Interview: Mark Moskowitz on why “It Was The Music”

Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams play music on the porch with Teresa’s parents, Mildred and Bobby Dean.

Capturing and celebrating the roots of americana and a mini workshop on how to direct a documentary film.

The documentary series ‘It Was The Music’ features Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams as they embark on their own career, looks at their close relationship after 30 years of marriage, examines Larry’s stellar reputation as musician, producer and arranger, demonstrates how Teresa brings Southern authenticity to their music as well as great vocals, and it  also celebrates the music from 1967 to 1972, that set the tone for much of the second half of the 20th Century and also laid the foundations for what eventually became americana, by weaving interviews and performances from key artists into Larry and Teresa’s story. The documentary was the brainchild of film maker and serious music fan Mark Moskowitz who funded and directed the series. Following his discussion with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, Americana UK’s Martin Johnson got the directors perspective from Mark Moskowitz via Zoom. It is clear from the outset that Moskowitz is a serious music fan and a gifted film maker who very generously lifted the lid on how he approaches the directorial process, which is fascinating for anybody who is even slightly interested in film making.  In fact, Moskowitz’s discussion could be viewed as a mini workshop for aspiring film makers. The documentary also confirms just how important the British Invasion was in kick starting America’s appreciation of its own music and encouraging American musicians from various parts of the country to pick up on the music of the American South. The documentary also shows that two musicians who should be known to UK listeners, Jorma Kaukonen and David Bromberg, were far more influential in their homeland than their more cult UK reputation suggests. 

How are you?

I think over the months I have adapted to the new way of working and it is great for getting out of stuff, you know, I would love to do that, but I haven’t had all my shots yet [laughs], but it is hard, really hard. People don’t realise it much because they have sold this director concept over our lifetime but filmmaking is completely collaborative, it is a lot of people equally invested in doing this work, and since this COVID stuff, with us all working remotely, we can do it you know, I can work with editors and people mixing stuff, and sometimes even performers doing it this way and sending it back and forth, it is not the same. I don’t know what it is, but it is not the same as being in a room with somebody and brainstorming, you know what I am saying, when you are in the same space, when you are sitting in the same space, you are working something through creatively and the sparks are just so much faster.

It is human interaction, it is those unknown and unseen body signals. Technology, no matter how good it is, doesn’t transmit all the human information, does it?

That is right. I wonder how musicians play music, but they are doing it and Larry Campbell has been out doing stuff for other artists. I know he has just been playing on a Shania Twain thing and she was in Germany, and he was in some studio wherever he was. I don’t know how they do that, I just really don’t.

Needs must.

Yeah. I see you’ve got loads of books, CDs and LPs behind you. We are all the same to some extent, we need our stuff around us. This idea of everything being digital is I don’t know, I’m just stuck in the 20th Century. It is just not the same but maybe it is better, I’m not saying it is better or worse, it is just that I like having all the stuff.

You don’t know, people may come back to that point of view, they may want the value that is inherently in stuff. ‘It Must Be The Music’ is your latest documentary series, do you see yourself as a documentary maker or is there another day job?

You can’t make a living making documentaries, some people do, and they become very proficient at it, they do it for HBO, PBS or whatever, I wouldn’t want to do that. Most of my work is commercial work, I have been making commercials since the late ‘70s and I’ve made a lot of them and made a good living doing it. Also, corporate films, training films all sorts of that kind of stuff. I’ve done my share of other things and every once in a while, I will do a documentary. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, I probably made over a hundred of what we would call documentaries now, but in those days, they were marketing/sales films, but they were done in a completely documentary standard way. The idea of interviews, a person’s role, so, for example, you may be a flooring manufacturer for a firm whose floors went into kitchens, you know, workspaces or hospitals. We would make these films of builders talking about how well the floor held up or homeowners saying how great the flooring looked. They were very credible, there was no hard sell in them at all and I was hired a lot to make these very credible documentary-type films which were the basis of many companies’ marketing, particularly business-to-business marketing. I have to say [laughs], not for me, but for hundreds of other filmmakers that style became the style of documentaries today.

