Alex Cooley interview

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Interview with MAR Y SOL producer/promoter (via telephone)
~Alex Cooley
(Sunday June 25th 2006)

Alex Cooley: What does people in Puerto Rico say about Mar Y Sol?

Well, basically in Puerto Rico is remembered by most people like something good and legendary. In the other hand all I’ve read from the press [both the local & the USA press] is that it was something bad. That it was a mistake and something immoral.

Cooley: I don’t think it was immoral. That’s a funny thing to apply to something that’s music.

Back in those days things were very different. I was a… well, I don’t like terms very much but I guess you can say I was a hippie. I embraced that philosophy anyway. I believed that we were very much against the Vietnam War. But there was another huge element. Back on those days we called them “straight people”. I guess it has a different meaning now. Those kind of people thought if a girl showed her breasts that was immoral. Back then if a bunch of young people were having a really good time, it was immoral.

It was a mistake but I don’t think there was anything immoral.

Reniet: How did it all started?

I had gotten interested into it because of a guy I knew that lived in Atlanta part of the time spent a good deal of time in San Juan. He got me interested. I had already done two Atlanta Pop festivals and one in Texas. So, I knew how to do’em. And he got me interested and I flew down to San Juan and I spent sometime with him down there, he had a house. I got more and more interested in it.

He knew some people and he introduced me to a Cornel who was a Cornel in the Puerto Rican ARMY. Not the American ARMY, but the Puerto Rican ARMY. I forgot his name by now Reni. Don’t remember it. But supposedly he was very well connected. His family was a very well known Puerto Rican family. I started talking to him and he said “well, you know, you leave it to me and I’ll get all your permits and I’ll take care of all that stuff”. And I guess that if there was any mistake, that was the mistake, that I believed him. Because he couldn’t produce any of those things.

All that he was gonna do, all his job was that he was the liaison between me – the promoter/producer of the festival – and the Puerto Rican government. There’s certain permits that are supposed to be gotten, we needed to close the road, we needed permits to do all kinds of things and he was supposed to handle that kind of things. He was supposed to handle the government of Puerto Rico.

We went ahead. I flew to New York and started putting the festival together. And had gotten all these ads that I had obligated myself to.

Then the newspapers [from Puerto Rico] got a hold of it and they started just slamming it. Just calling to say all kinds of incredibly…

Reniet: The thing is that in Puerto Rico we have… the Easter holy day, is kinda different in Puerto Rico ’cause is a holy thing, it’s “Holy Week”.

Cooley: well, I know it now [laughs], I didn’t know it then.

Reniet: You didn’t know what it was at the time?

Cooley: Eastern is a holy day in this country too but not as much as it is down there. Easter is celebrated more in the whole latin american community that is in the United States. United States is more diverse. Is not celebrated as much. Down there is more like a national holy day and it was a very poor choice. So, that was a mistake.

Reniet: So basically the guy who was going to help you didn’t do his job?

Cooley: He was supposed to be like public relations and get favorable newspaper articles for it. I also had a Puerto Rican ad agency for my advertising and to do public relations.

Once the government turned against us, everybody seemed to get against us. I mean, before, I was down there and everybody was welcoming me with open arms. Radio stations, the advertising people. Everybody was pro-festival.

But once those articles started appearing and once government ministers started saying bad things, all that changed.

We were asked not to have the festival and the Puerto Rican government got a restraining order to keep us from doing it. And I brought a lawyer in from the States and we argued it all the way up to the appeals court and we won. But after that, Reni, nobody would help us. Nobody would do anything for us. Everybody, the police, the state police. Everybody just turned against us and wouldn’t help us. I was in a position where I had all these groups coming and it obligated a signed contract for ’em. But I had a situation down there where I couldn’t get a piano or an organ. Just nobody would do business with us. In this country [United Stated] we were doing Pop festival and the government was against it, but still could get it done, we still could do it. But down there is like everybody formed a solid front and would not help us. And that goes from the people who rent equipment and give services. They called in our cars, I mean, all kinds of stuff.

It was a nightmare for me. The hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. It was just very difficult.

There was a warrant, they tried to arrest me down there.

Reniet: I heard a story about that.

Cooley: I was smuggled out. The last night of the festival [april 3rd, 1972]. Of course, there was a lot of Puerto Ricans that DID help us. Just people, Not organizations but people that were helping us. And a guy who was working in the festival, came over to me, the last night of the festival, and said they’d issued a warrant in San Juan and they were coming to arrest me. So they smuggled me out of there with a Volkswagen bus. I got in the bus and they put things on top of me and they took me to the airport and there were people at the airport that were very sympathetic towards this and they let them…. of course you’d never be able to do this now – they let them drive the Volkswagen out on to the runway. So I got out of the Volkswagen and got directly on the plane. So that’s how I got out of San Juan, out of Puerto Rico. That was the first time I had to leave a country like that before [laughs], so it was quite an experience.

Reniet: The idea of the name, who came up with that idea?

Note: “Mar y Sol” means “Sea & Sun”

Cooley: [laughs] We really went around the name and the Puerto Ricans that I was working with all advised against that name. They said that it kinda had a low rate kind of thing and that it was over used. We couldn’t come up with anything better so in the eleventh hour I chose to use that name.

Let me ask you this Reniet. What do you think of the name? What do you think?

Reniet: I actually like it. I really like it. I think is very… it kinda goes with what was happening in the festival. I mean, the was pretty strong which was one of the bigger complains from the people who came from the States. And it was on the beach…. I really like it honestly.

