Lloyd Miller interview- Part One

Lloyd Miller interview- Part One
Interviewing Lloyd was a gas. At 9.30 a.m. on a blustery Auckland morning it felt like being transported to somewhere else completely. Amongst many, many other things the man is a raconteur par excellence and it would be impossible not to be captivated by him, even though his views may not always be palatable.
I had a ton of questions, I got to ask a few, some were answered – others led on brilliant tangents, but it was a absolute privilege to talk to (or be talked to) by Lloyd. Aside from puling out a couple of chunks that were used in the Real Groove feature (sadly for the last ever issue) I’ve decided to run this as it was said, I think Lloyd returns to the first question half way through the hour plus natteration, so it does take a bit of following…but trust me it’s worth the time. This is the longest post ever on stinkinc (I think) and it’s only Part One.
Read on and do please check the bottom for links to Lloyd’s outrageous life story, his youtube channel, links to buy etc etc. This might be a good time to boil the kettle, do whatever is necessary and settle in…
How did your interest in non western music develop?

Well its kind of a strange story. Basically I was playing jazz in the LA area in my late teens, and I was trying to get a chance to get in. Actually I didn’t realize I’d been performing with some pretty important people. In fact one of the very important people I guess in the music field that I grew up with, I started him out on drums, was Spencer Dryden from Jefferson Airplane. Me and Spence lived a block from each other in a really fancy chic part of Glendale, California, up on the hill. Which is the other Beverly Hills, we think it’s the best Beverly Hills because there’s hardly any industrial, anyway in our area there wasn’t. So he and I were kids together, we used to play together, and do stuff, and I was really interested in music. I had a player piano that you pumped, so I was pumping the pedals and the rolls would go by, and the music would play, and I would try to play clarinet along with it, and he said ‘I want to do something’. I said ‘why don’t you be my drummer?’ and he said ‘I don’t have any drums’. I said ‘well Spence I’ll make you some drums’, because there was a little workshop that my folks had in the garage. That was a garage band alright!
So I got some old barrels and knocked the heads, the wood, out of them, and I went to the tyre shop and got some old inner tubes. I put the inner tubes on, with some thumbtacks and they didn’t hold, so I got some nails and made him a couple of drums, and then we put some books underneath so you could hear it. And he’d play plink plonk, and I’d play the player piano with trumpet or clarinet, or cornet actually. We were 10, 11, 12 years old and making music. Pretty soon, his parents who had a lot of money I guess, they felt sorry for him, and bought him a real drum kit. So from listening to the radio I heard that the best jazz was Bunk Johnson, that was about when he came with his album,’42 a little bit after that, late 40s. So we tried to imitate Bunk Johnson and he did a perfect imitation of Baby Dodds (check this link for a cracking example of what Lloyd’s talking about) even down to the ‘nerve sticks’ where you get two sticks in each hand and you rattle (pppppppprrr) ‘em together really fast, and he did all Baby Dodd’s licks with the woodblock and the base rim and everything.
I played George Lewis and Johnny Dodd style clarinet, and we started off a little band called the Smog City Six. We couldn’t find any place to rehearse, because my parents were using the garage for other things, and they didn’t like the noise and stuff, so we started rehearsing on peoples lawns. That was my idea. I said ‘lets just go and set up on somebody’s grass and lets keep playing till the cops come and then run to another place’. Actually the cops only came once, and they came to praise us, they loved it. So they came and threatened to handcuff us, they said play Saints or we’re taking you down the station and they held up some handcuffs.
So it became a big thing, every neighbourhood we’d go to, they were looking forward to it. We’d show up in certain places on a certain day, all these fancy neighbourhoods in chic Glendale, and it became like a roving band that everyone was waiting to hear. We played New Orleans stuff. We had a trumpet player and a trombone, and a clarinet, Spence on drums, and once in a while we’d get a guitar or a banjo. So that’s how we started out, and later on I saw Spence, we made a pact never to go modern. Well we both kind of double crossed each other. He became a be-bopper, I learned how to do it, but I still play the New Orleans style all the time, any time I get a chance and I play it exactly how it was on the Bunk Johnson album without adding an idea or anything. So I stuck with it but he gave it up. So he went modern on me, one day I saw him in a Zoot Suit .
In fact I’ll send you this information. I’ve got some stuff you’ll probably get a kick out of here. What’s your email address? I tell Lloyd my address at Round Trip Mars –oh ok you guys are into the weirdness, sounds like you’re going some place!

