by Mark Steven Brooks
The Spinach sound was a kaleidoscopic amalgam of Baroque keyboards, modal jazz, French Impressionism, and hypnotic psychedelic improvisation. The lyrics were intelligent, penetrating and caustic observations of Hippie culture and the head games that people play. Their debut album sold over 100,000 copies within the first 2 weeks of its release and became a certified top-40 album WITHOUT the benefit of a single, something unheard of at the time. It remained on the charts for 20+ weeks.
It will surprise fans to learn that, yes, Ian Bruce-Douglas is still alive and making music and that he has been doing so all along. In fact, all 3 Ultimate Spinach albums have just been reissued by original producer Alan Lorber on Big Beat records and Bruce-Douglas is in the process of recording 3 new albums of his own.
The circumstance of our meeting is a story in itself. Ian had been searching the Internet and came across a newsgroup message I had posted about Ultimate Spinach. I received an email from him saying that he was still alive and making music and that I should feel free to get in touch which off course I did. I asked if he'd be willing to grant an interview and he agreed. I found him to be highly opinionated, modest to the point of self deprecation when it comes to his past work and, generally, quite funny. The following interview took place via email at the end of July 1997. I have deliberately retained Ian's punctuation and writing style throughout.
-Could you tell us something of your early life and musical training, you obviously studied classical piano.
I was born 7 October 46, a Southern boy from an old Southern family. My dad was military so I don't have the "roots" that a lot of folks of my generation did. However, I was lucky enough to spend the first 12 years of my life growing up in Fairfax County, Virginia, on a 5 acre farm, surrounded by other small farms. In fact, I used to catch frogs and get chased by the bulls at what is now known as WOLFTRAP...which was only a 5 minute bike ride from my house. Growing up in the country as an only child probably accounts for my solitary ways.
I started private music lessons at age 5. Wrote and performed my first tune at a little piano recital at age 6. My parents shipped me off to a military school at age 11 and, believe it or not, this was where I got my first taste of seeing someone on stage playing a tune I recognized from the radio. I was so naive that I thought the kid doing "Peggy Sue" really WAS Buddy Holly! On my own, I started fooling around on the piano trying to imitate Ray Charles licks...badly. Never really cared all that much for
Rock-n-roll or Rockabilly but got really intrigued by music on what they used to call the "race stations": R & B, Blues and Black Gospel. I didn't even realize that it was Black Folks making that wonderful sounding music until I started getting harassed by some of the other kids for listening to "nigger music". Man was I surprised and embarrassed! After that, I tried getting into "respectable" music...but I never could warm up to Presley and his ilk. I really hated the way they sang...especially Presley.
I think I'm probably the only person who actually smiled when I heard that Presley was finally dead. Good riddance! And then there were all those talentless, pretty Italian boys from Philly and Jersey. Secretly, I kept listening to the Black artists, though. I just liked their singing so much better than the wimpy White kids.
My parents loved music so I was always surrounded by various jazz big-bands, orchestral music and opera. I was also taken to concerts, shows and galleries: something I will always thank them for exposing me to. I grew up loving "The Three B's" as well as Debussy, Ravel, Respighi and Stravinsky. Chopin was my least favorite. I think because my dad was into it, I started listening to jazz. Eventually, I got turned on to Coltrane, Parker, Mingus and the rest of the bop and post-bop biggies. At 16, I won a national summer scholarship sponsored by DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE to go to the BERKLEE SCHOOL OF MUSIC. The UNICORN coffeehouse was just around the corner from my dorm...and I ended up spending more time there than in class because I was fascinated by so-called "Folk Music". After that summer I drifted into the acoustic guitar thing...but I also started taking piano lessons from a wonderful drunken Quaker lady who turned me onto Twentieth Century composers. Her input had a strong effect on stretching my ears. Eventually my parents sent me to college but I hated it, rebelled, and dropped out to teach and perform full time. Then SPINACH happened. After that, I decided to get my degrees for the hell of it and ended up with a nifty...and totally useless M.A. in "Jazz Theory And Composition".
