Bill Folwell

an interview with
Marc Chaloin

Don Ayler, Bill Fowell, Albert Ayler, Beaver Harris + Michel Sampson  Christian Rose/Courtesy of Hat Hut Records

Part of an extensive oral history research into the life of Albert Ayler, the following interview is a methodical examination of bassist Bill Folwell’s work with the saxophonist. The association lasted roughly for half of Ayler’s career as a professional musician, from an intensive 1966 European tour, Ayler’s first big break in the “jazz world,” to his last studio sessions in the New York of 1969, a year before his death. Much of Folwell’s background and time in the music is intertwined, from his early years as a trumpeter hailing from Rochester, NY to his ventures in the rock scene of the late ‘60s and its Californian recording studios. The year 2019 marks Folwell’s return to improvisation on record, with the Odyssey Quartet’s We Are All Branches of the Same Tree. This previously unpublished interview was conducted at Folwell’s home in Clearwater, Florida on May 12, 1998. Marc Chaloin’s transcript was edited by Pierre Crépon, with the help of the original cassette recording.

Marc Chaloin: Can you tell me something about your early stages in the music, your first steps?

Bill Folwell: When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a musician. Always. I guess I didn’t know that I was an upper middle-class kid, but that’s what I was. And I wanted to play the trumpet, I played the trumpet first. I grew up in Rochester, NY, and I gravitated towards jazz groups. We had some real good musicians in town. Pee Wee Ellis, he’s a good friend of mine. He was younger than I was, a kid, fourteen years old. And he was playing in clubs, I’d go down to listen to him, sit-in, we got groups together. Chuck Mangione grew up around the same time, Gap Mangione’s brother. And we had little jazz groups playing down at the Pythodd Hall which was a black club in Rochester which had jam sessions. Named after the Knights of Pythias, a black club kind of thing. And Ron Carter came to Eastman School, so there was Ron Carter and Pee Wee Ellis, and they were head and shoulder above everybody else, they could play any tune in any key, and they practiced playing all these hard keys as fast as they could, all the different keys.

Chaloin: Eastman School was in Rochester?

Folwell: Yeah, Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. That’s where Ron Carter graduated. And there was a couple other real good musicians. We had a good time making music. Then I went away to school, to Bucknell University [in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania] for one year, and I had my Jimmy Heath experience [sitting in with a band lead by Heath at the Lewisburg Penitentiary, where he was incarcerated], which was still along the same lines, I wanted to be a musician. I got out of school, I just stayed one year there. I wanted to go to Berklee, in Boston. I went and looked at it, made an application there. I was waiting to hear, waiting to hear, and never did hear in time, and it was the beginning of the school year, so I went to the University of Rochester. My parents didn’t really want me to be a musician. “Oh, it’s not what you should do, be a good minister.” So, I went to the University of Rochester, which I thought, well, I could take major courses in music at Eastman and then switch over, get my full major in music at Eastman and then graduate there. I hung out with Chuckie, and Bill Motzing, a trombone player, and we had a big band and did all kind of stuff. I went to University of Rochester two years, trying to switch my major to music and they wouldn’t let me do it.

Chaloin: Why?

Folwell: I didn’t want to take music education courses, I didn’t want to be a teacher. And I wasn’t a real ... They didn’t think I was a good enough trumpet player, etc., etc. Another guy was there, from Germany, Wolfgang Knittel. He played piano just like Bud Powell, just fantastic. Bill Motzing and he both went to Manhattan School of Music. He just went to live in New York, and he said, “why don’t you apply there, come here, it’s a great school. They encourage you to play, if you got a gig you can just leave town, and then come back and continue on.” So, I talked my parents into letting me do that. I moved to New York, took a summer there and finished in two and a half ... I guess it was two years in the summer and graduated. And all that time I was playing music ... You know, in New York City, going to sessions and playing music, trying to work, trying to get jobs. I remember my first job, my first New York job, that was an Italian street festival. I was so excited! I was racing down to the Village, and I jumped on the last step of the subway ... I ran down to make the train and I took three steps and landed on my ankle. By the time I got to the Village my leg was swollen, it was just horrible. So, I missed that, I missed my first gig because I couldn't walk, with a sprained ankle. I spent my whole first semester ... I rented Wolfgang Knittel’s apartment, I guess he went to Germany, so I stayed there and hobbled around New York City. It was just horrible. But we got through that alright. So, I graduated from Manhattan School of Music as a trumpet major.

Chaloin: Do you remember what year it was?

Folwell: It had to have been ‘62. It took me five years to get through school so it was ‘62. And then I was drafted into the army. While I was waiting around I was saying, “you know, I don’t think I’m gonna make any money as a trumpet player, I think I’d better play the bass too.” I had played bass just throughout my high school, you know, just a little here and there. And I was expecting to get drafted, so I said, “well, I’m gonna get drafted, I’m gonna practice my bass through the two years and become a bass player.”