I’ll send you the original Oriental Jazz LP on CD (and he did, and more, what a gent!) unfortunately I can’t send you the LP as they are too expensive and I’ve hardly got any myself. This is the original LP that sells for around $600, and I’ve got it on CD from the original tapes. Well I thought now that we’ve run out of the LP’s almost, I sometimes come across one and I put it online to sell, not to get the money but just so people can have it and I include 20 more of my CDs and DVDs so they’re actually only paying $10 for it, if you think about it that way, but that’s what they want so I sell them that for $200/$250 they’re willing to pay, and I send them about $250 worth of LPs/CDs so they’re actually almost getting it free.

Well I think the music matters and if anybody just wants it to collect and to make money off it, well tough luck for them. I can’t get it they’re trying to outbid each other fighting like rats in a cage against some guy from Japan, some guy from Germany and they’re all (makes snarling noise) and they won’t take a 2nd chance offer because they don’t want to have something they didn’t win.

It’s supposed to be about music not ownership!

I don’t get it either.

Can you tell me about how you first got into Persian music etc, that was through traveling with your family right?

Sort of, yeah. I don’t know…. people who believe in religion can understand this. People who don’t, will just laugh and think its crazy but then they’ll think what a stroke of luck. I was about 17 or 18, playing jazz in the famous spots in LA the Red Feather, the Purple Onion and The Digger, were the 3, and also two places in the black section of town, which was South Central. One was the Downbeat, and the other was Painted Word. I was the only white guy that ever went there, and everybody thought I was going to get killed or knifed. They treated me better than the white kids, even more than I was in Glendale where sometimes bullies would beat me up on the street. Everybody was so friendly and kind, and this stuff about back people being scary it depends on your attitude towards them.
Same thing in New Orleans when I went to visit George Lewis over in Algiers, they said you’re going over to Algiers, you wont come back alive. Well… not only was I not stabbed or anything, but people led me by the hand, chatting friendly, to the guys house. That was all a bunch of baloney and I felt black people were my people, since I was persecuted by the general public too. I guess I felt like I was part of it, and they treated me like I was part of it. It’s all in your mind you know.

I heartily agree having been told similar horror stories about places I’ve pursued music, producers and artists and received the best hospitality in Jamaica, New York etc!

Well we’re going to start a group, you and that other bloke I just spoke to (Trevor Reekie) you guys will be part of my gang. I mean not with the crazy knee length pants and the tattoos and everything but a bunch of people who get together and enjoy life.

Sounds good!

Well that’s the whole thing, it’s the barriers that people want to put up so that they can have an excuse to can kill the other guy and take his stuff. Like ‘see what they did? Look at the terrorists over there!’, ‘What terrorists?’ They’re probably 90% of them CIA guys in drag putting on their turbans crooked, long nose and stuff, shouting kill the Americans and so on.
Then creating incidents that the US creates, and then points at someone else like ‘look at the Twin Towers! Look at what those dirty arabs did to the Twin Towers’. As if they could figure out how to find the right airport, nothing against Arabs, but they’re just basic. I mean c’mon, they couldn’t do something that technically astute, even Germans would have a hard time pulling that one off. Poof poof poof in every floor of the building, as it poofs down like a perfect demolition, you know when you see those old buildings go down. I mean you know one guy tried to run his little plane into the IRS building and just sort of punched into the window – you know you cant do that sort of stuff, that’s ridiculous. Anyway that’s another subject.
All this hatred that is being spewed out, is so some people can make other people into bad people, so they can go and kill them and take their stuff, and no-one will say ‘hey you did something wrong’.

