Saturday, July 21, 2018


BLACK TO COMM-How does it feel to finally get some substantial recognition as an important player in local rock after all these years?

OTTO VON RUGGINS-I’m not sure about the substantial recognition. The best response I have received is for our Parallel Universe video about which someone wrote the following -

ʇɥıs ıs ɥngǝ, ɐɯɐzıug ʍoɹʞ ɐup ʇɥɐuʞs ɟoɹ ǝxısʇıug!

It is truly remarkable that someone would not only say something so complimentary, but actually take the time to make a statement in the process. When you get this kind of feedback from a fan, that’s when there is confirmation that you are being appreciated. We know we have something very special and unique to offer to the music world. There have been some other reviews that are gratifying, but nothing as profound as that quote and the way it was delivered. I was recently mentioned in the book NEW YORK ROCK by Steven Blush, but he got a lot of facts wrong about Kongress and myself. He called me a warlock and it was disturbing to think that’s the best he could come up with. Yes, I once included the ‘666’ numbers in my moniker, but it also stated, 'Savior of the Musick World'. I was trying to get God and the Devil to make Peace - crazy as that sounds! It kind of reminds me of an old lyric I wrote that seems to have missed its moment - it was for a song titled Pisces Age and included some personal observations about recognition -

Wires, people are bugging me
And I believe ant eyes are watching me
It’s a small world when everybody knows you
n fact you outgrow it, too
That is until you meet someone new
But meanwhile what do I do
I like to be by myself alone without a phone
I read the books on my shelf in my jail I get no mail
There are too many people, but there’s not enough like me
Everybody’s simple, there’s no more mystery

Don’t look back to what I once was
Pictures of me show just what time does
And all the words are written before I can see
How little everybody understands me
I don’t like to be misunderstood
But as long as no one really knows me, that’s just as good
Just as well, no one can tell
Just as fine the lion’s dynasty
Is locked in a cage
It’s the Pisces Age

Talk about getting it wrong, this song was written in part because I was tired of hearing people claim it was the Age of Aquarius, but when I wrote it back in the 1980s, it was still technically the Pisces Age! VON LMO is a Pisces. my Moon is in Pisces and the words are probably indicative of why we get along so well - we’re not simple people and we have so much of a story to tell that yet remains untold (a mystery)!

BTC-But isn't your lot in life much better now...better tables at restaurants and invitations to cocktail parties and such?

OvR-Here’s the reality. I get my invitations by asking for them for the work I do as a Public Access Television Producer. I have the longest running show in Brooklyn, NY - close to 30 years showcasing the likes of Timothy Leary, Ray Kurzweil and plenty of musical acts that I’ve taped, such as Sean Bonniwell of The Music Machine, The Electric Prunes, The Creation, Eric Burdon, members of The Yardbirds with Giorgio Gomelsky and The Zombies, to name a few. My biggest coup was being comped to attend an Apple event at the NYC Marriott Marquis where I got the great Apple bag with their logo and the words ‘Think Different’. I met with Peter Gabriel and reminded him how many years prior I had spoke with him when he had just left Genesis. He was like a lost soul, talking about maybe joining a commune in South America or hooking up with Arthur Brown, who I had seen while in London, which gave me another vantage point. I was waiting to see him at his manager’s office and an old friend of his showed up, Skripto, who was another lost soul, only he hadn’t made it. He was telling Arthur he needed his help, as he was 30 years old and he had to "leave his mark”! Talk about recognition, here were two lost souls, one who had made it to the top, Peter Gabriel, and an unknown who hadn’t - both with different views of the ladder to stardom.

I teach the History of Rock and Roll using Little Steven (Van Zandt’s) curriculum @ at a local high school five minutes from my home. I’m one of eleven pilot teachers he chose in the entire country and I feel very blessed to get paid to play the music I grew up with. I remember Little Steven at The Electric Prunes concert in Williamsburg back in 2001 stating to vocalist James Lowe’s son that he had to carry the torch as the ‘60s was the greatest decade - he described it as the Renaissance Period. I have to agree - it was the only time in the history of rock and roll when the music changed the culture - getting a President (Johnson) not to run because of war protests and helping through marches and music to get civil rights legislation passed.

As for me, I don’t even have a cell phone and don’t want one. Nobody can track me, though I don’t venture very far from my home, as I love my house and studio in my basement. So, getting back to your supposition, that I get better tables at restaurants, it’s more because when I do go out, I have great conversations with the owner of the Indian Restaurant and he remembers me. I don’t need a psychiatrist to understand why, as it all stems from an incident in kindergarten when I was imitating a cat behind another student’s chair. She raised her hand and told the teacher what I was up to and the teacher told the class to “just ignore him!” Ever since then, I have been working on getting people to not ignore me. That’s why I am still ‘unheard øf’!

BTC-Speaking of Peter Gabriel, didn't you see Genesis during your honeymoon in London?

OvR-Yes, you remembered my mentioning this about it being on our honeymoon.I had only heard one song by Genesis at the time - The Knife - and they didn’t even play it. The show was at The Lyceum in London and my wife and I agreed it was one of the greatest concerts we ever witnessed. The opening act was Van der Graaf Generator and they were OK - a bit noisy, which I didn’t appreciate back then. So, what was so impressive about the Genesis performance was that we didn’t know any of the material they played and it sounded so great. Gabriel was wearing these outrageous costumes and he made changes throughout the show, but he also was reciting a prelude to each song, letting the audience know what it was about. It was truly jaw-dropping how special it was. We invited friends to see them on their first American appearance in New York @ Avery Fisher Hall and they had technical problems that made them appear ‘human’! It wasn’t as impressive, so that made the first show that much more incredible.

BTC-So your tastes would somewhat veer towards the "esoteric"?

OvR-I believe that word is one of many that could describe my taste. I know I had a lyric somewhere that went ‘esoteric erotica’ and one of my other songs - "Bebob Dada Debutante" - has the lyrical refrain “erotic, exotic, eclectic, enigmatic’, but no ‘esoteric' there!

