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OK everyone – this interview has been so long in coming – I mean seriously epic…

Let me tell you the story…back in 2005 (gulp) I was hanging out with some friends and they were telling me about this upcoming Drag City reissue that was mind blowing. It was a private press record called Red Hash by Gary Higgins that was found and championed by Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance. He recorded one of Gary’s songs for his album “School of the Flower” and was trying to find Higgins to prepare a reissue with Zach Cowie (once of Drag City). After a ton of hard work and sleuthing Zach tracked him down…and they reissued the album.

All I knew about the record was that it was recorded somewhere in Connecticut…since I grew up in Litchfield County, I was intrigued…I thought – well maybe this guy is from Litchfield or Hartford or SOMETHING like that. Anyway – I bought the CD at Soundfix, opened the package and the first thing I saw was a reference to Lakeville, CT! That’s my hometown. I was blown away. It’s a town of 2500 people tucked in the Northwest Corner of the state. Nothing happens there…especially not interesting music. Or so I thought.

I also discovered that Gary still lives in the Northwest Corner of CT and that he was willing to talk with me about the album and his life in music!

So it was exciting…we met at a local diner and had an amazing chat. Here it is…I know there’s a lot of this info floating around the web now but I think some of these photos are exclusive to Brah and we got into some interesting stuff here…the Random Concept photos were provided by Red Hash bassist Dave Beaujon! A huge thanks to Gary, Dave, and Maureen Wells…I have additional interviews surrounding this album that I have yet to transcribe! Damn…this one took me forever. But anyone interested in a little music history will find a lot to recommend here.

This interview is getting posted at an exciting juncture for Gary Higgins – Drag City is releasing an album of all new material by Gary on Sept 29th, 2009! It’s called Seconds! Pick it up!

Gary Higgins Interview 09/03/05 – Mountain View Restaurant, Falls Village CT.

We start the conversation talking about how the area has changed for music over the years.

Gary Higgins: Things [in the area] used to be a lot better, there were a lot of places to play…

Kid Millions: Really? Where would people play?

GH: There used to be several places in Canaan [CT]…

KM: When I was in high school we would play…

GH: Did you go here Housatonic Valley Regional High School? Private school?

KM: Yeah I went to [private] school in New Hampshire.

GH: That’s probably better. The school around here isn’t so hot.

KM: No? Did you go to Housy?

GH: Yeah. Jake [Bell] who played guitar; he was one of the guitar players in the group went there, and Dave Beaujon went there. Actually that’s where we kind of got together.

KM: Yeah I was wondering …

GH: There were very few of us so we kind of naturally gravitated together.

KM: So there were very few people playing?

GH: Yeah not much was going on at the time, it was the mid-60s. There weren’t too many people playing anything. We were the only musicians who were actually [playing] at that point in time. As a matter of fact I think part of the reason we got together was because we were about the only three around who played. Do you know Elliot Osbourne?

KM: Yeah … I know the name.

GH: He has this traveling group of people called Project Troubadour?

KM: Yeah, yeah… I met him once at the Grove when he was about to do a show and I was in high school with my band.

GH: He would play around that time with a few people he knew. He went to Hotchkiss [local prep school] and a few people there played. But there weren’t that many folks around. It started growing quickly from there but initially it was hard.

KM: So what kind of music were you playing in high school?

GH: Actually my roots were folk music and bluegrass…mostly bluegrass.

KM: I was wondering because I read an interview with Simeon; I know you played with him, but when he did the second [Silver Apples] album he was saying that he was introduced to folk and bluegrass here, in Falls Village. So how did you get involved or turned onto that music?

GH: Actually Simeon was part of a kind of natural progression. He’s a graphic artist… Do you know where Camp [Isabella] Freedman is?

KM: Yes.

GH: Well Simeon was the art director there. You probably know this but Simeon is a great graphic artist.

KM: No I didn’t know that.

GH: He’s a great painter. That’s what he did there at the camp and my two older brothers worked at the camp originally and I kind of gravitated there and met a fellow there that played a lot of folk guitar and was really into Bob Dylan at the time. They were like the uh … I don’t know what the word is exactly…they were like the “cool” people. They were like the hip people. Rock and Roll music although it existed was like Elvis and Fats Domino and all those kinds of things, so this whole kind of youth movement and Dylan and Joan Baez they became “outside”. All that stuff . . they were “cool.” My music kind of started to gravitate towards that and that’s where I basically started folk music and bluegrass.

KM: You said your older brothers worked there?

GH: Two older brothers yeah. I ended up going over there because of playing, I had started playing guitar at that point in time and there were a couple people there who played. So I ended up over there learning stuff from a couple of the guys; different folk styles and stuff. We started a jug band that Simeon was in.

