"Is for 'counterculture'. I right clicked on it and the example given was: 'the idealists of the sixties'. I suppose they could have said: 'the nihilists of the seventies'."
Peter Kraemer: Originality Of Art
Poet, painter, sculptor, vocalist and saxophone player Peter A. Kraemer, well-known as member of Sopwith Camel, born in Virginia City, Nevada; expelled from piano class for precocity at the age of 6; expelled from the Episcopal Church Choir of Virginia City shortly thereafter; caught smoking on campus at age 7; poet, painter and sculptor; plays harmonica, tambourine and kazoo; lyricist and composer. Sopwith Camel's first gig was with The Charlatans in an old firehouse on Sacramento St., San Francisco in February 1966. The opening act was a black Labrador named Pot Pan. The "Camel" was the first of the, "San Francisco Psychedelic Ballroom Bands" to get a hit and go on the road later in 1966, playing large concerts with major acts including: The Who, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Animals The Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones. They also appeared on numerous TV shows with other acts such as: Marvin Gaye, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and The Stone Poneys. Photo by Harold Adler
Sopwith Camel regarded their hit "Hello Hello" as a greeting from the San Francisco scene from whence they came. In '66 when they did a tour of big college concerts with The Lovin' Spoonful. The promoters still thought New York was where the all the cool music came from and would introduce the Camel with, "And now di--rect -- from-- New--York--City---Sopwith Camel!! When "The Camel" took the stage one of them would always say: "You know, actually we're from San Francisco, Hello!" The audiences would then erupt with deafening applause. The band's first album "Sopwith Camel" was released in early 1967 on Kama Sutra Records. It featured the first great op-art cover by Victor Moscoso plus the first infra-red band photo on the back by Jim Marshall. A second album "The Miraculous Hump Returns from the Moon" came out on Reprise in 1974, with a cover by Satty and the earliest known video-feedback band photo.
What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll life and what does the counterculture mean to you?
These questions are too difficult! My favorite color at the moment is red. Self-knowledge through “The R&R Life”?
Well, I did learn right away in 1966 that the music as an art form suited me fine. I’ve always enjoyed composing, performing, recording, even hauling the equipment. It seems that onstage is the only place I’m totally comfortable; of course there are the miserable times there as well. And then, as Fred Neil said: “There’s another side to this life I’ve been livin’” And that’s the money side. Does not appeal to me. Perhaps I’m lazy. My excuse is that I’m not an “auto-pimpact”. I’m intensely averse to pimping myself or the band to club owners or agents (actually agents never return a call anyway). The unfortunate result of this vanity is that I don’t get to do the part I love as often as I’d like.
Is for “counterculture”. I right clicked on it and the example given was: “the idealists of the sixties”. I suppose they could have said: “the nihilists of the seventies”. I don’t know if there’s been a “counterculture” since Punk. There certainly ought to be one, but the reign of Mammon seems inviolate.
What were the reasons that made the 60s to be the center of Psychedelic Folk/Rock researches and experiments? Photo by Holly Howard
About folk/rock I don’t know, I was never a folky; though our early masters in “The Biz” tried their best to force us into that bag.
My “music philosophy” is rather contrary: Is it “Art” or is it “a service industry”?
How important was poetry in your life and how does literature affect your mood and inspiration?
I’ve always been intimidated by poetry, thought I could do it but have been afraid to try. Perhaps I’m too flippant. When I read poems by my old friend Linda Gregg and her lifelong beau Jack Gilbert (who lived and wrote a lot in Greece by the way) I’m awed by the discipline and care in their thinking. I’m way too flippant, better suited to being a lyricist. That said, I have been influenced by poets; T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings and Vachel Lindsay spring to mind. As for literature in general; I was recently shocked to realize that I’d patterned my whole life on one of my favorite books from childhood; “Tender is the Night”. Seems I’ve been playing Dick Diver without the money and connections all these years. Young people, be careful! The most influential literature for my generation was the cinema. I like how Andrew Loog Oldham, in his book, pointed out how enthralled we all were by “La Dolce Vita” and “8&1/2”. We devoured the style and totally missed the depressing substance. Even “Jules et Jim” had an aura then; now it’s almost as bad as “The Interminable Triteness of Being”. Back in the 70’s my bandmates and I lived through many Antonioni nights.
How do you describe Peter Kraemer/Sopwith Camel sound & songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?
