AN INTERVIEW WITH DEE POP THAT MOSTLY DISCUSSES THE LONG-RUNNING (AND SOON TO BE TERMINATED) FREESTYLE JAZZ SERIES AT THE CBGB LOUNGE THAT HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR OVER THREE YEARS ALREADY AND IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT THEN EITHER YOU HAVEN'T BEEN PAYING CLOSE ENOUGH ATTENTION TO THIS BLOG OR YOU'RE TOO BUSY WATCHING SHAUN OF THE DEAD FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME ALREADY YOU INBRED MARSUPIAL YOU!!!
Dee Pop is not only a man, he is an enigma and I'm not using the term in some trite and cliched fanspew way like too many self-important rockscribbles have o'er the past twentysome years either. Not only is Pop a drummer for the legendary post-no wave group the Bush Tetras (also featuring ex-Contortions Pat Place and ex-Clevelander/Tender Buttons [w/CLE editor Jim Ellis and Andrew "brother to Jamie" Klimek] Laura Kennedy) and a band I must confess that I never had much of a liking for, but he has been involved in a load of other musical endeavors for a longer time than any of us can imagine. This includes not only his soon-to-be-86'd tenure as the "curator" for the "Freestyle Jazz/Avant Garde Musics/Deformed Blues" series that have been taking place at the CBGB Lounge for a good three-plus years, but his role as a drummer for a variety of avant garde jazz groups including many I've written about in these webpages, such as Freedomland, the Hanuman Sextet and a duo with pianist Borah Bergman (and that's not counting his "sit ins" with various ad hoc groups either!). Search out this blog (too lazy to link anything up!) for more informative and entertaining musings on such acts as these and others who have appeared at the Lounge's Sunday Night (and for a time Wednesdays as well!) series which I gotta say has been the highlights of my CBGB cybercast viewing for many a moon. (By the way, the Bush Tetras will be playing at the Save CBGB's series of concerts happening throughout August and September in case you're interested in seeing Pop working with his old group again.) He's also drumming for the Annabelle Chongs who Pop describes as a Velvets-styled aggregate which sounds tasty albeit given my distaste for most of the post 1970s bands clinging to a Velvets credo I'm not entirely sold on the idea of giving them a listen...yet, that is. And to top that off I caught him behind the skins in some r&b group that played the CB's 313 Gallery a few months back. To put it mildly, Dee Pop is a busy person, but at least what he's busy at is something that only you or I could dream of.
This interview was slated to have appeared in the next issue (#26) of BLACK TO COMM, but given how that magazine may be years away from fruitation thanks to a load of adverse publicity and truth-twisting on the part of a few fair-weather blogsters, who knows when, or if the magazine will see the light of day. But enough self-pity...anyway, since this interview is more or less time sensitive given the series finale is this Sunday night and better you read about Dee Pop's hard work and stomach-churning efforts to keep these shows on the road before it's all history and we're merely reminiscing like we tend to do too much of these days, I've decided to give you all a look-see at my exclusive cybergab with Pop now rather'n the distant future. And hey, maybe if CBGB somehow overcomes their landlord hassles and continue on indefinitely, this series will be reinstated and there will be a NEW batch of freestyle gigs with the same greats that Pop introduced me to (Dom Minasi, Matana Roberts...) returning for even more Sunday evening jamz! (Which would be gosharootie because, y'see, I envisioned enclosing a CD with the next issue featuring the best of this series, considering I know that it's this free jazz/funk trip that's the true end-point in the punk continuum but who knows...) Anyway, enough musing, here's the deal as to what transpired between me and Dee...
BLACK TO COMM: OK, first question...how did you start booking avant garde jazz at the CBGB Lounge anyway?
DEE POP: Somewhere around '98, I was just finishing up another chapter of the Bush Tetras. We had just completed two years of "reunion" gigs and new recordings. We released one CD on Tim Kerr/Mercury produced by Nona Hendryx and recorded a second produced by Don Fleming, which has still not seen the light of day. When Seagrams Corporation bought Polygram about two-hundred artists were dropped at a hat. We were one and I was glad. One of my reactions to this was to turn my back completely on playing music that had anything to do with getting a record contract on a major label, and I suppose I turned my back on guitars and vocals and volume for awhile. I wanted to explore playing with other instruments, I didn't want to be tied to the 4/4 time signature any more. I wanted outpouring of raw emotion instead of calculated risk. Enough drama here. Jazz was also a forum of music I loved but never gotta a chance to play. Let's jump ahead a second.
