by Tony Bentivegna
I asked Dash for an interview after exchanging several emails during the Spring of 2000, following the re-release of his cd, "Today." Actually landing him for the interview took several months, however, because he is constant motion. We finally settled into a discussion on July 13, and immediately established a rapport. Dash has a rich musical history that spans from his involvement with late '50's Texas rock and roll to recent world tours singing with the Voices of Baha' choir. This interview is conducted on the eve of his 60th birthday and covers a range of topics indexed below. Dash is a great story teller, and he allowed me to probe for a lot of information on specific songs and events in his career. Below are selected portions of what eventually became a series of interviews over a period of six hours.
|001||On Playing Drums With the Champs, 1958-65|
|002||Early Idea of Forming "The Ghosts"|
|003||Last Time With Jimmy / Jimmy's Children|
|004||Jewel In the Lotus and The Lote Tree Projects|
|005||John Hartford On Summer Breeze Album|
|006||"Dust On My Saddle"|
|007||On Failure of "First Love"|
|008||Disco and "You're the Love"|
|009||Eighties and Early Nineties|
|012||Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke|
|013||The "Lift Up Your Voices" Project|
|014||On Rare and Unreleased Material|
TB: Hey Dash!
TB: Tony here.
DC: Hey Tony, how ya doin'.
TB: Pretty good.
DC: Ah, just looking for some glasses of mine, but I couldn't find them. But I'll be okay. I can see.
TB: Okay. Well, you don't need your vision here to talk to me.
ON PLAYING WITH THE CHAMPS, 1958-65
DC: (laughs). Well, I was trying to look at that picture of The Champs you
sent and you know what, I've been tryin' to think of their names ever since
you sent it. I put it up on the computer, and I just thought of all of their
names. [picture at right].
TB: I just got a cd called "The Champs: Later Singles". . .
DC: "Later Singles"?
TB: Yeah, this company out of England got these Challenge records somehow and
put together all these singles from the Champs' later years. It has that same
picture in there, with their names. It identifies the guy at the top as John
Trombatore [co-writer of "Leave," from the Down Home album].
DC: Yeah, Trombatore. Johnny Trombatore and Maurice Marshall is the guy in
the middle. Curtis Paul is the bass player, right below him. I don't know who
the funny looking guy is on the right hand side.
DC: Ah, and the guy on the bottom is Keith MacKendrick, the sax player [co-writer of several songs in the 60's, especially with Jimmy Seals]. And
what's interesting is that this is the group of people that ah, this is the
last group of people in The Champs. When we finally split up, Jimmy [Seals]
was gonna go with us on this trip.
TB: That's what surprised me, that Jimmy's not in the picture.
DC: (laughs). Well, I was trying to look at that picture of The Champs you sent and you know what, I've been tryin' to think of their names ever since you sent it. I put it up on the computer, and I just thought of all of their names. [picture at right].
TB: I just got a cd called "The Champs: Later Singles". . .
DC: "Later Singles"?
TB: Yeah, this company out of England got these Challenge records somehow and put together all these singles from the Champs' later years. It has that same picture in there, with their names. It identifies the guy at the top as John Trombatore [co-writer of "Leave," from the Down Home album].
DC: Yeah, Trombatore. Johnny Trombatore and Maurice Marshall is the guy in the middle. Curtis Paul is the bass player, right below him. I don't know who the funny looking guy is on the right hand side.
DC: Ah, and the guy on the bottom is Keith MacKendrick, the sax player [co-writer of several songs in the 60's, especially with Jimmy Seals]. And what's interesting is that this is the group of people that ah, this is the last group of people in The Champs. When we finally split up, Jimmy [Seals] was gonna go with us on this trip.
TB: That's what surprised me, that Jimmy's not in the picture.
TB: Was this a session for The Champs?
DC: No, it was a session for Bobby Bare. But the Champs were doing one last tour. Jimmy and I both were gonna leave. They wouldn't let us sing. I mean, they'd let us sing but they wouldn't let us record our voices. We'd keep saying, "You know, we can sing." And they'd say, "Okay fellas, well we'll get to you later." (laughs). And finally we told them we can't stay with an instrumental group any longer, 'cause we have too many songs we want to sing.
TB: It's pretty interesting. You have all that vocal talent in that group for all those years, and you're all kind of handcuffed.
