And then the chimney spoke....
Blogger: Cary Grant
Date: Saturday, February 24, 2007

feature/interview: Rich La Bonte!
it gives me great pleasure to present to you one of the more overlooked and astonishingly BRILLIANT cat on the 70s DIY scene ... both an accomplished sci-fi writer and musical eclectic ... Rich La Bonte! back in 2006 or so i wrote all 'bout him here* and the material he had posted on his website [] from long gone 70s eps and an album or two as well. he had posted his favorite tracks in an order of his own choice, and i found the whole mess totally mind blowing. imagine a singer, a REALLY GOOD singer, i mean the man performed in the original Godspell, doing homespun pop mellowisms that float yer head right off into never neverland back to back with insanely hep and speedy punk/new wave ditties that crunch and buzz round the room ... and his voice works just as well on these too ... like a less pretentious tom verlaine ... and on the psychy ooze he sounds both turns lou reed after whippets and john lennon's airier moments which in american form through all kinds of looking glasses come out sounding like pure BOBB TRIMBLE which is crazy in and of itself, but i'll bet you one could be easily fooled by a few of these tracks. but various comparisons aside, Rich is a way-cool songwriter and musician crossing all kinds of 70s boundaries firmly embedding him in my chimney shrine to other heroes of a similar stripe like Todd Tamanend Clark, R. Stevie Moore, and George Brigman. they all lived it from the hilts of their living rooms and the bad assness of this flows forever on every thing they cut. Rich gets the least recognition of any, and it still surprises me. this shit aches for a JUICY 2-cd reish set like the todd clark ish ... like whoa ... so anyhow ramblings aside, i'll let the man open up his vaults for all of you as we discussed his musical past over e-mail the past week. and i encourage a plundering of his uploaded mp3s here ... my favorite collection is the "We Are All Experimental Models" one which plays like an album ... and a gorgeous stirring one at that. without further ado, here's the words from the man himself:
1) how would you classify your music in the spectrum of sounds that was the 1970s? i hear such an array of styles in your work, face melting psychedelic folk rock that soars into the sky, and oozing proto-plasmic punk material that totally demolishes - what were your influences?
2) did you play live much? if so did you have a standing band for any period of time?
3) how did your work as an author affect your musical creativity?

This is a blog, right, because I started to answer the first question and I realized I was answering all three, so here goes. (Minimal editing.)

I am born eclectic. My influences started in the 50s. By the 70s I was pretty much formed. I got a tape recorder from my dad when I was 11 and figured out how to record a piano backwards. Thatís true and I still love that sound. The first two singles I bought were Bird Dog by the Everly Brothers and Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis, and both were a big leap for me. Before that I liked what I heard on Top 40 radio and saw on TV. Later, a jazz drummer named Dick Kilgore got me into Monk and Mingus and Art Blakey. I bought an electric guitar at that time and started playing, mostly singing in garage bands. I had a pretty good voice and as no one I knew could cut Beatles, or any of the vocal oriented stuff of the day, I did Jagger and Eric Burdon and Dylan covers. In 1965 I went to Ithaca New York and joined up with a band called the huns (always lower case.) 

The huns gave me working capital, so I bought every album and single I could get my hands on. The group was a Stones / Kinks cover band at heart but we matriculated into six part harmonies and folk rock and originals. We played 40 songs with a play list of 80, three hours, two times a week on the average and it was a union band, by which I mean AFL-CIO American Federation of Musicians. Ithaca was owned by the union and you couldnít play there unless you joined. There were 40 venues within a ten mile radius and I donít know how many bands, and we all got union scale.

The band went through two incarnations and dissolved. I left Ithaca and got a job as a gopher for an industrial film house in NYC and eventually became a film editor. The film job tanked and Gordon Furlong got me into a band in NYC with a girl singer named Joanne Jonas. Jonas quit the band for a part in the original cast of Godspell and got me an audition for the Godspell band. Steve Schwartz hired me because I could hit a high C in falsetto.

Godspell gave me enough money to buy a Teac 4-track SimulSync 15 / 7 ips recorder and a slightly used EMS Synthi A. I owned more than one instrument too. (Big man in the head!) By then I was listening to everything from Apple Records (there was no Apple Computers) to Zappa. I regularly saw major and minor acts in small venues in the Village, where I lived through most of this while playing Godspell six nights a week. Jimi Hendrix, Frank and his boys, Muddy, John Lee Hooker, Blues Project, Youngbloods and local bands like The Magicians and The Flying Machine. Not to mention the Fillmore East. I remember seeing the Kinks and the Airplane Ė the rest are a blur.