BTC-But your influences do span many rock styles, not to mention genres for that matter.

OvR-I look back and, while I started with a Vox Continental Organ that I bought with a Powersonic Amp from Sam Ash (the louder I played the brighter the lightning bolt on the amp lit up - I was always looking for something visual to combine with sound and lyrics), I eventually bought a Hammond L with a Leslie that I played mostly in my basement, but took out once when we were doing British invasion material, which included Small Faces, Spencer Davis (Gimme Some Lovin’), but I had the Vox along for The Animals, Yardbirds, Who and my originals - the group was Christmas in July - in honor of my birthday, as I was born July 24th on a leap year, so it was really the 25th three out of every four years! I played the bass solo to My Generation on my Hammond, backwards, leaning over it from the front and because my Vox didn’t respond for that song, I eventually picked it up and flung it off stage. I was karmically rewarded when I left it at a loft and it was stolen. Amazingly, the Hammond found a place during my love of Procol Harum and The Nice, which led me to take a complete stranger who was in the House of Oldies in the Village buying the Ultimate Spinach album back home to turn him on to Procol and he was blown away by them and my Hammond playing, so much so, that when he went away to college in Oklahoma, he left me his Farfisa Duo Compact organ, which replaced my stolen Vox! Later he returned with his own built synthesizer before I even had one and we were Funeral of Art for two nights at Bananafish Park, a club in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. There exist some impressive tapes of one set of all original songs which were improvised to with me singing.

So, yes, there were many phases I’ve been through, all of those pre-synthesizer, but by 1974, I bought my first synth, an Electrocomp 101, which was duo phonic, while the Moog & Arp were monophonic, so I got to play much more sound than other synths back then. I’ve still got an album worth of improvisations from the first month in a 16 track studio that was miked with just a few in the room, which led to tracks bleeding and the title Blood Transfusions - two incredible 15 minute pieces with a guitar synthesist (Buchla home made job) and a female electric Violinist named Wilden King from Texas who appeared on the session and then disappeared. I was playing Farfisa and my 101 - or rather the 101 was playing me! By 1976 VON LMO and I were playing together again, after going to England in 1970 and making some tapes under the name Funeral of Art, before the gig in Bay Ridge. Congress was usually a trio with a guitar and no bass, but VON was playing lead drums! He’s truly one of the greatest drummers of all time that I have ever played with. We were eventually reduced to a duo and Hilly told us to find another place to rehearse, and then we found a home at Max’s Kansas City where Peter Crowley introduced me to pictures of Geofrey Crozier and I told him I wanted to play soundtracks to his performances, which we went on to do.

BTC-How did you and LMO meet up anyway?

OvR-I had heard about a character named Simon Waterhouse who played drums like Ginger Baker. Somehow, I arranged for him to meet me by my father’s Sign Shop. The day he showed up I was chasing a butterfly without a net. Instead, I caught the person who would later become Fritz London and then VON LMO! We made plans to get together to play in the future. I had a band and one night I went to the Village Theater with my drummer, Joseph Alexander who became the drummer of The Koala. We met Simon Waterhouse walking out from backstage, as we were going there ourselves. Security back then was pretty much non-existent. That night The Vagrants, who I would later play Hammond Organ with for a month, were opening for The Who and Tiny Tim was making his debut entertaining in between sets. He told us he had he had just challenged Keith Moon to a drum battle. I wasn’t sure what to believe, but then, when I got backstage, Roger Mansour, the drummer of The Vagrants confirmed the story by relating how some character had just been there and challenged Keith Moon to a drum war! From then on, I knew to take VON seriously.

I recorded him at his basement doing a version of Toad’s drum solo. Very impressive. Later we recorded some songs ideas I had - a song "Death Sun" that was straight out of Hendrix territory. I believe our first gig together was at Bishop Ford High School. We did a mixture of originals and a Who song and one by Procol Harum. Eventually, we went by the name Funeral of Art. I had ideas of playing inside a giant computerized box onstage which would have cameras inside being projected onto a huge screen outside the box with all kinds of video/computerized distortions processing the live activity inside, which might have been somewhat compromising (in my mind). While that was a bit too much of a fantasy that the world’s technology would need to catch up to, I came up with another brainstorm - following the name of the band, I suggested that we get rich people to donate their art (like Picasso’s Three Musicians) to us so we could make a statement by burning it onstage inside a giant cauldron. This, though also a very appropriate idea, never materialized. Our plan was to make copies of the art and burn them while we kept the originals. It’s probably a good thing that we never were able to make it happen, as we would have been scorned as hypocrites, though the idea, had it become reality, would have been ingenious in making us rich. Eventually, we went off to England in 1970 as Funeral of Art leaving the day after Hendrix died, which was a strange coincidence, as we were trying to follow his career path of going to London to make a name for ourselves. What was also a strange connection was that about 10 years after our cauldron idea, Geofrey Crozier showed up from the Land of Oz and fronted our band Kongress with a cauldron onstage for his ceremonies that we played our very special sounds to. I am working on getting some of those treasures released on vinyl with Byron Coley. It would be a rare chance for fans to hear VON LMO at his best playing lead drums.

Meanwhile, back in London we went into a studio and recorded eight demos, six of my songs and two of VON’s. It was sort of a mix of Procol Harum, The Yardbirds and our own sound, with David Knights of Procol Harum attending the sessions. He came back to us with word that record companies were wondering why we came to England, as they couldn’t sign us if we couldn’t live in the country. At the same time, we received a phone call from Mike Appel, who eventually became Bruce Springsteen’s manager for awhile. He was recording Sir Lord Baltimore, who Joey Alexander also played drums with. He asked us what we were doing over there and claimed we were highly recommended, telling us to come back to New York, implying he would sign us. When he heard the demos at my parent’s home, his reaction was, “Where’s the riffs?” He passed on it, but we didn’t come home just because of his offer. We had exhausted our visas and run out of money. When we got home, there was disappointment that we hadn’t been successful in getting signed so VON started his own band Pumpo and then later Red Transistor and the VON LMO Band. We got back together for Kongress in between and then reunited in 2010 to start Avant Duel.

