Accomplishing Escalator over the Hill (by Carla Bley)


(Very special thanks to Carla Bley for allowing the reprint of this invaluable document composed shortly after the album was finished.  It was originally sent to me by Rick McLaughlin.)

In the beginning, around January 1967, Paul Haines, a friend who had written pieces for the back covers of many albums I had been involved in, sent me a poem. It fit mysteriously with a piece of music I was working on, DETECTIVE WRITER DAUGHTER. When I told him how amazing this was, we decided to write an opera together, or rather, apart, as he was then living in New Mexico and about to move to India. The term “opera” was used loosely from the start, an overstatement by two people who didn’t have to watch their words. We ended up calling it a chronotransduction, which was a word coined by Sherry Speeth, a scientist friend of Paul’s, although we still call it opera for short.

Over the next three years we worked on it. Paul would send a batch of lyrics from India and I would put them on the piano and stare at them for hours. Sooner or later certain lines would seem to have a melody to them. Then it would just be a matter of working at it, with the form and rhythm of the words leading the way. Sometimes I would have to skip around or omit things as the musical viewpoint developed, but more often whole blocks of words would end up exactly in their original order with music to them. The possible meaning of the words didn’t matter to me. I just thought they were strange and wonderful. If I was stuck Paul would send me another batch and in it somewhere would be the solution. Through this process (I can only speak of my end of the work – God knows how Paul managed to write the words in the first place) we eventually accumulated about twelve major pieces of music, and I started thinking about ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL (the title was there from the beginning) as a whole, and who we should get to perform it.

Actually there was never any question who the instrumentalists would be. At the time everything I wrote was automatically intended to be played by Gato Barbieri, Roswell Rudd, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and other long-time friends and accomplices, most of whom were involved with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. What I needed to find were singers. I hoped to find singers who were able to follow a difficult written part but didn’t have trained voices or typical mannerisms. But there were a few parts that required real professionals. It was my husband, Michael Mantler, director of the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and eventual producer of EOTH who thought of Jack Bruce. I agreed that he would be perfect and wrote him a letter. We had met a few times before, first at the Fillmore in San Francisco where I first heard him with Cream and then later in New York. As soon as Jack got the letter he called me from London and said yes! That started a flurry of activity. Work on EOTH continued, and everything now was written with Jack in mind. Then Viva, whom I didn’t know at all, agreed to do one of the major speaking roles. I had been imagining her in the part for a long time and had even managed to do a fair imitation of the way she speaks to put in the proper places on the work tape (a home version of the opera in its latest stage of progress with me singing and playing all the parts). I still needed to find singers, especially for the role of Ginger.

We had been planning to record EOTH for a commercial record label. But negotiations dragged on and on, and in the meantime we were getting more and more fed up with the relationship between music and the music business. Then, at some point during the summer of 1970, when Paul Haines was visiting us at our farm in Maine and we were actually together for the first time in years, we got all excited about the idea of trying to raise the money to do it ourselves and release it on JCOA, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra’s record label. Paul vowed to begin fund-raising immediately. I still didn’t believe it could happen, but a few weeks later we got a letter from Paul, now back in New Delhi where he was teaching French at the International School, saying that Sherry and Sue Speeth, who had just moved to India and were giving away all their earthly goods, had donated $15,000 to the project. With that we leaped off the edge and told the record company (who had never been that interested anyway) to forget it.

We started right in, planning to raise the rest of the money after we had something to play for prospective donors. After a lot of negotiations we decided to use RCA studios. I had enjoyed working with Ray Hall, one of their staff engineers, while recording A GENUINE TONG FUNERAL a few years before. And we needed lots of space, not only because we planned to have as many as thirty musicians in the studio at one time, but also because we were filming the recording sessions and needed room for lights and cameras. Bob Fries, of Butterfly Productions, supplied all of the equipment, and Steve Gebhardt was the cameraman, assisted by Jeff Hewitt and Dick Ward.

