Perfect Sound Forever

Peter Stampfel interview- Part 2 of 3

The Rounders' Dave Reisch and Steve Weber
PSF: So that was the end of the Fugs and the Rounders for you? You were doing both?

Yeah. Once the Beatles happened, he realized that we had some chance of receiving some mild success. He (Weber) refused to work on any more songs. When we were playing a gig, he would go on about how he "hates them damn songs, can't stand this old crap, why can't we do something new, I'm sick of it, sick of it!" So I'd say "Gee Weber, here's this song and let's work it out." Working on a song was playing it three times and then it was ready to record. We're not talking a huge effort. Then he would just complain and go stomping off. In retrospect, I really wish I didn't leave the Fugs because then I would have had the chance to go out with them to California and have Neal Cassidy drive us around and have all these great things happen. I really regret that- it's one of those wrong turns.

So Weber stayed with the Fugs for a while but he got kicked out. When they had their first big gig, he spend about a hour tuning and everybody was waiting for him. Then he went backstage, fell into a box and fell asleep. They had to do without him at which point he got fired from the Fugs.

I tried to learn to write songs with Antonia who didn't express herself musically because that would be pushy. After I quit playing with Weber, I discovered that she had some really interesting musical ideas. We decided to collaborate on songs so we took tons of amphetimines for several years and tried to learn to play guitar, tried to learn to play to bass and tried to put a band together. Around the fall of '66, someone lined up a job with Weber in Illinois at some college for a lot of money. So I went to unpawn my fiddle and I ran into Sam Shepard who I didn't know at the time. And he saw me with the fiddle and said "Excuse me, do you play bass?" I said yes, but I just played on the bottom strings of a guitar. He was playing with a guy and they needed a bass player so I started playing with him. So he started playing with the band I was trying to put together. Before then, I was playing with Bill Barth and Nancy Jeffries who later went on to be in the Insect Trust. Nancy is now a producer for Elektra.

Somebody else lined up a Rounders gig for me and Weber. We also made a record in 1967 which is a piece of garbage. Bernard Stollman phoned me and said he wanted to record the Rounders. So I said that Weber won't rehearse or learn any songs unless you stand over him with a gun. "Oh it'll be fine, it'll be fine," he said. So we went to the studio and we hadn't played together since the gig in Illinois. We took a bunch of amphetimines and did a bunch of stuff that we hadn't worked on before and that's why it's a piece of shit.

We lined up another job a couple of months later. An Elektra producer was there and said that he always wanted to do a Holy Modal Rounders record. I said "I've got this band called the Moray Eels. If you want to record me and Weber with the Moray Eels, you have make sure that Weber rehearses and put a shot gun between his legs or you're going to have something like our last record." We had to go to California to do it and Sam Shepard ran into Michelangelo Antonioni in Italy. He hired Sam to write the dialog for Zabriskie Point because he wanted it to be authentically America. So Sam had to be in Los Angeles at the same time. So it was March '68 and we were all saying "Let's move to California."

We made The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders. The producer had this rehearsal space and he said "I had a talk with Weber and everything's going to be fine." And of course Weber didn't want to rehearse. He went to the studio and took tons of speed. Sam Shepard did very occasionally, previously he took only a little bit of speed and decided that he didn't like it. I kept hearing about what a wild drug person he was but when I met him in '66, he wasn't. Maybe he before that, I have no idea. Basically, it was... take a tons of amphetimines, make a record then no rehearsal again. That's why the record was such a piece of garbage. Also, both producers on Elektra decided it would be cool to make a record without grooves. Real cosmic. It was a really stupid idea because how can you get any radio play if they can't find the goddamn song? In both cases, I wasn't at the mixing sessions, which was a big mistake.

Anyway, so after the record was made in this flush of drug-induced sentimentality, we decided it would be a good idea to continue about playing with Weber. So we actually started to turn into a band, slowly. We went back to New York in late '68 and in the meantime, Sam was writing this play "Operation Sidewinder" which a lot of our songs seemed to fit into so we did the music for that. In '69, he was going to write a movie for the Stones called Maxigasm- it was derailed when Brian Jones died. He quit the Rounders to write a movie for the Stones but in the meantime he got into other projects and he was very disappointed with what the director was doing to Operation Sidewinder.