BTC-OK---can you tell me about some of your other early musical acts...and how about the Vagrants while you're at it?

OvR-As I mentioned, I became friendly with Roger Mansour, the drummer of The Vagrants. Eventually, Leslie West and his brother Larry, who played bass, left along with their organist Jeremy Storch. They began looking to replace them and I was invited down to audition. They were won over by my playing and songwriting. Tommy Cosgrove joined on guitar with a Stevie Winwood type voice, which was perfect for the songs I had written. Then they added Stu Woods on bass and we didn’t hit it off, so within a month or so, I was gone, but not before we played between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at the high school where I currently teach The History of Rock and Roll, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Brooklyn. I got paid $100 for the performance in 1968. We also made it into a studio on 57th Street in NY and recorded some three songs - one by Cosgrove titled ‘Everybody in the Congregation’ - and two of mine ‘Moon of the Black Magician’ and ‘Drink It’. Eddie Kramer of Hendrix fame produced them, but I never got copies of the tracks.

A brief sample of the lyric from the first song follows -

I have journeyed from Zanzibar
To the Palace where Caviar
Is a Legend
And Magicians
Seek out the Sacred Star

Let me sing my song to you
I was chained in a dungeon in Kalamazoo
A Priest in Black came and said “You feel alright?”
I said, “I feel like the Man in the Moon!”

He said, “Look through the keyhole”
So I looked through the keyhole
There was a fire outside and all the free people died
While I’m living here in chains...

It had a sort of Arthur Brown (Vincent Crane) organ riff. In recent years I ran into Eddie Kramer doing a software demo for his Waves Plug-in and questioned him about those old tapes, but he didn’t know what happened to them. Too bad. I need to get in contact with Tommy Cosgrove to see if he has any clue, as his song was involved, too.

BTC-Funeral of Art came directly after?

OvR-Funeral of Art was a concept name that I went to after my vainglorious Christmas in July which was based around my birthday - July 24th on a leap year, meaning three of every four years, my birthday really was July 25th! It began as an idea when I met Fritz London (I was known as Denver Ruggins back then, due to my wife to be having an infatuation with Denny Peyton of The Dave Clark Five on whose back she jumped while he was going through the revolving doors at the Warwick Hotel in NY during the height of the early British Invasion madness. It was before The Vagrants actually, as I put it on hold when I joined them for a few months, counting rehearsals. We used it for real when we went to London back in 1970 and did those legendary demos. As I indicated, when we came back from England, VON (Fritz) and I went our separate ways for while. I then played those two nights at Banana Fish Park in Bay Ridge Brooklyn with a Tombstone painted and the dates of the two nights - one set as the born date and the other as the died date,as the band was just playing for the first and only time together. We even did a song titled Tombstoned which went into Moon Bridge. There was even one called Christmas in July! Others included World War 9,999,999, UFO to Pluto, Fools Duel and a few more. A tape exists! That was 1973 and, as I mentioned, we did this amazing jam with me on a B3 organ, VON on drums, Sal Maida on bass and Rodentius Grok on guitar. This was all improv with no vocals and it was captured on cassette that is a precious documentation of how great we could play at the drop of a hat. One might include these tracks as Funeral of Art material. If you have Dropbox, I can drop a few in there. Let me know...

BTC-Sorry, don't have a dropbox! Hey, you mentioned Sal Maida. He seems to have skimmed over a whole lot of his Funeral of Art experiences in his autobiography. Anything interesting you have to say about him?

OvR-Sal Maida was our first son! He let us stay at his flat for two memorable nights when we arrived on our honeymoon, as we spent the first night at a hotel that wasn’t to our liking. Then we got our own garden apartment rental that gave him a place to stay for his last night(s?) before he left for the states and we dubbed him our son. I haven’t read his book, but if he had nothing positive to say about our London sessions, perhaps that tells us what an elitist he became to forget that improv at Rossi Studios which was probably some of the best playing he doesn’t know he played, as he’s never heard that tape!

BTC-Too bad, Any interesting things to say about Rudolph Grey?

OvR-Yes, but getting back to VON, when I told him that, I guess he felt free to announce to me that he is working on a new VON LMO album with a guitarist that I know - Paul LaPlaca, a wonderful and talented guy. That’s great news for VON LMO fans all over the world, who similarly have been forced to pay exorbitant fees to get his past recordings, while VON receives nothing from these sales. He has asked me to play on some of the tracks and I am excited to oblige when the opportunity presents itself. I haven’t told Rudolph yet. We are still in periodic contact and I try to keep him abreast to whatever I read from my many sources that provide me with items of interest that I know would appeal to him. We haven’t seen each other in years, but we have developed a steadfast friendship over time that keeps us up to date about the music world we both inhabit. Years back he asked me to salvage a recording he had of the great avant-garde saxophonist Arthur Doyle. I was able to raise the paltry volume levels of the live recording without increasing any hum or hiss levels, thanks to my professional arsenal of software processing options that I have been piecing together in my basement studio.

Rudolph and VON, who were once inseparable, teamed up to walk out of a rehearsal studio on me in Queens. VON was playing drums and George Antoine Georgie, the Hendrix sounding guitarist on that Wizards of Oz track that was released - Eyes of the Witness - was on guitar while Rodentius Grok (first Kongress guitarist) watched on. He hadn’t picked up a guitar since he took acid in a closet after being spurned by his idol, Frank Zappa, in a face to face meeting that sent him off the rails. I had told VON of my plans to release an album called Poe Pain, with the cover being an album sized picture of the three cents stamp issued by the US Post Office back in 1949 of Edgar Allan Poe, commemorating the 100th anniversary of his death! How bizarre is that, as a commemorative issue is usually for the anniversary of someone’s birth or the release of their most prestigious work…?

