Monotrematous Funk

An Interview with Platypus

by Christian John Wikane

16 April 2009


Ha! I know you also played Maverick’s Flat quite a bit in Los Angeles.

Jones: That was a special place. For some reason, it was just a mecca for musicians. It was right on Crenshaw in the middle of everything that was going on. It was a trendy spot for young blacks who just wanted to dance. A lot of the people who danced on Soul Train came to this club and danced. It had kind of a homey atmosphere because all around the outside of the dance floor, they had pillows on the floor so people could actually sit on the floor and watch the band. It was a very interesting spot.  I think the opening scene of Foxy Brown (1974) was shot in Maverick’s Flats. There’s a bulls-eye on the door and someone comes walking through that door. I have a picture or two that was taken right there. The picture of Larry on that back of the first album cover was taken there. A lot of people came there: Jim Brown, Mick Jagger, Chaka Khan. The list goes on and on. When they first came to town, The Gap Band auditioned at that club. We met Billy Preston there. We ended up going on the road with him.

From I understand, a fateful trip to Osaka kind of turned the band’s fortune around. How did you get there?

Sanford: There’s a friend of ours who lived out in Los Angeles, William Stevenson, who’s passed away. I knew him from when I was six or seven years old. He lived next door to my cousin. He put Kerry and I up in his apartment. He happened to know a guy who was a booking agent for bands in Japan. I think that’s how it came about. At the time I was up in Canada with the girl who ended up being my first wife. Kerry called me and said we got a gig in Japan so hop on a bus and get back down to Los Angeles.

Rutledge: We stayed in Osaka for about three months. All those tours back then were extended stays. We ended up playing in Osaka at a place called The Bottom Line nightclub, a really nice place. Now this is something for the books: We were playing at Maverick’s Flat in Los Angeles and this guy came out and he said, “I ain’t never seen nothing like you guys. I wish I had time to do this and do that”, things you hear all the time. We did the gig that weekend and went to Osaka the next week. We were coming out of the nightclub in Osaka about three days after we saw this man. We walked down the steps and into the streets of Osaka and walked right into him. He says, “Hey man, I’m going to bring my sister-in-law over here to see y’all. My brother is married to Roberta Flack”.

Stokes: Richard “Dickie” Bosley was brother to the guy that was married to Roberta. He was acting as Roberta’s road manager or something similar.

Rutledge: The next night, sure as shit, Roberta Flack comes to the show, her and James Mtume. We lit it up for her.

Stokes: She fell in love with Platypus.

Sanford: We met her and talked. She said she really loved the band, loved the concept, and whenever we got back to the states to give her a call. She kept her word because as soon as we got back, we did that.

Stokes: We came back to Los Angles in late-August or early-September ‘76. We re-located back to Dayton because Roberta wanted to bring us to New York to do some recordings.  She sent Kerry over to get some money from Quincy Jones. We used that money to get back to Dayton.

Sanford: It was like we were her babies and she was kind of overseeing us. She was quite busy as an artist herself but she also kept tabs on whoever was handling our business and whoever was watching over our project.

Stokes: From Dayton, we worked on some music and then Roberta brought us into New York. We went to the Hit Factory. We recorded “Dance If You Can” there and we might have worked on “Dancing in the Moonlight”. I got a track somewhere with that original music on it.

Rutledge: Then things kind of got weird. I had just talked to James Mtume on a Monday and he was at Roberta’s house rehearsing with her and Donny Hathaway.  By Wednesday, I wake up to, “Donny Hathaway’s just dove out of the window”. I’m like, “Oh, what the hell?” I called Roberta’s house. Mtume answered the phone. I’m like, “Man, what in the fuck is going on?” He said, “It’s real bad, man. She’s really not taking this at all”. It was real tough for a minute.

I can’t even imagine what that was like.

Sanford: She was broken up and it kind of took her out of the loop for awhile but we still kept pounding it out. She was like, “I can’t be as visual with you guys right now but you can always give them my number and have them call me”. Amazingly enough, when we finally got our record deal, it was Roberta’s name that carried a lot of weight.

So what actually led to your signing with Casablanca?

Stokes: We went back to Dayton after the New York trip. My brother Otis was lead vocalist with Lakeside and I kind of hung out with them because they were back in this area doing some recording. A guy named Rich Goldman had a studio in Cincinnati called Fifth Floor. I ended up working out a deal with him for us to come in.

Sanford: We went in there under the pretense that we were cutting a demo. Our keyboard player quit. I had to play all the keyboards on there. We didn’t think it was really the actual album, which it ended up being.

Stokes: We re-recorded “Dance if You Can” and “Dancing in the Moonlight”, “Street Babies”, and, I want to say, “Love the Way You Funk”. Rich Goldman was getting ready to go to Los Angeles to try to work some deals with some other acts that had been recording at Fifth Floor. He liked what he was hearing from us and wanted to take our music with him.

Rutledge: He had ties with Casablanca and he got us the deal.

Stokes: We ended up going out to Los Angeles to finish the album.  What’s interesting about that is we spent all of those years in Los Angeles chasing record labels and we come home to get signed with a Los Angeles label!

Sanford: After we got the deal, we went back in with what we had and just kind of shaped things up. We got real strings from the Cincinnati Philharmonic so we cleaned it up a little bit but the actual tracks were the demo tracks. We were just really ecstatic when we found out that somebody was interested enough to sign us. We always had these guys that were interested in signing us but they wanted to change it and make the music more danceable or say, “Can you sound more like Earth, Wind & Fire or Stevie Wonder?” We were like, “There’s got to be somebody out there that will accept our music and what it is”. We had recorded lots of stuff that we thought was our concept of music. Because of the influence with Yes, we were playing stuff with really odd time signatures and stuff like that, which wasn’t danceable. We were kind of having a hard time. We had a lot of positive feedback from record companies but the negative part of it was, “We don’t know where to put you. We don’t know how to market you guys. You sound like a white group. We don’t know whether to put your pictures on there”.

