Kaleidoscope Co-Founder Chris Darrow Dead at 75
Psychedelic and country-rock pioneer Chris Darrow died at the age of 75 on Jan. 15, associates confirmed.
He passed away after suffering a stroke.
Multi-instrumentalist Darrow began his music career as a co-founder of psychedelic folk band Kaleidoscope, appearing on their first two albums, Side Trip and A Beacon From Mars – the latter release drawing praise from Jimmy Page, who once called the group his favorite “of all time.”
Darrow later took part in two later reunion lineups of the band. After his first departure, he spent a year with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band from 1967 until 1968, appearing on the studio album Rare Junk and a live LP, Alive!, before the group went on hiatus. He went on to form the Corvettes, who released two singles before Linda Ronstadt recruited them as her backing band. After he left to return to the Dirt Band in 1970, Darrow was replaced by future Eagles co-founder Bernie Leadon.
Darrow released the first of 10 solo albums in 1972, and his self-titled second LP, released the following year, featured members of Elton John’s band, the Jeff Beck Group and Fairport Convention. Darrow played bass on Leonard Cohen’s first release, Songs of Leonard Cohen, and violin on James Taylor’s second album, Sweet Baby James. He was also part of a brief collaboration with Moby Grape bassist Bob Mosley, titled the Darrow Mosley Band, which he described as a “California version of the Faces.”
“We were playing Middle Eastern music, and Cajun music and rock 'n' roll and country and bluegrass -- and that made us unique,” Darrow recalled of Kaleidoscope in a 2013 interview. “We could open for anybody, and we weren’t in competition with anybody, so people loved playing with us. The problem with that was the people who might like the Middle Eastern stuff wouldn’t like the '20s-style stuff we did. … That’s why we were called the Kaleidoscope – because we were all over the place. It was an advantage and a disadvantage. The disadvantage is that it didn’t allow us to sell very many records.”
Reflecting on the late-‘60s scene, Darrow noted that "Moby Grape was probably my favorite California band. But I wasn’t really into most of the San Francisco bands. I liked the Byrds from the word go. I was never a Doors fan. The first time I saw them at the Whiskey … I went up to the owner and I said – I was in the Floggs at the time – I said, ‘I have a band better than these guys, you should let us play.’
“I got to know [Jim] Morrison later on. But most of us guys were trying to be organic guys. I was living in the middle of 40 acres of lemon groves, and driving VW buses and wearing Levis and flannel shirts and growing our hair long. And those guys – he was wearing leather pants and trying to be the cute, prancing guy, and it just didn’t sit with me at the time.”