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Don Alias: Heart, Soul and Lungs

By Published: May 22, 2006

AAJ: Do a lot of people think it's not you because you're credited as Charles Alias?

DA: Well, I'm credited as percussionist. And it's a rare name. I'm known as Don Alias but Charles...who's Charles Alias? That's me! [laughs] And there are some issues like the Japanese that got it right, where I'm credited with drums and percussion. So you get it right. And I'm saying this with really not a whole lot of ego involved it's just that I want to get this shit right.

AAJ: It should be, yeah—what happened happened.

DA: What happened happened. That's right.

AAJ: What was your relationship like with Miles?

DA: Man, there's the take on Miles...there are a lot of different variations on the take.

AAJ: So many stories...

DA: Oh, man, so many stories. Some say that he was the meanest guy in the world. But he always, always showed me the greatest respect in the world. And I've always said that. I mean respect, man, no harsh words. I have actually heard him say, during the course of some gigs, tell certain people things, "Motherfucker, get with it, and if you haven't got your stuff together that could destroy you.

But he was always good to me, even up to the last. I think the last time that I actually spoke to him was during the Amandla session. That always meant a lot to me. One time I made a mistake. He called me down to his room and I'm nervous and I made the mistake of asking him if he liked how I sounded [laughs]... Am I doing okay, Miles? And his reply was, "I didn't say nothin', did I? [laughs] If he doesn't say nothin' to you everything is okay!

AAJ: But you never know, people are different.

DA: People are different and I learned a good lesson from that. It's good to praise your sound good. But this is Miles Davis, you know what I mean? The way that you can mistake his personality, I'll give you an example, to make you think he was another type of guy. My first gig with him was at the Beacon Theater. Richard Pryor was also on the gig, too.

My first gig with Miles Davis, c'mon man, you're not nervous? [laughs] Yeah, you're thinking something is wrong. And the thing that is funny about this is I was watching this movie Collateral, with Tom Cruise, and they actually go visit this horn player that he eventually shot and he relates this story like this, what I'm gonna tell you, to Tom Cruise.

AAJ: To see if he gets he details right, I remember that scene.

DA: Yeah, yeah, and he relates this story and I was taken aback a little bit about this story and I wonder where he got that story, because I'm sure there may have been some instances of this happening again in the course of Miles' life. Anyway, I'm nervous—and in the story in Collateral I think this guy and his wife or girlfriend had come up to Miles—so I go over to the side at the Beacon Theater to get my shit together.

I got to think about this, you know? And oh my God, lo and behold here comes Miles. And he comes and he sits down right next to me and, hey, I don't know what the hell to do. This guy comes over and he's dressed very, very nicely and he had a hat on and a tie and I don't know, maybe he wanted an interview. So he comes over to Miles and starts to say, "Hey Miles, I would like to... And again, before he got the words out of his mouth, Miles told him to "Get the fuck out of my face. Of course the guy was devastated, but then if you don't know Miles and you hear this kind of thing coming from him, you're like, "This is the nastiest cat in the world. And I'm sitting there and I said, "Hey, Miles, man, that was kinda rough, because regardless of what, I'm not gonna back down. I got balls. I'm gonna say something.

And he said, "Shit, man, I'm trying to get my shit together. That's exactly what he said. So I also learned that here's the great Miles Davis trying to get a moment to himself to try to prepare himself for playing. Of course he may have done that because I have seen him really rail on women. So many stories about Miles. Great stories, too. Now in Miles' book, a lot of people come to me and say, "Hey, I didn't see your name in the book, and I'm like, "What the fuck is goin' on? It's weird, you know? I was with this guy for almost two years and so I confronted him, "Miles, man, what's up? I'm not in your book. His actual reply was, "Don, I was so high during those days that there's a lot of stuff that just went by. And he apologized to me!

AAJ: He was saying he was high when the book was created or you were playing together?

DA: No, when we were playing together. I'm not telling you nothing new. There was heroin and in later years coke and stuff. I don't need to go over that.

Don AliasAAJ: What about when you moved on and started working with Joni Mitchell?

DA: Oh yeah, and then there was the time that I took Joni by Miles' house. Oh! [laughs] That's another story. With Joni, I'm in California. Miles at this time had gone to live in this villa with Juliette Greco; famous French actress. So anyway, I've got two kids and I can't afford to do this shit, so I went and I got a call from Lou Rawls. And Lou Rawls was big time in that field, Las Vegas, MGM Grand, that circuit. And I got to make some money.

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