Music Emporium – An interview with William Cosby
Welcome! Before we begin, I know you would like to make some introductory comments about both yourself and Music Emporium.
Thanks for the opportunity to share some of my memories about Music Emporium. Music Emporium has always been somewhat of an enigma to me, and this may well be one of my last opportunities to tell some things about Music Emporium that have remained in obscurity.
However, it is difficult to talk about Music Emporium without first putting it in context with other major parts of my life. My musical roots were as a concert accordionist. Then there was a 23-year tenure at the United States Military Academy, West Point, where I was the music director and conductor of the West Point Glee Club. In contrast, I finished my work career with the Department of Defense and US Department of Transportation in the field of traffic safety with a specialty in motorcycles. Ironically, some urban legend about Music Emporium includes stories of my death in a motorcycle crash. I have also composed throughout my career.
I told my story with the accordion with, “I Brought My Accordion to the Party, but No One Asked Me to Play” and “Saved Rounds”. I am working on a series of video interviews that cover my time at West Point. But from my standpoint, the story of Music Emporium remains untold.
There was nothing typical about Music Emporium. Three of the members were classically trained with no background in rock, but we all developed an irrepressible passion for Los Angeles underground rock. For me, that rock music influenced everything about every other type of music I was involved with.
Personally, the music gave more to me than I was ever able to give to the music.
Promo photo of Bill (William) Cosby.
So where do you want to start with Music Emporium?
Maybe we should start with a flashback.
It was about 2000. I wandering about on Ebay when I first discovered there were bootleg copies of the album for sale and the listings told of the absurd amounts of money original copies would bring. What gives? Without knowing who I was, I asked the Ebay seller if the attraction was the rarity of the album or the music. He replied it was the music. That was a big surprise.
Why would you be surprised?
From the time the group that ultimately became Music Emporium began, it was doomed. It would be hard to imagine a more perfect storm of situations that would grind the band into absolute oblivion.
Those are pretty strong observations, where do they come from?
First was the recording. The demo that ultimately became the album was completed in a few hours. Dave Padwin, our guitarist, had only been with the group a very short time when we started recording. Dave was a monster player, one of the finest musicians I have ever known. He changed everything about the band, but that transition was only starting when we recorded that demo. Dave provided the synergy that we so desperately needed. The album is the only remaining tangible representation of Music Emporium. And that picture of the band does not do justice to Dave.
The production of the album was the second disaster, and in this regard, there are parallels to countless aspiring rock bands.
It started off well enough as Music Emporium was ‘touched’ by some of the industry’s top talent. It started with Armin Steiner, who recorded my first accordion album. Armin was both a brilliant violinist and recording engineer. He saw my interest in recording and invited me to various sessions, often patiently explaining things like microphone placement, phasing distortion, and mixing. Do a google search sometime on Armin.
For the second accordion album, Armin was too overwhelmed with work and he introduced me to Alan Emig. Alan had been a recording engineer at Capitol Records in the 1950’s and later become the head of West Coast recording operations for Columbia. When I met Alan, he was working at Kent Records. Alan was one of the most talented people I have ever met, though he was jaded from a lot years in the business. He shared a lot with me. During the time I knew Alan he went on to design Elektra’s studios in Hollywood, Hawaii, and New York.
Bill Lazerus was working with Alan at Kent when I met him but soon relocated to Sunset Sound Recorders as a staff engineer. It was Bill who recorded the demo and later worked his magic on the album. Even by today’s standards I am still impressed at how well he recorded the group. It was the early days of 8-track and we were in the new ‘front’ studio. He was also an accomplished musician and enjoyed a long and successful career as a recording engineer. We had a great fun working with him on the demo. There are some real benefits having the same person ‘produce’ and ‘mix’. In this regard, there couldn’t have been a better choice.
So now you have a demo – what next?