You see first a bunch of interviews and then a bunch of footage, people are all in one place talking and then footage, it is what Ken Burns does and many others. I have said for years these are just corporate films, but back when documentaries were being made for real, they weren’t that way, they were ‘Roger & Me’ from Michael Moore, they were investigative, pictures like Fredrick Wisemen made, it was a very different thing. To that extent, I have been making documentaries a long time, but not what the media would call documentaries, but in style, they are like today. I mean, if you were a jingle writer in the ‘60s and then you became a rock singer or a singer-songwriter, and to today music is like jingle-based sort of music [ laughs] because it always fits a formula and sits in a box, it is all marketed, it is not The Band sitting at Big Pink just playing, you know [laughs]. Those days are gone.

The It Was the Music crew, in the recording studio, filming the album-making process.
They have, unfortunately. How do you decide the subject for one of your documentaries, particularly as you are probably using your own funding?

OK [laughs] that is a really good question, that is the crux of it all and if we could find out and those of us with therapists, we would eradicate all that because we would save ourselves lots of time and money. It is like an addiction, how do you stop a painter just painting the same thing over and over again. I’ve got notebooks I have kept over the years of various things, this one I’m looking at says Music on it, and it was the beginning of ‘It Was The Music’. If I go to the beginning it is 09.19.2004 and I wrote “Somebody on the radio doing Beatles covers, a whole British Invasion set, and there is an idea here for a film I would call it ‘Bill Wyman Turns 70 Next Year’. The idea back then in 2004 was that this stuff is going away, Bill Wyman who is probably the oldest of these guys and he was turning 70 then and it was like, hey this has happened, and it was an amazing thing, and nobody seems that bothered anymore. I started just making notes, right, “The other night I gave Jeff Lipsky tickets for The Rolling Stones and when I ask people what they think they cost someone said it has to be $125 a ticket, wrong, $160. I still have not watched the VHS of ‘Hail, Hail, Rock’n’roll’ “.

So, I just started thinking about a film, the ‘60s DJs started dying and in 2005 and 2006 I started going out and shooting some things. I shot a couple of On-Air people who I had listened to, and I shot some other stuff. Now here’s the thing, that is fairly rare because other people wouldn’t really do it that way because it is too expensive, but I have a good business and an ongoing company that can make stuff,  I have all the equipment and I can shoot by myself and do sound, it doesn’t cost me anything I don’t have to hire cameramen and crews if I don’t want to, I have a lot of people who will help me for free because I give them work or they are just into it. I don’t pursue everything I start shooting, so I have innumerable films downstairs and some of them are shot but will never be cut, OK. I have an entire and amazing film on 24 breast cancer survivors I started shooting in 2001. I edited the film to a rough edit but this was one of the films I abandoned for whatever, but most people don’t do that, they start something and pursue it to the end and they raise the money to do it. I am a few thousand into this one, I have $25,000 in that one, I might be some amount into whatever, and it is a real hobby, a crazy hobby like somebody who collects old cars and wants to restore them and he has 15 junk cars in his front yard [laughs], and once in a while he will finish one, finishes a Rambler or he finally gets missing parts for an old DeSoto and goes I’m going to restore it now [laughs]. That is what happens to this stuff.

I met this woman Colleen, and I had been divorced for a few years, and she loved music and we went to music things together and she knew her stuff, she had an older brother who played guitar and he is 7 years older than me, so she knew the sounds and it was really cool to go out with her. You know some Bob Dylan song comes on, or Steely Dan and Colleen knew it.  We went to a little bar and grill and for $12 we saw Larry and Teresa with 75 other people, and you knew in like four minutes that this was amazing, OK, you are seeing something truly amazing. I saw Archie Shepp, the great saxophone player in a little place, and when you see great musicians and you are close, there is nothing like that, it is just one of the great things. I had all these notes about what music means to us, and I saw Larry and Teresa and by the third song I saw the whole film, I just saw this whole thing I was going to do. I realised this is what I want to go and do.

I couldn’t do it alone the way I wanted to do it, but I realised that if I have them join me in this project, between the two of them, we could get at what this music meant to us all and how it has taken us through these decades. Afterwards, Colleen and I hung around while they were signing their CDs and that, I said to Larry “When you guys are on stage, to me it is cinematic, it is like I am seeing a film. Has anybody thought about making a film with you guys?”, and he said “No.” and he didn’t know who I was, I could be just some crazy fan. Larry is Larry though, and he is just so generous, and he goes “If you want to do something here is the name of my manager just give him a call”. Meanwhile, Colleen was talking to Teresa, and Colleen’s son lives in Tennessee, and she knows Tennessee really well, and they are having this great discussion. I called him the next day and after a few weeks, we met and made a deal. That was the beginning of it, and they just trusted me to go and make this and be the characters in it, though it is just themselves, and remember they are very talented people and not just musically because Teresa has her theatre background, and Larry has been on the stage his whole life with Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Tracey Chapman, Sheryl Crow, he can do anything. You have two star-level people, that if you had to caste or do something they were there.