KM: Really!

GH: Simeon’s kind of responsible for us moving anywhere other than staying right here. Because he was older than us at the time Dave, Jake and I were around the same age. We started a band together and Simeon was just kind of around, you know. Then he started acting as our manager, that kind of thing, and we needed equipment and he figured out a way to buy equipment for us all and we paid him back a little at a time; things like a P.A., our amplifiers, all the stuff we needed. He got us kind of moving in the right direction and eventually got us a show.

KM: Were you guys playing as The Random Concept? Did you start the band here [Falls Village, CT]?

GH: Yes.

KM: And then moved to New York?

GH: Well we played at a place over in New York State called the Rumpus Room – which was a drinking hole – if you were 18 in New York state you could drink so everybody in Connecticut who was around that age went there. So it was like the happening place and we played there for a really long time and we practiced and played and practiced. And I’m not exactly sure how but we ended up going to the city and playing a couple of gigs there and ended up moving there for a while. It was a pretty exciting time. I wish I had a little better focus, but I was young, 17 or 18. We were right smack dab in the middle of things and I didn’t realize… I just didn’t take it seriously.

KM: What do you mean by that?

GH: Well we had a lot of originals and stuff that was good and that we were getting a lot of positive feedback on and the whole scene was just exploding at that point in time and we were very very comfortable doing our little thing. We never really tried to get a record contract. They were handing them out in those days! For anything along the psychedelic line of things, we were kind of stupid in that respect. At this point in time, in retrospect, I would have jumped all over it.

KM: I heard the interview on WFMU that you did and you mentioned that you had some residencies at some clubs opening for people, or headlining. How did you get that and what was it like?

GH: Some of that was done at the Rumpus Room. They started bringing in name acts and in some cases we actually played as the band for people. We were the band for Gary U.S. Bonds, he sang the songs. We learned his songs and we did the show.

KM: What kind of experience was that?

GH: Great! He was a really nice guy. It was really a lot of fun, a lot of folks showed up, it was a step up from our normal thing. We did that with quite a few people there, a guy by the name of Len Berry, they got it wrong in Mojo, they said it was Chuck Berry. Big difference. He was out of his top hit popularity but he was still a popular guy at the time. He actually wrote two or three really good songs, I liked the songs that we did.

Dee Dee Sharp – a Motown singer – she had a couple of top 20 hits. She wasn’t so nice but it was fun playing with her anyway.

As a band years later we were warm up band for Edgar Winter’s White Trash. There were a whole bunch of those things. I’d like to think that we were really good and that’s why we did it but there weren’t that many bands that were around that were up to doing that. Now there’s a band on every block it seems like but in those days there we just happened to fall into it, just from playing and being around. When we went to New York it really helped our reputation back here.

KM: Where did you guys live in New York and how long did you stay there?

GH: We lived at a place called the Hotel Albert and I don’t think it exists anymore but somebody said that it’s probably an NYU dorm now. It was on 10th Street somewhere I can’t tell you where exactly. A lot of folks lived there, John Sebastian lived there, Paul Butterfield Blues Band lived there; a whole bunch of musicians. It was basically a music hotel and they allowed us to rehearse in the basement.

Studio shot outtake, Chosen shot hung in Albert Hotel Lobby for years. Jake Bell, Ronnie Bailey, Gary Higgins, Simeon Cox, Terry Fenton, Dave Beaujon

KM: Did the other musicians also rehearse there?

GH: Yup. I don’t know about everybody but several bands were there for a while … they rented rooms as well, and they had suites. I know that there were some [bands] that came to town and would rehearse while they were in town, I’m not sure about other folks. I think we lived there for about 6 months or so. We were centered there and we would go play wherever we could play.

KM: In the city?

GH: In the city, out of the city. We played a lot of resort hotels up in the Catskills, jobs up there, do whatever we had to do to make money. It was expensive even at that time to live there. People would jump all over it now. I think we paid $70 a week for a suite.

KM: And you lived all together?

GH: Yeah we all lived together. It was large actually – there were three or four bedrooms and a large living area and a kitchen, stuff like that. I didn’t really care for it all that much. Dave didn’t care for it all much. Dave was married at the time so his wife was living there and they didn’t have a lot of privacy. We were all from around here [Falls Village, CT], this is where we grew up. So we weren’t used to the hustle and the bustle of city, and a lot of the city wasn’t all that nice at the time. Nothing ever happened but…

KM: So you spent 6 months there total?

GH: Living there, yes. That was Simeon’s idea also. “Maybe instead of just coming and playing we should live here in the center of it.” And he was right but at the time we were kind of growing apart at that point in time. I wished he had slapped us. [laughs]

KM: Really?