So we now have our demo, so what to do with it? I played the rough mixes for Alan and he was not impressed. There were too many things that needed to be fixed. Nonetheless, he took a copy to Paul Rothchild at Elektra. Paul told Alan they would buy it, but they wouldn’t do anything with it. It would be a matter of culling out the competition.
Bill Lazerus was nervously sitting on a $2,000 bill for recording time with Sunset Sound when Jack Ames came into the picture. As Bill explained to us, Jack was the co-founder of Liberty Records where he had enjoyed great success. He knew the record business. But for now, he was a man recently ousted from his record company. It might be better to go with someone who would exclusively work for us rather than a larger label where we would most likely be lost in the flood. Jack was personable and well-received by the members of the group. But then came the question of finance – and in that regard, I don’t think there was much depth, or at a minimum, much control!
Jack lived with his new wife, Lola, in a home on La Cienega, a few houses down from the Sunset Strip. From the start, Lola made no pretense about liking the album. She hated it and would anxiously tell anyone or everyone her views. Lola considered herself an expert on all things rock, though I doubt her background was more than osmosis from being around Jack. But she was either the person with the money, or at a minimum she was the person controlling the money, so the squeeze was on.
Jack suggested I ask my father if he would buy into the project, offering his personal Ampex 351-2 Professional Recording as an incentive. From day one, my father hated the group and rock music in general. That was not going to happen. But somehow Jack finally came up enough money to finish the demo and move forward.
Some have said the jacket was ahead of its time. Your thoughts?
I called on Stephen Rustad and Michael Higgins Hall, two friends from UCLA who came up with the cover design and the concept of the die-cut ‘uni-pack’ album. Some people felt the album was the best and most well-thought-out part of the project. I doubt that Stephen and Michael were ever paid. The insert picture was taken atop a mountain in Palos Verdes and the rocking chair came from my grandparent’s back yard. I still remember that day well.
But there were two critical events that preceded the album jacket. The first was the name of the group.
Jack did not like the name Cage, and whereas Jack had a background in pop records, he didn’t know much about underground LA Rock. The only time I remember him listening to us play ‘live’ he looked very uncomfortable. Jack felt ‘Music Emporium’ would translate to a wider potential audience. It was ‘softer’ than Cage. In our exuberance to somehow get started, we made this concession.
Second was my name. He said there could be problems with the Musician’s Union using Bill Cosby given possible confusion with comedian. We considered a lot of names. The name I wanted to use was John St. Vrain, after a lost relative on my mother’s side. But it became W. Casey Cosby. Somehow I thought I should be driving a train and wearing some corny blue and white engineer’s cap. To this date I still hate ‘cutsie’.
So Music Emporium was about to be launched?
We signed contracts with great aplomb, no doubt left-over templates from Liberty Records. The music company was to be Maxim, though I have no idea where that came from. There was great discussion on the benefits of ASCAP vs. BMI. Jack never followed through on anything in regard the publishing, and I retained all the rights.
And once completed, what about the promotion of the album?
As far as promotion and distribution, I don’t think anything of substance ever happened. As for air play, promos of the 45 were produced, but I only remember hearing about the album being played one time. We were done before we even started. And in fairness to Jack, he didn’t know what our future might be. Ironically, during my years at West Point I actually had more time to pursue musical quests and had access to countless new musical resources.
So did Lola ever come around in her views about the group?
No. In fact, when I completed Army basic training 8 weeks after Music Emporium had been disbanded, Carolyn and I drove up to La Cienega to visit Jack. He wasn’t there, but Lola greeted us. She again repeated her dislike of both the album and the group. She said that in desperation, to get rid of the albums cluttering up her garage, she had insisted they be given away to the prisoners where her son had been incarcerated. I have no idea if this was true. I never saw Jack again and it was many years later until I again spoke with Lola.
Bill (William) Army ID Photo.
I understand you also had an interesting experience with a manager.
If there are two things a young aspiring group thinks they need, one would be a recording contract, and the other would be a manager. We knew there wasn’t much happening on the Jack Ames front, so we looked for a manager.
