unzip pass: tdats
TDATS 85 is inspired by a book, written by Ra'anan Chelled who lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. 'Demons Fairies & Wailin Guitars: The best 100 obscured rock acts 1968-1976' is a compendium of 100 of his favourite lesser-known acts from the 60s and 70s, that he has translated from his original Hebrew version. If you are interested further after reading this post, Ra'anan can be contacted directly via facebook to order the paperback. He also has e-reader versions on Amazon and a website: www.demonsfairies.com.
The tracks I have used in this volume are from 15 bands that I have not used before and was not familiar with until reading about them in the book, so it's been a great digging session for me that has resulted in a nice fresh batch of killer tunes for you guys! There are a few publications available now that cover a lot of the artists that he does, but what sets this book apart is the amount of detail he has gone into for each act. Clearly a labour of love, he often lucidly describes a record song-by-song, and uncovers previously unknown facts, acquired by Ra'anan himself directly from the artists or people closely connected. A lot of the new information comes from exclusive interviews, which many of the articles end with, and they are all well-decorated with colour photos of LPs and artists.
|Book Front Cover|
I fired Ra'anan a few questions recently, so let's hear the rest from the man himself :-
Q1. Can you tell us some of the major events and influences in your life that lead you to write this book?
Then, in the early 2000's I've stumbled somewhere online (I think it was on the late, great StonerRock.com) upon a poll of "the best obscure Classic Rock albums". I decided to give a chance to one of the albums on that poll - Leaf Hound's Growers of Mushroom. It... blew my mind. I thought to myself: "If something THIS good escaped the ears of the masses, what else is out there?". And I was soon the discover that there is plenty.
In 2003 or 2004 I wrote a piece for my university weekly titled ‘The Best Bands You've Never Heard About’, which got some good feedback. So from then on I occasionally wrote about another obscure band for the paper, never coming short with a new one, till finally it hit me that it's a pretty rad idea for a book."
Q2. How did you choose this particular 100 artists? Did you suffer much indecisiveness while trying to reduce it down to that number?
"First I had to determine what is considered obscure enough to be in the book. Is Ten Years After considered obscure enough for instance? So I made a little poll among my Rock loving friends. You'd notice that there are several bands in the book which are not really obscure like Hawkwind, MC5, Wishbone Ash and several more. These bands, while obviously can't be lumped together in obscurity level with bands like Zerfas or Orang Utan, are still almost completely unknown for the average Rock fan, who rarely stray from the shallow waters. So these were the easy picks. After that I had to decide among the truly obscure acts. During "the research phase" for the book I listened to over 1000 bands and assessed their material. I had a strict criteria: Originality, quality of material and its execution and the ratio between good to mediocre/poor songs in an album. That's not to say that I haven't had countless changes of heart and mind, and I continually discovered new stuff too. I probably wrote entries to 150 bands and toyed with them till I found a 100 list that I felt comfortable with.
That was not the end though. 5 years separate between the old Hebrew version which was published in 2007 to the new English version (which is superior in every way), and I changed about dozen bands for the new one. So I guess the struggle never ends..."
Q3. What can you tell us about the reaction of friends, and the public, to the book so far?
"The book has gotten very favoring reviews thus far which pleases me to no end. Check out this review on the Paranoid Hitsophrenic blog Made me blush.
Friends and people who already swim the waters of obscure Rock, among them some great contemporary musicians, also gave their collective thumb up. This means a lot to me, as I really value their opinion. Not to say the book doesn't have its minor flaws. I translated and edited it myself, so there must be a few grammatical errors and clunky phrases here and there. I don't think it harms the book too much though, as quite a few people who bought a copy enjoyed it so much that they bought more copies to give as gifts."
Q4. Was it hard to reach the point of having the finished book in your hands? What useful advice could you offer other rock fanatics who may be considering writing a book of their own?
"Oh man, writing a book is hard. I now have all the more respect for people who do that. It's very time and resources consuming, especially when you opt for the do it yourself path like I have. But then again, when they put that first copy out from the pressers in your hands, still warm, it makes it all the more worth while.
the most useful piece of advice I could give is probably that writing a book isn't something you do an hour here and there. You need to set yourself a real frame of work each day to keep a good momentum going. When I wrote the Hebrew version I was able to put in about 6 hours a day and I finished writing it within a year. The English version however, despite having most of the material already written, took about 3 years to finish, due to regular day job time constraints and you know, life..."
