|"You are about to have probably the most unusual musical experience of your life. The music will enter areas of your mind never before opened until now. At times it may be hard to understand, but if you let the music penetrate you'll dig it..."|
So ran the MC's introduction to a Silver Apples performance in San Francisco in 1968. This enigmatic electronic duo armed only with percussion, vocals and an early synthesiser are credited with being the seminal influence any number of bands featured in past Terrascopes, from Spacemen 3 to Jessamine and beyond. And yet until now, not only our infamous sniffer dogs but those of almost every other self-respecting psychedelic rock magazine and fanzine worldwide have been completely unable to get a lead on the current whereabouts of either one of the pair, electronics whizz Simeon Coxe and percussionist/vocalist Danny Taylor. In the end a lucky series of coincidences led Simeon to our door however (Danny remains lost: any leads would be gratefully received, by Simeon as well as by ourselves), and an extensive grilling during the Summer months of 1996 resulted in the following story, published exclusively here for the first time. It's one of the most extraordinary features we've ever published - and I make no apologies for running it in one complete episode rather than spreading it out over several issues.
PT: Where were you raised and how did you first get into
Simeon: My musical career began in New Orleans when I was
8 years old living with my parents, Mary and Simeon Coxe, Jr.
(I am the third) and brother Ricky who was two years younger than
me. I took trumpet lessons all through elementary school and most
of the way through high school, marching in the Mardi Gras parades
and playing at football games, and even, for a while taking private
lessons from a local jazz clarinetist who taught me the excitement
of improvisation. He was a New Orleans Style Jazz Traditionalist,
however, and he burst out laughing at me one day when I dared
try some lines that didn't fit into that particular sound, and
that day I lost interest in studying with him. I never went back.
When did you move to New York?
When I was 21 years old, having decided that I wanted to become
a great artist. I'd won several art competitions when I was a
child and was considered something of a prodigy (I could draw
a train that looked like a train when I was 3 years old) and had
taken art courses and studied privately all my growing years,
parallel to the trumpet lessons. My first act of rebellious independence
was when I decided to be an artist and ran off to Mexico for
3 months to discover myself, and marijuana. When I came back
through New Orleans on my way to New York, I had sprouted a scraggly
beard and was talking hip beat talk and my father made me stay
at a motel rather than destroy my mother's image of me. He did,
however, buy a small painting for $75 so that I would be able
to buy a train ticket to New York.
So you went to New York specifically to be a painter rather
than a musician?
Right, and when my neighbours there found out I was a painter
they said I should go to the Cedar Street Tavern (Cedar Bar) near
Washington Square because that was where all the painters went.
I was there every night until they tore it down. I had many drunken
conversations with Franz Kline, Bill DeKooning, Milton Resnik,
and lots of drunk abstract expressionists. The Cedar Bar was
also the hangout for poets and that's where I met Paul Blackburn,
Joel Oppenheimer and LeRoy Jones (Amiri Baraka). There were also
some avant garde musicians who hung out there. The poets and musicians
never seemed to be drunk and appeared to be much brighter than
the painters, and I hung out with them more. One was Harold Clayton,
who was a very intense composer, who would try and get people
to come up to his loft on the Bowery and listen to tapes of his
music. Sometimes people would go. Harold and I became good friends.
He would stand in my studio and wave his arms around and talk
about the sensitivities required to be a great artist and how
painful it all was. He was married to a jazz improvisational pianist
named Sylvia who worked in modern dance studios, as did Harold.
Harold and Sylvia would drag me to a little bar around Avenue
B and 3rd Street where we would drink beer and listen to Sun Ra
and his Arkestra play for hours. There was a stage for the musicians
but they rarely used it. Guys would be standing on tables and
behind the bar and even in the men's room during different pieces.
I guess the only one who stayed on stage was Sun Ra himself.
Everybody else in the band was all over the place. True surround
sound. Sun Ra eventually would get heavily into electronics,
but when I saw him it was keyboards, strings and horns.
Who was it that introduced you to electronic music?
Harold introduced me to Hal Rodgers who was also a composer,
and Hal liked my work so much he asked if he could have one of
my paintings on extended loan so he could compose a piece of music
around it. I don't think I ever heard the piece, although years
later he did tell me he finished the score and would show it to
me some time. Hal had an amazing mind. He was born in Jamaica,
raised in New York, and attended Bronx Science High School which
was for exceptional kids. He had dozens of symphony scores committed
to memory. He was a big fan of 12 tone and atonal concepts, especially
because of all the underlying mathematics involved. Never mind
that the listener would not be conscious of the mathematical processes
that led to the production of the music. That it was there, as
a method, was what counted. The mathematics that I used later
in the rolling bass lines and repeated phrasing with Silver Apples,
and even today in my paintings, which are an aesthetic exploration
of Chaos Theory, comes directly from this experience with Hal
So did Hal have any access to electronic equipment at this
He had a WWII oscillator that he had found in an electronics
junk shop on Canal Street. He had it hooked up to his stereo
and would listen to tapes of different compositions and try and
wiggle and swoop the dial around and accompany the music. He
was never able to get anything satisfactory going and so mostly
it just sat there. I would come over at least 3 times a week
and we would drink beer, play chess and talk about art and sometimes
I would turn on the oscillator and goof around with the radio
or with tapes or even solo. Hal would say, "Work on your
intonation!" or, "Try to play in tune for a change!",
just like he would yell at his orchestra, and I would work at
it until he'd stop yelling at me, which I always took to mean
that I was improving but could have meant that he just gave up.
I loved the thing. A few years later, that very same oscillator
(or audio generator) was to become what we called the "Grandfather
Oscillator" in Silver Apples.
When did you start composing music yourself?
Hal introduced me to his friend Larry Seigel who was a photographer
and folk musician. He was a serious photographer and a friend
of filmmaker Rudy Burkhardt. It was through this connection that
I got to do the sound effects for the Burkhardt/Grooms collaboration
movie called "Shoot the Moon". Burkhardt did the concept
and the filming, Grooms did the sets, and I did the sound. I
got $50 and was named in the credits. It was a blast. I had
a portable tape recorder and would go around building sound sandwiches
to try and fit whatever they needed. For instance, the explosion
when the rocket crash-lands on the moon was made by putting the
tape recorder inside a metal locker in a school, then beating
on the locker from the outside in rapid succession with my fists,
then playing the tape back on slow speed for the distorted "boom"
effect. Larry Seigle was also a folk singer and he performed at
various community centres and clubs. He was also a pretty good
chess player and when I wasn't spending time at Hal Rodgers' playing
chess and playing with the oscillator I was at Larry Seigel's
playing chess and listening to him play folk music for his wife
and kids. He would pick up his guitar and start making up a song
as Steven was playing. It was fascinating to me how much fun
it was to just make up music as you went along like that. Of
course, Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman were doing it, but here was
a simplified version of the process that I could observe from
the beginning. And Larry also showed me how he would jot these
things down so that he could remember them later and maybe perform
them again sometime. He just notated lines of chord progressions
with occasional notations about phrases and he would indicate
what words went with what progressions, and that was as formal
a notation as it got. That way, every time he did the song, it
was somewhat improvised, and maintained that freshness and unpredictability
that kept the feelings alive. After seeing how strictly notated
Harold and Hal's music was, this was a real revelation to me.
It came in very handy when, with Silver Apples, Danny and I would
improvise for hours and I would be able to make notations that
would make sense later for use when we would compose songs.
So did you get into playing folk music as well?
Larry Seigle landed himself a summer job in a YM/YWHA camp
in Falls Village, Connecticut called Camp Isabella Freedman.
He was basically the camp minstrel. Everybody liked him, and
being bright, he was elevated to the position of Entertainment
Director the next summer and then they made him Program Director.
He thought it would be a hoot to have me along so he showed me
how to make pottery, how to weave baskets, how to enamel copper,
to use the kiln, to keep a record of supplies, etc. and told the
Director he had found somebody who would make a good assistant
in the crafts program. So I now had this summer job at Camp Freedman,
which I was able to parlay into pretty much a year-round thing
because the camp functioned as a ski camp on weekends in the winter.