I don’t remember the name of the agency, but I do remember Vince. Let me call him Vince D. He was enthusiastic. He could solve all our problems. He could get us exposure. He had an impressive office in a suite on Santa Monica Boulevard.
The first thing he wanted to do was break the contract with Sentinel. The next was selling some of our excess equipment to one of the other bands he had signed. Of course they would need to pay installments, but he would co-sign the note.
Then Vince disappeared. The management of the company didn’t want any association with anything he had done and unceremoniously handed us back our contracts. He was nowhere to be found, as was our equipment. For the next year my father followed the band to their various performances and finally collected the money.
But there was one story about Vince D that has never failed to amuse me. Vince was another person that I was convinced had never actually heard a rock band. He was convinced we were too loud, and after we had started one of our performances, he came on stage and started adjusting volume levels on the amplifiers. Not a good idea. Dave was first in line and I don’t think he fully understood the potential consequence of getting smacked in the head with the business end of a Les Paul. What an idiot.
So with everything going on and the move to the East Coast, Music Emporium became a fading memory.
So when did Music Emporium remerge in your life??
Through the years I heard rumors that the album had a cult following, and on a couple occasions young kids would show up at my home in Cornwall on Hudson, NY looking for copies. I had a few and had literally given them away. I had no idea of the value.
But as I mentioned at the start of the interview, I came across a bootleg copy of the album on Ebay and decided to bid on it. When the bids went far above what I was willing to pay, I became even more curious. Without identifying myself, I started asking the seller questions. He told me the urban legend of Music Emporium. How Cosby had been killed in a motorcycle crash, and how valuable original copies of the record were. He then mentioned that a company in upstate New York was planning a reissue of the album.
I got the name, Sundazed from him and sent them an Email, saying that I did not know the status of ownership for the album, but I considered myself owner of the musical rights.
And that is when you came in contact with Sundazed?
Bob Irwin from Sundazed contacted me immediately, saying they had located and purchased the rights to the original masters which had been a five-year process. They were planning a reissue. He said they had been trying to find me for years, and it was quite ironic that I lived only an hour or so from their headquarters in Coxsackie.
But back to Lola.
The internet has reduced the size of the world to a computer screen, and surprisingly I found that Lola now lived close to Roanoke, Virginia. By now I was living in Norfolk. She did not know of my conversations with Sundazed when I talked with her. The first thing out of her mouth was how much she had always disliked the group, but was quick to move on to possible ways to for financial gain for both her son and me. I don’t know how her son fit into all this. With no particular fondness for Lola and her expressed 40-year dislike of the band, I reaffirmed with Bob that he had fully secured his new ownership to the album. Thanks to the professionalism and integrity of Sundazed, Lola was once and for all completely out of the picture. That particular albatross had finally been removed from the band’s neck.
And what about the rights to the music?
It was somewhat of a mess, but Sundazed guided me in sorting it out. Every part of it.
And what are your thoughts on their ‘first’ authorized reissue?
Had I made a list of everything I could have imagined in a reissue, it would have been short of the final product. Whatever future Music Emporium might have, it is a direct result of Sundazed’s efforts. I am sure much of Bob’s success in re-mastering and oversight of a final production are largely due to his competence as a musician. He translated the original sound from the master tapes over to the CD, a process that is not always successful. He also re-mastered the vinyl. I even like what he did with the bonus tracks. I must say that sometimes I enjoy hearing the songs without the vocals.
Why would you say that?
Because in my opinion, the vocals are the single weakest part of Music Emporium. But before we get into that, please allow me to backtrack a bit, back to my progression into rock.