-I think many people have the impression that you are a sort of 'Syd Barrett'-like figure who, when his band took off, had a breakdown and then completely withdrew from the world. This obviously is not the case. Could you tell us what you've been up to since you left Ultimate Spinach?
Well, first of all, I sat out contracts for 5 years rather than continue in the unfortunate conundrum I found myself in with SPINACH. During this time I became very depressed with all the ugliness I had discovered during my "15 minutes of fame", so I left music to became a mercenary with the intention of dying gloriously in some war. I went, got shot during an ambush, and suddenly I didn't feel quite so suicidal anymore. So, after I recovered, I vacillated between making music, getting disgusted with the slimeballs I had to try and deal with, and quitting to try and become something else: truck driver, heavy equipment operator, bodyguard, common laborer, warehouse foreman, etc. Unfortunately, after a while, I would always come back to making music. It's a kind of addiction, I guess.
I moved here to Ft. Lauderdale in 1980, after first moving to New Orleans in1972, with the idea of starting a lawn care business. I was in my "disgusted-with-the-music-business" mode and had accumulated too many painful personal memories living in New Orleans, even though I really loved it there and still miss it. So, since I had spent all my childhood summers in Southern Florida, and since I remembered it as a magical place, I decided to move here. Well, let me assure you: the magic is looooooong gone! Anyway, I found a funky old house in a "bad" section of town and, at first, it was pretty cool. No one bothered me. All of a sudden, all of the property owners in my neighborhood...including the mayor who is really just a realtor...decided that this neighborhood was going to become 'The Next Big Thing'. Suddenly they bought up every vacant lot, ripped out all the old trees and began building these hideous townhouses that, in turn, attracted my nemesis: yuppies!
Anyway, to make some money while I was "getting it together", I started teaching keyboard and guitar. One of my students turned me onto a gig that was available and, 'voila', I suddenly devolved into a lounge lizard, doing piano bars in my nifty tuxedo, playing really cool stuff like "New York, New York" and "Hello Dolly" for all the rich drunks. I've always considered these sorts of gigs to be the absolute bottom of the barrel...yet, I became the very hack I have always disdained. Luckily for me, I could sing and play well enough to cover my distinct lack of "personality"...but it's really hard to keep one's self dignity doing such gigs. Basically, piano bar gigs are about being a court jester who happens to sing and play a little. Not really my style. So, between playing commercial gigs and teaching...as well as doing some independent production work for others...and a few "voice-overs" for commercials, I kept my head above water while I started an original band called BLOODLUST. We could never find a drummer that we liked so I ended up using a primitive programmable drum machine instead. Eventually, the band broke up and I formed AZLBRAX in its ashes. My present bass player, Caryn Beth Spring, has been with me since I started BLOODLUST. Other than me, she has been the only other constant in my "post-SPINACH" bands.
With AZLBRAX, I went "full-tilt" into MIDI and created this wonderfully bombastic wall of sound that probably has its roots in my psychedelic days. I have always loved a huge sound...a symphonic orchestra, or a stack of MARSHALLs cranked to "10". We recorded an album, "In The Valley Of The Shadow", and released it in '87 on my own Intergalactic label. A very dark album. I still have a number of sealed cassette copies that I plan to market on the Web. Unfortuately, I have never found management that I trust or feel comfortable with so I didn't have a lot of promotional muscle to flex...and frankly, I'm a lousy salesman and never cared to play The Game. However, I DID manage to get us a few national reviews...which were pretty good. There weren't a lot of local venues for the band however since we didn't fit into easy catagories so, eventually, it just faded away. Very good band though. MUCH superior to SPINACH on all levels: musicianship, songs, arrangements, production. I am proud of both BLOODLUST and AZLBRAX.
