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Chris Darrow: You Think You Know, But Now You'll Really Know

The following is an excerpt from Harvey Kubernik's revelatory interview with Chris Darrow. It appears in the July 26 issue of Goldmine. In this passage Chris discusses the first two Kaleidoscope albums. Thanks to the author for making this excerpt available to Pulsating Dream.

contents copyright 2001, Harvey Kubernik

“The Kaleidoscope was a great band and I am very proud to have been a part of its history.

"Our records, especially the first two, set the tone of the band and its sound. Solomon Feldthouse had an unmistakable voice and played instruments that most people had never seen in their lives. The Turkish caz and oud were mixed together with basses and guitars to meld into what has now been termed World Beat. We are now credited in many places as the first world beat band and I believe we were. Our album, 'Side Trips,' was recorded in no time; in fact we recorded seven songs at our first session. Our producer Barry Friedman a.k.a. Frazier Mohawk, who had put the Buffalo Springfield together, was perfect for our initial endeavor. We had little experience in the studio and his guidance helped a great deal.

"A good deal of our repertoire came from my earlier band the Floggs ('If the Night,' 'Hesitation Blues,' 'Come on In') and 'Pulsating Dream' was a rewrite of a Floggs tune. My song, 'Keep Your Mind Open' has been selected by MOJO as its number 19 pick of the greatest psychedelic songs of all time. 'Oh, Death' has now become a favorite due to its use in 'O, Brother Where Art Thou.' 'Please,' our first single, was also covered by the Hearts and Flowers and didn't help in our trying to make a slot for ourselves. David Lindley's 'Why Try' and Soloman's 'Egyptian Gardens' were attempts to merge the Middle Eastern with rock and roll. Fenrus Epp (Chester Crill) brought his knowledge of old jazz on a great version of 'Minnie the Moocher,' a Cab Calloway tune. This album set the attitude that would prevail throughout the history of the band," Chris explains.

"As you can see, our eclectic nature allowed us to perform with a myriad of performers. A list of acts is like a whose/who of rock: Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Dead, Steve Miller, The Sparrow, Quicksilver, The Chocolate Watch Band, Mad River, Country Joe, Johnny Winter, Jefferson Airplane, Hour Glass, Bo Diddley, Ike and Tina Turner, Lightnin' Hopkins, Flamin' Groovies, Spirit, Taj Mahal, Iron Butterfly, Nico, Tiny Tim, Janis Ian and Clear Light to name but a few. We even played the Monterey Pop Festival, but not on the stage. Too bad! Somehow we set up outside the venue to perform for all the Hell's Angels and others who couldn't get in the gate.

"Our second album, Darrow continues, 'Beacon From Mars,' was ostensibly recorded as a live album. Two, long, extended cuts, the psychedelic, 'Beacon From Mars' and the exotic 'Taxim,' predated all the extended pieces performed by other bands of our time, including the Grateful Dead. These cuts helped to establish the validity of our musicianship. David Lindley's masterful feed back guitar on 'Beacon' is beyond anything anyone has done before or since. The recorded version is over 12 minutes long and it could be much longer on stage.

"In contrast to the electric nature of 'Beacon From Mars,' 'Taxim' was an acoustic, evocative, Middle Eastern excursion. Solomon's caz and Lindley's harp guitar are perfect foils for each other and Chester's violin punctuates the hypnotic groove with cool, acerbic precision. This is the piece that really set us apart from the crowd. There was no one that could even come close to our personal, exotic sound. Like 'Beacon,' 'Taxim' was long, at over 11 minutes, and could be extended on stage. Often there would be a swirl of belly dancers that would take over the stage.

The rest of the album ranges from the Cajun cover of Rusty and Doug's 'Louisiana Man,' Solomon's starkly traditional 'Greenwood Sidee,' to the R & B gem, 'You Don't Love Me' with Chester's screaming harmonica and David's stinging guitar. Chet and I did our Don and Dewey harmony on this cut. We did our usual humorous tune, 'Baldheaded End of a Broom,' and two originals, my song, 'Life Will Pass You By' and Earl Shackelford's, 'I Found Out.'

"There is a particular UK article 'Zig-Zag' Magazine published in the early '70s where Page called Kaleidoscope 'his favorite band of all time,' and he saw us play at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. I know that Robert Plant's a big Kaleidoscope fan. When Swansong Records started, Jimmy Page called me on the phone and was interested in if I had any Kaleidoscope stuff. He was actually very interested in the stuff that ultimately came out on Nesmith's label. In that 'Zig Zag' story Page went on to proclaim Kaleidoscope "my ideal band – absolutely brilliant. I saw them one time and they played all the numbers off 'Beacon From Mars,' all that Moroccan stuff and having a whale of a time they were. They had such good roots and such a grip on their music – and that bloke Sol (Solomon Feldhouse) was a real traveler, the sort of bloke you'd meet on the road somewhere, and you knew there was no phoniness in him, because it showed in his music. One night I saw them playing the Avalon Ballroom, and he was doing a Flamenco thing, which was so authentic, easily as good as you'd expect from a top concert guitarist. And then this line of Flamenco dancers suddenly emerged from the wings and danced across the stage -just too much! It sounds a bit corny, just explaining it, but it certainly wasn't because the spirit and enthusiasm was so great."

contents copyright 2001, Harvey Kubernik