Interview Avec Paul Caruso
Tiré du Experience Hendrix Magazine Vol. 3 No 6 Janv/Fév 2000
Interview par Kees de Lange
At the end of 1967, we first heard the famous words spoken by a mock· British radio announcer, "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Radio Station EXP. Tonight we are featuring an interview with a rather peculiar looking gentleman who goes by the name of Mr. Paul Caruso on the dodgy subject of are there or are there not flying saucers, or ahem, UFO's. Please Mr. Caruso, could you give us your regarded opinion on this nonsense of space ships or even space people."
Great was my surprise when it came to be known that this imaginary character from Axis: Bold As Love existed in real life. Recently Paul was so kind as to give his regarded opinions on a few other dodgy subjects. These days he is living Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Carol. Paul has spent a lifetime as a musician in the Big Apple. He plays guitar and earns a living as a nutrition expert. The music industry's tastes have, in general, proved too narrow to allow much opportunity for his unique style of harmonca playing. To this day he has rernained loyal to the ideals of his youth. In the summer of 1965, Paul met Jimi at Ondines, a club on East 57th Street in New York City. They became instant friends and started hanging out together in Greenwich Village. Paul is very articulate, honest and of strong opinions. He has a great affection for original music, poetry, metaphysics and religion, and possesses a great sense of humor; preferences he and Jimi certainly had in common. After all these years, Paul is still affected by his relationship with the incredible guitar player from Seattle. He is also very careful to get the facts straight when it comes to Jimi. It has taken Paul a long time to get recording credits to which he is entitled. For instance, it is Paul Caruso, not Paul Butterfield, who is playing harmonica during the jam session recorded at the Cafe Au Go Go March 17, 1968. On the other hand, Paul did not play on the unreleased recording of '"Keep On Grooving" with Devon Wilson, April 17, 1969 at the Record Plant.
Fortunately, Paul's harmonica playing on '"My Friend," has finally been recognized as his. Caruso recorded the song with Jimi, guitarists Ken Pine, Steven Stills [who contributed a brief piano part], and drummer Jimmy Mayes at Sound Center, March 13, 1968 in New York. "My Friend" was first included as part of 1971's Cry Of Love. The harmonica credit listed within the album sleeve however, was incorrectly credited to Gers, another player with whom Jimi had apparently known. With the release of First Rays Of The New Rising Sun in April 1997, the oversight has been corrected.
Our conversation took place over the telephone across the ocean, which explains why we sometimes jumped from subject to subject and back. We started talking about Jimi's spiritual side.
EXPERIENCE HENDRIX: Jimi was quoted as saying, "I attribute my success to God. I go by message. It all comes from God. I am really a messenger of God." [The Honolulu Star Bulletin, May 31st, 1969.]
PAUL CARUSO:Yes, he certainly was. And these days, God arrives in strange packages. He was a great spirit. I used to look at Jimi when he was in a roomful of people and I would compare him to the other people in the room. He would give off light, he simply gave off light. I knew this was no ordinary personality. It wasn't that he was just a colorful person; there was some unique quality, some great inner light emanating from him. Jimi' s spirituality was very personal and, at the same time, very global. He was becoming a prophet in many ways. There was a Christ-like urgency to some of his lyrics on the Cry Of Love album. Despite his public image, his true message was one of global compassion, cooperation and freedom.
EH: Would you describe it as friendliness? He was also very shy. Many people who knew him say ...
PC: No, it was love. Jimi possessed a great deal of love. It was a love that was very rare and he found everyone he met very special. He was always very open and spontaneous. He rarely acted aloof or distant as a rock star. Maybe it was only towards the end, when he was developing problems expressing his musical visions, that he became a little testier. He always tried to return to his original nature, which was very loving and very spontaneous.
EH: If you listen to an interview, it is always amazing how thoughtful Jimi is in expressing himself. Sometimes he tells the same story - of course he usually was asked the same questions at every interview but each time there is a little twist.
PC: The same thing is true of his music. He hated to repeat himself musically. There was this constant search for new ideas. This turning of musical phrases inside out and upside down. He once answered a question from an interviewer who asked whether he had ever heard "Stockhausen." He said, " Stockhausen? My music comes from common sense and imagination. No, I never heard "Stockhausen!". I mean, this man practiced. Now practice is a very lonely process of exploration. He practiced thousands of hours. So if people think he just dropped acid and all these musical rainbows just popped up out of nowhere, they can forget about it. His genius was a result of hard work, passionate dedication and unrestrained imagination.
EH: And of course, he had such exquisite taste.
PC: He would talk about Bach and Mozart. I once found a Bach recording tossed in among his R&B and rock albums. It was an E. Power Biggs recording of Bach organ fugues. This must have been in 1967, and I was a little surprised to see it there.
EH: There are several versions of "1983 ... (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)" circulating on tape among collectors, including a version recorded in a hotel room. It is really astounding how it developed.
PC: I would give anything to hear the version of "Room Full Of Mirrors" we tried to record at Record Plant [August 12, 1968].
