If there was any justice in this world, guitarist Pete Cosey would be as well known as many of his contemporaries. His name should be up there with other giants like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy. Pete was born in Chicago on 9 October 1943. An only child, Pete hails from a musical family (his mother and father wrote for Louis Jordan, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vincent, and his father played with Sidney Bechet and Josephine Baker). As a child, Pete learnt to play the violin, accordion and piano, as well as sing in the choir (he also plays drums, percussion and synthesiser). But it is as a guitar player that Pete is best known.
His career includes being a session player for Chess Records, which saw him playing with artists such as Etta James, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry. He’s also played with jazz artists such as Gene Ammons, Shirley Scott and Sonny Stitt. He was also a founder member of Earth, Wind Fire and played on some Motown sessions. But Pete is probably best known for his association with Miles Davis, which started in 1973 and ended with some abandoned sessions in 1979. Pete’s playing can be heard on albums such as Dark Magus, Agharta and Pangaea as well as The Complete On The Corner Sessions. Miles’s band of 1973-75 [Miles, Cosey, guitarist Reggie Lucas, bassist Michael Henderson, drummer Al Foster, percussionist Mtume and assorted saxophonists] is acknowledged as one of the most exciting and ground-breaking bands of its time and its influence can be heard today. Pete’s scorching guitar lines, out-of-this-world effects, unconventional tunings and sheer virtuosity have inspired and influenced many guitarists – even Jimi Hendrix is rumoured to have picked up a trick or two from Pete.
In this exclusive interview with TheLastMiles.com, Pete talks about playing, his musical influences, being a member of the Miles Davis band and the struggles he faced when Miles’s band finally broke up.
Pete Cosey © Photo copyright and courtesy Audrey Cho www.audreycho.com
The Last Miles: You were self-taught and have developed more than one hundred different tunings. Why did you want to go beyond what most guitarists were doing and using the conventional tuning?
Pete Cosey: Two reasons. First, that’s where my ears where; that’s what I heard. As soon as I did it, I immediately saw the potential in terms of range. The guitar wasn’t my first instrument. I had studied piano so I had a knowledge of chord structure and that’s where it came from. When I came up with my first tuning it was based on what I had studied; it wasn’t just happenstance. By not having a guitar instructor I didn’t go to someone who would teach me EADGBE. I have found through the years it served me a lot better.
TLM: You once said that no guitarist could play like you and you recalled an Aretha Franklin gig where a guitarist was looking at you in binoculars and couldn’t figure out your tuning! And didn’t Buddy Guy pick up one of your guitars and wonder how to play it!
PC: I don’t know if that’s what I said, but I have said that no one is familiar with my systems. Buddy and I were at a jam session on New Year’s Eve. Buddy had just opened for the Rolling Stones and I had just finished playing at an Oscar Brown play. I knew Buddy and some other guys were in town and so we all agreed to meet at a club that Buddy used to play in from time to time. So we met up and had a beautiful jam session, and at one point, Buddy wanted to play a blues number and he wanted to play my guitar – I tried to warn him! I handed it to him and he started trying to finger it and everything was away from what he was used to and he started looking around! And Buddy being the pro that he his, found one note and he hung onto that note for dear life! And it worked in the song. Robert, the guitarist who was watching me with his binoculars, approached me after the show and said: “I was watching your hands and I just…” It just flipped him out!
TLM: You are also well- known for using effects – how did that happen?
PC: Just from dealing with sounds, period. I had bowed the guitar for quite some time and that opened up myriads of sound. And I was into sitar for a long time. I had tried to get the people at Chess to buy a sitar in the mid-1960s, but they didn’t know what it was. Then The Byrds came out with “Eight Miles [High]” and they kinda scoped what it was. Eventually they [Chess] bought an electric choral sitar, designed by Lenny Bell, who was a great session man from the east coast. It had six strings like a guitar and was tuned like a guitar but it had a bridge that was similar to a sitar and was flat. It had eleven or thirteen sympathetic strings that you tuned up; almost like a little autoharp alongside the guitar.
