Andrew Brown's '60's music 'zine Brown Paper Sack labeled The Zoofs as "simply one of the coolest groups to ever prowl in the city
of New Orleans" - an assessment that 60sgaragebands.com readily concurs with. Taken into the recording studio by R&B and jazz honcho
Allen Touissaint, the Zoofs recorded the classics Get To Know Yourself and Not So Near in 1966. Though they unfortunately had no
further recordings, guitarist Mike Presti thankfully still has enough recollections to last a lifetime.
An Interview With Mike Presti
60sgaragebands.com: What is a Zoof? How did the band come up with that name?
Mike Presti (MP): The short answer: Beats me.
The long answer: At around the time the band formed I was told by Nelson Cologne, our rhythm guitarist, I think - or maybe Scotty Hanum, our drummer - that "Zoof" was a tiny, puckishly malevolent creature from another dimension who would occasionally make an appearance in (or "zoof!" into) Batman or Detective Comics . The reason for the 'beats me" is I can't find this little beast cited anywhere online and you'd think some vintage comic freak would at least mention it in passing. Perhaps the character went by another name and "zoof!" was merely the, um, "zotz!" of his arrival?
60s: How did you first get interested in music?
MP: I was born into a musical family. My parents met at Julliard in the late '40s during the time my mother was a pianist and my father studied voice there. My father still trains classical singers at age 87. I began picking out tunes on the piano at about age four, started formal lessons not too long afterwards, and kept up with it a little after I picked up the guitar at age 13.
60s: Was the Zoofs your first band?
MP: No, and there's a little history to it: After my parents married, my father reenlisted as a pilot-officer in the USAF in order to support the family. Until 1965, when he retired and we settled in New Orleans, we were fairly mobile. By late '62 we were stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base in West Germany for a three-year hitch. I was an OK pianist at the time and very interested in other instruments, but it wasn't until I heard a classical guitarist play an interlude on German television that I decided I wanted to study it.
My first teacher was a jazz guitarist by the name of Hans ___?___ from Landstuhl, so I cut my teeth listening to and imitating the instrumentals of Tony Mottola, Jim Hall, Jorgen Ingmann, Chet Atkins, Roy "Fastest Guitar Alive" Clark, Hank Marvin and a thousand surf bands. I was also listening to Radio Luxembourg broadcasts late at night. Within a year I was playing well enough to be asked to join a group - The Dimensions - in '64 after their lead guitarist returned to the States on emergency leave. The Dimensions split in '65.
60s: And from the Dimensions you moved to the Zoofs?
MP: When my father retired from the service in '65, we moved to New Orleans to be close to my mother's family. I began studying classical and jazz guitar with Paul Guma - Pete Fountain's guitarist at the time - who taught out of a back room in Tippett's Music on N. Carrollton Avenue. Tippett's (which ceased to exist sometime in the '70s) was a pretty warm place for young musicians and I'd spend hours on Saturdays hanging out and playing different guitars off the racks there. On one of those occasions - in late '65, early '66 - a guy who looked to be in his late teens and missing his front teeth came over to listen and join in on rhythm guitar. This was Nelson Cologne. The very first song we played together was Help. Our personalities connected immediately and the music fell together naturally. Nelson was a pretty basic guitarist, but had a great booming voice. Everything clicked. As I recall it was just the two of us in the beginning and for about a month, but it was a band of sorts, even if it didn't have a name.
60s: Who else comprised the Zoofs, and which instruments did each play?
MP: Nelson Cologne - rhythm guitar and vocals; Buddy Kenney - bass guitar and vocals; Scotty Hanum - percussion; Mike Presti - lead guitar and vocals.
When we recorded in late August of '66, Richard Moore (of The Better Half Dozen) sat in for Scotty. 60s: You explained how you hooked up with Nelson, but what were the circumstances leading Kenney and Hanum to join the Zoofs? Where did you locate them?
MP: I think Nelson found them - much as he found me - or knew them, or knew of them. I don't think I had a hand in it at all. In many ways, The Zoofs was Nelson's dream band. It was largely his creation.
