The Karen Cooper Complex line goes all the way back to Big Naptar, a six-piece band featuring two sax players, formed in 1970 here in Richmond, that Frank Daniel, Steve Bernard and I all played in. In those days, we were attempting to force a marriage between elemental rock and
free jazz. At the same time, Wm. Burke (aka Key Ring Torch) and Bo Jacob (aka Bo Janne Valvoline) were playing with local oddball legends, the Titfield Thunderbolt. Jacob eventually left to go on the road as a sound man for Parliament/Funkadelic and Burke later went solo, calling his act, Wm. Burke's Hideous Truth.
In the late 70's Steve Bernard and a rotating cast of musicians and non-musicians who called themselves I Saw a Bulldozer, recorded a series of private party tapes, organized around three or four female vocalists who wrote Surrealist-style "Exquisite Corpse" lyrics and chanted them in unison in front of a band, coming across something like a female, beatnik version of the Last Poets, who were more interested in art than politics.Frank Daniel then plucked Karen Cooper out of the Bulldozer lineup and made her an integral, impulsive instrument in a band that played loosely structured, improvisational rock that was more "Bitches Brew" than Grateful Dead, if that makes sense. From my perspective, all these years later, Karen sounds like an unbridled outsider artist who's simultaneously sending and receiving while the band churns around her. This isn't jazz, and it wasn't intended to be, but we were obviously listening, responding and playing off of each other in the same way more technically proficient improvisers do.
Four of us were also DJs on a local independent radio station and when I listen to this music now, it sounds to me like we'd clearly digested enough influences that I won't try to list any of them in particular — at the risk of omitting as much as I could include.
After the first sessions, Burt Blackburn stepped in for Steve Bernard, who was already living 200 miles away in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, and Bo Jacob, who'd gone back out with Randy Newman, was replaced by the first drum machine in town.
Just as things really began to gel, Karen, who was married to Les Smith, informed us that she was expecting — and the band never played live — in fact, from that point, it never played again at all. Frank Daniel died of complications of Type I diabetes in 2004 and I've collected and digitized this volume as a salute to his memory and in hopes that someone out there will listen to this music and say "Good work, Frank. Thanks."
-Bill Altice Feb 2010
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