Category Archives: Peace Love Art and Activism

Quill Roger North

Quill Roger North

Quill Roger North

If I asked for a show of hands if you’ve heard of the band Freak Mountain Ramblers,  my sense is I’d see few hands.

When doing tours at the Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, I always ask, “Who was the opening act on Saturday?” Most Woodstock fans know that Richie Havens famously opened the festival on day one  because of his famed impromptu composition, “Freedom,” but only the most obsessive Woodstock fans (yes, my hand is raised) know the name Quill.

I was there that Saturday afternoon when Quill opened day 2 and I took a picture. I wasn’t up close so I decided to put my borrowed binoculars up to the lens of my borrowed 35 mm camera and see what happened. This is what happened:

Quill Roger North

Quill Roger North

New England roots

The band  came out of New England, fertile grounds for musicians who became well-known far beyond that area: the J. Geils Band featuring Peter Wolf, Skunk Baxter (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Ultimate Spinach), Jim Hodder (Steely Dan), and others.

An excellent piece by Wade Lawrence, the Director & Sr. Curator at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Museum stated that “Brothers Jon and Dan Cole began performing their own songs around Boston in 1966, creating Quill in 1967 when they brought in keyboardist Phil Thayer and drummer Roger North from the band Catharsis (both classically trained musicians) and guitarist Norm Rogers from Morning Star Blues Band.”

Quill Roger North

Woodstock

Quill Roger North

Woodstock Ventures hired the band not just to play at Woodstock but to be good-will ambassadors playing music for free for the Bethel community and local “institutions” in the days leading up to the festival itself.

Unfortunately for the band, none of their 30 minutes set

  1. They Live the Life
  2. That’s How I Eat
  3. Driftin’
  4. Waitin’ for You

…make the album or movie. This shortened clip of “Waitin’ For You” shows the band’s great energy.

Such exposure could have done for them what that exact exposure did for Santana. Joe Cocker, and Sly.

Here’s their whole set (slide up to the 7.02 mark)

Cotillion Records released an album (Quill) but Jon left the band. A second album was recorded, but went unreleased.

Quill Roger North

North heads west

Following Quill’s breakup, north played with Odetta a bit and then with the Holy Modal Rounders–the west coast version.

He now lives in Portland, Oregon and currently plays in the Freak Mountain Ramblers.  A popular band that was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2018.

Quill Roger North

North Drums

Roger also designed North Drums which have a curved-shape to project the percussion toward the audience.

Quill Roger North

Though only manufactured between 1973 and the early 1980, the drums had developed a admirable following by such drummers and artists as Boz Scaggs, Alan White, Doug Clifford, Billy Cobham, Russ Kunkel, Joe English, and Gerald Brown.

Quill Roger North
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Dan Jon Cole Quill

Dan Jon Cole Quill

For no reason other than chance, the last two short bios I had to do for Woodstock performers were the brothers Dan and Joe Cole of Quill. Seeing the chance to save myself an hour, I decided to put the brothers together in one entry.

Thinking about it, there were four sets of performing siblings at Woodstock: Sly, Rosie, and Freddie Stone; Tom and John Fogerty; and Johnny and Edgar Winters.

Maybe I should give Dan and Jon separate entries after all. Later.

Dan Jon Cole Quill

Northfield Mount Hermon

According to a Boston archive articleThe brothers – Jon, born in 1947, is a year and a half older – attended prep school together at Northfield Mount Hermon [Gill, MA], where they effectively took over the school band. During his junior year Jon studied abroad, where his enthusiasm for American blues and roots music brought him a bit of celebrity in southern Germany.

Dan Jon Cole Quill

Ultimate Spinach

Dan Jon Cole Quill

Like the intent of many youthful plans, the direction shifted with time. Dan had begun college at Bard, but left to become an actor. Jon began studying art at the Boston Museum School. The brothers’ love of music continued and they had the opportunity to meet music manager Ray Paret (e.g., Ultimate Spinach) who with his partner David Jenks. introduced the Coles to Phil thayer, Norm Rogers, and Roger North.

Dan Jon Cole Quill

Quill born

Dan Jon Cole Quill

The band became well-known in New England clubs and eventually began to open for “name” acts who came to New England to play. They often played at Boston’s famed rock venue, the Boston Tea Party.

Paret arranged for the band to play for Woodstock Ventures’ Michael Lang at Steve Paul’s Scene in NYC.  They had had a gig in Cincinnati and nearly didn’t make it to New York because of foul weather.  After a flight detour that included a taxi from Philadelphia to New York, the band played.