60s: Where did the Zoofs typically practice?
MP: At first, Nelson and I got together at Tippett's and my house on the weekends and assembled a repertoire of about 25 songs, mostly pop hits of the day. When Buddy and Scotty joined, we used the den in Buddy's house for as long as his folks could stand it...about 20 minutes, typically. We took to doing longer run-throughs on acoustical instruments - Buddy played a semi-hollow Framus bass and Scotty drummed on his thighs - anywhere we could: in garages, backyards, City Park. When we wanted to learn a new song, I'd pick it up by ear - note-perfect, I'm proud to say - from the recording and teach it to the others. On occasion we'd get to a job an hour early to learn two or three new songs before performing.
60s: What type of gigs were you typically performing at during this time?
MP: Private parties, mostly - two or three times literally out of garages. We did at least a three or four club dates. We played (illegally, as most of us were underage) Woody Herman's club in the French Quarter one Friday or Saturday night. I think we once even opened a home appliance store...but I may be confusing the travails of a later band here. The Zoofs were a tight bunch, very good friends, and in the game for the pleasures of the company and the music. So we didn't worry too much about performances, at least not at first.
60s: Did the Zoofs participate in any Battle of the Bands?
MP: I don't recall ever participating in (or even seeing) a Battle of the Bands in '66. If they were around (apparently they were around that year, but I simply don't remember them ) - for some reason I think they really got going in New Orleans the next year - we probably wouldn't have taken part. It just wasn't the kind of band we were.
60s: How would you describe the Zoofs sound? What band's influenced you?
MP: On record, Beatles/Stones/Byrds/Dylan (although you might not know it to listen to the 45: that pressing again). Live, we had a more eclectic set of influences, ranging from those mentioned above to R&B, to classical, to comic-commercial (My Dog's Better...). We were starting to get into hard core blues when the group disbanded. Buddy Kenney and I practiced a blues duo for awhile.
60s: What other local New Orleans bands of the era do you recall?
MP: I'm not sure which rock groups were performing in New Orleans at the time the Zoofs were active, but during the general period (say '66 - '69) we listened to The Basement Wall, The Greek Fountains, The Palace Guards, The Better Half Dozen, John Fred and the Playboys, and two bands I joined after The Zoofs - Lady Chatterley's Lovers (which, with me, became Peabody in '68) and The Canadian Legends (later, without me, Orange).
New Orleans was (and still is) a big jazz/blues/R&B town and there were great bands in the region backing the likes of Benny Spellman, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey, Irma Thomas, Clarence Henry, etc. (Roy Byrd may still have been performing during the mid-'60s, but not much, not until after his career revival in the early-'70s, I think.) In fact, the preferred bands for many high school dances and proms in mid-'60s were R&B groups, what we called "horn bands."
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
MP: As far west as Baton Rouge, as far east as, well, New Orleans East. Most of our jobs were on our home turf in Orleans Parish.
60s: Did the Zoofs have a manager?
MP: Eventually. I can't remember exactly how we acquired him, but I think he had some kind of relationship with Buddy Kenney's parents. What follows is a characteristic episode - and a long riff, sorry - under his management. It turned out to be one of the group's best performances on the brink of a complete fiasco, and he was largely responsible for both the good and the bad of it.
Probably in late-April or early-May of '66, a guy, I'll call H.D. - an announcer/deejay with local radio in New Orleans - took control of the band. Tight control. Scotty Hanum, our resident drum savage, began grumbling almost immediately and threatened to quit unless the band reestablished some degree of self-determination. The rest of us weren't too pleased with H.D.'s dictatorial management style either, but decided to go with it to see where he could take us. We knew he had friends in the broadcast and recording industries in New Orleans and could open doors for us. We convinced Scotty to stick around for awhile. H.D. told us he was one of the prime movers in bringing The Beatles to New Orleans the year or two before. Seeing how he took charge of us and got us moving, we were inclined to believe him.
