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Don Campau Interview Carl Howard
You might be able to make a case for the claim that networking culture in AmeriKKKa began in California. You can trace a kind of logical development from the early 1960s, when Frank Zappa opened his own indie studio and began recording and releasing work that was beyond the pale, to The Residents and Ralph Records, to the rise of indie radio programs which featured very alternative music on records and later on privately distributed cassettes. Don Campau done been there and done still be there, jamming in the early 1970s with the kind of severely damaged rock units that you can still witness today with Hermanos Guzanos and The Molecules.
A low-key pioneer of the indie radio show in this country, campau continues to moderate the weekly program "No Pigeonholes" over KKUP-FM in Cupertino, and despite enormous personal difficulties continues to promote his cassette labels Lonely Whistle and Loose Caboose, and recently has joined forces with the international networking organization Kentucky Fried Royalty.
Campau talks about his memories of bands past and present, gives his impressions of an indie scene in flux, and does not discuss the terms of his divorce in any way.
Carl Howard: Since you were already involved with alternative rock bands in the early 1970's, you must have become interested in progressive music even earlier. Is it fair to say that you were influenced by the Mothers Of Invention?
Don Campau: I think the main way Zappa's music affected me was in an attitude and not so much in his actual musical style. I think home tapers like Joe Newman and Dino DiMuro are more directly influenced by that complex stop and go style. Zappa's idea that you could do a lot within a certain piece really excited me and of course his sarcastic lyrics made me realize everything wasn't candy, roses and love. Other earlier musical influence were: The Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, Sixties English rock, Beefheart, Indian music and sometime during 1969 my friend Geoff Alexander introduced me to Coltrane, Miles, Ayler and unusual jazz. He's got one of the best record collections anywhere. I remember the first time he played me "OM" by Coltrane: I laughed and thought it was a joke. Within a few months though I had totally changed my conception of music and started to really get into the strange and wonderful world of Xenakis, Stockhausen, Partch, Varese and others.
CH: Describe some of the musical projects that you were involved with before you got into the alternative radio and networking culture.
DC: In about 1970 Geoff and I got together with our brother sand formed an avant garde band. The Roots Of Madness. At the time we knew of nobody else doing this weird shit in their living room. We would make "albums" on open reel and occasionally play a live gig at a freeway overpass or laundromat. In 1971 we made a record album that was financed by another one of my mentors. Lorenzo Milam. Lorenzo is considered by many to be the father of community radio in the USA. He exposed us to rare baroque and early music and the absolute beauty of ethnic music. He also taught me about the art of interviewing and how to make ox tail stew. He's also a great cook. Also another musical guru was a friend named John Hayden. We would go over to his place and play free music. We felt we were a little different than the average teenager.
CH: What lead you to the broadcasting booth, and to what do you owe the fact that "No Pigeonholes" has survived for so long?
DC: Once again, Geoff was the one who introduced me to alternative radio. He already had a show when he was 17 playing Brazilian music and jazz. A bit later I got my own show on KTAO, a station in Los Gatos, California. Those days are certainly golden to me. Once we staged a 3-day primitive music festival. For Christmas we would do all Chinese music. It was a fantastic and impressionable experience. Later when KTAO was sold I moved on to KUSP in Santa Cruz but was fired a few months later for doing and all-flamenco show one afternoon. It seems silly now but they didn't want alternative to mean too far out.
In 1978 I got the bug again to go on the air and I was lucky enough to get a show on KKUP which, at that time, was a rather lame folk music station. I had a show that featured avant garde jazz, ethnic music and occasionally slip in some of my own home-taped sounds. I had been recording on 4 track since 1976 when Greg Gray, Joe Menichetti and I had a punk parody band, The Desmonds. In early 1984 I got the idea to do all home tapes but at first I didn't have enough. I started a massive letter-writing campaign and solicited cassettes from addresses in Option. I think Tom Furgas might have been the first to write back.
The underground scene was pretty fledgling in those days but gradually it really snowballed to where it is today. That article in The New York Times in 1987 really got things popping. One reason my show has lasted so long is that it is constantly fascinating to me. The sheer diversity of songs, noise, poetry is unbelievable. The whole idea that people all over the world are expressing themselves just for the fun of it is appealing to me. I guess total artistic freedom is the theme tat keeps it running.