We just went and created it, we did it and had a great time doing it. I don’t think they knew what it was until they actually saw it [laughs]. They both had ideas throughout though, Larry would say to me at some point you know what, you ought to really talk to Steve Jordan, you should talk to Garland Jeffreys because I did this session or produced this record for him. You are trying to get at the really early days of rock, and he was there, and Teresa would say you have got to come down to Tennessee and see this for real, you will never understand where I am coming from if you don’t.

Teresa has lived in Manhattan, you know, for over 35 years but she wears her Tennessee badge strong, like a woman I knew from the East End of London, half-Pakistani and half-Iraqi and Jewish and she grew up in the East End of London poor with an atrocious accent, she comes to the United States and people think she is upper crust because she has an English accent. Jessica has now been in the States for 30 years and she still sounds the same because she wears that badge, you know. Don’t mistake her from any other part of the UK if you don’t know she is from the East End because that is her badge, and that is what Teresa is like. Wherever she goes she wants to make sure you understand that West Tennessee is a unique place.

That is a very long answer I know, but that is how you do these things. You are working and doing other things and then something butts up against you and you say, I’ve got to follow this. It is costly [laughs].

Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams play music on the porch with Teresa’s parents, Mildred and Bobby Dean.
You rather glibly mentioned Larry and Teresa trusting you, but how did you manage that given the intrusive nature of the documentary, where did the trust actually come from?

I can’t say except that most of my commercial work is with real people. Over the years I have produced a lot of commercials for businesspeople, sportspeople and famous athletes, politicians and these are non-celebrity kinds of celebrities, they are like real people. I did more than 20 little films on scientists for the DuPont Corporation where they give an award every year to their top scientists, and these are brilliantly creative people these scientists. I have just learnt over the years, though I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m just myself and I just tell them what I’d like to do,. It is just me and I go in and say look I have this idea, and this is what I would like to do and would you do it with me? It is just straight. I will say I went with Coleen the first time we really did it and some months later Teresa said to me, in a bit of pique at some point, “Mark, I’m going to go ahead and do this, and I just want to tell you this, when I first met you I was arh and I said to Larry, I don’t know but look he’s with Colleen and she is so great so he must be OK.” [laughs]. Maybe there is some of that, and Colleen did help a great deal and she was an Associate Producer on this, she did much of the details and is as much a part of this as me from the beginning.

I think with Larry there are two interesting things. When I first talked about it with Larry extensively, I realised he was going to do this, and we saw the same things. I explained to them that this isn’t a film about your life, you are going to be central to it, but it is about all of us and how we came to this music and how much it has meant to us down through the generations, and how it has kept a lot of its stuff together. People our age from all over the world could go into any record store and look at records and all have a share of the same stories and experiences. There wasn’t that much at the time, it was finite, these bands the Moody Blues, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Steppenwolf, The Burrito Brothers, that is what there was and there weren’t a million things out there and we all know those records and that time. He understood what it was we were trying to do, which is to show when as people who were influenced by that and are now carrying it forward so that other people can feel, hear and experience this to some extent. At the end of the conversation, he said “Well OK, but you will have to talk to Teresa”. I thought that Larry would have talked to Teresa, and we would have been done, no, it is Moskowitz you have to talk to Teresa. I was like OK, and he said, “You are going to have to talk to Teresa as you have just talked to me, we are equal, and don’t take anything for granted.”. I said I’ll call her and I’m writing the number down and just as I’ve about to go he says “Mark, before you talk to Teresa let me just tell you one thing, she is a complicated person.” and I was like thanks for that. What he was saying is don’t be stupid and realise that this is a super smart and very creative and super talented person, an artist of her own making, and don’t take anything for granted here, he was giving me a little warning, and I got it.