Within a week or two, H.D. had us downtown in a performance studio in his station shaking hands with a state senator and auditioning - in lo-fi long-distance to Baton Rouge - for John McKeithen's (Louisiana Governor, '64-'72) teenage daughter. She apparently liked what she could hear of the music and hired the band to play her 17th birthday party in the Governor's Mansion a couple weeks hence. We figured if we did well on the job it would generate others at top- dollar statewide.
What was far more exciting and significant to us than the upscale opportunity was the music we made that evening in the acoustically-managed environment of the studio: fluid and crisp, voices and instruments blending perfectly, a spot-on finesse almost brazen in accomplishment. I don't remember the five or so songs we did; they were numbers from our standard repertoire, nothing new or unusual. But we had never heard ourselves with that degree of clarity. It was such a sudden leap forward and so completely unexpected and intoxicating that we couldn't control our giddiness afterwards. We knew we were an OK group, but it never occurred to us we had the potential to be an excellent band, and I can say with some certainty now that rush of recognition scared the living shit out of us. We were way too young and nowhere near ready to live this out. That brief performance affected everything we did as a band from that point on, as we judged ourselves against it.
So we can thank (or curse) H.D. for that, I suppose.
The night before the birthday party major doubts and nerves hit us and we had a serious blowout with H.D. at Buddy's house. Scotty, reading the group's jitters, refused to play the job. H.D. finally threatened to scuttle the band's career if we let him down. (We had no doubt he could've done it too, he was that connected locally.) So party night found The Zoofs, chickens to a man, on the road to Baton Rouge in a raging summer storm, H.D. driving blindly and fast, our equipment in tow. We were all feeling sick. It didn't help that we backed up behind a fatality wreck en route.
We unloaded our equipment on a platform behind the Governor's mansion and were escorted by a servant to a locker room off (as I recall) an interior swimming pool, where we dressed in uniforms purchased hastily the day before. (The Zoofs, a proletariat band, quite naturally chose black-and-blue, denims and work shirts and vests.) We rode up with our gear in a cramped service elevator to the party ballroom and set up (on a dais along the long wall) what was even then considered an impoverished, minimalist kit. We had three six-strings on hand: a white Baldwin Bison with the Burns pickups (...I think, but I really can't be sure now I owned that $600 beast until mid-'67, post-Zoofs), a Framus classical I'd bought in Germany (my first guitar), and...I forget what Nelson was playing that night, probably something borrowed (maybe we both were). Buddy had his Framus (or look alike) semi-hollow violin bass. There were three amps - one of them my Fender SuperReverb - and three heavy PA mikes. Scotty had a basic drum set, what brand I don't recall. I think we routed the mikes through the amps as I'm almost certain we didn't have a separate system dedicated to the voices. The Zoofs were poor and underfurnished, but tried hard not to look or sound it.
Governor McKeithen and his family greeted us cordially and we started the first set as soon as his daughter's guests arrived. (H.D. wasn't present for the performance, as I remember.) I think there were perhaps fifty or so well-heeled teenagers in attendance. After a scary couple of minutes shaking off nerves, the music came together nicely and we began to have fun. The kids were apparently having a good time, too, applauding after each of our numbers. We performed the pop music of the period mostly - Beatles, Stones, Byrds, etc - but we threw a little New Orlean stuff and exotics and originals in the mix too. I think we sang an a capella number. We did an instrumental or two: Ventures, Shadows, maybe a surf piece. I know I performed something classical on the Framus late in the evening. The band enjoyed playing together and had a strong sense of humor, and I think this appealed to the kids. We'd worked in several song-"jokes" and near the end of the first set, we played a driving, shaggy Zoofs cover of a popular Ken 'L' Ration television commercial, My Dog's Better Than Yours. It brought the house down.
60s: My Dog's Better Than Your Dog!?
MP: Yah. I think we had several verses -- substituting "bigger," "smarter," "stronger," "tougher," "shinier," etc. for "better" -- and a roaring improv bridge. It was very simple, fast, loud, and pounding. Good stuff.