Anyway, it was to have a cancellation across the stamp with the word ‘PAIN’ on it! It may still be released someday, but back then, VON got up and walked out declaring I was a plagiarist and that I should, “Leave Poe alone!” The story didn’t end there, as George gave up his guitar and sat in on drums, while Grok picked up the guitar for the first time in years and began playing to one of my classic songs that he had this infectious riff to - Tombstoned - which I wrote inspired by the presence of a frog in my basement. It was a breakthrough moment and got Grok back into the flow of playing again. This was after we had made that improvisation recording with Sal Maida at Rossi Studios. I also remember hearing VON on the train that day trying to convince the other two players that, ”We don’t need Otto on the keyboards…” We have had our differences through the years, but VON will always have a place in my heart as a partner in extending the boundaries. He got me to go beyond my usual borders and explore sounds I never would have created without his influence. That said, I can lay claim to making some overtures in those directions on my own with my first synthesizer, the Electrocomp EML 101 which had the serial number ‘667’ (they didn’t make a #1. so it was indeed the 666th)! The Blood Transfusions recordings and my first solo synth recordings that were supposed to be played at The Star Trek Convention in 1975 at The Commodore Hotel are proof of my own deep space explorations. Unfortunately, I was to perform at the Masquerade Ball in the Grand Ballroom, but when I was informed that I couldn’t play, as someone had counterfeited 1000 tickets, I managed to get paid $100 not to perform. They indeed behaved more like Klingons in their refusal to let me go on. The irony of this is it fits neatly into the narrative that VON and I had setup for ourselves - him being Kirk and me being Spock!

BTC-The influence of German Expressionist Rock on your music is rather vivid. Care to elaborate?

OvR-I changed my name along the way, due to the influence of Poe (again) and Amon Düül II. I wanted to keep the ‘Ruggins’ but turned it Teutonic with the Otto von, as I was so deep into Amon Düül II that I wrote this instrumental that became a play on words from a Poe story - The Cask of Amontillado - which was turned into The Casket of Amon Düül Otto! Yes, there was Tangerine Dream before them, but Amon Düül II was more rock/space oriented (I immediately thought of that centerfold of their Lemmings double LP as a futuristic Pink Floyd vision). I started with YETI and then TANZ DER LEMMINGS, but then later discovered their first album PHALLUS DEI (or God’s Penis). Interestingly, I am not sure how one of the entire sides of LEMMINGS became the title for a setting/scene in the movie version of TOMMY - "The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church" - seeing as how the album was released in 1971 and the movie was released in 1975! Evidently, someone on the movie team had been listening to Amon Düül II, specifically TANZ DER LEMMINGS! Around that time I inquired about the reputed mythic church organ they used which was rewired into a mellotron style instrument which played tapes of male and female choirs, violins and mandolins. This I learned from MELODY MAKER’s answer to my inquiry. I appreciated CARNIVAL IN BABYLON and WOLF CITY, but soon after I think they refocused their releases in an attempt to achieve some kind of wider success and, in the tradition of so many of my favorite bands, they went downhill (for example The Rolling Stones, The Who, Procol Harum). Oddly, The Beatles are the only band I grew to love and appreciate more as they aged. I actually got to hear their first US single, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, between Christmas and New Year’s in 1963 when I couldn’t find it at my local record shop and road my bike to my former 6th grade teacher’s record shop, a bit farther away, on a hunch they might have it - they did. I raced home and immediately played the ‘B’ side, as was a tradition with me and singles - I would always play the ‘B' side to see how good an act was based on the amount of effort they put into the second song on a single. "I Saw Her Standing There" was a very compelling ‘B’ side debut for the band from Liverpool! There was a release on vinyl from Amon Düül II a few years ago and it’s very much in the vein of an improvised masterpiece - DUULIREUM - with lots of great vocals from Renate Knaup.

There were other German bands that I gravitated to after their first albums and then had to play catch up - Can - being the greatest when one takes in the totality of their output. It’s so sad that the only member left is Irmin Schmidt, the keyboard player, with last year’s deaths of Jaki Liebezeit and Holgar Czukay. I just read in the latest MOJO Magazine that Irmin is releasing ALL GATES OPEN : THE BIOGRAPHY OF CAN - an overview by journalist Rob Young and a “Symposium” by Irmin Schmidt. That title is based on one of my favorite Can tracks, All Gates Open which leads into another loved one - Safe - from the album with the odd picture of a wrench on its cover. I think that of the two - Can and Amon Düül II - I relate to Can more lately due to their improvisational nature. Many of their songs were actually pieced together from various improv sessions, by Czukay. Whenever I see or hear the raves about Daft Punk, I would like to let people know that what they are doing is a poor man’s Can! Thankfully, there seems to be a lot of admiration, posthumously, for the band after it died and before most of the members have met that same fate. I am actually very impressed about how many people know of them and cite them as influences.

Another interesting group I got my arm scratched over is Faust. When I was playing their clear vinyl album one day, my wife demanded that I take it off and I wasn’t complying fast enough so she left a gash in my arm - emblematic of the sound coming through the speakers. I saw them last decade in Williamsburg at a theater with no seats and the place was packed. My son drove me and managed to ‘stand’ through their performance, which I videotaped for my Public Access Show OTV. The young crowd who loved them had to be there by word of mouth and I was impressed by Faust's effort to please themselves. On the way home, my son commented that what bothered him the most was that they actually got paid for their performance. He was claiming what they did was not music, but then I pointed to Jimi Hendrix smashing and burning his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival and asked if that was music. At that moment, magically, Paul Simon’s "One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor" was playing and the significance was lost on my son until I pointed it out to him!

Finally, another band that may have snuck in an influence on one of Avant Duel’s most commercial tracks - "New Start" - which was released briefly as a single, was La Dusseldorf circa their VIVA album time. VON LMO wrote the lyrics, which seems almost implausible, while I wrote the score. I just love the sound I got from my Roland JD-800 on that track. With lyrics like “Love is the answer…”, it’s almost sacrilegious for VON!

BTC-I take it you are also a fan of the French act Magma?

