Interview by Luc Brunot.
Original version of the interview published in Bands Of Dixie #48 (January - February 2006)
Mose Jones only relesaed three albums, but it was enough for them to enter in Southern rock history. The two first ones were released on the Sound of the South label, created by Al Kooper. You will understand it was enough for us and Southern rock fans to know a bit more about a band which once was on the same label than the kings Lynyrd Skynyrd. For you, we searched and found Bryan Cole, drummer and singer of the band, who reminds his past and talk with us about his current situation as a musician.
Where and when were you born?
I was born September 8th , 1951 in Montgomery, Alabama.
What was your musical education?
My father was a wonderful musician who taught me to love and respect ALL kinds of music. I was in school bands when I was young but started playing drums at 13. I'm self taught on drum kit. I have recently started playing guitar and mandolin.
I have read you did your first recording session at the age of 15. What did you do before Mose Jones?
Yes, my first session was for Warner Brothers, a group called Mercy that had a triple platinum single "Love Can Make You Happy" and I played drums on the LP that followed. I had been the drummer in this group and had contributed to the writing of the single but I had left to join Randy Lewis (bass player for Mose Jones) in a band called The Souldiers. This was the beginning of my long relationship with Randy that led to Mose Jones.
When was formed Mose Jones?
How did you choose this name?
The Mose comes from Mose Allison who we all loved and the Jones comes from a dog we had named Mister Jones, after the Bob Dylan song.
How did you met the others musicians of the band, Randy Lewis (bass), Jimmy O'Neill (guitars) and Steve McRay (keys)?
Randy and I started playing together in 1966 and met Jimmy a year later. We played together in bands all through what we call High School and into the beginning of our brief University careers. In 1970 we moved to Atlanta where we met Steve McRay at an open jam session. I was completely floored by how funky this guy was and I suggested we hire him to be in the band with Randy, Jimmy and myself. Unfortunately we had to wait several years for this to happen while Steve served in Viet Nam.
What was the history of the band before to sign with Al Kooper?
Mainly, we were a club band. We played a mix of original and cover stuff that leaned towards the blues. We did quite well for ourselves just playing clubs because in those days most clubs used live music. This was all pre-DJ. You always have the dream of a record deal and touring in the back of your head, though.
What kind of music did you play at this era?
We played rocking blues like Muddy Waters' "Hootchie Cootchie Man", we played jazz like "Song for my Father" by Horace Silver and we tried to work in some originals. Although I feel like our early songwriting attempts were sometimes embarrassing (such as a couple things on Get Right) we got better at that aspect. In later years Jimmy and I were actually staff songwriters for what is now Sony/Tree, a huge publisher in Nashville.
How did you meet Al Kooper and how did he sign you on "Sounds of the South"?
Al came to a club we were playing and I sat in with him and his guitar and bass player and afterward he stayed to listen to a set and talked to us about recording. He left saying that he was interested in doing something with us. We began to jam a lot together and hung out. Those were fun days, Kooper knew everybody and it was a thrill at the edge of the Big Time. Later that year we became the first band Al signed to the Sounds of the South label.
I've read that Mose Jones recommended to Al Kooper to choose Lynyrd Skynyrd for his label. Why did you do that and what were your relations with Lynyrd Skynyrd?
This is true. Jimmy O'Neill and I both told Al that he should check this group out. Even then they were tight and powerful and looked like stars. We've remained friends with the guys over the years but, like all old friends, we don't see much of them anymore.
How did you meet them?
We both played a club called "Funochio's" in Atlanta and very often the last set was a jam with members of both groups. Ronnie actually asked me to join at one point but I think he was just pissed off at his drummer at the time.
"Get Right" was released in 1973. When was it recorded?
I believe most of it was done that year, also. We had put down most of the basic tracks using our original keyboardist, Clay Watkins and Al. When Steve returned from the war we got him in right away and he finished the tracking with us. We slipped off to do some shows and when we returned Al had done a bunch of overdubs on the record. Some of the parts were quite good but some others (mellotrons, stacking up background vocals) were things that we thought made the record sound awash and more pop than we liked. In retrospect, we were trying to define our sound at this time. Whereas Lynyrd Skynyrd had their sound and image totally together from day one, Al wanted to change our vibe to something less bluesy than our live show. In his book he's quoted as saying that "Mose Jones were my Beatles and Skynyrd was my Rolling Stones". Having done so much production work since Mose Jones, I have a new appreciation for what Al was trying to accomplish, Mose Jones "grew up" in public.
I don't understand well if it's now or in 1973 that you are critic with the production?
A little of both, but now I understand why Al made some of the choices he made better than I did then.