GH: Well yeah, because we would have… probably part of what I said before about not really paying attention to the business end of things, being literally right in the thick of the whole music world as it rose around that time about 67, 68, 69. Everything was happening.

RC at SportsmanPark - Kingston NY - '65 L - R - Jake Bell, Ronnie Bailey, Gary Higgins, Simeon Cox, Dave Beaujon

KM: Yeah. Everyone was getting signed no matter what. Did you ever play with the Blues Magoos?

GH: No they lived at the hotel though.

KM: What was the community like, was there much intermingling?

GH: No. Just passing. They were all doing what they were doing, everybody was playing. You’d pass people in the hallways, going down the elevators. It was kind of weird there. We came home one night after playing, it was about 2 o’clock and our whole place was just filled with people. We were like, “How’d you get in here? What are you doing here!?” [laughs]

They came down the fire escape through the back window and just, I don’t know, were hanging out.

Some sort of really famous opera singer, she lived next door to our suite and was always getting upset with the noise.

KM: What did Random Concept sound like? I know that’s a hard question but…

GH: That kind of evolved, we basically started out doing covers. We did Rolling Stones covers, some Blues Magoos material, a whole bunch of stuff that you could you play in nightclubs at that point in time. We just started working on originals, but the original stuff ended up definitely rock oriented. We had a couple things that were kind of like Cream sounding, a couple things that – we were all really into this group called The Blues Project – the instrumentation was very similar so a lot of the stuff we did ended up kind of sounding like stuff they did.

KM: Was it two guitars, bass and drums?

GH: We started out that I was guitar and we ended up with three guitar players and somebody had to play bass, so I decided I would do it for whatever reason, and then we had two guitar players, a bass, drums, keyboards and Simeon sang. And when we came back here [to Falls Village, CT] and kind of reformed we didn’t have a drummer or a lead singer so I started playing drums at that point in time and we then ended up drums, keyboards, guitar and bass. When we were at our best that’s what we were.

KM: So you still play drums then?

GH: Yes. Actually that’s pretty much been my main instrument for the last 20 years or so.

KM: Oh OK I guess I knew you were on the record as the drummer but I just didn’t…

GH: But you can hardly hear the drums! [laughs]

KM: Yeah, I know.

GH: That’s one drawback of that recording, the drums and the bass were not a priority for the mixer. It wasn’t me. And I wasn’t happy.

KM: It’s funny because I would listen to the songs and I remember that part in the WFMU interview when you said, “Oh yeah the drums – you can’t hear them, they’re inaudible!”

GH: There’s one song, “It Didn’t Take Too Long” is the only song where they got fairly well represented but there are drum parts in a lot of the other songs some of which you can’t hear half the time.

KM: Yeah, I’d think, “Is that a drum here?” And then usually by the end of the song it seems like the mixer might have pushed them up a little but yeah, they’re pretty buried.

I read on Jake Bell’s website [guitarist on “Red Hash”] that when you came back to CT you all lived in a place called The Red House?

GH: Yeah, that was right up here next to Camp Freedman.

KM: What was that like?

GH: That was great, that was the best of times.

KM: That’s what he was writing about.

GH: We all lived there at the time as a band, this is after we came back from New York, we rented that place, we had our equipment all set up in the house in the living room, get up in the morning, do whatever you do and then you just start playing. That’s the way our lives went, for quite a while. It was great.

KM: For how many years?

GH: A good couple years. I’d like to say more like three. We might have stretched to three but things started getting a little … that’s just the point in time when Chico who lived there also got together with his wife at that point in time and we all started getting relationships and it was not the greatest living situation. It was bound to happen. But people kind of went to their corners you know what I mean. We still did a lot of the playing and stuff but it wasn’t as free as it was for a while and it was bound to happen.

KM: At that time in The Red House were you The Random Concept?

GH: Yes.

KM: How would you write songs? How would that come about?

GH: A lot of the stuff we did as a band came together out of jams. We would get to these really nice places and then sometimes we’d record sometimes we wouldn’t and then we would try to remember what the parts were or pick out the better parts of the jam and then kind of expand upon those.

KM: That sounds like some of what we do, my band.

GH: It’s a great way to go about it.

KM: Now you said you recorded some? How? What did you have set up?

GH: It wasn’t much. Part of the drawbacks of how [Red Hash] came about is because of technology, I know that at the time [Red Hash] was done there probably were 16 track machines and big studios but 4-track was pretty common, 8-track was fairly rare but the Concept stuff I was telling you about 2-track was the best we could do, just set up a couple mics and let it roll.