OvR- As for Magma, I never really got into them, though I have a friend who is a big fan and went to a show at the late Giorgio Gomelsky’s space to see them perform in their own language. Giorgio produced The Yardbirds and Aphrodite’s Child’s 666 after getting The Rolling Stones started at the Crawdaddy Club, just north of London. That’s when Andrew Loog Oldham swooped in and took them over - for me, that was the best days for The Stones - when ALO was involved in their releases. He developed their image, got them started writing their own songs and secured their masters for them, which was rare in those days. He’s an email companion, thanks to Giorgio, as they remained friends to the end.

BTC-Lets' get back to Kongress...the debut gigs were at the CBGB Christmas Festival...right?

OvR-I’m not sure what festival you are referring to, but our first gig was on Christmas Eve and we were reviewed by Variety’s infamous Kirby. I have that review somewhere and even back then, due to VON LMO’s skull head on his drum stand, he decided we played ‘devil’ music. He also mentioned something about a ‘wall of sound’ with ‘clarity a victim’ and that we expected a lot of ‘auditors’ - shortly after the review, I was audited by the IRS, inspiring me to write a song "How To Beat The IRS". I just got a notice from them today and instead of paying them the requested $800+, I figured it and I did owe $400, which I guess I was right about, as they now say they owe me $10! I’m not sure what Kirby was referring to by auditors (listeners?). That gig was with our original guitarist - Rodentius Grok, who also called himself Locologos. That must have been Christmas of 1975. On the same bill was a group with a female keyboard player who was not just attractive, but she could play and I have a tape of an improv we did together. Her name was Gaea and she mostly played a Hammond with some kind of processing. I have to say she was the only keyboardist who really followed me down into the depths on her instrument and we made some great sounds together. Then she suddenly left her loft and disappeared! She was from Chicago.

BTC-Wow, you wouldn't remember the name of the group Gaea was in now, would you?

OvR-Found the name of her band - Guardian - though I am perplexed as the description doesn’t mention Gaea Hawkins on keys and instead states it was a Peter Rich on electric piano, organ and synth. I was almost sure that review was of her band, but now that I read it, I’m confused, as it doesn’t sound like the names of her members. It does indicate it was the Christmas Festival, however, and Kirby’s writeup of us starts off with, “Kongress is a serious, almost defiant rock combo who expect a lot of auditors. Instrumental sound overpowers all, with clarity a victim. They seem to be attempting to communicate devil material as indicated by a skull near the drum set. But the words, especially of their keyboardman, often are lost in the volume which seems to to go for total effect rather than individual clarity. Trio, which uses stage handles, consists of Otto von Ruggins, strong on a variety of keyboards, Locologos, creditable on heavy lead guitar, who also has vocal leads, and Von Elmo, a leader on drums…They have a chance to gain cult support with their aggressive sound, but it has to be musically cleaner".

BTC-Great, gotta go find out more about this group. Hey, could you tell me more about how Kongress got banned from CBGB twice in 1976, the first time in January and then in December?

OvR-Being banned from CBGBs was no small feat. Odd you would remind me it happened twice! How is that possible (even once)? The first time, Locologos had left Kongress and VON & I went up and actually played songs together, one of which was a piece with lyrics - "Flesh Cube" - during which I shot a flash camera at the audience. That wasn’t the problem, as apparently Hilly didn’t like the music and told us to get a new place to rehearse! The real ban was when we appeared the day after Christmas, 1976. It was a momentous occasion. When I was in Washington, a local publication interviewed me and printed something to the effect that we were banned for various offenses of temperament and occultism. It was VON’s return on drums after breaking his leg on my birthday, Christmas in July, so here we were, five months later with Geoffrey who had consumed some Cognac and I missed some of the action. Later I was told of how he had a crucifix attached to a microphone stand and had somehow regurgitated on stage by sticking his fingers down his throat. I’m not proud of some of what transpired, with my Catholic upbringing, but there were amazing photos that captured some magical moments. At one point, Geofrey had a basin of water and I’m not sure if it was to put out the cauldron flames, but he flipped it over and a picture shows the water escaping the pan in an elongated shape of the container. It was truly spectacular how it was captured. Then, we had Renate, a German female guitarist playing, whom Hilly actually liked and the sound was pretty heavy with her playing and Stokes on bass. VON still had a cast on his leg and while he sat there playing the drums, Geofrey threw a spear that whizzed by VON and stuck in the back wall of CBGBs stage. Then a flare that was attached to a microphone stand toppled over and was facing the audience on the ground, so Hilly came and grabbed it, standing there like the Statue of Tyranny. One of Geof’s roadies wrapped it in a wet towel and ran out the back with it. Finally, Hilly had enough and came waving his arms for us to stop and the first row of tables had chairs turned so no one could sit because the front of the stage was rigged with flashpots that exploded and I realized it was time to abandon the stage, but before I did so, I switched on my echoplex so that it would keep playing the last sequence of sound that I had been playing and turned the volume up and then walked away. By the time everyone else had stopped playing, my synth and organ were still playing on stage. Around then, John Holmstrom walked in and was quite annoyed that he had missed the proceedings, but then wrote in Punk Magazine that Kongress, the most dangerous band in the world, were barred from CBGBs! I still have a reel to reel recording of that night, but need a machine that works to listen to it.

BTC-After that you got to play CBGB when your wife was lead singer, right?

OvR-Geofrey made his move from Kongress to the Shanghai Side Show, which was mainly after our gig at the ShowPlace in New Jersey the weekend that Marc Bolan was killed in an auto accident and VON LMO had a clash with Geoffrey that led to VON’s departure from Kongress, as well. That was 1977, the year we had just recorded "Sam Son" and "I Survived" in a studio around July/August. The following January, my wife went to CBGB and negotiated a deal for Kongress to have a return engagement at the club, explaining to Hilly that she was my better half. She wore a velvet dress and Hilly commented to her that it was not the style for his club (a picture exists somewhere, as well as two of her performing at Max’s Kansas City). Celia managed to appear at both clubs before she decided it was too much having her aunt and mother baby sit our three young girls at the time. Then along came Marilyn whom a friend had introduced to me almost a year earlier when we were playing at the Elgin Theater. She revealed much promise at the time, dancing in the lobby to the sounds of Trans Europe Express. Kongress continued to shed its skin and slither along (I’m reminded of my song "Snake in the Grass")!