Chaloin: You had a bass at that time?

Folwell: Um, I don’t know. I think I was toying ... I might have had one. I can’t remember. I must have, if I played the bass, you had to have a bass! But when you get into the army, they give musicians instruments. So, I got drafted, and I was expecting to go to Fort Dix – that’s in New Jersey, I’d be close to New York, etc., etc. – and I ended up at Fort Knox [Kentucky] for basic training. And that was tough. Basic training, done, finished, and then because of my musical ability they sent me to what they call the Navy School of Music. That was outside of Washington, across the Potomac. Tom Price and Perry Robinson were also members of that Navy School of Music. There were a couple other guys, another drummer. You know, we’re all musicians and young guys and ... Carrying on, etc., etc. There was a trumpet player. So, we had a little quartet there and we played and played and practiced and practiced. Then they had the assignments. After the Navy School of Music, you’re sent out to your different posts. And they picked up ... It must have been five of us, and they sent us all to Panama. We were there for the rest our assignment, a year and a half or so in Panama. As far as our music, we just kept our music, we did our gig, we played our marches, and had a little dance band with other guys there. We had our own little house we stayed in, and a guy who came in and shined our shoes for us, and brought dope in and ... So, we were there for two years and we swore that we were gonna get together after the army, you know that old story, “we’ll get together, after the war we’ll get together!” In the meantime, I got ... In Panama there was [an anti-American] riot in [January] 1964, and I got my teeth knocked out. I got caught in and almost lost my life, they almost killed me. It’s just a little aside. It was rough, so I spent some time in a hospital there ... Getting that back together. But we kept on playing, all the time, that was our escape, every night.

Chaloin: It was just the three of you?

Folwell: Just the three of us. Every once in a while there was another bass player, he liked to play, but we were just really tight, the three of us, I thought, you know: Tom, Perry, and Bill.

Chaloin: Do you know where Tom Price was coming from?

Folwell: He came from Jersey. And I don’t know where he is now, do you?

Chaloin: No, I don’t.

Folwell: Does anybody? He kind of went back to Paterson. Paterson or maybe Newark. He may be teaching school now, I think that’s what he was ... I don’t know. But we were gonna get together, so I came back to Rochester, and moved to New York and get with Perry. Perry is the kind of person that, when you’re around him, you know, he builds you up. We all got back together in New York and made a valiant effort to go around and play [as the Uni Trio], we got some concert gigs, we had a little playhouse [the Astor Place Playhouse] and we’d do our own little concerts [in June 1966]. We had our ritual together, we would always go to the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn Heights, to the steam room down there, before our concert. We’d go to the steam room and then go in the cold dip and come out, and go to our concert and play. It was wonderful.

Chaloin: So that’s when you were staying at Perry’s father’s [composer Earl Robinson] place?

Folwell: We were staying with Perry’s dad and then we moved to another apartment in Brooklyn. We didn’t stay for long at Perry’s ... We couldn’t have stayed anywhere forever, you know what I mean, “move out, move out!” But we ended up getting a place, Tom, Perry, and I, like a fourth-floor walk-up, not quite in the Heights but a little south of the Heights. We stayed there for a while, and then I think my girlfriend came and then they left. They went to stay in the Village. So, the group basically broke up then. And ... We met Albert ... At that point. You know, it was like a society of ... I think even Burton Greene was there and other people in free music.

Chaloin: How did you get interested in the so-called free music?

Folwell: Ah! I heard that Albert Ayler tape that ... It’s in your notes there, when I was in Panama. We saw Coltrane and all that but, before I went to the army ... I saw Lenny Bruce. I was crazy about Lenny Bruce and all that. And the music at that time, I just loved it all. But that Albert Ayler record with Sunny Murray and Gary Peacock ...

Chaloin: Because I think you said in an interview in California with Ron Pelletier [in the late ‘70s] that you first heard Albert Ayler when you were in the army in Washington.

Folwell: I can’t remember going to hear him, but we might have heard him.

Chaloin: You said that you went to New York and you heard him in a club, with the trio with Sunny Murray and Gary Peacock.

Folwell: It could have been, I can’t ... But ‘64, we were in the army, we were out of the country from ‘63 to ‘65.

Chaloin: You could have been on a leave?

Folwell: I don’t think so. I mean, once you’re down there, you don’t go out on leave, you just take time off. I don’t remember coming. But I did hear that recording. I had that record. We got out of the army in February ‘65. Perry was what brought me into playing free.

Chaloin: I know Perry studied during a summer school in Lenox, the Lenox School of Jazz, with Ornette Coleman, in 1959.

