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Told by Chris Murphy, a young, down-on-his-luck, Irish-American guitarist who devoted himself to Miles Davis, first as his roadie and assistant, and then as one of his most trusted road managers, Miles to Go is a frank and intimate exploration of Davis's eccentric working life, drug habits, paranoia, depression, and subsequent recovery. It also deals with Davis's troubled relationship with his children and the controversial role Cicely Tyson played in his life. Murphy explores the dynamics that made Davis's band ...
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Told by Chris Murphy, a young, down-on-his-luck, Irish-American guitarist who devoted himself to Miles Davis, first as his roadie and assistant, and then as one of his most trusted road managers, Miles to Go is a frank and intimate exploration of Davis's eccentric working life, drug habits, paranoia, depression, and subsequent recovery. It also deals with Davis's troubled relationship with his children and the controversial role Cicely Tyson played in his life. Murphy explores the dynamics that made Davis's band work so well together, placing Davis's work in a historic, literary, and musical framework. It corrects Davis's own almost self-hating autobiography, and attempts to treat with some balance the rumors about Davis being bisexual and HIV positive upon his death. Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, and a very unlikely Mother Theresa all have walk-on parts in this engaging, intelligent, and often hilarious narrative that takes us from the small seedy jazz clubs that Davis was always at home in, to the world tours, and then finally to Davis's triumphant return with his celebrated concerts at Lincoln Center in the early '80s. Eight pages of black-and-white photos are included.
Meeting the Chief
I knew Jim Rose slightly: he was a friend of my ex-songwriting partner John Conlin, and I'd met him a couple of times at parties. Still, I was surprised to hear his voice on the other end of the line when I answered the phone. He told me he was calling in his new capacity as road manager for Miles Davis. "Miles is going on the road, and needs someone to take care of his gear," said Jim. "I know you've got some experience in this kind of thing. What do you think?"
"Just tell me what I need to do," I said. Inside, I was turning cartwheels. For the past few months I'd barely been scratching out a living; this gig couldn't have come along at a more perfect time.
"Pack a bag with some clothes in it," he said, "and meet me at my loft." He gave me an address in Chelsea.
Jim Rose had come by his job as Miles Davis's road manager in classic rock and roll fashion—which is to say, through sheer, improbable chance. It seems he was sitting in a New York City bar one afternoon when the fellow on the barstool next to him asked if he was looking for a job. The guy's name turned out to be Whitey Davis, and at that time he was Miles's road manager. How Miles Davis wound up with a road manager named Whitey (who was indeed white) is something I never learned. In any case, Jim took the job and went to work for Miles as a roadie. A short time later, Whitey took his own life and Jim inherited the position of road manager. Now he was hiring me to take over his old duties.
Soit was that I found myself standing at the front door of Miles Davis's brownstone on West 77th Street in Manhattan, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The outside of the house had been done in a pseudo-Moorish style, with Spanish roof tiles and exposed wood. In front of the building was a four-foot-high brick wall.
Jim had keys to the place, and he let us in. The interior was dimly lit, but I could see that it was designed much like the exterior. The front room had a fireplace and a zebra-skin rug on the floor. In the corner sat a stuffed lion's head. The room was jammed full of musical equipment, including several amplifiers, a keyboard and a drum set, and wires ran all over the floor.
Jim shouted up to the second floor to let Miles know we'd arrived. A moment later I heard the sound of heels coming slowly down the dark stairway. I was immediately struck by the thought of Gregory Peck in the movie Moby Dick: I felt for all the world like one of the crew on the Pequod, listening to Captain Ahab taking his nightly stroll on the deck above us.
Miles was shirtless and had on a pair of beautiful tawny leather pants. He was small in stature, about five feet four inches tall, and well-muscled, and he moved with the awful slowness of someone who was either very high or very distracted. His descent seemed to take forever. As he came into the light, I caught sight of his eyes: They were incredibly dark and liquid, like those of some exotic, tiny nocturnal primate.
The overall effect was stunning—which was exactly what he wanted. I thought to myself, this guy knows how to make an entrance.
Finally Miles made it to where we were standing, and Jim introduced me. "This is Chris," he said. "He's the guy I've hired to work with us." Miles looked me up and down for about fifteen seconds. Then he smiled and gazed directly in my eyes, and we shook hands.
"I'm happy to be working for you," I told him.
By way of reply, Miles playfully jabbed me in the arm. Then he spoke for the first time. "You guys know what to do, right?" And that was the end of the interview. He turned and walked slowly back up the stairs.