I finally got totally burned out on commercial gigs and hung up the ol' tuxedo, once and for all. I decided to take a break from music altogether and reevaluate things. Perhaps this was my personal "midlife crisis", I don't know. I DO know that I didn't touch an instrument for nearly 2 years! Somewhere in there, I seemed to have forgotten the reason I used to love music so much. Ever since ULTIMATE SPINACH, music had become more and more just a business...rarely a joy. Don't get me wrong: I have a plethora of wonderful memories of performances that clicked over the years with different bands I had. I will never forget the first time I did a show...a freebie...with my first band after SPINACH: a power trio called THE APOCALYPSE. After the smearing that ROLLING STONE had given the "Bosstown Sound" I went from being a "hero" to anathema in Boston. So, when we were announced, the crowd...about 1,000 strong...began booing loudly. I remember starting the set with a pleasant little tune I had written called "I Don't Like You Very Much!" Well, things got crazier and I got more enraged by the booing. At the end, I destroyed my strat, not as part of the show but because I was HIGHLY pissed off. Before that, I had been playing so hard that I had cut my hands on both my guitar...I don't play guitar with picks...and organ, and was bleeding all over the nice white keys and guitar body. I guess the crowd must have REALLY wanted my blood because they loved it! To show you the power of rumors: months later, in NYC, I would hear how I had gone crazy on stage, cut my wrists and dripped blood all over the audience. Anyway, when we were done, the boos had changed to shouts of "Encore!" but we had destroyed our gear...the other guys got into the spirit of my Rage I guess...and we couldn't play anymore. I felt vindicated though. After that we were very popular around Boston...although there wasn't a lot of money.
-Can you give us a sense of what the Boston music scene was like before tha advent of 'The Bosstown Sound'?
It was a very exciting time to live in. Before the 'Bosstown Sound' hype...and before all the producers started sniffing around and signing anything that moved...there was a really positive spirit extant. For the most part, there didn't seem to be a lot of competition or suspicion between the various bands. Generally, we were supportive of each other. It was a kind of "Us Against The World" attitude that was quite stimulating. The folk scene was still very much alive...Tom Rush, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raite were already getting active in the area...and some of the major psychedelic bands were starting to do shows in Boston. So, between the local and national acts, there was a LOT happening. I had a lot of fun during those halcyon times! The whole scene was conducive to personal experimentation. The sex and psychedelics weren't bad, either!
-The first Spinach record has a lot in common I think with Frank Zappas' album 'We're Only In It For The Money' in that it is a critical and often sarcastic look at 'flower power', 'hippie' culture and mass consciousness (or unconsciousness). This is all done with the musical styling of the 'underground' music then in vogue. The music oozed psychedlia while your lyrics were often very harsh and pitiless. Would you please comment?
What a great question! One that no one has EVER asked me before. While I consider Zappa to be one of the true geniuses of the last half of the Twentieth Century...both as a composer and a wordsmith...he was NOT an influence on me. I was already writing what would become the first SPINACH tunes before I had even ever HEARD of Zappa. However, there was a group called THE FUGS that weren't as musical as Zappa but every bit as vicious. I LOVED their stuff and the way they would lambast sacred cows. This was the first time I had ever heard music used as a weapon and I'm sure some of their concepts rubbed off on me...albeit subconsciously.