Folwell: Right, right.

Chaloin: He told me that’s when he got into playing more free.

Folwell: Well, that makes sense.

Chaloin: Did you hear Ornette’s music yourself?

Folwell: Yeah. I did hear Ornette, I remember seeing Don Cherry and Ornette, and Charlie Haden.

Chaloin: At the Five Spot?

Folwell: At the Five Spot, yeah. And I remember they were strung out. Charlie Haden was pretty bad, I remember seeing him come back in, you know. Between the sets they’d go out and kind of float back in and play. I saw Thelonious Monk and well, you know, that’s what was the Five Spot, yeah. And I saw John Coltrane ... Gee, I can’t remember seeing Albert ... But that’s alright, because listening to that record was enough. They were really close. It’s amazing.

Chaloin: So, the record was your introduction to Albert’s music?

Folwell: To Albert, yeah, I think so.

Chaloin: So, the next thing was when he called you for the [Newport in Europe] tour or ...?

Folwell: Yeah. Well, because I was on the outside ...

Chaloin: Or you knew him before that?

Folwell: What date was the tour ... What was it?

Chaloin: The tour was November 1966.

Folwell: Okay. So, we ... The Uni Trio had kind of gone one way and Perry ... I think I met Albert, and he just asked me if I wanted to do the tour. And then we rehearsed down at the Village Gate before leaving.

Chaloin: You rehearsed before the tour?

Folwell: Yeah, we rehearsed and we went to ... I think we did rehearse at another place, at his house or something. We rehearsed one place, but then we rehearsed at the Village Gate. And the Byrds were playing there [in early October 1966], you know, the rock group.

Chaloin: The Byrds?!

Folwell: And they came in and heard us rehearsing and ... “Wow! Stop that!”

Chaloin: They didn’t like it?

Folwell: They didn’t like it at all. But it didn’t matter to us, we were just rehearsing, trying to ... I didn’t know what Albert wanted. So, I just played the bow and he said, “Hey, that’s great, yeah! Keep that up.” Just play that. And I just was holding on for dear life, you know, I was just trying to play something that I thought was right, I didn’t get any guidance or anything from him.

Chaloin: So, what did you rehearse? Was it the little tunes?

Folwell: The little tunes. The little tunes and the, you know, going out, the energy. You know “give me more energy, more energy, more energy.” And I was trying to figure out what Don [Ayler] ... Albert and Don, they’re playing these little tunes, but that was what Don could do. And I think Albert was maybe going ahead of him, he was babysitting Donald, pretty much. You know, including him in the scheme of things.

Chaloin: So, you think he played those kinds of tunes because of Don, because Don couldn’t play anything else?

Folwell: That’s what I think, that’s my own personal thought. That was like, “here, let’s get ...” They rehearse him and rehearse him, they work him out, and they’re playing together, and ... He wasn’t there, you know, that stuff before Donald, he wasn’t ... You know, just doing something else, it was really just a different place. I don’t know, I just don’t know when I hear the music now: some of it was okay, some of it was ... When I listen to the music, sometimes it sounds right and then other times it just doesn’t sound right at all. But that’s life, you know. It’s what he wanted.

Chaloin: Was it disappointing for you?

Folwell: No, no, I was just ... This was it. I mean, besides that, to go on that Newport Festival, to be in a ... My whole life wanting to be a jazz musician, here I was: I was playing with all the people that I had been listening to all my life, just forever. Sonny Rollins and old Jo Jones, and all those guys and ... I can’t remember their names now, Roy Eldridge he was on that. Do you have a roster of everybody that was on that tour?

Chaloin: Yes.

Folwell: I’d love to see that. Jimmy Smith, wasn’t he on it?

Chaloin: Stan Getz ...

Folwell: Stan Getz was on, but he was on the other half. They had the Brubeck half and Stan Getz. And Stan Getz was fighting with Astrud [Gilberto]. They had been married or going together, and they were ... And he was being real rough to her on stage so, in the middle of the tour, they had to send for another group to come for her. Two different groups. And here we are riding on the bus.

Chaloin: You were traveling on a bus?

Folwell: Yes, we’d fly and then we’d get everybody on the bus and go where we go, you know, to the hotel or ... And they’d make jokes about me, to get to the back of the bus. Like in the South. They made those jokes because I was the only white guy on that half of the tour. But I was just in heaven; that was great.

Chaloin: So, who was on your part of the tour?

Folwell: Four tap dancers, and a swing quintet or whatever, I think it was ...

Chaloin: Milt Buckner.

Folwell: That’s right, Milt Buckner, old Jo Jones ... I can’t remember who was playing bass. I think Freddie Hubby was on the tour. That’s what they called Freddie Hubbard, Freddie Hubby.