That’s what we took over to Motown and used it on some of the Four Tops tracks that we cut. As far as my involvement in sounds, when I lived in Phoenix, I used to go up to the South Mountain [Park and Reserve] with my little two- or three-tube amp and hit the sound that would ring off the mountain, and that’s how I developed what I called my wide open sound. It was lower than the usual guitar note and that came from experimenting in the mountains and hearing it bounce back. Feedback occurred naturally. One day at a rehearsal I was playing around and put the guitar near the amp and got that. When those sounds came out, that opened up some new avenues. Using effects came from my living with the instrument, keeping it close and always embracing new ideas. Embracing the instruments because they all have different characteristics; different tones. I discovered that at an early time. The instruments have different electronics, different wood, different scales. Instruments can make you play a certain way. You can apply different techniques to different instruments by the nature of the instrument themselves; it might be the balance; it might be the neck – there are a lot of factors. Living with the instrument – that’s what I discovered at an early age and that’s what I dedicated myself to.
TLM: Is there a particular make or type of guitar you like?
PC: I love great guitars man. Back in the 60s my most favourite guitar would have been the Gretsch. For me, it blew away the so-called big two, Gibson and Fender. It was a lot more versatile electronically. I used it extensively in the studio. I used the others as well, but Gretsch was probably my most versatile. When I’d get called for sessions I would know what type of music we were recording so I would bring a guitar that would link up with that particular date. Normally I would bring two guitars in case the string broke. I would normally have the Gretsch with me and one of the other two.
TLM: Who were your musical influences?
PC: As far as guitar went, I listened to all I considered were the masters. Wes [Montgomery] was probably my favourite for the music we called jazz. I have a great appreciation for all those guys, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, Grant Green. A little bit of Django Rheinhardt. I was able to get a boxed set in later years of Charlie Christian. Freddie King was my favourite of all the Kings. Barney Kessel is another. My main influence is the blues and the pianists. In particular, a man called John Henry Davis (“Blind John Davis”). He was a good friend of my aunt’s husband and I would sit and watch him for hours. He had a touch man that was like cream – it was so thick and so pure.
TLM: You did lots of sessions, including some with Chuck Berry. What was he like to work with?
PC: It was very interesting! He had just gotten out of prison, I believe in 1966, and we cut some great things with him – they were really rocking. I remember we did thirty-one takes of one song, only because he was rusty. They had me play his signature lick for him and it was an honour. Here was this punk kid like twenty-one or twenty-two and I got a chance to record with one of my idols, the father of rock ‘n’ roll. We got along famously – I absolutely loved Chuck Berry. I loved all those of those old guys, Willie Dixon, Wolf [Howlin’ Wolf], Jimmy Reed. Margie Hendrix, who sang with Ray Charles. When I moved back to Chicago I must have done a thousand blues sessions – they were called bootleg sessions. One of my mentors was a great guitarist and bassist, Reggie Boyd – he played bass on “Watusi” by The Vibrations, and “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” by Etta James.
TLM: Some say you influenced Hendrix.
PC: I didn’t even remember that until some of my guys from Phoenix brought it back to me. One of the persons was Bernard Williams – he played saxophone in my band. He also played with Jimi later I left Phoenix. It didn’t dawn on me until I heard the name of the band Hendrix had come with: Johnny Jenkins and the Casuals. As soon as he said that I remembered the band and I remembered Jimi Hendrix would come over and listen to us in the club.
TLM: I gather Hendrix’s showmanship was picked up from other blues guitarists?
PC: A fellow named Alvester Jacobs – they called him Pig. Pig was a great showman and he could play blues at the highest level. He did all the playing guitar with teeth and behind back of head. There was another guy Carl Hutcherson, and he was the first guy I saw play behind the back of his head.
TLM: Let’s talk about joining Miles’s band. I gather the whole thing was rather informal and that you didn’t even have an audition!
PC: There was no audition. Miles played me a concert tape and then we talked about food [Pete and Miles had an argument over whether Pete’s sandwiches contained chicken or snapper!] Miles had heard about me and I suspect he may have even talked about me to Jug [nickname of Gene Ammons] at a certain point, because a year before, Miles had been in hospital and I had joined Gene Ammons. He went to see Miles in the hospital and I’m sure he had talked about me; the word was kind of getting out. We played in Harlem and I was surprised that a couple of people were putting the word out on me “There’s this guitarist with Gene Ammons,” and I was getting some nice compliments.
