OC Music Scene sits down with a local legend to discuss music, magick and other mysteries of life.
Costa Mesa’s Lon Milo DuQuette is probably best known as a “living expert” on Eastern mysticism and Western Magick, but before he became a famous Magician, he was a critically acclaimed recording artist on Epic Records. I caught up with Lon after a whimsical set at Alta Coffee to talk about how his life as a musician began and his (somewhat) recent return to his roots.
Q: What (or who) inspired you to pursue music?
A: I always loved music. Growing up in the 50s I and my older brother Marc followed the birth of Rock-n-Roll from Johnny Otis and Carl Perkins to Jimmy Reed and B.B. King. I bought a Stella acoustic guitar in 1961 when I was 13 and started learning folk songs. A year later I joined a local rock band in Columbus Nebraska and stayed professional until I gave it a rest around 1972. My personal heroes were Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. When I moved back to Southern California in 1966 my style stayed acoustic but my music turned psychedelic.
Q: You recorded for Epic records in the seventies. Have you recorded anything more recently?
A: I’ve recorded two CD in last 3 years -- my own label -- nothing fancy. Just me and my guitar and some tunes I didn’t want to completely disappear when I’m dead and gone.
Q: Why the long layoff?
A: It’s kind of funny. Back in 1969 I and my partner Charley D. Harris signed with Epic Records and recorded and released two singles and an album of our own material. We called ourselves Charley D. and Milo.
The second single and the album did pretty well. The single, The Word is Love went to #1 in a few markets and our self-named album was a Billboard Magazine Spotlight Pick.
We busted our humps on the road for awhile, especially where the records were selling. We opened for Arlo Guthrie, Hoyt Axton, the Dillards, and Sammy Davis Jr. (believe it or not!). A couple other artists and groups recorded a few of our songs, including Johnny Rivers who recorded (with us as his backup band and vocalists) our Movin to the Country on his Home Grown album. In other words, we worked … and we were making it work. The trouble is that we also played. As a matter of fact I enjoyed the excesses of a musician’s life in Hollywood’s early 70s more than I enjoyed music!
Back home in Costa Mesa I was also starting a family. I had a lovely wife that I loved very much and a new baby boy, born in 1972. It really came down to a decision about what kind of life I wanted for myself and family. It was a no-brainer. I got out while I still had my health and my family…. And stayed out for 25 years.
Q: You sing, write songs and play a fine guitar. Which of these poses the greatest challenge?
A: Thank you very much. Oh, I guess you could say I’m equally challenged in all three departments. I didn’t even own a guitar for 25 years and so when I picked it back up three years ago I completely changed my approach to both the guitar and songwriting. It was like I was a different person. I’m really enjoying the experience. I’m my own biggest fan!
Q: Your song material ranges from bawdy to 19th century epics. How would you describe your work to a prospective listener?
A: Quirky? Edgy? Offensive? The American Songbook meets the Necronomicon?
Q: Do you keep current with today's artists?
A: Not very much. I have a few that I get a kick out of listening to. But I’m mostly occupied with my own work and draw most of my inspiration from really old stuff, Cole Porter, Dorothy Fields. I’m currently watching and listening to everything I can from Max Raabe and the Palist Orchester. I’d love to hear them do a couple of my tunes!
Q: Any contemporary favorites?
A: Sure, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello come to mind, although they’ve been around almost as long as I have!
Q: You still keep up a pretty heavy travel schedule - any good road stories?
A: I was booked to play a concert at a club called Super Deluxe in Tokyo in 2009. I’d never heard of the place and the name sounded so corny that I figured it must be a pretty cheesy little place. Before I left for Japan I mentioned my gig to my son, Jean-Paul, who lives in Kyoto and writes the CD and Club Review columns for Japanzine Magazine and he immediately emailed me back… “Holy Monkey ****!...How the **** did you get that gig? I review bands there all the time! It’s in the prestigious Roppongi District. I don’t believe it!” It felt very good to still seem cool to my 37 year old son.
Q: I understand you dabble in the occult... ?
A: Yes, I’m very interested in magick and the occult. It’s not as spooky as it sounds (unless you’re really superstitious to begin with). Since the psychedelic 60s I’ve been interested in Eastern Mysticism, yoga, Zen, etc. In the mid 70s I turned my attention to the Western Mystical/Magical Traditions which is just as interesting as the Eastern stuff and a lot of it is in English! To make a long story short, by 1990 I woke up and realized that most people that knew very much more about all this stuff were dead, and that without trying very hard I found myself among the ‘living experts’. I would hope everyone reading this will please look me up on Amazon or go down to their local bookstore and buy a six-pack of my books. I’m not asking you to read them!
Q: Have you ever turned anyone into a newt?
A: Yes, but it wore off.
Q: Do you still enjoy performing?
A: My goodness yes! I’m so glad that I bought that Larrivee and started writing songs again!
Q: Do you have a "signature" song or one you favor when performing?
A: I always start off with I Love to Get Drunk in the Car. If I don’t do that one, no one will take me seriously.
Q: Any new material in the works?
A: Yes, and I hope to play it for you soon.
Q: Any advice for aspiring singer-songwriters just starting out?
A: Let the song write you. Learn weird new chord progressions and play them over and over until they don’t sound weird any more. By the time that happens a cool new melody and lyric ideas will just get pulled out of you… like magick.