Chaloin: Oh yes, with Max Roach. So, Max Roach was traveling with you on the bus?

Folwell: Yeah. Sonny Rollins ... I mean, it was heaven. I tell you, it was absolute heaven.

Chaloin: How were the relationships with all those different musicians?

Folwell: You know Albert, they just ... I think they respected him but he was just coming from a different place. And Albert had the thought that he was gonna go over there and stay, you know, do other concerts and everything, and that just didn’t happen for whatever reason. We did a film I think in Berlin, some place.

Chaloin: On TV?

Folwell: It was at a film studio actually. I don’t know whatever happened with that. It was thirteen days or fifteen days, thirteen countries, and it was ... I think I had one shirt, I’d go on just washing that shirt, I'd wash it in the hotel and hang it out ... And one suit. This was nice, this was the gig I had been waiting for my whole life, you know, just going out to Europe. I had to get an extra airplane seat for my bass and strap it in. I had one personal problem: on the tour we’re getting out of the bus to go to France, Sonny Rollins was in front of me, and I’m walking out of the bus and I missed the last stair and fell out on top of my bass. I was real hurt and in pain. We got to France and the guy who was our road manager said “you’d better go to a hospital.” So, I went to the hospital and they shot me with a tetanus shot that was too strong, and my arm just was swollen, just unbelievable. So, man, I was lost.

Chaloin: That was on the night of the concert in France?

Folwell: Yeah, in France. “Vous êtes swing! Vous êtes swing!” This guy was screaming off at us. I remember that. “Vous êtes swing! Vous êtes swing!” Some hippy guy, black guy, French black guy [in all likelihood drummer Ron Jefferson, who was known for using this catchphrase]. “Vous êtes swing!” That was something.

Chaloin: You did the concert with your arm swollen?

Folwell: I think ... Maybe it happened going from France to England, maybe that was it. Cause I think in France I was okay. No, that wasn’t in England because when we got to England all hell broke loose. We got off the plane, and at the airport, I got through the gates, no problem, but they held Albert and Don and Beaver [Harris], and searched them. Took them in and strip searched them.

Chaloin: For drugs?

Folwell: Yeah. So, he was madder than hell. I was sitting out in the bus waiting for him, it took an hour and a half. When he got out, he was just mad. And they took us to our little hotel room where we were staying and it was cold, and he was pissed, and he, Beaver and Donald just went off into the city, vanished. Samson was like a catalyst, you know, he made things happen. He encouraged them to be belligerent, “hey, they shouldn’t treat you like that, man ...” And all of a sudden they just went, kind of blew up and vanished. We had to go to the concert, they taped us at the [London] School of Economics or whatever, and they weren’t there for the rehearsal, they just had vanished, nobody knew where they were. We never did get paid by Albert for the job.

Chaloin: For the tour, for the whole tour?

Folwell: For the tour. He claimed that he was mugged. They had given him the money for everybody, and he said he was mugged in France, that they stole all his money. We ended up going back, after the London date. The concert was taped, but they hated it, you know, they just didn’t know what the hell we were doing. I think they just destroyed the tapes. And I was suffering, and cold and miserable, I was just ready to go home, you know. Got no money ... And we had to go and get paid by ... What’s his name?

Chaloin: George Wein?

Folwell: George Wein. We went to his office, and he paid us what we were supposed to get. So, it was kind of like “why are you getting burned or something? Screw him!” It was just funny, hey. We got back and that was it. I can’t remember what happened after that. Oh, we did the Village Vanguard concert. That was good.

Chaloin: Was there some troubles with Don during the tour?

Folwell: You know, I really ... He’s just hard to control, he didn’t have his shit together, at least as I remember.

Chaloin: Could you relate to him, I mean did you speak to him?

Folwell: Oh yeah, but not ... I remember we took a sauna bath together, and he got into beating himself with the branches, you know ... And then we had the masseuses, you know. Oh, it was the life.

Chaloin: The music that you played with the Albert Ayler group, was it well received by audiences in Europe during the tour? Or was it mixed?

Folwell: It was mixed, mixed.

Chaloin: Because I know in Paris ... There is a tape, someone [Daniel Caux] taped it in the audience and you can hear all sorts of reactions.

Folwell: Grumbling and negative reactions?

Chaloin: Negative and positive, both at the same time, people whistling and ...

Folwell: Is that the tape that was made into a CD or is that a different one?

Chaloin: No, it’s a different one [the program featuring Ayler played twice the same evening]. Taken from the audience, so you can hear all the different reactions.

Folwell: Oh, it was a tumultuous time. You know, that was straight-ahead jazz, everybody was, except for Albert. What the hell was he doing there? I don’t know what possessed George Wein ... I have no idea, I certainly was not on that end, of whether any deals were made or any ... I had no idea, I was just the guy hired to play the bass.