I was soon working in the kitchen and dining room for that part
of the season. I guess this was in 1963. Except for the chef
and his assistant, who were from Harlem, all the kitchen help
were local guys who were bluegrass musicians. In between meals,
after all the dishwashing, etc. was done, they would break out
the instruments and play bluegrass. I was soon playing spoons,
washboards, whatever, along with them, and singing harmonies.
This went on for a couple of years, and one day, one of the guys,
named Dave, showed up with an electric Fender guitar and an amp.
Well, this was shocking! but the guys were hooked. Soon they
all had pick-ups for their instruments, were all plugged into
that poor overloaded amplifier, and were now pickin' and grinnin'
the Rolling Stones. Somebody strolling through the camp one afternoon
heard us and remarked that we ought to audition at the civic centre
because there was a big dance coming up and they needed a band.
We thought that was a good idea, but you can't have a rock band
without a drummer so we put an ad in the local paper. It was
answered by Ronnie, a black kid from Canaan, who had never been
with a band before but who could play like the best we had ever
heard. After jamming with us one afternoon, he was in, and I called
the Civic Centre and lined up the audition. We got the job, and
now we had to have a name. That evening I came up with the name
"The Random Concept". The Random Concept was: Ronnie
on drums, Gary on bass, Dave on rhythm guitar, Jake on lead, and
Simeon on tambourines and vocals. We later added an organ player
named Bill, and we were a working rock and roll band. We worked
somewhere in the Connecticut/Massachusetts area every weekend
for a couple of years. This was 1965/66. It wasn't long before
we had the reputation of being the best band around and our reputation
spread beyond that as we started to hit the road more. We decided
that maybe it was time to try our luck in New York- the scary
Big Apple - so we contacted a booking agent named Max and drove
down to the Albert Hotel on 10th Street and rented 3 rooms by
the week. A five piece band, plus girlfriends, roadies and other
hanger-ons made for a constant party on the 7th floor of the Albert
Hotel. Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention were also staying there
as were a group from the midwest called Ill Wind, a coffee house
band called The Lovin' Spoonful, and Mike Bloomfield and his guys.
It was an active hotel. They let groups rehearse in a room in
the basement and we all got to know each other because of that
- using each other's equipment and so forth.
How long did this go on for?
Until one night when the inevitable happened. Ronnie got
a job offer from a fancy dressed soul band with horns and uniforms
and everything, called the Commodores. He was in heaven, and
tearfully quit The Random Concept. Gary tried to fill in on drums
with the organ guy trying to play a bass line with his left hand,
but it was over, and we all knew it. It was 1967. They all went
back to Connecticut, but I got a job singing with a four piece
band called The Overland Stage Electric Band which was "working
regular" in coffee houses in the Village. I could stay at
the Albert, and actually walk to work.
Was that a covers band, or what?
They didn't have any original material, and weren't interested
in doing any of mine so I was basically just learning the words
to songs by The Doors, whom they loved, and various soul groups,
and we played clubs. I insisted on singing the songs the way
they felt to me and not bothering to try and sound like Jim Morrison
or whomever, and this didn't sit very well with them. But that
wasn't what really pissed them off. What really pissed them off
was the time I brought Hal Rodgers' WWII oscillator up on stage
and plugged it into an amp they weren't using..
Who else was in The Overland Stage Electric Band?
It consisted of Phillip on bass, Ritchie on lead guitar, Ray
on rhythm guitar, Simeon on vocals and a quiet and laid back guy
named Danny Taylor on drums. Ritchie was the most threatened
by the introduction of the oscillator, and hated all the reaction
it was getting from the audiences. People were actually coming
into these coffee houses to see us. One person who got word of
something happening at the Café Wha? (the club we played
in fairly regularly) was an insurance actuarial who had "dropped
out" named Barry Bryant. He came several times and was bringing
in friends to hear us - and then started talking to us in between
sets and we got to know him. He was telling us that we ought
to expand on the electronics thing and forget all that club stuff
and Ritchie got so pissed he quit. The solution was to add to
my arsenal. I got Harold to explain some of the basic principles
of electronics to me and I was soldering all this stuff in and
making wilder and crazier sounds with each outing. One time I
still had my hand on the dial of the grandfather oscillator and
I grabbed the house microphone to start a vocal line and house
voltage went right through me. I was unable to open either hand
to let go and the electricity was ripping through my body making
me flail about on the stage like an epileptic. The guys in the
band and the audience all thought it was something new I had come
up with, and just went with it. If my thrashing about hadn't
coincidentally somehow severed the connection I could very well
have been the first snuff performance act in history. As it was,
I just had to be taken to the hospital for a dislocated shoulder
and for observation which didn't turn up any more damage.
And I imagine that the electronics gradually pissed everybody
off until there was just you and Danny, right?!
I wired in more oscillators and sound alteration junk. Ray
decided it was too much for him and he quit. Phillip stuck it
out for another month or two, then he was gone. That left me
and Danny. We decided to stick it out, do all original material
and to call ourselves Silver Apples after a poem by Yeats. He
wrote a poem in 1897 called "The Wandering Angus". Part
of it goes:|
I will find out where she has gone
The silver part reminded us of the solder that held all the junk together, and the apples we felt linked us to New York. Also, Yeats relates silver to the moon and gold to the sun. We were night people and so thought the moon was much cooler. This was in 1967. Barry knew a guy who knew this poet named Stanley Warren who came off as kind of a geek, but who wrote amazingly nice stuff and he started writing poetry around our expression and we folded into each other like family.
So Silver Apples was like a totally different band, a totally
different sound right from the beginning?
Yeah, we realised that carrying a melody line with all this junky
equipment was going to be our most challenging task and Danny
came up with the idea of having essentially two drum sets side
by side so that he could tune the various drums to different chords
and could play those that complimented whatever I was playing,
and it might help us to be easier to take. We also now had many
too many oscillators for me to handle with just two hands so we
decided to wire a group of them together to switches on a piece
of plywood that I could play with my feet. These would be the
bass oscillators. The grandfather oscillator remained the big
sound sweeper and the rest were wired into telegraph keys mounted
in front of me on a table. Never having played a piano keyboard,
this arrangement made much more sense. So that I could differentiate
all the different telegraph keys, I put different colours on different
ones so I could make out the relationships visually as we were
playing. That meant that "Oscillations", our first
Stanley Warren song, was not played in the key of "C"
for instance, but in the Key of "BLUE". We were to
discover later that the light shows and strobe lights in different
houses would play hell with this concept.
How did the band manage to secure a recording deal, I mean
you were so "avant garde" it must've been really difficult
While Danny and I were working out ways to perform material with
all our re-arranged equipment, Barry was trying to drum up interest
in the recording industry. One by one he would have people come
in to hear us rehearse. We never cut a real demo tape because
we never had any money. So Barry just got the record companies
to come to us. Most of them ran out to buy cotton for their ears.
Some came back a few times. One who kept coming back was John
Walsh at Kapp Records. This was a tiny little label whose main
source of income was a classical/lounge piano player named Roger
Williams. They had no rock groups. They only needed a 4 track
machine with minimal equalization to record him so that's all
they had to offer in their studio. It was beginning to look like,
for Silver Apples, Kapp was going to be the only game in town,
so, after months of Barry working out the details with the guys
in the suits, we started recording. We moved all those banks
of oscillators and tables of telegraph keys and the biggest drum
set in the whole world into a recording studio just big enough
to hold a piano.
Who was put in charge of production?
Our producer never showed up! I think he felt that his career
as a record producer would be ruined if he were ever associated
with us. On the day we were to begin recording he announced he
was going in the hospital for tests because he thought he might
be coming down with mononucleosis or something. None of us had
ever produced a record before. We waited and waited but he just
refused to come out of the hospital. He did say that if we wanted
to go ahead and lay down some tracks he would listen to them and
make comments. We figured this was better than nothing so we
started. We knew not even the basics, and the engineers were
not volunteering much. We would lay down a track and then come
out and ask Don the engineer if it was all right, and he would
just sit there with this blank smile on his face. If it wasn't
pianos, they didn't know from it. We were on our own. We didn't
know where to put the microphones or about separating the various
elements with baffles or about overdubbing, or about anything.
We just put in some microphones and started playing "Oscillations".