I have never heard my SPINACH lyrics described as "...very harsh and pitiless..." before, but you are very perceptive. I have no pity for the 'Human Condition'. Never did. Like I said before: even though I loved the Hippies and hung out with them, I was NEVER a Hippie, myself. I don't think that I was EVER that idealistic. Here's a story from that time to illustrate:
One day I was waiting for a bus outside my apartment in Roxbury so I could go to rehearse for our upcoming tour to promote the first album. As I had walked down to the corner I passed a hippie lad...about my same age...sitting on a doorstoop with the faraway gaze and gentle smile that told me he was probably tripping his brains out. As I passed him, we smiled at each other. After all, we both had long hair, Indian shirts, bellbottom jeans and beads. Anyway, as I waited for the bus, a big truck pulled up to the curb and parked. The driver got out. He was, probably, in his late 30s, about six feet tall, rawboned and wiry looking. He had one of those Elvis greasy pompadours and sideburns, was wearing jeans and pointy cowboy boots. He even had his pack of smokes rolled up into his tee shirt sleeve. Anyway, he walked over to the hippie to get directions...or so I thought. Well, next thing I know, this jerk is grabbing the hippie and shoving him around. My first instinct was to go over and help...but I was trying to get into the nonviolent head my hippie friends espoused and which I agreed with...at least in principle...so I decided to be a good pacifist and let it slide. After harassing this poor tripper...who kept smiling weakly and shooting him peace signs...the jerk threw him back on the stoop. Then, he saw me with my long hair and beads and strutted over to me, feeling proud of his recent "victory". I kept thinking to myself "Love, peace and flowers!" and tried to stay cool but I knew what was coming. Well, the moron started with the old tired line, "Are you a boy or a girl?", and something just snapped in my core. As quick as he got the words out of his mouth I grabbed him by his tee shirt and lifted myself up to his eye level...I'm only 5'7" please remember...and I snarled at him "Personally, I'd just as soon kill you as look at you so LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!!!" It was no act. I was furious that this asshole would bother me, like that, and assume that I'd let him get away with it. His reaction was funny. He kinda pushed me away but it seemed like he was trying to swat at a pissed-off hornet to keep it from stinging him. All of a sudden he starts whining "Hey, man, leave me alone. You're crazy!" and walked quickly back to his truck and left. That was the day I realized that pacifism would never really be a natural part of my life...and that the hippies would only be victimized for "turning the other cheek".
But, back to my "...harsh and pitiless..." lyrics: this was always one of the problems I had with the way the band was exploited. Not only were we lumped with the hippie bands because of the psychedelic sound but 'The Powers' wanted to market us as a safe, G-rated plastic band like THE ARCHIES or THE 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY. However, I WAS gratified by the mail I got during that period because most of it was from listeners who, obviously, had actually listened to the words and realized that I was coming from another point of view. Deep, heavy letters that touched me so much that I answered every single one...by hand. No bubbleheads among my supporters!
My lyrics have always come from two places: from my own observations and experiences and from that Dream Place the Shaman walks in. Some of the lyrics I write; some of the lyrics are written through me. Either way, don't listen to my lyrics if you're looking for that warm-and-cuddly feeling "We Are The World" gives. Listen to my lyrics because you want to be reminded that you are alive and capable of independent actions: that it's all right to be "unique" instead of common...or because you want to be taken to surrealistic places not accessible in the 9-to-5 world...or, if you're really nuts, for BOTH reasons! My stuff has ALWAYS been dark and my sense of humor is not for folks who dig Chevy Chase movies or TV sitcoms.
And: I haven't mellowed with age I'm afraid because, as my Awarenesses have grown, so has my frustration with...and disdain for...the human species. The "specious species", if you will! At the tender age of 15 I remember telling one of my classmates that, if it ever came down to a war between the humans and the non-humans, I would be rooting for the latter. While I have had the privilege of meeting some fine individuals during my life I find the species, as a whole, to be a waste of good
protoplasm. Some of the art and technology is good but not much else that I can see. I guess what's most frustrating to me is that we are capable of so much more. If we could ever get past all those infantile, repressive "traditions" we carry along with us, generation after generation, we might FINALLY evolve into the Spiritual Beings I think we were intended to be.
In any case, I find the Natural World to be so much more interesting and I, generally, prefer the company of non-humans or my own solitude. Humans, on the other hand, are untrustworthy, sneaky, destructive, totally self-centered and incredibly arrogant. In fact, I think the human species is the best argument for birth control going...and yuppie children are an even STRONGER argument for forced sterilization! For all our "civilized" pretentions, we really don't do well in large
numbers which is why the rate of violence is always higher in more populated areas. This poor planet has reached its limits, yet, we are still encouraged to breed because some overripe "tradition" tells us to "...be fruitful and multiply...". Everything...the planet as well as the human species...would benefit from our reducing the numbers of hominids on this planet, while increasing the quality of life for those...human and
non...who remain. At present we are like a cancer: we feed on our host, breed irresponsibly and, like a cancer, will only end up killing the very host we depend upon. In fact, I wrote a tune that pretty well sums it up. I would LOVE to see this one become the anthem of the environmentally aware:
REVENGE OF THE MOTHER
1. There's a voice in the wind that's a scream in the light
Filled with anguish and pain for a world that's not right.