Chaloin: I think it was a German promoter [Joachim-Ernst Berendt] who wanted ...

Folwell: Wanted Albert? Okay. Well, that makes sense, cause they liked us in Germany, I know they did.

Chaloin: More in Germany than in France, for example?

Folwell: Yeah, definitely.

Chaloin: And in the Scandinavian countries, in Sweden?

Folwell: I remember they liked us there, as I recall. But it was just getting to be a blur, you know, you play one place, you go back to the hotel and pack up, and you go to the next place.

Folwell: So, we got back and then I think we did the [Village] Vanguard ... It was pretty close, right?

Chaloin: Yes, less than a month [December 1966].

Folwell: Yeah, we just went and did it, and I think Henry Grimes played as well. So, he had two basses. But everything else was pretty much the same. I think I just heard that record [In Greenwich Village] once. I remember that when it came out, we never got paid for it. We got paid as a part of the group, but we never got paid to record. And I ran after the producer, and he said “well, I’ll figure how much you’d be worth, you know, and we’ll pay you,” and so they did, finally. I mean, it was just “like how can you earn a living playing music when you can never get paid for anything that you do?”

Chaloin: Even Ayler wasn’t paid?

Folwell: He must have been paid; he had to have been paid. They didn’t triple down.

Chaloin: Do you remember the Cleveland concert? It’s important, I think, it was important for Albert to play in his hometown.

Folwell: Right. It was important, the Cleveland concert [at the WHK Auditorium, in February 1967] was very important for Albert. I don’t think we rehearsed, as I can remember. That’s the first time Call Cobbs, played, I think. Could that be true?

Chaloin: I don’t know if it’s the first time.

Folwell: Well, that I had played with him. I’m pretty sure Michel was not there because, when we went there they put me up in a motel, Don, I mean Albert put me up in a motel, so I’m sure that Michel would have stayed with me if he was there, but he wasn’t there. The concert was ... To my way of thinking, it was kind of a bust. Albert expected the theater to be full ...

Chaloin: And it wasn’t.

Folwell: And it wasn’t, it was a poor showing. I think he was kind of hurt. Was that his first concert he produced himself? It was his homecoming.

Chaloin: I think he produced himself a concert at the Village Theatre around the same time.

Folwell: Uh-huh. I was disappointed myself. You know, we went over and hung out at the house, met his parents. I can’t remember how we ate, I can’t remember all those little things.

Chaloin: You have a memory of his mother and his father?

Folwell: I do remember meeting them. I remember being in the house, you know. Nice house. He came from a real nice neighborhood, I guess, in Cleveland, Shaker Heights?

Chaloin: Yes.

Folwell: What was the time playing there, was that ‘68?

Chaloin: No, it’s early ‘67. It’s before the Newport Festival.

Folwell: It was between the Vanguard and the Newport Festival.

Chaloin: Yes, yes.

Folwell: And then I started rehearsing with this group, Ars Nova. It means New Art. And I was playing upright in the band, but we were rehearsing all the time, every day. And this was going to be ... I’d made the paradigm switch from free music to rock ’n’ roll, cause I thought that was ... You know, that was important to me.

Chaloin: You had an interest in rock music?

Folwell: Not rock music, but in ... We thought we could make some money. I was still trying to make it. You see all these guys making money, so ... But we rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed and, at that time I got one of those electric basses, that was a Ampeg bass. It was like plastic, but it was an upright bass. And it was amplified, one of those. It looked real strange, and it was tall. I got one of those. We rehearsed at a friend’s loft for the Newport gig [with Ayler], which I guess was the next summer?

Chaloin: Yes, summer of ‘67.

Folwell: Yeah. And it was funny because ... You know, with an amp, you can just keep turning it up and turning it up ... And Albert, he was amazed at electronic music, because he had never played with anybody that was doing it. I mean, not amazed but he just ... Cause he tried to play louder and I could just turn it up!

Chaloin: But at Newport, at the festival you didn’t play this bass?

Folwell: No, he said “you better do the other one” [laughter]. He said, “play the other bass, man, thank you.” That was good.

Chaloin: So, you had kept in touch with him after the tour?

Folwell: He’d always just call and say what he wanted. He never would rehearse for anything or never do anything.

Chaloin: If he had a gig and he wanted you for the gig, he just called?

Folwell: He called me. He wasn’t involved with Mary Parks at that point.

Chaloin: No? Even at the time of the Newport Festival gig?

