Arthur Russell's Instrumentals Director Shares His Favourite Memories Of Russell

15 January 2016 | 12:20 pm | Peter Gordon

“Arthur, I think you are pushing this friendship thing a bit too far.”


I moved from California to New York in February 1975, and soon after, Rhys Chatham introduced me to ArthurArthur hired me to prepare the score and instrumental parts to his new work, INSTRUMENTALS. This was my first music gig in NYC. The first rehearsal was scheduled to begin at 2pm, but by 6pm we hadn’t yet begun to play, causing woodwind player Jon Gibson to remark, “Arthur, I think you are pushing this friendship thing a bit too far.”

I Couldn't Say It To Your Face - Arthur Russell 

Around the same time we were rehearsing INSTRUMENTALS, John Hammond brought Arthur in to the Columbia Records studio, with the intention of recording a demo with a few dozen of Arthur’s songs, with Arthur accompanying himself on guitar or piano. Arthur had other plans, and brought an entire band, making Hammond furious. This was my first recording session in NYC, and among the songs recorded was I Couldn’t Say it to Your Face, which I recently covered with Tim Burgess of The Charlatans.

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That Hat featuring Arthur Russell - Peter Gordon & Love Of Life Orchestra

I was composing the score for Secret Pastures, a dance piece by Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane. Keith Haring designed the sets, and fashion designer Willi Smith did the costumes. The score was performed live by my Love of Life Orchestra, with the exception of one section, which I felt needed a recorded club groove. I brought in Arthur as co-writer and cellist, as well as David Johansen (of The New York Dolls) on vocals. We re-recorded the song for my CBS album, Innocent, but the original version from Secret Pastures (which I prefer) appeared on my DFA album, Love of Life Orchestra, from 2011.