Man's arrogance against Nature's might:
Hard lessons that need learning.
2. For the world of Man is based on greed:
Taking all that you want; always more than you need.
Such attitudes have planted a seed
And deep inside it keeps burning. (TO CHORUS)
Winds are howling;
Earth is quaking;
"Vengeance will be mine!" is the cry of The Mother
3. The powerful think they can do what they please
But those who play God will be brought to their knees
By The Mother they've ravaged with their own disease:
A curse on them worse than fire!
4. For new plagues come racing like furies from Hell.
Can Mankind survive them? Only Time will tell,
But we're paying the price for what we sell
And the cost keeps getting higher! (TO CHORUS)
(* Copyright 1995. Baphomet's Music. All rights reserved)
I guess I feel this way about lyrics: I'll leave the drek, non sequitors and feelgood bullshit to others. I would rather sell only one record and have it hit nerves, stimulate the mind and touch that listener, than sell a bunch of records and have them end up as elevator music! There's enough crap, out there that anesthetizes the listener and that's part of the problem. I want to whack the listener in the brain like a huge dose of LSD. It's a question of perspective and what's important. The "hit" writers probably shake their heads at someone like me as they run to the bank to deposit their latest royalty check, yet, I would feel unclean to EVER write a calculated hit. Oh sure, if something I wrote resonated so much that it became a hit in spite of itself, I'd be happy for those checks, but, like I said: my music really should be dealt with on its own terms. Whatever follows is whatever follows. As for the psychedelic music that was entwined with those dark lyrics: I was trying to express the intensity I was feeling through the music and sounds...and what I was feeling were mixtures of Dark and Light, anger, ecstasy, bewilderment and profudity, immortality and mortality: the Yin and the Yang. I STILL hear large, bombastic sounds and clockwork-intricate arrangements...which some people can't deal with...especially with all the safe, overly simplistic music around. And: I guess my stuff is about Rage, as well. A more recent example:
by Ian Bruce-Douglas*
1. HONOR YOUR FATHER; HONOR YOUR MOTHER
THAT'S WHAT THEY SAY WE SHOULD DO
BUT WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR MOTHER AND FATHER
SHOW LITTLE RESPECT FOR YOU?
PRETEND YOU DON'T NOTICE. LOOK THE OTHER WAY.
NEVER LET THEM SEE YOUR PAIN
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE HURT THAT KEEPS CHEWING AT YOUR HEART?
HOW DO YOU KEEP FROM GOING INSANE? ...(TO CHORUS)
SO MANY QUESTIONS WITH NO ANSWERS IN SIGHT,
SO MANY THINGS SO VERY WRONG
SO I'LL PUT IT ALL TOGETHER AND I'LL SING IT FOR YOU
IN THIS ANGRY SONG.
2. TOO MANY LIARS IN THE DEN OF THIEVES:
IT'S HARD TO TELL THE GOOD GUYS FROM THE BAD
AND A BADGE OF AUTHORITY IS NO GUARANTEE:
JUST BLINK YOUR EYES AND YOU'LL HAVE BEEN HAD.
IS THEIR RELIGION THE ONLY WAY WE'RE ALLOWED TO KNOW GOD?
THEIR LAW THE ONLY WAY WE'LL BEHAVE?
ARE WE JUST TOO DAMNED STUPID TO THINK FOR OURSELVES?