The first piece we wanted to record was RAWALPINDI BLUES, which featured Jack Bruce and trumpet player Don Cherry, but it seemed impossible to get them both in New York at the same time. By the time Jack could get away (he was working almost every night in London with Tony Williams’ band) Don had to leave for commitments in Europe. So we split the music into two parts and recorded Don’s parts first. This actually enhanced the piece since it was intended to be a dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures. The first session, featuring Don Cherry and the “eastern band”, took place on Nov. 30th, 1970. The players were Calo Scott – ‘cello, Leroy Jenkins – violin, Sam Brown – 12 string guitar, Souren Baronian – G clarinet and dumbek, Ron McClure – bass, Carla Bley – piano and organ, Paul Motian – drums, dumbek and bells. Don played ceramic flute and percussion as well as trumpet. He also sang. It was a beautiful shock to hear Don sing after all those years of knowing him only as a player. The band’s improvised sections were of the highest quality, rare and effortless. Don left the country the next day and on Dec. 7th Jack arrived and went right into the studio and recorded for 2 days and nights almost straight through. Luckily John McLaughlin was also in town so we were able to use him on electric guitar. With Jack on bass guitar, Paul Motian on drums and myself on organ, we had the “western band” (Later, when the opera was finished, they became the Desert Band and Jack’s Traveling Band.) Again, I was amazed at how great the playing was. We finished up RAWALPINDI BLUES and also recorded BUSINESSMEN, DETECTIVE WRITER DAUGHTER, parts of … AND IT’S AGAIN, and a few other bits and pieces. Jack and John went back to London and I settled down to putting RAWALPINDI BLUES together.
After listening to the material we had so far I decided to bring in another singer to do parts of RAWALPINDI BLUES that hadn’t been suitable for Jack or Don. I needed someone who could slide his voice around. Steve Ferguson, formerly of NRBQ, was a country singer from Kentucky, but I heard a connection between the way Steve moved his voice and the way it’s done in Eastern music. He came in on Dec. 18th and it worked out well. Steve’s role, His Friends, would have been larger if he hadn’t returned to Kentucky shortly after the date to sing exclusively in churches. Then again, we wouldn’t have had Charlie Haden singing the Western counterpart of His Friends if he had stayed.
Viva was going to have a baby in a few weeks, so if we wanted her on the fund-raising tape we were preparing we had to record her part next with what was left of our money. That first session with Viva was pretty much of a disaster. We made the mistake of using a huge studio, 16-track machines (we were recording her directly over the background music when we could have mixed voice and music together later) and a number of very uncomfortable floodlights (for the film, which we were shooting in color). We realized afterwards that this whole part should have been recorded on a portable machine in her hotel room. Her voice, one of the elements I had been so sure of, came out sounding like the Statue of Liberty ordering a ham sandwich. Viva suggested we do it over again less formally the following week, but by the time we got it together she was already occupied with more pressing business.

Using the best of the things we had so far, we put a tape together. RAWALPINDI BLUES was really difficult to mix. We had indiscriminately filled up all 16 tracks right at the beginning and then crammed in other elements wherever there was the slightest space. So when we finally got down to mixing it, it was all hands on the board and took two full days. One of the most un-nerving and time-consuming parts was a process I used a few times called cross-fading, which involved mixing two 16-track tapes down to a 2-track tape all at once. They used to flinch at RCA when we called in and told them how many machines we would need that day. From then on we tried to keep things simpler. We didn’t want Ray Hall to grow old before his time.

Everything had been done in high style so far. It was inconceivable to us that we wouldn’t be able to raise more money on the strength of what had already been recorded. We had received a few more small donations from friends of Paul Haines in India and Canada. But there was an understanding that although EOTH would be released on the JCOA label and all of the profits of the album would go to the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Association to be used for other composer’s projects, we would channel none of the orchestra’s money into the opera or solicit funds from any of the orchestra’s patrons. I was determined that EOTH would be a gift to JCOA, not a weight on its back.