DC: Yeah, yeah, I know. That's why we decided eight years was enough in this group, that we were wasting our time. Even though they had a hit song ["Tequila"] and they were making good money. It's not what we wanted to do creatively. And besides [sighs], we were on the verge of discovering a lot of things about life. And we wanted to write about that. And we wanted to sing; we both could sing. And they'd say, "No, this is an instrumental group. No, we can only do instrumentals because we are known as an instrumental group." We said, "Well then, hire someone else, because we're leaving." And so, Jimmy decided not to go on this last tour.
TB: This is about '65?
DC: In think so, yeah, about '65.
DC: Yeah. As a matter of fact what we would do, at the breaks, we'd set up his guitar and my mandolin, and we'd sing in the breaks. And see what people thought of the songs. And we got some really good reaction. So that's one of the reasons we wanted to start singing, but the Champs wouldn't let us do that.
TB: I'm really interested in the things you guys might have been writing and thinking about in this early time, and this is before you began pursuing the Baha'i themes, right?
DC: Yeah, pretty much.
TB: It was a couple of years before that.
DC: I'll tell you what we had started to work on. We were gonna form a group called "The Ghosts." Heh, heh.
TB: Like "Ghost Riders In the Sky?"
DC: Yeah, only we were gonna paint our faces white and wear black clothes, and have black circles around our eyes. And it was gonna be a real spooky group. We were gonna be called "The Ghosts," and then a very ironic thing happened. We started working with a producer. A very young producer with a young wife, and they were in their 20's. I can't remember his name right off-hand. Jimmy wrote a song called, "Death." And it went, "Death's gonna getcha. . . [sings]. Something like that. But it was all about death and you better get your act together now, because it's gonna come unwarranted, and your not gonna be prepared, and all that. And right in the middle of writing and putting down the track of that song, the producer was called to his home. And his wife had dropped dead on the front porch! And so, we dropped the idea like a hot potato.
TB: Bad timing there.
DC: We decided, "No, I don't think so." So, that song never got released or recorded. We never went with "The Ghosts." We formed a group, calling it "The Mushrooms."
TB: The way you were singing the beginning of that song, "Death's gonna getcha . . . [singing]; it sounds like the beginning of "Fiddle In the Sky."
DC: Yeah. Actually, that's the melody that was eventually used on "Fiddle In the Sky." Boy, you got a good set of ears.
TB: I'm an amateur musician myself. But you know what, I've been listening to your music for years. I've picked up your music when I was 12 years old and I keep coming back to it. I let it go for a period of time and then come back to it. It just endures for me. It's kind of hard to explain why you attach yourself to certain kinds of music.
DC: Yeah, I know. I'm that way too. There's certain things I come back too all the time.
DC: I think it was probably in March [of 2000]. Four or five months. He has a condominium here and his children stay here because one, Juliette, is going to college. Joshua got married and he's back at Costa Rica now; just had a little baby.
TB: Oh wow.
DC: I mean Sutherland got married. Joshua and Juliette are pursuing their own musical careers and Jimmy helps them, so they got a condominium in Miami and here, and they go back and forth from Costa Rica to here to Miami.
DC: Isn't that nice?
TB: That is super. I'm glad I found that thing. That's a hard bugger to find, by the way.
DC: Oh yeah it is. It's tough. I don't think that song was ever released, really. Unless it was on one of the Baha'i albums. There's an interesting story about that. Jimmy, Joshua, Sutherland and Juliette and some of their friends in Costa Rica went in to Jimmy's studio in his home and recorded that, and then they sent me a copy when I was in Montreal doing an album, or a Baha'i album. And I put my voice on it by proxy. (laughs).
TB: Oh, really?
DC: Yeah. So I wasn't really there at the session. I put my voice on it afterwards, 'cause I couldn't come to Costa Rica. I was doing a project in Montreal, so they sent it to me up there.
TB: Is that the same thing that was done on the song "Jewel In the Lotus?" Did he and Jack Lenz do the song down in Costa Rica. . .
DC: I think Jimmy and Jack worked on the song "Jewel in the Lotus" in Costa Rica, but Jimmy and I actually did that together. Jimmy and I went in and did "Baha-u'-llah." Let's see, that's called, "Garden of Ridvan." We went in and did that, just the two of us. We produced it, wrote it, sang it, mixed it, did everything on it ourselves. That's one of my favorite Baha'i things that we've done, on The Lote Tree. "The Bab" and "Baha-'ullah." Both of those songs were done in a studio in L.A. We just went in and did that.
TB: That's the one where William Sears does the narrative.
DC: Yes it is.