I started playing music when I was 7 years old. In the 1950’s the accordion was ‘the’ instrument to play. I continued with accordion, venturing into a split between classical, there actually is such a thing on accordion, and jazz. UCLA obviously did not have an accordion major but I was totally accepted there. In my junior year I was one of the original winners of the Frank Sinatra Musical Performance Awards Competition – the only accordionist ever to participate in the competition. We were presented by Frank Sinatra in concert and had many doors opened to studio gigs in Los Angeles.
Up until my third year of college I had been quite involved with jazz, even accumulating national recognition. But for me there was something missing, and to be honest, I really wasn’t that good at it. So it wasn’t until my third year in college that I ever even listened to rock music. But now I was ready and rock was one of the greatest discoveries of my life and influenced everything about music. There was a passion, a raw edge, sexuality, honesty, and everything else, especially in what I have always called underground Los Angeles rock. I wanted to be part of it, experience it. Then I wanted to see how I could put all that passion and energy into everything I did in music. It opened up something inside. Music now had a new meaning, a new purpose.
Bill (William) at Sinatra Competition Photo Session.
The Los Angeles rock scene in the 1960’s, I am envious.
In the 1960s, Los Angeles was a great place to ‘discover’ rock. On any given night you could hear a wide variety of artists. The first groups I ever heard were Strawberry Alarm Clock and Merry-go-Round in a concert on the top level of Parking Structures 8 at UCLA. Then there were the Doors, Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat, Sly, Illinois Speed Press, CTA, Bob Seger, Jimi, Janis Joplin, and Rhinoceros. It was in clubs like the Kaleidoscope, Cheetah, or Pasadena Civic. You could go to the Troubadour, the Whiskey, the Bear in Huntington Beach, and later the Bank in Torrance. There are really just too many to remember. Often the price of admission was $3.50 on a week night with three different bands.
So how did you start actually playing?
I first started ‘jamming’ with my life-long friend, Dora Wahl. Then I was an instrumental, accordion, soloist with the UCLA Men’s Glee Club. But as we started doing more high school assemblies, I hooked up with Thom Wade and Steve Rustad, two fellow glee-clubbers, doing original music as a trio. I wrote the music and the accordion was replaced with my original combo organ. Thom was the lyricist, sang, and played a Rickenbacker 12-string. Many of the songs later sung by Carolyn were sung by Thom who had a great tenor range, truly the voice of an angel in classic St Olaf tradition.
We called ourselves Gentle Thursday and even printed some green business cards. Thom introduced me to Love, which has always remained one of my all-time favorite groups. We tried to never miss one of their performances. There was a magic in everything about them, something I still find difficult to describe. It was a level of honesty that defined 1960s rock music, and perhaps it was this honesty that best defined Love to me. I felt an enormous loss when I heard of Arthur Lee’s passing, a great sadness. I would say that if someone really wanted to understand the true genesis of Music Emporium they should talk with Thom and listen to Love.
Then things started evolving. I went through nearly 20 different players until finally arriving at the final musicians who comprised Music Emporium. Thom bowed out as he felt he couldn’t keep up with the group as the guitar player. Gentle Thursday evolved into ‘Cage’, and in hindsight I wish we would have kept that name as it better described the band. Music Emporium was more of a cutsie bullshit moniker added by Jack Ames who thought ‘Cage’ was too rough. I was also pushed into using W. Casey Cosby vs. William Cosby so as not to conflict with the comedian.
With the arrival of Dora Wahl and Carolyn Lee, three of the group’s four members were classically trained. In addition to being a brilliant drummer, Dora’s training went beyond a trap drum set. She is also one of the finest people I have ever known. We literally grew up one street apart. Carolyn was an equally impressive musician, being equally proficient on double bass, fretted and non-fretted bass guitar, piano and vocal. Carolyn is still active teaching piano and playing in a symphony orchestra. Dora, Carolyn and I discovered rock together. Dave Padwin was the only real rocker, and provided the needed synergy for the group.
With three classically trained musicians, how did you meet Dave?
