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"We Were Weird." - an interview with Chris Darrow

Chris Darrow at the Beacon from Mars Sessions, Columbia Studios

The following is the tapescript of an interview conducted by Richie Unterberger on April 13, 1999 for his very essential book, "Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers." Richie's chapter on Kaleidoscope is the most comprehensive account of the band to date. The interview appears here with the kind permission of the author. For a complete description of the book's contents & ordering info visit Richie's site. Richie's latest is Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock's Flight from Haight-Ashbury to Woodstock.

contents of this interview copyright 2000 Richie Unterberger

I: "What it wanted to be, I think at the beginning, was that it wanted to be eclectic."

What was the idea behind Kaleidoscope at the beginning?

Chester tells me that the day that I showed up, he said the band could have broken up if I hadn't showed up and tied it together. Because basically, there were disparate things. There was a lot of information. There was Solomon's middle eastern and flamenco stuff. There was David's country and his overlap into the flamenco/middle eastern stuff. There was Chester's jazz meets rock'n'roll kind of thing, and then there was the drummer, who basically was just a rock'n'roll drummer. So he had to kind of learn everything. Since I had been in a band already, and had for a couple of years on my own had been playing electric music--I could play electric guitar and bass--plus the other things...I think it was a band looking for a sense of something. Because as it turned out, I was the major writer. I was writing original material at that time as well, and other guys weren't. The song "Why Try" on the first album was one of the few...Solomon wrote "Elevator Man," and David and Solomon wrote "Why Try." But "Please" came from an outside source. Most of the other stuff that was original stuff was from me.

What it wanted to be, I think at the beginning, was that it wanted to be eclectic. David's idea of involving the middle eastern and the rock'n'roll thing was a very good idea. And Solomon, because of his particular interest, that's where he was at. And the other aspect was that it was understood that he was the voice of the band, Solomon. So that part of the idea of putting things, putting words in his mouth, was probably the other important thing. What was gonna sound good was him singing most of the time. That didn't mean that Chester and I didn't sing, or I didn't sing at all. But he was considered the lead singer, primarily, and it was to use that voice as a vehicle for a bunch of different kinds of stuff. So I think when I showed up, like I said, Chester told me, he said, he wasn't sure whether the band was going to stay together or not. Because there wasn't enough of a focus in it. I think I brought enough focus into the band by virtue of having played in an electric band, and also having material to bring in. About two-thirds of the stuff on the first album is either from my band, or from my pen.

So I think that it was a band looking for an identity, and we all threw in our two cents worth and came up with an identity that kind of fit what we thought we were trying to do. The name Kaleidoscope, the idea that it was a myriad of possibilities. And even when we did interpretive stuff, which was another thing we do, our rule was to always make it our own. Make who we were, what we were, and turn a Duke Ellington song into a Kaleidoscope song, or adapt into a Kaleidoscope song. I think we had a pretty good idea that we had something that was unique, and that we all had individuals. Like I told you before, when I was brought in, I was told that this was going to be a leader-less band, and that it was going to be a band of people who...everybody had their own strength, and each one of these guys could lead their own band their own way. But when it was my song or my turn to do it, I'd be the one to be able to tell everybody what to do, or instruct. And then if Solomon was doing the middle eastern stuff, he could say, well, this is how you play 9/8 time, this is how you play 7/8. So we had to listen, we couldn't...know what I mean.

Next: "I would say we had a vision, but it wasn't really selectively thought out."