Folwell: I don’t think so. So, I had my rock ’n’ roll experience, this Ars Nova, and got screwed. We got up and recorded for Elektra and ... I don’t know, groups are strange, they do strange things. The recording process for me was horrible. Our producer was Paul [A.] Rothchild – a very famous producer. He gave us this spiel: making a rock ’n’ roll record is like making a movie, the producer is in complete control of everything, “you boys ...” He took us out to California and he put us in a motel on the Sunset, and we recorded. He didn’t like the upright bass with the group, he wanted the Fender bass. Well, I said, “okay, oh okay, I’ll try to learn it now,” so here I am, trying to learn the Fender bass, while everybody else is recording the tracks. Because you don’t do anything, you stack them, you know, you put your rhythm section down and you add the other tracks, and you gotta get the sound ... So, we came back from California with ten tracks, with guitar, drums and ... Guitar. No bass on it at all. I had some trumpet parts on there; I was playing trumpet as well as bass. Then they came back and got another bass player to play while we were there. He didn’t like the lyrics, so he brought another lyricist, he found somebody out there. I don’t know if you know California, it is mind games, basically. So, we had this group that was kind of pasted together in the studio. Before, it was a real group, we rehearsed and had a rapport ... He got his hands on it and it became ... It just wasn’t real, it was made in the studio. Then they got Life magazine following us around and taking pictures of us, [Alfred] Eisenstaedt was taking pictures of us. It was gonna be the big article in Life and, we played one concert in the East Village [at the Fillmore East, in March 1968], under The Doors. It was The Doors, us, and somebody else [Crome Syrcus]. And they couldn’t care less whether we were there or not, people came to hear The Doors. And we’re up there trying to do our shit, and it was just horrible. The band just broke up right after that. You know, they had the little meetings, “let’s get rid of him, let’s screw him, let’s ...” And so they threw me out, threw the guitar player out. They were going to go to California and put together another group. When they got there it fell apart again. Then they’re coming back, the two main guys, Pierson and Wyatt, they came back across ...

Chaloin: Who was in the group, who created the group?

Folwell: The group was Jon Pierson and Wyatt Day. And Maury Baker and Giovanni Papalia. Then they were having trouble with the bass player so they said, “why don’t you come out?”

Chaloin: They knew you?

Folwell: Yeah. Giovanni Papalia was the guitar player, and he knew Perry. So, he said, “why don’t you come out and rehearse?” So, I came out and rehearsed with them, we worked really hard, and our manager pushed it, kept us a secret, got the best deal, signed us with Elektra, and did all this stuff. Got the best producer, went out and did this thing and then got screwed and came back. Actually, we thought we were still okay when we came back, but it just kind of dribbled apart. We were dead meat, and they went back and managed to screw up, but what they did was call up the Life magazine thing and kept ... The story was “The Rocky Road to Rock ’n’ Roll” [“The Ups and Down along the Rocky Road of Rock,” Life, June 28, 1968], and they had this whole story with ... They came back and hired session musicians to play the parts that we had created. It was horrible. And so I was limping, man ... You know, my music career would always go ... I’d think, “man, I’m really doing good,” then something would go “bang!” And back to the practice room, “okay, I got to get better ...” So, I wrote some songs and learned how to sing, and ... I’d go a little bit high, and then, bam, crashing down. Horrible. Fifteen to twenty years of that. Fifteen I guess. So, I was learning how to play the Fender bass, and I was playing with these guys and ... So, we did the Albert, we did that, then that vanished, the Albert thing. I was into this other thing for however long it was. We made the record [Ars Nova's self-titled LP], in ‘67, I think. Then in ‘68 I was out of that. I played with the Insect Trust guys and was making the trip to Hoboken [New Jersey]. Rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. They had an album out.

Chaloin: The Insect Trust?

Folwell: Insect Trust had a [self-titled] Capitol album out, a manager, and the ...

Chaloin: You played on it?

Folwell: No, not on the first one. We just were learning our songs to go out and play gigs. We played some gigs, we went to the Midwest, we did some things.

Chaloin: What kind of music was it?

Folwell: They called it country blues.

Chaloin: With acoustic guitars and ...

Folwell: No, it was electric, everything was electric. Then they got, Luke [Faust] in it, and some other trumpet player. So, they had saxophone, trumpet. And I was learning how to play electric bass, so I was playing like [Donald] “Duck” Dunn, you know, those licks.

Chaloin: Oh yeah.

Folwell: Wonderful, you know. I was trying to play like “Duck” Dunn. That was definitely good, that was good stuff. And that’s what I ... I took that to Albert. And that’s the style I was playing on the New Grass, that era. I guess it’s my fault that he went that way [laughter]. You know? I mean ... But he was trying to make it too, you see. He’d gone to Europe and ... Call Cobbs was an interesting guy. Did you ever talk to him or?

Chaloin: No, because he died a long time ago.

Folwell: He was just a sweet, sweet man. But Thiele ... Now I’m jumping around. And I don’t know how Albert and Thiele got together, like I said.