TB: You know, my version of that is on cassette and it doesn't even have a year on it. I can't place it in sequence.
DC: I'm trying to see. . .
TB: It was done about 1987 as well, huh?
DC: I believe it was. I'm trying to spot the one that I have. See, I told you I'd need my glasses!
TB: You were right all along!
DC: [To his wife Louise: "Yeah, The Lote Tree, I'm looking for The Lote Tree"]. Yeah, "The Bab," "The Garden of Ridvan," and I think we did. . .
TB: I don't have it in front of me, but it's at the website. I think there's a third song.
DC: I think it was something about Abdul' Baha. This is not an official tape, this is like a working tape, so one side is One Planet, Forever Like the Rose. . .
DC: So I'm not sure if this is even the correct list of songs, but we went in and did those three songs and then we got Walter Heath to sing some and then Danny Deardorff to sing some. And then we put it out with those three artists on.
TB: I've been in contact with Walter Heath.
DC: Have you?
TB: Yeah. He liked the website and sent me an email.
DC: Oh, cool.
TB: We exchanged a few words. He's a nice guy.
DC: Yeah, he's great. Wow. He's a talented, talented guy.
TB: He was expressing his... well, he was grateful for the fact that he opened for you guys for a period of time.
DC: Yeah, well were grateful to have him along. We did some of the songs that he wrote on our shows. One was called "Put Your Love In My Hands," an up tempo song. I think he also had something to do with "Thoroughbred."
DC: Oh yeah, that's possible! I think Johnny did play with us.
TB: But you know what, he got mixed out if he did.
DC: Yeah, yeah. He got mixed out alright!
TB: If you go to "Fiddle In the Sky" and turn your stereo or headphones way up, you might hear a hint of banjo back there. You know, but it might be my imagination too. [laughs].
TB: You talking about Danny Seals?
TB: Oh, I didn't know he sang on that.
DC: Yeah, he sang on that song with us, and I'd forgotten that he did that.
TB: I don't think they gave him credit on the album. If they did, I never noticed that.
DC: I believe they did. If you check you'll probably see his name. He sang a third part on that with us, I remember.
TB: Now, "Dust On my Saddle." I bet you that was a song -- see, that has a 1966 copyright. That must go way back.
DC: Yeah. It does. Jimmy wrote that all by himself. I think that was a song that was sort of a take off on "El Paso." He was kind of a fan of, ah -- who's the guy who did "El Paso"?
TB: I don't know that one. Oh! Marty Robbins.
DC: Yeah, Marty Robbins.
TB: Of course.
DC: He was kind of mesmerized by Marty Robbins, and so he wrote this song sort of in the same character as Marty Robbins. . .
TB: It's a really fun song, you know!
DC: Oh, we had so much fun on the stage with that thing. Everybody loved singin' with us.
TB: It was great. It's a great song. You can tell you're having fun with it.
DC: Yeah, we had a good time.
TB: And maybe you guys first messed around with that song when you were with The Champs. . .
DC: I believe that's what we did. I actually think we wrote it even before Seals and Crofts. I know we had material put together before we actually formed the duo. We had started a group called The Mushrooms and then Marcia Day, who had three daughters, decided she was gonna put her daughters with us and send us to Las Vegas. Because, you see, we were playing these clubs, and so. . . People would say, "How come you let Seals have the first name?" And I say, "Well [lowers voice], would you like Crofts and Seals? Not me. I like "Seals and Crofts." Do you say "crafts and arts?" No, you say "arts and crafts."
TB: [laughs] No, you gotta go with what fits there. You don't want a name like "Bentivegna" because that would never fit anywhere.
DC: [laughs] That's right. They had this comedian that -- I'm trying to remember his name -- Bernstein or somebody. Funny, funny guy. Part of his act was: "I used to work for Seals and Crofts until I introduced them as Arts and Crafts, and then they fired me!" [laughs].
DC: Well, I'll tell you a story about that particular song, "First Love." You've heard about the Redmond Report, these two critics that stick their necks out and predict what's gonna be a number one or a top ten song. And the Redmond Report, something that all musicians look for as their barometer in the music business, not only said on radio that they thought "First Love" was gonna be a number one hit single, but they went on television and stated it too. But [Warner Brothers] dropped the ball with that song. Because we recorded it and put it out as a single and their p.r. department was supposed to be pushing it and trying to get it on the majors. And they got busy wining and dining somebody else and lost that single. It started to shoot up, and because they weren't on the job it fell off the charts, and that's when we let our contract with Warner Brothers expire. We had been with them, like, ten years, eight or ten years.
