Bruce Bruno Clarke Woodstock

Bruce Bruno Clarke Woodstock

If Life gives allows us enough time, there will interesting intersections. For Bruce “Bruno” Clarke, Columbia University, a doo wop band on a lark, a surprisingly well-received Woodstock performance, and cybernetics all intersected.

Tutti Frutti > Plastic Fantastic

In 1960, a cadet uncle attending West Point gave Clarke Little Richard’s “Here’s Little Richard.” He was 10 and fell in love with rock and roll.

He built a crystal radio and hung an antenna out his McLean, Virginia bedroom. Along came Beatlemania and an acoustic guitar. He replaced it with a Gibson Melody Maker, an amp, and some high school friends to become Fuzz, his first band.

He played rhythm guitar until the bassist’s parents removed the bassist from the band. Along comes bass player Bruce Clarke.

Fuzz morphed into Fantastic Plastic and great SAT scores helped get him into Columbia University.

Bruce Bruno Clarke Woodstock

Columbia

He wasn’t part of Columbia’s a Capella King’s Men, but when its members wanted to do a one-night doo wop show, Clarke became its bassist. The success of the show led to more than one night.

Late June, 1969, the newly minted Sha Na Na got a two-week late-night run at Steve Paul‘s Scene.   Who should stop by one night and happened to see this Sha Na Na? Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang. A late invitation followed.

According to a video interview,

…I just had this insane crazy good fortune to stumble into a phenomenon which turned into the group Sha Na Na which then became a successful rock act and played at Woodstock when we were three months old. 

In a Wild River Review piece, Clarke relates his story leaving Friday morning for Bethel, finally getting to the site, and experiencing the whole scene.

When they left the stage on Monday morning, Jimi Hendrix “…shook hands all around and, shaking mine, uttered the personal compliment I’ve tried to live by ever since: “You got soul, man.”

Bruce Bruno Clarke Woodstock

Jumps off

In that same video interview, Clarke says “...I did it for four years…I just happened to be there, caught the thing by the tail and took the ride.

I don’t really want to dedicate myself to more years on end, ready to go back, go to grad school, see what happens. So I did. I cut it loose.

Bruce Bruno Clarke Woodstock

Texas Tech

Bruce Bruno Clarke Woodstock

Bruce C Clarke currently teaches in the English department at Texas Tech in Lubbock, TX. According to the Department of English site at TT, “Bruce Clarke is Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Literature and Science in the Department of English at Texas Tech University. His research focuses on 19th- and 20th-century literature and science, with special interests in systems theory, narrative theory, and ecology. In 2010-11 he was Senior Fellow at the International Research Institute for Cultural Technologies and Media Philosophy, Bauhaus-University Weimar, and in Summer 2015 he was Senior Fellow at the Center for Literature and the Natural Sciences, Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg. He edits the book series Meaning Systems, published by Fordham University Press.”

It appears that his most recent book was the 2014 Neocybernetics and Narrative. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. His credited list of Special Issues, Book Reviews, Invited Presentations and Book Chapters in Print, Articles, Article Reviews, and Introductions is a long one as well as the awards list for research.

Bruce Bruno Clarke Woodstock
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Drummer Maury Baker

Drummer Maury Baker

Happy birthday
December 25
Drummer Maury Baker
Janis and Maury on the Dick Cavett Show

Broken wrist

Many are the paths that lead to becoming a musician. Maury Baker’s family was filled with musicians and that certainly set up his entrance, but falling and breaking his left wrist was the catalyst.

His father, Herbert (an Emmy Award winning writer with the Flip Wilson Show and the Danny Kaye Show) suggested to his son that the best way to recover his wrist’s strength was to drum.

Before he knew it, “I had my union card” is how Maury jokes.

Drummer Maury Baker

Ars Nova

In 1967, while attending the Mannes Conservatory in New York,  Electra Records signed Ars Nova, a band he played percussion as well as organ. Elektra producer Paul A. Rothchild called them “the most exciting thing since the Doors.”

Ars Nova were promoted by Life Magazine with a profile, but ironically by the time of the article, the band had broken up.

Drummer Maury Baker

Janis

He became part of Janis Joplin’s Kozmic Blues Band in 1969. He had been playing with Judy Collins and her road manager suggested the audition to Baker. He wasn’t a part of the whole album being recorded (I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!), but was part of the single Try from the album.

One of his fondest memories of playing with Janis was performing Try with her on the Dick Cavett Show in July 1969

He went on the road and that road led to Bethel, NY and the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. His biggest memory of the event is flying in a Sikorsky helicopter over the field. He said that the size of the crowd worried Janis, but he reassured her that it would not matter. That once she got up on the stage,  she’d just do her thing.

Drummer Maury Baker

Others

Being part of Janis’s inner circle gave Maury the opportunity to play with other names of those times, perhaps the most famous being Jimi Hendrix, who stopped by one night to jam with Zoot Money’s band.

Of course there are a “few” others listed at his site: Frank Zappa, Carlos Santana, George Duke, Ron Carter, David Benoit, Jimmy Haslip, Bunny Bunel, Johnny and Edgar Winter, Tom Jones, Jackson Browne, Steve Stills, Van Morrison, Seals & Croft, Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, Bobbie Gentry, Trini Lopez, R. B. Greaves, Albert Lee, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Robert E. Luna, Booker T. Jones, Tom Paxton, Bobbie Gentry, Theodore Bikel, Zoot Money, Dr. John, Scott LaFaro, Pepper Adams, David Amram, Lee Michaels, Miroslav Vitous, Henry Franklin, Theo Saunders, Nick Mancini, Michael Saucier, Otmaro Ruiz, Leslie King, Barbara Morrison, Leddie Garcia, Austin Peralta, Zane Musa, and many others.