A couple of months before that I had gone to the Ann Arbor festival to hang out and I ended up doing the sound and helping the Art Ensemble of Chicago because people didn’t know how to mike them – this was 1972. I was able to help their sound engineer and actually operated the sound from the tower. They made a live recording [Fanfare for The Warriors]. The next day, was when Miles played, it was the final day of the festival. When Miles came to back entrance in his Pontiac, [door] opened up, his horn case came out first and it opened up, and his horn was about to come out. I did almost like a football play and scooped my hands up. I looked at him and said “Man, don’t drop your shit,” and we smiled at each other. He went onto the stage and proceeded to smoke! I went back up on the tower and listened from there and taped their set. I really enjoyed that band.
The following day, which was a Monday, we got together over at Michael Henderson’s home on his back porch. Michael, Reggie and a flautist from across the street, a young kid Abraham Michaels. And Mtume was over there as well [although] he didn’t have a drum. We hooked up on the back porch and played, and the guys enjoyed the way I played. I didn’t think any more of that. We all went our separate ways and I went back to Chicago and continued my work. Two months later, I joined Jug. When I got to New York I called Mtume because we had two weeks in Harlem and two weeks in Newark, where Mtume lived at the time. I gave him a call and I said: “I don’t know if you remember me or not.” He said “Man, of course, I remember you!” I said: “We’re playing at such and such, come down and hang.” I said we were doing a different kind of music to what he was playing – jazz standards. So he came down and was blown away. Actually his dad [Jimmy Heath] had brought a piece to us while we were in Harlem. A song that we performed called “Project S” [for swing]. So Mtume hung out with us one or two nights. Again I didn’t think any more of that and went on back home and continued to play with Gene Ammons.
Then, in April (1973), the same day that Muhammad Ali got his jaw broken by Ken Norton, I was lying in bed and a friend of mine answered the phone and said: “Man, there’s a call for you.” I got the call and it was Mtume and the road manager. He asked me to join the band and I said: “Man, thank you. I appreciate that but I’m completely happy with the band I’m playing with, but I’ve got some guys studying with me and a couple of them can really fire.” I had a workshop going and used to give free lessons at my home. Mtume said Miles wanted me. When I saw the band in Ann Arbor I thought it was a great band but I had never in my life considered for one second that I would play with Miles Davis. I had always wanted to play with John Coltrane and the Modern Jazz Quartet. I had no idea the level Miles was on spiritually or intelligently. I had no idea what a great man and a great teacher he was. I took it for granted he was the essence of cool and hip.
TLM: Miles said in his autobiography that he got you because he wanted a mix of Hendrix and Muddy Waters. Did he ever talk to you about what he wanted?
PC: He gave me three directions while I was with him. The first was to move upfront, because the first day went to play with him I set my table up at the back near the rhythm section. He said “No, no – I want you up front.” The other thing was that he asked me to turn up [the volume]. I was always used to blending and having a balance. I didn’t know what he expected in terms of going over the top with the sound. So when he asked me to turn up [the volume], that’s all he had to say it one time! From then on I was in the t-zone [in your face]. One time, one of the guys said “Congratulations man, I’ve never heard music that loud. You actually made my teeth jangle!” And the third thing he said was: “Sit there and look black!”
TLM: What was Miles like as a person?
PC: Miles never took any guff from people and lot of people didn’t like that. They said he was arrogant, but he just wanted to be treated like a normal human being. There was a great deal of resistance and any time they [critics] could down anyone who played with Miles, or Miles himself, they would jump on him. But he was the type of being that they couldn’t bring him down – he had to bring himself down.
TLM: You were hired as a guitarist but you also played a lot of percussion and the EMS Synthi A [an early synthesiser], how did that come about?
PC: That’s what I always did. In my groups, that’s what I did. I had a table with a lot of percussion instruments, bells, whistles and two fire alarms from abandoned buildings and used them as percussion instruments. When we did “Jack Johnson” I would use them and hit them with mallet, indicating different runs or stops. I would hit them just like they do at [boxing] fights! It was a totally different percussion sound and vibe from any other drum, so it didn’t clash with either of the drummers. In addition, I used the African Thumb Piano, the Mbira – I had at least two of those with different tunings and I would apply them to different songs. The synthesiser I used to use as a soundscape, whether we were in space, or underwater or a group of Africans playing – just different soundscapes.
TLM: It was quite a primitive synthesiser, was it difficult to program and to play?