We spent the next hour packing up various pieces of equipment, to be loaded onto a truck the following day. Then we yelled our good-byes, and left.
In the taxi, headed down to Jim's loft in Chelsea, all I could say was "Wow." Jim chuckled. He knew what I was feeling: My life had just changed, in the space of a few minutes. I was in the big leagues now.
What I didn't realize then was that I was also in the process of becoming hooked on Miles. I've seen plenty of beautiful people in my time, including lots of movie stars and models. With some the charisma lasts briefly, then their beauty starts to seem ordinary after a while. Others have an indefinable quality of substance and depth to their appearance, and their beauty gets more interesting the longer you observe them.
Miles was like that: He had an incredible physical presence, which only grew stronger over time. If you were in a room with Miles Davis and fifty other celebrities, you'd invariably find yourself looking at him. His startling appearance, combined with his deliberate way of moving, created all sorts of images and assumptions in peoples' minds. You could glance at Miles and think, Ancient Egypt and then, no, Africa, and then, no, North Africa or Spain around 900 A.D. The result was that you wanted to keep watching him, partly to see what else might pop into your brain—and partly to see what he would do next.
Jim and I agreed that I'd move into his loft, at least for the time being. He lived on Eighth Avenue, between 17th and 18th streets, and he had plenty of extra room. I didn't bring up the subject of salary—I was simply glad to have the job. I was amazed that I'd just met someone like Miles, and that I'd be interacting with him on a daily basis. I hadn't had time to form an impression of him as a person, but there was definitely something unearthly about him.
I felt happier and more excited than I had in a long time. Suddenly, the world was full of possibility.
Down to Business
As it turns out, my first gig with Miles never happened. He was supposed to play two shows in Dallas, so Jim Rose and I and the rest of his band flew down the night before the first show and settled into the hotel. Then we got a call saying that Miles had broken his leg and that the concerts were cancelled. It wasn't until we got back to New York that I learned the real story. What happened is that Miles had been doing some coke on the ground floor of his house while his girlfriend Loretta was alone upstairs. He got paranoid and became convinced that there were a dozen white guys up there having sex with Loretta, so he panicked and climbed over the high wall in his backyard, breaking his ankle in the fall to his neighbor's yard.
While this incident was worse than most, Miles's coke-induced paranoia wasn't all that unusual. Over the years I worked with him, I found that Miles had a greater sensitivity to cocaine than anyone I've ever known. That's why normally he didn't do large amounts of it—he didn't need to. I can remember several times when we'd do one or two lines and he'd get so spooked that he'd flush all the remaining blow down the toilet, afraid of getting caught with it.
The Dallas promoters were very good-natured about the whole thing—in fact, I was surprised they took it so well. They were good guys, young Texas entrepreneurs who gave the strong impression that they were in more than just the music promotion business. After the cancellations were announced, they held a party for us at a private house. As we were leaving, one of our hosts said, "Here, take this with you."
He handed us a packet of aluminum foil containing some prime marijuana buds. We rolled a few joints for the plane ride to New York, then stashed the rest of it in our gear.
The next day we drove back to Love Field. En route, we found ourselves heading down the same stretch of road below the Texas Book Depository where JFK had been shot. We drove right past the grassy knoll, and Jim and I both fell silent as the cab went under the bridge. Here's where they did him, I thought. Here it was that my peoples' hope was extinguished.
We boarded the plane in Dallas and lifted off for New York. It may be hard for younger folk to comprehend, but back in those days, flying was fun. The DC-10 we were traveling on had a piano lounge—imagine, folks, a bar with a piano on a commercial flight—and the band, Jim and I were the only passengers on the plane. We sat in the circular lounge and the guys in the band took turns playing the piano. The stewardesses sat down with us, and we spent the flight singing, drinking beer and scarfing peanuts. At one point, I went into a bathroom and fired up a joint. When I came out, clouded in pungent pot smoke, one of the stews (who had Jim's arm draped around her) looked at me and said, "Oh dear, you really shouldn't do that." We all cracked up and went back to the bar.
Nowadays, of course, I'd probably be arrested for that stunt.
The flight was also a chance to become better acquainted with the members of Miles's band. All the guys who made the trip to Dallas had played with Miles before, and most of them had been with him for years. Here's how the lineup looked at that point:
Michael Henderson, the bass player, was a Motown graduate
Excerpted from MILES TO GO by Chris Murphy. Copyright © 2002 by Chris Murphy. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.