THE INSECT TRUST- BILL BARTH
photo courtesy of Tim Kendall
Before the band got started, I played solo, country blues. I had performed in coffee-houses in Greenwich Village and on the west coast. It was no longer interesting for me to pursue a solo career, so I decided to wait until someone came along and handed me an electric guitar to play, which is what happened with Nancy and Evan, the Solips.
Nancy and I played as a duo, after the Solips stopped. Nancy wanted a band, so we asked Palmer to play some with us. Then Warren Gardner brought us together with Trevor in Memphis. Then we moved part time to Hoboken from Memphis. Palmer also moved up there. Luke Faust who I've known since 1961 referred us to the apartment, in the same building he was living in, 39 Second St.
We were playing as a duo with Palmer occasionally joining us at the Electric Circus in New York. One night we went to a party in Manhattan given by some of Palmer's rock magazine contacts. I was sitting on a couch when the stereo played a bubblegum top 10 tune. I casually observed that it was the most crass piece of commercial trash I had heard, and the person sitting next to me said that he had produced it, and asked what I did. I said I was a musician, and he invited us to audition for him. After three weeks of sitting around, Palmer suggested we go play the guy some tunes, which we did. He asked if we could write. I said we could. He asked us to write some original tunes and come back. We did. We were then signed to Capitol and when it came time to record Trevor showed up to get on the record. Since Luke was living in the same building and we had played together for years anyway, I invited him to join us. That was the five of us.
The name "Insect Trust" came from the Insect Trust Gazette, a poetry journal published by Bill Levy when he was in college. Levy took the name from Burroughs, his friend Warren Gardner gave it to us.
I was never really a big Insect Trust fan. I put the band together because my then girlfriend was a singer and wanted a band. I used whatever my musical background was as a basis of whatever I gave or tried to give to the band. I'm happy that a few people liked it. For me it was mainly an intellectual exercise, taking traditional musical influences and making them work as pop music, and it was not as visceral or emotionally satisfying as the blues I enjoy playing, and which have deep meaning for me.
As to "what the band was about" as near as I can remember it was about getting signed up, making records, and making plenty of money, the standard pop dream. Considering the fact that we never made any money, I'd say it was unsuccessful.
The only musical notes I'd add are these. I consciously tried to keep the musical ideas separate and distinct. Fusion music was beginning to happen in those days, and I personally regarded it as mush. I tried to keep the individual flavors distinct enough to be noticed as individual and distinct, even when we used several different idioms within one tune ("Miss Fun City" is an example). I wanted each tune to stand on it's own merit, not just to be us grinding out yet another one in 'our style' (whatever that may have been). I felt we could be musically 'valid' in many different styles, by paying attention to what we were doing.
Regarding the first record, I wrote every tune that my name appears on. The others wrote the lyrics, then the royaltees were divided up equally by however many peoples names appeared as writers. The exception to this is the "Declaration of Independence" I wrote the tune for that one as well when Palmer came to me with lyrics, but never got any credit for it. I thought "Been Here & Gone" had good commercial sales potential, and I think it still does, maybe as a country tune. The tune came from Peg Leg Howell's "Georgia Skin Game Blues."
I wrote most all the tunes on the first record and I suppose I had more creative input. Trevor had a much more agressive hand in writing songs and arranging tunes etc. for the second record. I was more involved in the post-production (mixing, etc) of the second record than I was of the first one. All around great engineering courtesy of Lew Hahn and Gene Paul (son of Les Paul), great engineering on the first one as well, thanks to Brooks Arthur.
The circumstances of my leaving the band were personal, and I dislike gossip, or trashing people. I broke up with Nancy. Then I was fired. Regarding my being the leader, I can only say that I don't recall being elected to that position. If I had been I would have declined, what I wanted to do was play the guitar and not be bothered with office politics (naive, eh?).
After the band, I was invovled in varied activities. Taught very briefly at Memphis State (I was the folklore department). Played in a band with some of Sam the Sham's old gang, the Pharohs, with Bobby Ray Watson (one of the finest male country blues singers alive) on vocals. The group was called variously "Bobby Ray Watson and the Del Rios", or "Red hot & Blue" (after Dewey Phillips' radio show of the same name).Lived in South America briefly, lived in Morocco and in Europe, in Holland (just another one of Reagan's refugees). Continued to play a bit and develop my ability to make music, at least I hope I have. I haven't seen any other members of the Insect Trust since the day I was dismissed, with the exception of Luke Faust, who I knew before the Insect Trust episode.I played some music with the great John C. Marshall, made a few tapes with him and Chris Peterson, state fiddle champion (Arkansas 1991), with Cichelle Holiday on vocals. Cichelle is the youngest daughter of a guy who used to play with Muddy before Muddy left Mississippi. Her poetry is on the IUMA cut.
Right now, I'm involved in preventative medicine, life-extension, etc. Several years ago I designed a machine which produces altered states of consciousness, capable of inducing trance states useful in stress reduction, visualization, creativity, drug dependency withdrawal, cognitive enhancement, super-learning, etc. The usual rock'n'roll litany when one thinks about it.
About 1 1/2 years ago I accidently bought a juke joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi, probably the most well-known town in the history and development of Delta Blues. It's called the Crossroads, because Clarksdale is where the real Crossroads are, the place where highway 49 crosses highway 61. Every musician wants their own club. Mine holds about 50 people and is managed by Ike Turner's cousin Evelyn. We have performers like Super Chikan Johnson, and T-model Ford. At the moment, we're trying to get support and sponsorship to send the music of the area out over the Internet and Web TV, so it can be enjoyed by people throught the world who love blues music and want to hear the real thing as it's played today.
ED NOTE: Bill Barth passed away on July 14, 2000. Please see this notice for details.
See the other parts of our Insect Trust tribute
|LUKE FAUST||NANCY JEFFRIES||ED WARD|
|JOE BRENNAN TRIBUTE||INSECT TRUST|
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