The result was a total mess, and this producer was only saying
so much, so step by step Danny and Barry and I learned the basics
by quizzing everybody we knew who had ever been in a recording
studio and by being real nice to the engineers assigned to us
and getting them to volunteer information whenever they would.
"Oscillations" went through so many reincarnations
during that time that how we realized the final version is still
just a blur. When I think of how good we might have sounded if
we could only have had some help from that producer I get angry-
because those records are all that survive, not the live performances
we did later on tour when we finally got our act together.
Run us through the tracks on the album...
"Whirlybirds" was our second attempt. By now we were
starting to feel more comfortable with our situation and we learned
that we could use all of the 4 tracks to do, say, the bass line
and the drums. Then we could have the engineer do a mix of those
and dub them over to a single track on another 4 track machine.
This gave us room to add the middle and top oscillators on the
remaining 3 new tracks and Danny could even throw in a cymbal
crash or something if he felt it would be good. Though tedious,
this was giving us a little more freedom with our sound but it
was locking us into whatever mix we did in the first dub. There
were many times when, in order to make changes in that portion,
we would have to scrap the whole thing and start over. The engineers
rolled their eyes a lot, but they were being paid by the hour
so what the hell. There was nothing we could do about the lack
of equalization. It was basically no more elaborate than the
bass and treble knob on any stereo. But with our new dubbing
technique we were able to add the clinking and tinkling sounds
to "Whirlybird" by putting a microphone close to a pane
of glass on the floor and dropping pennies and tacks on it in
the right places. Doing that was great fun.
"Dust" came next. Here we were playing with the thing where, when you tune two oscillators close enough together, you can get this "wom-wom" tremolo effect that you can feel in your rib cage. This song was very effective live because we could crank those amps up and place those oscillating waves into rib cages all the way back into the balconies. Eileen Lewellen ("Misty Mountain", "I Have Known Love") used to say that if you were lying down in the first few rows during "Dust", you would actually start to float. A lot of our audiences would lie down on the floor. The record company people kept having us mix the vocals so they were much more up front than they were when we did them live. This was because they were trying to minimize the electronics to make us more palatable to what they thought was going to be our (and their) bread and butter audience, America's teenybopper. They got us bookings in high school gymnasiums on the same bills with bands like the 1910 Fruitgum Company. They just never got it, but they were all we had.
"Dancing Gods" had this same element, but with Danny keeping that tom-tom beat going my job was to get the pulsating oscillators to approximate his rhythms and we tried to tickle rib cages and everything else that way. It was after a performance of "Dancing Gods" in Detroit that a black musician by the name of Taj Mahal told me that he now understood what "white soul" was. That was a tremendous compliment to us.
"Velvet Cave" was another of those songs that was different every time we did it, because in order to change chords I had to dial in new settings on all the oscillators on the fly. I had little markings in different colors on each dial so I knew approximately where I was going, but usually in the heat of battle I would miss a few of them and we would end up in a chord-with-no-name, and the vocal would just have to pick its way through it. I don't know how many takes we did on "Velvet Cave" in the recording studios at Kapp, but we finally chose one that had more or less an understandable progression to it. As a live performance, we never knew where it was going to go. I can remember looking over at Danny during "Velvet Cave" renditions and seeing him looking down and shaking his head with a big grin on his face. I never knew if it meant he was sympathetic to the predicament I had created for myself, or if he was just saying to himself, "It'll be funny to see Simeon get out of this one."
You weren't exactly known for rigidly sticking to chord progressions,
We had done fine up to that point not changing chords in the normal
way. We had either composed the material so it could be performed
all the way through in the same chord ("Oscillations",
"Whirly-bird"), or had set it up so that it really had
no chords at all but consisted of randomly or subliminally arrived-at
chord changes ("Dust", "Dancing Gods"), or
like "Velvet Cave" which was done on the fly. But when
Stanley Warren showed us his poem "Lovefingers", Danny
and I both knew immediately that we had to figure out a way to
perform the song with a real chord change, just like the real
bands do. Barry Bryant, who was by this time much more than just
our manager but our mentor as well, and an integral part of the
whole process, got on the phone and started begging to friends.
One of them, a great lady named Lil Picard who died recently,
gave him $300 and we all immediately went down to the electronics
junk store on Canal Street and got nine more oscillators and a
bunch of wires and solder and went to work on our electronic machine,
which we were starting to call "The Simeon" for lack
of anything else to call it ( it wasn't my idea- it was Danny's).
We wired 3 oscillators into the bass foot panel and the other
6 into a pack and hooked them up to the telegraph keys. Then
we tuned the whole array so that with my hands and feet in one
position on the instrument we were in one chord, and when I rotated
slightly to my right, we went into another. Danny tuned some
of his tom-toms and one of the bass drums to reflect this new
capability, and "Lovefingers" was born. We recorded
the song almost without rehearsal, it flowed out so naturally.
Next on the album was 'Seagreen Serenades'.
That was a natural outgrowth of our new chord-changing capability,
but we wanted it to be a different experience from "Lovefingers"
so I decided to add a recorder to it. Please understand, I am
not one of those natural musicians who can just pick up most any
instrument and pick out little melodies right away. I am always
amazed when people do that. For me it is laboriously learned.
I pace up and down, practicing for hours, the simplest passages.
I had never played a recorder before but Hal Rodgers had one
and used to play it along with tapes, and it looked fairly simple.
Besides they were cheap compared to any other musical instrument
I might have chosen to add to the mix. We laid down a basic track
for "Seagreen Serenades" and I took home a dub, and
practiced and practiced playing that recorder along with it.
After a few days I felt ready and we went in and did the song.
I never learned how to play anything else on that instrument.
People in groups would come up to me backstage and ask me to
jam with them on-stage on my recorder, and it would have been
great if I could have done it, and great for Silver Apples image,
but I always had to make lame and embarrassing excuses because
I only knew one song , and I was too proud or vain to admit it.
So you were getting a reputation as something of a musical
guru without actually being able to play that much?
Right, that kind of thing happened a lot. People would assume
that because I was a recorded musician and Danny was obviously
such an accomplished drummer, that I too must be a keyboard wizard.
Most people didn't know about the telegraph keys. One time I
was in Manny's Music Store looking at banjos (we eventually purchased
one), and I was recognized and there were people following me
around and talking to me. It was all quite fun for me until Steve
Winwood walked into the store. The people got all excited and
went over and were talking to him, then they brought him over
to me and introduced us as "the two best synthesizer players
in the world!" and wouldn't it be great to have a jam session
right here in the store! Well, everybody knows he's a great keyboard
man, but I only knew telegraph keys. Today, I know I could have
just said, "Hey guys, I only know how to punch telegraph
keys." , but then, I was so desirous of respect from other
"real" musicians than I just couldn't let on. Winwood
allowed himself to be coaxed over to an instrument and started
twiddling around and everybody was cheering me on, and the best
I could do was to say I had been up jamming all night and was
hung over and thought I was about to throw up and I got away by
running out of the store with my hand over my mouth faking gagging,
while I heard strands of Winwood's incredible keyboard work wafting
out onto the sidewalk.
Next up was 'Program', which is centered around a radio dial?
Yeah. When Stanley showed us his poem about getting a random profound
message from an accidental discovery on the radio it reminded
me immediately of my experience at Harold Rodgers' house, playing
the oscillator along with the radio. Stanley's line, "Dialing
from left to right¼", dovetailed perfectly with how
I used to dial the radio and dial the oscillator at the same time
and see if there would ever be one of those random but heaven-sent
moments when they synchronized. I always tried to keep the vocal
lines simple because the rest of what we were doing was so unusual
and I tried to get a balance. "Program"'s simple melody
and predictable two chord structure work against the cacophony
of the radios- we used two for the recording and sometimes used
as many as three in performance, but usually two. It was always
fun to do. When we were in a new city, we would ask the audience
for the numbers of their favorite radio stations and I would mark
them on the dials then during the performance I would always try
to hit a few of those along with the foreign languages and the
classical or folk music stations. Sometimes I would just keep
the bass lines going with my feet and let the top oscillators
drone along while I composed random, on-the-fly- symphonies with
radios- Danny churning up the beat behind it all. "Program"
was probably our most successful in-performance composition- different,
but the same, every time.