In a New England Museum of Music article, Dan Cole said of the audition: It went by in a blur, but the upshot was that Michael liked us enough to invite us to play at the festival. We thought we had done well given all of the circumstances, but our drummer Roger North later told me he saw B.B. King in the audience giving us some dour looks over our (my) performance shenanigans. Oh well, Quill was not designed around the blues, even though we played some of that, too. A sidebar to the evening was that Johnny Winter had a promo party after our set and was short some sidemen, so he asked our rhythm section — Roger, my brother Jon (bass), Norm Rogers (guitar) and Phil Thayer (keyboards) — to sit-in and jam with him. Jimi Hendrix later joined them all on stage. It was an exciting day capped by an even more exciting evening, and another step in Quill’s journey.

Lang hired the band not only to perform at the festival but also to do a short “goodwill tour” of area prisons and mental institutions just prior to Woodstock.

Dan Jon Cole Quill

Woodstock

Quill opened the second day of Woodstock. It was a sunny afternoon and after their long walks to Max’s field, the throngs were ready. My memory is that Quill was fine.  Reading about the band today suggests that they were always better in a smaller venue where the crowd could more easily get into their set.

From the Boston archive article:

After the band’s set, a relieved Dan Cole drank some champagne with Grace Slick, congratulated members of Santana on their performance, and wandered for a while in the crowd. Late that night, he jumped in one of the helicopters for the return trip to the motel.

For Jon Cole, who had twin toddlers at home, backstage at Woodstock was no picnic. …he spent a little time with the Who’s Keith Moon and John Entwistle, whom he had befriended at a joint appearance the previous year at the old Boston Music Hall.

Dan Jon Cole Quill

Quill album

Cotillion Records signed the band to an album. They used the advance money to set up their own studio, an approach that other bands found more suitable because they could record at their own pace and with no time constraints. Of course, a DIY approach to recording might not work for a band unused to sound recording. Quill wasn’t and the album did not capture the band at its best.

They did record a second album, minus Jon, but Cotillion did not release it.

Dan Jon Cole Quill

Post Quill

Jon  had decided to become a recording engineer and eventually got out of the music business. He has lived in Hawaii and become a solar-energy expert.

Dan Cole worked as a business consultant after years as an executive with Sony’s professional audio-visual products division. He lives in Portland, Ore.

Dan Jon Cole Quill

Finally

In 2009 when Rhino Records released a six-disc box set “Woodstock: 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur’s Farm” the first two songs of the band’s four-song set were on it.

  • They Live The Life
  • That’s How I Eat
Dan Jon Cole Quill

Dancing Cat

In June 2018, a version of the band did play at the Dancing Cat Saloon in Bethel, NY, 1.2 miles (as the crow flies) or a 1.4 mile walk from the stage they performed on in 1969.

As Wade Lawrence, director of the Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts wroteThey may have only been a bar band from Boston, and the members of Quill may be ambivalent about their time together and their performance at Woodstock, but they made history on Saturday, August 16, 1969 as the first rock band to play at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

Dan Jon Cole Quill
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Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Walker’s “Improv in A-minor” live in the Bronson Caves Griffith Park, LA

When my son recommended that I listen to Karen Dalton, I didn’t realize how much I’d like her and (again) be disappointed with myself that I hadn’t known of her already.

As often happens, the “discovery” of one thing leads to another and Dalton led to Peter Walker, someone who was also part of the folk revival of the early 1960s.

With Peter Walker the wonderful thing is, beside his own peripatetic story, is how many other well-known 60s musicians he crossed paths with.

This little blog post isn’t meant to be a biography, but merely an overview. I will include several links in this piece if you’re interested in more.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Boston > San Francisco

Walker was born in Boston in 1938 into a musical family. His father played folk guitar, his mother a classical pianist. He didn’t play guitar in public until 1959, when he traveled to San Francisco.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Intersections

Here is an example of one of those musical intersections. In San Francisco, he taught some guitar to Jim Gurley who later became guitarist with Big Brother and the Holding Company.”

And it was there that Walker first heard Ravi Shankar play and became fascinated with raga.

Walker later he studied with Ravi Shankar (alongside George Harrison and Donovan–more intersections) and with sarad virtuoso Ali Akbar Khah.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Flamenco

A musician with his ears open to all sounds, Walker “discovered” flamenco. He traveled to Spain to learn. He found that the Indian raga and the flamenco had similarities.

In a Jennifer Kelly interview for the Dusted Features site, Walker said,  In both raga and flamenco, the music creates an effect. If you play a predetermined series of notes, it will have a predetermined effect. So it was the process of creating that effect that fascinated me,” he says. “You get a drone, you get a wall of sound going, and then you play melodies into it, which are entertaining or rhythmically changing.

Islam’s influence in both places also connects the styles.  Muslim conquerors in Delhi sent musician captives back to their outposts in Granada.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Timothy Leary

Another intersection was Timothy Leary.  In 1965, Timothy Leary felt that Walker’s music would dovetail nicely with the LSD experience and Walker became the music director at a the estate Leary rented in Millbrook, NY.

