I had a chance to talk to John about the Only One sessions after a gig in Omaha, Nebraska. He had just heard the first rough mixes of the album and was on Cloud Nine!
Well John, is it what you thought it was going to be - or more?
Im real proud of it and I hope people enjoy it. When you hear it, its just so - ferocious! The ferociousness of it is from the 60s. Its like those wild, free jazz albums and Jimi Hendrix - a spirit of totally going for it and taking outrageous chances. We just go shooting straight off the cliff going, AAAGH!!!!! But thats the point - to try to get on the edge and stay on the edge until you tumble off. Youve got to be on the edge. And thats where I wanted to take these guys, put them right there on the edge and say Lets run! And they were brilliant! When you listen to it, what you hear is this three-way conversation with incredible telepathy going on. I was surprised when listening back to it because theres these big, huge climaxes, so strange and beautiful, that you dont hear when youre playing it. These amazing things occur spontaneously.
You did this over 2 nights?
We went in the studio the first night and I showed them the material. I walked them through it. All I said was, Heres a simple melody, heres how I want the groove to be, and these are the scales I want you to work with. I didnt talk about how long they were or how the endings should be. It was all just total improvisation. I was literally singing the melody to Chris or writing down just a few notes on paper for him, just giving the barest information, showing him the groove. My bass playing on this record is like Im Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner, trying to be bass and piano - with rather laughable results. But I tried! All these songs were written on piano, except City Driver. I showed them some of the songs on piano. The very first thing we did together in the studio was Prayer. We sat down, turned on the tape deck, and played. Thats the first thing on the record. It was done in one take that night. The other thing done in one take was Only One, a 17-minute long Hendrixian jam.
Theres a lot of takes of Mother Blues, were there different styles or arrangements of it?
Its all the same swingin tune, but all these different approaches to it. The thing just kept gradually getting zanier and zanier, so I just kept doing it! Each time it would become more and more perverse and thats what I was after. Takes 5 and 6 of Mother Blues were a real coin toss. One had a more overall deranged vibe so I wound up going with that one. Then I added a prologue and an epilogue to the record. The prologue is actually the intro to Dance. Its kind of a little bass intro thing that sets up the whole Coltrane Suite.
How many times have you heard it since you got the tapes?
Maybe four. I sat on the floor and listened to it. When it was done I had worn grooves into the carpet! Frosty is just a miracle. And Chris playing is brilliant! The way I set it up is Chris is like a horn player. Hes blowing notes out of his guitar! This is more like a horn trio record in a way because all the chords and stuff Im doing. Its really an ensemble kind of thing. Chris is the soprano voice of the ensemble. Its a record that turns us loose to romp through the fields of modality! The whole album is based on church modes. Im going back to the most basic of western music really. Just like Miles did and just like Trane did. Just like McLaughlin did and just like Jimi did. The real thing is that these guys sat down and just gave themselves to this idea of mine. They just sat down and gave it their best - and their best is world-class, as you know. Its very conversational and Im gonna mix it that way. The drums are gonna be really hot in the mix and everyone will be completely audible. Id describe it as, and I dont want to use the word jazz because were not jazz musicians, a power trio response to Coltrane and Miles and Jimi Hendrix. Were responding to these giants of 20th century music. Thats what it is and it rocks! This is a long and challenging record. It challenges me, sometimes just the sheer ferocity of it, but its liberating. I somehow kind of lost my way, going through a record company and that whole thing, and forgot for awhile what its all about. Then I had a series of epiphanies, realizations, that occurred. The first thing that started it all was an interview we did a few years ago. I was raggin on record companies and how they dont record the artists enough and stuff. The more I thought about it over the next two years, I said to myself, Just shut up and do it! Instead of raggin on record companies, BE a record company! What is a record company? Theyre just people. Thats all. So I just said Im gonna try it and take a risk. Im free to do it. With a label youre not free to do it. I remember a gig we did in Amsterdam where this woman came up to me said, You guys play very well, but I think you should go crazy more! So shes kind of responsible for this record, too. This experience taught me what I can do and I think it reminded Chris of how much hes capable of doing. I think theres no limits to his ability. He is capable of anything as a player, hes that gifted. Its time for the world to hear him for real. I think this record is just an effort towards that. Chris should be doing records with Carlos Santana, you know?
By doing this yourself, it goes to the listener as you intended.
Its unfiltered. No record company. Im the producer, so its my fault. If you dont like it, its my fault! Im distributing it myself. I want to get it out straight to the people. I think the Japanese would love it. I think European audiences would freak out on it. Ive got a lot of records in mind. Ive got a lot of records that I want to make and this is just the first one. Theyll all be different, but they will all be real. At least try to be real. If you keep an artist recording, and not make a big production out of it, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, get them into a decent recording studio and regularly make stuff, theyre going to become more and more virtuosic in the process. Thats how music is documented these days, its not written down on paper anymore. Both of these players are so special to me. Theyre just central to my life as a musician. I just wanted the world to hear some of the stuff that I know theyre capable of doing. The fact that I can be in the same room with them is just a thrill to me. You know, theres something I wanted to tell you. If a flying dwarf crushes me or something, I want you to see that this record comes out! Frosty and Chris and I owe the world a record and we never did it. Now weve done it and it exists! Its really important to me that it gets out.