Finally, 'Misty Mountain', which was the last song on the first
Eileen Lewellen wrote the lyrics for that. This is the one song
that, after we recorded it, we memorized every drone, every drum
beat, every bass note and every word, and always did the song
in performance exactly like the record. We felt that, with all
the improvisation and looseness of the rest of the performance,
we had to be able to demonstrate the skill and discipline necessary
to do this. There were some bands that prided themselves on being
able to reproduce every recorded song, and we certainly weren't
one of those, but we demonstrated with "Misty Mountain"
that we could if we wanted to. It was important to Danny and
me, as practitioners of the craft, so to speak. Eileen was a
fan of the band and of music in general. She carried around a
whole notebook of poetry she had written since she was a child.
Some of it was what you would expect from a very bright, sensitive,
high school romantic, but there were some that transcended that.
Eileen was only nineteen at the time, but some of her stuff was
timeless. We felt our first album needed to have the contrast
that her poetry would lend to it, and we selected "Misty
Mountain". She was delighted, and sat in a corner with her
eyes closed for two days while we were composing, then recording
the song, and we gave her a dub of the master. Neither Eileen
nor Stanley ever received a dime for their Silver Apples poetry.
Kapp Records claimed, until they went out of business some years
later, that our expenses always outweighed our income from record
sales, even though the album rode the Billboard Magazine Top 100
list for ten weeks that summer, and record stores all over the
country told us we were selling like hot cakes. Neither the poets,
nor Barry, nor Danny, nor I ever got a penny. We lived off of
our live performance receipts. I received $50 a week expense
money, and when I had to stay in hotels, that was taken care of,
even if Barry had to borrow it. Because of his dedication to
Silver Apples, and I don't just mean Simeon and Danny, but the
whole concept of Silver Apples and what we were trying to do,
Barry ended up $30,000 in debt, and that's what led to the break-up
of the band.
So the album was recorded - who designed the now famous packaging?
Kapp wanted to use their hot/hip promo staff to design something
like what they were used to doing for Roger Williams, but we would
have none of that. Barry was good friends with one of the most
respected art dealers in New York, Virginia Dwan, heiress to the
Xerox fortune. She was one of the foremost backers of the minimalist
and later the earth art movements in the 60's and 70's. She was
interested in us for some reason. She never expressed it to me,
but I guessed she saw some relationship between minimalism in
the visual arts and the reduction to basics we were trying to
express. Maybe she just liked Barry, but at any rate, the most
respected Virginia Dwan shot the photography of Danny and me sitting
on the roof and practicing our songs that ended up being the pull-out
poster in the first album. For the cover, Barry and I made several
cut-out stencils of apples and spray painted them onto pieces
of paper. After choosing one, we tried several different ways
of putting lettering on the cover and nothing really got it, but
we really liked the apples all by themselves, and somehow Barry
managed to convince Kapp records that the cover should be just
the apples and no titles or anything. I don't want to paint the
picture that everybody at Kapp Records was a "suit"
or hard to work with. Several of the people were in our camp
and saw us as possibly a way to save the company (we had no idea
at the time that it was in trouble) and one of the execs secretly
had two pairs of apples, just like the ones on the cover but about
the size of small grapes, cast in solid silver and hung on silver
chains. He presented them to Danny and me at the debut party.
I'm sure they cost a fortune. I treasured mine, and wore it
all the time. It disappeared after a concert at Max's Kansas
City. It must have fallen off and somebody made off with it,
because even after crawling around on my hands and knees for a
long time I couldn't still find it.
The album featured the lyrics on the reverse in the shape of
Barry and I laboured together over the arrangement of the lyrics
to make two apples and a leaf. The stem part was particularly
difficult. We just couldn't figure out how to get the lyrics broken
up enough to fill those short spaces, then in the next room Danny
started up a dub of "Whirlybird" and when I heard all
those "la la" 's I wrote them in and that was solved.
Barry filled in the bottom portion while Danny and I listened
to the tape and talked about how to finish the song. When we
came back out, he had written in "INSTRUCTIONS: Play Twice
Before Listening." and the cover was done.
When was the album actually released?
The album debuted on Barry's roof in May, 1968. It was quite
a party. Danny and I had to perform but we really weren't into
it. We had recorded an album and it was being released to the
world, and all we wanted to do was party! For the debut party,
Barry spray painted his whole penthouse silver. Floors, ceilings,
walls, couches, chairs, lamps, bathrooms, everything. Barry has
always had great digs. But this was a trip. People came off
the elevator, went up another short length of stairway and entered
a silver world. It stayed that way for years. I remember that
when you sat down on the couches or chairs there was this stiff
kind of scratchiness because of the silver paint in the fabric.
I slept on them lots of times anyway. With all of us, it was
a total commitment, and we thought it was perfectly natural that
the whole apartment should be silver but lots of people thought
it was the strangest thing they had ever seen.
One of our first performance jobs after the record was released was at Steve Paul's Underground in New York. This was a small club but it had the reputation of presenting the very best in the new groups so we were happy to play there. We were there for a week, and on the bill with us was Tiny Tim. I don't think his "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" hit had been released yet, he certainly hadn't done the late night shows yet, so nobody knew anything about him. It was one of the freakiest acts I have ever seen, but I learned a lot from Tiny Tim about how to deal with audience abuse. Ignore it! He would stand there hunched over an out-of-tune ukulele of all things and sing old Rudy Valey songs and such. And the audience would hoot and holler and throw wadded up napkins and God knows what else at him, but he just kept on going as though nothing was wrong. It was freaky, and he would piss every body off with that squeaky falsetto voice and blowing kisses and his whole self degradation thing and was practically asking for the abuse, but I always felt a little pain for him when it got started. The pain I felt was the same as you feel when an actor forgets his lines and just freezes, or a comedian screws up a delivery. It's like you try and share some of the embarrassment for them or something. Not often, but once in a while we had audiences get testy and I always thought back to Tiny Tim and how he completely ignored it and carried on with what he was doing.
Did the band play live much in support of the album?
We had to perform to survive! Once we had an album under our belts
it was easy for Barry to approach booking agents for gigs and
we started to travel. That presented a problem for the "Simeon"
music machine that we hadn't anticipated though. How do you unhook
all this gear, pack it up, truck it to the airport, get it on
an airplane, fly it several hundred miles, unload it onto a truck,
and get it all to the concert hall and reassemble the hundreds
of components, many of which had to be soldered in? The thing
was a mess of loose junk at this stage. We did a free concert
in Central Park one afternoon and we had to get there early in
the morning to start the assembly process to be ready by 3:00
in the afternoon. This would never work on a day to day basis
on tour. We decided it had to be wired into basic sections that
would never be broken down, and put into custom-made cases on
wheels that could be plugged into each other to re-form the "Simeon"
on stage. So instead of having to connect hundreds of components,
I just had to connect dozens of components. A huge step in the
So with this early synthesiser set up, you were able to get
out on the road?
We performed somewhere just about every weekend in 1968, usually
out-of-town. We had the "synthesizer" boxed into its
basic components, good cases for all the drums, our own PA system,
and our first single, 'Oscillations', was number ten in the charts
in Philadelphia. We were on a roll! One of the first places
we played in was Cincinnati. Eileen accompanied us, so it was
me, Danny, Barry and Eileen. In the beginning we didn't have
a permanent "roadie". We asked the people at the different
concert halls to provide help and they were always happy to oblige
and that way we were able to stay very close to the equipment.
Later we relaxed a bit on that score. The crowd was huge, packed
against the walls. The house-band was a band called Jessie James,
they were one of the best of the Southern boogie bands I had ever
heard. They were great support but they could only carry a rowdy
crowd so far. The people apparently expected more of the great
beer-drinking-rock-and-roll they had had there every other Saturday
night since the Neanderthal times, but we came in there with whirlybirds
unzipping their minds and some of them were a bit pissed off.
