THE INSECT TRUST
I started with music when I teamed up with a guy from school in '66 in New Jersey. I went to school in DC and then Mommouth College where I met him. I wasn't serious about school, I was more into singing. He played 12-string guitar which he dutifully plugged in when Dylan plugged in. We went around as a singing duo. We decided to take off and go to San Francisco which is what all self-respecting hippies to be were doing. We bought a Volkswagen bus and got a guitar player from Brooklyn to go with us. We went city from city and we'd go to the local coffeehouse. The band was called The Solip Singers. We would sing for supper, a place to sleep and a little money. We got to Memphis and met Bill Barth, who was playing guitar, and a couple of other people. We left and went to Little Rock, Arkansas and got a gig for several months. The Levy Coffeehouse hired us and they had a branch in Fayetteville where we would also play all Dylan covers. During that period, we met Robert Palmer and he'd play recorder with us. He was the editor of a college paper when we met him in Little Rock.
When we were in Memphis ('65), we were so weird that the people there didn't have a clue about us. In a way that was good because you could be trippig on acid and people wouldn't have any idea. They had Stax there and that made part of the society very integrated. That was unheard of there but because all the musicians hung out there and played there. It was a really integrated scene. It was very nice and really strange. You couldn't have an integrated portion of society then. We made the first Solip Singers record there at Chips Moman's American Recording Studio. It was one of those things where he kept us up all night and wouldn't let us out until we signed a contract with him. Don Nix was there- he played on it with a bunch of session guys. It was a version of 'He Was A Friend of Mine.' Most of our friends there were into the hippie folk rock thing, like Sid Silvedge and Lee Baker. We had Jerry Lee Lewis' booking agent for a while. Jerry Lee would come in all the time crying 'I need some money, I'm so broke...'
Instead of continuing West, we went back to Memphis and broke up. We were sick of each other. I started going out with Barth and we got Palmer to come to Memphis to play with us. At this time, you had the Beatles and the Stones but in the States, everyone was sorting out what all of this would be. I read a Fred Goodman book that made the link with rock and roll and the folk movement and that struck a chord. With Dylan, there was so much of a social conscious in rock as it came along, before it got corporatized by people like myself. In the beginning, it was driven by the music and the rhythm but also by a conscience. Looking back, that generation did a lot of hard work for the later generation. At the time, a guy couldn't have long hair or be gay or live with a girlfriend without being married. You couldn't do that and live within society. People don't know how constricted life was then. This movement had a lot to do with kicking that out and that was hard work.
The name Insect Trust came from THE NAKED LUNCH where Burroughs says that the world is being held in trust for a race of giant insects, waiting for us to die off. I tell people that they should be careful what they name themselves because you have to live with it. Look at me now explaining this thirty years later!
We were a trio and we got a letter from Peter Stampfel. The Holy Modal Rounders weren't really happening so he said that his girlfriend was writing really good songs and we should come and play with him. Bill knew him from New York- he was in Memphis because he was a blues nut. We went to New York and stayed with Peter and Antonia around '66. We were in the band for a few weeks with Stampfel, Antonia and Sam Shepard on drums. We never played live though. Luke Faust, Peter's friend, visited us and said 'why are you living at Peter's place? I live in Hoboken and it's only thirty-five dollars a month.' So we moved into Luke's building. Hoboken was famous for having more bars per square foot than any city in America. There was no gentrification then.
We ended up spending up six months out of the year going back to Memphis to put on the Blues Festival there. We were friends with all those blues guys there. We played for the festival also. The other six months of the year was spent in Hoboken for recording. All of it was fuelled by large quantities of hashish and psychedelics. A lot of stuff happened in a short amount of time.
Bill was the leader because he was the biggest asshole. He was a great guitar player too. Palmer came up to New York after working for a magazine. He ended up getting an apartment in Hoboken. Trevor we met through Warren Gardner who we met in Memphis. He played with us sometime and he actually named the band. He was totally crazy, only occassionally functional. Getting a bassist and drummer was the hardest thing as Luke said. It was a pretty loose organization and we couldn't get anyone to stay.