It was recorded at studio One, in Doraville. Did you have relations with the Atlanta Rhythm Section?
Yes, the Atlanta music scene was pretty tight in those days. Steve McRay and Randy Lewis co-wrote "Alien" which was a single for ARS, Steve plays on the track.
Were the tracks for "Get It Right" written for the disc or were it on your set-lists before?
Barroom Sweeper and Julia's Beautiful Friend had been in our sets for some time. Jimmy and Al wrote "What kind Of Woman..." for the disc, and Kiwi Stumble Boogie" was one of Jimmy's for the disc. The cover songs were, for the most part, brought in by Al.
A surprising thing is that the 4 players were singers. One another thing that is not usual on this disc is that, the most often, it's not one of the writers of the song that sing the song. Why?
Randy Lewis was our main vocalist and when Steve came along we had two lead singers with Jimmy and I mostly doing harmonies, then Jimmy got stronger on vocals and we had three lead singers. We tried to assign the song to the singer without regard for who wrote it. Just match the singer to the song.
The song you sing, "Ode To Drugan", is very beautiful. From where is this song and why did you chose to cover it?
This was from an English folk duo whose name escapes me. Al thought I should sing one number and proposed this one. Honestly, the song is beautiful but totally out of context for a southern band. We never did this one live.
If I'm ok, it's the only song you sing on disc. Why?
We had three superior vocalists and I was very content to be the drummer and shout out some harmonies.
Did you sing others on stage?
Lowell George plays slide on "Ole Man Trouble". How occurred that he plays on the LP?
We met Lowell at Richard's, a legendary rock club in Atlanta. Al and Lowell played "Happy Birthday" to me on my 21st birthday in the Artist's lounge. We were tracking for Get Right and Al asked Lowell to come and put a slide part down to which he graciously agreed and created, for me, a highlight of that record and my musical life.
Did the record sold well?
It started to do O.K. wherever we toured but we were completely overshadowed by the success of Skynyrd and we quickly started to lose support at the corporate level.
And "Mose Knows!"?
Mose Knows was a good record. I think it has better songs and we had been playing out on a national level, building our confidence and it showed on this disc.
Could you tell us some more things about his second LP?
the "Mose Knows" disc was started with Al producing but after a few sessions he brought in Charles Callelo (who had done work with Laura Nyro and others) to work with us. I think we all felt like a change might do us good. Charlie was like a teacher, he set down parameters but encouraged us to try our ideas and Al was more like a buddy. This record also saw Rodney Mills come on board as the engineer. Rodney has since gone on to produce 38 Special, The Doobie Brothers and many more and we remain close friends. We didn't tour until the recording was done which helped keep us focused and I think we were starting to develop our sound on this one. I remember it fondly.
An instrumental like "Mose Knows" has some Allman Brothers flavors. Was this band an influence for you?
You could not grow up in the south in the 70's without being influenced by the Allman Brothers. At their best they were what we all tried to be, tight but with the ability to do jazz-like stretching and jamming when the groove gets good to you. They were an incredible band to see and hear live in those days.
What were the main influences of the band?
I would have to say all the great 60's groups(Beatles, Stones) as well as the soul singers of the day from Motown to Stax and some jazz although this became stronger later in our careers. We all loved all kinds of music which was one of our problems, trying to narrow it down to one style so the labels could market you was very hard.
With this discs on MCA, had you the opportunity to tour intensely?
Yes, in the U.S. We stayed on the road through the mid seventies until we decided to break it up around 1976.
What occurred after this LP? The third LP, "Blackbird" (RCA) was released in 1978 and you and Jim O'Neill weren't on it. Why?
The band decided to go our separate ways in 1976. Jimmy O'Neill went to play with Vassar Clements, Steve McRay went to the U.K. to play with If, the jazz-rock group. I did session work at Criteria and other Florida studios until late 1977 when Steve, Randy and I started doing a trio. Guitarist Marvin Taylor was added and this group decided to adopt the Mose Jones name since it was 3/4ths of the original group. About this time Jimmy contacted me and I went to Nashville to see if it would work out for me to play with Vassar Clements. It did and I left Mose Jones after they found a suitable replacement. This version of the band put out the Blackbird disc and recorded another wonderful record which is still in the can.
Why still in the can?
Because RCA decided not to release it. Too bad, because it rocks.
Why the band did broke up in 1976?
We knew we weren't getting any more help from MCA (and I don't blame them), and we were tired of touring small venues with no record out to support.
Did the band record others albums?
Just the unreleased follow-up to Blackbird.
Is there somewhere some unreleased tracks?