Q5. Do you have any further plans regarding your love of lesser-known rock music; any more books or other types of project in mind?
"I have been toying with the idea of putting together a book about the best lesser known Prog Rock albums. Since Prog is such a huge sub genre, it easily could have taken a much too big chunk of my book, so I had to give it somewhat of a back seat and concentrated on mostly guitar oriented Prog. But there is so much more great lesser known Prog out there which deserves to be recognized. I mean, the Italian Prog alone can yield at least 25 amazing albums."
Q6. Can you tell us something about being a psychedelic rock fan in Israel? Is there much opportunity to see old bands or old-style bands? And are there any bars or record shops etc that would be good to check out for anyone who finds themselves in Tel Aviv?
"There's a small community of Psych fans in Israel, but Prog is a more popular genre here as far as a niche goes. However, old classic Rock is quite big in Israel and bands like Pink Floyd, The Doors and Led Zeppelin are still huge in here even in this day and age.
There was great record store here dedicated to 60's-70's Rock called "A Little Different" which was the local haven for Psych heads, but unfortunately it closed down about a year ago. "The third Ear" is also a good place to score CD's and Vinyl of 60's-70's goodness.
We don't get many old bands coming our way but some of them do venture here occasionally. Jethro Tull, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep to name a few."
Following now is the track list and information on the 15 artists I used, the text is all taken directly from Ra'anan's book, in a very abridged form. I have tried to keep some salient points, and included a couple of small quotes from interviews where there was space.
01. Ladies W.C. - Searching for a Meeting Place (1970)
from album 'ladies w.c.'
02. Rodriguez - Only Good for Conversation (1970)
from album 'cold fact'
03. D.R. Hooker - I'm Leaving You (1972)
from album 'the truth'
04. The Plastic Cloud - Shadows of Your Mind (1968)
from album 'the plastic cloud'
05. Cressida - Mental State (1969)
from album 'trapped in time: the lost tapes'
06. Gandalf - Never Too Far (1969)
from album 'gandalf'
07. J. Rider - Sunday's Hero (1979)
from album 'no longer anonymous'
08. Fraser & DeBolt - Old Man on the Corner (1970)
from album 'fraser & debolt'
09. Morgen - Welcome to the Void (1969)
from album 'morgen'
10. La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata - Still Don't (Not Yet) (1971)
from album 'la revolución de emiliano zapata'
11. The Wizards from Kansas - Freedom Speech (1970)
from album 'the wizards of kansas'
12. Almendra - Aire De Amor (1970)
from album 'almendra ii'
13. The United States Of America - Hard Coming Love (1968)
from album 'the united states of america'
14. The C.A. Quintet - Underground Music (1968)
from album 'trip thru hell'
15. Tomorrow - Revolution (1968)
from album 'tomorrow'
The opening track "People" sets the tone for the rest of the album, being dominated by Casta's fierce Fuzz guitar, one which we will be able to hear even more fiercely in "And Everywhere I See the Shadow of that Life". Wah Wah is also aplenty and Hendrix fans will be getting their groove on with "Searching for a Meeting Place" which keeps a psychedelic atmosphere despite having a slightly heavier sound. "I can't See Straight" is a Garage Rock with great dual guitars Acid solo while "To Walk on Water" and "The Time of Hope is Gone" slow the pace down for some quieter moments with delicate vocal harmonies. The obligatory bluesy tracks, "Heaven's Comin' Up" and the instrumental "W.C. Blues", add harmonica and create psychedelic Blues-Rock not entirely different and definitely on par with what was played in the UK and the northern America. Between tracks the band threw in sound effects like toilet flushing (which obviously is justified here given the name of the band), sea waves, sirens, crying babies, screeching breaks, cars crashing and more. All the songs are sung in English.
Unfortunately for Ladies W.C., Scott had a mistress band located in South Carolina which he played with – Speed Limit 35. He had to choose wether to stay with his Venezuelan compadres in a country which was literally impossible to break out in playing such an underground music, despite having a fantastic album under their belt, or to try his luck with his American band, which at least on paper, had more chance of making it. Scott chose to head up north of the border, thus immediately eliminating Ladies W.C..
There follows an interview with Walter Stephen Scott in the book, here is a small part:
Why did you call the band Ladies W.C.? "We did not know what to call ourselves. In a restaurant one day, we saw a sign on a door that said "Ladies WC". As I did not understand what that meant, I was told it meant "Ladies Bathroom". So, it was simple enoungh to name our band "Ladies WC". It was an odd name, did not represent anything to us; just an odd name; something that "stood out" if you will."
