Max Ochs
Answers some questions from the producer

Q: What do you remember about the folk-rock scene of the 60’s ?.
A: Playing open mikes with Richie Havens and Tiny Tim at the Fat Black Pussy Cat in a little alley off MacDougall. Hearing how John Lennon’s Day Tripper took talk to song, sing-spoken words like And I found out to song, as in “It took me so-o-o long, , to find out, , and I found out.” Playing at the Bitter End with Bob Dylan in Buzz Linhardt’s band. Dylan telling me I was putting down good shit when he heard me play turn your money green at a Gerde’s Folk City hootenanny. Having a string break just as we’re walking out to stage of Carnegie Hall Concert for the benefit of CORE. Danny Kalb runs up and hands me his big heavy f-hole archtop electric jazz guitar, God Bless him. Theodore Bikel was furious at me for holding up the show, glowering at me for being unprofessional. Watching the Lovin Spoonful recording Did You ever have to Make Up your mind.

Q: How did you get to know John Fahey ?
A: In 1960 I was playing folk blues in D.C at hootenannies and coffeehouses like the Unicorn on 17th and S. Mike Stewart and I and a dozen other people. I was still at Universe-Titty of Maryland in College Park, also called the cluttered desert.

Q: How did you wind up on the Takoma sampler ‘67 LP?
A: Takoma was Ed Denson. Ed Denson produced a bunch of nice blues stuff, basically he called and told me to go to his studio to record. I was so laid back I was positively passive. He and I were at U. of Md. Together in English Professor Rudd Fleming’s Mystical Creative writing class. He elegant and saintly. Ed sounded a little like Kafka and Beckett, I was imitating Kerouac and Joyce. We competed for Dr. Fleming’s attention. Whose pages will he read? Ochs or Denson? He (Fleming) called us (Ochs and Denson) aside one day after class to say to us we didn’t need those little pats on the back every day any more, we knew we could write and should just keep on writing. He also said, gently Mocking Sandburg if you keep writing until your hair goes white, then people will call you a poet.. But not Frost. So that’s how I knew Denson. One morning in 1961 Ed left a beautiful peyote under my pillow. It was spineless with skin of finest velvet cactus green. He was going out west, where he would edit the Berkeley Barb, meet Country Joe McDonald, and form the fish band. Circa ’65-66 I made some trips up to Boston to record for Takoma. Al Wilson was at those sessions, he may have been recording for Ed, he played harp with me on a lot of songs. I wonder if Denson still has those tapes? Al Blind Owl Wilson who was the soul of Canned Heat. He was one of the moist virtuoso musicians I ever heard. Impeccable ear. He stuffed Kleenex up both nostrils so that he didn’t lose any air for the harp. Nobody can touch him on country blues harp and guitar. He had it. But they only published those two ragas on that Takoma Sampler and never released my blues stuff. I wonder what happened to it?

Q: What do you remember about composing and recording “IA” and “Oncones” in 1969?
A: The Imaginational Anthem I composed in the lower east side of New York City. It evolved taking many shapes like the Trickster before that recording day. And it still ain’t finished. A tribute to Fahey, a play on National Anthem, a rhythm derived from Put Another Nickel In. I was lovin the Beatles’ Yesterday and Blackbird.. The other Track, Oncones. Now that’s a beautiful name , I don’t know where it comes from but it was given to me so I will accept and wear it with pride. That music is the soundtrack to the art film starring the artist Harvey Cohen. He runs though the whole thing and the film is called “Running Harvey Cohen.” I recorded that music for the film, and I guess it was like that game called telephone, where you whisper a phrase in the ear of the person next to you and by the time Harvey Cohen rushes back to you it’s Oncones. Folk, Blues, Rock, Raga, Maybe intentional accidentally hitting some bossa notes then skittlin back to the safety of the blues. But Antonin, my classical Dvorak lives ever in my heart, and the noble New World Symphony haunts every composition in my head. 1964-66 In the SEVENTH SONS. Playing with Buzzy Linhardt Steve De naut, Serge Katzen as one of the Seventh Sons. Loving Rock and Roll lovin spoonful lovin Chicago, Mike Bloomfield, Danny Kalb. But in voice, I thought Buzz out RayCharlesed Joe Cocker.

