civic auditorium in down town Grand Rapids Michigan. We did a concert series. The Christian Cult marketing machine labor force was turned to producing concerts. Their were about fifty people to sell LPs, handle logistics, advertising and recruitment. Coordinated group effort gets things done. A large PA system was built with staging and lights just like Christian parse groups of today in the USA. Almost every church has one.

What happened next?

Early spring of 1972 Sir was being question and confronted by churches and parents of group members about his brain washing activates with these young people and legal issues were a threat. The heat was on and Sir moved the base of operation to Florida. The concerts stopped for a more simple way to raise money quietly.

We went under ground with Sir. He surrounded him self with people telling him what he wanted to hear and lost touch with reality. I was one of those people. He faded away and I was fading with him. 1975 I left the Group disillusioned, confused and questioning my own alleged spiritual encounters. My light went out for seven years while clinging to the group until I finally let go and walked away. Sir always treated me with respect and I liked him. I didn’t like some of his actions and I should have helped him more with leadership but I am sure he wouldn’t have wanted that. There could only be one Sir! He became uncomfortable with me and made it easy for me to leave.

1976 I moved to northern New Mexico buying mountain land, livening in the tall ponderosa pines.

I built a cabin in the woods and cooked on a wood stove. My ride was a 1970 ford pick up truck stick shift. On a sunny day sitting quietly in the forest I came back to myself and all was well.

1978 The wind blew me west to Arizona were I lived at the Grand Canyon performing music as a cowboy.

1979 In Flagstaff Arizona where I wrote radio jingles and sold musical identities. Mudshark Studios is where all the recording was done.

1980 I changed geography and ventured to Seattle, Washington in the great North West. Working for a major television broadcast station in Seattle I was turned into a professional. I really can’t work under a florescent light all day with my name tag reflecting on a suit coat. My lunch break every day was a walk to pier 70 and water Front Park watching marine traffic I want to be out there on the water and in the wind.

1983 I became a sailor and captain of my own vessel named Free SpiritPuget Sound has many uninhabited wilderness islands and a great body of water to be explored. Building a 38 foot sail boat I set sail and left the corporate world. I lived aboard navigating my way to the San Juan Islands. I dropped anchor in the town of Friday Harbor and lived for seven years. The federal parks owned British & American uniforms to reenact the history of the Island when Washington was a territory. I participated as a soldier in parades and reenactments at fort sights. British camp and American camp. Reenactment groups from all over the country would arrive pitch there tents for a week. I played guitar around camp fires. History came alive.

1990 I set sail to journey from Canada down the Pacific coast of the USA. Heading to Baja California I sailed a hundred miles out to sea riding the current and trade winds south. I made land fall at Trinidad California for rigging repairs. Heading back out to sea I ship wrecks 4:00 in the morning fog off Cape Mendocino California. I lost every thing but my dog Bubba and my life. I wrote a song about my experience called, May Day Surfing USA. Lost Songs Found

1990 I set sail to journey from Canada down the Pacific coast of the USA. Heading to Baja California I sailed a hundred miles out to sea riding the current and trade winds south. I made land fall at Trinidad California for rigging repairs. Heading back out to sea I ship wrecks 4:00 in the morning fog off Cape Mendocino California. I lost every thing but my dog Bubba and my life. I wrote a song about my experience called, May Day Surfing USA. Lost Songs Found

1992 I missed the sunshine of Arizona and moved back. I invested in land and built a hacienda on the high prairie south of the Grand Canyon. From my rooftop balcony I could see white cliffs on north rim of the canyon. I was surrounded by juniper and pinion trees. Short sunny winter with a long summer and fall. 6000+ ft above sea level easy to breathe lots of stars every night. No air traffic during 911 was spooky. I was so remote from society and media I did not find out about twin towers five days after the attack.