Teresa and I had a really fantastic talk because she has her theatre background and literature is something I know a lot about. Teresa is part of the story, and I had decided even before, that I was going to begin the film with Teresa and it was going to be Teresa’s story to some extent. The complicated life she faces being out on the road with Larry and being married to him. I very much wanted to begin in Tennessee and start with her and I very much wanted the first things in the film to be about what it was like being married to somebody who is just on the road for his whole career, what is that? Right at the beginning, I knew I was making a picture about people our age who have been through a lot of life, and these people have held together a 30 – 35 year marriage and relationship, a lot of people haven’t been able to do that. I wanted to speak about the relationship in part of the film and have some of us of our age look at that and look at our own relationships and say yes, things changed through the decades with somebody you love, but you can still love somebody and be with them and I thought that was important and I wanted to get that out. I didn’t want to just make a music thing, here’s Levon, here’s Bob Dylan, here’s americana, here’s Larry, I wanted it to be about us as people and how the music just helps cement that love. Colleen said to me early on, and this is where the title of the film came from, we were sitting in the kitchen one time and we had just come back from a shoot, we had both come from long difficult marriages and we are seconds for each other right now, and I said how do you think they held this together for this amount of time, and she said “They have no children, they have no dogs.” [laughs] I said thank you very much I have to go make a note [laughs].

What I would like to know is it is your documentary, it is your idea, and you find a solution that involves Larry and Teresa which is the final missing piece, you structure the documentary as you would a film but because it is a documentary you are finding things out as you film. So how do you keep everything under review and instep and manage that whole process?

That is the real question and that is the question if you have a ten-week documentary class teaching kids about this, that is exactly the question that is the basis of all this. I can answer it and it goes like this. You are right, I had some idea of what I wanted to get across and first off nothing happens unless you have something to say. If you are Bob Dylan or Elton John or Martin Scorsese, Scot Fitzgerald who wrote two books before he was 21, Dow Mossman the subject of my ‘Stone Reader’ documentary, you are a true artist and you have something to say when you are very young. You listen to some of the Neil Young songs that he wrote by the time he was 24, even Van Morrison you know. It is mind-boggling how much of life these guys were able to show, writers like Norman Mailer the great new American novelist whose first book ‘The Naked And The Dead’ was published when he was 23 or 24 and it is a masterpiece, incredible. Some people though come later, some great writers didn’t write their first book until they were 50, I made my first film when I was 44, not that I didn’t have the chops to do it before, it was just I didn’t have anything to say. It took me that long in life to have something to say and it took me another 20 or maybe 15 years after that to have something else to say. First off, you have to have something to say, you have to have something to say that is so important to you that you are willing to risk a lot of time, energy, money and whatever to say it. It is true whether you are a writer or any kind of artist, and you have to do the risk.

So, I had something to say, and I had all my notes in that book of what I wanted to say, so the trick becomes this. I can’t sit there and say it all because I may as well write a book, the trick is to get other people to say it and to find people who will be in the film, share your vision and say it. What I wanted to talk about to some extent was a very special time from ’67 to ’72, and so I found Michael Tearson, a disc jockey I used to listen to, to say that in Episode 7 and I shot that stuff in 2006. I had a chance with Hot Tuna for them to say it, but I decided to do something else with that. So, when I found I could interview Tracy Nelson, who I loved and had all her records growing up, and we talked and exchanged emails before I interviewed her and we talked and she just says that better than I ever could, and she was there and could say it. So, I said that piece gets covered by Tracy Nelson. It is not that I don’t ask Phil Lesh that, or Wolfman Jack or other people. Then there were a few other things I wanted to say like what is the creative process when you put stuff together because making a record is very much like making a film and vice versa, and I want to talk about the process of making a film and I talk to Jackson Browne about sequencing records and he gets into the whole thing around he doesn’t like doing scripted stuff, and when you are making a documentary you are just accumulating this stuff.

There is all this self-reflected stuff I wanted to say, and other people are bringing it out. Sometimes you get lucky, and somebody just says something like the guy who was the taper, in Episode 2 or 3, who taped all David Bromberg’s stuff, and he had all the Grateful Dead and that stuff on the computer. I wanted to talk about all the stuff we have, all the records and getting into the digital stuff. How do we talk about what records mean to us, and I got Larry into a record store and he knocked it out of the park, and if he hadn’t done that, I would have found some other way to get at what records mean. For example, my college roommate had quarter-inch tapes, piles and piles of them, and this is like the ‘60s early ‘70s, and nobody had that, he had Boz Scaggs stuff, he had the BBC Archive stuff, The Kinks, just unbelievable stuff on tape, and if I didn’t have the record store, I was going to do it with him and his tapes. We got across what we wanted with the record store, so I didn’t have to go to him and his tapes.

