Space Blues
The musical career of Jeff Cotton

Jeff Cotton, The Exiles, The Magic Band & MU

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Part 2: Freefall

The story of the legendary continent became an obsession with the band and the possibility of moving to the Hawaiian islands, one of the few remaining outcrops of MU, was given an added push by the arrival of Jeff Parker back on the scene. Since the Blues In The Bottle band had folded it seems Jeff Parker had been travelling in Turkey or India (or both or neither). He had made some money and was thinking of buying land for a plantation and moving to Maui. Sometime in 1972 the band visited Maui to have a look around and this decided them that they should move.

They released another single in 1972 One More Day and You've Been Here Before, both Merrell compositions, on their own MU label. Another song recorded in LA around this time after their trip to Maui, On Our Way To Hana, was about a UFO encounter.

The band played a few gigs on the mainland before leaving. One in late 1972 was held in a pasture in San Luis Obispo. Recently Merrell discovered some movie footage of this performance and managed to save it before it self-destructed. Sadly, there is no sound but shows the band, without Larry Willey, playing Nobody Wants To Shine. See some stills from this rare film. Their last US show was probably in January at El Camino College in LA with Country Joe Macdonald.

In February 1973 the band finally moved to Maui, but Larry Willey wasn't interested in going so Jeff Parker was asked to join the band on bass to replace him. There now followed an idyllic period of rehearsing in their new jungle home with the local radio playing One More Day and the recently released On Our Way To Hana / Too Naked For Demetrius single. Maui had attracted a lot of 'hippies' but hadn't had a big name band on the island since Jimi Hendrix had played there and been filmed for the "Rainbow Bridge" movie.  So there was a big turn out when MU played a concert at the Civic Auditorium in Lahaina in June.

Randy, Merrell, and Jeff C
at the Napili Blow Hole in 1973
(note full white caped regalia!)

Their new island home with its dramatic volcanic landscape must have been overwhelming compared to the flat high desert of Lancaster. Whether much work was done on the banana and papaya plantation (which was supposed to finance the band) is not known, but the band explored the island smoking dope, dropping acid, UFO spotting and looking for signs of the ancient MU civilisation.

Jeff and Randy were particularly interested in the occult teachings of the Rosicrucians which had become more well-known in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had a headqaurters in San Jose. They also dabbled in the New York based organisation known as the Arcane School which was founded in 1923 by Alice Bailey and offers mail order courses in the science of the soul.

There are a number of photographs of the band (well, Merrell, Jeff and Randy anyway because, presumably, Jeff Parker was behind the camera) taken against the spectacular volcanic scenery of Maui. One of the few shots of all four of them (one of only two I've seen, that is) is one taken outside their jungle house with them all looking happy and relaxed.

Randy, Jeff C, Merrell, Jeff P
outside their shack on Maui

The band soon had enough new material and in January 1974 began recording an album in their house on Maui. They called in Barry Mayo to engineer for them, he had worked on Quicksilver Messenger Service's album Just For Love on the nearby island of Oahu.

Recorded mostly live on four track tape the band laid down some more excellent music. A few tracks being embellished with the violin playing of Mary Lee, Merrell's girlfriend. Everything seemed to be going well for the band, their first album was about to get a European release on a major label, United Artists, and there was talk of a possible tour of Europe to promote it. They had been interviewed for the 'Earth News' radio show.

Then, suddenly, the band MU was no more.

Jeff Cotton and Randy Wimer had met and fallen in love with island girls both of whom were Seventh Day Adventists, a Church that was quite strong on the islands. Now converted they decided their religious beliefs were more important than the band and were now both determined to give up music and devote their lives to Christ. Rock music and 'Maui Wowie' were no longer going to be part of their new life.

This decision left Merrell high and dry. The recently recorded album was shelved and would not appear until 1981 as End Of An Era: The Last Album, when Merrell remixed the tapes for Appaloosa, a small Italian company. Merrell stayed on in Maui with Mary Lee after the band fell apart, he still divides his time between there and the USA and is still creating some fine music with MU songs making a regular appearance.

See Calling From A Star for more information about Merrell's career

Jeff Parker also stayed on the island where he established an orchid plantation. Randy Wimer moved back to the States and studied Theology at the Pacific Union College run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. He was, at some point, a youth counsellor. Larry Willey still dabbled in music but worked in construction to make ends meet. Tragically, he was murdered in 2002. More about Larry here.

Jeff Cotton continued to live in Hawaii for a while but, I believe, divided his time between the islands and the mainland. He set up a janitorial business and was a 'janitor for Jesus' for a number of years before becoming an ATM engineer. Little is known specifically about what he was up to at this time but I recently came across a biography of the guitarist James Vincent - Space Traveler: A Musician's Odyssey (iUniverse 2003) - which offers a few glimpses of Jeff and his wife's life in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

This is what James Vincent has to say about his time on Kauai around about 1976:

There was a couple named Jeff and Erna Cotton who were care-taking a huge estate on the ocean near the Pardeiros. The grounds were the size of a soccer field and Jeff was meticulous in his care of the landscaping. Though they were both Adventists, they were different from the rest in that they did not attend church services. Erna [...] claimed to be a former New York model. Jeff was a former member of a rock band known as "Captain Beef-Heart", where he played slide blues guitar. They were raising an infant daughter named Mele. I spent some time with Jeff and Erna and they were quite forceful in their interpretation of the Bible. I was cautioned by some not to embrace their philosophy, as it was "questionable". In the past, Jeff had delved deeply into the occult, to a greater degree than I. He shared some stories with me from that period that made my hair stand on end.

Not long after this Jeff and Erna moved to the mainland, to Covelo in California. Just outside this small town was a group of families who were attempting to live an almost 'pioneer' lifestyle. Each had a small plot of land and were living in tents and trailers until they built their own houses. The children were home-schooled and the families lived a strict religious existence. Jeff was working as a logger, making good money although it was only seasonal work.

At this point James Vincent moved on and does not meet up with Jeff and Erna again.

A rare photo of Jeff from the mid 1990s

Jeff still has his faith and is very happy with his life and his family of three children which he prefers to keep to himself. He is not particularly interested in talking about the Magic Band/MU days and turned down John French's request for an interview as part of the recent Grow Fins Beefheart retrospective. Although he has spoken to me about these web pages he, unfortunately, does not want to contribute to them.

Apparently he still has his guitar, and his bass clarinet (known as 'Clara'), as well as a collection of ukeleles and can still play but only does so for his own amusement and that of close friends.

I was sad to hear that Jeff's wife, Erna, passed away in March 2017. Erna had become quite well known as a spiritual transformational counsellor and guide. She specialised in a system of 'divine postures' based on ancient Egyptian teachings.

In 2018 Jeff suddenly broke cover and took part in a telephone interview which was posted on Youtube - Jeff interview on YouTube - the interviewer is composer Samuel Andreyev who has made it his mission to interview all the guys who played on Trout Mask Replica. Getting Jeff to agree was quite a coup for him and a great surprise for us fans. It's an excellent interview if you haven't already listened to it.

As of 2020 Jeff is looking to release some of the music he has been working on all these years. Having spoken to him I can say that he's really excited about doing this and the pieces I have heard sound good. If you liked the MU albums then you'll certainly like what he's putting down now.



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