CH: What has become of some of the people whom you've worked with in the past, such as Greg Gray and Geoff Alexander? Do you have any other friends that you jam with fairly regularly?
DC: Geoff's been involved in some very interesting projects over the years. In addition to his love of Farfisa organ he's currently working on a controversial live show for downtown San Jose that I promised not to talk about. Geoff's what I call a social researcher. He will go to places and do things that most people won't just for the shock or experience. By the way, Geoff Alexander is probably the authority on the history of jazz organ in the USA. He had a very informative article in Keyboard magazine a while back.
Greg Gray fell onto hard times recently when some unfortunate personal shit happened. He hasn't had much chance to pound those drum sticks lately but when he's warmed up and well-practiced Greg can kill. Lately, I've been doing a few live things with my pal and tape looper extraordinaire, Eric Muhs. He's so easy to play with cause he gets so many things going at once. He gets tasty textures. Also I jammed a few months ago with The Hinds Brothers and that was a blast. They can cook!
CH: Long before you hooked up with Kentucky Fried Royalty, you were a fixture of international cassette-music networking. When you got into the scene, there weren't anywhere near the number of people who are into it now. What were your impressions of 'cassette culture' at the time you opened Lonely Whistle/Loose Caboose? How about your impressions of the scene now?
DC: When I first started trading tapes and getting them for my show I felt like something special was happening. Some kind of secret world underneath the accepted one. It reminded me of what was called "underground" radio here in the Bay Area in the late Sixties. It was a feeling of camaraderie. Music just for fun and who gives a damn if anybody likes it. In 1984 I put together a tape of some new and old songs called New Monterey Road Sounds. It was in honor of the "Monterey Road Sound" that Greg and I joked about. The whole "Sound" was based on that cheesy autochord/rhythm setting on the Yamaha keyboard. It reminded us of a train heading south, late at night. We had this romantic in-joke going that turned into a style. Well, the tape was successful enough and each time I would make a new one I would automatically send it out to the contacts I already made. Pretty soon though I reached a plateau where I was financially unable to handle the inflow because of people sending tapes for the radio show. And then, last year, because of my divorce, I went into a massive tailspin and could barely function. It looks like I'm doing good again though. ... CH: Sometimes people in the network produce special programs just for your show, and sometimes they even come for live interviews and performances. Do you believe that "No Pigeonholes" is more or less in synch with other alternative programs on the California airwaves ("UBUIBI" on KZCS, "No Other Radio" on KPFA, and Mark Hosler's show), or do you see different approaches at work?
DC: I think "No Pigeonholes" is a bit different than some of the other shows because I'm not looking for a particular style. I play all tapes received. My job as DJ is to play your best track. Of cause nobody gets major rotation around here but if your tape has mere than one good track I'll play it over upcoming shows. Unfortunately when my show as cut to two hours it curtailed my ability to play 20-minute cuts or do a bunch of stuff by one artist. In 1988 thought, Jack Jordan and I did a mail Minoy special just for Mom for Mother's Day. It was mindblowing!
We are lucky in the San Francisco Bay Area because there is so much good stuff on the air. One of the greatest show is "The UB Radio Network" hosted by Das. He does some fantastic mixes and really concentrates on the experimental side. His music project Big City Orchestra, is also very provocative and noisy.
Don Campau Vital Statistics Age: 38 Kids: 3 (Nicole, Kevin, Caity) Instruments: Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals, whatever is laying around. Radio Show: "No Pigeonholes" every other Sunday on KKUP 91.5 FM Cupertino, California. Radio Tapes available: about 220. Label: Lonely Whistle Music, featuring Campau, Greg Gray, Joe Menichetti, IRRE Tapes from Germany, James Hill, Dino DiMuro, compilations, etc. About 90 tapes. Secret label: Loose Caboose -- bootlegs and rare material. About 100 tapes. Distribution: Kentucky Fried Royalty-USA. About 120 tapes available. Regular job: Produce Man at a grocery store. (I get up at 3 A.M.) Personal goal: Get more sleep. Contact address: Don Campau, P.O. Box 23952, San Jose, CA 95153 USA.
Typed by Cheryl Vega 8-13-95