The Kaleidoscope - Best Rock Musicians
|The following interview with David Lindley & Paul Lagos was conducted by Pete Senoff & originally appeared in the 2/70 issue of Hit Parader.
The word "musician" is becoming something of a misnomer today, being graciously applied to just about anybody and everybody who is involved in the "sounds" end of the pop record industry. Indeed, such "instrumentalists" as the Archies are frequently and unavoidably tossed into that categorization by public relations outpouring, fan magazine enthusiasm, and unknowing metropolitan newspaper writers. In many instances, the utilization by groups of such techniques as "rock theater" and "onstage revolution" are nothing more than coverups for a lack of musicianship. Think about it.
Then think about the last time you were inspired by the act of pop musicians playing. Groups like the Dead or the Cream or Blind Faith immediately come to mind as do several others. To people on the West Coast, a group that pops up whenever musicianship is discussed is Kaleidoscope, a five-man, electric eclectic entity who are primarily known for their free flowing excursions into Persian and Turkish music exotica.
But Kaleidoscope is equally comfortable doing straight rock. Or r & b. Or country. Or down-and-out bluegrass. Their diversity is a reflection of their backgrounds: the Eastern influence of Turkish-born Solomon Feldthouse compliments the Western (country-bluegrass-rock) background of Dave Lindley and the rest of the group. We spoke to Lindley and drummer Paul Lagos about their music.
HP: Have you been using the various exotic instruments you play from the beginning?
DL: Well, first of all, because we could play them. We got sounds out of them that other bands couldn't get at all. So we decided to experiment a little and see if we could work them in. We did and it turned out very well. We're just now getting into ensemble stuff... with like more than two. We used to use the harp guitar and the caz. Now a fiddle is getting pretty commonplace. But when we were using it, nobody else was.
HP: Could you describe some of your more exotic instruments... in terms of the sounds you get out of them and how they're used.
DL: Well, the caz is a really strident lead instrument. We've used that from the beginning, because that's what Solomon played all the time. It got us a real nice, outfront strident sound that didn't blend in with anything else; so you could hear it above everything else and it came out nice and clear. Then we branched out to the oud; the only reason we didn't use electrified was because it kept feeding back through the amps. Right now we're using the oud just as much as the caz. Solomon built a solid body oud, which was a Fender twelve string with a new neck put on... without frets. So it's a fretless twelve string. So he plays that and he really gets it down. You have the whole neck exposed, so you can really go all the way up, unlike the oud, which has a little tiny neck. But that twelve string... it sounds like John Lee Hooker with Mohammud Abacar.
HP: What's the history of the oud?
DL: The oud is really of an ancient origin... it's the forerunner of the lute. Persian. Probably started in China, then it gradually came across to Persia. The sound got larger and deeper and evolved into the present day oud. They've had it for a long time. The caz probably came from Persia, too.
HP: Now you also play the banjo. What made you pick that out?
DL: I like the sound... It's a nice instrument.
HP: You get a different sound out of it rather than that traditional bluegrass sound.
DL: Yeah, well, I happened to be interested in Indian music, since I was ten. But I really didn't know the formalities of it... I didn't know how involved they were. So I decided: "Well, the banjo would be neat; it gets an Indian-like sound." But I've played bluegrass too. My bluegrass, when I played with a straight bluegrass band, is the strangest bluegrass you'll ever hear. All the funny tunes and ensemble passages. We really had a great bluegrass band. My brother has played harpsichord ever since he was six. And his room was right next to mine... so, like by osmosis, I played that a little. I took two lessons in the classical guitar and dabbled in a few other things. But the instrument that I could play best then was the banjo. I put all my energy into that. And consciously or unconsciously, it came out in the sound I get out of it now. But I took a lot from different people: Stu Jameson, Rufus Crisp, and Uncle Dave Macon and people like that. It's just what any other folk musician goes through... the same process.
HP: How has Solomon's background in Turkish music styles guided or affected you?
DL: Well, I played Arabic, eastern style guitar for a long time. Playing the same lines that Solomon did, because we did ensemble passages and things like that. But he's really influenced me a lot, because he knows the real thing. But then again, his versions of the real stuff he's taken around and played his way. So each guy in the band, because each member has his own thing and he's really into it, learns an awful lot from each other guy in the band. And that's why we play so many different types of music, we're all tolerant of the other guy's playing and we dig it. It just goes back and forth. It's nice too. In that it's a variety, so you don't play the same kind of music and go insane after a while because you're tired of playing the same set, the same sounding material. That's why groups break up. That's why we don't do that. We keep it together.
HP: Professionally, you've been labeled "the underrated group" almost perennially. Do you think that, because you play so many different styles of music, attracting different fans in each style, that you can't get enough fans behind you overall. Like perhaps the fans who dig your country style would resent you playing rock?