Things went horribly wrong almost immediately in the second set. We were playing so hard and enthusiatically that Nelson busted a string and we discovered we'd forgotten spares (rattled as we were by our stagefright and H.D.'s threats). A few minutes later, one of mine went. One of the mikes was shorting in and out, so we shelved it and the backup singing went over to a single mike. It wasn't what we wanted, but we still sounded OK, so we thought we'd be alright for the rest of the evening if nothing else went wrong. The kids didn't seem to notice.
After the second set, we were treated to perhaps the best steak dinner I've ever had in the governor's private dining room. Governor McKeithen and a couple family members attended, along with H.D. Our manager beamed: We were having a very good time and were playing well and the evening was almost completely a success. We chatted pleasantly with the family about the band and the music we were playing. Suddenly, in the middle of the meal, in one of the strangest shifts of social mood I think most of us had ever experienced - not that the evening wasn't strange enough already - Scotty began arguing against the existence of God with one of the younger children in the room. I can't remember now how this got started (most probably Beatles, Lennon, "bigger than Jesus," etc.) or how long the argument continued - it felt like minutes, but was maybe only a few seconds - but I remember Scotty's impatience finally asserted to this child in so many words that God was over, finished, kaput, and that he, Scotty Hanum, was OVERJOYED God wasn't around any longer. It was probably an even stronger denunciation, because I don't remember much else about the meal - just that it was uncomfortable, as you can imagine - and we were back on stage shortly thereafter for the final set.
We started well, but our matériel mojo simply wasn't workin' that night. Either Nelson or I busted another string. I played the remaining 5-string for the duration and stuck mostly with rhythm. Nelson attempted to play chords on the Framus classical for awhile, but found it unfamiliar and unwieldy and put it up, performing the last few songs at his mike without an instrument. We cranked up the volumes on Buddy's bass and my guitar to disguise how badly disabled the band was (this was just before the vogue for three-piece groups). Midway through the set, Scotty blew out his bass drum pedal somehow - what else? - and the band stopped for a few minutes while we considered the problem and decided to continue with Scotty kicking the bass drum the rest of the night, cut back to only another four or five songs. So we limped to a close, barely...and received a long ovation for our troubles. I think we were more than just a little astonished the job was as successful as it was, given the difficulties.
We left Baton Rouge sometime after midnight. On the way home, H.D. told us we'd been paid $17 each: the Governor's daughter's 17th birthday, thus $17. When we stopped for gas on the road he said he wanted to treat us to cold drinks and sandwiches but didn't have any small bills after he'd paid for the fuel. Someone noticed his billfold was stuffed and word got around before we were back in the car.
We only saw H.D. occasionally after that - I think the band's (and particularly Scotty's) unpredictability scared him off a bit - and we managed most of our jobs from then on (or, at least, we booked them without letting H.D. know). Nothing further came of the Governor's Mansion job and I think now Scotty's performance in the dining room might have had consequences we didn't hear about at the time. Later that summer H.D. arranged an audition with Allen Toussaint - who took The Zoofs into Cosimo's for our one recording session as a group - but I recall only a couple of brief meetings with the manager after that, and none from '67 on. By then The Zoofs were history.
60s: What was Allen Toussaint's reputation like back then?
MP: Toussaint was well-known in R&B and jazz circles from the late-'50s on. He had hits with Java (Al Hirt) and Whipped Cream (Herb Alpert), and he'd written, arranged, and produced records by Benny Spellman, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey (Workin' In a Coal Mine), Irma Thomas, Art Neville, Aaron Neville (I believe he's related to the Nevilles in some way) and many others during the '60s. He was not as well-known among young rockers. When our manager scheduled the interview and audition with him, he had to give us a little biography on the man, as the name didn't mean anything to us immediately. Needless to say we were mightily impressed and tried to do our very best at the audition.
60s: Were you ever able to garner any real kind of following - before or after your association with Toussaint?
MP: Zoofs who? I'm kidding. People liked our music and we had appreciative crowds and some regular fans, but it was mostly super-local, very small-scale - except for that absolutely surreal night in Baton Rouge - and the group disbanded by necessity not long after our record was produced.