I met Dave in the Guitar Center’s original store in Hollywood where he was working as a salesman. It was a quiet week-day morning and he was sitting there playing a guitar. He had recently arrived from Chicago and I immediately invited him to jam with us.
Music Emporium worked as a group. We could discuss a song before a performance and walk on stage and perform it without rehearsal. With few exceptions, each performance was different. When we did the occasional ‘cover’ it took on an entirely new character.
And back to your comment on the vocals, what’s the story there?
It ended up being Carolyn and me – which I feel is an important part of this topic.
I am not, and have never pretended to be a vocalist. As I mentioned, the original group, Gentle Thursday, evolved from performances of the UCLA Men’s Glee Club. The original songs which migrated to Cage and finally to Music Emporium, Gentle Thursday, Velvet Sunsets, Winds Have Changed, and Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo were sung by Thom. Thom had magnetism on stage. It wouldn’t have mattered what he did, the high school girls adored him.
After Thom we had a short tenure with Steve Chase as lead singer. Steve was another student from UCLA. Steve had a different kind of energy and a lot of talent, but. something wasn’t right and it ultimately created friction that would have caused everything to self-destruct. The day before an important performance, I kicked Steve out of the band. What remained was a group of equals on every level, and we all respected and genuinely cared for each other. That made everything fall into place.
However, I was now the primary lead singer. Whereas Thom and Steve had enormous charisma on stage, I didn’t. People wouldn’t come near me. Friends have often told me that before they really knew me they always felt that I was someone that they should not come near. There was a barrier, and they felt it best not to cross it.
But understanding all this helped me realize some critical things about being a musician. You can’t be an artist without opening up at various levels. Whether you intend to do so or not, it will happen. And should you actually achieve some success at performance while hiding whatever keeps you from sharing yourself, you will come off as dishonest. This is something and audience, especially a young rock audience will immediately recognize.
I knew I was a poor vocalist. Even if I were to open up, I was too aware of what was there. I knew my shortcomings. When I play or when I conduct I have confidence in what I want to do musically. I am not afraid to share my vision with an ensemble, be it an instrumental group or vocal chorus. Rock let me release the passion inside myself, the sexuality, power, control, vulnerability. All that can come forward when I conduct, be it Mozart of Wagner, and I am not afraid to share it. But not when I sing.
Carolyn had a beautifully trained voice, but not what would be appropriate for a uber hard-rock group with a message such as that demanded by Music Emporium. I always felt it was a deceit by both of us, a fraud to both the genre and the group. The things required to be an extraordinary musician were there, but not as rock vocalists.
So you say vocals are part of it – what about the other part?
The songs themselves. Though I have composed quite a bit, I have never been a good ‘song’ writer. I have friends who can turn out wonderful songs one-after-the-other.
The writing for Music Emporium, at least from my part, was more about form and structure. Whereas there are genres of music that can thrive with a foundation in form, like J.S. Bach, I don’t think rock is one of them, even with people like Frank Zappa.
But bottom line, Music Emporium was missing a vocalist. We were also theatrical, but unfortunately we were theatrical without actors.
Maybe that is why I am still sometimes curious on why the group has achieved posthumous success. But there have been those who have remained excited about the group.
So in the day, where did you play? Did you enjoy success?
Unfortunately, about the time Music Emporium began to musically ‘evolve’ my date with the US Army was approaching, so the total number of performances was limited. We were disastrous in clubs where bands would be expected to play top 40. There were several instances where we were told to ‘get the %^$# out’, leave before we had finished our first set.
The exceptions were the clubs that encouraged original music. In those venues we sometimes fared much better. One club in particular was the Odyssey on Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach. The Odyssey had been a supermarket that was converted to a rock club, complete with the biology-slide lights, nothing to sit on but the floor, and no alcohol. California always had a 21-year-old liquor law. Serving liquor would have eliminated a large percentage of the audience. We became somewhat of a local draw and even developed a following. The promoters cited the Odyssey as a place for kids to go rather than hang out on the streets. Unfortunately some of the city elders did not see it in the same light and eventually forced it to close. Some of the regulars at the Odyssey were Smokestack Lightning, Weeds Own, and Straight Jacket.