At the moment our hopes were concentrated on a fund-raising party that a friend of Haines was organizing in Washington, D.C.. It seemed we would at least be able to borrow some money to finish the opera. Mike flew down for the occasion and played the tape for the guests. I sat home with a girl who was staying with us at the time, Peggy Imig, and waited for the crucial call. When it finally came the news couldn’t have been worse. Not a single person had given or loaned us a cent (although some people from the National Endowment for the Arts were there, and we heard that a later gift of $2,500 from that organization stemmed from the tape being heard at that party). Mike and the hostess were very depressed. So was I but only until Peggy suggested that I consider using people I didn’t have to pay in the opera, like family and friends. “What do you play?” I asked her. “Tenor saxophone,” she said, “but it’s in Oregon. I haven’t touched it in nine years, and besides, I have a tin ear.” “Send for it,” I told her, and the original Amateur Hotel Lobby Band was born. We knew we could find an old loft somewhere to use as a studio. All we had to do was bring in a portable tape machine. There were a group of tunes that were supposed to sound amateurish anyway, so our presently reduced circumstances would be right in order. When Mike got back the next day he liked the idea. There was no alternative.

In the meantime Jack had come to New York with The Tony Williams Lifetime, and planned to be working there for a while. We were hoping to raise the money to finish recording his part while he was in town. But then one day he called and said the group was splitting up and he was leaving town in a few days. Since I was a paid-up member of the musicians’ union and had a friend there who would co-sign for me, I was able to borrow $2500 with very little fuss almost overnight. I spent the next 48 hours madly copying parts while Mike got a band together. On February 16th, 1971 we were back at RCA, and recorded LITTLE PONY SOLDIER and a new version of DETECTIVE WRITER DAUGHTER. In the band were Bill Morimando – alto sax and celeste, Dewey Redman – alto and tenor saxes, Howard Johnson – baritone sax, Michael Mantler – trumpet, Jimmy Knepper – trombone, Jack Jeffers – bass trombone, Bob Stewart – tuba, John McLaughlin – guitar, Karl Berger – vibes, Charlie Haden – bass, Paul Motian – drums, and myself on piano. We weren’t able to film this session, but video artist Shirley Clarke brought over some friends and equipment and videotaped the whole thing. In an attempt to make the sound more natural, we had Jack sing right along with the band on DETECTIVE WRITER DAUGHTER instead of doing the voice over later. As it turned out, we had to do still another version of that song months later before I was satisfied with it.

With the money we had left, we were able to get Paul Haines over from India for a couple of weeks. We were about to record the Hotel Band and didn’t want him to miss it. It was quickly arranged and he arrived in time for a heavily scheduled week of rehearsing and recording. Even though he was staying at our apartment I didn’t get much time to talk to him since I was once again copying parts day and night. Not only was the Hotel Band session imminent, I was also doing a workshop in the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra workshop series at the Public Theatre and was preparing parts of the Hotel Overture to try out. I finished just in time and the workshop was beautiful, a cruel taste of what the orchestra would sound like in the opera if we ever had enough money to hire it.

The very next night we were rehearsing the Hotel Band in the old Cinemateque space which film maker/archivist Jonas Mekas was letting us use for the occasion. We rented a piano and hired Dave Jones to bring in a portable two-track Ampex tape machine. We had managed to recruit a wonderful band and chorus, some of them right off the street, and the following night, March 3rd, we recorded two pieces – the theme song ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL and OVER HER HEAD. The only person we couldn’t avoid paying was the opera singer. The volunteer band, which had started out with me on piano, Peggy Imig on tenor sax and Mike Mantler on valve trombone (we didn’t want any virtuosos in the band so we made him rent an instrument he had no experience playing) had been enlarged. Now it included Michael Snow, the film maker – trumpet, Nancy Newton, pianist and board member of JCOA – viola, and four regular musicians who were good enough to play amateurishly as a favor: Perry Robinson – clarinet, Howard Johnson – tuba, Paul Motian – drums, and Richard Youngstein – bass. Besides the opera singer, Rosalind Hupp, who had actually sung with the Metropolitan opera before she had twins, our singers were Karen Mantler (my 4-year-old daughter), Tod Papageorge (the photographer), tuba player Bob Stewart (who had won an impromptu talent contest for one of the singing roles), and me (I hadn’t found a GINGER yet so I had to sing the role myself). The chorus was made up of friends and strangers too numerous to mention. The place was full of people and platforms and old props from plays, and hardly a take went by without a click, if not a downright crash, in the background. I planned to use the tapes even though the quality was terrible, but only a few snatches actually ended up in the final EOTH.

