By Frank Kofsky


So, speaking (or writing) as we were of the intertwining of jazz and rock, let us consider the rock group Clear Light. I had heard the band highly touted by Pauline Rivelli during her brief visit to the coast after the Monterey Jazz Festival: but I never had much of a chance to check them out myself, apart from one very abbreviated visit which Pauline and I paid to Clear Light's slightly down-at-the-heels mansion on the eastern edge of Hollywood. A few days after the band's Elektra LP was released, however, I finally had an opportunity to drop in on the Clear Light and arrange for a photo and interview session.

I returned later that same evening to catch the group in the middle of a long (one hour) modal jam that could only suggest the John Coltrane approach to improvising. On my first visit that day organist Ralph Schuckett and I had rapped extensively about the new jazz, especially Coltrane's contribution there to. Ralph, it soon developed, was an avid Coltrane, follower and was eager to know all the details of the interview with Coltrane I was privileged to Conduct (J & P, September 1967).

Just how taken Ralph was with Coltrane became, so to speak, clear to me during Ralph's numerous solos. It wasn't only that he was partial to the same phrases that Coltrane employed in his modal period, he even managed to arrange the stops and levers on his instrument in such a way as to suggest the actual sound of the Coltrane soprano saxophone. Needless to say (which is why I guess I have to say it anyway), I was moved by what I heard.

Another aspect of Clear Light's jamming that put me in mind of Coltrane in particular and the new jazz groups in general was the energy with which the band played. Although there are two drummers in the group, Dallas Taylor and Michael Ney, it is Dallas who is the obvious heavyweight and who drives the band with wild and oblivious abandon. Though he plays basically a rock percussion pattern, the forcefulness of his drumming make you (meaning me) think of Elvin Jones. And as you will see from the interview that follows, my intuition was not too wide of the mark. Dallas was actually at one time a jazz drummer (are there any rock drummers these days who weren't?) and he considers Elvin Jones to be the only jazz drummer that I can associate myself with.”

Dallas and Ralph (or Ralphie, as the band calls him) are not the only Clear Lighters with a dose of jazz in their musical pedigrees. Guitarist Bob Seal has also been influenced by a number of jazz guitar players, but I don't want to spoil the show by giving away the contents of the interview here, so I'll leave it for you to read about Bob's background below.

Though the Clear Light is now heavily involved with extended improvisation, this wasn't true of the band at the time their album (Clear Light) was recorded. Indeed some of the tracks on it are 9 or even 12 months old as I write (Halloween eve). The group is determined that their next album will be a more accurate representation of where they're at now; they go so far as to speak of having only six tracks on the entire album, which is virtually unheard off for a rock band. But then, it is unmistakably evident that such is the direction the music is travelling.

One other thing: the complete personnel of the band: Ralph Schuckett, organ: Bob Seal, guitar and vocals: Cliff De Young, vocals: Doug Lubahn, bass: Dallas Taylor and Michael Ney, drums.

Kofsky: How does the current rock scene in general and the Clear Light in particular relate to jazz?

Ralph: Well all of us have played jazz before and it is a basic influence on us. I played jazz for a while- from the age of about 15 until just recently, I still do occasionally. I have played with a lot of very heavy avant-garde jazz cats who went to Los Angeles City College for its music school.

Doug: We're not really trying to relate ourselves to jazz we're just striving for freedom in our music, and freedom is getting away from 4/4 time. We're striving for the free-est kind of music, where the whole thing flows evenly without strict rules.

Kofsky: It appears to me that this kind of freedom is precisely what the new jazz musicians such as Pharaoh Saunders and Albert Ayler are seeking. But isn't this a new development as far as rock is concerned?

Doug: Definitely. And it's going to go farther than playing in unusual time signatures like 7/4. There's no end to it now, because you can keep going on forever, using more complex and more complex times. It's just a question of what flows, what we can play over.

Kofsky: What about the dancers? Can they keep up with the beat in these signatures?

Cliff: That was what they asked us in New York (where Clear Light played the Electric Circus in the Village ): "Can you dance to it?"

Ralph: If you have the courage, (Laughter.) Rhythmically one of the influence s was Ravi Shankar, who showed a lot of pop musicians that it was possible to swing and flow with a complex rhythm. His rhythms are very complex, but once you get into them they're much more interesting and pleasing than 4/4. But it takes a while before you can really surpass 4/4: we haven't completely mastered it yet, so we're not really bored with it. In places where the dancers are less inhibited by style or things like that, they can dig complex times too. Especially on the coast.

Doug: As far as dancing goes, we're trying to make music mostly for listening, not for dancing: that's the biggest change in rock. People no longer just dance to music, they sit and listen to it. We're not striving for a dance sound. We're not into that at all. We're into music; and wherever it goes, it goes. But if the people are there for the music, they'll dig it. And if they are not there for the music, it's no use anyway.

Kofsky: Dallas, what about your background?

Dallas: Just like Ralphie, I've had a jazz background. I've played in small groups in Phoenix and Texas and elsewhere.

Kofsky: In the article on Clear Light I did for the Underground Press Syndicate, I made the analogy between the playing of Elvin Jones with (the late) John Coltrane's band and your work with the group. Do you dig Elvin?

Dallas: He's actually the only jazz drummer that I can associate myself with.

Kofsky: I also wrote in that piece that it seemed to me Bob's ideas reflected a jazz background? Is that true?

Bob: I've played a little jazz.

Kofsky: Which jazz guitarists do you like?

Ralph (after a long silence): If you look at his record collection you'll see that he's got Wes Montgomery, Howard Roberts, Jim Hall, Joe Pass and all them cats.

Doug: And Jan Savage! (Laughter.)

Kofsky: Ralph, I'm interested in learning about the reasons for your change over from jazz to rock.

Ralph: Well part of it was that I felt jazz had become too complex for me to play. Though I still enjoyed listening to avant-garde cats like Pharaoh Saunders. I thought it would be better for me to get some experience playing something more simple. Also, rock is more a kind of group effort than single soloists. Each man does his part to make one total sound. Nobody is really featured, there's no pressure on any particular member.

Kofsky: Was your decision to go into rock in any way connected with the fact that rock itself
had changed while you were learning how to play?

Ralph: Sure. Rock didn't start becoming anything of value until just recently. For instance, before you would never have found a bunch of people sitting around and seriously discussing an Elvis Presley record, noticing all the facets of it. But nowadays there's a lot to be dug in rock by people who know music.

Kofsky: How did this change come about?

Doug: The Beatles!

Cliff: Chuck Berry was pretty heavy. He had a lot to do with changing it, making it something heavy. A lot of people still draw on his influence in the way they write lyrics, like Bob Dylan.

Kofsky: Does this change in rock music reflect a change in the way young people live today?

Doug: Everything's changing: and watching the music change is one way to watch everything else change, because when the music changes everything changes.

Ralph: It kind of works in circles too. The music expresses young people's feelings, because we're all young and we play for a young audience and what we've got to say is young. The audience is influenced by the performers who play for them. I think there's probably a definite relationship, though I couldn't
say exactly what it was...

Excerpt from an article published in Jazz & Pop Magazine, January 1968.

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