60s: The Zoofs recorded a single: Get To Know Yourself / Not So Near. What do you recall about the recording session?
MP: I wrote both sides. In early-August of '66, not too long after the Governor's Mansion job, H.D. pulled some strings and got us an interview and audition with Allen Toussaint. Toussaint liked our music and was looking for a rock band to produce and promote, so we had a contract signed in a week and were slotted in later that month for an overnight session at Cosimo Matassa's studio on Camp St.
On the eve of the session date, we discovered Scotty had disappeared. Now, it's been 36 years since that summer, but I can't remember any of us knowing what happened to him or where he'd gone. I have no memory of ever knowing. One day he was our mad-dog, God-hating drummer. The next, zoof! Coincidence?
So we asked Richard Moore, drummer for The Better Half Dozen, to sit in on the session with us.
We arrived at the studio at about 7 pm. Cosimo's on Camp was located on one of the upper floors of a very old rather nondescript building. We had to ride up with our equipment in a freight elevator. As I remember it, the studio was a large open space with upright sound baffles placed at various points around the room. There was a glassed-in taping booth on a long wall which we faced while recording. I can't remember who actually worked the booth that night.
Toussaint stayed with us throughout and offered patient encouragement on occasion, but left the musical decisions to the band. Once we settled into it -- there was some awkwardness at first -- the session was mostly uneventful. We spent about two hours on each song, and took a longish half-hour or so around midnight for cold drinks and stuffed artichokes brought over from the Quarter.
We recorded three, possibly four tunes, all originals. Unfortunately, the only two I can remember now are the ones that made it to the 45. A few notes on these:
An interviewer a few years back reported that the guitar I used on lead for both cuts was a Baldwin 12-string. In all fairness, I told him I used the Bison I owned (sometime) during the '60s, but thinking back on it for this interview, I can't remember now if I bought the animal in '66 or '67. Regardless, I'm certain it wasn't a 12 and wouldn't have said this: what's heard on the record is a standard 6-string double-tracked -- several hard takes to get things synched just right -- occasioning a bit more of a delay in the doubling, a somewhat different sound. Buddy, Nelson, and I played the instruments we auditioned with. None of us owned a 12.
The 16-year-old me sings lead voice on both cuts (unusually, since Nelson fronted the band's vocals during performances). My voice is double-tracked in spots. Nelson and Buddy sing background.
Listening back to the raw tape that night, we were mostly pleased, with a few doubts and quibbles: listening to myself sing on playback from professional stock tape was a shock and I wasn't sure I always liked what I heard; Nelson and Buddy felt their background work was a tad sharp in spots; the beat turned ragged and uncertain on occasion, and felt rushed in short passages; I felt the opening of Not So Near was botched.
But when we left Cosimo's after 3 am we were speeding high and grinning. I had to go directly home and attempt a couple hours' sleep (impossible), because I had an early-morning appointment with an oral surgeon to have an impacted wisdom tooth out. Everyone else went to a friend's house for beer and steak and eggs.
Two or three weeks after we recorded, Toussaint asked us to come downtown to his office to listen to the master tape. His office was a renovated shotgun double - off N. Rampart St., as I remember - a busy place, musicians and managers in and out. While we were there, a very young Aaron Neville walked in and was introduced to us. The master tape sounded fantastic, the instuments full, the bass solid. The lush sound made up for some of the misgivings we had the night of the session.
So it was greatly disappointing to hear the 45 when it was released a few weeks later. The pressing on the Deesu label was distorted and squashed -- the dynamics lost, the band sounded flat, constricted, and distant -- and shifted the full tones to a harsh treble bias. All the problems we recognized the night of the session were plainly audible.
(I like the record much better now -- I think it offers some wooly charm in its energy and earnestness, despite the musical deficiencies and skewed dynamics -- but I wish that master tape was still around so I could transfer it digitally.)
The record didn't go anywhere of course. It got a little airplay in the region, I think, late at night when no one was listening. I never heard it over the air.