Yet it sounds like your music progressed from more rock-based stuff to something a little more danceable, like “Dancing in the Moonlight”.

Stokes: That song was written by me and Larry Hines. We were in New York City since Roberta Flack had brought us to New York to do some recordings. Larry had music to that and we were rooming together. The words and melody were written by me and Larry in the hotel room.

Sanford: Larry said, “I put some pretty good thought and feel into it but basically I’m really thumbing my nose at the music industry because of how everybody is so disco-oriented”. Disco wiped out a lot of bands and killed any kind of prog-rock, avant garde music that people would listen to. Larry was just kind of making a joke of what he thought a corny disco song would sound like but when we went to record it, we had a serious attitude of let’s make it really good. Let’s not go in the studio and make a joke out of it. Let’s just take this song and really play it. That’s the approach we took. We were serious about it.

Stokes: I’ve always felt that “Dancing in the Moonlight” was a disco smash.

Yes, it absolutely needs and deserves to be rediscovered. That was my introduction to the band and I can’t listen to it enough! Now,Platypus was released in 1979. Though five of you recorded the album, there are only four of you on the cover.

Rutledge: The tragedy of Platypus is right here: When we were living in California, Larry started getting these headaches and we would take him to the doctor and they’d send him back home. They couldn’t figure it out so we took him to USC.

Jones: The doctor had a little meeting with all of us. I remember it very, very well. I remember him saying what was going on. I remember when he said it, I was looking around the room at the other guys and I think maybe after the doctor left I said, “Did you guys understand what he said? That this is terminal?”  It was like they didn’t get it because nobody commented on it at all. It was a blow. He was diagnosed with terminal leukemia.

Rutledge: We had already signed the deal with Casablanca. He flew from LA back to Cincinnati to put down his last vocal and his last solo. He went back to California and he died. They brought him back to Dayton and we buried him.

Stokes: The date that Larry ended up passing was the date the contract went into effect after officially being signed. I was just glad that he was able to do that because he had done a lot to get to that point. He finished the album as well. He’s singing and playing on it. It was a bittersweet type of victory for us because we had all been through a lot together.

Jones: That was a terrible time. Larry never got to hear the album. We actually had an album and there it would be with our pictures. This was our dream. That was what we were working for.

It’s great that he’s part of that album since you had spent so many years getting to that place.

Stokes: One of my favorite songs of Larry on there, because he’s playing and singing, is “Running From Love”. He’s playing lead guitar and he really left his signature.  Periodically I’ll listen to some of the tracks and he really played his behind off on that particular song.

Rutledge: “Running From Love” is special to me. That’s the one that Larry flew back into town and sung that song and played that guitar solo. That’s him singing the hook – “There ain’t no running…”

Sanford: Lloyd and I wrote “Running From Love”. “Don’t Go Away”, which was a ballad, had some really nice guitar work by Larry. He was sick at the time but he came in and cut all his tracks in one day. He really laid that out. “Dance If You Can”, we did that with Mtume and D-Train. When we cut the actual Platypus album, we just re-did it. I had to do all the keyboards. It was really close to the New York version but the New York version had Reggie Lucas (who played guitar on Madonna’s first album) on the demo of that song and then we did the job of duplicating what they did in the studio. I like “Dance If You Can” too.

Rutledge: “Street Babies” was my inception. I was at the point creatively where I was like, we’re doing all this progressive music and that’s cool but I just happened to know that we needed to get into something a little more danceable, a little more straightforward instead of augmenting different time signatures and those things.

What would I have seen if I went to a Platypus concert at that time. What were your shows like?

Sanford: We were dressed in bright, shiny gold and silver, knee-high platform boots, and flowing cape-type stuff with really bright colors that everybody wore back in the ‘70s. People that would hear the band outside the club would not know the band was all black members. They would think it was all white members in the band. There was kind of a funk undertone, which made everybody curious. We had really different instruments. In the early days, we only had what we could afford basically, but we always aspired to have different stuff. Before it was all over, Lloyd moved towards bass pedals with the Rickenbacker bass like Chris Squire would have. Larry, before he passed away, he had the double-neck Rickenbacker guitar. I had the giant drum set with a gong and all kinds of extra percussion. Everybody had a monster set up. That’s what everybody did back then. There were a few people that would look at this equipment and say, “I wonder what this band is going to sound like”.

Stokes: Our shows were high energy. The Japanese coined our music quite well. They called it “between rock and soul”. That’s really what it was.

Jones: We didn’t do steps or anything like that. We were more like a band instead of a singing group in those days. We got away from all of that because we weren’t comfortable with that. We were like a black rock and roll group.

Stokes: We were one of the first black groups to approach being onstage like a white act would approach being onstage. The type of music that Prince played, we were doing that as a band.

You really were ahead of your time.

Jones: It was hard being in that spot. Some people looked at us like, “What is this all about?” Either you totally got it or you totally didn’t. There was really no grey area or in-between.

Topics: platypus
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

Black Milk Gives 'Em 'Hell'

// Sound Affects

"Much of If There's a Hell Below's themes relay anxieties buried deep, manifested as sound when they are unearthed.

READ the article