Interview: David Bennett Cohen (Country Joe and the Fish, Johnny Winter)

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HIT CHANNEL INTERVIEW: June 2011. We had the great honour to talk with a legendary musician,the keyboardist David Bennett Cohen. He was a member of Country Joe & The Fish and he played at Monterey Pop Festival in ’67 with them.He has also played with Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead), Joe Cocker, Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones) and many others.His last solo effort was “Cooking with Cohen” album. Read below the very interesting things he told us.


“Cooking with Cohen” is you last solo effort. Are you satisfied from the feedback you got for this, by fans and press?

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So far, all the feedback has been positive.  Seems like everyone likes it, which is a good thing.


Which are the other projects you are currently involved in?

I am working on putting out a CD that I recorded in the ’80s called, “The Connection”, which consists of original and covered songs.  I am changing the title to David Bennett Cohen and Friends.  It was originally done as a project that I would not be able to play live, in that I am doing all of the guitar and keyboard work.  The bass player, Chuck Vincent, also sings and the drummer, James Levi, plays all the percussion.  In addition, there are horn and string arrangements by Mark Isham, and background vocals arranged by Robert “Buddha” Winters.  I am issuing it as a 6 or 7 song CD instead of the 10 songs originally on it.  I hope to have it out sometime this year. I have produced a CD by a wonderful piano player, Jeremy Rosen, of Scott Joplin Rags, which is the sound track for a movie by Ben Coccio called, “The Beginner”. I also play regularly at various clubs in NYC and am in the house band at Big Ed Sullivan’s Blues jam every Monday at the Grisly Pear in Greenwich Village.  This is, consistently, the best Blues jam I have ever been involved in. In addition, I teach private piano and guitar lessons.  Some of my students, over the years, have gone on to have their own careers in music.  I am particularly proud of Peter Cincotti and Dave Keyes.


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Do you wish you  could have stayed longer with Country Joe & The Fish?

When I left Country Joe  and the Fish, I was ready to leave.  In a way, I’m sorry that I missed Woodstock, but not too sorry – every thing I hear about it makes me glad I wasn’t there.  The rain, the crowds, the disorganization…  And even though I missed it, I am still part of the “Woodstock generation.”  I do have a gold record from the movie for having co-written “Rock and Soul Music”.


In your website there is a very rare photo of you playing piano on stage with Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Winter,the night Johnny signed to Columbia Records!Do you have any memories from this event?

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I was on my way to England from California and stopped in NYC to visit with family and friends. Alan Strahl, who was our booking agent, called me and said that there was a party at the Scene.  When we got there, I saw Jimi and he invited me onto the stage.  He was playing bass and Johnny Winter was on guitar.  Buddy Miles played drums and this young kid, Steve Burgh, jumped up on guitar.  (Steve was a wonderful guitar player who played bass with David Bromberg for several years. His credits are very impressive – Steve Goodman, John Prine, and many others.  He also had a recording studio, Baby Monster Studios, where I did a bunch of recording.  He passed away several years ago.)  It was a memorable evening and a lot of fun.


Do you miss your old friends Jimi Hendrix,Jerry Garcia,Tim Hardin and others?How difficult was to continue after the loss of your friends?

Of course, I miss them.  To me, though, by continuing to play, I am able to honor them and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to know them and to be able to do one of the most noble things of all, namely, play music.


Monterey Pop Festival was a highlight of your career.How much prepared was that particular audience for your music? Eric Burdon has said  (in an interview with Chris Kissadjekian for Greek Metal Hammer) the it was the start for the whole movement,even the men of the audience had all short hair!!!

Well, Eric got that right!  Before Monterey, things were “percolating” under the radar, but after, things were out in the open.  Our audience at Monterey was ready for us.  Many of them had been to the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms and were just there for a “gathering of the Tribes.”  Others, who heard our music for the first time were converted.  Monterey, to this day, was the best gig I’ve ever played.  I think this was because it was created by musicians.  What I mean by that is that the focus was not only on the audience, but on the musicians, as well.  The backstage area was set up for our comfort, with food, closed circuit TV and practice space.  And a way to mingle and get to know other musicians.


You have played with many great musicians.Is there anyone you want to play with,and hasn’t happened yet?Maybe with Neil Young?

There are many musicians who I would very much like to play with.  Too many to count… Neil, of course.  The great Blues guitarists – BB King, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, etc. Dylan.  Actually, I’m going to stop here.  There really are too many to count…


Who keyboardists do you consider as contemporaries to you?I think you and Ray Manzarek are the American pioneers of electric piano…

Thank you for that.  I will be 69 this year, so, besides Ray, whose music I adore, there’s Dr John, Barry Goldberg, Mark Naftalin – the list is pretty long and I’m in good company.


What one thing you wish you could change about America?

Don’t get me started…  Actually, that’s a good question.  I practice Nichiren Buddhism with the Soka Gakkai International and we believe that in order to change the world, we first have to change ourselves.  The SGI is striving to create a “Culture of Peace,” which, when you think about it, is the only way for Art and Music to grow.


Have you ever been in Greece?Send a message to your Greek fans.

I have never been to Greece, but I would love to go.  Can you set something up for me?  I’m ready… To all my Greek fans, thank you.


A big “Thank you” to Mr Cohen for his great answers.

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