If I remember right it was the day after Hendrix died in September, 1970. We still lived in Brooklyn, NY. I had just stopped in my brother-in-law’s short-lived clothing store named Walpurgis (after a Procol Harum track) when I heard Hendrix music playing on the radio in the store. I left to pick up my traveler’s checks, not realizing why that Hendrix music was playing until I ran into a friend who announced the news that Hendrix had died.
VON LMO and I, who would become AVANT DUEL over 40 years later, were taking off for London in 24 hours to follow the path of Jimi Hendrix, an American who went to London to jumpstart his career, and now he was dead before we even got there! Like any young musicians, we dreamed of being rock stars, but the reality of actually one day landing a record deal seemed thousands of miles away. As beautiful as Brooklyn is, it’s always been the kind of place for which the saying, “A tree grows in Brooklyn,” somehow didn’t apply to recording careers. Let’s just say that there weren’t many of us walking around with long hair and leather jackets who had recording careers, especially back in 1970. We felt that it would be easier to conquer a smaller country like England than making it in New York and then having to spread our message across the expanse of the United States. Our model was the Jimi Hendrix rise to fame, which mirrored that of the Beatles and the rest of the British invasion groups, only Hendrix was an American who went to London, which is why we followed his path.
There is a tremendous connection that we both have had with Hendrix, from the 16 year old VON LMO’s actually playing drums with an appreciative Jimi at the Café Wha before Hendrix ever went off to England and my own personal experience of witnessing this phenomenal guitarist at the legendary Cheetah Club on my birthday in 1966 when he performed there as Jimmy James and The Blue Flames – hair slicked back, everyone wearing the same colorful suit, but with Jimi playing the guitar with his teeth and behind his head, ‘Wild Thing’ style, writhing on the floor less than three feet away from where I was standing at ground level (there was no stage). It wasn’t until I saw him the following summer opening for The Rascals at the Central Park free concert series with his hair frizzed out in an afro, playing that same signature song – ‘Wild Thing’ – with his teeth and behind his head, accompanied with two white British sidemen, there to conquer America, that I realized this was the same guitar phenom from The Cheetah!
I even did some recordings with a little known Eddie Kramer producing when I was in The Vagrants for a little over a month in 1969. While in London, we made demos with Procol Harum’s ex-bassist David Knight overseeing in the studio and he informed us that the British labels didn’t understand why we came to England, as they couldn’t keep us there, so they wouldn’t sign us, despite our having a British guitarist. We were known as ‘Funeral of Art’ back then, working on a concept of getting rich people to donate their Picassos for us to burn in a caldron onstage to symbolize the excess value placed on works of art (only to burn copies and keep the originals)!
We even had a call from Bruce Springsteen’s manager, Mike Appel, who urged us to come back, as he had been told about us by another local band he was managing, Sir Lord Baltimore. When we returned empty handed from England, he came to my home and listened to our demos in my living room, asking, “Where are the riffs?” New York was no different than London and VON and I separated for awhile till after I had bought my first synthesizer. We reformed as ‘KONGRESS’, fronted by a Magician from Oz who burned flames in a caldron onstage, but that’s another story for another Blog!
Perhaps even more importantly than all of that, it’s YOU, the listener, that makes all of this worth while. We look forward to many more sometimes hard, sometimes ugly, always worthwhile experiences along this musical journey. Here’s to hoping that you are part of it.
If you’d like to hear the first milestone on this path, click here to listen to our debut album, ‘BEYOND HUMAN’.
Thank you for being a devoted listener and for making it all matter.
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