PC: Not really. By today’s standard it was primitive, but it was quite advanced for its time. It was modelled after the large model they had at the BBC [EMS Sythi 100]. I still have it and it’s highly prized by people who are into that synthesiser sound. I’ve had a couple of offers over the years. When I did the Herbie Hancock project [the 1983 album Future Shock], [producer/musician] Michael Beinhorn wanted to buy it! I was using it in my own studio. While I was playing with Miles I used it by itself and then I experimented playing guitar through it and that really had a beautiful sound. I was able to model almost like bassoon and oboe-type sounds. I even let a couple of horn players play through it. You could plug a microphone into it or a contact mic like they use with horns. I let [trombonist] George Lewis use it. We were AACM [Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians] members and he was part of a group called Group 4, a fantastic group. George became known for his work with electronics and he’ll tell you that I got him into it. When he heard his trombone through a synthesiser that just perked his ears and his curiosity. [Saxophonist] John Stubblefield also played through the synthesiser.
TLM: Are you into modern synthesisers?
PC: Of course. I don’t use them as much now, but I’m about to embark on it again, because I’m going back to some of my old habits – bowing and synthesiser sounds! There are some string sounds that I want to add to my band now. I am looking for a really good module. I have an older module, a Yamaha TX81z, that I’ve been playing through. And I’m using an Ibanez controller, which is a Steinberger-type instrument, a headless guitar. That’s a fantastic instrument. I’m happy with a lot of pedals I have. I brought a lot of pedals when I was doing the Martin Scorsese documentary [The Blues]. There are about three or four that I use on a regular basis and there are at least four that I haven’t tried out.
TLM: The band – Miles, you, Reggie Lucas, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Mtume and the saxophonists like Dave Liebman and Sonny Fortune – what were its strengths? Why was it such an amazing band?
PC: We cared about one another on and off the bandstand. It’s like what the guys had in the old days. I always tell people that when I joined Miles I was still playing with Gene Ammons and I was in both bands at the same time, and there was no problem, because they were like brothers, they (Miles and Ammons] had been in the Billy Eckstein band. So they were happy to be sharing the same guitarist. I was in heaven being able to play the scope of music like that. Catch a plane here and go play with Miles and go back to my gig with Jug – man that was one the greatest periods of my life musically.
The band was like two situations entirely but at the core of it you had these two old masters who had the same kind of understanding. When you have people like that, it pulls people together. We had closeness with Jug, we had a closeness with Miles’ band. The time we spent off of the bandstand was very pleasant as well. The guys Miles had with him, he would embrace. He would cook for us; he would turn us on to all kinds of different things. He was a great teacher man. He would just make it a great life experience, I recall going through different airports and that particular band looked like it was from space or something! We didn’t dress conventionally. That was all part of the band getting along, playing well together and functioning as a unit. It was all a great party.
Pete Cosey © Photo copyright and courtesy Audrey Cho www.audreycho.com
TLM: What about the music? It was very dense and uncompromising.
PC: I don’t know if you would call it that. For me, I don’t look at it like that. I just thought we were playing music, like in any other sessions. I would give a thousand per cent and try and improve all the time. That’s the way you make music grow and keep it alive and Miles understood that, which was why he was constantly changing the band, textures here in different songs; changing up movements, so I don’t know if you could call that uncompromising; it was like works of art in progress.
TLM: It was uncompromising in the sense that Miles had a lot of critical comments, particularly from jazz fans.
PC: I don’t know about a lot. People who were used to listening to Live at the Blackhawk or Workin’ and Steamin’ and Kind of Blue. Their ears being stuck over there, their concepts stuck there. People like that might greet us with hostility but that’s not our cross to bear as artists; ours is to do what we see fit. The people who really understood the nature of music didn’t have a problem. People like [jazz writer] Ralph Gleason. I always considered him a journalist and not a critic. Personally I didn’t read those things. Sometimes someone would read them to me and I’d say ‘Okay’. Because it is after all another person’s opinion. We didn’t pay attention to that; we were there to play music.
TLM: During the time you were with Miles, he used an interesting range of saxophonists – Dave Liebman, Sonny Fortune, Azar Lawrence, Sam Morrison. With such an incredible core band was it a challenge for a saxophonist to fit in?