In the late 70s I moved to Hollywood with 500 LPs and Shari Famous to become the Patti Smith Group of the West Coast but we really got into the local bands instead and I started writing reviews for local rags and FlipSide a couple of times. Shari and I became Rich & Famous and started CMI Records Newsletter to take a poke at a friend of ours who worked at BMI. (ClassAss Music Industries, with the first two words run together all computery.) Later I changed it to fLAtDiSk because we decided to start a label with Dave Gibson (Moxie Records) doing the pressings. All the groups around us were doing it, so we decided to do it too. Vinyl heaven.

Shari and I met Kim Fowley and he was amazed when I knew who his father was. I hung out with him for five years in the mid 80s and we had fun in the studio at all hours of the night, etc. I like Kim. Heís a genius and anybody who says otherwise doesnít know the guy. A little outrageous from time to time, maybe.

Rich & Famous had no live act for at least the first three years. FlipSide kept ragging us so we got a good band together eventually and did the rehearsal halls but never played out. I didnít care and she did. After Shari and I broke up, she put together a band with Larry Alcorn and played out for a while and then worked with Pat Bag (The Bags) in a group called Buffyís Ghost. (There was no BtVS at that time. The name was a Family Affair / Anissa Jones reference.) She was in the Twirling Butt Cherries for a while too. I was in a band called The Clones with Chuck Wada of The Motels who wrote and played great but couldnít sing. He thought he was the next Darby but Darby had better words. FlipSide came to see us and told me I could do better. Only time I ever played bass in a three piece and I never did it again. Play live for money, I mean.

Big anglophile, BTW. My record collection, when I had one, was very English. Anthrax to Wire. But also big on Brian Wilson and Beach Boys (separately, please.) West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Agent Orange. Still have some of the old records, transferred from vinyl to cassette to CD.

I got my first computer in the early 80s. It was a VIC-20. I could never afford an Amiga, so I went from there to a C64. Did chip tunes on both. Learned BASIC. Got a job with a system integrator and into PCs at the same time. (The Commodore pays off!) Got into mods. Learned HTML.

Wow, this is so too long. Last question: I wrote fiction before I played an instrument, but after the backward piano. I read everything science fiction when I was a kid. I learned guitar to write songs. I didnít start thinking about writing actual books until the late 80s. Yes, Iím writing another one now. Once you figure out how, itís hard as hell.

Hey, are you gonna grade this?

4) did you consider yourself apart of the punk movement?
5) to what extent were drugs involved? (don't feel obligated to answer if you wish to be private in this regard - simply, i enjoyed the song Weeds very much.)
6) were all of your records pressed on fLAtDiSk?
7) if you weren't playing live so much, were the records just sold mail order then?
8) do you still keep in touch with kim fowley? how did you know who his father was?

Iíll try to keep it more on track this time :o)>

I considered myself apart from the punk movement but Shari Famous is younger than me by about a decade so I always considered her a part of it and I was along for the ride. We were champions of "new wave" when we first arrived in Hollywood - which I saw as a return to the minimalism of 60s rock and folk - but we adapted when we realized that the punk subculture in LA was much further along than NYC. They were really a very friendly bunch of punks anyway, Geza's "Kill the Hippies" aside.

I started smoking pot in Ithaca and did some 60s psychedelics, but never got into the harder stuff. I was pretty alcoholic for a while in Hollywood, but I also gave up hard liquor in 1980. Nowadays I drink Guinness socially and Diet Coke at home. Weeds is dedicated to my pal Kronos (Kronos and the Feltching Vampires on Moxie Records - good luck finding a copy of that one!), who was Dave Gibson's sidekick while Moxie was around. I must have been pretty ripped when I recorded it because I "found" it while listening to old cassettes a couple of years ago. ("What the hell was that!?")

My records came out on the Moxie, CMI and fLAtDiSk labels. fLAtDiSk wasn't so much an entity then as an alias. They were all Moxie Records.

Like most independent labels in LA during that period, we were distributed by Bomp and another company (Greenway, maybe? I forget the name.) We also placed them ourselves at stores like Rhino Records on Melrose and took frequent ads in FlipSide and Slash. Shari did all the placing. She could sell anything. Incidentally, she later married Richard Foos, one of the two owners of Rhino Records and is now a practicing family therapist in Beverly Hills. Who woulda' thunk?