The site was 2,500 acres and included a 64-room Bavarian baroque mansion and gatehouse that wealthy William “Billy” Mellon Hitchcock (benefiting from a trust fund that in 1963 was giving him $15,000 a week) had bought for $500,000

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Rainy Day Raga

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Vanguard released Walker’s first album, Rainy Day Raga, in 1966.

Matthew Greenwald’s AllMusic review states, “Exploring a tonal range that would be best described as the perfect L.S.D. soundtrack, this album is a gentle, evocative affair, and often recalls some of the passages that Stephen Stills would use for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” among others. Aided by Dylan session veteran Bruce Langhorn on percussion (and by others as well), this is a fine document of a space in time when ragas were just becoming popular in Western music. In a certain way, Walker was a visionary, and this album shows it.”

Second Poem to Karmela or Gypsies Are Important album came out in 1968.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

FBI

As is too often the case, activists come under the undercover scrutiny of government agencies. In the aftermath of the Robert Kennedy assassination, Walker had volunteered to be the caretaker of the White House photo collection that that Jacques Lowe had done for the Kennedy family. At the same time, Walker was involved in the “Americans for Biafra Relief” committee formed by Ted Kennedy.

At one point, an overly ambitious agent looking to score some points planted drugs in the loft. Luckily, Walker found them (and flushed them) before anyone else did and Walker’s friendly connections vouched for his integrity when the planted accused Walker of the drug stash anyway.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

William Kunstler

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

In 1970, Walker was living (insert briefly again) in Detroit where he lived at the Garwood Mansion. He met radical lawyer William Kunstler who was in town to speak about in injustices of the American justice system, particularly as it related to the then-recently imprisoned John Sinclair who had been given a 10-year sentence for giving an undercover agent 2 joints.  (At the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Abbie Hoffman had famously bolted on stage during the Who’s set in an attempt to rouse the crowd to Sinclair’s cause.)

In 2013, Delmore Recording Society released Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms?, a album Walker had recorded in 1969, but “lost” for decades. Kunstler and Walker appear together on the album cover in a picture taken at Garwood Mansion.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Family

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Getting out of the counter-cultural limelight, Walker moved to Woodstock, NY. He married and began to raise a family. He left the traveling performance scene behind, only playing locally, particularly Ron Merians’s the Joyous Lake.

A “few” others played at the Joyous Lake as well…

Walker did not leave the learning scene, particularly the flamenco.

Jennifer Kelly again quoted Walker: So much of music is an expression of feeling. You tell a story with the music but you really, unless it’s an empty character study, it’s more about your feelings. Some guy in Mexico told me, ‘You make me feel the way you do when you play.’ Well, that’s part of the magic of it. That’s what makes it so worthy of pursuit, to be able to do that.

And traveling didn’t end. He designed campers for pick up trucks and with one drove through out the country and often into Mexico.

Using those same mechanical skills, at another point, he lived in Aspen, Colorado in charge of a taxi fleet.

When his children were school age, he moved to NYC. He also went to school and earned a paralegal certificate.

He went to Spain to continue to improve his guitar skills.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

2008

Fortunately for Walker, he was still alive forty years after his second album and Tompkins Square Records released his third album, Echo of My Soul. So many other “unknown” master guitarists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho had died.

Pat Sullivan’s AllMusic review said that the album “… represents a break with the eastern influences of Walker’s ‘60’s output and heralds his latest obsession with flamenco. With the same dedication he brought to earlier collaborations with Ravi Shankar, the New Yorker has immersed himself in the Spanish guitar idiom and has come to be accepted by its vanguard musicians. This new-found mastery resonates throughout ECHOES OF MY SOUL, a beautifully played opus perfect for any fan of flamenco or avant acoustic music.”

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Karen Dalton/2015

As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was Karen Dalton’s story that led me to Peter Walker. They had met in Greenwich Village. Dalton’s story is a sad one.  One that ended with her dying of AIDS, but being cared for by Peter Walker at his Woodstock, NY home in  1993.

Dalton gave Walker intellectual property rights, among which was Dalton’s books of lyrics, which was also stuffed with illustrations. It took a long time before her writings found voices, but in 2015 Tompkins Square Records released Remembering Mountains. On it several songwriters put Dalton’s haunting words to music.

Walker wrote the liner notes.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker

Catastrophe

On October 22, 2018 fire destroyed Walker’s home, the Ark. Despite trying to rescue his dog (and nearly dying in the attempt), the dog died. The fire destroyed all his belongings including guitars and memorabilia.

Investigators determined an overturned candle caused the fire.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist Walker.

Unknown Legend Peter Walker
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