This interview can be difficult to read because of the lack of punctuation. But it is still an important article that I wanted to share because of Mr. Pappalardi`s early demise. Killed by his wife, Gail, in 1983, with a derringer he had given her as a gift a few months previously.
In later years, Pappalardi became known for his non-musical proclivities, which included the usual chemical experiments as well as an open marriage with Collins. Her jealousy of one particular mistress reportedly led to the argument that ended in his death, although Collins maintained that she’d shot Pappalardi accidentally while taking a firearms training session. The fact that it happened at 6:00AM didn’t dissuade jurors from handing in a surprising verdict, convicting her of criminally negligent homicide rather than murder.
Pappalardi was an American music producer, songwriter, vocalist, and bassist. He is best known to the public as the bassist and vocalist of the band Mountain, but he also produced several well-known artists, among them were Cream.
An important figure in the early rock music history, this article deserves to be found on the internet.
Have a good read.
In the talk-in
Along with guitarist Leslie West, Felix founded Mountain back in 1969. Best known for his work with Cream, bass player / producer / arranger Pappalardi has been involved with Tim Hardin, Tom Paxton, John Sebastian, Youngbloods, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Rush and many more artists, but is now totally committed to Mountain and its welfare. He lives, with his wife Gail Collins, on the island of Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts, which was once the centre of America`s whaling industry. The island and it`s traditions play a great part in his life and inspired the band`s last album “Nantucket Sleighride”. Mountain`s new album, released this week, is titled “Flower Of Evil”.
Interview: Billy Walker Picture: Spud Murphy
When did you first start producing?
In `63/4, I started as a studio musician arranging for people like Richie Havens, Ian and Sylvia, Tim Hardin – I spent a lot of time with Tim – Sebastian, Cass Elliott. Then in the fall of 1966 Jessie Colin Young asked me if I would produce the Youngbloods and I said sure. The very first thing we did was “Get Together” which three years later was a top five single. I finished that album and then I went to Atlantic and sort of became Armet Ertegun`s protege, he “found me” you know? We were doing projects and then he put me in the studio with Cream.
How did you initially get into session work?
I went down to the Village and began playing with all those cats down there. Paul Rothchild was a producer at the time for Elektra and was drawing from down there. John Sebastian and I became virtually a studio team and began doing that kind of work until he evolved finally and got his own band and then I was with Ian and Sylvia for a while.
Actually the thing that got me into production was that I would do an arrangement like “Morning Morning” for Richie Havens or something for Buffy Sainte Marie and when I`d be writing the arrangement I`d be hearing one thing in my head, a certain lushness, and when I`d hear the final mix it wouldn`t be there.
Mountain and Cream apart what has been your most satisfying production job?
I was pleased with the Youngbloods project as far as it went and I was pleased with my association with Tim Hardin because Hardin was very important to us all. I played bass on “If I Were A Carpenter” but Tim and I go back a couple of years before that, he was innovative and very, very influential and very important to me.
At what point did you meet up with Leslie West?
`67 right after I finished “Disraeli Gears”. I did two sides with a band called the Vagrants which Leslie was in and dug him. Our association grew throughout this time until Cream was finished and after. I did the “Goodbye” album which was Cream but it was also Cream and myself, and George Harrison in one case on “Badge”, and I got the job done somehow that`s what happened. I figured if I hadn`t have shoved for “Goodbye” to happen it never would have happened, those three studio tracks would never exist.
The live album that came out after that although it says “produced by Felix Pappalardi” I didn`t have anything to do with that. I did sanction the release of those tapes, I wasn`t in the position to sanction or not sanction them. At that time Cream was over and it was up to Stigwood.
I don`t want to dwell on Cream, but…
I don`t mind man, it`s a real part of what I`ve done and I`m naturally proud of it. From the American Press I have always been resented from my association with Cream. They`re stupid to start with, they`re as dumb as anybody could be, they don`t have the education to cope with a lot of the music that is going down they`re just dumb. They believe that music started and ended in the Delta and you and I know that`s not the story, but you can`t tell them that.