You’ve got to do all this and you’re following your little plan, meanwhile, Larry and Teresa are doing their concerts, they are doing the family story, they are doing that piece of it, and you have this forward narrative, can they make it on their own, what is this with people our age going out and just starting their joint career and living their dream and what does that mean. Meanwhile, I’m driving the story backwards to the late ‘60s/’70s and that time, and the questions I’m asking are I’m interested in finding the answers, and some of it intersects with Larry in the record store when we talk about what albums to get together. OK, that is all great and here’s the key part and the answer to the question. You can go make that, and it is going to be something. A lot of films are made that way because of time and budget, you are commissioned to do a documentary by a big outfit or network, you have to deliver in X amount of time, you have to tell them what it is going to be, and you had better deliver what it is going to be. Whoa to you, unless you are really good and super slick, to go in afterwards and say you know guys, I took all your money and I realised that wasn’t going to work so I went off and did this thing instead because I think it works best. Night night, you are never going to work again, you may win an Oscar, but you will never work again. I don’t have to worry about that because I’m doing all this independently, so I can go look at that stuff and sift and suddenly you realise something new, and you have to have some distance, and this is why these things take a long time to look at and see what’s there. You went with a plan, but now you have all this stuff on film to edit and here is the starting point, not the plan, you know, what’s there. Here this is the point where Jack Casady, something I ignored when he was doing it, is talking about seeing Ray Charles live and how it just turned his head around at age 15. Here is this moment of Teresa on stage talking about what a live moment means to her to perform, she says there is something about live music and I’m like holy shit, I’ve missed the whole point of this because I saw Larry and Teresa live and I was impacted to go make this whole thing.

The power of seeing something live, Jesus do I take the whole record stuff out of it and just make it about live music [laughs]? Maybe, but no, let’s put it out as both so I’m really into this idea of what the power of live music meant to us, but I didn’t see that while I was making it. I was blind, it was here but I didn’t see it. It wasn’t until I looked at what people said that I realised that, right. There are other things throughout it, I knew we were doing something with a relationship in it, but I didn’t see the relationship between Larry and Teresa fuse on stage when l I saw the footage. It wasn’t just me, you know, there were seven editors on the film, so we bring in an editor for three months, and she said to me wait a second here “Look at Teresa’s face here, look at her looking at Larry, she loves him.”. You can’t predict that you just have to see something like that. So, 5,6 or 7 of us put this thing together, I did various scenes, others were assigned scenes and we crossed off and people brought different things with people aged 35-70 editing it, men women, whatever. I’m the final arbiter and I said that is a great idea let’s go with it, it takes a long time to do. You have to be willing to throw out a lot of the stuff you plan and work with what’s there, that has come from experience working on a lot of non-fiction stuff. I often go around and do commercials that are very documentary-like in that they have a point, and in that case, I will re-look at it and say it should be done that way, sometimes the clients won’t accept that, they are  we have paid for this and we want it, don’t you see this will be way better, nah, we don’t. Oftentimes people do understand it and that is why they are hiring me, you can have an announcer saying a line, but wait here is a person just saying it on camera in a testimonial and it is way more powerful, or vice versa.

Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams share a tense moment while discussing the hardships of always being on the road.

That is the key, the material speaks to you in the end and that’s when you make the film, you make the film and, in the end, the material speaks to you when you put it together. The directorial piece is important because I don’t believe in just recording everything and being a fly on the wall. I went with an idea and I wouldn’t necessarily call it a documentary, it is part memoir and it has the performance stuff obviously, there is some verité but there are definitely directorial pieces where I said to Larry and Teresa, Larry let’s walk over here and talk about your first trip to the south, and we do that and it is way directorial and I say to make this work I need you to do this blah blah and it will make the whole scene. Then there are other things that just happen, there was a morning and I was sitting with my son and Colleen, just the three of us, and we had shot the night before or something and we were over with Larry and Teresa’s for breakfast before loading the car and driving home, and they got into that discussion in the kitchen about going forward and Teresa is not so sure she wants to live life on the road as there are other priorities in life, and Larry is trying to talk her into it, right. This has happened and everything was packed up, and as they were doing it I just pulled the camera out and my son, who was with me for fun and he is not in this business, but he can do stuff, just plugged in the boom and Coleen got out of the way moved some stuff because she saw we were shooting, and the next thing you know I am shooting this scene as a handheld verité of them having this argument in the kitchen. Sometimes it is just there, and you get it, but you can’t rely on that. We were lucky to get it but you better not go into a film relying on shit happening in front of your face all the time [laughs]. If we hadn’t had got that argument, we would still have got that message somehow. I don’t know how, but it was there so we would have got it.