There were so many bad vibes coming from the audience that it
rocked me a bit. This wasn't New York. Eileen felt it too, and
after the concert we decided that we needed to walk through the
streets of the city to absorb its energies and try to learn from
the experience. At some point some drunk members of the audience
spotted us and started yelling obscenities. Eileen and I just
tucked our heads down and scurried along. I heard an engine start
up and when I looked back there was a pick-up truck weaving down
the street full of guys screaming about how we played shit-music
and one of them was swinging a shovel in the air. Eileen and
I took off and after a while we seemed to have lost them, but
the effect on Eileen was profound. The look on her face was one
of abject terror. I think it shattered her confidence in the bond
that we had previously thought was an integral part of all human
beings. How could people threaten the lives of other people over
something like music? Why was Silver Apples so threatening?
Didn't they see that all we wanted to do was share our discoveries
with everyone? Everyone thinks that the lifestyle of the musician
on the road is so enviable- the crowds, the bic lighters, the
reviews, the adoration, the envy- and maybe that's the norm for
most bands. I guess we weren't most bands. We were just starting
to realise that.
Was this a one-off incident, or was the reaction generally
Our concert playing procedure was pretty much based on feedback
from the record distributors around the country. Barry stayed
in constant touch with them. If one of them would say he was
having trouble getting it to move in the stores, we would work
with him to go to his city, do a radio interview, try and get
on the local TV news and do a concert somewhere that he would
help arrange. The cities where we did this were Cincinnati, Minneapolis,
Toronto, Boston, Chicago, Allentown, Cleveland, Miami, Detroit,
Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. In Los Angeles
we couldn't get into any of the regular concert halls so we ran
an extension cord from the rear of the record store on Sunset
Strip and set up in the parking lot and started playing. Saturday
night on the Strip is a huge hangout anyway and before long there
were people climbing all over the parked automobiles, hanging
out of windows and lining the rooftops, dancing, throwing frisbees
and having a great time. We made a bigger impression doing that
than we ever would have in a hall somewhere. This was the way
Barry did things. We didn't know it at the time, but the crowd
was so thick and spilling out onto the street that the cops had
to come in and re-route traffic. From that point on, our record
did just fine in Los Angeles. The concert in Minneapolis wasn't
all that successful though. It was a sold out crowd all right,
but one of our amps blew during "Oscillations" and we
went through the rest of the concert with only half of the oscillators
being heard. The music critic said in the paper the next day
that the highly touted "Simeon" was nothing more than
a rhythm machine. All he heard was the bass section, one bank
of rhythm oscillators and Danny. Because of this in-concert breakdown
(number 376 if we were counting) I was so pissed I poured a quart
of beer all over the instrument during the last song. I think
that was the only thing the critic liked.
Did you have much contact with other bands while you were out
on the road?
In San Francisco, we were backstage at the Fillmore West talking
with people when one guy asked us where we were staying. We mentioned
the name of our hotel and he said, "Oh, my god, that'll never
do. Wait here." And he scurried off. He came back with
a huge guy with a burly mustache and flies buzzing around his
head and he said, "Guys, I want you to meet Pigpen. He's
with the Dead. They have a house."
Pigpen was great. He arranged to meet us at the house later, and we went to the hotel and checked out. The Grateful Dead had this great old Victorian looking thing right in the Haight-Ashbury section of the city and there were rooms everywhere and what seemed like half the hippy population of San Francisco hanging out. The kitchen was full of people making strange smelling teas and bowls of mush and babies crawling underneath everything. Pigpen showed us to a room on the second floor then he took us up to the third floor and said this was where the band went to get away from all that, and we were welcome to hang out there. There was a pool table in the middle of the room and we immediately launched into that action. Pigpen was a good pool player. None of the rest of the Dead did much of anything but sit around, practice licks on guitars, write songs and smoke dope. We did the same, occasionally joining Pigpen on the felt table. We were able to extend our stay in the area because of their generosity and we did several free concerts, took excursions to Seattle and L.A., and cruised the Haight.
Once we were back in New York, Bill Graham at the Fillmore decided
to put together a concert of people he liked but that just didn't
fit into the usual Fillmore lineup of rock bands. The scene at
Fillmore West in San Francisco was kind of set- it was the Airplane
and the Dead and Quicksilver and so on. But he didn't have a
real handle on what was going on in New York and I think it fascinated
him. He scheduled a concert featuring Silver Apples, Norman Mailer,
Allen Ginsberg, and a band called The Fugs which was a bunch of
poets who could sort-of play instruments. We were scheduled to
play last. Norman Mailer came out and read excerpts from his
new book and Ginsberg did basically the same and then the Fugs
started their stuff and I noticed after about an hour and a half
that things were really dragging out. At this rate we would be
past midnight before we got on and I went out to see what was
happening. The bass player had apparently been taking huge quantities
of acid and had, in his own tripped-out mind, assumed the identity
of Paul McCartney. He had crawled under the piano, wedged himself
in, in such a way, that nobody could get him out. And he was
playing, note for note, the bass line for every Beatles song from
"I Want to Hold Your Hand" on up. At this rate it would
be Wednesday before we could get on stage. The rest of the band
and the security people were hesitant to unplug him because some
members of the audience were getting into it and singing along,
and this was the best audience response The Fugs had experienced.
They were also hesitant to just throw a head-lock hold on him
and drag him away because they were afraid that he might be in
such a fragile state that he could suffer permanent mental trauma
if they weren't careful. Fortunately, somewhere around "Lovely
Rita" he passed out, and was whisked off to Belleview in
an ambulance, and they tell me, air-guitaring Beatles the whole
way. We finally got on at about 1:00 am.
When did work on the second album, 'Contact', begin?
While we were in Los Angeles, we had access to the Decca recording
studios at Universal City. In between parking lot gigs, we set
up there and laid down tracks for new songs. They had a 24 track
board and this was pure luxury. When Barry negotiated our contract
he got Kapp to include a guarantee that we could produce a second
album regardless of the outcome of the first. Stroke of genius
in retrospect. Rumours were floating around in the business about
the coming demise of Kapp Records and so, even though we didn't
really have enough new material for another album, we decided
we had better get stuff in the can as soon as possible to beat
the coming bankruptcy. We laid down riffs and extended bass and
drum tracks that we felt we could build on later. We were on
the West Coast for a couple of months, and when we got back to
New York we had Decca ship the master tapes to Apostolic Studios
where we set about getting 'Contact' in the works. We recorded
bits and pieces of the album during the latter part of 1968 and
early 1969. All the people at Kapp Records that we knew were
fast looking for new jobs, the old rats scampering off the sinking
ship imagery, so we turned up the heat. I think the album reflects
that- it's much rougher and rawer than the first. We had decided
that we wanted a rawer sound anyway. We talked about getting
a sound like as if the wires were sending razor blades into the
speakers and mincing them. But we were rushed by the schedule
and that added to it. The song 'Fantasies' is a good example of
that. Danny and I always talked to each other on the headsets
when we were jamming in the studios. We had the words to 'Fantasies'
but no melody line. We did have an idea how we wanted to structure
the song and where the words would be once we had a melody figured
out so in the meantime I just talked the lyrics to Danny so he
would know about where we were in the song and I cued him into
chord changes, breaks, etc. Just to be breaking the monotony
of talking, I tried to imitate W.C. Fields because we had seen
one of his movies on the late movie recently and were shooting
each other lines from the film. "It's not a fit night out
for man nor beast!" and so forth. They had my mike over
modulated but they didn't care because we weren't going to use
it anyway- or so they thought. When we got down to the short
hairs and had to press it or forget it there was nothing to use
but that bit of a communication track, so they had to go with
it. I think that song had more potential than any of the others
but we never got to finish it. I squirm with embarrassment when
I hear that song and that distorted voice and that stupid W.C.Fields
stuff. If it were a good imitation it might be all right but
it's lousy. Barry thought it was funny and lots of people say
they like it but it makes me squirm.
How did the cover come about, with you guys sat in the cockpit
of an airplane?
The story about the cover for 'Contact' is funny. Barry and Danny
and I were riding in a cab back from the airport talking about
what we might call the second album. I had been thinking about
the way people used to spin the props on old airplanes and yell
"Contact" and how that meant the action was about to
start, and about how the word "Contact" also had the
connotation of reaching out to people and establishing communication.
After bouncing it around in the cab, "Contact" it was.
Barry started working with the Kapp people about a cover and
they referred us to their advertising agency. These people had
some "in" with Pan American Airlines and thought they
could get us inside one of their airliners for a portrait type
shot and we thought that could be a goof if we played it right.