They feel that I meddled with Cream, they wanted an advanced Mayall`s Blues Breakers but I didn`t give a flying f–k what they wanted. I had a band in the studio and Jack Bruce was extremely important to that band, in fact if not the driving force musically in that band and as a producer I had to cope with what was happening there and not what I thought Rolling Stone magazine wanted. And it`s that level of education that I`m talking about that I believe exists here (in Britain) but does not exist there and never will.
How much a part do you feel you played on Cream`s final sound and direction?
Production, and the way I produce, that`s only a part of what I do. I arrange and the whole shot like “Eric play here, don`t play there” you know what I mean? He probably wouldn`t like to hear me say that but that`s where it`s at, that`s where it was at, that`s what I did and Jack and I a lot of times would work on the arrangement. For instance there was “Pressed Rat And Worthog”, Ginger`s thing, and Jack and worked on that and worked on it, and worked it into the amazing thing I thought it wound up being, the sort of thing that came out of it, like a huge orchestral sound.
That, I think, was basically resented in the States but it`s not by the people somehow it`s by these dudes that have got nothing else to do with their time but sit around and criticise, particularly Rolling Stone which I see as a local San Francisco newspaper. They give five pages on a band you`ve never heard of that`s rehearsing in their own county but Mountain comes over to Britain and does what it does and you don`t hear a word about it, they don`t like the idea.
At the time of Cream Felix Pappalardi was just a producer and the guy who played the cowbells, did you ever feel the need to get out of that and form your own band?
I knew it was inevitable, I knew it was coming. Gail and I knew it was coming for sure. I don`t like doing anything unless I feel I`m good and prepared for it. At the time I wasn`t ready to have my own band.
Do you feel that Cream`s break up speeded it along a little though?
Oh yes. I could have spent a lot more time producing Cream. I felt a certain responsibility towards them, I don`t know why. Yes, I do know why, they were a phenomenal band.
It`s been said that Mountain, and other bands including Grand Funk, were formed specifically to fill the enormous void left by Cream, how do you feel about these statements?
Well, there was a huge void left in my life. I was a substantial part of them and it was a band I wanted, I had to move on, playing with other people is all influence, it`s a constant cyclical so who knows what I brought from Cream to Mountain or what I brought to Mountain of me that I used in Cream and taken to its logical conclusion I don`t think there`s anybody who can sort all that out. But for my own self I don`t care, I`m interested primarily in improvisation, I`m interested in players as opposed to just people who play the same notes all the time.
Improvisors, players, are constantly working off, you start working off of a clichè, however else are you going to start? Every lick has been played one way or another so you start off in a time, working off a clichè until you get so far out on that limb that you work yourself into playing something you`ve never heard before which is innovation, which is new, which is the pressure and the beauty of improvisation which is really what Mountain is all about we`re a playing band. But different than Cream was a playing band because this is a band that is definitely under leadership. When Leslie`s taking a solo this band is taking care of business, behind Leslie. There`s nobody playing and saying “look at me I can play that lick better”. It`s “get behind Leslie” because he`s got to feel it.
With Cream, Eric would get into a feel and then perhaps the others would come in, he couldn`t get into a groove long enough. I think that was probably one of the huge problems, Eric was the lead horn, there was no other way to think about it, yet there was this fantastic bass player capable of lead, if it had been organised to the point where Eric would be taking care of business behind Jack, and then Jack and Ginger behind Eric, it might have worked.
On the other hand that was the result of it not being that way was part of the excitement also of Cream, this phenomenal counterpoint, constant, rhythmic and melodic. That`s all to say that Mountain is basically an improvisational unit, a playing band as much as a jazz band is a jazz band.
When you produced Leslie`s solo album “Leslie West, Mountain” did you know then that he was a musician you had to play with?
Not at the time, Mountain didn`t come together until `69, it was just after I had done Leslie`s album and then come to London to do Jack`s “Songs For A Tailor”. When I got back I decided to go on the road just to get Leslie started and then as I got out there in order to put a show together that I figured was right I began to sing, got sucked into that, fired the drummer that I originally hired to just go out and get Leslie going and then we got Corky, Steve Knight was already with the band but I knew he was right. He wasn`t a keyboard player he was a trombone player, tuba player, bass player but I needed a musician to play keyboard, I didn`t need a triple-flash on the organ. Now he`s developed, put his musicianship into the keyboard.