I hope I’m right to describe our work as “original”. When we first started writing songs in the “winter before the summer before the summer of love” I was constantly trying to avoid any and all musical clichés including even keys and bar-counts. That, of course, turned out to be impractical, and we ended up writing pretty normal stuff. Except for a few tunes on the first album we never did anything that was directly derivative from any of our peers. By the second album we had more freedom though we still did some “old-timey” tunes, mainly because they came so easily (I grew up in Virginia City, Nevada, which back in the ’50s was a booming Honkey Tonk with that kind of music in most of the 27 bars that were running then). If we’d had a chance to make a third album I don’t think there would have been any more of those type of songs. Of the dozens of songs I have written since then there are no “rinky-tinky” ones.
My “music philosophy” is rather contrary: Is it “Art” or is it “a service industry”?
My whole life I’ve heard the endless repetition of: “First you must spend years learning to exactly imitate the musicians you admire, only then will you be able/entitled to find your own voice.” Utter bullshit! Okay, I don’t want to be a “musician” then; I’ll be a “player”. Maybe what I play is crap but at least it’s my own crap; and when occasionally it’s good, even I can’t copy it exactly, and that’s as it should be. When it’s working the notes come from somewhere else, I can’t plan them, I don’t know what they’ll be until they’ve gone, and gone is where they belong.
"I miss nothing from the music of the past; I can find most of it any time I want. At least some of the music of the future is unpredictable, thank God. What I miss is the music of the present. Why am I not making some now?" (Photo by Henry Diltz / Sopwith Camel in the 70's)
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?”
Louis Armstrong saved my childhood from despair and ennui. And when I was 17 I got to visit with him and his wife in their room after his show at “The Venetian Room” of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. My friend Susie and I went to the show with her father’s friend a Hollywood actor who was a pal of Satchmo’s from USO shows in WWII. After the show we were invited up to the room, which looked out on an airshaft, probably one of the oldest poorest rooms in that fancy hotel. I had read Louis’ autobiography (as told to Bob Considine) several time in my childhood, and he was kind enough to tell me more while we drank whiskey (Ol' Grand Dad) and smoked Camels until about 3AM. My visit with Zeus on Mt. Olympus!
As for Advice: Ten years later that same friend Susie was married to a truly great player, Rafael Garrett, who taught me first to make bamboo flutes and when I’d gotten a saxophone, showed me how to blow it. He said one day “Skip all that scale stuff, it’s been done!” He, of course, would stand in the corner by the hour bowing Bach on his bass. Eventually I did realize that scales can be a handy way to practice getting around on the horn, but I still play the same as I did before I knew them. When I hear people playing their exercises and calling it improvisation I’m grateful to Rafael for warning me off when he did.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
I wish I could remember the song I wrote under a streetlight in Virginia City when I was about 14. The light was a bare lightbulb with an enameled shade hanging from a wooden telephone pole and the song was a little bit like a Buddy Holly tune, only I knew it was better, an absolute hit! That was the first time I thought: “This is so good I can’t possibly forget it!” So wrong! No instrument no knowledge no musical friend, alas!
My jamming has always gotten mixed reviews, What I call “prescription jazz” players generally hate me. Those are the ones who know what they’re going to play before they play it. An example was one night sometime in the late 70s I wandered into a session with Freddie Washington. On stage were Alphonse Mouzon, Sheila Escobedo and a famous guitar player who would have liked to kill me if he could. After the jam I was feeling guilty and mortified as usual when Sonny Fortune who was playing with Herbie Hancock in those days came up to me and encouraged me to carry on, that I had something real. And then Pete Escobedo came over and said that if I could read music he’d like me to join his band!
Studio recall: we were in CBS in NY one night working on a tune. “Gimmie my massage” When Dr. John came into the booth. He loved it. “I went down to the hotel bar and restaurant with my old friend Jimmy and his new friend Florence. Gimmie something light to eat, hummingbird, buttered pea, I’m expecting a massage.”
"I have been influenced by poets; T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings and Vachel Lindsay spring to mind. As for literature in general; I was recently shocked to realize that I’d patterned my whole life on one of my favorite books from childhood; Tender is the Night." (Photo by Harold Adler, 2015)
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I miss nothing from the music of the past; I can find most of it any time I want. At least some of the music of the future is unpredictable, thank God. What I miss is the music of the present. Why am I not making some now?
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I would like it if audiences could be more secure. They seem to be so conditioned by the commodification of culture. They don’t know if it’s ok to like something if it hasn’t been validated for them by commercial success. That’s why working musicians have to play in tribute bands (service industry), while original players starve and play for free to audiences of children and dogs.
What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene?
Seeing “The Charlatans” come to life on the second night of their 50th anniversary weekend at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City. They were brilliant!
What is the impact of Rock music and culture to literature and to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
So are we talking Ted Nugent or Gil Scott Heron?
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
Okay, I’ll take Tenochtitlan on a nice day before Cortez and the barbarians showed up.
Photo by Steve Somerstein
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