WERE WE JUST BORN AND RAISED TO BE SLAVES? ...(TO CHORUS)
3. WHERE ARE WE GOING? WHERE HAVE WE BEEN?
IT ALL LOOKS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME TO ME:
THE SAME GREED AND IGNORANCE ARE STILL IN CONTROL
PEOPLE STILL DYING TO GET FREE.
TOO MANY TAXES, TOO MANY LAWS
FROM HYPOCRITES WHO DON'T EVEN CARE.
IT'S ALL ABOUT PROFIT AND TO HELL WITH THE REST
BUT WHOEVER PROMISED LIFE WOULD BE FAIR? ...(TO CHORUS)
(* Copyright 1997. Baphomet's Music. All rights reserved)
-Getting back to the Spinach, who were some of the major names that you played with? Did you go to San Francisco?
Let's see: we played with THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND, CHARLES LLOYD, JESSE COLIN YOUNG AND THE YOUNGBLOODS, THE AMERICAN FLAG, JEFFERSON AIRPLANE, RITCHIE HAVENS, THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS, THE McCOYS (with Rick Derringer), and several concerts with VANILLA FUDGE, including one in Central Park plus many others I can't remember now.
All in all, I guess I've given some of my best shows when I've been pissed off. SPINACH, had opened for the JEFFERSON AIRPLANE at an arena in Connecticut to a crowd of about 20,000. At the time I respected their music and went to their dressing room, before we performed, to tell them how honored I was to be opening for them. They were incredibly rude and stuck-up and I got so pissed off that my mind kinda went blank. All I remember was hitting the stage in a literal, "blind rage". Don't remember a thing about our show and I drove back to Boston right after, without waiting around to see the AIRPLANE perform. Well, next day, my phone started ringing like crazy and all these people kept calling me up to congratulate me. "For what?", I asked. Evidently, we put on such an intense show that, after we were done, the crowd kept yelling for encores and, when the AIRPLANE finally hit the stage, the crowd started booing them and chanting "Spinach! Spinach!" I must admit that I was pleased. I remember other shows, elsewhere, that got really strong crowd reactions: the time we played a benefit for the Black Panthers and had the crowd dancing in the aisles as well as jumping up on the stage and hugging us. Same thing happened at SUNY at Buffalo: they were dancing, jumping on stage to hug us, and they kept refilling my onstage glass with wine and dropping joints on my piano as offerings I guess. Great shows, great crowds. But in what had to be one of the major fiascos of SPINACH's career, some lame-brain decided to have us, totally unprepared as we were, hold our album release party at the FILLMORE WEST in San Francisco. We were so bad that Bill Graham called us the worst band ever to play there. When this got back to me, I wrote him and told him I agreed! Needless to say, we weren't invited to play the FILLMORE EAST. However, as we toured, we DID get better on stage. Honest!
-Why did you quit the Spinach?