It’s all oil slavery really isn’t it?
We’re all slaves to the stuff. We were much better off with the Titanic, sure an iceberg smashed it, but if there was no iceberg it would have gone all the way back, easily. The Titanic was run by what? A few Irish blokes shoveling coal into the furnace, so they could make steam and steam was the best thing we ever had. We had trains, the whole country of America ran on steam for decades and was doing just fine. In fact the steam that I remember out in Idaho in the wilds was just pond water, just junk water. They’d suck it up and put it in there, no-one wanted that water, it was all yucky. And then they’d take old logs that had been eaten by termites that was just laying there, fallen trees from decades ago, and they would pile ‘em up there shovel them in and off they’d go. They didn’t have to pay anything. We could have done that with solar, some solar help on the trains along with a little drop of logs and some rotten water, not a drop of oil and we could have still run this country perfect.
Two lines that we’re told all the time, especially in America, is progress and freedom. They call this a free country, free to do what? You’re free to work from 8 till 7 or more, to make money to pay taxes, to pay interest, to pay the insurance companies, pay off your credit card and pay pay pay pay pay pay. The Roman slaves were freer, at least at 6 o clock after they’ve been whipped and done some hard labour, at least they got some time off. We never get any time off because we’re always trying to make those credit card payments. We’re the real slaves.

When you were doing your TV show in Tehran during the Shah’s time did you have to deal with many restrictions? Was it a free society?

Oh I’ll tell you, under the Shah, and probably under the mullahs, you would have 20 times the freedom you have right here in America thinking you have it. They don’t talk about it, they don’t have to, they already have it. I wrote for a newspaper. I wrote the most insulting degrading stuff about different artists who were modernizing, pop artists. I said ‘this is garbage, this is trash this guy should go back to school’, and then what they do is made the person go back to school. That’s what the Government did, when they published this article under different names, because I had about 10 different names that I would use so I could write for 10 different publications, all the same kind of stuff. So the Shah and the Queen would read that every morning, and they thought ‘we’d better do something about this’. So they ordered the Ministry of Culture to make him go back to school, and stop doing this stuff he was doing.
I mean, I could never kind of do that kind of thing in America, you don’t have the freedom to say that kind of stuff, you’d be sued for slander. I would have been sued for slander a thousand times, I would have been sued for being politically incorrect a hundred, I’d have been a walking lawsuit waiting for jail. The freedoms I had there…. the freedom of speech, the freedom to do any old thing you want to do – which I didn’t want to do much. Actually they have freedom from sin, and in America we have freedom TO sin.
They don’t have to be alcoholics and try to get that next drink, or drug addicts and try to get that next fix. Girls don’t have to go out there and be little hookers on skateboards, wiggling their butts trying to get guys to marry them. Because it’s all figured out, they end up with a cousin they like. Their families get together and plan it so they’re happy and they’ll never divorce. They’re usually pretty happy, it’s usually a good marriage, so you don’t have to dress like a hooker, act like a hooker. You can spend your time getting a PHD, which 20 year olds are getting in Iran, because that’s all they are doing is studying and improving themselves, not out there on the streets shaking their goodies for the guys. So that’s freedom, we think we have the freedom. The only way you can get free is through music right?

It works for me!

The only time I think people really can get free is when they put on some real gentle, not that thumping junk because that just makes you slave to another thing, but real gentle like Debussy or maybe some quite Bach, or maybe some Indian sitar music like wooowwoooowooowo. And you just lay back in your chair and nobody is telling you, ‘you have to do this’ or ‘you have to do that’, for a moment you’re free from the whole rat race. That’s why all my music I try to be beautiful and gentle, although this last collaboration we call it, with the rock and hip hop guys didn’t quite work out the way I was hoping .


Yeah but the sequel to it is really good, the stuff they didn’t put on that CD is the stuff that’s going to be mostly on the sequel.

Was that a record company decision?

Yeah in fact, you know the record company would have gone along with me, but the two guys who were the hip hop rock freaks, the bass player and the drummer, really sweet guys I love them, they’re very talented. It was the first time the bass player had ever played a walking bass was at our first recording session. They’re into kind of jumpy, kind of electronic freaky sounds, I guess that’s what they think jazz is. For me jazz was all the way up to Miles Davis with Kind of Blue album and then there was no more jazz.
Then The Beatles came along, as much as everybody loves ‘em, I think they were the four apostles of the devil that destroyed music forever. They might not have been as bad themselves, but what came after them was horrible. And I think even they would listen to some of this horrible rap and say what is that garbage? What have they done? We should have gone to classical music and had people learn Bach or we should have stuck with the sitar and forgot the backbeat.


