Part two of our exclusive interview with Scott Masterson of TRILLIANT – Flower Power and the SHINE Compound Days.
MTD: So things started to change for you after meeting Evelyn Ross?
Masterson: Well, shortly after meeting her through Harris Brown’s father, she got us a few regular bookings, playing mostly blues covers. Back then you didn’t play your original music so much you know? People would only pay attention if they recognized the song, so we were pretty limited and feeling a little stifled I guess. The first few gigs we totally blew it. (laughs) They would want us to play 3 sets minimum, so we had to learn and play a lot of cover tunes. Which was a lot of work. It started to make us some money though, we got a flat all together and moved out of the abandoned building. The flat wasn’t particularly nice, and was made worse by our complete disregard for any semblance of…I don’t know…domesticity? (laughs) We were pretty feral. But the regular gigs got us on our way you know? We were able to get some better equipment, and knew where our meals were coming from. So we played these regular gigs in London for a few years, and did a few regular gigs in Hamburg and Berlin. That was where everybody was trying to get to – Germany. Hamburg at the time was like an adult disneyland with all the cabaret shows and prostitution and drugs and whatnot.
MTD: So this was when?
Masterson: 1962 and 63 mainly.
MTD: You were diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after that, right?
Masterson: Yeah, that was a tough time. That was in 64. Februrary of 64. It was bitter fucking cold. I was getting these blinding headaches you know? At first I thought it was just all the alcohol and speed I was taking, combined with the unrelenting noise in the clubs. I wasn’t sleeping well and eventually I just had a breakdown where I couldn’t do it any more.
MTD: Yeah, you passed out on stage during a gig, right?
Masterson: Yeah, in Berlin. It was brutal. The band had no idea what was going on, they saw me fall down and they just kept playing for a bit, not really knowing what to do. Finally they realized something was really wrong and they loaded me up in the van and drove me to the hospital. That was when they found the tumor in my head. They couldn’t operate right away because of some swelling in my brain, so I had to sit it out for a while and take medication until they were able to operate. I really don’t remember most of it. Kind of a blur now. Thankfully the operation was a successful one, but it kept us out of commission and off the circuit until later in 1965, maybe early 66. No it was 65. I remember playing a gig at this place in West London on Christmas eve. It was right before we were scheduled to start recording our first single “Dirty Dames” which was an original tune Evelyn had arranged for us to record with some fellow named Eric Stipe, who worked for EMI. That was the night I first met Thune.
MTD: Thune Garrison, right?
Masterson: Yeah, he was this weird chap, utterly driven by his vision of a world united by music. He was really inspired by the Hippie movement, flower power, the whole thing. He was wearing this red beret all the time, sort of sideways on his head you know? And smoking these weird cigarettes he called “Kretek” that smelled like cloves. He was always talking about how the hippies were changing the world, and really believed things were changing for the better and soon we’d all be ushered into this new era of peace and love by the social uprising movement. At first I didn’t like the guy. He seemed…I don’t know…kinda phoney. Disingenuous you know? I don’t know, there was just something weird about him. Maybe it was just that he was an American. And what kind of name is Thune anyways? Anyway, we finally got to talking one night after he’d been at about four or five of our gigs, I would smell his weird cigarettes wafting onto the stage and I knew he was there again, and I’d look out into the crowd and there’s his red cap poking out. So I walked over to him one night intent on striking up a conversation, and he saw me coming toward him and he got up and shook my hand and hugged me. The rest of the night we spent sitting in our van outside on the street, just talking. He was here in London to meet another band, the Cotillion Friars. He was starting a record label in the states and he wanted the Friars to record for it. He heard about us through Evelyn Ross who also managed some mutual friends of the Friars, and he decided to check us out. He really liked us I guess, and he wanted to offer us the same deal. “Come record with my guys in the states, I’ll fly you over. You can’t say no.” He didn’t look like a guy who had money but evidently he did, because the next week we were getting on a plane to the states for the first time and he paid for everything.
MTD: Did you trust him? Only knowing him for a week or two seems like a risk.
Masterson: Yeah it was a risk, but we discussed it amongst ourselves and decided we were tired of the London scene anyway, and if he was willing to buy us a flight to the states we’d take it. Worst case scenario, things didn’t work out and we’d be stuck in the states, but we didn’t really care. We wanted out and the idea of going to the states was really exciting. We just couldn’t say no.
MTD: So he flew you to Los Angeles right?
Masterson: Yeah. He had this sprawling place in Topanga he referred to as “the compound.” We learned a couple years later this was right near where the famous Spahn Movie Ranch was located, where all the Manson family stuff went down. Thune’s compound consisted of several buildings, one of them containing a recording studio and the others were mainly small houses where musicians on his label were allowed to live and rehearse when they weren’t on tour. He arranged for us to stay in one of the little houses there. We were right next door to another group from LA called “China Pig.”
MTD: So there you were, in Los Angeles, staying on this compound with other bands on the label, suddenly getting ready to record your first album. That must have been pretty exciting.
Masterson: Yeah, it was. I mean, we were blown away you know? We came to the states not really knowing what to expect, and suddenly we had everything taken care of, like we were celebrities. They had these people they referred to as “porters” who would come around every day and check on us all, making sure we had everything we needed. And they would fetch things for us, bring us food, drugs, anything we wanted really. And no questions asked. If it was within reason, and obtainable, we’d just put in our order with the porter that day and the next day we’d have it. Sometimes sooner. We were there about three days before we finally saw Thune again, and we had so many questions, which he never really answered, he just set up times for us to start working on a record, gave us an itinerary and off he went. We rehearsed for about a month, writing material and getting stuff together for the record. We all thought it was really strange, the circumstances we found ourselves in, but considered it a blessing and didn’t really question too much. Just roll with it, you know? (laughs)
MTD: So you recorded your first record – simply titled ”Trilliant” – was there a tour?
Masterson: Yeah, Garrison set up this little tour, mostly dates in California with China Pig who were already more established.
MTD: How did that go?
Masterson: Well, it went really well. It was unbelievable really. I mean they weren’t big shows, and attendance wasn’t great at all of them, but good enough. We came back with money in our pockets – not much – a couple hundred bucks. So we called it a success.
MTD: How long before you went back to London?
Masterson: It was a couple of years before we ever went back, and then it was just to pay respects to Harris’s father when he passed away. We never played a gig in London again after that, oddly enough.
We played around Europe a bit later, in the early 70’s, 72 to 73 I think it was. In the years leading up to the SHINE festival, but we never really seemed to get a foothold in the European market, strange as it was. I think that was a failure of marketing and distribution on the part of SHINE and Garrison.
MTD: Yeah the SHINE Festival. We have only heard rumors about that. What can you tell us? Wasn’t it supposed to be in Africa or something crazy like that?
Masterson: Yeah, it was a total disaster. To this day I have no idea what the hell Garrison and his group were thinking. “Let’s hold a huge music festival in South Africa.” They kept saying it would be bigger than Woodstock, and people from all around the world would be there, and how it would provide a beacon of hope to the world, all this crap. Of course at the time, we were all pretty high on drugs and generally out of touch with reality, but we thought it sounded like a pretty good idea. I mean, we agreed to play it of course, and were a little apprehensive but generally excited about it. Of course we never got to actually play at the thing, it was all burned to the ground before our scheduled time to play. It was just nuts. Never seen anything like it. All these soldiers come driving up in jeeps and tanks with flamethrowers. Just totally and completely crazy.