RH: John McDermott says in his book, Jimi Hendrix: Sessions, it is a fascinating, sparse demo, with Hendrix's live vocal and guitar backed only by harmonica. He goes on to say that Jimi was sounding somewhat tired and that three soulful takes were attempted.. Can you tell me about the circumstances?
PC: It is difficult for me to talk about Jimi's states of mind or, what influenced them. All I can say is that it was not a good day for him. We had been working on "Hear My Train A Comin'" and "Room Full Of Mirrors" at that time. Though I don't take credit for the inspiration, somehow the sound of the harmonica brought him back to his roots. He was very strongly drawn to what's called the "natural blues." When it was just the two of us at the hotel room, the result was very simple and pure, like Lightnin' Hopkins' earlier work. We developed "Room Full Of Mirrors" into a very introspective blues and went into Record Plant to record it. There were, as you say, three takes, each one getting a little better. But Jimi just completely lost it. He lost physical control of his instrument. For me it was a tragedy. We didn't have many opportunities to work together. He was always leaving New York City to go on tour and I would only see him for a couple of days at a time. The grapevine always told me where to find Jimi. In those days, people just communicated everything by way of the street. We had no e-mail, beepers or cell phones, yet we somehow maintained a stronger bond without them.
EH: It was a very stresiful period. He had to tour, finish his record, and think of new compositions.
PC: Unfortunately he never had the privacy or peace of mind after that point to get back to the power of his earlier innovations. As much as people disagree with me about it, I think Jimi needed Chas Chandler to establish parameters and provide the objective perspective of a producer.
EH: I was always amazed how much the musicians with whom Jimi developed these compositions would irifluence him.
PC: Billy Cox's playing with Jimi had a warm, sort of funky feel to it. They were certainly very comfortable with each other and you could hear it in their sound. But I felt that structure and counterpoint were missing. Separation is the word I'm looking for. They were often playing parallel parts.
EH: I am sure that Jimi would have loved to play with as many people as possible.
PC: Well he was good friends with Billy. He knew him from Nashville. The country influence in Jimi's music is actually very strong. The solos in "The Wind Cries Mary" and "Hey Joe" have a strong country feel to them.
EH: I also think that it might have been one of the factors that drew Jimi to you because playing harmonica and being interested in poetry connected you right from the start.
PC: Actually, that's very insightful. When I first saw Jimi, he came right up to me and said that I looked like Bob Dylan with my freaked-out hair. What he didn't know was that I considered Bob Dylan to be the greatest writer in the world at the time. Dylan was a fountain of brilliant images. Jimi and I would carry on about him. We were riding in a cab to the Village the first day I met him when he saw this woman walking around wearing a leopard-skin pillbox hat. He nearly flipped. He was seeing something that was totally surreal, a figment of Dylan's imagination walking around the streets, and he was talking about how brilliant Dylan was to use an image like that. Just the sound of the words, "leopard-skin pillbox hat," etc.
EH: You also talk in images and it must have helped Jimi a lot to have a spirit on the same level as him to communicate with.
PC: Well, I guess I was the first person he met who was as crazy as he was.
EH: That brings to mind the story you told in A Film About Jimi Hendrix (1973) about Jimi touching you.
PC: There is a story that goes along with that. It's another one of those cases where I am reluctant to bring out Jimi's dark side, but I was in Los Angeles and we made another abortive attempt to record "Room Full of Mirrors." It was at TTG Studios. Jack Casady was there on bass and there was an organist who I can't recall. (Possibly Lee Michaels or Andy Cahan of The Turtles who claims to have jammed with Jimi on Hammond B-3 at TTG in 1968.] The same thing happened, only this time it was a nasty [drug] combination and an unfortunate set of circumstances, which made him paranoid and caused a mood shift, a very extreme mood shift. He just lost the music and said, "I can't get it together:' and he left the studio. He was very upset. I decided to stick with him and try to see him through it.
We were riding to the Whiskey A Go Go. He hadn't told me that his house was robbed, but apparently, a songbook was stolen. I was unemployed at the time and for some reason he thought I did it. The traffic was very slow and the frustration was building up. Instead of usually when you are falsely accused of something you loudly and forcefully deny it, I decided to be cool. So I said, "Well Jimi, you know, one way you may find the songbook is if somebody uses the lyrics from it." And, he goes, "Yeah, Paul Caruso." in a menacing sort of way. I was still innocent of the whole thing. I couldn't imagine what the hell he was talking about because the last thing in the world I would do is steal something from Jimi. And then he was muttering something about, "When we get there I'm going straight for your ass." I was about to get out of the car, but my curiosity sort of kept me with him. We got to the parking lot and, after getting out of the car, he said, "When was the last time you ever really felt something?" And he hit me. He hit me so hard, he almost killed me. He knocked all the wind out of me. It took me a couple of minutes to get my breath back. It's upsetting for me to even talk about it. This really seemed like the end of our friendship. A few minutes later inside the club, he showed no sign that he had just flipped out. He just sat there smiling, surrounded by his women, while I was furious. I told Noel about it, and he said, "Bash him in the face. Bash him in the face! Give him one for me. He's got it coming to him!" And I said I didn't want to hit him 'cause I'd probably hit him over the head with a chair or something like that. So rather than do that, I walked over to his table and, because the music was really loud, screamed, "If you ever touch me again I'll kill you!" And he replied, "I'll never stop touching you!" And then I slapped his face, but he just kept on smiling and said, "Just listen to the music." And I remember Chicago Transit Authority was playing at the time and he was just so into the music that he showed no sign of what had just gone down. I left the club shortly after and didn't see Jimi until [eighteen months] later.