Pan Am arranged for the air controllers in the tower at Kennedy
International direct all Pan Am incoming flights to a portion
of the tarmac designated by the photographer, facing the sunset.
The pilots all thought this was totally bizarre. This meant that
all the passengers had to disembark onto the concrete and walk
to the terminal while we boarded with the photographer and all
of Pan Am's promo people. The sunset outside the windshield on
the cover of that album is not air brushed in - it is the real
thing. We only had a few minutes on each aircraft because they
had to get the clean-up crews and the refuelling operation started
for the next leg of the flight so we would set up, shoot for 10
minutes, then move on to the next airplane that was taxiing into
the sunset and set up again. Danny and I had snuck a bunch of
dope and dope paraphernalia aboard and scattered it about for
each shoot. We just did it for a goof. All the rock and roll
bands of the time were doing little (and not so little) dope songs
and dope promotions and we thought it was silly. We smoked the
occasional joint and did the occasional tab but that wasn't basis
for a message or some big deal like it was with so many of the
others. We did it on "Contact" for a giggle. Barry
was in on it and was snickering and snorting in the background
during all this to the point of distraction. The Pan Am representative
was totally unaware of what we were doing and was pasting Pan
Am logos in all the cockpits so as to be sure and get a plug for
the airline on the record cover. Once we had the proofs, we had
a good laugh, and Barry thought up the idea of taking it one step
further. He had somebody at Time Magazine pull a photograph from
their archives that was of a terrible airplane crash in Sweden.
Lots of people were killed. He had me and Danny sit on a fence
for a black and white shot, that he then had the ad agency's production
department double-expose so it looked like we were playing banjos
in a wreck. So the photo message of the album became: here these
two freaks somehow manage to pilot one of these passenger jets
with all their dope and they end up crashing the thing, somehow
surviving intact, killing all the passengers, and could care less
about the whole thing. When Pan Am saw the finished album they
sued us for $100,000.00.
It was all just pissing against the gale. Kapp was broke and
on the verge of bankruptcy and we couldn't even pay the poets
for our first record, or pay back Virginia, or even pay ourselves
anything. We always paid our roadies, but we certainly didn't
have anything for Pan Am. We just kind of laid low for a while
and the whole thing blew itself out in some lawyer's office somewhere.
You also did a thing around this time to tie in with the Apollo
moon-shot, I believe?
I think it was early Spring in 1969 when New York's Mayor John
Lindsay declared a free day in the park for all New Yorkers to
watch the Apollo 11 astronauts land on the moon. He arranged
for huge television screens to be mounted in Central Park so everyone
could watch the moon landing and a bandstand to be constructed
so there could be music leading up to the historic event. He
declared Silver Apples to be "the New York sound" and
commissioned us to write a piece for the event and perform it
plus all of our other songs just before touchdown on the moon.
We decided that it was an important enough event that we would
stick our heads out of our hiding place to do it I wrote a piece
called 'Mune Toon' and Danny and I rehearsed it for days. The
rocket launch went off without a hitch but as the spaceship began
its approach to the surface of the moon, it began to rain cats
and dogs in New York City. I had distinct memories of the shocking
experience at the Café Wha? which Danny witnessed, but
we felt this was a significant enough event that we had to go
through with it. We were at least under the cover of a band shell,
more than I can say for the thousands of people under parkas or
umbrellas or newspapers all around the park, but there was a noticeable
amount of water trickling onto the stage floor and under my bass
switches. We decided to forego the build-up portion of our concert
- explaining it to the crowd, who applauded our concern for our
safety - but when Neil Armstrong began his descent to the moon's
surface Danny and I struck up the band, caught up in the emotion
of it all, and performed 'Mune Toon'. I was receiving electrical
shocks every time I touched the instrument but there was nothing
that seemed like it was life-threatening so we kept going. I
knew that to touch the microphone was zap city, that was my mistake
at the Café Wha?, but there was definitely a connection
being made between the bass platform and the top oscillators.
I just kept my hands on the oscillators because I found that
when I let go and then tried to re-touch them, that was when I
got zapped. So all during 'Mune Toon' there was this tingling,
sexy, frightening, scary thing coursing through my body and I
was singing my heart out and Armstrong was stepping onto the moon
and human beings were entering a new era and thousands of people
were crying with happiness and soaking wet and singing and hugging
each other. Well, just when he thought the most political-mileage-moment
was upon him Mayor Lindsay grabbed the microphone to say something
profound and I swear I saw his ears light up. He was baptized
into the world of electronic music. His hair looked like the
bride of Frankenstein. Rolling Stone magazine did a piece on
the event and called me the "¼leading exponent of hippy
technology." I have always liked that, but have never figured
out how to use it at parties.
After that were contacted by an "underground" theatre producer and director named John Vacarro. He had a reputation for putting on the most outrageous theatrical experiences in New York. He said that he was producing a new musical called "Cockstrong" and wanted Silver Apples to create the music for it. The star of the show was to be one of New York's most famous transvestites named Jackie Curtis. Unlike most of the other glamour queens on the scene, Jackie wore rags and hand-me-downs as a fashion statement, and was a tall and intriguing spectacle. The rest of the cast was an assortment of actors and exhibitionists of one sort or another who, for the most part, were dedicated to John Vacarro and his "Theatre of the Ridiculous". "Cockstrong" was a musical farce about sex and penis-envy, but oddly enough, there was no nudity, or even partial nudity, even though the so-called "straight theatre" was already heavily into it (Hair, A Chorus Line, etc.). We were given the script and started to work composing music for the various numbers. After several rehearsals it became evident that Silver Apples' style of free-form and organically structured music would need to be tamed down a little bit so the actors would know what to do and when to do it at the same times every performance. This is what Vacarro and the writer and every body wanted. They weren't quite ready for our ideas about order arriving spontaneously out of chaos so we gave in. Vacarro supplied me with a little 24 key electric organ, meant as a child's toy, and said I could freak out all I wanted with the electronics as long as each number was based on melodies played on the toy box. I didn't care. I was having fun, but not being a keyboard player I had to keep it simple. There was one dance number called "The Kama Sutra" where we were allowed to improvise for about 10 minutes while the players, in their clothes, tried to accomplish all the sexual positions, both couples and groups. One night the audience seemed to be very into it and Danny and I decided (with our signals across stage) to keep it going a while longer. I didn't realize how physically demanding it was for the actors and after a while they started screaming for mercy. I thought they were just acting and kept going. Soon there was open rebellion on the stage and the actors, while still in their contorted Kama Sutra positions were shaking their fists at me and giving the "cut" sign with their fingers across the throat. They were really glaring at me and the audience was roaring with delight. I finally gave in, and Jackie Curtis went into her final number, "Cockstrong", during which this enormous, erect, papier-mâché penis slowly expanded out over the stage pointing at the audience. It was about 30 feet long. It had a garden hose concealed in the middle and at the end of the number the water was turned on and it sprayed out all over the audience. They were totally drenched and loving it. After a couple of performances, word got around and people started showing up in raincoats, parkas and huge sheets of plastic.
With Kapp fading fast, I imagine the second album received
little or no publicity when it came out?
Right, the second album got no publicity or distribution support
whatsoever. Kapp was history, and the distribution network was
in a shambles. There was no point in arranging for promotional
tours because most of the record stores around the country never
even received copies. We went out to some of the places where
the crowds had been most enthusiastic, just to be earning a living,
but the concentration now was on finding another record label.
Barry couldn't get anything nailed down but there were enough
nibbles that he thought we should cut some new material that he
could use as bait. The most prestigious recording studio in New
York at that time was a place called The Record Plant. They agreed
to let us come in for a specific period of time and run up a bill,
trusting that another label was right around the corner and would
pick up the tab. We booked every night from midnight 'til four
AM, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience had it booked from four AM
'til eight. This went on for several weeks. Many times Hendrix
would come in early and we would overlap. We would talk mostly
equipment talk. He was a gadget freak. He could never remember
my name so he just called me Mr. Apple and I called him Mr. Experience.