Cooley: OK, good.

Note: something I didn’t say when I was talking to him, but I’ve always thought. Everybody in Puerto Rico
pronounces it like the name “Marysol”, so it always sound like and actual name rather than just “Sea & Sun”.

Reniet: Next question, someone told me that the equipment that was used in Mar y Sol was exactly the same that was used on Woodstock. Is that true?

Cooley: That’s true. The guy who did the sound was Bill Hanley. He was a Boston sound company. He had a LOT of equipment, so I don’t know if every same exact piece was what was at Woodstock. But a lot of what was used was at Woodstock, yes.

Reniet: Something else that was said was gonna happen but didn’t happened was that it was gonna be filmed. Was that the same case as…

Cooley: I had worked with some film makers on other festivals and they were gonna come down and do this one. But when we started running into so much legal problems they backed out.

If there’s any film it’s amateur stuff.

Reniet: There should also be footage from the news…

Cooley: All the news people down there came in and… I mean, there were a lot of camera people running about taking news footage.

There was a picture that I used to have on my office wall to tell the story out to people about how I had to be smuggled out of Puerto Rico. And there was a picture taken and it was near the site and it was a big white washed wall. And you could see palm trees beyond it and it had the tropical sky and everything there. And somebody had spray painted it and read “Cooley Go Home”. I would LOVE to have a copy of that picture… My office burned down and it burned.

'Cooley Go Home'

[After this interview I set out to find this picture for Cooley. In 2010, a visitor of this site, Axel J. Ortiz, found it in a 1972 newspaper.]

There were some Puerto Ricans – young Puerto Ricans too, because I met with them several times – that were VERY VERY anti-festival. And those young people were really cold. Tthese people didn’t wanted the United States culture in Puerto Rico. Their argument was that the United States imported their culture to the island and it was way too much. They wanted their island to be Puerto Rican and not have american culture come down to it and that kind of thing.

They were an organized group of some kind. They were the only young people that were really anti-festival.

Reniet: Did they have a name or something?

Cooley: I think it was like initials. Something in spanish, you know. Something like “Puerto Rico por Puerto Rico”. Something like that but I don’t remember.

But they were an organized group and they were very out-of-it about it. Like I said I met with them 2 or 3 times. And my argument was that New York, the culture of New York was changed by Puerto Ricans to a large degree. That’s the way the world works. We weren’t then and we’re even less so now.

No place is insular, they don’t have his own culture anymore. We’re a global society. But I understood their point, I really did. It seems like the United States exports the worst of it’s culture to other places. And not the good stuff but a lot of the bad stuff.

Reniet: I noticed that the list of bands that were promoted to on the original poster to the list of bands that actually played defers a little bit. What was the problem? I mean, did a lot of artists cancelled?

Cooley: A lot of them cancelled, yeah.

Reniet: Because of the legal situation the festival was having?

Cooley: Yeah. We made the papers in New York. There was stories in New York and in this country about what was going on, so it wasn’t a secret. And most of the bands didn’t think we’d pull it out. They though after the Puerto Rican government had shut us down… they didn’t want to get into a mess with the government or anything else so a lot of the groups cancelled.

At any time you see on the poster that I printed, contractually they were coming. I didn’t do what some promoters do, print names that they have no rights to do. All of them were booked at one time.

You know what Reni, I’m surprised as many did come as did come. I really am because it was the talk in the entertainment business, that you shouldn’t go, that it was too dangerous. That the government was against us.

The groups that did come, I take my hat off because it would’ve been very easy to cancel under the circumstances.

Reniet:…which brings me to the group that I’m most interested about, because of all the festival’s bands they are my
favorite. However they didn’t get to play even though they did make it to the island. I’m talking about Black Sabbath.

Cooley: They didn’t play? I thought they did. Are you sure about that Reni?

Reniet: I actually have a book written by the crew members and they explain detail by detail what happened and basically what happened was that when they were going to play – which was the last night [april 3rd, 1972] – the traffic was so huge that it was almost impossible to make it on time.

Cooley: But we had helicopters, we were bringing the groups in by helicopters.

Reniet: What they say about that was that they tried to use the helicopter there were none available.

Cooley: Reni, I think they probably… I thought they had played. I really did. But that last night I was under so much pressure and so many things were happening. If they say they didn’t, I’d have to take their word for it.

Reniet: It wasn’t them but some members of their road crew who wrote that book.

Cooley: What’s the name of that book?

Reniet: is called “How BLACK was our SABBATH“.

Black Sabbath was going to play at the end of the festival. Were they meant to be like the headliners, or at least for that night?

Cooley: No, they were not the headliners for the festival, no. Everybody got equal billing. There was nobody above anybody else. That’s called festival-type billing. There was no headliners.

Reniet: When they did the album. You didn’t have anything to do with it once it was all recorded?

Cooley: CBS was the company I contacted for that. I have never seen a penny from that. CBS says that I have no rights to it. I don’t have anything to do with that. That’s the easy answer.

Reniet: Before I even called you, I took the LP and noticed that your name is not even there. I thought “probably he just sold them the audio and that was it”.

Cooley: I don’t remember all the things… I let CBS bring the equipment in and set it up and record it. And I must’ve had some arrangement with them but they said the album never made money and so, is just not worth me pursuing. And that’s about all the story I can remember about it.

Reniet: Well, thank you so much for your time I really appreciate that.

Cooley: I’m glad to do it.


For more info on Alex Cooley visit his official website:
Alex Cooley: The Live Music Experience