Our last possible act before closing down all systems and awaiting further aid seemed to be going back to RCA, where the doors were still open (although we already owed them thousands of dollars) and recording HOLIDAY IN RISK. I sang and played all the parts myself. This was the only piece left that could be done without the orchestra. I had already gone in to do it once before but couldn’t get up the proper mood. It would have helped to have a room full of good-humored people urging me on. The first session had been on February 26th. No luck. For the second session I enlarged the band to two people. Tod Papageorge sang with me and played bird whistle. There were so many good takes I couldn’t decide what to lay the final tracks over. By the time we’d finished recording there were three hours of material that had to be edited down to three minutes. And it was all good. Paul Haines went back to India with his ears full.
We all tried, without success, to borrow money from every source we could think of, having given up asking for it outright (I applied for grants and got one from the Cultural Council Foundation, but it was very small). Finally, when there seemed no other way to finish EOTH, we approached a Businessman. We had given up the idea of non-profit music. For the next two months he thought about it, even sending a lawyer to investigate us and our organization. It seemed promising, and I continued to prepare orchestra music and look for more singers.

The role of Ginger was most important. Ginger’s voice and appearance (an eventual film production was always on my mind) had to match Jack’s. Paul Motian suggested Linda Ronstadt. Luckily her manager at the time, John Boylan, knew about JCOA and thought it would be a good thing for her to do. Of course we couldn’t go ahead until we had money to pay the musicians involved, so Linda went back to Los Angeles unrecorded as yet.
I collected other singers. One night someone called me up and asked if he could sing in the opera. He turned out to be Paul Jones, an English actor/singer who had heard us at a benefit Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra had played the night before. He said he had liked the music so much that he was moved to call and offer his services. Since I needed more female singers I got in touch with Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan and found parts for them. I wanted Don Preston, from the Mothers of Invention, to sing the role of DOCTOR but I had trouble talking him into it. He didn’t think he could sing and I thought he could. I finally won. Here were all these fantastic people lined up and our prospective investor still hadn’t made up his mind. Paul Jones was leaving town (everybody was always seeming to) so we had to pull off one more session at RCA. We kept it modest – I played all the orchestra parts on piano and Gato Barbieri came in and played a typically wonderful tenor solo. Then Paul Jones learned his part, rehearsed it and recorded it, all in the space of about an hour. (We added the horns and other voices later.) Now Gato was leaving the country in a couple of weeks, so we had to record the orchestra parts soon. We were so sure of getting the money that we put the whole orchestra on standby for the second week of June. The Businessman told us he would present us with his decision by June lst. At 10:30 on the morning of the lst, his lawyer called and told us the guy would do it, but he wanted a greater percentage of the profits than we had agreed on. It was a low blow, and as we sat there wondering what we could possibly do to defend ourselves at this late date, a friend came through for us and arranged a loan of $30,000 at a bank where he knew some people. That was what we needed to finish the recording. We called the businessman’s lawyer back to tell him to forget it, but it seems the Businessman had had second thoughts in the meantime and had decided against us altogether! It was really that close. I found a white hair on the top of my head the next morning.

We had no time to consider the implications of what we’d just accomplished since we were off again preparing for the largest part of the recording. With our tight budget we were no longer spending money on anything but musicians. We had made an Arrangement with Butterfly Productions to use their mobile sound van for the remainder of the work, including editing and mixing, with the condition that we’d pay for it later when the record came out. Joe Papp and Bernard Gersten of the New York Shakespeare Festival let us use Martinson Hall in the Public Theater building (where the JCOA workshops had been held) as our studio. The Butterfly truck parked in the alley outside the building and sent cables up to Martinson Hall, three floors above. The offices of the Anthology Film Archives, where Steve Gebhardt worked as manager, were not being used at the moment because the Anthology was on vacation, so Steve appropriated them for use as an electronics workshop and for tape storage.