BTC-Stepping back a bit---Kongress did find a home at Max's. Could you tell us more about the time Geoffrey threw the powdered pigeon into the cauldron?

OvR-There was a Halloween gig at Max’s with The Dead Boys opening for Kongress (hard to believe, but that was the bill). During their set, while I was in the audience, they were met with periodic calls for ‘Kongress’. It was rather surprising, but felt gratifying to think there were such fans in the house. Then we went on, sans VON LMO, who was still out of action with the fractured leg. Towards the middle of the performance (there is a Bob Gruen video of the second half which does not include the ‘putrified dove’ incident, as I call it, so that means that first tape, which was all black with lines at the bottom - defective - did not capture the moment), Geofrey tossed this ‘object’ into his cauldron of flames and the stage began to have an awful smell. so much so that someone from Max’s opened the back door to let in some air - the audience was moving back, as well - to which Geofrey snarled, Close that door - you’re destroying my ceremony!” I remember those words so distinctly, as if I was just there. As I indicated, the audience was free to retreat, but we were obligated to continue to play onstage. It tested our dedication to the cause. The video that exists of that event has the Stokes brothers onstage, along with a cameo appearance by legendary Renate. Geofrey came out with his war mask which was more like a headdress - it’s all in black and white from a reel to reel (this was 1976). I am not sure if you’ve seen any of this - let me know. Here are a few stills from it - note Geof’s T-shirt “Syphlis Saves Souls” while he cradles his puppet!

BTC-Now, when did Iolsta Hatt join as lead singer?

OvR-Iolsta opened for us at CBGB way back when she was the lead singer of The Communists. There was someone who was interested in managing us back then, who I met in the Montague Street Walden book shop - the manager of the store who had a fleet of limos, picked up Marilyn, but when the gig was over, I was told he wanted to change the name of the band from Kongress and that was all she wrote! I severed having anything to do with this limo manager who had his sights set on Marilyn. It only postponed the inevitable, that Marilyn would eventually leave Kongress, creating the void that Iolsta eventually filled. What caused Marilyn to finally leave was my incorporating a female violinist named Nancie who made some dissonant sounds which Marilyn claimed made her want to climb the walls. My response was that maybe that would look great onstage, but she played her last set the night we opened for The Heartbreakers. It was strange the way it dissolved, because she left after the first set and the band that played the second set included Nancie and I sang my own songs. We even had a rather nondescript guitarist after Christgau wrote us up (he had vowed never to write a word about my band in the VILLAGE VOICE ever again) describing us as so Teutonic that we abjured guitars!

I’m not sure how Iolsta was put together with me to sing (I honestly am drawing a blank), but she brought along with her bass player and Nancie played violin for some shows in that lineup. We even did a few songs she had written, like one called "Child Abuse". I’m thinking we made some recordings of those songs in my basement. She seemed resentful when I bought her a vocal processing thing for people who had lost their vocal cords to distort her voice into a ‘robotic’ sounding vocalist (which we never used). She had a drug problem which led to our eventual breakup. That had an ironic twist as she shared the same birthday with VON LMO and they went off together after meeting one night at my home. In respect of her passing, I think I will leave it at that.

BTC-Nancie...wasn't she also in Antenna with you and VON LMO?

OvR-Nancie was also involved in another performance at Max’s where The Brains (Money Changes Everything) opened for what was a one off with VON LMO and myself - Antenna. I believe I have some reel to reel tapes of a rehearsal with her & VON. This was complete improvisation similar to our Avant Duel shows of late. It also has me playing my first and probably best live synthesizer, the Electrocomp EML 101, which was duophonic at a time when most synths were monophonic. It made a big difference in terms of the amount of sound and notes I could create with my hands on the keyboard, as well as it’s amazing response in real time to my twisting of dials and flipping of switches. It makes me wonder - whatever happened to Nancie?

BTC-Back to another former Kongress member, guitarist Robert Crash. Wasn't he German?

OvR-This will take some time to discuss this Maniac. You may recall he had a group called The Maniacs before he worked with me in Kongress and later Rescue 1 (MOVIE VIEWERS EP). I am off this week, but I haven’t even had a chance to get down the basement and do some playing - want to revisit a song called Wolfgang which is from my musical - Movie Viewers! How’s that for a few ‘facts’ you may not have known! Robert and I had a holiday meltdown a few years ago around Christmas when he dug up some old and long held displeasure about my not contributing to the making of that EP, which came with 4D glasses and a double groove. I only wrote the songs, which we recorded in my basement studio back in 1980 - he did buy the mixer we used and some other toys to use, but then we moved the project into Sorcerer Sound and Charles Ball was producing it for Plexus Records, but Robert didn’t like his production, so at his own expense (and without me there) chose to remix the tracks, causing the partner of the label in Holland to suggest releasing both mixes with a double groove. It was a rather ingenious idea. We even made two videos from that EP - Movie Viewers and Chateau 19 - which had two of my daughters in their Catholic School attire wearing masks and banging a gong to open and close the video (they sang on their own the line, “Leather Together” repeated over and over at the end - completely without any coaching. This was recorded somewhere in NYC with my wife present. All of this was around the beginning days of MTV and when I brought the videos to MTV, I knew by the look through the glass partition through which I could see their inside office that they would never approve them for viewing. I had the sense these people were the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) mothers. It was 1980 - the recording - and 1981 - the record and video release. This was after our recordings with Kongress - Robert never performed with the Geoffrey version of the band, though a few days after playing in the studio with Geoffrey and VON LMO (on my birthday - after which VON went home and tried to drop-kick someone from the roof of a car and broke his leg), Robert actually played a Kongress gig at Max’s with Joey Alexander on drums, Steve Mecca on bass and me playing keys/synth doing my own vocals. Mecca actually wrote an article which was the cover story for THE AQUARIAN (in purple) about his experience during the week preparing for the gig - he was playing bass at the birthday jam and so Geoffrey is in the story, as well, and on the cover. I need to find the issue, which I believe I still have somewhere, as it was a worthy read.