I'll look. I'm sure there are some that could be found. I don't have a clue who holds the masters, though.
It seems to me that the discs are not released on CD. Is it allowed?
Actually, a company has contacted us in regards to a re-issue, this has just happened so I will let you know how things work out.
Would it be possible to see a live album to know how the band was on stage?
The disc I'm sending you has two live Mose Jones cuts, "Stood Up" from Mose Knows and "The City" a long jam number based on a Mose Allison song. These are very indicative of our live sound. They were both recorded at the aforementioned Richard's in 1975. I'm going through more tapes, I may put a live disc on the www.wednesdaymusicgroup.com
site early next year. This version of the group included the guitarist Davis Causey who went on to play with Sea Leavel and Gregg Allman amongst others.
Thanks for the disc, is it an official released album?
The Randall Bramblett disc is available through his web-site (there's one cut on what I'm sending you), The Donna Hopkins disc is available at WWW.hittinthenote.com
,(there's 2 cuts on your disc) And the Java Monkey Disc is available at www.java-monkey.com
(There's one cut on your's) The Francine Reed cut is out of print and the Mose Jones live is from some old tapes that I have, they are not released but I may put them up on my site when it's active.
Do you consider that Mose Jones played Southern rock?
Live, Yes. But our records were an attempt by young songwriters to develop a sound and style "on the spot" and some moments work very well, others... not so well.
Today, looking at these records, do you regret to have recorded in this style that wasn't your live style or do you still think that was the good idea to attempt it?
Yes, I do regret it. I feel like we should have put our "tougher" sound out there, but the past is done and I'm grateful to Al and MCA for the opportunities they gave us.
Are you interested in this musical kind?
It is a part of my life and I'm very interested in it. I'm thrilled that someone like you has taken the time to ask me these questions. It helps to validate an artist to know someone is listening. I feel like we helped to advance the cause of Southern Rock and I'm proud of the success many of the groups have had. My taste in music still is widely varied.
With your big and large experience as musician and producer, it would be very interesting to know how you could to define musically the Southern rock, with this variety in bands; from the blues of the Allman Bros. to the hard of Molly Hatchet or the country rock of Charlie Daniels (for examples)?
The thing to remember is that all of the roots American music came from the South. So I don't find it unusual to see southern groups doing various styles and calling it all "Southern Rock" I do feel like bands like Molly Hatchet were just ripping off Skynyrd's style whereas the Allman's and Charlie were true innovators. To use the old cliché, southern music is a stew or gumbo that includes all the different "flavors" available to the musicians. That's what makes it one of the more varied musical styles.
What became the other members? Have you still relations? Do you play sometimes together?
Sadly Jimmy and Randy both passed away in 2001(as did Leon Wilkerson from Skynyrd) but Steve McRay and I still play together occasionally and Marvin Taylor and I write songs and play together. We have a project called The Wednesday Music Group with Jeff Hilyer and Phil Fontana
Today, did Mose Jones leave recollections in the USA?
Yes, I'm quite surprised that so many people remember us.
What did you do after Mose Jones?
I have produced, or played on well over 200 discs including tracks with Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Delbert McClinton, Al Kooper. The Muscle Shoals Horns, Randall Bramblett, Jerry Ragovoy, Howard Tate (last disc featuring Elvis Costello). A complete discography is available at www.allmusicguide.com
The Howard Tate, "Rediscovered", is a great record. I saw him in 2004: an excellent show, what a singer!
He's amazing and working with and becoming friends with Jerry Ragovoy was a highlight for me.
I've seen credits of you and the fist is "Ugly Man" from Little Johnny Taylor in 1989. What did you do before?
This was my first production job for Ichiban. Before this I had been doing free-lance production and studio drumming jobs.
Do you still work with Ichiban?
Ichiban went out of business in the states in 1999.
Precisely, I thought that Ichiban was no more on the business but I see that for some albums like "American Roots" from Chick Willis from 2002, the label is Ichiban/Ryko...
They may have worked out a distribution with the new owners of the masters. I'm glad to see those discs still available.
Could you tell us this collaboration with Ichiban?
My friend Buzz Amato, who was the keyboard player for Curtis Mayfield, referred me for the job of Head of Domestic Publishing and the sideline of staff producer. I got to work with many wonderful artists like Jerry McCain, Jimmy Dawkins, and I helped to develop Ms. Francine Reed.
What is your work as a producer? Is it the same with all the artists?
It's very different from artist to artist. In most cases I'm involved in everything from helping select songs to hiring musicians and working with very capable co-producers/engineers like Jimmy O'Neill (who also worked at Ichiban) and Edd Miller to develop the overall sound of the record. The nature of the soul of the artist tells you what your job is. You have to remember that it's their record not yours. Once I learned this, my work improved greatly.