Across the street from my day gig was a small place called the Internet Cafe. It booked "downtown" type jazz. Not really straight ahead but not totally out either. When Hayes Greenfield, the saxophonist who dealt with the bookings, decided to move on I immediately signed on. For me it was a chance to meet and play with that world of musicians. People like Tim Berne, Roy Campbell, Dave Sewelson, Hayes Greenfield, Mark Hellas, Ellery Eskelin. And I got to see a lot of great drummers like Rashid Ali, Walter Perkins, Brian Blade, Barry Altshul, Tom Rainey and Franklin Kiermeyer from two feet away. And I met DANIEL CARTER!!! He was my link, he was on the first gig I was ever on that could be termed "jazz." I had never met him before and I was expecting someone to come in talking about Ayler or Coltrane or some other stereotypical racial profiling crap. Instead I overheard him talking about old school hardcore punk bands like Agnostic Front, Kraut and others that would let him join them onstage. This was wild to me, and it made me feel like I could join this world and bridge it to my own roots. I booked the Internet for about three years. One group had two sets seven days a week. When it finally died due to volume complaints and also the owner's own stupidity, I beelined over to CBGB's where I have run a series on Sunday evenings for a little over three years now.
BTC: How did you manage to convince the people at CBGB to give you Sunday nights for free music? It seems like a wild gamble for a club like the Lounge...was it?
DP: I first played CBGB's in 1977, so I go back with the club. My first wife (Deerfrance) was probably their first door person as well as someone who performed early on in the club's history (with John Cale). Recently I told owner Hilly Kristal that I may have played the club more times than any other individual throughout the course of the club's history. I'm pretty sure this is the case.
Let's also remember that before CBGB's was known as a punk club, Hilly was trying to actually book other types of music. Hilly also used to work at the Village Vanguard when Coltrane, Miles and all of the greats were there, so the jazz is in his blood. He is actually very supportive, and while my Sunday Series does not exactly draw huge numbers it does give the club an added prestige (not sure if that's the word) of sorts. Presenting music on Sundays allows me to NOT have to play the numbers game. I can present music based on quality, not quantity or popularity. And when I do have a great crowd, it's just gravy.
BTC: I wasn't aware of you being in any groups before the Bush Tetras. Care to divulge information regarding any earlier rock & roll activity?
DP: I went to the University of Buffalo in the later seventies. There I was in a band called the Good. It was led by fanzine writer Bernard Kugel and later featured a very young fan named Vincent Gallo. Also in Buffalo I was in a group called the Secrets who were probably Buffalo's first "punk" band. When I moved back to New York City I played in a couple of things that never got off the ground. Then I joined a band fronted by ex-Eraser and then-Richard Hell girlfriend Susan Springfield. That band was called Desire (really bad name). That band played a bunch of cool gigs. One bill included the early Thurston Moore band called the Coachmen and another gig was a double bill with Danny Kalb of Blues Project fame. Somewhere before the band broke up I was already fooling around, jamming with a friend of mine named Jimmy Joe Ullanna. He was an original member of the Bush Tetras (probably before it was even named). He also played on the Gun Club record I was on. Hmmmm, I can't think of too many others though I might have missed something in there.
I also wrote reviews and did interviews for THE NEW YORK ROCKER, CREEM, a bunch of fanzines, a Warner Brothers in-house magazine, THE BUFFALO EVENING NEWS, and other crap.
BTC: Can you tell me a little more about your writing career and just who and what you were writing about?
DP: Oh God, my writing career was short. In college, I thought I wanted to be a writer/journalist, but straight journalism was boring to me. Reading Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer, Hunter S. Thompson and a few others probably had a hand in that. Since I was heavily into music, "rock" journalism seemed like the natural solution. I was the editor of my college newspaper so I got to write a lot of record reviews and do many interviews. Some of the latter included very early interviews with the Clash (a few times), Damned, Elvis Costello, Vivienne Westwood, Stranglers, Richard Hell, Zantees, Screamers, Frank Zappa (I really don't like his music that much but he was quite the character!), the Ramones (many many times), Dictators, Mink DeVille, Patti Smith Group, Television, Talking Heads, Mickey Dolenz, Dion, Cher and Gregg Allman (that was a good one!) and more that I can't remember. This writing spread over to other magazines and stuff. It was fun. I moved back to New York City with the intention of making a career, but music making somehow took over.
BTC: Interesting. You did mention working with Bernie Kugel...is there anything special you can tell us about him?
DP: I met Bernie in Buffalo. He's originally from Brooklyn. I'm from Forest Hills which is in Queens. I'm not sure exactly how we met and I'm not sure exactly why we hung out together because initially it didn't seem like we had much in common. He was putting out a fanzine called BIG STAR and he let me write for it. And then we started playing music together. He started a band called the Good, which went through many line-ups and later evolved into the Mystic Eyes. He moved back to New York eventually and then returned up there to live for good in the late nineties. I know his wife was from there. He is a good guy.
