Interview by Steve Lake  

A candid exchange of views and verbals among the members of
the world's last music group - Bill Laswell, Ronald Shannon
Jackson, Sonny Sharrock and Peter Brotzmann.



It's a hot afternoon and the night people of Last Exit are holed up in the Moers Festival bar, waiting for the sun to sink. "Can't you make that thing go down any faster?" Bill Laswell says to Sonny Sharrock, a little impatiently. Mostly they fight right aback at the emergent summer with impressive quantities of beer. Take that! And that! Once in a while a Moers minion will trot up and say "you have a soundcheck" and Sonny will say something like "yes, we probably do".

They are fabulously droll, all four of them. I have left the laughter out of the transcript which follows because there was so much of it. It would, finally, have been intrusive to keep reading (laughs) or (cackles) after almost every sentence. The reader will have to imagine the thing unwinding against a soundtrack of hoots, snorts, explosions of mirth.

Sitting around with these guys I find it hard to suppress an odd sense of history-in-the-making and wonder how the musicians can be so relaxed about it. They have a cool understanding of Last Exit's import, however.

"This is the most special thing that's happened in this area of music for a long time," says Laswell. "People may disagree." Pause. "Fuck'em."


For my part, I know that Last Exit is exactly the music I want to hear in 1986. There are so many positive aspects to it, and not the least is hearing Peter Brotzmann moving into the company he deserves, getting the rhythm that truly vitalises his playing.

A week after this interview I caught the group again in Munich where the encore found Brotzmann splattering the "Machine Gun" theme on top of an absolutely awesome Shannon Jackson blues-rock drum avalanche.

After the gig, the hall's sound mix man shouted at the group. "Why did you ask me for a jazz p.a.? You're not a jazz group! You're a heavy metal band!"




Bill Laswell: I think it was Peter...


He just denied it.

BL: Oh he did? So much for that.

Ronald Shannon Jackson: No, Sharrock came up with the idea. Nobody on the planet but Sharrock could have thought of something like that.

Peter Brotzmann: What kind of newspaper is that you're reading, Sonny?

Sonny Sharrock: It's a menu. Is there any other kind?

BL: Peter and I were going to do a project with Fred (Frith) and Anton (Fier).

PB: No, no. It all started with a beer down the road with Derek Bailey's Company in New York and you mentioned Sonny was playing still and I said I hadn't heard much of him since the good old '69 time.

BL: Oh yeah. But I think I hadn't played much with Shannon by that point.

SS: It just evolved over the years until it became...inevitable


Shannon, were you familiar with Brotzmann's playing?

RSJ: Well I'd run into him a couple of times in...lemme see, was it Little Rock or was it Biloxi?? No, the Decoding Society had shared a few bills in Europe. So I knew he was the great saxophonist of Deutschland.


How much preparation did you do for the first tour in February?

RSJ: We rented a studio in New York and rehearsed for six months. To tell the truth, I met him [Sharrock] on the plane and him [Brotzmann] on stage.

SS: Damn, that shit is deep, ain't it?

RSJ: What the fuck you gonna do at this point? You just play.


Yet everybody sounds changed by the context, everybody's playing a little differently.

RSJ: That's 'cos we're professionals.

BL: That's him saying that.

RSJ: I wouldn’t play the same way with the Decoding Society that I would with Elvis Costello.

SS: By the way, Elvis just called. He canceled the gig.

RSJ: Oh, no, that's heartbreaking. I know what you're talking about, man, but I mean : how would you play with Laswell and Sharrock?

BL: That's a popular question for students these days.

SS: When you work with cats at this level there's no fear. You can just play, walk out and play and you're not afraid that somebody's not going to be able to hold their shit up.

RSJ: Most guys can't improvise. Everybody as an individual's got to have something to improvise on. If you don't have no history or no tradition then the source you're drawing from is blank. It's more than just "improvising", it's connecting up to the richness of a whole reservoir of information that's already been fed in. We're four people, but in terms of what's happening we are like four multiplied by 90.

BL: I like that. That's the next record title : "4 X 90".

RSJ: Some people just like to go on the bandstand and don't know what to do. And other cats go out there and only play what they know, because that's all they can play.

BL: Actually, thinking about it makes me more confused than playing it.

SS: That's it. What to play never came into question at all. After that first gig in Zurich, we never said "That's how it's going to be." We never talked about it.

BL: Well, we were going to approach some rhythm things, some structures, but Peter here...

SS: Brotzmann killed that right away. Didn't you, Brotz?

PB: I don't think I want to talk to you guys today.




PB: I'd like to see it survive. Not from a business point of view but because things developed during the first tour. I think we still have a lot of things to experience, a lot of things to develop. The musical potential is enormous.

BL: Last Exit doesn't exist like bands exist but comes together for concerts. So if there’s an opportunity for a concert we'll probably do it, because it only takes the time that it takes. We don't have to worry about promotion or rehearsal or any of that bullshit. If the conditions are agreeable to everyone, we'll play a concert.

SS: That's about as "permanent" as you could get, anyway.

RSJ: A vacation is also a release. I haven't played this way since I was with Albert Ayler. And it's something that's in my life that I can't do unless this situation exists.

SS: This is not work. It's picnic time. It's different to any other group I've been in. It's a lot purer.

RSJ: Yeah, Sonny, now you can do all the things you couldn't do behind Herbie Mann.

SS: You know, I was thinking...maybe Herbie could join us for a couple of things?

BL: Ah...I don't think so!

SS: Oh, Man, it'd be beautiful. We could start out (sings dramatic riff) dunk-dum dunk-dum and then he'd come out, and we'd break on his ass!



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