|Interrobang?!: How long was Fifty Foot Hose actually together?
Cork: We were together, let's see, the end of 1966 until 1970. We stopped playing formally in '69 when everyone in the band, with the exception of me, went into the cast of Hair. Nancy (Blossom) was the female lead in the SF production of Hair. (Kim) Kimsey became the drummer. Dave (Blossom) was not only the guitarist in the band, but he got to do this total freak out stage thing. I made a choice that I'd go to grad school for my art work, because the idea of playing exactly the same music for two years, six times a week-I couldn't do it. Plus-it was also like the end of this...our crusade had been to really try to make a new music.
I: You used a lot of cool electronic gadgets. What sort of things did you build yourself?
Cork: We took apart Dave's Gretsch guitar and I think it was the first synthesized guitar ever. We built in this thing called a squeaky box. We also built in repeat percussion and a fuzztone and a half a dozen other things. There was a screw that when you touched it, picked up radio stations. It was really fun.
I: How did you meet up with Nancy Blossom?
Cork: Nancy was David's wife. It was originally David (on guitar) and me, and Nancy just happened to be there. Nobody wanted to sing and Nancy was a stage singer, so Nancy was absolutely willing to try anything. She was willing to do what is now called extended vocals. We would tell her, "Don't worry about the words, and don't worry about the tune, just go off and follow my lead."
I: As far as I know there weren't that many women involved in music at that time.
Cork: No, there weren't too many others. There was an all-girl band, the Ace of Cups. They were good. They were like a real typical San Francisco sixties band. Lothar & the Hand People had a female in the band and they used a theremin also. There weren't a lot of women.
I: What about the other guys in the band- how did you hook up with them?
Cork: The drummer (Kim Kimsey) we got because David and I kept working with other bands to make a living, and we worked with this horrible band called- I think it was the Lee Piper Quartet in San Jose. And he was their drummer. No doubt about it, he was a great drummer, and he had no problem with the idea of us dropping out of time. Larry Evans (guitar) was a real transient musician and I met him at the Utah Hotel. He was living at the hotel. It was a flophouse in those days. Larry was the only one in the band that was really totally involved in drugs. Completely. I mean he'd smoke half a lid of grass just to make sure the acid was going to work. So he had no problem, despite his sort of country & western background, getting into this kind of space. We never really had a bass player. We were a combination of acid meets art school. All of us had been musicians. David and I sort of knew about non-structured music and knew about art as performance. We'd read about some of the stuff. We'd gone to see concerts. And then some of the other guys just knew about drugs. We just sort of got together.
I: What music influenced you at the time?
Cork: "Poeme Electronique," which I first heard in like 1962 or 63, really opened my head to the potential of tone poems, and music or tone as structure or sculpture in space. After that it was just a matter of playing and watching the effects of music on people and on myself. My first musical interest was blues and I think what I was most interested in was how it made you feel. It really bypassed the brain and went straight to the feet or the heart. Your body was activated. I wanted to take people on some kind of a trip, y'know just really move them to another place, not higher or lower, I didn't know where. I wasn't specific, but I definitely knew that if the music came from a spot in all of that was very genuine, very pure, it would do that.
I: Did you listen to free jazz?
Cork: I listened more to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I was more interested in attitude. I got to see a lot of wonderful jazz at Jimbo's Bop City, 'cause Jimbo's had no age limit 'cause it was basically a waffle house. I know that sounds crazy, but the front room was a waffle restaurant, and in the back was just a back room. It was a period of time where blacks and whites really mingled in the world of jazz very freely, with no sense of danger or weirdness. I saw Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd with Keith Jarrett, the Last Poets. I always pick up on the spirit of things.
I: What did your audiences think of Fifty Foot Hose?
Cork: We had a rabid following. If you were to take a look at a bag of Halloween candy, that's what our audiences looked like. There were people who had found us from the nightclub scene, and then there was definitely all the people who were living in the park, in the Panhandle and in the Haight. I have no idea what any of them thought. They never communicated directly other than that they liked it or they just kept showing up. We had great crowds. For our live shows we had two tone generators just cycling very slowly moving up to a tighter and tighter cycle. But it literally created the sense of an earthquake. It started with almost subsonic tones and then we would hit these resonances and it would start to oscillate. We'd hold it there and bring the volume up and people would start...I mean, whatever they thought the band was going to be, all of the sudden they weren't thinking about music and they weren't thinking about something else, they were experiencing this. Their bodies were getting these really heavy low tones and then we'd go into a tune. We'd do that for 2-5 minutes until we could really get peoples' attention turned away from what they were, to what was happening.
I: Did you ever tour?
Cork: Yeah, we went on tours with Blue Cheer, Leon Russell, Chuck Berry, Fairport Convention.
I: I can't imagine people coming to see Chuck Berry and seeing Fifty Foot Hose! When you travelled, did you meet other people who had the same approach to music as you?
Cork: The only people we met on tour were more mature musicians. We were sort of like outcasts in the rock and roll world because we wanted it to be seen in an historical context, which no one else was really thinking about. We wanted some dialogue with other musicians who were thoughtful about their music. We were interested in certain solos as being tonal clusters. Like some of the work we did on the end of "Red the Sign Post," where we just moved sounds around. That was a great tune live.
I: That has to be one of my favorite songs. It's got all these great elements, like the creativeness and energy in the interplay among the instruments, cool fuzz guitar, your electronic work and the passion in Nancy's vocals. When did the album "Cauldron" come out?
I: Was the label it was released on, Limelight, an independent label or a subsidiary of a major label?