It was Gail`s idea that Corky joined us, we did ten days` rehearsing then September we did the Boston Tea Party and as far as I`m concerned that was the beginning of Mountain, that was when I made the commitment to them to stay with this band. Soon after we did “Climbing”, Mountain`s first album, and then a year later “Nantucket Sleighride” and up to “Flowers Of Evil” our latest album.
Steve Knight`s organ playing, while an important part of Mountain`s sound, isn`t as prominent as many organists, will there be a time when he will be more to the front?
For instance, on “Roll Over Beethoven” his playing is fierce. His treatment of the keyboard in “Nantucket Sleighride” itself, “Animal Trainer And The Toad” and things like that is so broad and his musicianship so good that it can evolve any time, he really can. I trust it will, given time.
Did your writing partnership with Gail start before Mountain or was it brought about by the need for material for the band?
The best was to give you an example to answer that is on “Nantucket Sleighride”, “Travellin` In The Dark” was actually written in 1965 and first recorded in 1967. I thought it was right for “Nantucket Sleighride” so we did it. Gail and I had actually started writing in 1964 together, so we`ve been working on it for a long time now.
Gail also did the covers of Mountain`s three albums, were they specially designed for each album?
The actual oil painting on “Nantucket Sleighride” was also done in 1966, the original is, in fact, backwards of that shown on the album. She does all the designs and the major portion of the photography and the main portion of the visual presentation and has always done so.
In your songwriting does Gail provide the lyrics and you supply the music?
Most of the time that`s the way it is. She`s written some gorgeous melodies and I`d like to do a whole set of orchestrations for an album of them. For instance “Travellin` In The Dark” is mostly my lyric, and “Crossroader”, but without Gail I could never get it, the most important thing is being a songwriting team. Me and my old lady fight but never about that, that`s always straight ahead.
Leslie`s and Gail`s and your style are very evident in the band`s sound, his very raw and abrasive and yours more melodic, are Corky and Steve moving into writing very much, will it alter Mountain`s style?
Corky is in the process of arriving at a style. On the new album I knew what I wanted from it, I wanted a certain thing and style and knowing that I wanted what I wanted so definitely out of what was to become “Flowers Of Evil” that had it been something that Leslie didn`t dig the shit would have hit the fan. But it happened that what I was striving for, the only thing that I would accept, was something that knocked everybody out, and I think every album will be that kind of turning point for the band and if it isn`t I think it`s a waste of studio time.
It should be that important a task, it should be that much of a shake-up. “Nantucket” is different from “Climbing” and the next is going to be different from all of those and that`s what I mean by innovative so that even now when people say Mountain sound like something anybody that`s got half a brain is gonna say “either you haven`t listened to the band or you`re a fool.”
The album “Nantucket Sleighride” plainly shows your great interest in the history of whaling, were the majority of the songs written with this interest in mind?
“Travellin` In The Dark” for instance, when I`m out in Nantucket sometimes and the fog rolls in I think to myself that those dudes leaving their wives and families for three years to go around the Cape and not seeing anybody for that time, it`s a long and frightening break and all those references are there. “Nantucket Sleighride” is by no means over for me that was just the beginning of it for me, Nantucket`s my home and if I die, I`ll die there.
Mountain once played the Fillmore six times in a week, how does this sort of pressure tell on the band`s stamina?
A show now can go two hours, there was a time when Leslie would get physically sick after 55 minutes but now he`s used to it. Last Friday we did Milwaukee that went 1 hour 55 minutes. Sure we were tired and there wasn`t much happening after the show but we felt good. It`s hard, like being on an athletic team, I can`t stay up the night before and f–k around, I can`t do it because I know if I do I know I`m not going to be able to drive the band.
If Corky stays up all night with some broad and then lays back on stage and I`ve got to honk him, but if I`m not on top of him he`d run me into the ground, he`s a strong cat and only twenty-three years old. So I`ve got to take my black pill and go to sleep.
The sound you manage to achieve on bass is particularly powerful, how do you get this level of power?