KM: Sometimes you can get great sound with just 2-tracks.

GH: I’ve got a live recording of a band I played with called Pearly Rain for a few years, one of the best live recordings I’ve ever been involved with actually. I still have some of the tapes. It was done with a Sony stereo cassette player, two mics, in a room very similar to this actually in West Cornwall, acoustics were great because of the wood, hung one [mic] up by the P.A. speaker and one at the side to pick up the band and its amazing how it came out. For some reason its just shithouse luck. It just picked up a great mix. We really didn’t need to do much to it… we didn’t do anything to it!

KM: There was nothing to do. Do you have tapes of those jams from The Red House still?

GH: I wish I did. Dave Beaujon has a couple of tapes of particular songs, one of which we are about to re-up because we all really liked it at the time.

KM: You mean start to play again?

GH: Yeah. It’s a pretty odd song. Like a trilogy kind of thing, three different songs that go from one to another as kind of a natural progression, we’re thinking of pulling that one out so we made a CD for everybody, the version is pretty awful but you can see what it could be or might have been a few times but it wasn’t on that particular tape. I have some tapes I actually just got in the mail this week. I got a phone call from a person in South Carolina, he and his friend did a light show and recorded us when we played. He somehow saved the recordings of it.

KM: How do they sound?

GH: I haven’t listened to them yet. They are still in the box sealed. I’ve got to do a little bit of restoration stuff on them. Most of my old tapes are in really rotten shape; I’ve finally learned how to do that.

KM: You know how to do that? Baking them? Can you do that in your house?

GH: Yes. I looked on the web and I finally found this place that told me basically how to do it. I bought a vegetable dehydrator at Walmart, and it’s got these shelves on it. So I cut out some of the shelves so you can have 16 track tapes in there, or two inch 24 track tapes. You can probably fit 5 or 6 or 7 tapes in there at once. You put it on a certain degree thing and you just let it cook. And it works like a miracle.

KM: Really!

GH: Oh yeah, I had tapes that just would not play. I would put them on my machine and I’d go to play them and they wouldn’t go forward, they wouldn’t go backwards because of the breakdown of the plastic. So I would put them in that and run the machine and they’d play just like new.

KM: So do you have a 16 track machine?

GH: No. I have a 4 track machine, and 1/2 inch stereo and some really old tapes. I do have some two inch tapes and I don’t know where I can play them and I’d really like to because actually the Sperm Whale song [The Last Great Sperm Whale – bonus track on CD version of Red Hash] – the original tape of that is 16 track and there’s a lot of parts on that are missing; that aren’t on there [the CD version].

KM: I love the record but I also love the other songs too…

GH: I sent Zach [Cowie – Drag City. rep who originally tracked Gary Higgins down] 6 songs and said, “You choose,” because I would have chosen two different ones.

KM: Really?

GH: I knew he would pick one of them but the other one surprised me.

KM: What were the other songs like?

GH: They were more rock oriented. I think he wanted to keep the flavor close to the original.

KM: It sounds like from the way you’re describing your relationship with the music and playing [every day at The Red House], one of the things that really struck me was the musicianship and the feel of the playing. It’s just so beyond what I was expecting.

GH: Thank you.

KM: And it’s consistent [across time] too, there’s the one song, “Don’t Ya Know” said it was a home recording from the 80s.

GH: Yeah … that was in my kitchen.

KM: I love the intro with the dog …[Gary talks into the tape recorder and mentions his dog before the song starts]

GH: Oh yeah? I was going to leave that out. I actually cut it out, but Zach said “No, don’t leave it out,” so I actually sent him that as a separate track and told him, “You can use it if you want to use it.”

KM: I like that [about the song].

GH: My dog’s in there, she had distemper, she’s kicking the heater by accident! [laughs]

KM: Can you tell me some about playing after the record and the home recording stuff? How much do you do that?

GH: I do a lot now … I did some all along. That whole situation where I ended up going to jail really did my brain in for a long time. I was basically fearful of anything, especially going back there. I just stuck back into the background as much as I could. You know, I did some stuff, did a lot of recording at home, thinking that some day there would be another one [album]. The library’s large but it just never got to that point … there was so much work to do. One of the nice things about [the Red Hash reissue] was that it was no work whatsoever. They got in touch with me and they were really into doing it so … getting the energy up to go and deal with paying to put this together, “I want to put it out” and to deal with distribution and all – it was formidable in a way. So I’d like to think that was the main excuse but it was a combination things and I never really did it. It’s kind of sad that I never really did it, I’m mad at myself for not doing it, but only in retrospect [laughs].

KM: Was the record done before you went to jail?