EH: And you were a friend from the ear!y days? So when he thought that you might have stolen the lyrics, he must have felt real betrayed.
PC: Yes. It was pure paranoia. If he had been in a normal state of mind he would never had believed that. He saw me, perhaps, as someone who was drifting off course in life and he had hoped that I would become famous. He was very anxious for me to be successful. I didn't much care for what fame had done to him, or others for that matter, so I saw no great attraction to it.
EH: You didn't see him again until 1970?
PC: Yes, at the Record Plant, when Jimi was having Ronnie Spector do some vocal overdubs on "Earth Blues" and I was there to record with Noel Redding for Fat Mattress (likely March 23-24, 1970). Jimi was very quiet but seemed happy to see me. Rather than assume anything about our friendship, I just sat down on the sofa. There was a sofa in front of the control booth and he would jump up from time- to- time to see if I was still there by checking the reflection in the recording booth window. He was just like a little boy, jumping up out of the control seat. I was really touched by that. So I thought there was still hope for our friendship and a musical collaboration in the future. I was there with my first wife, Janet, who was eight months pregnant with my son Avian. I think Jimi was happy that I didn't appear so wild. Here was the possibility of a family and stability wlich he thought would somehow keep me together. So when I heard [six] months later that Jimi had died, there was a strange contrast of my life [my newborn son] and the death of my best friend. When I left that session and said goodbye to Jimi, he was very cordial. I said, ''I'm going downstairs to record with Noel."That was the last time I ever saw him, the night I recorded an overdub for Noel's tune, "My Friend."
EH: Was this completely different from Jimi's "My Friend?"
PC: Well, of course. It was a different concept in a totally different style.
EH: On Jimi's first records, you hear all these nice drum patterns. He was quoted as saying that when he would write songs there should always be a nice beat.
PC: They're called ground rhythms. It really is the mother of a composition, the ground rhythm. It suggests the form and conveys a lot about how the piece is going to develop. There are two sides to Jimi's music, the rhythmic and the melodic. When he turned down the volume, like in hotel rooms, and was forced to play very quietly, his music was like running water. It was dreamy and fluid with whispering singing lines. Very introspective and poetic. This was the other side of his thundering funk.
EH: Let's come back to the songs that Jimi and you were working on together. I always connect "Hear My Train A Comin"' with the trauma that was caused when he had to leave his first love to go into the Army. She dumped him and it must have wounded him very deeply.
PC: Jimi also felt very strongly about Linda Keith. I spent time with Jimi and Linda when they were together in New York before Jimi went to England, and I saw a very pure, very strong... you know when you're around two people whether they are deeply in love or not. Unfortunately their lifestyles kept them apart. She was a jet setter and a famous model at the time. But she was also wry insightful. She was the only one to realize what Jimi's full potential was. Linda was not going to rest until he became famous.
EH:You must have seen him perform at the places Linda saw him. Was he limited to being a back-up guitarist when he played at Ondines?
PC: No, he was starting to break out of his cocoon and was becoming the butterfly. When we first met and started hanging out together in The Village, he was often sort of oddly dressed in calypso shirts and ratty bell-bottom jeans because he didn't have the money yet. But, when he tapped into the incredible resources of the British fashion world ...
EH: Had he already grown his hair long in those days?
PC: He had a "Marcel" like Little Richard's, as well as Richard's thick moustache. Yes, the good Reverend Penniman taught him a lot about how to be free and wild on stage. He was actually very reserved in many ways until he got on stage. You know, you see these two completely different sides of Jimi, very congenial and yet very shy. It took a great deal of courage for him to come out of himself. He was pathologically shy. He would stare at the ground and almost shuffle his feet when he met someone, but he had the courage to break through all that. That's a big part of what Jimi should be credited for.
EH: Maybe he really needed his shyness to develop his guitar playing in such a dedicated way.
PC: When he got on stage it was compensation for that shyness. It was his chance to be heard like thunder.
EH: Eric Clapton once said that playing guitar solos was the loneliest thing in the world.
PC: That's a great asset that feeling of loneliness. It's a tremendous source of inspiration.
EH: What about "Room Full Of Mirrors?"
PC: After our two attempts to record it, we never got a chance to finish "Room Full Of Mirrors." Oddly enough, in the mansion ... the house in Benedict Canyon where he was staying in October of 1968 when we had our fight ... there was a roomful of mirrors, an octagonal-shaped dressing room with a mirror for each wall.
EH: I always thought that it was a real heavy concept for Jimi, this room full of mirrors.
PC: Yes. Self-realization