Lets go back to when you were 16,you traveled to New York City with a rock band which you co-founded with Jorge Calderon entitled The Living End, AKA: Space, can you tell us about who else was in the band
I was having the time of my life playing jazz at 14 with the top players in the island. They were the real deal and in that 1962 summer we were playing every night at one of the most popular cabarets when one night guitar player/singer Jorge Calderon who I barely knew, came up to me to ask me if I was interested in forming a rock band. At the time Jorge and the drummer Amaury Lopez had been fooling around with the idea of forming a band. Amauri was a great drummer for the band – I could say perfect! In the end his downfall was that he was attracted to fast cars (under the influence) and was also prone to accidents – a bad combination. So he eventually hurt himself to the point where he could’t play and became a Math teacher in NY, to this day.
At the time there was a bassist, Osvaldo Torres, but he was eventually replaced by Roberto Puras. Puras later survived being shot indiscriminately by a drive by shooting as he was coming out of a club in San Juan.
While I was working with the jazz band at one of the cabarets, I had met a girl who was one of the dancers on the review (The Paper Dolls) at the same club we were playing. Her name was Diana Costello and she was older than I, but she became my fiancé and we had plans to marry. She was the female singer with The Royal Teens on their 1957 hit song “Who wears short shorts” and became the first female singer with our new band, at least for the first year. Fortunately my dear friend Jack Rieley, talked me into not marrying – I was only 16 and she was 24!
Then came Tessy Coen, she was one of the lead singers and she also played the congas.
This is how we met her: One time back home in San Juan sometime around 1964, we were a quartet and we were playing a gig at a very popular club called The Scene Au Go Go were we were the house band. Although we were a rock band, the song The Girl From Ipanema had just become very popular so we went ahead and played it instrumentally. All of the sudden this incredibly beautiful female voice singing the lyrics along came out of nowhere! During the break we found out that this young black beautiful girl, Tessy, was singing it from the DJ booth way across the room. From then on she became part of the band.
Lead guitar/lead singers Billy Soto, was the last to join. He came from another early rock band called The Sunset. Last I heard he was living and possibly playing in the San Francisco Bay area – he is (was) a fantastic singer!
NYC was a peak experience! We got very popular very quickly and also very obliviated! We had been experimenting with LSD extensively from when we were in San Juan and later in St. Thomas and being in NYC added to the medicine cabinet. We were highly creative but green in some respects – we were great live band, but had very little experience in the studio. We were signed by Capitol Records and thrown into a recording studio with no direction. Capitol assigned us a producer, Shadow Morton (Janis Ian) who was more intoxicated than we were and never showed up at the studio, so we did what we did. The album was called Space and eventually shelved for lack of followup of any kind. By the time we had finished the album we had been living together a little too long and started having personality issues that drove us apart.
How many singles were cut or release
No single – it was just an album – Space.
Have you any plans to release them on cd as a “lost leader ” collection ?
Don’t know…. I have so many plans and projects I really like in the forward direction!! But it is doable…. I do have a promise to keep to James Crowther!
Once you arrived in LA with Jack you already had a sizeable collection of compositions under your belt,did you offer them to publishers ?
Yes, I did. I actually cut a demo on vinyl of a song I wrote called Hold On for a major publisher (forgot the name). But at the time I was still finding my way back into some kind of stability. So I started doing gigs with cover bands and sometimes i’d be playing 3 gigs throughout the morning! It wasn’t until I put my first recording studio together that I started getting organised and putting my songs on tape.
You started touring with the beach boys were they aware of your songwriting abilities ? as Jack was writing for them and must have mentioned you as his co writer.
I suppose that he did. One of the times that he took me to Brian’s house he set it up for me to record one of our songs at Brian’s studio with Steve Desper. It was pretty barebones – I did the keyboards, the bass the drums and the percussion mostly from instruments that were laying around, and then I brought in Billie Soto and he did a killer lead vocal. It was a good track and it could still be in the vaults – it was called Alleluia (and it wasn’t religious). I have tried to negotiate finding it, but no luck so far.