2001 I left the high country for the desert floor 400 ft sea level and summer all winter long. The Colorado River flows through Lake Havasu, the border line of Arizona California. Home of the London Bridge bleaching out in the Mohave Desert. A winter haven for snow birds. I worked as a State Park Ranger driving a sea do up and down the river. I maintained solar powered navigation lights and collected camp ground fees.

2005 I settled into care giving for my folks while performing lots of music jobs at restaurants, casinos and sea side venues. I teamed up with Gary Peaslee and played 60s rock and Jimmy Buffet songs as ‘The Coconuts’.

I started the London Bridge Color Guard. Historic reenactments were performed under and over the bridge. Guns, drums and cannons.

2007 ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’ found me after taking its own path. I moved my folks back to the mountains of Flagstaff where I lost my father and met Helen, my wife. Helen “sees” me, and is a great partner. My life is not normal, nor am I – she has a high tolerance. I really thought I would live alone the rest of my life as a guitar strumming Jesus freak gypsy out of the 60’s. Living in RV’s and/or sail boats.

What currently occupies your life?

I reenact the American Revolution featuring the Boston tea party. Reenact the Civil War and westward expansion the buffalo solders and Indian wars. I teach American history back to the pirates of the renaissance. I teach drum corps percussion.

June of this year, Derrick Hart Booked a concert tour for me in Peoria Illinois and Michigan.

I performed concerts in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Detroit.

I drove 2,400 miles, 3862 km. from Arizona to Michigan passing through Denver Colorado to visit my old friend Kevin MacInness.

Kevin is an excellent jazz drummer. I set up my PA system and we rehearsed four hours straight. It was the most disciplined, fun practice session I had ever had in my life. Kevin is featured in the 1986 recording Valley of the Shadow. Kevin provided orchestration and percussion. He made the song.

Derrick Hart of Wrecking Ball Records has produced a CD for me called Lost Songs Found. Songs written and recorded that go back to 1969 never released.

The first concert of this material in forty years. I was amazed at how many musicians in there early20’s were following the path on this album. All are the same age I was when I wrote it and there all facing what I faced. LIFE. I had to relearn this music all over again and relive the past. Going back to my roots and origin of ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’ prepared me for the future of concerts.

Five years ago Guerssen Records from Spain contracted with me to do a reissue of both albums. The creative tide is coming in and new songs are being written and all of them point the way. Having my own studio I am getting it all down, preparing my self for concert tours.

I am now current with the past.

Christos Tsanakas from Athens Greece is producing a CD for me. ‘Temples of Stone’.

2012 Australian tour is in the works with a little help from my friends down under. The release of ‘Quetzalcoatl’ 2012 CD Psalms of Now.

Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions. ‘Ode to Quetzalcoatl’ is not for every body. If you are ready to step out in faith, you will have to face some fear. ‘Ode to Q’ can help. In a life time we live many lives or phases. When it is time to transition from one phase to another your closest friends and family may not be able to support you in your leap of faith. Don’t let fear of loneliness stop you. Just follow you’re calling it will make sense. It’s called growing up and rights of passage. Knowing the difference between what you are and who you are. David Bixby

Klemen Breznikar

David Bixby Official Website

  1. Belgie says:

    I absolutely love this CD! My favorite track is And Winter Came. Next would be Trains and Winter Rains. The others are phenomenal as well. An earlier post stated this CD has a feel of cynical commercialism. If you go to her web site and listen to her explanation of this CD she states she wanted to do a more modern take on Christmas carols. Now days unfortunately commercialism at Christmas time is just about every where you turn. The only grievance I have with this CD is I miss when in her earlier work she would blend her native Celtic tongue with English and this CD is predominately English. Other than that I would definitely call this CD a winner!

  2. Ode to Q is a profoundly important album. It speaks for many of us.

  3. Chris says:

    Wow, what a great interview! It's obvious how much work went into this article and it turned out really well. Here's a link to an audio interview with David Bixby on a music podcast:


  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this article. So much valuable content, great to learn about David.

    Take care from the UK.

  5. Ian says:

    Very interesting, thank you.

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