GH: Yeah it was – just before. That was the catalyst for getting it done, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gotten it done, you know, saying, “Oh yeah I’ll do that someday. Someday I’ll get around to doing that.” At that point in time I didn’t know if I would ever see the light of day again so it was really important to me to get something down, to get it down [inaudible], plus it took all the focus off of that, so it was really therapeutic in a way. It was done … I can’t remember exactly … by my recollection it was done probably somewhere early ‘72, like January, February. The recording part was done and then I was done. We’re trying to figure out who did mix it, because I don’t remember who mixed it. Bill Lockwood might have been involved… Chico might have been involved but there were a group of folks that were dedicated to getting it done; actually getting it completed and done. There’s several tales about the trials and tribulations of doing that because they had to cross picket lines to get the thing printed at the time. There was a strike going on in New York and they had to cross picket lines – they ended up … the people wouldn’t let them cross, explaining the whole situation, they actually got some folks from the picket line to go inside to help them do it.

KM: Wow … that’s a story. Is the photo of the women making the cover part of it?

GH: Yes that’s part of it.

KM: Was The Random Concept still a band and you just were like, “They are my songs, can we put these down?”

GH: It was kind of the way that it was. Plus I was playing with Maureen and Paul Tierney and Jake in a separate entity called Wooden Wheel which was all acoustic. We would play acoustic guitars, mandolin and cello. That was like an offshoot where a lot of the songs actually that were on [Red Hash] were replayed in that venue. And the recording is just get everybody in and “what can we do here?” kind of thing. [The Random Concept] was still playing but not a lot at that point in time. Terry [Fenton - keyboardist] was around then but I think he was either about to go for Wisconsin to go to school or was going back to England – I can’t remember which – he did both somewhere in that time period. So at one point The Random Concept was a three piece when he was away and I think he was about to go off to Wisconsin to go to school out there. So we weren’t doing a lot. We were still playing, but not a lot. We were actually playing more with Wooden Wheel at that point in time.

KM: How many of the songs were written for the album? Or were they mostly existing?

GH: They all existed. I can’t remember but there might have been a couple in the works and I hurried them up so they’d be finished in time but they essentially already existed. Not in that form, but they were songs. The songs were there. A lot of those parts were literally were done right there on the spot. Terry [Fenton] I think said that in the WFMU interview. We spent way more time rehearsing for the show in New York than we did rehearsing to record this album. “Here’s a song we’re going to do tomorrow, hurry up and come up with a part.” Some of the stuff was done on the fly, which was unheard of actually. It was literally a 40 hour session, the thing was recorded and done and we were done. I don’t know what they did mixing, I’m sure there were more hours involved than just putting down the tracks. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. [laughs] In this day and age including myself I spend a lot longer than that worrying about specific sound on something you know? Sometimes you wonder whether if we should go back a little bit to the older days.

KM: I sometimes wonder if you just go in and bang it out you can get something that you’d never get in six months.

GH: Especially if for some reason that magic’s there, its just there. I’m sure you feel the same. Sometimes I’ve heard … it’s not that it’s a great song, and it’s not that anyone played any outrageously great parts but its there, the feeling is there. Those are the special moments. You wait for those times to happen; you pray.

KM: Can you tell me about the release of the record? The label Nufusmoon? Was is it a label or was it created for the project?

GH: It was a self-created label.

KM: Was it yours?

GH: Mine personally? No. Whatever Music Incorporated became the company that Chico started so that they could make money, if there was any to be made, without having to pay taxes and all that stuff. We needed some sort of a label and I think Jake Bell was responsible for that name.

KM: What is it?

GH: I have no idea! It’s a name he liked. Even the title of the album, it wasn’t my doing.

KM: Oh really? That was Jake?

GH: I don’t know. I think it might have been a combination of peoples’ votes. “Well what are we going to call this thing?” And they came up with that and thought it was a good idea. At the time it did get a decent amount of airplay locally, in Boston and New York and Connecticut, because of that situation, the legal situation. I think that helped… but I wasn’t really fond of it for several reasons.

KM: You didn’t want it being trumpeted.

GH: Yeah and I still don’t. As nice as all this is happening lately it seems like all anyone can focus on is that part of it and it drives me crazy. Of course that’s also some of the reason that it’s getting some attention. “Let’s forget that.” I’m not talking to you, I’m just saying in general.

KM: It’s a little part of the story but what’s really special is the music.

GH: That focus drives me nuts.

KM: In the WFMU interview you mentioned that when you got the letter [from Zach Cowie at Drag City] you weren’t really sure about responding, can you talk about that a little bit?

This concludes part 1. Continue to part 2.

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