We played at the Bank in Torrance, a huge industrial building turned rock club. Two groups in particular that I remember were Fair be Fall and Black Pearl. The management at the Bank was a strange form of passive-aggressive band promotion and we didn’t fit into their agenda.
One of my favorite performances was at a private home that at one time housed the mayor of Hollywood. It was on a hill that overlooked the Hollywood Bowl and you accessed it by taking an elevator that ascended into a medieval-spiral-tower and then walked across a catwalk and finally down a path to the house. Two very influential people with Music Emporium that are seldom mentioned are Mike Higgins Hall and Steven Rustad, and somehow they were part of the group from one of UCLA’s ‘media’ schools that had rented this house for the semester. It was a huge party, the kind depicted in 1960’s movies. That night it was Die Hard Trippers, down from San Francisco, Music Emporium and Iron Butterfly. Finding the elevator was hard, finding parking in the hills of Hollywood was even harder, so the first three hours were a particularly memorable jam of those who found it.
Fort Ord Danny Raspante (room mate) and Bill (William).
And what about the actual music?
I first wrote rock music with Thom Wade. The first song was Gentle Thursday. We were touring Hawaii and seen one of the national cemeteries. Viet Nam was in full rage and ultimately we came to lose too many friends, and some who came back were never the same. It was a view of the aftermath that was unfolding with Viet Nam, but unlike World War II, too often those who returned were scorned, treated as outcasts. Even in these early days, Thom’s answer was in the folk-music culture. Mine was more in the anger and rage often a part of underground Los Angeles rock groups.
One thing throughout all the iterations of Music Emporium that we were all consistent about was in our genuine detest of what we called ‘bubble gum’ 60’s pop music. Even today, when I listen to a program of 60’s rock I will find myself grumbling when people relate the 60’s to the banal, insipid ‘bubble-gum’ pop stuff, with absolutely no comprehension of the other side.
How were the songs for the albums’ single “Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo” c/w “Times Like This” selected?
We thought Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo was our strongest song, and best represented Music Emporium. We thought that Times Like this provided a contrast, would be something to show versatility.
Was there any discussion about a second album? Any unreleased material?
I had developed the concept for a second album and toward the end we performed several of the songs. The title would have been, “Multiple Choice, Everyone’s Almost There”. “Let It Be Today” and “Beware” and “He is Standing There” were written by me. Other songs included “Pretty Woman” and “Man Without a Name” written by Milt Bulian. Many years later with the advent of midi I put down some of the charts as I remembered them, but I always knew something would be lost in the translation.
How did critics receive the album? Did it break in any markets?
I specifically remember two reading two reviews of the group ‘the morning after’. Both were from the same performance. One loved us. We were visionary, ahead of our time. The second claimed we were the second worst group they had ever heard, second only to Smokestack Lightning. When we were loud, the noise was akin to an electronically amplified garbage disposal.
We did not break in any markets.
What type of gear did you use? We’re impressed with ideas behind your organ playing.
Ah, one of my favorite topics. I have always loved technology and noise. In my experience, bands in Los Angeles in the 1960s played louder than any place else in the world. There was even talk at one time that liability concerns were going to force a limit in the volume levels in clubs and concerts. In those days you did it with instrument amplifiers, vocals were left to fend on their own.
In the group I started with a small General Electro Music combo organ and later migrated to a larger GEM organ, then to a pair of Vox Continentals, and ultimately B-3 with two Lesbian speakers. I played the GEM and Vox Organs through a pair of Vox Amp heads with multiple bottoms. I used both a Super Beatle solid state head and a Jennings A100 EL-34 tube head. From the start I vowed I would never be overpowered by the guitar and in reality it took all this to compete with Dave playing through a Fender Showman single-15” JBL speaker driven with by a small amp.