Q: “Imaginational Anthem (2004)” is your first instrumental recording released in 37 years. It’s pretty damn good - Why haven’t you released more instrumental guitar music ?
A: Josh, thank you for those kind words. I was always unaggressive when it came to promoting me, like princess ogre in a tower passively waiting for Shrek to Shanghai me, sitting in my chair in the middle of that cute little round room at the top of the stairs, playing the guitar. I have been playing mostly all that time. Sometimes a month goes by and no guitar. In March 2001 I made a CD to bring to the Blues Garden in Takasaki/Maebashi, Japan. I have a small collection of cassettes and CD’s of my playing. I have only recently begun to expand the instrumental portion of my repertoire. I had heavily relied upon the words of the vocals. I composed a bunch of songs for bands I was in in the early 70’s. Some of them were captured in studios. Man, Man was recorded by Dirty Jane with Sarah Holloway belting it out like Janis Joplin.

Q: The 1969 version was recorded by Joe Bussard for Fonotone. Any recollections?
A: I don’t remember Joe Bussard’s recording me. Ed Denson recorded me. Basically, anyone with a tape recorder was free to record me, and many did. Mike Stewart and I drove to western Maryland to see him. All my friends canvassed for old records to first tape and then sell to Dick Spottswood or Bussard. I was very impressed with his house with collected 78’s from floor to ceiling in every room. (ed. note: Joe Bussard maintains that he did indeed record Max)

Q: Talk about the inspiration for “IA.” What was going on when you wrote it?
A: Yoga, hash, peyote, LSD I was writing Planet poetry, earth songs. I accepted Huxley’s invitation to come through the doors of perception, explore many frontiers in search of the utmost relationship with my surroundings and my interior. Peter Nabokov, my best friend growing up in Annapolis, used to think that there was a possible whole other world up above the clouds. The clouds were their floor. And the Hopi the Beautiful people live under the ground. And the Oosphere, the sphere of consciousness around the globe. I was passionately against the war in Vietnam. Everything was political, everything was love song, everything was pleasure.

Q: When you lived in NYC you had houseguests like John Hurt, Son House and Skip James. How did this come about and what do you recall of their visits ?
A: It was a coincidence that I lived in New York City (9th and First, 3rd street and Avenue B, 6th and second ave, 15th st near the tree lined park near Stuyvesant. I was part of a group of young blues guys who loved the old blues guys. It so happened that many opportunities to gig happened in NYC so when they came, with Fang (Tom Hoskins) or Firk (Mike Stewart), they were welcome to use my place to crash. John Hurt ended up staying with me a long visit, nearly 5 weeks. My wife Holly and I loved him dearly, he was a loving man holy and gentle.

Q: Talk about your work with the Anti-Poverty organization.
A: I just wrote an editorial on Something Unspoken the Link between Racism and Poverty. The effect of racism is so enormous, so pervasive, and so long-standing that it long ago became matter-of-fact to people of color, and yet, whenever the subject comes up, not much emotion obtains among white people. I’ve been thinking about racism. What else is new? I’m ending up my third tour of duty with the Community Action Agency. It has probably been a full seventeen of the last thirty years. It is a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” kind of problem; if you try to do something about it, like start Study Circle dialogues or Affirmative Action programs, you invite a lot of resentment and cynicism; but not doing anything about the problem of racism is even worse, as in: “Ignore your teeth and they’ll go away.” I’ll send you stuff from my newsletter CAP Reporter.

Q: I’ve read that you “introduced Robbie Basho to folk music.” How did you come to know him and what was that relationship
A: . In 1960 He was my friend Robbie Robinson, going to University of Maryland, we hung out together, taught each other folk guitar licks. In College park we just toted guitars around looking for folk jams. We were both heavily into 12-string. For I while I didn’t feel complete with out a 12-string and a harmonica rig. He was very high strum, eager, anxious, intense, and had a bit of an inferiority complex. He sweated. Later in California he changed his name, played rolling triplets, lived near the ocean with two gorgeous Asian women and practiced Tai Chi.

Q: IA is an instrumental but if it could talk what would it say?
A: It would pray Don’t die, please stay alive. Stop being a ghost. You’ve got to be universes careful when you write. Don’t die, please stay alive See? I was already careless there, because I said “you” instead of “one” [that most careful of pronouns!] or “I” [the most risky}. Because it is so easy to slip into saying something general when I mean something specific, and because my tendency to bullshit so that I can impress or sound authoritative, important will lead to nothing nice, Don’t die, please stay alive. So let me write slowly, and hope you’ll read slowly. Some day I’ll understand today, Why do I say this? Don’t die, please stay alive to dark energy,string theory knowledgeable, many membraned dimensions for each various creature’s world Anna No Place.

January 2005