Psychedelic percussionist and transgenre, globally informed music enthusiast Ed Wilcox has lived in Florida, Philadelphia, Mississippi, Texas, Scotland, Norway, Iran, Baltimore, and the intergalactic cosmos of the mind.
He has kept time for ensembles rooted in comfortably familiar North American idioms, like jazz and blues-based stompin'. And he's also been part of innumerable improvisational outfits that righteously annihilate the boundaries between avant-garde expression and rock 'n' roll passion.
While having collaborated with an incredible roster of players that includes free-jazz luminaries such as Arthur Doyle and Marshall Allen, and underground DIY freaks like Miami's own one-man guitar armada, Rat Bastard, Wilcox's main outlet the past two decades has been the manically eclectic and super-cult Temple of Bon Matin.
Crossfade: Do you stand by your frozen-in-time website's assertion that TOBM was the loudest band to ever play CBGBs?
Ed Wilcox: We played CBGBs a bunch, one night we finished and the sound guy said "Louise (Parnassa, the booker) loves you guys. But you are so loud. You are the loudest band that play CBs." I asked him, "Louder than Liveskull?" Yup. "Louder than Blind Idiot God?" Yup. "Louder than Blitzspear?"
"Yup, you guys are the LOUDEST!" And we still are. I think there is a misconception that we've softened. No. You've seen me, I still scare the hell out of kids a third my age. However, there are some beautiful tunes on some of our albums. Just like Faust play a tune with a jackhammer and then go into a lovely acoustic number. I always wanted our albums to take people on a fun little mental vacation.
Is TOBM synonymous with Ed Wilcox? Or do you consider the lineup more fluid?
Right now, most of the shows (not all) have been solo. But only because Lora Bloom, who has been in the band for about 10 years, is too busy with work to tour a lot. I still play with Vinnie Paternostro and Eric Bailies and John Price a lot. They have all been in and out of the band for years. We love each other like brothers. We fight like brothers, but I love those guys for sure. Also, I tour a lot. Sometimes the other guys can't. And, right now, I'm having a hard time finding a bass player. I want to go for that Miles mid-70s, Pete Cosey-era, dark jungle sound. Can't find a bass player who owns a wahwah pedal. But I can still do a solo thing, and get that Exuma / Dr John the Night Tripper feel. And it's still loud!
Could there ever be a show without you?
I wish stupid Temple of Bon Matin could do a gig without me, I could watch football.
Jazz, rock, noise: What came first for you?
Jazz, rock, noise? None of them came first. I grew up in the South in the '60s. It was Jimmy Webb all the way baby! Glen Campbell, Conway Twitty, George Jones. All the songs that just made you want to get divorced. Later, living in Glasgow in the early seventies it was Glam. I still have Noddy Holder sideburns and a Slade tatto. Of course, as a teenager it was all the prog stuff, King Crimson to Public Image. But as a wannabe drummer it was jazz and a lot of world music.
Beyond bands and genres and stuff, my greatest love is the simple sound of percussion. Asian music has the best: tablas, gamelans, Japanese taiko, etc.
I know people rarely hear drummers speak this way, but it's the sound of my instrument that is most important. Miles Davis went through so many changes, but his sound was the same. He just put himself in different surroundings. Although, I'm more of an Ornette man than a Miles guy. Also, I am doing more and more singing, and sometimes it's hard to sing and play like Keith Moon. But I try. And now that I'm talking about Keith Moon, well, I love Moonie. And I also love Milford Graves. You know Arthur Doyle says I play like Milford Graves and Sunny Murray at the same time. If you compare Milford's shattering of drumming traditions, they are very similar to Keith Moon's. Who pushed first and who pushed harder?
What distinguishes ToBM from other psychedelic post-everything free-improv ensembles?
Temple of Bon Matin in general, have taken a lot of guff over the years because we love metal, and bring that headbanging attitude to underground music. Its always the allegedly progressive "artists" who look down their noses. Teenage headbanging kids have always been cool and curious about us.
You've worked with a lot of interesting people over the years. We give you permission to drop some names.
I spent a couple years playing with Steve Weber of the Holy Modal Rounders and The Fugs. He had some good stories about his old girlfriend, Nico. I was briefly, sort of, almost in The Silver Apples. Nice guys. But I'm a little too crazy. I was in one of the best punk bands ever with the late Mikey Wild. I Wuz Punk B4 You Were Punk was our album on Bulb. And goddam it I played with V3 on Poking Through the Wreckage With A Stick. I think I did about 10 tours and 10 albums with Arthur Doyle, who really made me proud of my Southern upbringing, and less concerned with New York hipness. I toured and recorded with the awesome Daniel Carter. And I guess 5 tours of Europe with Marshall Allen.
What has working with Mr. Allen been like?
Marshall, what can you say? In the '40s he lived in Paris jamming with Charlie Parker and dating Eartha Kitt. My greatest heros are the old swing drummers, and he impersonates Chick Webb and Sid Catlett for me. I think most guys who jam with him do a sort of "hit and run" free jazz blast and don't really talk or learn. I have been lucky to play with him for years and really tried to learn. I can play those drums like Roy Haynes, I can play those drums like Kenny Clarke. All these cats have some stories.
I was playing in Bristol, England with Marshall. A 90 minute show, no breaks, all coordinated with movies and lights. We get about 80 minutes in and Marshall is getting a little fidgety. He runs off stage real quick, and comes back a minute later. After the gig I said "Old man, it's a good thing there was a bathroom back there." He grinned and said, "There wasn't".
Tell us about your collaboration with Alex Diaz (a.k.a.) Xela Zaid and Teepee's Erix S. Laurent.
Maybe I am finally at a loss for words. I sure want to get something released and hopefully tour a little with those guys. We are playing at INC (P.S. What an amazing testament to Rat!). With all these famous guys I can brag about working with, it's Alex and Eric I love the most. My favorite band and my favorite guys.
What's the deal with the album We've Got The Biggest Engine? The website alludes very vaguely to something extremely epic.
That was when I took Bon Matin up to a big band, sort of like Coltrane's Ascension. If a power trio was loud, 16 pieces, oh yeah! All originals, except we closed the dozen gigs we did in that form with "Here Come the Warm Jets."
What's the story behind the psychedelic art on all over your kit?
I've had my drums for years, but I did not start playing 'til I was about 26. They're painted crazy because I grew up poor (like, we was hungry sometimes). When I could finally afford a set it was all used, mismatched junk. So I painted them to look a little more matching.
What motivates your particular idiosyncratic style? Are you responding to, rejecting, or embracing anything specific?
I am a player who plays "out" because it expresses my feelings, versus playing "out" to annoy the grownups, or "make a statement." I love the sound of my instrument, I love practicing, and I have always tried to sit in with players I respected. And, of course, you find that reciprocated. Guys like Arthur Doyle will jam with anyone (I'll jam with anyone), but if they think you love The Music, well, then they remember your name.
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As a broad rule, I think I play the drums rather melodically, like Ginger Baker, Chico Hamilton, Ronald Shannon Jackson. I always hated that pussyfootin', "Who's gonna pull the trigger first?" Then we all pile on and try to outscream each other crap. It's amazing how stale and cliched "free music" can be. I always start first and just play a little tune on the toms, like Gene Krupa playing, "Sing Sing Sing," and it always gets things going ok.
International Noise Conference 2013. Presented by Rat Bastard. Wednesday, February 6, through Saturday, February 9. Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. Visit squelchers.com.