On the 7th of June we began recording all the orchestral music. In the orchestra were Perry Robinson – clarinet, Jimmy Lyons – alto sax, Gato Barbieri – tenor sax, Chris Woods – baritone sax, Sharon Freeman and Bob Carlisle – French horns, Michael Mantler and Enrico Rava – trumpets, Roswell Rudd, Sam Burtis and Jimmy Knepper – trombones, Jack Jeffers – bass trombone, John Buckingham – tuba, Charlie Haden – bass, Paul Motion drums, and sometimes John McLaughlin – guitar, Bill Morimando – alto sax, and Roger Dawson – congas.

A typical 24-hour schedule for those two weeks was: 7 pm – rehearsal of the music to be recorded that night. 10 pm – break for dinner (most memorably, plates of cold soggy tempura from the Paradox, a lower east side vegetarian restaurant). 11 pm – begin recording. We’d usually get it after about six takes, and we’d do two or three pieces each night. 3 am – we’d start on the overdubs by people who were leaving town and couldn’t be there the following week when most of the vocal music was to be recorded. This included Charlie Haden, whom we’d flown in from California, to play in the orchestra. I remembered that he’d sung on his parents’ radio show regularly as a little kid in Missouri, so I asked him if he’d do the hillbilly backgrounds on WHY for me. He stayed after one night and did a great job. Everything in one take. Don Preston (temporarily separated from the Mothers) was about to leave for Europe with Gil Evans’ band, so we stayed late one night and finished off his vocals on LIKE ANIMALS and END OF ANIMALS. I remember directing him from the floor, where I’d fallen from exhaustion at dawn. The mice always came out at dawn to finish up the food on the floor. The sweepers would arrive soon after, and lean on their brooms listening to the last of the music. 7 am – we were usually out of there by then, and would go home for a few hours sleep. No more than that, since I had to copy the parts for the following evening. 12 noon – I’d nudge myself back into consciousness by playing the tapes of the previous nights work, and then get up and start copying parts. 6 pm – we’d leave for the Public Theater to do it again.

During the next nine days we recorded the HOTEL OVERTURE, SONG TO ANYTHING THAT MOVES, SLOW DANCE, the themes from GINGER AND DAVID, HOLIDAY IN RISK, and ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL. And backgrounds to GINGER AND DAVID, LIKE ANIMALS, END OF ANIMALS, WHY, DOCTOR WHY, and END OF HEAD. We also did ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL, OVER HER HEAD, and DETECTIVE WRITER DAUGHTER (!) over again, and added two layers of horns to SMALLTOWN AGONIST. (The orchestra parts of THIS IS HERE… used to belong to END OF HEAD.)

Whenever the Orchestra finished at a halfway decent hour, we stayed and did bits and pieces of things, like Roswell’s LOUDSPEAKER parts, Paul Motian’s overdubs on SMALLTOWN AGONIST and a tape of Paul just playing drum strokes and things (in case I had to cover anything with a loud crash later on), stabs at piano introductions, Moog explorations, and my vocal cue tracks for Jack Bruce and Linda Ronstadt. We couldn’t go to London and Los Angeles and they couldn’t come here so we took a chance on sending them the completed backgrounds and my imitations of them singing their parts. They were to record their vocals on an empty track and send the tapes back to me. In one case where they had a duet together, Linda recorded her part first, and then sent it to London where Jack added his and then sent it back to us!

By June 16th, all the orchestra parts were completed. It had gone smoothly, thanks in particular to Jack Jeffers (who contracted and kept track of the musicians), our big producer Michael Mantler (who organized and ran the whole thing), and our engineer Karl Sjodahl (who sat down there in the truck 18 hours a day and recorded everything single-handedly while Nelson Weber took over the Anthology office and repaired the equipment as it broke down and Wes Wickemeyer stayed upstairs and minded the microphones and wires). These three guys had to break everything down every morning when we were through because the hall was being used for other activities during the day. Bob Fries, boss of Butterfly, also put his hand in once in a while, either recording or helping Gebhardt on the film end, which we were still pursuing on a modest level. The musicians had all played beautifully, particularly Gato Barbieri and Roswell Rudd, who had the largest and most difficult parts.