Cork: Our contract was with Mercury. I'd called Brian Rohan, who represented all of the bands from the San Francisco scene. I met him. I gave him the tape. About two months later Robin McBride, who was the rep from Mercury/Limelight, came out and set up an audition at my mom and dad's place 'cause we had no place else that we could play in the afternoon. They gave us the garage and he came in and we played and it was perfect. Robin loved the band. He got it, whatever it was that we were doing. He understood and within two weeks after that we had a contract. It was really an interesting moment.
I: Did you ever release anything else?
Cork: Yeah, I released a 7" record, about 1966, which was a complete strange, bizarre art experiment. It was a joke. The name of the tune was "Bad Trip" and it was on Mary Jane Records. The record could be played at any speed. The tempos are all off. It's the essence of a dada gesture.
I: Were you influenced by other things that were going on in the Bay Area around that time, like the Diggers?
Cork: Well, the Merry Pranksters. Dan Healy, who produced our record, had brought someone from the Pranksters up to our place to see all the electronic stuff. He installed something on the bus that was based on one of our echo-loop machines. We went down there once, to La Honda, and met a bunch of the people. It was cool. I'd never seen redwood trees painted day-glo before.
I: It seems that around '66 there was a big dichotomy, among the people who were doing psychedelics, between those that wanted to follow Timothy Leary and those who wanted to follow the Merry Pranksters.
Cork: Well, there was also a big influence by Alan Watts at the time. Alan was quite influential, and his attitude was so open and gentle compared to...I mean, there was no dogma. He never really told you what to do.
I: Did you ever meet him?
Cork: Yeah. You met everybody because it was a very small community and there were just a few places where people congregated.
I: Do you think the community here is still as tight-knit?
Cork: The club scene is pretty interesting, and the people know each other within it. It's okay, but it's certainly changed a lot. I'm finding some individuals that I like who sort of have an attitude of where, we're here to play, it's what we do and if something good happens that's great, but mostly we're here to play. What I like about San Francisco is you can see good music easily.
I: Have you ever seen the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282? They seem to carry on the spirit of Fifty Foot Hose.
Cork: Oh yeah. They're fun.
I: How did it feel toward 1970 when things changed and people went on to maybe not being so community based? 'Cause I see that happening now, with so many bands signing to major labels just like in the early '70's.
Cork: What really started to happen was that at that moment, none of the major record companies understood what the music was, and they didn't get a complete grasp until between '70 and '72, and at that moment it was over. I moved away in 1970. I moved to Minneapolis and I lived there on and off for thirteen years. I taught at the art school, I lived in Germany, did a lot of work in Europe and New York and I could see that the scale of the money was elevating quickly.
I: That's exactly what's happening now.
Cork: I tried to concentrate on the visual arts, working with live energy and light, things that to me were basically the same (as what I'd done with Fifty Foot Hose). I found that art at that moment was the same as music had been five or six years earlier. It was open. You could have ideas and you could find supporters. It was like that with art, for me, until about 1980. Then I started to get very disillusioned with that 'cause I could see the direction it was going and I moved back to SF and made films. I made a 90 min. feature about blues players called "Survivors: The Blues Today" and I did a one hour documentary for the Black Entertainment Network on Willie Dixon. Then I got really back into my art work, the stuff I'm doing now (neon art for public spaces) which is away from the galleries, away from the museums. I'm not making any kind of political statement about galleries and museums. I just needed to make a living. The opportunity of working in these large public spaces came about and I found out that I had a skill for working large which I'd never tried to do. This year I'm finally getting back to my first love which is music, by starting up an independent record company, Weasel Disc. My desire to play, it's not that it hasn't come back- it has come back- but I feel that I admire so much people like Hal Wilner and what he's been able to do putting people together. A lot of his projects, The Weird Nightmare project for Charlie Mingus and even the Disney project, Stay Awake...just working with all these great players and creating some stuff that's really interesting. I've wanted to do that my whole life.
I: Did you ever get into punk while living in Minneapolis or Germany?
Cork: In 1978 I lived in Berlin and the entire year I was a guest of the government there. I lived in the Turkish section and they had this wonderful punk club called SO36. The floor was very nice- polished concrete. The walls and the ceiling were all aluminum and the lighting was all blue neon. That's it. I mean, you can imagine it in your head and have it right. It was a brittle, cold place. No food. Beer, wine, hard liquor. And all ages because it was Germany. The club opened at 10:00pm, the band went on at midnight, and it closed at 8:00am. It was nuts. It was just crazy. It was two blocks from my house and I got to see the best, fresh acts. I like music and I like anything that's basically, when I see it, coming from a place of purity. I don't care if it's a character playing acoustic blues, folk music, someone doing french cabaret songs on an accordion, or a hardcore band. I don't want to hear imitation. A cover is a cover.
I: What were some of the bands that you saw?
Cork: One of the funniest bands I saw was X-Ray Spex. Poly Styrene was very funny. I saw the Sex Pistols and some of the German bands like SPK. Wayne County and the Electric Chairs were great. At that moment, too, he changed from Wayne County to Jayne County. And Blondie was over there. Even though it wasn't a punk show, she played the club and it was really fun. I saw Television. Nobody was making a lot of money. Roadies- maybe one in five bands had them. It was more like back when I was playing. You picked up your amplifier and you carried it into the club and you set things up and you played three or four sets. There weren't three bands. That was quite good. They came, they went. It was really about the energy.
I: Do you still keep in touch with Dave Blossom?
Cork: Dave and I are still in touch. Dave opened a recording studio, but it's long gone. He's a computer repair guy now. In 1980, when he was still involved in recording and I made my films, he was the engineer. Nancy is a sad story. Dave hasn't seen Nancy or his daughter in twenty years. She went to New York and did the lead in Godspell. Dave never saw her again.