With my background on accordion and later on classical piano and organ I had solid keyboard technique, and ideas came primarily from classical music, sources as diverse as baroque music to works like the Widor organ toccata to the Saint Seans Organ Concerto.
Bill (William) with Organ.
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
Nam Myo Renge Kyo
With a the proofing and everything else, somehow the ‘Ho’ was left out of Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo, however it was correct on the single. The suggestion for use of the Buddhist chant as well as the lyrics came from Thom Wade.
Velvet Sunsets was one of three songs inspired from our visit to the National Memorial Cemetery in Hawaii. We lost too many friends to Viet Nam and the impending reality of the draft and the war was in the constant thoughts of every young man of draft age. It is sometimes misquoted that Carolyn was the sole vocalist for the song. Actually the first two verses were sung by me, the final by Carolyn. Again, lyrics came from Thom.
Prelude was a transitional work for Cage, written by me. In performance it was an extended work – much longer than the recorded version. Dave’s role in the song increased dramatically during his tenure with the group. The words show the change from Thom’s vision to mine in the progression of the group. The protest is shouted rather than spoken, and with far less eloquence. I have almost total auditory recall of many performances of Prelude and several years ago tried to illustrate how the song would have been structured in one of our live performances, and much closer to how it would have been recorded at a later date. A midi-inspired version where I am playing all the instruments can never compete with the original, but it might give a more accurate idea of what the final structure of more mature performance.
My music is often considered ‘dark’. Years later in working on the music for The Little Boy Who Lived with the Dragons with Lauren Michaels I felt that I had released some of that blackness, until Lauren made the comment, “that is the darkest music I have ever heard in my life.”
We talked through Catatonic Variations at Sunset Sound shortly before recording it – taking only enough time to work through the basic riffs. After that performance, both Dora and Carolyn refused to ever play the song again.
I guess I might say that Catatonic Variations is my ultimate description of depression and futility in life.
Times Like This
Milt Bulian wrote Times Like This for Carolyn. A fellow student from California State College, Long Beach, Milt was one of her close friends and became a good friend of all the band members. Milt generally accompanied himself on guitar and my preference would have been for him to sing the song for the recording. But with time constraints and schedules, it didn’t happen. If there was a crossover song on the album it was Times Like This. My parents even liked it.
The original song – the song that defined the group, Gentle Thursday. This is one place where I think the sound most typically associated with the small combo organs of the day had a particularly nice musical effect. As I listen to Gentle Thursday I can still see the endless rows of graves in the warm Hawaiian sun. “Someday, when wars are in men’s minds, Gentle Thursday comes again.” I can also still hear Thom singing it. Consider for a moment the Pie Jesu from the Faure Requiem being sung by a well-trained soprano, effective. Consider the same being sung by a boy soprano. Paralyzing.
Winds Have Changed
Winds Have Changed is another of Thom’s lyrics. It was also the piece from the original oeuvre that changed the most with the transition to Dave Padwin. Through Dave we were able to add more contrast and dynamic range without jeopardizing the original piece. Thom and I sang this as a duet, then later it was Carolyn and I.
Carolyn and Bill (William), 1969.
If life is ultimately about procreation, Cage is my realization of how man ultimately tries to control all parts of it – always in search of that ultimate climax. However, often without realizing it, the more one tries to control and exert power, the more one is enslaved as a helpless prisoner of his own making. Expectations surpass reality. That which is controlled controls. The need for new conquests becomes the opiate with an insatiable appetite.
If there was a theme for the group and for the album this was it. In the session, Cage was an extended work, and in live performances even more extended. One thing that is lost in the recording is the tremendous dynamic range of the group. In rock, ballads are often at a higher volume than up-tempo works which has never made any sense to me. When we were soft, like in the center part of Cage, we were very soft. You could almost whisper over it. When we were loud, there weren’t too many groups who were louder.