Chaloin: About the New Grass album, do you know whose idea it was? Was it Albert’s idea or was it Bob Thiele’s idea to make a record with vocalists and ...

Folwell: I think Thiele was trying to produce, you know, he wanted to be a producer. Instead of just a jazz producer: you put the guys in a studio and kind of sit back there and let them play. You know, about those themes, and Albert doing that talking thing and ... It was very surreal. And he got [Bernard] Pretty Purdie, the drummer.

Chaloin: It was Bob Thiele who chose Pretty Purdie? Not Albert?

Folwell: Not Albert. I don’t think he knew him. And we’d done the [Café] Au Go Go gig before that [in July 1968]. You know, I was playing electric bass and Albert said, “let’s do that,” you know.

Chaloin: So, what about that Au Go Go gig, do you know how it came about?

Folwell: No. And I don’t even remember the circumstances. He must have called.

Chaloin: You don’t remember if Albert just asked you to play a certain way?

Folwell: I think he heard me doing what I was doing and then said “okay, let’s go with that.” That’s what I think. But, you know, I can’t remember.

Chaloin: Cause it was an unusual place for ...

Folwell: For Albert? See, he was trying to become popular. But it just wasn’t happening. And so he was ... “Well, let’s do this.” And I was trying to become popular. We want people to like us, you know. Which is perhaps the wrong way to do it. Okay, so we went and did that album and then it was produced, Thiele produced it. And I think Mary Parks wanted to sing on this, and I think he had other singers instead of her, she wasn’t on that one.

Chaloin: Oh yes, she is. But there are other singers. In the background.

Folwell: Doo-wop or something?

Chaloin: Yes. Not exactly doo-wop ... [laughter]

Folwell: Yeah, whatever they were doing back there. I’d love to hear it, they never reissued that on CD?

Chaloin: No, not that one.

Folwell: At the same time, it was funny, Bob Thiele asked Pretty Purdie and I to do another session with John Lee Hooker.

Chaloin: You did it?

Folwell: Yeah, and it’s out on CD now. It’s called Simply the Truth or something like that. The idea was session jazz guys playing with John Lee, with a blues guy. I think it was two nights we worked on this. Some of it was pretty good, I mean ... Pretty Purdie is a great drummer. He played with Dizzy [Gillespie]. Dizzy came down here and played the jazz festival, and he was playing with him. He said “hey, how you doin’? Whatever happened to that saxophone player you were playing with?” So, I just said “he’s passed away.” Because, what’s the real story? Do you know the real story? Did he jump? Did they push him?

Chaloin: Nobody knows.

Folwell: So [Mary] Maria was trying to do it too, you know.

Chaloin: You think she had a big influence on Albert at that time?

Folwell: Yeah, I think. He was like a real spirit, you know, he was just kind of there. That “Sun Watcher,” the title? He said he used to look at the sun, he said, “man, this is great,” you know? “Albert, you’re going to burn your eyes,” “no man, I see stuff up there.” I mean, he was ... Like the way his beard would be half-white and half-black. He was definitely a spiritual kind of guy, but so people would be around him, and they'd kind of wanna climb on.

Chaloin: Take advantage of him?

Folwell: Not take advantage ... Well, I don’t know if it was taking advantage, but just be shining ... I think. I mean, who knows what was going on then. It was a strange time. Strange time. And the Henry Vestine thing? It was down and dirty blues with him. It was very strange, we recorded at Rockefeller Center ... Up in there, on the sixth of seventh floor there were recording studios [Plaza Sound]. But, they were, you know, just like any other studios.

Chaloin: So, Henry Vestine, can you tell me again?

Folwell: First he wanted to meet Albert and then it got into his head that he’d like to record, he’d like to be on one of the records, he’d like to record with Albert. And he’s a rock ’n’ roll guy, he’s making big bucks, popular. He was a good musician.

Chaloin: Yes, yes, sure.

Folwell: You know, when you get out there and you’re doing that, you have things you want to do, so you just pull the strings, and then after a while you get to do them, and that’s amazing. And so he was on Albert’s record but I was ... He went through me to have it happen.

Chaloin: The connection was through the Insect Trust?

Folwell: Insect Trust. The Insect Trust did what they called the Memphis Country Blues Festival, an annual thing. They’d get blues guys like Furry Lewis, all the real blues guys. I think the Insect Trust played one [in June 1969] when I was with them, and Johnny Winter was there. And some other performers, but Johnny Winter was the big headliner. Those guys knew the Canned Heat people [who also played the festival], and they knew Charlie Daniels, that whole bunch of people, they were tight. There was a guitar player, not that well-known but just like a ... John Fahey! Kind of a real cult following kind of a guitar player, really good. So, they were real tight all these people. Bill [Barth] put me up with Henry Vestine and whoever the lead singer was, with Canned Heat [Alan Wilson]. We got in a car and went to Brooklyn, went over to Albert’s house, just to try to meet him. That was definitely ... We’re outside “Albert! Hey Albert!”, throwing rocks at his window, “are you there?”