I think my wattage is dangerous, I`ve got so much of it and the bass is souped up. The amps were originally experimental Hendrix amps that he originally used but I don`t know how I ended up getting them. Our guys have done some work on them and I`ve got a very powerful instrument, the pick-up itself is very powerful and my basic sound is always wide open on the amp. My amp`s always on 10, bass is completely off and treble is always full, conture`s completely full. All the dynamics are being done from my bass, so I`m playing what I`d guess you`d call completely distorted all the time, but it`s distorted with tone.
There were rumours in Britain recently that Mountain had split, was there any truth of a break or were the band resting?
There wasn`t a rumour in the States but we heard about the rumour here that I had split to write and produce. As long as I can get the people that are booking the band and “managing” the band to understand that we cannot keep on going the way we are going now under any circumstances there`s going to be a choice, either it`s going to be done my way or I`m going to quit. It`s as simple as that, I`m not going to play this game any more of three-days-a-week working in the States, so if it`s not done my way there will be no more Mountain, however I can promise you there will be a Mountain because it`s going to be done my way.
If a split did come about could you see yourself playing with anyone but Leslie?
No, Leslie`s my man, it would be a joke. It`s a once-in-a-lifetime thing and we both know that. The problem is the people who are booking and managing the band, the philosophy has got to change. When the band goes out now, and it`s getting nearly three years old, it`s time to cut that crap out of two three-week periods off a year and the rest of it on the road. Three days out on the road and four days off to recuperate so you can get yourself together for the next three days it`s just got to stop.
In other words whenever the band goes out on the road it`s got to be an occasion, I`m sick of going to cities three times a year where somebody reads an ad and says “Mountain`s in town again, well I don`t think we`ll go this time because they`ll be back in three months.” We get a fantastic audience but we`re killing ourselves. It will change, it`s just a matter of me having enough time to formulate how it`s going to be and socking it to everybody.
The Who are very bright when it comes to this sort of thing. When you have something like a Who or a Mountain you don`t put their asses out on the road like they were a bunch of whores.
On “Flowers Of Evil” the title track has a very positive story line, could you expand on it?
What that`s commenting on is the boys in America that go to Vietnam to fight that bullshit thing over there and they get hooked on smack (heroin). They`re okay for fifty dollars over there, Private First Class pay, they can stay nice and mellow for a week. They come back after their tour of duty is over and it costs them a thousand dollars for the first nine days, so what`s been happening in America is these guys are home and are spending all the money they`ve saved so they go right back to the recruiting centres and sign up for another three years and put in for Saigon so they can get back and get high.
Nixon and the Government are aware of the problem but still they`re closing Methodon centres and here are these kids that are coming back with a Jones (habit) and a half. Anyway that`s the thing that`s probably going to save Mountain because all of us have a Mountain Jones, we`re all hung up on Mountain. Leslie would be a miserable dude without Mountain and so would I.
“Nantucket Sleighride” was dedicated to Owen Coffin, could you tell me a little more about the legend that surrounds him?
The Coffin family first of all was one of the great Nantucket families one of the original owners of the island and one of the great whaling families. Owen was seventeen when he went on his fateful first and last voyage on the Essex. The two biggest disasters in Nantucket`s whaling history were the Globe and the Essex, the Globe was a mutiny and the Essex was stoved by a whale. George Pollard was the captain of the Essex and he was only twenty-eight and was Coffin`s uncle.
They were into a school of whales and the longboats were out with the harpooners doing their number, then all of a sudden, about a hundred yards off the stern of the ship, a whale was noticed heading for the mother ship (the Essex) picking up speed and then stove in the front of the boat. It came underneath the ship and wallowed off to the side, knocked semi-conscious, the captain realised he was losing his ship and began making preparations for an emergency.
They were a long way from landable land (owing to cannibals) and as they were preparing to leave the ship the whale stove in the other side, they salvaged what they could and this was in August and it was February before the last survivors were picked up. In one of the longboats there were five men and they had to resort to cannibalism finally, to sacrifice one man so that the others might live and Owen Coffin drew the short straw. He was in the longboat with his uncle George Pollard who refused to partake of him but the others did and survived.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Ray Charles, Marc Bolan, Bell & Arc, Ornette Coleman, Rory Gallagher, The Who, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Mr. Fox.
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