We used several of his gadgets in those sessions, and he plugged
into ours for some of his. Both bands' equipment was just left
in the studio day after day, pushed to the side for the day-time
bookings and so it was all out in the open all the time. Everything
was very loose and easy-going. We cut some good tracks, but no
record label ever came through, and they eventually cut us off.
We were in the middle of our first and only cover of someone
else's material: 'Mustang Sally', and we really wanted to finish
it. The Record Plant agreed that if we came up with $1000.00
cash, they would let us finish the song so Barry did what he had
been doing most of this episode. He got on the phone and called
friends and believers. There was an artist friend of the band
named Terry Fugate-Wilcox who was independently well off. After
some deal cutting, Terry met us at The Record Plant with a $1000.00
bill. I had never seen one before. He said he always kept some
in his safe in his loft in case of emergencies. I was amazed.
We finished 'Mustang Sally' and packed up our gear and left.
That was the last time any of us ever saw those tapes. There
was easily enough material for a third album but somehow Kapp
had managed to poison our reputation, and maybe the Pan Am thing
didn't help, but nobody picked us up and those tapes sat there
until The Record Plant went out of business around 1990. They
made a deal with a tape and film storage facility in New Jersey
to store the material for two years, then do with it as they pleased.
None of us were informed of these transactions. I recently tracked
the tapes to that warehouse and they told me that the tapes were
all disposed of but they couldn't find any record of the method
of disposal. We're still working on it in the hopes that they
were sold to another warehouse as a bulk item and not taken to
One of the sessions that's part of The Record Plant tapes, besides the album, is a three-hour live broadcast on WBAI radio. WBAI is a very progressive, underground type FM station in New York (they were the first to play Bob Dylan) and they wired directly into The Record Plant's 24 track board and gave us an unprecedented three hours of live broadcast. My recollection of the details is a bit sketchy. I do remember that it was a freaky free-form thing with several people dropping in. One was Ultra Violet who could be heard during one song trying to do her damnedest to electrocute herself by giving a live microphone a really sloppy wet blow job. At 50,000 watts, this was going out for the enlightenment and appreciation of music lovers all over New York City. What are friends for.
So there's at least a complete unreleased third album out there
somewhere, but nobody knows where. As we discussed earlier, it
would obviously be really exciting if that could be found. Apart
from Hendrix though, and hanging out with the Dead, what other
musicians of the period do you remember associating with?
One time when we were the regular band at Max's Kansas City, we
went down to a coffee house in Greenwich Village to hear another
two-man group that we had never heard of before, but some of our
friends said were famous in England. They were Tyrannosaurus Rex,
and they were touring in their acoustic mode with the singer-guitarist
and a percussion guy. Afterwards we approached them to chat.
The guitarist guy, whose performance basically was to sit on
a pillow with his eyes closed and softly strum and sing, seemed
uninterested in socializing with us, but the percussion guy (I
don't remember their names, I'm terrible about that kind of thing
sometimes) was friendly and curious. In their act he played tambourines,
bells, little gongs, triangles and rattles and was more active
than his partner. They had never heard of us, but we had never
heard of them so, egos be damned, it all didn't matter. We invited
them to ride a cab with us back up to Max's and see what we were
all about, explaining that were kind of their opposites. Guitar
declined, but percussion came along, and after a couple of hours
he was really wound up. I think some people had been buying him
drinks, but he got up on stage with us during some point in the
second set, which was strictly frowned upon usually but because
he had been our guest nobody did anything. He grabbed a microphone
right in the middle of "Program" and started preaching
about the Goddamned Establishment and the Goddamned Yanks in
Vietnam then he picked up my banjo and started pulling on the
strings like you would pull turnips and it was feeding back like
crazy and he was screeching and yelling and finally Danny and
I gave each other the high sign and we walked off the stage.
He had completely taken over, and people were streaming out the
door with their fingers in their ears. Once, too, we were on the
bill in Chicago with Blue Cheer. Blue Cheer was not only the
name of a dishwashing detergent but of a particular type of acid
going around at the time. They had the reputation of being the
loudest rock and roll band in the world. They had stacks of Marshall
amps that lined the whole back of the stage. When we walked into
the hall and saw that, we were quite impressed. After all, that
was the point, I'm sure. We were to go on after them so we set
up our gear off to one side, minuscule by comparison, ran through
a sound check then went to the dressing room. Everybody shared
the same dressing room. The Blue Cheer guys were snorting speed
like crazy getting ready to go on and when they were ready they
broke out the cotton balls and started stuffing their ears with
great wads of the stuff, using pencils to pack it in. Danny and
Barry and I gave each other the silent signal that meant, this
is gonna be good, lets go watch, so we crawled under the curtains
and hid behind the stacks of Marshalls. They lit into their first
number which sounded like a tornado had hit the building and Danny
crawled over to where he could see the drummer. He started laughing
and waved me over. I crawled over and stuck my head around the
corner of a stack and we could see him in profile. It was easy
to read his lips, even though it was impossible to hear him over
the roar. You couldn't even hear the PA system for that matter.
He was screaming at the top of his lungs "Turn it the fuck
down you stupid shitheads! I told I was quittin' if you did this
again! I quit! You stupid fuckheads! You hear me? I quit!!!"
This went on, non-stop through the whole set, which was this
hour-long version of their hit, 'Summertime Blues', plus all the
other riffs they knew. The house PA system was this gigantic
surround-sound affair and you absolutely could not hear even a
trace of it. We looked over at Barry and he was laughing and
waving us over his way, so we crawled over and he pointed to the
audience. Out of several thousand people that had previously
occupied the hall, there were only about 15 totally spaced out
people lying on the floor in the very back- and everybody else
had gone out onto the sidewalk! The band played on, the drummer
screamed his head off, and nobody but those 15 heard anything
but the roaring tornado inside the building. When their set was
over, everybody came back inside. This was one of the times when
our equipment misbehaved badly. At one point I actually had a
soldering iron out while Danny did an extended solo and I hooked
some of it back together. I swear my machine was pissed at me
for leaving it out there during the tornado.
I get the impression that 'The Simeon' was prone to going wrong
at inopportune moments.
The machine had a personality, just like a beloved old car. Same
kind of cranky personality that would get miffed at the slightest
perceived indignity or slight. Usually when it was pissed it
would just refuse to stay in tune, but sometimes, like in Chicago,
it would refuse to cooperate altogether. I know for a fact, having
played outdoors many times, that if a cloud passed over, it would
go out of tune. Sometimes its annoyance at something or another,
usually trivial in the big scope of things, would manifest itself
in a loud hum. Einstein himself could have been our roadie and
that hum would defy all tracing. Then the next day, when it apparently
felt better about the world, the hum would be gone. I always
carried a little knapsack-type bag full of short wires with alligator
clips on either end. When something would go out or the hum would
start, I could usually alligator-clip us into the next song and
beyond, sometimes clipping up during a song. Had to be careful
though because a clip could just as easily take something out
as restore it. Poor Danny went through hell coping with me through
all this. He always seemed to know immediately when I was in trouble
and was able to anticipate what I was going to have to do to get
going and was right on top of it. I never called the damn thing
"the Simeon" incidentally. That was what other people
called it. To me, I was Simeon. That¼ thing¼ was not
Simeon. It was lots of things with lots of characteristics, some
lovable, some worthy of a 45 calibre bullet, but it was not Simeon.
I had enough identity work going on without that complication.
Was it this kind of frustration which led to the break up of
the band, or what?