We had three days left in which to finish the entire opera. We started in on the Chorus. They were an unwieldy bunch, with a lot of cutting-up in the back row, but they sang well enough to make up for it. We had Rosalind Hupp (our opera singer), Sheila Jordan (who had to stand right next to Rosalind Hupp!), Jane Blackstone (another person who had just called and asked to sing in the opera), Sharon Freeman (our French horn player), Nancy Newton (who was there to dub her thirty-second viola spot on to ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL, and was talked into staying and singing), Bob Stewart (the Original Amateur Hotel Chorus Talent Contest Winner, whose part kept growing because he sang so much better than everyone else), Pat Stewart (Bob’s wife, who had also helped out with the original Amateur Chorus), Howard Johnson (whose special vocal talents included singing whole chords at once, whistling a melody and harmony part while humming the bass line, and yodeling), Jack Jeffers or Sam Burtis (orchestra trombone players who split the night between them), Tim Marquand (president of JCOA), Tod Papageorge (the photographer, who sang with exquisite feeling if not voice), Don Preston (I thought he’d gone by now but he was still around), and a girl named Phyllis (who showed up for an hour, then went home sick). This was the hardest night for me. At about 4 am, when we still had three pieces to go and a couple of people had started complaining about the time, I almost came unglued. We finally had to skip one of the pieces and rush through another without getting it right. (Multi-tongued Howard Johnson and I fixed up those pieces at a later date.) But we had conquered ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL, OVER HER HEAD, and END OF ANIMALS. And we had added a rather out of tune but usable big-time chorus to … AND IT’S AGAIN.

Friday afternoon we did Viva over again. The lower the volume of the material being recorded, the more we became aware of the subway running under the Public Theatre building. Particularly in rush hour, we had to pause to let a train go by every five minutes. (There were a lot of discernible subway sounds on the tapes but I think the only one that remains is toward the beginning of the final hum.) Jeanne Lee came in next, and as GINGER II (GINGER’S eastern counterpart) sang over END OF RAWALPINDI. Then we did Howard Johnson, just by putting on a reel of blank tape and sitting him in front of a mike.

The last day was given over to the remaining vocal overdubs. We did the four small solos in ESCALATOR OVER THE HILL, sung by Rosalind Hupp, Tod Papageorge, Bob Stewart and Karen Mantler (nonchalantly), and added a number of Background singing and speaking parts to the many-layered SMALLTOWN AGONIST. We spent the remainder of the time on GINGER AND DAVID, which involved Sheila Jordan, Jane Blackstone, Bob Stewart and Tod Papageorge. When our time was up (our engineer had a plane to catch), we still were left with some undone odds and ends. However, since the bank loan had enabled us to pay our bill at RCA, it would be okay to run in there during the next week and finish up. The feeling of completion was too strong to take and I had to sit on the stairs with my mind in my hands for about half an hour before I could leave.

We ended up spending a good part of the following week at RCA. My part in the opera as a vocalist had little continuity or logic. I did everything that I couldn’t find anyone else to do – Background parts that would be too difficult to explain to anyone else, corrections that were too late to make with the proper singer, bare places that needed something and of course the cue tracks for other singers to follow. One of these, on DETECTIVE WRITER DAUGHTER, came in handy when the tape that Jack sent back from London was so badly distorted in one spot that we had to use my cue track instead. We were able to arrange the rest of the piece so it sounded like as if it were meant to be a dialogue all along. (If we had started out with rigid roles we would have required a great deal more money or would have had to put things in that weren’t any good just for the sake of continuity.) During this week someone mentioned that RCA had just acquired a calliope. The engineer said it was a pain to record because the motor made so much noise that it had to be put out in the hall with a long cable. But I liked the motor, especially the sound it made as it was turned off, and asked them to set it up for me. Mike and I sat down and played four-handed for a while. Then he had to leave and I played without wanting to stop. What we used in EOTH was a very small percentage of what we recorded that day. But it certainly wasn’t the only thing sacrificed to the form of the whole. I also got my favorite RCA piano and played it for a long time, thinking I could fit some piano music in somewhere. Although I thought it sounded good, I never really found a place for it. Along the same lines, Don Preston came in and read pages and pages of text but all we actually used were about 10 lines. The ratio of material recorded to material used turned out to be about 20 to 1, even though I tried to use everything I could, which led to patching together a lot of beautiful extra Don Cherry material which I used for A.I.R. and …AND IT’S AGAIN.