That is how you do it, you go with a plan, and you have to be willing to just work with what you have in the end, you know, and that is the really important thing. Not a lot of people do that.

How much footage did you actually shoot, how much did you leave on the floor?

Not as much as you might think because I don’t go out and follow people. There were a few scenes we cut because they didn’t work, but we used everybody we interviewed. There was a scene with Blind Boy Paxton that we cut where he is on the roof of his apartment playing. He is an interesting guy who grew up in the projects at Compton, self-taught like Larry and can play various instruments, and is totally versed in the stuff, brilliant guy, and he is gay and he converted to become an Orthodox Jew when he was like 18 or 19, so he was on the roof of his building on the Jewish sabbath and we did a whole piece on him and then playing in a club that night, because he can work again after sundown. Great scene, but I cut it because I couldn’t get back to it. But hey, not much, we had multiple cameras going on at the concerts so that is a lot of footage. If we shoot a ninety-minute concert with four cameras and we end up using one song that is a lot of footage, right. So don’t include that because to get one song you have to shoot the whole lot, but for the other part, not a lot. There is a scene where Larry and Teresa are rehearsing a song and Larry is playing Teresa a song for the first time and it is at the beginning of the film, that is a forty-minute scene raw and we cut it to four minutes, you know. It is not extravagant, and we were careful, we know what we want, and we are not just shooting thing after thing after thing, there is no money to do that [laughs]. Pick your spots and then you have that feeling and it seems all-encompassing, and we want to give people the feeling we were there all the time, and we shot over fifteen months. Over those fifteen months, we might have shot twenty-five different days.

You’ve got your documentary but how do you get an independent documentary out there to try and get some of your money back?

You don’t make money on documentaries, and you rarely recover. If you are commissioned upfront to do a documentary then you are paying yourself a salary out of what the budget is, and it can still be not a lot because these things take a long time to make. Very few people are making documentaries because it is a way to make a living in this business, and anyone making them is usually making commercials and other kinds of things. At one point I had four hours and I talked to Amazon, and Amazon said well, why not make it ten hours and I said I don’t know we could maybe do eight and by the time I got back to them there were we only want two hours [laughs]. Things change, and we actually have a two-hour version, and I will show that to somebody but that is way down the road. You can sell the documentary to a streaming service, but COVID came, and you have a couple of problems. One, it is not a film so you can’t enter it in a film festival, right, and that is the usual way you get seen. The first film I made had gotten into film festivals and if someone buys it you have a distribution deal. This film I made we did it ourselves, I own it, we had offers for it but offers I didn’t think were good enough. We kept it ourselves and we doubled down and invested more and hired the people to distribute it and we got our money back.

The real way you make back financially on these, and I’m not because I still do enough commercial business to pay for this, and  I would just rather people just see it. What happens is this, somebody likes it and sees it and they call you to do something else. If you are looking for financial recovery and you are in the documentary film business, that is where your opportunity is. I said to Larry and Teresa, “The odds of you making thousands or tens of thousands of money from selling CDs or digital music from this film being out there is zip. The odds of somebody seeing you on camera and realising how great you two are and asking you to host ‘Guess The Name Of That Song’ reality show, or God knows what, is what it is about [laughs]. Your return on documentary film often comes not from the thing itself, but from some other thing, in my experience. We have now been asked to shoot multiple streaming concerts for various artists. I’m not necessarily going to do it because we are not in that business, but I could have probably earned back maybe a third of the cost of the film if I had wanted to go out every weekend and shoot somebody’s streaming concert, you know, and be paid a five-figure number to do it.

Writers go the same way. There are so many writers and novelists I know who might sell five thousand copies of a book, but they might get a $200,000 screenplay job for a film that never gets made. It is the same thing, you know.

How much of the real Mark Moskowitz is there in ’It Was The Music’?