PC: I kinda of think it was to a certain degree with one or two of the guys. I know Dave had been with him for a while. I know he had tried Azar Lawrence on one gig. He had brought him to [Washington] DC on a Saturday night and we started late and Azar had to get back to New York to play with [pianist] Mcoy Tyner, so he ended up not playing,. The next occasion was at Carnegie Hall – Dark Magus. He said later he was playing one of Dave’s horns and he wasn’t used to it. He wasn’t used to the mouthpiece with the electronic attachment. So I know he didn’t fare as well as he would have on his own instrument. Then we had Sonny Fortune for a time and all of these are great musicians. And finally Sam who had been a student of Dave Liebman, and Sam played very well with the band – his scope and everything was right there.
TLM: There was also the incident when you recommended saxophonist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, who wouldn’t stop playing on-stage!
PC: That was hilarious! This was after Dark Magus, when we went back to the house and listened to the tape of the Carnegie Hall concert, Miles didn’t like what the horns were doing at all. So that’s when the discussion came up about another saxophone player and I told him about I had a couple of partners who could play – [the late] Don Myrick and Maurice McIntyre. I said both were superb musicians. He asked who was further out and I told him Kalaparusha. And Miles asked: “Is he as crazy as you?” and I said yes! Then he said “Have him on the bandstand next time we hit.” That was the agreement. I had no idea the gig was here in Chicago. When Kalaparusha got on the band stand, he told me later “Man it was more than a notion being with that band on the bandstand. It was like being in a hornet’s nest.” He said some force grabbed him and said “Play everything you know” so that’s what happened. [for the full version of this hilarious event, you’re recommended to get Paul Tingen’s book Miles Beyond – it’s on pages 161-162. See also the website www.miles-beyond.com]
TLM: When you arrived in the band it was an interesting time as Miles still had a couple of Indian musicians (Badal Roy, tabla; Balakrishna, electric sitar) and Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards.
PC: I guess at a certain point he wanted to change the scope and the direction of the sound and they were sort of jettisoned.
TLM: How did that affect the music – did it become more open?
PC: Absolutely. It really started to take off. That’s one of the things about Miles – he knew what he wanted to do, at least in terms of trying a new direction. That’s why he changed the personnel. He was an excellent cook as well and would make bouillabaisse and that’s very similar to what you do with music! Mix it properly and you get a fine dish. I always like to draw an analogy in terms of experimentation and say that: sometimes you get Einstein and sometimes you get Frankenstein!
TLM: The young French guitarist Dominique Gaumont joined the band for a while.
PC:I introduced him to Miles in Paris. Dominique had played with some friends of mine in St Louis. Dominique took me all over Paris on the Metro and we were having a ball. I brought him to the hotel and introduced him to Miles. Miles was in a kinda semi-conscious state because he had been ill. He had nurses around the clock with him in the suite. So I introduced Dominique to Al Foster and we hung out and had dinner in the restaurant. We dined for hours and went to a club. I don’t know if Miles remembered meeting Dominique and the next time we met was in New York. When Dominique came to New York he hooked up with Al and Al brought him by to Miles’s place and that’s how he got in the band.
TLM: What were the dynamics like with a three-guitar band?
PC: I’ve seen other guitar bands, in R n’ B groups, so that’s not really unusual, but for Miles I guess he wanted to experiment again. It was kinda like when he had two tenors, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, so this was an extension of that practice. It sounded fine to me. I don’t know if Reggie and Dominique got along too famously, but we had a good time.
TLM: We must talk about your guitar playing on Agharta. Were the guitar solos improvised or the amazing effects on the opener “Prelude” planned?
PC: The only thing that wasn’t improvised was the head. I kinda tracked Miles and learned the head. When I first joined the band, that song was played at a slower tempo. There’s a tape of us in concert on ABC [TV], and you’ll see and hear the difference to where the band was then and how it had developed – it was jetting by the second Japanese tour. We felt that line so that we could play it more or less in unison, even when Miles felt to change it. I was tracking him and feeling him to the point where I was on the same rhythm as him, so that when he played something that was a bit different I was right there with him and that knocked him out. He had that ability to transmit thoughts and ideas like that to his frontline guy. That’s why you hear the interplay between him and John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter or whoever was on the frontline. I never got to see the last band that he had with [saxophonist] Kenny Garrett, but I saw it on TV and that really knocked me out. I loved the way he and Kenny Garrett were playing together. He was playing right in Kenny’s horn – bell-to-bell – and that was so beautiful man, I absolutely loved that and that’s the kind of communication Miles had with people on his frontline if they were able to tune in to him. And that’s what we had.