Mike and I packed up our tape recorders and the 75 seven-inch reels that contained copies of everything we’d recorded, bought a generator (our old farm had no electricity) and moved everything to Maine. Haines showed up out of the blue a week later and I played him all the tapes. It was good to be on the other side of the effort. Not that we really were yet.

The Butterfly truck happened to be in New York again during August. I knew by now what we had and what we still needed, so we flew down and recorded some more things while we had the chance. We took Bill Leonard and his wife, Evelyn, with us. Bill was our Maine discovery. He had a wonderful, unaffected voice, and could read poetry without making it sound like poetry. We had about five hours of his voice on tape before we were through. Some of it was just reading the text, and other times we let him loose and he just kept talking. We had quite a document afterwards which we referred to as “The Confessions.” The calliope tape was prepared in advance for him to read over and it was such a good combination of man and machine that Haines named him Calliope Bill and it stuck. I recorded some text too, just in case we needed a patch here or there. We also did Sheila Jordan’s part of GINGER AND DAVID over again, and Howard Johnson came by and did a one-man chorus job on parts of what would eventually be THIS IS HERE…. I called in the French horn player Bob Carlisle, to play a melody I kept hearing in my head over the last chords of the HOTEL OVERTURE. The final note, two octaves above middle C, was well above the horn’s range, but he said he’d try. I watched his face turn red and then purple while he slowly climbed to the note and held it as long as he could before falling over in his chair. It was a great moment in EOTH history. We did some preliminary assembling of final take choices, put the whole opera in a rough order, and then went back to Maine to continue working on it.

Mike spent the rest of the summer outside, building a log cabin, while I withered away in the house putting EOTH together. It was slow work. Before we started recording in 1970 I had an order in mind for all but a small uncongealed section in the middle. Before everything began to shift, the overture material was in front of RAWALPINDI BLUES instead of at the beginning; A.I.R., THIS IS HERE… and the first half of … AND IT’S AGAIN didn’t yet exist – all being Frankenstein creations put together later from bits and pieces of discarded materials. Most of the PHANTOM MUSIC (recorded by Mike and me in 1968 and later incorporated into the opera) was originally one long piece following SMALLTOWN AGONIST. And the story and most of the characters hadn’t assumed any form or personality.

Finally the tapes from Linda Ronstadt arrived, and then the ones from Jack Bruce. It was a relief to find that, as characters, they were perfect for one another. Linda, who said she had never been confronted with music so difficult, came through beautifully.
We had to go to Cincinnati to mix because the truck was there, and, as non-paying customers, we had to do what was convenient for Butterfly. We estimated (or rather, underestimated) that it would take two weeks. We left Karen in Maine with Calliope Bill’s family and flew to Cincinnati on the first of October, 1971. Summer was already long gone in Maine but in southern Ohio the weather was gorgeous. Not that we ever saw the light of day again. The truck was connected to the cellar of the house we were staying in, and we had to make use of every minute, so we woke up early every day and went down the stairs, burning incense to cover the dank smell, through the cellar and into the truck. We came back up at night and at least got to walk to a restaurant in the warm night air before going back down to work until bedtime.

We became friends with the people who lived in the house, and since I was still recording a few last touches I invited one of them, photographer Bill Roughin, to throw in a line or two. Mike joined me on the lengthening of the final hum (which is also the beginning hum played backwards) and I worked on OVER HER HEAD, making the ending into a duet, etc. When the two weeks were almost up we realized that we needed a lot more time. That was a problem because the engineer was in the Army and had to report back to his base in Virginia. We decided to stay in Cincinnati until he could get back the following weekend. While he was gone Mike and I became familiar with the machines and began to work by ourselves. When he got back he came down with a fever, took to his bed, and never did recover (at least not until we were gone – maybe it was the music). So we had to learn editing and mixing right there and then. We ended up finishing the whole opera ourselves, which was ideal. We took our time and stayed until we were sure everything was right, sometimes doing up to 20 mixes of a single tune. Luckily the machines, which had always been tempermental, ran perfectly for us. When we were finished we listened to the whole thing for the first time and wrote down things that didn’t sound right. There was quite a list of corrections we had to make after the first listening. Then we listened again and got a smaller list. After the third time we felt it was finished. We made safety copies (which was a good thing since the first 4 bars of LITTLE PONY SOLDIER were accidentally erased by an engineer at RCA a month later) and finally left Cincinnati on November 2nd.