TB: Sure, I know.
TB: Three years since "You're the Love," actually.
DC: Oh yeah, that's it. "You're the Love." [sings part of it].
TB: Well, I already told you my opinion of that song.
DC: Yeah, well my wife teases me about that all the time. I say, "It wasn't disco, it just had a disco face, that's all!" [laughs]
TB: You know, the thing that hurts about that song, I think, is the break or bridge, the instrumental break in that song. Where you guys stop singing, and the strings sweep in?
DC: Yeah, yeah!
TB: It actually hurts to hear that.
DC: Well I know, it kills me! The strings actually did the lead! [laughs]
TB: [laughs] But you know, those were the times. There's nothing wrong with trying something new.
DC: No, that's all we were doin'. And we didn't write the song. It was David Batteau that wrote the song. So we decided to try it and do something that would put us in sort of a hit place, because at the time disco was so hot, you know, so we decided we would put a little bit of a disco flavor to it. But it turned out too disco for me.
TB: Yeah. Did you guys have any say in what would be promoted as a hit single from your albums?
DC: Yeah we did. There were so many people involved. But most of the time we would say what we thought would be the best to try for, and then sometimes we would be gone or out of the country, and things had to go on, and so the manager or Warner Brothers or somebody else would make the decision while we were gone, and when we'd come back it was already done.
TB: Did you ever tour to promote Takin' It Easy?
DC: Takin' It Easy? I think so, I'm not sure. It was around 1979 or '80 that we stopped touring.
TB: I don't recall that tour. The album was about 1977 or '78.
DC: We stopped around '80, so we probably did tour. I moved to Mexico around 1980.
TB: Takin' It Easy was April of 1978. You guys were in San Fernando and it was recorded at Dawnbreaker Studios.
TB: So where are all those recordings now?
DC: Oh, they're sitting around collecting dust. [laughs] There's one that's one of my favorites. It's called "Passengers."
TB: You know, I remember that song.
DC: Do you?
TB: In fact, I mention it at the website. I saw you guys here in San Francisco in the early 90's, 1991 and 1992, you came here twice. You came to the Circle Star Theater south of here and then to a winery near Saratoga. And you did that song. You did a few new songs, but that was the one that stuck in my mind.
DC: Yeah. We were planning to do a really good single with that thing, but that was the year we decided to quit touring altogether, and so the song just kind of laid there. Let's see, we did sing that song to Mr. Sears. Do you know who Bill Sears is?
TB: Well, he's the one who narrated on The Lote Tree, and he's very influential in the Baha'i faith.
DC: That's him. He was in Chicago and we went up there to sing that to him because we loved him so much. Such a wonderful person. And we changed the lyrics a little bit to fit him, and that's the only time that we performed that thing except when you saw us, in public. I guess it kind of got lost in the shuffle. It's still a good song. I'd still like to record it.
TB: So you guys -- I take it you have a body of work you did in the early '80's there. Maybe early to mid 80's. Like a set of songs that you two worked on, with Jimmy.
DC: Yeah, as a matter of fact we have an unreleased album that we did in Australia.
TB: So, that's already in the can?
DC: Yeah, that's already in the can. Right.
DC: Isn't that awful?
TB: How are we gonna shake that out, Dash?
DC: I've been thinking about it you know. I've been thinking, wow, this would be a good time. Probably when we die. . .[laughs].
TB: I have to tell you, I don't understand this because, even assuming that your touring days are over, and that's assuming a lot these days, because there's lots of people, musicians from the 70's that go on summer tours all the time, and we're talking about groups that didn't have anywhere near the fame that you guys had. . .
DC: Yeah it's very unfortunate and sad, but. . .
TB: A lot of times you just move on in life I guess.
DC: That's basically what we've done. We've just moved on and we're involved in other things. I mean, I know we could be making a lot of money and we could be touring and all that but, you know, when you get to a point where you think you said everything you want to say, then it's like beating a dead horse. It's fun, yeah, we loved everything, we love to write and perform and record, but sometimes silence is better than other things. We stopped when were pretty much in the flow, you know, rather than having to struggle and go back, and do this and that. We just decided that this would be a good time to stop traveling. I mean, we traveled for 30 years! We traveled with The Champs. We did The Dawnbreakers, The Mushrooms. We did Seals and Crofts.
Interview, Part Two