I haven't kept in touch with Kim in this century. He left LA for a long while in the 1990s and he doesn't do email. I hear from my friend Deborah Patino (famous make-up artist, RasZebra, Ringling Sisters, etc.) that he's back there now. We parted as friends and despite his reputation I don't have a bad word to say about the guy. He is every bit the living legend and he's worked with everybody from Doris Day to The Plastic Ono Band. When we did the Son of Frankenstein LP he told me that I was the first person to produce him since Phil Spector. (Another challenge for rock historians because I don't know what record he was talking about.) Kim is the consummate rock independent.

Kim's father was Douglas Fowley, a character actor in the golden age of Hollywood with a list of credits a mile long. The old man first appeared uncredited in The Thin Man in the early 1930s and continued to work steadily well into his eighties. Usually played gangsters and bad guy western saloon owners, but he did comedy too and he is probably best remembered as the distraught movie director in Singing in the Rain. Kim and his dad were very estranged when we met, but I think he told me that they reconciled before the old man died. I noticed a likeness watching an old Mr. Moto movie late one night in my Hollywood apartment. Kim went dead silent when I told him and no wonder: rock and roll mythology had Kim pegged as the illegitimate son of Howard Hughes at the time.
9) what is your connection to r. stevie moore/wfmu (i remember hearing that song for irwin)?
10) what is the story behind the mayan canals part of mayan canals?
11) tell me a little about your new stuff (music wise and literature)?

As I remember it, I was living in West Orange NJ and editing film in NYC working as an assistant to Mark Rappaport for a film Ted Steeg was doing for United Technologies (or somebody like that) and I was writing songs with Shari Famous and she introduced me to Irwin Chusid at WFMU. This is 1976, maybe?

Irwin let us do some little bits for his show on tape and we recorded Drums Along the Maple Wood later when we lived in Hollywood and sent him a copy. (Irwin lived in Maplewood, NJ. That entire Moxie "release" was like 12 acetates in color Xerox sleeves.) Time passes. We either heard R. Stevie Moore on Irwin's shows or Irwin sent us R. Stevie Moore stuff, I don't remember which. Anyway we decided to ask Stevie if he might want a West Coast single on Moxie / CMI if we paid for it. We were trying to help Dave Gibson elevate Moxie and pick up legit acts and we figured we had something in common with Stevie as we were all working out of our living rooms. We went east to meet him and his manager and we signed paper. Stevie sent us his tape and we loved it and decided we should give it the best mastering possible so we took it to Gold Star in Hollywood (Phil Spector was in the house but we did not meet.) Then we took it to Dave and told his pressing plant guy that we wanted bright red vinyl and we released R. Stevie Moore's New Wave b/w Same on CMI Records. Got some very nice reviews from Trouser Press, Rodney played it on KROQ, etc. Time passes. Stevie and I got back in touch a couple of years ago and even jammed a little up in North Jersey with my pal Gordon Furlong. I've done some recent CD cover art for Stevie too. He's got about 300 CDs out, so he's always looking for cover art.

Mayan Canals. I'm into the Maya. My family has a distant native North American bloodline (Menomonee) and when I was a kid I was puzzled about native origins. The Maya were a genuine mystery at the time and they were obviously victim to white anthropological prejudice - in the 1920s it was commonly believed that Maya cities and temples were built by whites who somehow found their way to Mesoamerica and that the Maya were nothing but ignorant slash and burn farmers living in the jungle. Now we know that the Maya had hundreds of cities, many with populations over a hundred thousand, ocean-based trade routes that stretched from Belize to the Baja of California, etc. One night in the late 70s, Walter Cronkite announced that NASA satellites discovered the vestiges of intricate ancient man-made canal systems in Guatemala that could only have been created by the Maya. The (now rather silly) title tune of the Mayan Canals record was an essay I wrote about the accomplishments of the Maya and their civilization against a Synthi A track. It's silly now because we know so much more about them and I was certainly no expert at the time.

The mostly instrumental stuff I do today started with mod files in the early 1990s. I got pretty good at writing mods once Impulse Tracker arrived from Australia, but it was a DOS program so eventually it was not compatible with my machines. Writing mods was all in the editing - mod files are created with samples of real instruments as opposed to midi generated sounds - and I found more modern wav-based editing software to help me create MP3s. All of it is an outgrowth of my early interest in electronic composers like Cage and Stockhausen and my years editing film and sound. I stopped playing guitar for years and dived into it. I've since reunited with my 65 Gibson SG and wrote an actual rock song for the first time in decades just last month (sort of Kinks / The Jam tune) but I haven't recorded it yet. My voice is still there but not what it used to be and I'm in no hurry musically.