Unfortunately, I was quite naive about things when SPINACH started happening... and this naivete was responsible for a lot of the way I acted and reacted, during this time. I was under the impression that being a musician was a special brotherhood; that it was about creating MEANINGFUL music; that the record companies, managers and agents did what they did because they believed in whatever artists they were pushing. It never occurred to me that all the great stuff that was being written about me was, largely, bought and paid for by some publicist. I really believed what I read about myself. In a word: I took myself and my music too seriously. Needless to say, when 'The Awful Truth' began to dawn on me, it was quite a "crash". And when some jerk in horn-rim glasses and a bad suit covered with dandruff flakes began trying to dictate how things were going to be, how we were going to dress, how long our hair and solos should be, etc., THAT was the day I decided to leave ULTIMATE SPINACH because I realized that I had lost all control of my unhappy creation. ULTIMATE SPINACH should have never happened. If I had been any kind of band leader I would have been a lot more selective than I was. But, I was greener-than-hell, and tried to make up with bluster what I lacked in experience. Hell, I even lied about my age because all of the guys in the band were older. So, I didn't really audition anybody. I would meet someone socially and it would be: "You play guitar? Wanna be in my band?" So, with the exception of Barbara Hudson...who I DID see at open mics at the UNICORN...I put together a band without ever having heard anyone play and without feeling them out as people. So, I ended up with, perhaps, the world's mellowest drummer who actually played pretty well and was pleasant to work with...a just-graduated Catholic high school virgin and two Cape Cod rednecks who played in local C & W bands on weekends. And then, there was me: an unrepentant hell-raising Wild Boy from outer space! Not exactly a marriage made in heaven! None of them were into the Hippie movement. None of them had even ever tried a joint! So, how could I expect them to understand the psychedelic things I was hearing in my head? Don't get me wrong: I wasn't a Hippie either...but I liked hanging out with them because they were nice people I enjoyed sharing smoke and sex with...and they tolerated me, even if I was too cranked and aggressive for their tastes. So...I was all for the movement...even if I wasn't a Genuine Hippie myself. Anyway, I started off teaching the band some of the licks I wanted to hear by playing them on the guitar or bass to show them because they had no idea of what I was talking about when I tried to explain what I wanted to hear. And this was a classic case of the blind leading the blind because I was a lousy guitarist myself and had to hunt-and-peck for the lines I wanted to show them. It was like working with unresponsive slugs but...in the end, I only blame myself for making bad choices. Unfortunately, the replacement drummer wasn't much of a help. When we were recording the second album he would greet me with, "Well, Ian, which of your abortions are we recording today?" I was even told that he slipped me a tab of some psychedelic that was way stronger than the LSD it was supposed to be in the hopes of frying my brain! Nice! At the time, I DID think that it was a bit intense, I remember. The three guys resented me so much that I would spare myself a tight stomach by cutting as many of the background tracks as I could by myself.
-Was Barbara upset that you brought in a guest female singer on the 2nd album?
Barbara was a quiet one who seemed to keep her own counsel. She was closest to Geoff (Winthrop) and may have bitched about me to him. I don't know. However, to my face at least, she was always calm, quiet and malleable. So, if she was upset about my bringing in a second vocalist...actually two different women but only the second recorded with us, she didn't express anything to me or show it in any ways I picked up on. I had wanted the second vocalist for reasons that certainly weren't demeaning to Barbara: without a second vocalist, we couldn't really reproduce the recorded harmonies in concert because I was always adding an extra back-up part to "fatten" the recorded sound. This was my main reason. And: Barbara's voice was perfect for "Hip Death Goddess" but she didn't have the punch to sing something like "Behold And See". She knew this and was probably relieved to have Carol (Britt) sing it instead. I really didn't want to sing...especially after I heard my wimpy voice on the first album...and was hoping to shift the brunt of the vocals to someone else. I remember that Carol...another very nice young woman to work with...was tiny. Maybe 5 foot tall! But man, she had a set of pipes on her that could cut through solid marble! I wonder whatever happened to her. She certainly had the voice to survive "The Spinach Experience"!
-Why no list of personnel?
I'm not sure if this was Lorber's doing or my insistance. I know that I fought to keep from having another album photo and I may well have asked that the personnel list be deleted because I knew that I was going to try and replace most of the band right after cutting the album. I didn't even want them on the second album but Lorber kept begging me not to make any personnel changes until the album was "in the can". I couldn't anyway because, contractually, he had me in a stranglehold and I could neither hire, nor fire, without his approval! Also: I have never really enjoyed posing for pictures and rather doubt that my looks have ever helped sell my music. It's taken me years to accept the necessity of PR shots...but if I look like I'm gritting my teeth in any of my pictures, now you know why! On the other hand, this may have been Lorber's idea. I guess they were calling him to complain about me, I was calling him to complain about them so, he may have thought it best to delete specific references until the smoke cleared.
-How do you feel about the CD reissue of Behold And See? It's about 10 minutes shorter than the original release. Did you have a say in that?