He also composed music for film, TV, video games, and the Internet.

Drummer Maury Baker

Nowadays

Recently, Baker has worked with Opera NEO. It’s Facebook page states that, “Opera NEO strives to unlock the full potential of young singers while nurturing each individual’s artistic qualities and personality to help them develop into independent artists. We encourage individual thinking and creative decision making that will lead to professional and personal fulfillment.”

There are pictures of him working with NEO at his own Facebook page.

Drummer Maury Baker
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Kozmic Blues John Till

Kozmic Blues John Till

Kozmic Blues John Till
From Festival Express promo
Happy birthday
December 24, 1945

John Till was the guitarist in Janis Joplin’s Kozmic Blues Band at Woodstock. His path from Stratford, Ontario  to that famous Bethel stage is an interesting one because it includes some familiar names along the way.

Kozmic Blues John Till

Musical family

John Till was born into a musical family. His mother played piano and his father played  pretty much any stringed instrument.

In his AllMusic bio, Joe Viglione wrote of Till: “Till’s family never pushed him into music or forced him to take lessons. They told him years later that their philosophy was to just have the musical instruments “around” and to make sure there was lots of music to be heard in the house. Till describes his parents as being “totally supportive” when he showed an interest in playing music himself. His father taught him to play the four-string tenor guitar and banjo by ear, and also taught him the concept of improvisation — “taking off on the chords” — which is such a big part of Dixieland. They weren’t rich, but when he became interested in rock & roll around the age of 11, they managed to buy him his first electric guitar and amp.”

Kozmic Blues John Till

Bands

At Stratford Central High, John and a few classmates formed the Revols. One of the band mates was Richard Manuel.

John later became part of Larry Lee & the Leesures and Max Falcom and the Falcons. At one point, Till played with David Clayton-Thomas who would also be at Woodstock with Blood, Sweat and Tears.

When Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm left Ronnie Hawkins, new Hawks replaced them. One group of replacements included Richard Bell, Larry Alamniuk, and John Till. Those three would go on to become part of Janis’s last band, The Full Tilt Boogie Band, but John was with Janis before that.

Till can be heard on Hawkins’s 1967 single, “Home From the Forest.”

Kozmic Blues John Till

Who’s Janis Joplin?

John stayed with the Hawks until July 1969 when he replaced Sam Andrew in Janis’s Kozmic Blues Band.

It was after Janis abandoned the Kozmic Blues Band that she “created” the Full Tilt Boogie Band. The reason for qualifying the word create, is because the Full Tillt Boogie Band had actually begun as a side project of John Till and thus the double-L spelling of Tillt.

Kozmic Blues John Till
Till performing w Janis Joplin on the Dick Cavett Show

On January 19, 2018, the day that Janis would have been 75, John Till spoke on CBC radio about his time with Janis. Here are some of his observations:

  • before he joined the band, he’d never heard of Janis.
  • he wondered what he’d gotten himself into, but…
  • he realized her greatness when he first heard her live
  • he thought her performance at Woodstock was great because all the delays would have given her an excuse to slide
  • he thought Janis felt isolated at that point in her career and that that sense of isolation pushed her to the use of opioids
  • he said that she felt the Full Tilt Boogie Band was the perfect band and that “She’d be pissed if they ever left her.”
  • following the band tour and back in California recording her last album, Pearl, she would take out for dinner John, his wife Dorcus, and son Michael.
  • she made a purple necklace for Dorcus
  • the song, Buried Alive In the Blues was the only song on the album that she didn’t sing live with the band as she’d done with all the other cuts. The band recorded it separately. She never did record a vocal because she died before she could. It became an instrumental on the album.
  • the band was unaware of her opioid use.

Also regarding the Full Tilt band from a Wikipedia entry: Joplin and her management then hired Till, bass player Ken Kalmusky (also from Stratford, and who used the stage name “Ken Campbell”), as well as pianist Ken Pearson (from nearby Woodstock, Ontario), to fill out her new band, called Full Tilt Boogie. The band appeared on The Dick Cavett Show and were booked on the Festival Express which toured across Canada. The group recorded their classic Pearl album, which reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts in 1971, after Joplin’s death.

After Joplin’s death, and the subsequent breakup of Full Tilt Boogie, Till played with Bobby Charles, Bob Burchill and his ensemble in the Stratford apartments.

In the foreword of Love, Janis, Laura Joplin’s biography of her relationship with her famous sister, Till and his Stratford born wife, Dorcas, are thanked for providing some of the material for the book.

Kozmic Blues John Till

Lifer

Kozmic Blues John Till
John on left

After Janis’s death, John moved to Woodstock, NY and did sessions with Bobby Charles at the Bearsville studios. He returned to Canada in 1976. He continued playing and occasionally recording for other artists. He teaches guitar as well.

His current (last?) band is (was?) called B.W. Pawley & Plum Loco. Friend Ken Kalmusky  had been the band’s bass player until his death in the fall of 2005. John’s son Shawn now plays bass. Postings and comments on their Facebook page suggest that the group disbanded in June 2016.

Kozmic Blues John Till
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