TLM: When I first heard that solo, I imagined the guitarist was very animated and standing up, but you always sat down, didn’t pull faces and hardly moved! You played calmly and yet there were all these blistering notes.
PC: Well you know, I guess everybody has their own style. A lot of guys like to show and the public like to see that. To each his own – I didn’t see [pianist] Art Tatum jumping around! All the people I idolised didn’t do any of that! I loved Wes [Montgomery). To l listen to my playing, you wouldn’t imagine that I had been through that kind of music, but man, I used to play Wes stuff up and down. I talked with him and he was very kind. He came to see me play in Baltimore and I saw to him at the Plugged Nickel [club] in Chicago. Whenever we got together, he was most encouraging. I showed him my [tuning] system and it kinda amazed him and he said ‘You’re a young man; you’re supposed to experiment”
TLM: What about producer Teo Macero – what exactly was his role and how influential was he on the final product as it where?
PC: I guess as it turns out he was responsible for the mixing. I don’t think Miles ever did that. Electric music really wasn’t his [Teo’s] forte. I don’t want to bad-mouth the guy and you can’t argue with success – and I guess to a degree it was successful – but if you had had someone who was more steeped in electric music and the music of the day, things might have been a little more up-to-date. Because if you listen to comparable albums, maybe Agharta for instance, the Japanese version and another version Teo mixed, there’s a difference. When the album first came out and I had both of them sent to me and I noticed the difference immediately with the sound and the mix.
TLM: On the On The Corner boxed set, there’s a curious track, “Hip-Skip”, on which you play drums. How did that come about?
PC: We had been playing the Bottom Line [club] in New York I guess for four or five nights. A lot of times before we’d go on a tour Miles would have the band play in a club to tighten the band up. That particular night the music was pretty up there and the next day we had a recording session scheduled at two o’clock. Al Foster did not turn up at two o’clock – I don’t know why. He showed up later at the session and subsequently played following the first piece that had been cut. Miles knew that I had experience with drums and he asked me to play the drums! He gave me the direction, told me what wanted – that particular beat – and I learned something very valuable in terms of cymbal work. He had me open the cymbal very slightly, so that the individual beats are not so well-defined and it gives the effect of infinity rather than individual definition of beats and I’ve used that in quite a bit of my own music. That’s a technique that’s used a lot of modern music – rock music, beat music. I did swing a bit later when he was soloing – [you can hear a sample of Pete’s drumming here, on disc 5, track 4 of the boxed set] I had no idea if that would ever be released! Then when we went to Japan in 1975 – I remember it was one of the Tokyo concerts – and Miles motioned for me to go to the drums. Again, I had no idea! I’m sitting there at my table like I normally would and he asked me to go play drums and had Al get off of the drums – it was kinda embarrassing for me! And we played that number live in front of all those people in a packed auditorium.
TLM: Did you enjoy it?
PC: Well, I don’t know if enjoying would be the correct term! If someone asked you in the middle of an interview to put your pen down and wash dishes, would you be pleased?! Or if we were conducting this interview in a restaurant and the maitre d’ came and said: “Excuse me George, we need you in the kitchen to fry up burgers!” You would probably welcome getting back to your table as I did! To this day I have no idea why [Miles asked me to play drums] – I just did what I was asked. When you’re playing with an ultimate genius I don’t question what’s in his mind. I always respect whoever the band leader is and I’m always there to play and support as much as I can.
TLM: Another interesting track is “Minnie” [originally called “Mr Foster”]
PC: I Introduced Minnie and her husband to Miles and he was impressed with Minnie, not just as an artist, but as a person. He wrote that number a week later.
TLM: In 1977, you had two rehearsals at Miles’s house, involving Al Foster and Jack DeJohnette. Can you remember anything about those sessions?
PC: If memory serves me, Al was involved with Horace Silver or in the midst of a session that week, so we called little Jack from Woodstock (Connecticut]! One of the pieces we did was a song I wrote called “Second Line,” a New Orleans-type piece. It was really a lot of syncopation and Jack hadn’t played like that before, but I gained more measures of respect for him when he jumped on that song, bit his lip and played it.