BTC-Yes, I was going to ask you about : MOVIE VIEWERS. Was this the record that was supposed to come out on Lust/Unlust?

OvR-Actually Charles Ball was the producer they hired for us, but his mixes were too shrill, so Robert insisted that we redo them at our own expense. The record company was Plexus, but Charles Ball had that label - Lust/Unlust (I actually wrote those words in the last email before I caught myself and remembered the name of the label was Plexus!

More to come - like about the letter that Plexus received the day I went on vacation from the USPS back then - I will get you the text of it (I still have this unusual masterpiece that connects with ‘Crowley’)!

BTC-I remember reading in NO magazine about a planned release with "Space Savior" and "I Survived", this must have been late-1977.

OvR-That was not with Robert Crash. I never had specific plans to release those two songs, though Geoffrey recorded a version of "I Survived" in Studio 29 on my 29th birthday. I tried to find the sole copy of this recording, but have not found it. Kip Kuba was on bass, Christopher Knoh on guitar, me on synth and LMO on drums. It was recorded the same day with "Sam Son", which has a Crowley entry in The Book of Lies -


The Universe is in equilibrium; therefore He that is
without it, though his force be but a feather, can
overturn the Universe.
Be not caught within that web, O child of Freedom!
Be not entangled in the universal lie, O child of

Samson, the Hebrew Hercules, is said in the legend to have pulled down the walls of a music-hall where he was engaged, "to make sport for the Philistines”.

So, back to that cryptic other reference to Crowley in a letter received from a fan as I went on vacation. It was in response to the Chateau 19 track, though I am not sure if this guy was referencing the video or the lyrics to the song, which were not included on the EP. Here is a copy of the original letter he sent -

Note: Robert Ray Stutes hails from Crowley, LA - I wasn’t sure because the LA was spelled as L.A. that it wasn’t Los Angeles and not Louisiana. I cropped the top where the President of Plexus wrote - “Otto, your fan club!” Of all the places where a fan would write from - CROWLEY! Of course, I thought it was some sort of a prank or joke on me, so I called someone at work and asked them to look up the address and tell me the zipcode in Louisiana and it was for real - Crowley, LA 70726.

Getting back to Robert Crash, as I indicated, most recently, he opened up to me about how sore he was that I had not contributed $$$ to those recordings or the video production. I was there in Coney Island at 5AM for Movie Viewers and brought my daughters and wife to a questionable video shoot in NYC. I wrote the songs and he stayed at my house making music, causing much tension with neighbors who called after midnight yelling at us to 'stop that music’! I still love Robert, but he has a coldness and pettiness about him that was sadly revealed a few years back. It still hurts to know how he feels about that period when we made such great music together. That’s how I see it, but at one point, as we played these incredible improvs with Geoffrey before what was to be our first gig together, Robert states with a slicing motion in mid-air that he is cutting out from the project, as he can’t deal with the rhythm section (Stokes on bass and VON LMO on drums).

OK, so Stokes was a bit loud and at times plodding, but VON’s drumming was incredible and this too bugs me - that he has no idea how great these tapes sound. What’s even more puzzling is that his playing on that particular night was the loudest instrument on the tape and he was extra potent and at his best, though when we wove our magical leads together - guitar and synth - at times you can’t tell who’s playing what lines, but it sounds incredible. He may have heard them briefly, but not enough to understand what gems they are and how special it is that I took the time to preserve what we played. I always think about how much was not recorded when the tape ended and we kept playing without it being recorded until that section stopped and I was able to put in a new tape or flip one over. I truly believe these tapes are MAGIC and need to be released to document the greatness of what we did. No one has ever improvised with someone as Magical as Geoffrey reciting his poetry to their music. We literally had it all mixed together and the fact that these tapes exist makes me feel like a very rich person, because I have sounds that are unheard of that no one else except a select few individuals have copies of. There was nobody doing this kind of improvising with such a spectacular lineup of individuals on guitar, keys and drums. Stokes was not obtrusive by any means and he held it together. I wish I could share some of this material - I am trying to get it released on vinyl by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore, but it’s taking too long and I have some others interested in releasing it, so I need to move on and get the project rolling before it gets buried with me!

BTC-I was going to ask you about the upcoming album. What tracks are going to be on it?

OvR-I am not sure which ‘album’ you are referring to - Kongress or Avant Duel? I am also working on some of my older material which I may release, as VON is working on a new VON LMO album with some other musicians, including Weasal Walter, which I will probably be adding some keys to. So, the tracks for the Kongress vinyl are obscure in that they are tracks that were improvised and named by me based on Geoffrey’s lyrics. They aren’t my compositions, though many riffs I have had in the past were used to piece them together. The next Avant Duel album will be further off, as VON is working on his own material for his release and I will be working on putting some of my own material out, like "Wolfgang" - a song about ‘my psychiatrist’ (I have none - it’s all in my imagination - but today when I read the Rolling Stone article about Jack White, he mentioned he bought a guitar model that Eddie Van Halen was playing - Wolfgang!)

BTC-How long was Kongress around? I don't see any mention of them after, say, 1980.

OvR-Kongress actually released a record in 1985 - "Tough Guys Don’t Dance" b/w "Talk Talk" on a Brian Ross label (he of Music Machine renown) - Starborn International Records. It was digitally mastered on my Sony PCM 501ES digital encoder onto VHS tape. The mastering engineer - legendary Bernie Grundman - said it was one of the best digital masters he had heard at that point in time. Inspired by Norman Mailer’s novel of the same name, I delivered it to his home where I worked in downtown Brooklyn, NY. He replied to me in a letter stating that he was surprised to see that I had used the title of his book for my song and wanted to know if I had the right to do so. He added, “I think not. I will wait to hear from you.” I wrote him back indicating that titles cannot be copyrighted and that he should check with the Library of Congress! I had wanted it to appear as the closing credits scrolled on the screen. I even went to the theater to see it with my walkman to play the song as the titles scrolled and after hearing some of his own lyrics with an inferior recording of sound, I put on my headphones and enjoyed what would have been a much superior soundtrack to the closing credits, but such is life. I also read his 1000 page novel, Ancient Evenings and wrote to him about making a movie from it starring Richard Gere, but he answered me back that we had different impressions of who should star, preferring Richard Burton!

