LB - Well, the fact that I practically built the tower, you know, they should give me a little more deference. They only are interested in Nat Cole--maybe one other person.
JC - I thought that ... yeah. Um ... where ... how, how long was it after you were at Capitol did TAMBOO actually ...
LB - I'll tell you the sequence of events. I was called to Capitol to do an album ... which was MUSIC OUT OF THE MOON ... which sold a lot, to their tremendous surprise, because it was a choir and a theremin which had nothing to do with popular music. [Indeed. The theremin, a pioneering electronic instrument in the 20s, was not much more than a novelty even then, and by the 40s would be of interest mainly to avant gardists.]
JC - That's right, theremin. I have heard that you used that. I'm so keen to get one for myself.
LB - Um, it's an interesting album. Then, since it sold, they gave me a song to record, as tho I were a pop recording artist. They handed me a piece and said, "We want you to do Because Of You. Now how that's connected with the album... You know, it was like a concert composer, anything else. So I said, "Sure, I'll do it." But I did it concert style. I was the first one to use strings and choir.
JC - Well, that one charted.
LB - When I did start using strings, every vocalist at every other record company started asking for Les Baxter backgrounds, you know, "gimmee strings!" Before it was all brass and clarinets behind vocals. Everything went to string. The ... but, uh ... let me see. Where was I before we got off on that? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, MUSIC OUT OF ...--we were doing a chronology here. MUSIC OUT OF THE MOON. So I did a song Because Of You, and it hit big which surprised everybody. And then I did PERFUME SET TO MUSIC over at RCA. Then back to Capitol and I did another song ... which hit. And another song which hit. And when I walked down the aisle they'd say, "What's your hit this week, Les?" Let's see, Because Of You, April In Portugal, and Blue Tango... and ...
JC - All of those are on that list of Billboard hits.
LB - Blue Tango I like a lot.
PH - What led you to get interested in unusual and exotic instruments?
LB - I guess it's because I'm strange. [James laffs] That's what I like. Can't explain it.
PH - How did you hear of the theremin?
LB - Oh dear, I don't remember. I don't know how I heard of the theremin. I think ... some one brought Doctor whats-his-name and his theremin.
JC - Hoffman?
LB - Yeah, and said, "Let's to an album with it." So I put choir with the theremin and a little jazz group accompaniment, and then that was how MUSIC OUT OF THE MOON got started. Then we did a big orchestra on PERFUME SET TO MUSIC. But that was all for the theremin. I didn't do any more with it ... I don't think. I did a lot of electronic things. Every new electronic instrument I used.
PH - James has a copy of LES BAXTER'S MOOG ROCK.
LB - Good grief! [all laff]
PH - I think it's a great album. I really enjoy it.
LB - Oh, my god.
JC - Very strange sounding record. [handing it to Les]
LB - Very interesting. I would love to have a copy of--through Crescendo I can probably get it. Hmmmm, nice, nice. Claire de Lune is on here.
PH - They're classical themes set to kind of a go-go rock with--with moog synthesizer. It's a very exciting album.
JC - It's a real prize. I wonder--they will certainly have the master somewhere.
LB - Oh, I can get it from Crescendo.
JC - Do you know Gene Norman?
LB - Very well.
PH - So Crescendo treated you well?
LB - Yeah.
PH - Whereas Capitol just kind of forgot about you after awhile?
LB - Yep. My only CD now is on Crescendo. The Brazilian one.
PH - Ahh. Another question about your exotic music, in particular, RITUAL OF THE SAVAGE. Whenever I listen to it I hear a lot of Stravinsky in it.
LB - Yeah. He's my favorite composer. And there was always an influence from Stravinsky in my music.
PH - I always thought that Stravinsky ... A lot of people refer to you as "The Godfather of Exotica." I always thought that Stravinsky was kind of ... "The Godfather of Exotica" before you.
LB - There's some good stuff on RITUAL OF THE SAVAGE--some really original, good stuff.
PH - And it really seems to tell a story, that album.
LB - And also it's the best recording of drums. Nobody knows how to record a conga drum. They have the wrong instruments against it--brass and so-forth--which cut out the tone totally of the drum. And they don't know that a conga drum is best sounded in the open. I recorded them well. When I recorded Latin rhythm, the rhythm was in the open and rather pure. And you can hear the conga drum. And you can hear the timbales and so forth. Even if I had a flute going or whatever.
PH - Listening to your records I get the sense that you are constantly seeking and discovering new sounds--to add to an orchestra of maybe dispense with an orchestra altogether.
LB - Well, they are very new and original sounds. My combinations and so forth are very original, sometimes very strange.
PH - I read one of the interviews in INCREDIBLY STRANGE MUSIC--I think volume one--that referred to an earlier interview where you were crediting exotic music ... something about the idea that there was one particular chord that made exotic music.
LB - I don't think so. I don't think so, but I'll tell you a funny story. One of the exotic sounds is in the key of C. The B flat when you go [demonstrates by humming a passage from Quiet Village]. That is somewhat exotic. When I was working with Yma Sumac she had an absolutely insane husband who was a pain in the butt. He called himself the "Gershwin of South America." And he always had arthritis when it came time to play the guitar. He had no ability whatever, in anything. One day he said, "You stole from me." And I said, "How did I steal from you?" He said, "Well, you stole my note, B flat." That's an honest to god true story. "You stole my note."