So we got another drummer which was a friend of the bass player which we got by putting up an ad on a bulletin board in Los Angeles. We managed to do a record with Metromedia which was about the only record company that wasn't aware of our wild drug craziness. We made a record which Scotty Moore engineered in Nashville. It was kind of a bland record, Good Taste Is Timeless. It has a couple of nice moments but the people in the band tended to be inhibited by the studio situation, and tended to play at 25% of their ability. I really couldn't play the fiddle in the studio much- it was very inhibiting. Plus the fact that Robin Remailly played fiddle and he was a multi-instrumental guy who was a lot better than I was. So I sang and played banjo then. But the record was kind of flat.

PSF: With people like Steve around you taking drugs all the time, what was your attitude about drugs?

I was a speed freak. I took amphetimines when I met Weber so we took them for three days and played. So I took him to a gig I had in the Village and for a while I was playing at the Third Side with Phil Ochs and Tiny Tim. I quit taking speed in '64 but I started getting sick. It was a killer. I just did the good drugs then- marijuana and hallucogens. Amphetimines, downers and heroin were the bad drugs which the bad people took. The straight people drank alcohol and took bennies- the Juice and Bennies Crowd. Contemptable. Amphetimine use was incredibly ubiquitous. Jack Kennedy was seeing Dr. Feelgood who was giving him speed and B vitamin and cocktails. One of the reasons for Kennedy's sexual escapades were that they were drug induced. Amphetimine mades some people incredibly horny- it did that to me. Other people it makes them totally disinterested in sex. In fact, that was the drug's rep oddly enough.

Before I quit playing with Weber, Antonia got me back into amphetimines and so we were deeply involved in it. So we stayed up for days working on music and experiencing simoultaneous musical hallucinations, which were exquisite and fascinating. Once for a couple of days, both our visions simoultaneously went black and white. It was really interesting to have fascinating unique drug experiences that were extremely interesting and have someone to share them with. I think about all these people investing in these cigar smoking places and saying "Gee, it's a powerful bonding experience." Well, duh! People take drugs together and they bond. What fresh information!

PSF: You were talking about the records you made up to that point. You sound like you were very disappointed. What were you feeling when you saw that your records weren't coming out the way you wanted them to?

The first two Rounders records were fine, they were satisfying. They were recorded on amphetimine and marijuana. Good Taste Is Timeless was done with marijuana and alcohol. I didn't have the chops or the knowledge to make a good record. The other guys were inhibited playing in the studio despite how brilliant they were playing live. Then when we made Alleged In Their Own Time for Rounder, by that time, I was very pissed off at the rest of the band. This was '72. The rest of the band had moved to Boston. I thought the leader of the band was whoever had an idea. During this idea, the person leads the band. I felt the band should not be a dictatorship- very '60s idealism here. It should be this anarchistic equality brotherhood gestalt. People were going "Robin's taking over the band." So I said "Great, who gives a shit. I don't care who's driving the goddamn bus as long as it gets somewhere."

The last straw was when I went up to Boston for a rehearsal session and I had a bunch of songs I wanted to do and Robin decided that a lot of them didn't sound like Rounders songs. I wanted to do some old pre-rock songs, pretty songs and get more ecletic. And everyone decided "Well, Robin said it doesn't sound like a Rounders song and he's right." So I thought, screw it. Meanwhile, they wanted to go to Oregon and I had no interest. So they went and I made the last record acoustic with Weber and Luke Faust. It wasn't really a whole band Rounder record. We did try to record two of Robin's songs with the whole band but he was dissatisfied with the way they came out. We just couldn't make it work in the studio (this was Alleged In Their Own Time).

When we made the Metromedia record, we realized that the bass playing was really bad and we got a new bass player. Then in Boston, we ran into Ted Deane who was playing saxophone and sat in with us. When we came back to New York, it didn't sound as good without him so we decided to let him join the band. Ted had this friend Roger North who was a KILLER drum player. He was a designer and made these drums himself in which the bass drum had a flange on it like the bell of a horn. The snares and toms went down and then they went out towards the front and became a horn. So the idea was to have a self-amplifying drum set. It looked like a science-fiction seashell.