Chaloin: And did he answer?

Folwell: He wasn’t in there, but then after that happened, then we made the record date happen. Or it happened, I don’t know. I don’t know how record dates happen. I guess ... What do they do? Did he had a contract with ...

Chaloin: He had a contract with Impulse Records, yes.

Folwell: To do so many albums a year or ...

Chaloin: New Grass was done in [September] 1968, and the last recordings were in [August] 1969.

Folwell: Okay, so it’s one year. And maybe that was how he was contracted. We, us, we just played a session, you know, we were paid a session. It was his record, they gave us composer credit, but we never saw ...

Chaloin: Do you think it was successful musically, that last session, how did you like it at the time? To me it sounds strange, like ... There is ...

Folwell: There’s nothing there holding it together, uh?

Chaloin: Well ... But at the same time there’s something in it that I like. But it gives me a strange feeling when I hear it. Like if Albert was looking for something, almost like he had lost something and he was ...

Folwell: Trying to find it.

Chaloin: Yes. Sometimes it’s almost ... I can almost hear some sort of anguish in his playing on that date. Even though there are these titles such as “Birth of Mirth,” the music to me sounds more ...

Folwell: Tortured?

Chaloin: Yes. So I wonder ...

Folwell: If it felt that way when we made it? You know, not really.

Chaloin: Was it just a usual session where you came in the studio and played, and that was it.

Folwell: That was it, and go home. And was that two separate dates or was that one?

Chaloin: I think it was several days.

Folwell: It must have been two days. And he had different people for each day?

Chaloin: He had the group with yourself and ... Another bass player, Stafford James, Muhammad Ali on drums, Bobby Few on piano. And Mary Maria sings on some pieces.

Folwell: Right.

Chaloin: And the other thing is with Henry Vestine on the guitar and yourself on the bass. And the drummer is still Muhammad Ali.

Folwell: Then after that I just took off to California. I just left everything. The Insect Trust got their record deal with Atco, they went, they moved to Memphis together, and I didn’t move with them because I didn’t want to leave. They put one of my songs on their album ... I wrote a song [“Our Sister The Sun”]. They recorded that. And Elvin Jones played the drum part. The producer said “you want a jazz drummer? I’ll get you a jazz drummer. I’ll get you the best jazz drummer in the world.” So, they paid him triple session money and he played the drum part on this song I wrote [laughter]. I wish I had a copy of it to play.

Chaloin: So that was the last thing that you did?

Folwell: Yeah. Then I went to California. Let’s see, I moved out there to do something with somebody but, then it didn’t come through, but I stayed out there and worked with Spike Jones Jr., we played Vegas, I was doing comedy and became Harpo Marx [whistling], and I’d go all over ... That was happening during this period back here, I was just trying to get out, so I was getting out with humor. So, we did this Vegas show for a month, over Christmas and New Year’s, in 1970, ‘71. And I just had to come back, wandered around out there, three or four years, just doing ... You know, I was in a couple of movies and did some other stuff. Misspent years.

Chaloin: You think so?

Folwell: Ah! I had fun. I got together with Luke Faust who was in the Insect Trust, and we had a little band, we played Jersey bars and stuff. It was called the Hoochie Coochie Dream Band. Then I heard that a group called the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo ... They became Oingo Boingo. Sam Phipps, he was a tenor player, a friend of Perry’s, I met him during that period. He was from California, and I went out to California, ended up staying with him, and we joined the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which was at that time a stage kind of band and they’d do all Duke Ellington and all ... Danny, he wasn’t the leader then, but he became the leader of the band, Danny Elfman, a movie composer who did Batman. Now he’s a very famous movie composer. So that’s the band I ended up with, the Oingo Boingo, and I was with them till 1980. Then afterward I was too old. I came back here and took on a sensible life. That’s my story! And I’m sticking to it! And as far as Albert is concerned, you know, all those questions you have ... It was like he was right here and I was sort of out here through all of it. I know he liked me, cause he kept calling me. I have no idea why. Who knows? And I’d just ... You know, I’d do anything he wanted.

Chaloin: Do you think ... Sometimes do you think of that time in your life?

Folwell: Sure.

Chaloin: Is it something that you ...

Folwell: Well, the thing is, that seems to be the one thing I was involved with that is still real. I mean, just the fact that you’ve come all this way to talk to me. I mean, there was something that I did that is still real, or I was involved with something that is still real.

© 2019 Marc Chaloin

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