The person you see in the film is always relatively a performance. You have just talked to me for 45 minutes and you know how fast I talk, and the ideas just go. You can’t do that in a film, it just doesn’t go anywhere. There is one moment in the record store that I didn’t think I would put in where I kind of lose it, but that is OK, the rest is sort of measured and it is not really me. The real me is conceptual and in the ideas that are put forth as you go. When you get to Episodes 9 and 10 and towards the end, you will see that I re-establish some editorial control over it. It starts as Teresa’s picture and then it moves towards Larry and then I sort of redirect it a bit towards the end. I wouldn’t say that is me, there are a few things I want you to think about as I am thinking about them, and I try and make them happen. Mind you, it could be all me, right, because Tracy Nelson’s in there because I love Tracy Nelson, nothing to do with Larry and Teresa, right [laughs].  It was a chance to talk to Tracy Nelson, if you have a camera, it is amazing who you can go talk to.

Jorma and Jack were just musical heroes of mine since I was 13 years old, you know. Not just Airplane stuff where Jorma’s guitar in that just defined for me the sound of the ‘60s. His guitar playing, to some extent Clapton a little bit, but Jorma just defined that to me. When Hot Tuna happened, when that first live Hot Tuna album came out that was just more than ‘Music From Big Pink’ by The Band, maybe Taj Mahal’s ‘Giant Steps’, just took me, and the fact they kept at tit, you know. They could have done anything, but they stayed with it all those years. I don’t know, I just so much just wanted to talk about that, especially when Jack, who is such a great musicologist, is just talking about the influence of these records and what they mean to him. It was just great talking to him, Colleen tells the story of when we went to film them, which was at the ‘Targhee Music Fest’ and they don’t know who I am from Adam, and we had wangled the interview and they know it is about Larry. Jorma is like the greatest guy in the world, as you can imagine, and Jack isn’t so far off, and they sit down and I’m shooting behind the camera. We are going to shoot the festival, so we have four cameras that day and I got one of the guys to use another camera as a second camera. I’m shooting straight on and he is shooting profile, we also have a sound guy, and when I got to edit the main interview it just sucks man [laughs], I’m not focused and the camera is all wobbly and I’m thinking I’ve fucked this up [laughs], and Colleen said to me “You were so excited to talk to them it was like what are you doing? I watched the camera and you forgot to do the camera you were just so excited.”. I was an idiot, and I should have put the other guy on the main camera and just done the interview, and she was right I was just so excited [laughs] and I had so much to talk to them about, a whole life of music that was inspired by what those guys did way back, right. Trying to cram that into a small amount of time was just, I don’t know but what is great is that since then, and the years making the film, I have repeatedly been able to email Jorma and I’ve talked to him a couple of times, so I’ve gotten it all answered now, and he wrote his book. You have to agree those guys are just like….

Larry Campbell and Teresa WIlliams on stage with Jorma Kaukonen at the Grand Targhee Resort.
They absolutely are, and Larry has done Jorma’s last couple of albums and the latest Hot Tuna record, so it has all come full circle in a way.

The relationship between Larry and Jorma could be a film in itself, and that is one of those things I’m saying when you get back and look at the stuff. I was going to have a much larger David Bromberg piece, because Bromberg as a live performer when I was like 17 and 18, was the best live performer I had ever seen, OK, Bruce Springsteen was next, but I think he learnt it from Bromberg because he opened for Bromberg a couple of times, but David when he was 26 or 27 years old in a small venue could hold you with stories, various songs, an interesting set that was all over the place, kind of like what Larry does now, also like what Dylan does now sometimes. He was just fantastic, you know, and I was going to have him as a centrepiece of the live stuff, I was going down that road, and then found I didn’t need it as I had got it another way.

The other thing is that there is this incredible relationship between Larry and Jorma, and if I was more of a guitar freak or guitar player I don’t know, but Larry on seeing Jorma play Reverend Gary Davis at the Fillmore, and then learning Reverend Gary Davis stuff from the way Jorma played it, not the Reverend who he couldn’t figure out, and now today Larry is the number one teacher of the Reverend Gary Davis stuff but it is coming through his thing with Jorma. That whole piece just totally fascinates me, the influence the Reverend had on Jorma’s life and Hot Tuna, and what it has had on Larry’s life. It is no different to literature when someone reads a 19th Century novel and becomes a writer, and then later on down the road someone else reads their book and their art is affected, I love that kind of thing where stuff gets transferred, it keeps moving and stays alive, you know. Larry and Jorma, that is a special relationship right there. There is one workshop I shot with Larry on Reverend Gary Davis, it is on Episode 4 or 5 I think, and there are fifty white guys, all the same guy, looking at Larry, OK, they all go to Hot Tuna concerts and one or two of the guys were under fifty, they have beards, paunches whatever. I said to one guy at the end, “Did you get anything out of this?” and he said to me, “Oh yeah, yeah” and I said, “From what Larry is talking about?”, and he goes, “Nah, I don’t listen to the talking I just watch his fingers.” [laughs}. I love that, Larry is doing the whole talk and the guy is just watching his fingers [laughs].