As for the recording itself, I sampled Marilyn’s vocals onto my first sampler, a Prophet 2000, and played her voice melodically throughout the song, so that she was singing with herself - "Tough guys don’t dance, they don’t wear tight pants, they don’t believe in chance, and they don’t like romance…Tough guys don’t dance, even if the Pope bans - They don’t take messages from above…” So, yes, it was released as a single, which by then - 1985 - was not a wise choice, as EPs were more in vogue and it got lost when it was mailed at around the country. I remember one night driving in a torrential rainstorm when I was in Connecticut on USPS business staying overnight in a hotel to the Yale radio station for an on air interview to promote it, during which I discussed Geoffrey, who was already gone from Kongress and this world. We did a video for "Talk Talk" which was not a bad version for a ‘B’ side, as I thought since Brian Ross owned the publishing rights to The Music Machine’s material (long story made short - Bonniwell came to his office claiming he was injured (in a body cast) and was no longer going to sing, so to let him out of the contract, Ross claimed their publishing rights, and Bonniwell promptly released a single for Warner Brothers titled Astrologically Incompatible - “I am the lion that you’ll never rule, the sunshine of Leo never yields to the bull”), he might see fit to promote it, but that never happened.

BTC-What have you been doing in the "post"-Kongress days?

OvR-I had some health issues in the nineties when I was in a car accident, which eventually led to back surgery in June, 2005, due to a free disc fragment - a loose piece of bone that had to be removed. Then, about seven months after the surgery, I was hit as a pedestrian, leaving the neurosurgeon’s office in January, 2006. I was out from teaching for 18 months recovering from that one. Eventually, in 2010, when VON was released from prison, we got together and started working on Avant Duel’s first release - BEYOND HUMAN. I had been accumulating lots of software and even some impressive hardware to solidify my basement studio as a quality place to record and mix our music.

I will tell you how VON & I got together after he was released from prison in 2010. Back then I was on MySpace with about 15,000 friends that I had accumulated in about four months. I had this incredible friends scroll with postings from some of the best people - fans of Amon Duul II, Can, etc. that had these great postings - it was the place to be - better than the present Facebook, but the problem was when I set up my account, I did not specify that I was a musician, apparently, and I could never change it. Then, they changed ownership and made revisions and all the friends kind of disappeared from my flow. My son-in-law has this program that takes you back in time on the Internet and you can view pages as they were years ago - I have to take some time to revisit that memorable time. So VON is released and we make plans to release an album and rather than his name or mine, or Kongress or anything either of us had been called before, I came up with the name Avant Duel which was spelled a bit differently (Dueal), which was my stupid idea, trying to have it both ways. We finally settled on the current spelling, which made sense when I came up with the email - we were essentially two major artists in one group dueling with each other, hence ‘engarde’!

I had accumulated some very expensive hardware for processing and digital recording, which eventually included a GuitarSynth from Roland for him to play. I even gave him my son’s first guitar - a Fender Squire Strat, which he would go on to destroy at a basement performance in Bushwick which was captured on video, but never to be seen again! It was a duel that didn’t end well, musically. I have been reading ALL GATES OPEN - the new 572 page book by Irmin Schmidt (keyboardist & sole survivor of Can and a journalist named Young. It details how they would play all their gigs on the fly, improvising around some songs they had played to before, but it was like flying without a net. Our last two gigs together as Avant Duel have been those kind of affairs and when it worked - for most of the two events, it is most rewarding. At the Bowery Electric Memorial Day 2017, we played at Peter Crowley’s Max’s Reunion in the upstairs room in the back and it was difficult to get started, as the GuitarSynth wasn’t working, VON was wearing a plastic mask and I could not make out what he was trying to say, and my power cable for my new synth was missing (a Behringer synth - their first and quite an improv beast), but the soundman came through with one that might have been the original that fell out of my bag in the dark onstage

So, we had no soundcheck and were messing around as we taxied down the runway until we hit warp speed and finally took off - not as a jetplane, but as a UFO! It was incredible the combination of sounds we were playing against each other - truly the best we had ever done in this vein, though our improvs with Geoffrey were very special, as well as a Funeral of Art tape that I made in 1974 with Sal Maida & VON, plus our original Kongress guitarist, Rodentius Grok. If you have Dropbox with any capacity, I can send you access to those tracks we did, which were astonishing for how we played like Can, totally improvising with no vocals and incredible musicianship from all four of us. Sal’s never heard this stuff, unfortunately, and he probably wouldn’t even appreciate how great he played that day. Yet, when we began working on material for the first album, BEYOND HUMAN, VON had lots of really spectacular concept songs that fit perfectly in the album. Together we worked on the music to his lyrics and it is now a classic. I don’t suppose you ever received a copy of the CD, but it’s a masterpiece of art & music, concept and beyond… Each song had different drums made from software, hardware and various processing devices. 


Head Company AB said...

Sorry if this is a duplicate comment but I. Eed to second the thank you for existing and music. Do you think that the tape I sent you sound like von lmo I never heard but that was what the people said at show

Christopher Stigliano said...

Are you speaking of the "Hopital" cassette? I didn't hear much Lmo in it but I thought it did have a HEAVY early-Velvets filtered through mid-seventies French underground feel. Any other recordings available?

Head Company AB said...

No the one with the picture of the petrified caveman. That tape was the first time I played with that group. They put out a CD before I joined, and I only played a few shows with them. I think there are videos with keyboard player that looks like von lmo. I don't think you like my cassette, I couldn't ever get people to play vu songs with me, I regret that.

Christopher Stigliano said...

Oh, the EUGROM one! Didn't hear much of an Lmo feel in that one even if I do think it ranks as one of the year's best!