Toussaint asked me back to the studio sometime in early-'67 to play bass on a record with a singer named Jimmy London, who was passing through town and performing a solo act in the Quarter. London played folk guitar and Toussaint played piano on the cuts. A gentleman named George played lead guitar; I think he was introduced to me as Toussaint's brother, but I can't be certain of this now.
That was the last professional contact I had with Allen Toussaint. I've seen him perform many times since -- if you've never seen Toussaint perform, you should do so at the earliest opportunity -- and reintroduced myself to him in nonmusical contacts a couple times. He remembers The Zoofs and is always warm and cordial.
60s: The Zoofs never again recorded, correct?
MP: We didn't foresee it when we recorded, but the band was mostly over by the time the record was released. Scotty disappeared. Nelson enlisted in the Merchant Marine and was getting married. And Buddy and his family transfered to Brownsville late that year. Buddy and I had become very close friends. We corresponded for a year or so -- Buddy captioned all his letters "Zoof Mail" -- and I saw him again a summer or two later when he came through town with friends. After that, we lost touch. I haven't seen or heard from any of The Zoofs since the late-'60s. A few years ago, I tried to call Nelson -- he still lives in town, I think -- but his number is unlisted.
60s: Do any other '60's Zoofs recordings exist? Are there any rehearsal recordings or vintage live recordings?
MP: While we lived in Europe, my family bought a Phillips reel-to-reel and brought it home to the States. Early in the game when The Zoofs practiced with acoustic instruments, we frequently made tapes to give us an idea of how the voices were merging. I have absolutely no idea what happened to them.
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
MP: Nope, no TV.
60s: You've already alluded to your association with Lady Chatterly's Lovers/Peabody. What can you tell me about that band?
MP: I joined Lady Chatterley's Lovers (later Peabody) in Spring, '67. After I joined up, the permanent members of the group included Mike Chassaniol (Lead Vocals); Tom Lipscomb (Rythym Guitar); Gary Furlow (Bass); myself (Lead Guitar); and Clark Vreeland (Drums). During the group's heyday ('67-'68) we had three or four pianists/organists pass through, but the only one I can remember now is Nick Buck, who was in De La Salle High School with several of us and who later went on to play with Peter Green, Papa John Creech, and Hot Tuna during the '70s. (Buck also took off with my date at our senior prom...I'll never forget that, Nick, you rat bastard.) Vreeland later mastered the guitar and became a kind of musical legend here - I think he's still active in Atlanta now - as a member and producer of many groups in our area. Most of the members of Lady Chatterly's Lovers/Peabody are still around. I cross paths with Chassaniol on occasion.
Peabody recorded Days of Rest/Forever Eyes on the Busy B label (Jeb Banacek producing) in '68.
60s: And then you joined the Canadian Legends. Was this the Canadian Legends that recorded a version of the Neil Diamond's/Monkee's I'm A Believer in '67.
MP: It's a possibility, I suppose, but I have no memory of it. In '69, after Peabody disbanded, Chassaniol and I auditioned for The Canadian Legends. Chassaniol wisely avoided the group early on, but I hung on for awhile longer, and I wish now that I hadn't, because the experience burned me out entirely on the band scene. The Canadian Legends was a high-pressure/high-conflict group which played gigs - many frat houses and university parties - almost every weekend. The band was very, very good; very professional. The work was steady and the money spectacular. But I didn't know these guys - they were older, friends and classmates to each other, but not to me - and so I felt like a stranger and fifth wheel constantly. In addition, I didn't have any feel or sympathy for the music they preferred to play. When the group disbanded and reformed as Orange, it didn't include me, and just as well, as my interests were shifting to other areas. I can't even remember the names of the members now.
The Candian Legends was the last formal musical group I belonged to, but not the last band (explanation of cryptic distinction to follow a little later on). I played guitar for and with friends at private parties and taught the instrument on and off throughout the '70s. There are a few interesting musical footnotes (and brushes with greatness) during this period.
From '68 -'72 I studied English, Theology, and Philosophy at Loyola University of the South in New Orleans. My friends and mentors in the English Department were John William Corrington, the novelist and screenwriter, and Miller Williams, the poet.