TLM: Was Miles playing trumpet?
PC: I believe he was doing keyboards at that time. I’m not sure, I’d have to check my tape – I always taped rehearsals. On another occasion, Miles played and picked up his horn and smoked man. At the end of the piece everyone was smiling and Miles said: “I haven’t touched my horn in two years!” I’ve got that tape as well. I’m sure Sam [Morrison] was there, a bass player Kenny Wiggins, known as Caprice – Miles liked him a lot. It’s unfortunate we didn’t got a chance to go into the studio, because he was on fire.
TLM: Miles didn’t go into studio because of drugs?
PC: With hindsight that probably had a lot to do with it. We weren’t aware of it at the time. By my not living in New York, I only had a small view of what was happening. Miles had offered me an apartment on the top floor, where his son had lived. I did not realise at the time, that that was perhaps one of his ways of asking for help. But I had my home and my children were in school and I knew that that apartment was not sufficient for my family and nor did I wish to uproot them from a very good school. In hindsight I should have taken the apartment and commuted, but I didn’t have the insight at that point to realise what was being offered and why. Because when certain members of the band were around Miles he had no need to deal with chemicals. If Michael Henderson was there – Michael was like a son to him – Mtume – was like a son to him – and myself. If any of those three people were with him he had no need for chemicals. He was always happy. I used to work on him and give him Naturopathic treatment. I knew he was in pain so I would give him Naturopathic treatment so his circulation would increase. If he had pain, I would open those channels up so the pain would leave.
We would have a great time – we would cook for one another, watch movies, maybe listen to music. In fact, I turned him onto The Meters and at one point we were going to have [drummer] Zigaboo [real name Joseph Modeliste] join us. From the recordings Miles had heard, he loved Zig. I couldn’t wait to get them together but it never happened, because Zig had his lady called Miles and Miles didn’t like that. I don’t know if he saw it as a sign of disrespect or was in a bad mood, but Zig told me that he was almost in tears, because when the woman called Miles, she suffered the most profane language that they had ever heard. He had great expectations for playing with the band and he had a great respect for Miles and then that happened.
TLM: Gil Evans put together a band in 1977 with Miles, keyboardist Masabumi Kikuchi, yourself, Jack DeJohnette and Sly Stone on bass, although Sly never turned up. Do you recall this?
PC: I remember one or two rehearsals where we discussed music and actually played a bit. We never got to do anything; Kikuchi was a nice fellow and played that music well. But that never took place, probably as a result of what we talked about before.
TLM: There was also another attempt at recording in 1979, which included you and Paul Buckmaster, who had worked with Miles on On The Corner.
PC: We rehearsed the music at Miles’s house, with Ron Johnson [bass], Doni Hagen [drums], a guiarist I brought in from Chicago [Warren Bingham] and everything was smoking – the music was really terrific. It would have set some new heights Miles was quite enthused about it and he wanted play on it, even though he wasn’t physically able to. Miles had got into a fight with a druggist [and hurt his collar bone in the resulting fracas] He called the studio to let us record and said that he was going to come in and play on top of it. [Columbia head of jazz] George Butler put the kibosh on it. Everyone was disappointed. I remember Paul Buckmaster was very dejected about it. We’d all come from different places to do that.
TLM: Then Miles shifted his musical direction and went with his nephew [drummer] Vince Wilburn Jr and the rest of his young band from Chicago. That music was quite different from what you had done with Miles.
PC: Absolutely. His [Miles’s] sister [Dorothy] actually shamed him into that. She told me about the situation years later. She said she had blasted him out, read the riot act to him and told him about all the resources he was wasting in his life and all his opportunities. She said “Why don’t you give little Vincent a chance?” He always listened to his sister and that’s how it came about. He was shamed by her words and took them to heart and that’s what he did. I had been working with Vince and [guitarist] Randy Hall and teaching them. I was sort of in effect preparing Vince for playing with his uncle and that’s what he’s told me in recent years and he thanked me. Miles had always told me to stick with him. He had told me we would make a lot of money. I was looking forward to the music – music was always first with me, but it was not to be. I had had other offers to play, as did all the members of the band and a lot of them took advantage of the opportunities and it paid off for them. I’m thinking of Reggie [Lucas] and Michael [Henderson] they all went off to Roberta Flack. She loved the band and she was just salivating! When we stopped playing, she tried to get the whole band! I didn’t go, Al Foster didn’t go. Sam didn’t, but the rest of the band did and it opened up myriads of opportunity.