I had nothing to do with the reissues. Lorber graciously sent me copies of all 3 reissues and I will give him credit: very provocative packaging and liner notes. I find all the references to me pretty funny and only wish I were half as interesting and mysterious as it makes me seem. As for the missing 10 minutes: I must admit that SPINACH left such a bad impression on me that I haven't thought about the songs in centuries so, I will have to take your word about the 10 minute cut. The only thing I noticed was the missing "Rocco Giuliano!" and "Ivin The Monster!" chants that were originally mixed in with "Insanity: Reality!" (end of 'Fragmentary March Of Green). Lorber is SUPPOSEDLY trying to release another version of the reissues in the U.S. and I DID ask him if he would reinstate these. No response however. As for the mix: I told him that I wish he had mixed it this way 30 years ago. Much fatter and fuller than the original and more like the live versions which were performed on walls of AMPEG amps: loud! I guess he took the masters to some engineer who dumped them into SONIC SOLUTIONS which explains why it sounds so much better.
-Were there songs that Ultimate Spinach performed that were never recorded? Did you do any covers? Does any good quality live material exist?
I have no idea what happened with the band after I quit but, at least during my time, I barely had enough material as it was...in fact, I wrote most of the second album right in the studio between takes and then worked up live versions for the concerts afterwards. If it hadn't been for the long psychedelic jams, we would have been dead-in-the-water, materialwise. Every song I wrote during my tenure was recorded. I did things backwards...in true Ian Fashion...and never had the "pleasure" of doing covers until I needed eating money, years after SPINACH. Unless you want to count the high school band I had that did nothing but VENTURES and DUANE EDDY covers! I guess I was spoiled very early in this regard because I didn't come up working the joints doing bad covers of even worse tunes. Some of my earliest experiences with audiences were about my performing my own stuff. We never did any live recordings. Generally, I don't care for live albums and prefer studio albums. Anyway I'm not sure that words like "good" and "quality" have much place in a conversation about ULTIMATE SPINACH.
-Whom do you respect in the world of 'pop' music today?
The only person who has REALLY touched me deeply in recent years is Peter Gabriel and I consider his "Security" album to be a nearly perfect creation: beautiful production and arrangements, incredibly high quality songs and lyrics, cohesive musicianship and Peter has a lot of Soul in his singing. I doubt that ANYONE could cover one of his tunes better than he does. Listening to this album, for me, was like the first time I saw Picasso's "Guernica" at an exhibit in NYC. The experience, literally, knocked the wind out of me and left me weak-kneed. That's how intense it was. I rarely write "fan" letters but his music touched me so deeply that I wrote him to thank him for hitting the nerves he did and I sent along a copy of the AZLBRAX album I had done just to share my music with him. I got back a form letter rejecting the tape! I guess they thought I was trying to get on his label. Oh well. Beside Gabriel, my other current favorites are three Reggae artists: Jimmy Cliff and THIRD WORLD from Jamaica and Lucky Dube from South Africa. His 'Trinity" album is another nearly perfect album in my estimation: great songs and lyrics, kicking band and singers, wonderful arrangements and production...and Mr. Dube has a very expressive voice. Actually, I hear a lot of exciting stuff coming out of South Africa.
-What have you been doing as of late?
Well, in the last year, I have written more than an album's worth of acoustic-based stuff that I feel really good about. Lately, I have been upgrading my studio and MIDI system because I've been getting a real "Jones" to play some serious keyboard again and I've started hearing larger sounds in my head too. I suspect that I will be writing some more highly orchestrated stuff before too long. I AM planning to record a few different albums over the next year or so. One will be acoustic stuff. One will be a strictly instrumental album, dare I say "New Age"? One will be a very strange band, complete with large horn section, lots of ethnic percussion, a dobro, a violin and whatever other disparate things I would like to hear together. I am gratified by my newfound "celebrity" and hope to use this to introduce my old supporters...as well as potential new listeners...to what I'm doing now. People should feel free to contact me at my email address: AZLBRAX@compuserve.com.
-Thank you Ian, and best of luck with your upcoming projects.