Already established as a fine Southern novelist and short story writer, Corrington began writing screenplays - in collaboration with his wife, Joyce: VON RICHTHOFEN AND BROWN, THE OMEGA MAN, etc - in '69. With the backing producer Roger Corman, Corrington adapted Bertha Thomson's autobiography Sister of the Road, about life on the rails and lam in the Depression-era South, for the screen. This eventually became Martin Scorsese's first mainstream feature, BOXCAR BERTHA '72. I'd been Corrington's student assistant for a semester and he knew I was a musician. Sometime in '70 or '71, he brought me a copy of an early draft of the script for the film and asked me to compose a few "test" songs in the style of the period and suggest points in the script where instrumental music might enhance the story. I did a little research and wrote one genuinely lousy blues song - which I never played for Corrington - but we did discuss (informally, briefly) how the music might work and what his hopes were for the film. Although I own the movie on disc, I've never seen it through in its entirety; I think it differs somewhat from the draft of the script I still have here. Miller Williams was poet-in-residence at Loyola and founding editor of New Orleans Review, the university's literary magazine. I had occasion to visit NOR's offices - a poem I'd submitted was being reviewed and gently rejected - and there met Ralph Adamo, a poet and journalist a couple years ahead of me in school. Ralph introduced me to the students who belonged to Miller's writing circle and I joined the group eagerly. On weekends we'd gather at Miller's apartment to share our work with each other, talk a little treason, drink copious amounts of beer and wine, and play music. Miller's teenage daughter, Cindy, an accomplished guitarist and singer, would join us (me on guitar; Shael Herman, a poet-lawyer, on clarinet; others). Improvising from traditional blues, folk, country, and protest tunes, we'd jam up a storm. Cindy, immensely talented and strong-willed, persisted with her music and worked hard for three decades to stake a claim in the field uniquely her own: the great Lucinda Williams.
In '77, Ralph Adamo, Joe LaCour (poet, translator) and I formed the three-headed situationist poet Sal K. Hall, my last band. An automatic, collaborative, cumulative (and frequently intoxicated) endeavor, Sal has written thousands of poems in real time over the last 25 years. Guest artists/participants in Sal have included (among many others over the years) the poets Everette Maddox and William Lavender, and the novelists Ellen Gilchrist and Steve Stern. Sal K. Hall has influenced multitudes. Sal does not merely endure, he prevails.
On my own I publish an occasional poem.
Another musical association: From '77-'79 I was a workshop artist, and from '80-'89 Artist-in Residence in Film Studies with the Creative Writing Department of New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). NOCCA is a publicly funded professional arts conservatory for talented high schoolers. The Marsalis Bros. (Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, Jason), Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison Jr. studied under Ellis Marsalis, who was head of the Jazz Program until the early-'90s. Ellis talks good film.
60s: What keeps you busy today?
MP: The writing and creative arts work wasn't paying the bills, so I returned to school in the late-'70s and completed a Masters in Social Work (with a clinical specialty) from Tulane University and have worked since '82 in child protection agencies, juvenile justice, and, to date, in public school special education. I'm licensed to practice privately.
I met my wife Carolyn (also a social worker) in '82 and we married two years later. We have a son, 17, who's a better pianist and guitarist than I ever was (he's been studying music since age six). He's not a band person and prefers to play solo. At the moment he's listening to a Joe Pass/Paulinho da Costa album a couple rooms away.
Personally, I haven't performed even privately since the late-'70s.
60s: Do you have any plans musically for 2002 or beyond?
MP: None, beyond appreciating the music others are making...and writing another million lines with Sal K. Hall.
60s: You've obviously had many varied experiences; comparatively - in what context do you place your time spent in the Zoofs?
MP: Very favorably. It was one of those core life experiences that stays with you. I think it was the first occasion I took a skill of my own making and produced something solidly real from it. The style of learning/practice/performance - for me as an individual, but also in the context of the group - that led to and through The Zoofs is as fundamental to me today as it was then. It's how I make things happen.
Plus it was a wild, memorable period in history. It was a rush.
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