What are your best memories?
That's a hard one, I would have to say(not in order) playing with Lowell George, producing a track with Willie Nelson(a duet with Francine Reed) doing the same with Lyle Lovett(also with Ms. Reed) playing the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland with William Bell, bringing Randall Bramblett out of retirement, playing and touring with Vassar Clements and having been blessed to have a career doing something I love for all these years, seeing Paris and Rome and Tokyo, so many good memories and the feeling that ,in music, for a moment we all are one mind and one heart.
Why was Randall retired? How did you do to bring him back to the music?
He was still playing but he hadn't recorded any of his songs in 20 years or so. I convinced him it was time to make a record.
Why are you so happy to have played with Lowell George?
Because I'm a huge fan of his and Little Feat.
Which artists impressed you the most?
Every one I have worked with has something that makes them great. Francine owns the crowd; she makes them feel like they're in her living room. Jimmy Dawkins has such passion for music and Randall Bramblett is in a class with the great writers Dylan, Lennon, Costello. I could go on about most the people I've had the pleasure to work with.
Jimmy Dawkins has a strong personality. Was it easy to work with him?
yes he was. Jimmy knows what he wants and that helps. He and I have a great relationship and the records we did have gotten wonderful response.
What did you do after Ichiban?
I had a short lived company with Edd Miller and Jimmy O'Neill called CMO that didn't work out and I've since started writing with a vengeance and still produce once in a while.
You're too a song writer, could you tell to us some things about that?
I always wrote songs and, as I said earlier, I was a staff writer for Sony/ Tree for a few years. I stopped while I was producing to focus on the material of the artist. The past few years I have started writing like crazy and this brought about the Wednesday Group which is a group of songwriters who work together to record and perform original music. I have had a few songs covered but no "hits" yet. You can hear some of the Nashville songs at www.wednesdaymusicgroup.com
. These were written for contemporary country artists.
Do you perform it on live shows?
I'm still a bit of a studio recluse, but we are planning some shows.
After Mose Jones, have your played as a solo artist or with band (except as session musician)?
I continue to play with a group called Java Monkey made up of Steve McRay, Marvin Taylor, and Michael Bastedo, John Holder and myself. We play a couple of gigs a month. I have been in studios for so many years now that I get a little scared of big shows so I just do some small club dates and some jams. Mainly these days I'm working on writing and making demos of the songs in my home studio. I have been toying with the idea of putting out a solo EP. I'll let you know.
What kind of music plays Java Monkey?
Does the current musical evolution seem good to you?
For all the shit that comes out there are three good bands nobody gets to hear. I hope that, due to the internet, people will be able to find and support new bands. To answer your question, yes I'm pleased with the evolution, and each generation takes what they like from the old and carries it forward and makes for some exiting records. You always have to dig for the diamonds when it comes to new artists because the major labels won't finance something that they think they can't turn mega-platinum. I'm very pleased to see people rediscovering Soul and in the States there has emerged a style called Americana which combines many indigenous musical forms, Blues, Country, Jazz, Roots Rock, Soul, Cajun and others into a community of artists. In spite of all the pop drivel being thrown at us, good music will survive and flourish.
You have mixed with many artists in many styles; I suppose you have listened to a quantity of albums. What are your favorites records all styles?
I love Miles Davis-Kind of Blue and Birth of the Cool, Bitches Brew, I like Wilco a hell of a lot, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is superb, Buddy and Julie Miller are wonderful "new country", I still enjoy Steely Dan, the Stones and of course The Beatles. In blues it's hard to find one or two but I'm crazy about Muddy Waters, B.B.King and many of the people I worked with Like Dawkins, Jerry McCain. More current artists I like are Fiona Apple, her lyrics are amazing, and Radiohead, U2, new soul discs by Mavis Staples and Solomon Burke keep it alive. So many others, there is a lot of great music out there.
And because our magazine is a Southern rock oriented magazine, what are your favorite Southern rock albums?
The 1st Allman Brothers record, and Live at the Fillmore. The single for "Sweet Home Alabama", and Pronounced-the 1st disc by Skynyrd, these are the absolute best that Southern Rock has to offer.
And about the discs you've took part in, which one would you recommend us most?
Anything by Francine Reed, Jimmy Dawkins, or Jerry McCain as well as Randall Bramblett's "See Through Me" on Capricorn and Donna Hopkins "Free to Go" indie release.
Many thanks Bryan.
Many thanks to you and your listeners/readers, Peace.
Mose Jones on MySpace