My hardcopy books are science fiction and fantasy. I wrote the first two in the late 80s and sent them both at once to Ballentine Books, which was my favorite sci-fi publisher. A reader at Ballentine sent me a polite rejection that said: "Keep trying." I decided not to and the first two languished for years. In 2000, I put them out myself as ebooks. In 2001, I started Simple Deities and even though I still couldn't get a publisher or literary agent to actually read it, I did enter a Cinescape Magazine literary contest and Simple Deities placed as a finalist. I continued with The Greater Future, which falls into the rather unique sci-fi fantasy detective mystery genre, and introduced my detective Mike Fixx and his cohorts. Mike returned in Many Teeth (2005) and I decided to take a year off from writing. I officially started the new one in January. From 2002 to 2005 I tried to get publishers and agents to read them, but the book business is strictly pay as you go, much like the so-called major record labels. My attitude now is the same toward both: they are dinosaurs who will pass away in time because they are no longer needed. The web makes it possible to self publish anything, music, books, movies and even a television series. All you need in the 21st Century is product and a web connection. You can only buy my books online [plug ] but they are available all over the world thanks to Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Well, I'd definitely say that is a wrap (or rap, at least.) I do want to add that my daughter Aimee [plug ] encourages me in all my arty pursuits and that keeps propelling me forward. Where I am headed I have no idea, but it's a cool ride :o)>
Here are some earlier reviews of files on this site from Cary Grant's Blog

Cary Grant
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
calling rich la bonte... rich la bonte... rich...

a few posts back i mentioned rich la bonte's early 80's psych/weird LP called Mayan Canals, and the fact that the author had posted some of his old recordings from the 70s and 80s on his website with a wealth of newer recordings, which didn't interest me as much as the stuff from days yon past. the reason being la bonte covered alot of interesting ground back in those days... ranging from at times sounding like a cross between Bobb Trimble and Todd Tamanend Clark, to writing great catchy glam-psych ditties, and folksy ballads with punk flavorings (read ala velvets) + an electro-punk-wave song dedicated to Irwin Chusid of WFMU fame1 the guy was a renaissance man... and i do not lie, this stuff is really good! i'm saying he deserves a compilation of this seminal stuff as much as clark or trimble, or any other 70s under the table wizard... i've taken the liberty to post these songs here, because they are already posted for free over at la bonte's site. rich, if you want them taken down post a comment and maybe bestow upon us more unreleased material too. i, at least, am quite impressed.

shanghai express - great velvets/beatles (ya go figger... but lsiten) ala 70s transmorgification... phased vocals, great melody, beautiful song. from the author: "Written on learning that Marlene Deitrich had fallen and broken her leg (seriously!)" from 1972

deep beneath - great 70s-style psych that would ooze nicely off any private press landmark.... great lyrics over mean fuzz and wha wha and fucking GREAT songwriting. author says: "Written in the West Village while playing Godspell in the 1970s."

dreamin' - the kind of little ditty lennon and mccartney would put on the white album, but with phased strumming guitar, small talk off to the side like how the beatles always snuck those purposeful bits of conversational detritus onto songs. recorded in hollywood 1980.

murder - weird punky bit of the wave... vocoder-ized assessments of society over noodle guitar and distortion. purdy cool. sometimes sounds like lou reed. written in 1981, hollywood.

NJ Blues - another great song! POPS right off the bat with great hookiness and echoey vocals. recorded in 1974.

she want no alibis - great fuggin' punk-synth twerp whine with flexi beat and a back to 50s via the beatles breakdown. GODDAM FANTASTIC. recorded in 1983, written in hollywood.

sonia's song - soft ballad, harmony vocals. rather beautiful actually, and well-written, but may not appeal to many.

bright yellow star - great glammy slip 'n' slide... rundgrenisms slip in once in a while beautifully. 1st song on mayan canals lp from 1981.

postcard - other than the vocals for the main part of the song which are purposefully froggy, this song is the most Trimble-esque of all those provided here. really could pass for Trimble no questions asked on the in-between parts where he sings up high. really great song rooted in a beatles dynamic, just like Trimble's 60s-itis. also from mayan canals.

drums along the maple wood - funny song written for mr. chusid. mentions the residents, eno, john cage, how people used to always request peter frampton, etc. nice soundbit of irwin at the end.
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