So all electronic music is out for you?!

Yeah you’re right. It was totally against everything that I’m for, because my theory is that you can’t write the 6/8 very easily that’s the (demonstrates beat) that came from Africa. All good music, modern/traditional, everyone has the 6/8 feel, that makes it swing. Well it doesn’t swing anymore, now its ratatatatat, 8/8 instead of 6/8. So that’s when music went to the devil I say, because he took over the 8/8 thing and forced it on us. Because it’s hard to write 8/8 on the computer.
I once tried to do some computerized music, but it turned out stupid, so I gave up on the idea, because I had to sit for hours to do one drum part, because you can’t write that without writing triplets. Triplets are hard to write, its hard to make them sound right.
It’s more easy to write the 8/8 stuff, and make it electronically, so people don’t have to think, and since people are so stupid anyway they just take one chord and a lot of screaming and distorted sound and think that’s music. So they just think ‘oh we’ll just give em 6/8 we wont even swing it’, and everybody will accept the garbage we feed em because we’re in control. Whoever ‘they’ are. The ‘they’ that are in control of this are probably the worst, worse than the tobacco or arms industry, because I think they are doing more damage to the world than people who make atomic bombs and those other horrible things. The ones who make this music and foist it on people, that destroys cultures, it eradicates them, it’s like genocide. Musical genocide is worse than anything that Hitler did, or Stalin did, or Mao did or Ghengis Khan or anything any Roman emperor could dream of doing.
If you destroy a bunch of people there’s always one or two left, but when you destroy a whole culture, there’s nothing left. What’s left of the Native Americans and their life? A lot of those languages have disappeared for ever. What’s going to be left of music in 10 years in this world ? Nothing but doom chaka doom, and nobody will ever know that there was a doom dacka doo or a Frank Sintra or a Patti Page, those people. No one will have ever heard of them, it will be Miles who? And Dizzy what? They almost say that now, if they haven’t texted it or heard it in their text, Dizzy who?

That’s pretty extreme stuff Lloyd!

Even all the Beatles that are left if you sat them down and said ‘what do you think of today’s music’ they’d say ‘its’ horrible’. It’s the same stuff we were saying about them when they started. They were an English version of Elvis, who was a white mans version of black mans music. This has gone a whole awful direction but why don’t they just step up and say ‘hey you guys we’re sorry, we were wrong . We’re going back to the sitar, back to the sirangi, no more of this pop stuff.’ If they were really penitent about that, then I would cross them off my list of the four apostles of the devil.

That must be quite a list?

Well (laughs) theres about 3 more. There’s Madonna, and theres Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. That’s the 7 that I know. I’m not sure about Mao he might have been, I’m not sure about Hitler he might have been doing something else that we don’t understand. Stalin probably is, but we don’t know – those guys might have thought in their hearts that they were doing it for the benefit of my people. But these other people, the Beatles and all, they were doing it for the benefit of themselves. They just duplicate, not appreciate.


So with the TV shows in Iran the idea was upholding traditional instruments and maintaining the tradition?