We were living back in New York then, and I began to work on the libretto. The words were all there just for the copying down, but who was what wasn’t. Before the opera was recorded I had written an elaborate production script, hoping to raise money by having something fanciful for people to look at. I had added a lot of comments to the original text, like “everyone sits on the bed and sings OVER HER HEAD or “the entire audience rises slowly through the roof of the theatre.” I was now determined not to limit the listener’s imagination by weighing EOTH down with my own. So I took a clue from a list of “characterists” that Paul Haines had sent me. Everyone who had sung or played in the opera, people who had helped us financially or otherwise, characters and places in the opera – all were mixed up in one big list. I realized that I could find every indication I wanted right there in the text itself, and resolved not to make anything up. I looked for information and found it. In the few cases where I was stuck I wired Haines and asked him to invent someone (which he did good-naturedly even though I knew he didn’t approve of cement).

When the libretto was finished there was still the rest of the book to compose. We had so many great photographs, taken at the sessions by Garry Winogrand, Tod Papageorge and Paul McDonough, that it was difficult to choose what to include. Then Mike and I compiled all the information – who played what and where it was recorded, etc. When the material to be printed in the book was collected and given to the typesetter, his estimate for just setting the type was $3100. We had to take it back and do some quick thinking. Finally we rented an electric typewriter and did it ourselves for $150. Of course it took a month longer. When we were finished Paul McDonough pasted up the book – 36 pages of text, photographs and information.

I had been making last minute changes at RCA all the while. I had always planned to lock the groove on the final hum, in order to make it seem to go on forever, but when I heard the first reference lacquer the repetitive clicks at the end were irritating instead of hypnotizing. I had the uneasy feeling that the idea wasn’t going to work, but the engineers finally managed to make the clicks softer. I thought our troubles were over, and that there was nothing left to do in New York, so on January 12th, 1972, Mike and I left for Europe to set up a new kind of distribution service that would serve JCOA and other small non-profit-motivated record companies. While we were there we publicized the imminent release of EOTH and played at TV workshops in Vienna and Hamburg to pay for the trip. We thought the album would be out by the time we returned to the States three weeks later. However, the production had completely bogged down, having gotten stuck at finding the right shade of gold for the cover. It was late February by the time the records were pressed, and when we heard them we found that two of the three records in the EOTH set had mechanical errors. One of the most depressing ones was a bump and grind routine over the final hum at the point where it gets stuck, totally ruining the magic that I had worked for two hours to achieve. We had to tell them to grind up the whole batch and start again. It turned out that the problem was in the lacquer and not the pressing, so we made new test lacquers. Another 4000 each of the two incorrect records were ordered at RCA’s expense. We didn’t hear from them for over a week and when we called to protest the delay we were told that they had finally come up with a correct lacquer for the ending, but it had gotten lost at the pressing plant. So they had to spend two days trying to cut another one and never could get it right again! We were resigned enough when we heard the “improved” ending to accept the new, less objectionable distortion, and finally let the set be packaged as it was. I can hear “and it’s again” over the hum, which is certainly appropriate.

Carla Bley, March 8, 1972*

(*checked for syntax and grammar in April, 1997)

src: Matt Endahl


Watt website

Carla Bley Extravaganza:

1.) A Lifetime of Carla Bley (at the New Yorker Culture Desk)

2.) Interview with Carla Bley

3.) Carla, Carla, Carla, Carla, Carla (guide to the discography)

4.) Accomplishing Escalator over the Hill (by Carla Bley)