All of these jobs that we played around the country were just
a maintenance measure- a stop-gap effort- to tide us over until
the next big break would come and get us out of debt and ease
the pressure. The Record Plant tapes were never picked up by
another label and that spelled our doom. Danny and I never broke
up as a musical entity. We figured our job was to produce the
music and we poured ourselves into that part of the operation
with all our hearts and souls. Barry was the one who got the
nasty phone calls from lawyers. Barry was the one who had to
go into offices and take the abuse of collectors and lower himself
to begging and pleading for more time so that we could keep going,
even if just for a few more days at a time. You can't imagine
how desperate we were. We even devised a technique in grocery
stores where one would cover for the other while he ate food off
the shelves, usually stuffing our faces with crackers or pastries
just to fill ourselves up. Many times it was the only meal of
the day. But when that elusive label never materialized, Barry
knew it was over, and he went to a lawyer and asked him to draw
up papers that would dissolve Silver Apples as a partnership and
protect him as best as possible from future law suits. The lawyer's
advice was that Barry should sue us for our share of the debts
and he should confiscate our equipment and hold it against payment
of the debts. Luckily for us at the time (we thought), Barry was
paying Dory Weiner to do our books. She was the girlfriend of
a sculptor friend of ours named Forrest Meyers. Everybody called
him Frosty. Anyway, Dory was our bookkeeper, and when she got
wind of Barry's lawyer telling him to confiscate our equipment,
she told us, and said we had better get it out of Max's and hide
it in Frosty's studio where Barry couldn't confiscate it. They
said we would be able to practice there and everything so it sounded
like the right thing to do until we could figure out the real
right thing to do. As it turned out, this little plan was just
a ruse, because Barry couldn't pay Dorie what he owed her,
so she and Frosty had cooked up this little plan to confiscate
our equipment to hold it for ransom for payment from Barry. It
was easy. We even carried the stuff, cases and case of it up
Park Avenue and up to his studio thinking we were in safe haven.
Once it was all sitting there in their boudoir, they locked us
out. We were really screwed now, because at this point Barry
could care less about redeeming the equipment for us. If he were
going to redeem it, it would be for him. After a while they softened.
They were really mad at Barry and not at us. They realized that
we were not guilty of anything, but were victims ourselves, and
they allowed us to come over and at least practice so we could
stay performance-ready if we ever had to be again, but he wouldn't
let us turn on the amps because of his neighbors so it was pretty
useless. We basically just waited to see what Barry was going
to do. Danny and I never played together again.
I understand there was at least one more gig under the Silver
Apples name though?
I got a job under an assumed name as a DJ in a disco joint and
managed to pay Dorie enough that she and Frosty released the "Simeon"
to me and I scurried off to my hotel with it. Floor to ceiling
it occupied almost the whole room. Danny never did get his drums
back. He was out of money, out of a group, and out of drums.
He split, and I didn't see him again for about a year. Eileen
got a job designing large needlepoint images and was paid well
but spent endless hours rendering these huge tapestries. She
agreed to finance our daily expenses while I tried to get something
going again musically. I tried numerous configurations from 2
to up to five piece bands featuring the ever growing music machine
but nothing seemed to click. One time a four piece group that
we actually called Silver Apples played a performance of all new
material at the Village Gate, a jazz hall, but it really wasn't
the same. Danny came to that performance, came backstage, we
had a good time socializing, but that was the last time any band
ever performed under the name of Silver Apples. It was Summer,
So that was finally the end of the Silver Apples, then. What
became of you afterwards?
In September, 1970, I sold all my amps, packed the 'Simeon' onto
a delivery truck and sent it to my parents home in Mobile, Alabama.
I then bought a small sailboat and Eileen and I packed it full
of as much food and wine as it would hold and we sailed out of
New York harbor and into the Atlantic Ocean, seeing if we could
make it to Florida before winter set in. We got to Mobile in time
for Christmas with my family and they loved Eileen. I got to
know my youngest brother Dave, who was born when I was 15 and
so I had pretty much flown from the nest before he became a person.
Ricky had died as the result of a deep sea diving accident.
I got a job driving an ice cream truck, ringing a bell and driving
around selling ice cream. Eileen took up Transcendental Meditation.
I worked as a film editor in a TV station, as a news reporter
and as an advertising designer and illustrator, and when I finally
got my head cleared of all the extremes of Silver Apples, I plunged
back into my art, poetry, conceptual expressions and painting.
I have had five one-man-shows of the paintings in the last four
years, in Lubbock, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Detroit, Michigan,
Kansas City, Kansas and Trenton, New Jersey- and after the initial
reaction of "What the hell is that?" that I have gotten
with everything I have ever undertaken in my life it seems, I
have actually started to sell a few. The paintings are based
on a study of how there is a natural order within randomness.
The so-called 'Chaos Theory' which has risen to prominence
in recent years?
This was long before anything had been published on Chaos theory.
I didn't even know the scientific community was working on it.
I just was seeing what I was looking at - that stars in the
sky and raindrops in a puddle make the same overall visual expression.
One day around 1973, I bought a crate of lemons from a grocery
store. I took it to a park and cleared the sand out of a sandbox.
I climbed a ladder with a Polaroid camera and began a long series
of dumping hundreds of lemons into the sandbox and photographing
the results. After several hours of this I had attracted something
of a crowd, mostly kids, but soon the Mobile Police Department
wanted to know what I was doing. How do you explain a search
for the secrets of life itself to someone who cracks people over
the head because they are the wrong color or because they don't
like the way you dress? I couldn't compromise, and they hauled
me off to jail. The judge said that if I put all the sand back
into the sandbox and never came into the park again I could go,
so I promised. Next day I was back, but this time I had the kids
organized as lookouts and as a team we managed to elude the police
and discover secrets of the universe at the same time. Later,
after I had moved to Maryland, I hung the Polaroids, hundreds
of them, in my studio for a year before I began to paint again.
I categorized the different groupings, arranged them according
to first one criterion then another until at last I had five basic
definitions of order within chaos. I know I didn't force this,
because I was generally resisting it all the time, thinking that
this was all too basic, all too obvious, and if it were the case,
then surely somebody had done all this exploration, even centuries
before. But the visual answers I found with my lemons reflected
the musical discoveries I had made with Silver Apples, and what
I had observed for years in the living world around me- that seemingly
random structures, audio or visual, eventually assume recognizable
orders and become beautiful within their own definitions. I have
devoted all my creative energies to that exploration, whether
they be poetry and songs or paintings. Lately I have been painting
bicycles. The bicycles, like all the other repeating images I
have been doing over the years, from lemons at first to tools
of every description, dolls, guns, sunflowers or bats, are a metaphor
for the order, which I am trying to define, that exists within
chaos. This explains the familiarity that we all feel when we
see raindrops falling into a pond. There is nothing foreign about
the patterns they make because they are the same patterns that
leaves make when they fall from a tree or that daisies make when
they grow in a field or that the stars made trillions of light
years ago when they exploded across the universe. It is such
a simple and fundamental truth. These patterns are a portrait
of life itself. I found this truth by dumping lemons in a sandbox
in Mobile, Alabama. I only hope I have the capacity for carrying
the whole thing to a reasonable understanding. I say "reasonable
understanding" because I don't think a conclusion is possible
given the scope of it all. Even if you don't know what all this
math is that's going on behind the structure of each Silver Apples
song or each bicycle painting today, they still have, to me, that
familiar, unthreatening, comfortable identity that raindrops and
Finally, how did you suddenly become aware that the Silver
Apples name has become common currency amongst the hip cogniscenti
For the last ten years I have been so immersed in my painting
that I gave Silver Apples no thought. In the spring of this year
I had been invited to exhibit a piece in Gene Pool's Crest Hardware
Show. This is a pretty big deal among the more adventuresome
and experimental artists of New York City, it being almost a thumbing
of the nose at the Art Establishment in a fun way. Over a hundred
artists are invited every year and the idea is for each to create
a piece having to do with hardware, and the show is held in this
gigantic hardware store in Brooklyn. Well, the opening was this
fairly crazy affair in the parking lot that had live music and
one of the bands was an all girl band called "Ultra Vulva"
who had a grunge sound. At one point I asked the lead singer,
whom I thought I recognized from our days at Max's, if she ever
heard of Silver Apples. She said "No" and walked away,
but a guy standing in earshot came up and said "I've heard
of Silver Apples!" That chance encounter was to change everything.
His name was Christian Hawkins, he collected our stuff and he
was in a group called "Mobius Strip" which consisted
of two guys who played systhesizers and drums. This sounded very
familiar! He told me of all the activity around the world that
amounted to something of a revival of interest in Silver Apples
over the last several years that I was completely unaware of.
I was astounded. He told me of several record stores in New
York that would be carrying what was actually a fair amount of
cover material, bootleg stuff, and some outright imitations.
I went to these stores, was recognized, signed autographs, made
new friends, was turned onto other activity I had no idea was
going on and was generally spinning around in amazement for several
Written, directed and produced by Phil. © Simeon Coxe / Ptolemaic Terrascope, 1996/7
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