Can you tell us what it was like working with Wilson Pickett and the Association ?
Wilson Pickett was an extremely talented performer. He certainly knew what he liked and he had a real strong band, with the horns and all. I was hired to play Hammond organ and we played mostly in Las Vegas. The guys in his band were as nasty as they come – a typical talk back stage was something like “how we outran the mo- fuckng police in a field while shooting at them”…. Their sexual innuendoes were also way over the top…. There was one musician among them, Robert Kenyatta who played percussion, who used to get picketed on by the other guys often – he did have the crazy juju medicine man look and some times had to threaten them to shrinking their dicks with some magic herbs so they’d leave him alone! But Kenyatta was a gentle and educated person and also a great musician. So one time in Las Vegas I offered Kenyatta to come with me on tour with the Beach Boys and Pickett got word of it. The following morning Pickett summoned Kenyatta and myself to his suite – he was sitting on a fancy arm chair in the middle of the room wearing a red silk robe and was flanked by 2 bodyguards. As he had us line up in front of him, he pointed his finger telling each one of us how he was going to break our legs and our fingers if we left the band — within the next few days we were on a plane to LA to leave on tour with the Beach Boys!
My affair with The Association was just that – an affair, or better said a fling. It was some time in 1969 and the rest of my group, Space (AKA: The Living End) had just re-grouped in LA. At some point we had befriended the producer Curt Boettcher who at the time was doing some experimenting in the studio with the Association. Curt had an affinity with what we were doing as a band and asked us to participate at the sessions. All of the guys in our band participated – I remember doing some really wild percussion tracks among other things.
Being a jazz musician at heart what was it like working with Charles LLoyd [who had added a jazz element to both the bb’s and doors in 71] and especially George Benson ?
Playing with Charles Lloyd was a real treat! It came about during a Bech Boys tour when he needed to put together a band on the fly. I don’t think he quite expected what he got from me. His songs were a bit complex and mostly in keys such as C#, which were uncommon and incapacitating to most rock pianists and keyboardists. But I had tremendous fun with it and wailed on the solos – he later commented how delightfully surprised he was with my playing – he couldn’t believe it because he drew me out of a rock band!
Before I played with Charles there were issues. Charles was (is) a T M meditator and was very close to Mike Love. He was one of those guys, like Mike, that would demonise you if you’d smoke cigarettes or anything else, or if you ate meat, etc. — he was part of the ‘Love Factor’, as we used to call it (Mike Love). By we, I mean the band plus the Wilson brothers – to the diehard TM’rs we were all lost souls in the abyss! We all used to goof on Charles and secretly called him ‘the fruit fly’ because when he was performing with the Beach Boys he would go in a trance with his eyes rolled up and he’d be moving and jumping all over the stage wearing a waggish pointed hat! But after playing with him my perception shifted as I have tremendous respect for Charles as a jazz musician. – not that I didn’t know that before — it was just awkward — the role he played with the Beach Boys. I’m extremely proud to have played with Charles…. on his turf!
George Benson had been to me along with Wes Montgomery, the most incredible jazz guitar player on the planet. That was in the 60s before he started singing. I was such a fan of his playing that when he started to become popular singing on his records it was a big turnoff for me. But that was to change big time for me after I was called to do a session for him and he wanted to jam some before the session and not only did he knocked me out with his masterful playing, but with his singing as well! It was a highlight of my career to have played and recorded with George Benson!
In 1998,you opened the , Carli Cafe Concierto, where you perform jazz do you ever re invent the IN MY SOUL songs as more jazz influenced creations ?
My performances on piano at Carli’s are mostly oriented towards jazz, but on occasions I’ll do my unplugged versions of songs from In My Soul and also from other rock material. What I don’t do is to jazz them up. I tend to be homogeneous when it comes to genres in playing my music — rock is rock and jazz is jazz. I could blend genres some times if it screams for it – like my jazz waltz version of Surfer Gir