Sun Never Shines
As we recorded Music Emporium, we thought that we needed at least one ‘traditional’ rock piece. It was Dave’s creation and perhaps provides the closet look at his capabilities as a guitarist. Limited studio time didn’t facilitate over-dubs, he had to do it all. Someone came up with the idea for the 3-part background vocals that were unfortunately dreadfully out of tune – but the magic Bill Lazerus created with the rolling reverb over Dora’s 16th-note drumming was a great effect.
Day of Wrath
A different example of Music Emporium’s improvisational skills. Discuss the basics, and go. Based on a Gregorian chant from one of the hours and the Dies Irae. Not a lot of preparation, probably only one take. Maybe like the days of live television – it is what it is.
Many have applied the term ‘psychedelic’ to Music Emporium. Did psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a role in the songwriting, recording or performance processes?
We never applied the term psychedelic to what we did. Though the term was certainly around describing what was later called a movement, we didn’t look at it that way. To us, we were an underground Los Angeles Rock Group.
Anyway, I have often been asked that question, and the answer is a surprise to most who don’t know us. And without any judgement to whatever flights others may have taken on recreational pharmaceuticals, that answer is no.
We didn’t have time. Carolyn, Dora and I were all full-time college students. I was maintaining a concert schedule on accordion. Dora was teaching a full slate of private students, in addition to working with her mother attending to the needs of her father who was suffering with a terminal illness. To this day I don’t know how she ever did all of it. She was also an uber-athlete. Dave was as conscientious as they came. A glass of wine was almost as rare as actually sitting down to eat a meal. Though occasionally we did enjoy an occasional Harvey Wallbanger at Dora’s house.
But in my experience, the craziest people I have known are often people who have never touched a drop of alcohol let alone any drugs. A few who came in contact with Music Emporium fit into that category. You wished they would get drunk or stoned so there would be at least some kind of excuse for their actions.
To what do you attribute the album continuing to be held in such high esteem among music collectors?
I wish I could answer that, but I can’t. I have personally never held the album in high esteem as it was a short-sell to the musical and personal excellence of all those involved, and I would have to take personal responsibility for much of that short-sell.
If I had high personal expectations for Music Emporium, I was quick to realize we would never reach them. However, I can’t judge other’s expectations or reactions. And I also feel it might be better to just accept them for whatever they mean to that individual.
In the 1960’s we couldn’t give the album away.
Bill (William) Conducting Dallas Symphony.
Would you discuss some of your most memorable moments in Music Emporium and what made them so?
I have one story that has always been my favorite, and that involved Dora. We were playing at Kaleidoscope a particularly good-looking young man approached Dora during one of the breaks. One of his trademarks was long hair that was to the middle of his back.
I wish there were videos of Dora playing as her visual movement was stunning. Many rock drummers bang really hard, which is their shtick. But Dora knew how to tune her drums, and she also had incredible technique. Add that to the strength of an athlete combined with long, flowing hair, and it was sensual as well as being impressive. Anyway, he approached her and she sort of blew him off. Dora wasn’t in the least bit arrogant, and was most likely more worried about the performance.
The next night the young man appeared again, this time offering Dora a ball which had been made from his freshly cut hair. It was a great gesture, but perhaps a bit too weird for Dora. But that was the effect she had on an audience.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
nam myoho renge kyo
William Cosby Today.
– Two songs from Cosby’s solo project from the ’90s.
– Two songs, that would appear on their second album – Multiple Choice, Everyone’s Almost There.
– Document with Multiple Choice, Everyone’s Almost There lyrics.
– Cosby’s comment on Sundazed reissue.
And some other goodies too, like “Dies Irae” and “Last Flight” from ‘Little Boy Who Flew with the Dragons’.
Conducted for Psychedelic Baby Magazine by James Pollara. Interview edited for content by Klemen Breznikar.
Interview made by James Pollara, curated by Klemen Breznikar/2015
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