Though I haven’t seen the full series yet, I think you have made a film for the ages. In twenty or thirty years time when we are all gone the story will still be there for people to see.

It is what part of the 20th Century was, along with a hundred other things that were around at the time. There is a scene later on where I get Larry’s old record player fixed, it had an automatic changer and the speakers are built into the turntable, and this is what he listened to and learnt how to play guitar by slowing down the records. We go into the repair shop where the guy fixed the record player, and it is in this industrial little town and all this guy does is fix TVs from the ‘80s, stereos from the ‘60s, he has got racks and racks of this stuff the size of my house, old amplifiers, when you got your first stereo system every one of them are all just out there with this guy. Some of them are just the parts, the tweeter, the woofer, and he is selling them on eBay I guess, but he fixes them. It is a walk through the mid-20th Century, to walk through the guy’s shop takes you back to just that time, it was unbelievable. I condensed it to a 45-second scene with Canned Heat music, it is sad, it should be a 2-hour special [laughs]. People don’t know this and, in this day and age, I don’t know if they even care.

That is not the point though, is it? It is preserved, the ideas are there.

You are right, you are right.

And there is a lot more of you in the ‘It Was The Music’ than you might admit, I think [laughs].

It is happening in my head, so you are right. Teresa and Larry were such a huge gift to it, they are just incredibly gifted people and just great people to be with. I did not know how accommodating they would be throughout the whole thing. I miss them, this whole COVID thing, it would have been so much fun to have this out and have the tour to go around and see the people, the fans, you know. I have heard from a lot of people, and they say I saw the concert, I’m in the third row on this show here or whatever [laughs]. We didn’t expect this, we thought maybe make a thing and then go on tour and make another sail around the country and meet people, but now we are stuck, and it is Zoom, it is this, it is digital and I don’t know [laughs].

The main thing is that you made it and got it out there.

A friend of mine has just finished a book and he sent it to me, and I’m like fifty pages through it and my son came and picked it up and said I don’t know dad, this and that, and I said the guy finished the book [laughs], do you know what it is like to finish a book, like to write a book. To write a book is an unbelievable accomplishment, it may be this book, but it is still an unbelievable accomplishment to do that and people don’t know that unless they have done it. Finishing is everything, you are right. Starting is fun, but finishing is what matters.

It has been great discussing ‘It Was The Music’ and thanks for making it.

When I go to the Americana UK website you have got tons of great stuff there and it is better than anybody is doing here in the States. If it wasn’t for the island non of this stuff would have come back to us, we still wouldn’t know who Muddy Waters was, the British Invasion and everything, it is really sad. Teresa says that in the film at some point, I grew up right here and nobody knows about the music. That part of the story alone is unbelievable, I think Larry and I talked about that for a year figuring out whatever song wasn’t a Rolling Stones’ song [laughs], the first understanding of that. I actually played a couple of Muddy Waters’ records the other day as I got some new speakers, and I tell you, still of all those guys, Colleen loves Howlin’ Wolf, and he comes on song and she knows who it is and she stops the car, but Muddy Waters to me is just it, maybe it is because he was the first great blues singer I like heard live for real and doing it. For a long time, I liked John Lee Hooker. Did you ever hear that story that Van Morrison told about John Lee Hooker?

No

There is this French documentary on Van Morrison on YouTube in four parts and he never sold it, and there is this whole piece when Morrison is playing with John Lee Hooker, it is a one camera piece of them playing on a dock together. What Van Morrison says in it is that he was always afraid he couldn’t sing well enough, this and that, and he loved John Lee Hooker and he suddenly realised he doesn’t have to sing words, he can just sing like John Lee Hooker and grunt [laughs], and he said that changed his whole ability to like communicate through music once he realised.

‘It Was The Music’ is available to stream on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Vimeo and the soundtrack is available now on Red Poppy Entertainment

 

 

About Martin Johnson 127 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.

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