The Rounders by that time had a really good rhythm section and we were a hell of a band. We were great! We would do some interesting, improvised stuff. The good part of the band was really fantastic. Everyone played too much. We say "we got seven people so let's restrain ourselves." Everyone agreed that we played too many notes but the only ones who refrained from playing were me and Robin. However, he was great live, it was amazing. We never got recorded in that format. If I could go back in history, I'd make sure that there were some really good live recordings before the band went to Oregon. It would have taken a four day gig, redid some things that didn't quite cut it and would have had the Rounders in its greatest form, which was really amazing, really fucking great. It would have been preserved but it never was.

Then there was Have Moicy which was kind of fluke that we always talked about- me and Hurley and Robin and everybody getting together to make a record. Hurley grew up with Robin and Weber in Bucks County (Pennsylvania). Robin sort of catalyized it. He did the actual talking to Rounder (Records) then everyone got together and made that record, which is really, really great. It was first first satisfying record I'd been involved in for a while. Alleged was pretty uneven- Weber was really out of it. Too much speed, sleep dreprived and crazed. He was not playing at nearly his potential. It had it's moments but it wasn't that great. Have Moicy however was really nice.

PSF: Have Moicy seemed to have lot of different people and bands playing on it.

Jeffrey (Fredricks) and Jill Gross were playing with the Rounders in Oregon. The Rounders had Weber and the Clamtones were the Rounders without Weber, led by Jeff and Jill- it was two bands in one shot. We rehearsed in a bar in Vermont for a weekend before doing the record. There was also Robin, the bass player from the Rounders and Michael had a couple of people he played with and Jeff and Jill were along. The reason there were Unholy Modal Rounders was Dave Reisch the bass player came out to New York in '75 and stayed with me for a while. We decided to put a band together. We put an ad in the (Village) Voice and we got Paul Presti. By the middle of '75, the band was really new together and I just took Paul and me to do the Have Moicy record. So it said the Unholy Modal Rounders but it was really just the two of us.

Then about a year later, the Rounders were flown to the East Coast from the West Coast to attend a wake. I managed to hustle a recording because I felt like a fool because I hadn't done it (before) when I could have done it and here's the last chance. So we did about a week of gigs to rehearse and made a record. It was in the high '90s, the air conditioner was broken and Weber had an attitude. Everyone else inhibited by the recording situation. It was me and Robin and Steve and Dave and Ted and Roger. Last Round had a couple of nice things on it but it doesn't reflect all of us. Also, we hadn't played together in years despite the fact that all of them had been playing together. It was a lackluster record with a couple of interesting moments.

The first Bottlecaps record which followed it is pretty satisfactory- we did it in '84. John Sherman, our guitar player, worked REALLY hard on it. He's a real perfectionist. Sort of a compulsive worker. The record went over budget by $1500. We had to pay for it.

PFS: In between those times, what were doing?

I got really fed up with the Unholy Modal Rounders. By '77, I formed a band with Mark Bingham who I met years ago when he was a gopher with Elektra Records. We decided to form a band together called Kaka Kaliente. This was right after the Rounders dissolved. The band didn't last long for a number of different reasons. It was really disheartening.

After the Rounders went back to Oregon, I was playing with Luke Faust around '72. Me and Luke and two other people had a band called the Hootchie Cootchie Dream Band. I also wanted to do a band with Antonia in it because I was really sick of having a music-at-home situation and a music-band. I wanted it to be all of a piece. She was a member of the Moray Eels but nobody wanted to play with her in California so basically she had to go. She couldn't do any music without taking amphetimines which was a bad approach. But I still wanted to play with her and the Hootchie Coochie guys didn't want to play with her so I broke that up. Then the Unholy's formed and broke up. Then Kaka formed and broke up. I was really discouraged because I really had thought that I was going to be successfull musically. Ha, ha, ha! By then, it was really obvious that it was a fat damn chance.