DL: Yeah, but what we have considered is... that much variety is as legitimate as that much of any one thing. In other words, when you get turned on... when you hear some group play and they make you happy, 'cause the way they play makes you happy. Now if you go to see a group and it makes you angry, that's just as legitimate an emotion as being happy. Maybe you don't like it, but you go through it. So the people who hear our Eastern stuff and like that... might, later on, listen to our country music and decide "Hey, maybe, country music isn't all that bad. In fact, I like it." And pretty soon, they become country music fans. Besides liking Eastern music and liking rock and all that. You know, like how many people are turned on to classical Indian music because of the Beatles?
HP: Interest in Ravi Shankar and classical music in general seems to be on the decline, was it just a fad?
DL: It never should have been a fad... it's too far above all that. Right now, it has brought more people, dedicated people, into the fold because of the same process I was talking about. The Beatles did it whether they are aware of it or not. They got a lot of people deeply into the area of classical Indian music, who should have been interested in it in the first place, instead of rock and roll.
HP: A lot of people put it down because they complained that it all sounded the same.
DL: Yeah, I know. But that's their fault. They might like... the people who bought the albums, the general feeling of it. Just like you might like the feeling of soul music. You like the sounds of the dronings. A drone is a universal sound. It's in the blues, it's in Indian music, it's even in Bach. So, it's their fault if their minds aren't ready for that kind of thing. It's mostly musicians who are into that. Unfortunately, Kaleidoscope has been a musician's group too long. Like every musician digs what we do.
HP: In your longer, jamming songs, how much of it is structured, say based on past versions of that song, versus straight improvisation?
DL: It's everything. We never know how it's going to end. We never know what length it's going to be, as each guy has his thing that he goes into. Somebody will play something that he played before and the other guys will join in. It's kind of a game, guessing what he's going to do. That's the way the Eastern musicians do it... they jump on it, as soon as they can, after he starts it and then you wait until he ends it and you have to end at the same time. So, we don't get bored. There's always something different for us.
HP: What about the audience? Do you keep an eye on them during your longer improvisations to see if they reach some kind of saturation point in listening?
DL: Yeah, we've discovered that people come to hear you. Maybe some people in the audience have a favorite kind of thing that we play that they want to hear a lot of. Well, they can't! They're going to get a program. It's more of a show now. And it's nice now... seeing people react. I think we have the hardest job of any band around... because we play so many things. We have to make the transitions either really drastic or make them flow and bend people's heads around.
PL: Actually, it's becoming an audio visual experience.
DL: Right! We're getting more with the visual thing now.
PL: It's a matter of projecting what you play. Not over showmanship... that's real phoney stuff. But physically projecting more... being freer so people can see what you're playing, too.
HP: A lot of your material is highly improvisational. And improvisation is one of the hallmarks of jazz Yet jazz is supposedly dying. Are you into jazz at all?
PL: That's what I played... that's my style. I've done a lot of jazz things. I played a lot of rhythm and blues too. Mostly around New York, with people like Etta James, Little Richard, Johnny Otis, all kinds of people. As far as jazz, I never worked with any big name jazz group. I didn't want to take the twenty years to do that. But, yeah, there's a definite mixing of the cultures. Jazz is America's improvisational music, but each country has their own form of improvisational music and each has things of their own. All of the music we play just mixes together... you can't help it. The country music, the eastern music, the jazz, and the r & b are the four basic musics we play. And they all go together in making the Kaleidoscope.
DL: And they're all very much the same when you think about it.
PL: Really. Because music is just melody, harmony and rhythm and you rearrange it different ways. Eastern music is... you know, Sol learns it one way and I learn it another, but we both make it come out the same. Like he calls it a "compaha" and all these funny names, but I call it bars and measures and all that stuff. Like when I started on the Eastern music, it took me a while to figure out what Sol wanted because you can't really hear what the drummers are doing on the Eastern records he's got. And the reason you can't hear them is they're recorded on small cassette machines. So I just had to try to apply what I already knew. It started out not being authentic, but it was "something else", and it was new and it was us and we all dug it. Like Sol would say, "Hey, that sounds neat. You're playing toompan and doonbeg on an American trap set... that's outta sight." And everybody else's background comes out. Instead of us all trying to change our backgrounds and mold ourselves into one all new thing, we just let our old selves come out and mold away.
HP: Is the group into tablas now?
PL: No, just a regular drum set.
DL: We have an electrified doonbeg now.
HP: Which is what?
DL: An Arabic hour-glass shaped drum. We've electrified one and when you play it, it kills.
PL: But the whole world is exotic. I mean, the people in India probably think the American drum set is an exotic instrument. You know, like "he plays authentic American drums wow." So we're just playing music of the world now, it's beyond category really.
HP: Thank you Dave and Paul.