Palmer was working at Go, which was Robin Leech's magazine. His asstistant was married to a guy who became our producer/manager. He came to see up play and Palmer talked us up so we got signed to Capitol. We liked the first album that came out in '68. We were essentially singers and songwriters so I don't think it was much of a problem that we didn't have a rhythm section. It was more song/guitar oriented stuff. Not having a rhythm section only made it hard to have gigs. We didn't get to tour a lot but we did get to do the Blues Festival from '66 to '70.
I don't think the music changed that music between the two albums. I think there was a lot of problems with people getting along with each other. Doing drugs all the time makes it hard to maintain a business. It was a business you know because you had to pay bills. Some things were better on the second record but I don't think there was any drastic stylistic change. We did what we did, which was very ecletic- Luke on banjo, the blues guitar, the horn section all going on at the same time. It was spotty but when it came together it was great.
When we did larger shows (Zappa, Santana, the Doors), that was kind of spotty too. We were a safe opening act because we were so ecletic. We didn't go head to head with anyone stylistically. We didn't have a sound person then which is important for a live show. You didn't have monitor speakers so you couldn't hear yourself on stage. Even the Beatles didn't have them so they didn't know what they sounded like. We couldn't hear ourselves either but it wasn't because of the screaming kids.
Then Bill went on overload so we threw him out. He just became impossible to deal with. People were doing things to their psyches that you can't imagine. Psychedelics are a great thing but not to be overdone. Nobody knew. I broke up with him after being with him for four years. I don't have any bad feelings about him. For a while, we had another guitar player and we just stopped doing it after a while. We ran out of things to do. There weren't any gigs and nobody came in a said 'I wrote six great new songs.' The band pettered out with a whimper.
I had to take a few years off to figure out what I would do next. For a while, I tried to sing. I find it's difficult to sing with people for fun. They want to do it for money. I'm not really the best person to do that. I might sing in the shower but that's it. So I moved to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. I moved to Florida then and I decided that what I liked the best out of the music business was making records and recording songs. I went to New York to find a way to do that without being an artist. I got a job with RCA with the head of A&R so I stayed there, first as a temporary secretary in '74. He liked me so he hired me to do reissues. I worked on Jesse Belvin and Sam Cooke albums. When that ran out, I became his secretary and then the A&R administration person. Around '79, I became a full-fledged talent scout. In the beginning, I helped them land Evelyn 'Chapagne' King. They wanted me to do administration but I didn't want to. I threatened to quit and join Allen Toussaint at Sea Saint Recordings in New Orleans. They flinched and they gave me the job. I signed Syl Sylvain, Polyrock. I left RCA because they were dead in the water and I was literally getting sick from my job.
Then I went to A&M in 1984 where I signed Suzanne Vega. I went to Virgin in '86 because the guy at A&M I worked for became the head of Virgin US so I went to work for him. We signed Iggy Pop, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, Ziggy Marley, NRBQ. I had some fun there. I came to Elektra in '90 though because their home office was in New York and I was tired of working for L.A. based companies. Here I signed Deee-Lite, Freddy Johnston. I work with some good people here that I didn't sign, like Natalie Merchant, Phish. My job is to decide how they should record and how much it's going to cost and under what circumstances and who should produce. That's the most fun part for me. People have their own ideas so I'm happy to support them and give them a clue if they don't have one.
I find that the experience with the Insect Trust was a fantastic background for what I do now. Not just the technical stuff but I understand the motiviation for doing this and the pressures that people go through at various stages of the process- looking for a deal, getting a deal. Having had that experience, helps me help them. So it worked out for me.
See the other parts of our Insect Trust tribute
LUKE FAUST BILL BARTH ED WARD
JOE BRENNAN TRIBUTE INSECT TRUST
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