Yeah actually you’ve got me back to answering the first question which I never got a chance to (not that anyone was stopping him apart from his own lovely meandering trail of discourse). The last time I saw Spencer Dryden was just before I left America. He invited me, he came in a zoot suit on with a pie pan hat, and he was packing a gun in his pocket, he looked really great, a really hip hipster, and he had several joints rolled up in his pocket and he was saying ‘man you want to try some!’ and I was like ‘no! I’m not interested’. He took me to a Charlie Lloyd concert, and he did make me smoke a joint beforehand. If you want to have something to laugh about…. We couldn’t stop laughing and screaming and giggling till 3 or 4 big huge ugly bouncers, in this fancy place in Hollywood, were coming in our direction. So we giggled all the way to the back door, and ran out to the car, where we dropped our keys three or four times trying to get in.
Then wanted a pizza and a a bunch of candy bars, and couldn’t find any, and then we giggled and drove all the way back to Glendale, and went to sleep giggling. We thought that was the funniest, freakiest non-music we’d ever heard. That was the last time I saw him. Then he went and became a rocker and I emailed him once, didn’t cuss him out for it because he was dying from all the drugs and things, so I didn’t want to rub it in, and he did die a few months later. He emailed me back and said ‘well man it was good to hear from you’ and that was it.
About that same time I was upset because the main jazz club the Red Feather, The Purple Onion and The Digger I could hardly get a chance to play because all of these really good musicians were wanting to go and sit in there too, so I was really discouraged. So not being very religious, and being on drugs and booze and chasing chicks and everything, I still thought there was some kind of a God somewhere, so I prayed to be shown the way, how can I succeed in music? And just a few weeks after that my Dad got offered this job in Tehran, and I left the jazz scene.
If this God has answered, he’s taking me away from where I had almost made it, playing at the Purple Onion with big names like Brooke Myers. Maybe Brooke Myers might ask me to play a gig sometime, and maybe I might make it, and I was taken away from the whole thing and there wasn’t one drop of jazz in Iran, not a thing, and there I was plunked in the middle of a desert with camels and donkeys clomping by the hotel and I turned on the radio and heard this music and I was like Huh, that’s beyond be-bop.
So that was the answer to my prayer and ever since then I’ve kind of been led by this divine guidance, until I changed my lifestyle completely and cut out smoking, girls, coffee tea cigarettes, junk food, meat, animal products…everything. I quit everything and became kinda like a sufi ascetic. And after doing that I met a sufi ascetic master, who was one step beyond me, and he became my personal music teacher.
That was in Paris later on, after I’d bought the instrument and loved the music but didn’t know anything about it, so I finally got a chance to learn it. So this divine hand has been guiding me everywhere, expect for on my way to grave having not done anything, except maybe one CD with a garage band of cockneys from London. That’s what I love, they’re the sweetest guys. I just love those kids, that why I did it, they’re such nice guys I went along with it even though I couldn’t stand some of the stuff we were doing.

So you’re really not into the material on this album?

You know they learned really fast, and the musicians in the group, the flutist, the harpist, the multi instrumentalist guy are musical geniuses. In 5 minutes they totally understood everything, but Jake and Malc had a rough time getting away from the duh-da-dak-dak, all that kind of jittery stuff. It’s not jittery man its got be smooth.
The best two pieces on that new LP are ones that they were doing the recording on, and concentrating on getting a good sound, instead of actually playing. They did a little something, but they didn’t throw their hip hop stuff into it, and that was the one that ends with the Indonesian thing, Sunda Serenity or something (Sunda Sunset). The Balinese thing Malcolm was playing vibes on that, just doing some simple stuff that I showed him. So they could do it, they learned quick but they forgot slow. Hard for them to forget the hip hop beat and just go into another room. If I’m going to play with a Chinese band I’m not going to try and bring a jazz band into it, I’m just going to sit there and play nyum nyum nyeaeeer, just like the rest of the guys. I’m not going to try and mess it up for them.
It’s kinda like I felt- Tiger Woods who’s really good as a golf guy, who is really good as an athlete ‘oh you’re an athelete ok were going to put you in a cage with this great big huge 300 pound monster guy with muscles, fight to the death in the cage. We’re going to lock you in and bet on you’. So like a fight club or something, if Tiger Woods was thrown in to a fight club he wouldn’t fit, he wouldn’t do very good and that kind of how I felt. I don’t do this fighting to the death, I just do golf.

Clock Lloyd on 38 different instruments!!
Full Lloyd Miller youtube channel here, you’ll lose a morning at the very least!

Buy OST from Conch (more links in Malcolm Catto interview post just downstairs from here), they also have the excellent Lifetime In Oriental Jazz collection on Jazzman, that is a very serious record indeed – highly recommended.

Go to cdbaby to check the original Oriental Jazz album, it’s a stunner!
More of Lloyd’s wit wisdom and possibly slanderous chat in Part Two…..soon come!


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