Space Blues
The musical career of Jeff Cotton

Jeff Cotton, The Exiles, The Magic Band & MU

Early Years
Between Exile & Magic
Space & Beyond




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Part 1: Take-off

While Jeff had been with the Magic Band Merrell Fankhauser had carried on forming bands and recording. The Fapadokly project had metamorphosed into HMS Bounty (with Jack Jordan, Bill Dodd and Larry Meyers). The band broke up during 1969 due to lack of commercial success but left behind an album, Things, that included a number of excellent tracks - Drivin' Sideways (Down A One-Way Street) and A Visit With Ashiya in particular stand out.

Whilst together HMS Bounty had set up in a house in Woodland Hills not far from Beefheart and the Magic Band.  Merrell would occasionally visit and take the opportunity to jam with the band picking up what were for him some exotic guitar licks. He couldn't help but notice the strange atmosphere in the house and Jeff almost certainly would have told him that he wanted to get out.  So when Jeff finally left the Magic Band Merrell was soon on hand to help support and encourage his old friend.  Although keeping Beefheart and his band at arm's length Jeff's father would have had no qualms entrusting him into Merrell's company, having known him from the Exiles days and before.

By this time HMS Bounty had folded so Merrell was soon gigging with Jeff (playing bass) alongside Randy Wimer (on drums) and a guy called Steve da Luna on guitar.  Steve left allowing Jeff to play lead and the three of them decided to give their old friend and bass player, Larry Willey, a call. A few years earlier the band would almost certainly have been called Merrell & the Exiles, but times had changed.  Setting themselves up in a house in Canoga Park they played regularly in clubs, hotels, bars and coffee houses around LA under a variety of different names, having fun and beginning to build a reputation for themselves. Their set consisted of Beatles, Stones and Creedence Clearwater covers, B.B King and Howlin Wolf songs plus a few of the originals they were writing.

About six months after finally quitting the Magic Band Jeff felt strong enough to return to the Beefheart house with Merrell.  Unfortunately this was almost the undoing of him. Beefheart had himself locked in the 'Magic Bathroom' with Jeff and Merrell in a last ditch attempt to get the young guitarist to return to the fold.  Merrell watched horrified as Beefheart totally demoralised Jeff to such a degree that he was almost convinced it was his duty to return to the Magic Band.  Eventually the door was unlocked , Merrell saw his chance, grabbed Jeff and beat a hasty retreat. Beefheart had finally lost the one of the best guitarists he'd ever had - an incalculable loss to the Magic Band and one of the great 'what ifs ...' of recent music history.

Merrell's account of the Magic Bathroom

The toll that his time in the Magic Band took on Jeff cannot be underestimated. Looking at photographs from this time (see the cover of the first MU album, for example) compared to the young guitarist in the Exiles and you can appreciate how the time with the Beefheart band had effected him.

Merrell's intentions of saving Jeff from the Beefheart band may not have been entirely altruistic because he didn't want to lose Jeff now either, just as they were putting together a band that had a unique sound and the possibility of the commercial success Merrell always strived for.  Despite this, the band, like many others at the end of the 60s, were on a spiritual quest and looking for something other than the 'straight' all-American middle-class life. These times were a huge melting pot of old-time religions, new psychologies, half-baked philosophies and crackpot theories heavily laced with pot and LSD. These were the times when gurus were appearing all over the place. People were looking for alternative lifestyles - UFO's, mysticism, spirituality, eastern belief systems, vegetarianism, getting in tune with nature were the order of the day.

Jeff had dabbled in Maharishi-type eastern mysticism with the Magic Band and along with Randy Wimer developed an interest in the Rosicrucian religion in the early 70s. Around 1971 or so, Jeff went to Christian healer and evangelist, Katherine Kuhlman's meeting at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. That started him thinking about Christianity.

The final choice of name for the band - MU - came about due to a piece of fortuitous serendipity (according to Merrell's account anyway) that fits easily with the band's new outlook. One of the band found a copy of a James Churchward book about the legendary continent of Mu in the house they had moved into and they were all amazed at how the ancient beliefs so closely resembled their own. Although there is another story about seeing the word Mu formed by clouds in the sky.

James Churchward & the legend of MU

Jeff '70 being consumed by his hairBy the end of 1970 the band had recorded some demos. The following year they released a single Ballad of Brother Lew / Nobody Wants To Shine on the Mantra label and their first album MU on a small independent label. The album was financed by producer, Phil Meldman and recorded at Wally Heiders Studio. Several large labels were approached, including MGM but with no luck. Although Greg Lewark at Vault Records was interested and tried to get United Artists to release it the only company willing to was RTV. Only 1000 copies were pressed, so the following year the album was re-released but again on another small label, CASS.

Not going with a major record label was a setback to the band and it's possible that they may have had real commercial success had they been given the promotional backing they deserved.

Unfortunately the album did not get adequate distribution which is a pity because it's a superb blend of acoustic folk-rock (Fankhauser at his songwriting best) cut through with some arresting rhythms and edgy slide guitar from Jeff. He also plays a wild bass clarinet solo on Eternal Thirst, one of the albums highlights. They definitely had a unique sound which subtly insinuates itself into your mind after a number of listenings.

The cover of this album is pretty startling too - although it only shows a conventional posed shot of the band it is Jeff's appearance that catches the eye and gives cause for concern. He looks like a wraith, his face thin and hollow-cheeked which is accentuated by the thickness and length of his hair. Is this what his time in the Magic Band had done to him?!

The regular gigging, the enjoyment they had playing together and the different type of music they were beginning to create helped make them a hot live act. On stage they had taken to wearing all white clothing - an unusual move as most bands in the psychedelic/underground camp tended towards everyday or wildly outrageous outfits.

The photograph (courtesy of Merrell Fankhauser) shows the band (Merrell, Jeff and Randy but no Larry) in full flight at the Aquarius in 1972, with Jeff looking much healthier in this shot.


part 2: freefall >>


MU Part 2: Freefall
MU 45s
Magic Bathroom
Larry Willey
James Churchward

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