I was really seriously depressed and heart-broken and in a very dispairing state until I heard Bruce Springsteen in '73 and went to see him play. I heard all these great reviews. I saw him in Central Park as the opening act for Anne Murray. Single-handedly, my faith in rock'n'roll was restored. I saw him play 11 times in the '70s. Despite the fact that I was not going to make it on any kind of a serious level, I wasn't bummed out and despairing anymore. So I kind of bottomed out emotionally during the early '70s.

After Kaka Kaliente, again I despaired but decided that one of the problems was that I wanted to play with better people and I didn't have any chops. So I took some lessons. Before that, I wasn't into lessons- you got high and you played and you didn't practice. I didn't even play scales. I thought that it would spoil my playing and make me too technical. It does with a lot of people. Technical chops will make you bound to this very ultra-proficient style which you're unable to not use. You have to play fast, play busy, play flashy but can't play long slow notes even if it would make for better music. I think Brian Eno said he liked doing music with non-professionals because they could play long notes and really dig it! They could do many simple things that many serious musicians thought were beneath them. I'm not saying all musicians are like that- certainly not jazz musicians. Ha, ha, ha, ha! It takes an incredible genius to have superb chops and still not get dominated by them.

So I took violin lessons and got a lot better in '77. I played with a guy named John Parrott and we had a duo called Stampfel and Parrott. We played together for a couple of years. Then we were about to get a bass player and a drummer and get serious then Parrott decided that he wanted to bail out. Again, I went into a real depression and felt that "I can't put another band together, I can't go through this again!" You know, it's thinking how many times am I going to try to kick the football when Lucy keeps pulling it away from me?

Then I ran into Daisanne McClaine, who was known as "Lady Complainer" doing some soca stuff, and John Scherman was playing with her. John and I decided to trade fiddle lessons for guitar lessons. I started playing with him in the '80s. So basically John and I decided to form a band. He knew and worked with (Bottlecap member, W.T.) Overgard since their early adolescence. Al Greller and Peter Moser was playing with another band with a guy who had a blonde pompadour. When they got signed, they didn't want Greller in the band because he was going bald and it didn't look good. Peter Moser said "Well, fuck you. If he goes, I go." And they both left. Then we got our keyboard player, Jonathan Best, in 1984. Then we made a record for Rounder and won the New York Music Award for Best Indie Album of the Year.

PSF: It's a really fun record.

Oh, it is. It's a little stiff but really, really nice. I'm really happy with that record. There's things that could be better but it's the fourth record I made that I was really happy with. We did another record for Homestead which again went over budget. Again we had to kick in $1500 of our own money. It has some really nice tunes but we just ran out of money.

John Scherman was kind of a difficult person to work with because this guy had great ideas and good playing and arranging chops. He basically works at things and works at things. It really ceases to be fun. He's really kind of neurotically fooling around with compulsiveness. This guy has good parts to him but I found it increasingly not fun to work with (him). We are working on the last Bottlecap record which Moser got the idea of rather than going into a rehearsing studio, we should pay Jonathan, who has an 8-track, and just start recording. We just finished mixing the last song. Rounder seems to be interested in it. The idea is that we could actually see some royalties since the expense was so teeny-weeny. It's a nice record, really fucking good. We started around '91 and I took some time off when my second kid was born so this is really a long time coming.

PSF: In the meantime, You Must Remember This came out. How did that come together?

Mark Bingham had been with me in Kaka Kaliente. We remained friends despite the fact that the band broke up. He moved to move to New Orleans. I made the record down there with him and nobody was interested in it so he basically did it on his own label, Gert Town. Their distribution was really awful. I think it's a wonderful record though. I actually listen to it more than all of my other records combined. Sales were really bad.

PSF: Didn't you also work with Weber on an album after the Rounders broke up?

Yeah, that was in '79. It was Going Nowhere Fast on Rounder. He just happened to be on the East Coast. I tried to make a record with him in '78. I flew to Oregan to do a gig with him and the gig was a fiasco. The microphones broke, they went hay-wire. About a year later, he came out here to a funeral. I wanted to make a last record with Weber so Rounder gave us a week to do it. We worked on my songs and he had a difficult time learning them. (Mike) Hurley had the same problem. Just couldn't backup anyone.

Part 3 of the Interview | Table of Contents
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