BTC: Have you had any difficulty getting talent for Sunday nights?
DP: These are some of the people that have performed: Tom Abbs, Steve Swell, Daniel Carter, Ben Monder Group, Theo Blackman, Little Annie, James Chance, Sabir Mateen, Roy Campbell, Steve Lehman, Kevin Norton, Tony Malaby, Freedomland featuring David Sewelson, Daniel Carter, William Parker, David Hofstra and Dee Pop, Jameel Moondoc, Chad Taylor, Bill McHenry, Reid Anderson, Jackson Krall, Matana Roberts, Ty Braxton, Assif Tsahar, Matt Wilson, Cooper Moore, Other Dimensions in Music, Hanuman Quintet, Peter Kowalski, Rob Brown, Okkyung Lee, Jay Rosen, Louie Belogenis, Dom Minasi, John Abercrombie, Milford Graves, William Parker, Peter Brotzman, Joe McPhee, Joe Giardullo, Felice Rosser, Gold Sparkle Trio, Lukas Ligetti, Jack Wright, Bern Nix, Matt Maneri, Ori Kaplan, George Garzone, John Lindberg, Gerry Hemmingway, Mark Helias, Billy Bang, Butch Morris, Frank Lowe, Pheeroan Aklaff, Tim Berne, No Neck Blues Band, William Parker's Little Huey Orchestra, Lewis Barnes, Calvin Weston's Big Tree, John Sinclair, Ron Anderson, Wilber Morris, Thomas Ulrich, Whit Dickey, Rob Brown, Joe Morris, John Hollenbeck, Oliver Lake, Craig Taborn, Raphe Malik, Leena Conquest, Oluyemi Thomas, Perry Robinson, Mark Whitcage, Test, Trevor Dunn, Tom Rainey, William Hooker, Tim Barnes, Gregg Bendian, Rodney Green, Greg Osby, Open Loose, Anton Fier, Wilbo Wright, Paul Smoker, Billy Mintz, Jim Black, Eddie Gale, Kevin Norton, Izitiz, Sonny Simmons, Abdoulaye N'Diaye, Ravi Coltrane, Sunny Murray, Barry Altschul, Mario Pavone, Mary Halverson, Al Foster, Greg Tardy, Borah Bergman, Joseph Jarman, James Finn, Dominic Duval, Warren Smith, Burton Greene, Lou Grassi, Art Lewis, Ellery Eskelin, Gunter Hampel, Perry Robinson, Paraphrase, Sirone, Charles Gayle, Gary Lucas, Ernie Brooks, Idiophonic, Andrew Lamb...
I hope that answers your question.
BTC: That sure does answer my question...I'll bet you get a thrill being in contact with some of the creme-de-la-avant garde musicians of the past and present (you know what I mean!)...
DP: It's a thrill when I get to play with some of them. I studied with Milford Graves for a minute and that was EXTREMELY interesting. For the most part all the musicians are very down to earth individuals. Perhaps sometimes a little nutty, but usually very nice.
BTC: Great. What rock band are you now playing in anyways?
DP: The Annabel Chongs (named after the porn person).
BTC: Any releases planned, like a LIVE CB'S LOUNGE FREESTYLE JAZZ CD series?
DP: If I had an assistant or someone to help me, I would organize a CD-R sampler for giveaway each month. It was something I've toyed with when Rent Control was more active. Now I just don't think I can find the time or expenses to do it. There have been at least four live CDs from the series.
BTC: Final question...what does the future hold in store for the Freestyle Series? I've heard all the stories about CBGB's imminent demise and was wondering what plans if any are being made. (NOTE: this question dates from last May and since then we've known more [at least in some ways] as to what "the future holds in store for the Freestyle Series," mainly nothing unless the club is granted a new lease and the series miraculously continues on somehow...)
DP: That's a tough one. First off, I wouldn't make a money bet on it closing. Hilly Kristel has weathered a lot of storms, this time may be more drastic but I think a lot of support will be shown in the near future.
If not...well. I could retire from this stupidity, or I can bounce to the next station in life. I've never really planned anything as far as my music activities go. I have ideas and things I would like to do but mostly it's all just one big improv. Things I would consider...joining Bob Dylan's touring band, having the Hanuman Sextet become a full-fledged group i.e. having the group play elsewhere besides CBGB's and finally do a studio recording or two, putting together some sort of weird improv dub bluegrass thing and joining the circus.
As far as promoting more "jazz" music in New York...if CB's does go down, I might have had my fill. To tell you the truth there are quite a few days where I wake up very disenchanted by the whole thing. I can vent on this subject if allowed. I certainly debate the subject enough. Jazz, as a genre, shows the most limited rewards.
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