TLM: Most of the band went onto other things like Roberta Flack. Reggie Lucas went onto produce Madonna, Michael Henderson joined Norman Connors and did solo albums, Mtume formed his own band, but apart from Future Shock and Herbie Hancock, you went very quiet in terms of public performances or recordings, why was that and what did you do?
PC: I was still developing music and building a catalogue, which I have done throughout the years; writing with different people a lot of what you would call commercial music; music I had done in the 60s: music people could dance to, Top 40-type music. I was co-writing a lot of that, in addition to a lot of music that was closest to my heart – the “out there” stuff I was creating.
TLM: How were you earning a living?
PC: Well, just barely. But I did have a demo studio set up to supplement my income. From time to time I would do demo sessions. And we were still in and out [of studio sessions] until 1979 with Miles. I was just working whenever I could.
TLM: Many people were amazed that you didn’t become an internationally renowned guitarist, because there are lesser guitarists out there with a bigger profile than you.
PC: It wasn’t for want of trying George. I didn’t have the opportunities that some people had, partly because I was here in Chicago. I blame that on myself for not having the sense to go to New York when Miles offered the opportunity. I- should-have-done-that. I wasn’t looking to just further my own career. I was trying to take care of family – I had to put that first.
I found a lot of resentment amongst the so-called jazz community when I joined Miles, that is to say some club owners, some record label owners, because they didn’t understand what Miles was doing at the time and there was a lot of envy that I had gotten with Miles. I submitted a couple of things to people and as a matter of fact, one friend who was at Mercury, couldn’t do anything for me, but I was able to hook up a demo session for Dominique! They gave him $1500 for a demo session. I think they recorded it and as a matter of fact one of their [Mercury’s] groups stole some of his passages. I had submitted some music, but they couldn’t understand it – it was beyond their scope. I sent music to different people and I would hear parts of it stolen. I went through that through a number of years. I have found throughout the years that lot of people who are in the position to provide employment would rather employ an imitator than the originator because they don’t have to pay them properly. Once again, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Luckily for me, music has always saved me.
TLM: You formed the band Children of Agharta, how did that come about?
PC: Michael Henderson and I had talked about uniting for some time and that didn’t come to fruition. We had talked about a reunion in 1993 when Al Foster came through [Chicago] with Joe Henderson, but it never got past the talking stage. In about 2000, there was renewed interest in that music and there was even a concert in which I took part called Wall-to-Wall Miles and the interest that was generated before during and after that prompted me to try and put something together. As it turned out that Michael and I didn’t put our two groups together [Henderson formed Children on the Corner] I decided on that name because I wanted to feature a lot of that music in addition to some original material. Not having representation in terms of an agent, I sort of do it on my own with a guy who does some booking in New York. We put that concert together and it was quite successful musically and attendance -wise. I also made connections with some younger players and that got my name out. Michael and I are now on a new album together [see below].
TLM: Despite all your talent, you didn’t have it easy after leaving Miles’s band did you?
PC: I wasn’t living an easy life. I went through a lot of great struggles but I kept true to the music. I never lost sight of that. I never stopped experimenting, improving and crystallising and creating and I still do that and I never lost sight of that. I realised a long time ago what my mission is and I’ve stayed true to that.
Miles’s Band, featuring Pete Cosey. Copyright © Sony Records
[click for a larger version of this photo]
Many thanks to Pete.
Thanks also to Audrey Cho for the great photographs of Pete. Audrey is based in Chicago and you can see her fantastic portfolio at www.audreycho.com
There’s a superb video interview featuring Pete, Michael Henderson and Dave Liebman talking about Miles at: www.milesdavis.net/onthecorner
Watch out for a new album, due out in early 2008, Miles from India by Bob Belden. It features a host of ex-Miles musical associates including, Pete, John McLaughlin, Mike Stern, Adam Holzman, Robert Irving III, Chick Corea, Dave Liebman, Gary Bartz, Ron Carter, Marcus Miller, Benny Rietveld, Michael Henderson, Jimmy Cobb, Lenny White, Vince Wilburn, Jr., Ndugu and Badal Roy