Who wrote the material for the album and how much time did you work on it as a band? "Adib and I got together one day at his home and he showed me some songs he had been working on - just the music - no words yet. Well, he asked me to write the words to the musical ideas he had and the task was done; I was the "poet" behind the lyrics. There were two exceptions: one had been written by App Wiltsee from Homer and the Dont's days which was "I Can't See Straight" and one was written by me. We presented the music to Mario and Jaime and presto!!"
Did you have much time practicing it? "We really took no time practicing them - we were tight already as a group and the new music was easy for us to learn."
Did you perform a lot? "We performed quite a bit. Understand that the days we played in were very turbulent, what with the psychedelic movement, Vietnam War, Integration and other factors of general rebellion of our generation. I still don't know how we got away with it, but we did "get away with it". Listening to parts of the songs now, we were very fortunate not to be put to silence for the music and lyrics.
What did you think about the Venezuelan rock scene of those days? Was there any?
The times we played in produced quite a few rock bands in Venezuaela actually, be they blues oriented, psychedelic, etc."
In the early Seventies this Rodrigues character, who no one seemed to know where he is or where he came from, issued two magnificent albums and suddenly seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. This mysterious disappearance supplemented him with a mythical dimension and upgraded him from a talented singer/songwriter to a genius/mad-man status. This evanescence circulated different rumors, among them the obvious premature death by overdose or suicide (one version even claims he had set himself on fire on stage!), not such a groundless act if you take account of his sorrowful songs he wrote. The story I've heard, which was accepted by many, especially in South Africa, was that Rodriguez got fed up with the empty urban life he led till then and fled to the jungles, to lead there a simpler life in total solitude.
For years, each of these speculations were considered to be indisputable truth, depends on who you had asked, until in 1997 a devoted Rodriguez fan from South African Cape Town decided to take upon himself the national mission of finding out what did happen to the man. After pulling many strings and using private detectives Rodriguez was eventually located… (drum roll). The book continues the story…
"The Truth" was recorded in Dynamic Recording studios in New Haven, Connecticut with the help of session men. Out of two hours of live recorded material, Hooker edited and cut it down to 40 minutes of brain melting Psychedelia. The album, which Hooker dedicated to his mother, was issued in a private pressing in 1972 in limited copies which were mainly designated to be handed to his friends and family.
It's difficult to label his album as Psychedelic in the classic sense of the word but it has unmistakable psychedelic quality to it, perhaps even a bit Progressive one, as Hooker approaches the material with a Lounge-like reverence. The album starts with sounds of waves crashing down and fog horns. Soon enough a furious synthesizer creeps up into the mix, finally bursts into the song "The Sea" – one of the most impressive openings to an album which leads to an amazing song talking about Hooker's longing to the sea and featuring some exceptionally trippy guitar.
While almost nothing was known about D.R. Hooker, it has become to my attention that he unexpectedly had died on January 2009 age 60. In the last 30 years he worked in the information technology industry, most recently at IBM.
While I was too late to interview Mr. Hooker, I was able to locate Carroll Yanni and Bob (Robert) Reardon from the line up who recorded "Armageddon" and interview them. Both shed some light on the band, the music and the man himself – D.R. Hooker. [There follows an extensive interview in Ra’anan’s book.]
|The Plastic Cloud|
Musically, "The Plastic Cloud" draws inspiration from almost every psychedelic outfit that existed back then, starting from The Beatles and ending with the San Francisco dwellers. Lyrically, it is a combination of Hippie texts and Tolkien's mythology, which is sung in splendid vocal harmonies. Polished production, a spacy Fuzz guitar that accompanies roughly 90% of the album and courageous use of psychedelic effects turns the listening to a real experience. All the tracks were written by Don Brewer and all are exquisite bar none. "Art's a Happy Man" is the most poppish, while the following 10 minutes long "You Don't Care" provides a relentless Fuzz guitar. "Face Behind the Sun", despite the other tracks being top quality, is still in a whole other level and combines terrific vocal harmonies with super catchy guitar – a huge potential hit retroactively. "Epistle to Paradise", Bridge under the Sky", Civilazation Machine" – all great, all worthy of high praise.
Unfortunately, Canada of 1968 was still not ready for this kind of music, and with the lack of support from the radio and their small record label, The Plastic Cloud had to settle for this one only album and vanished into total obscurity. Their sole album is the crowning glory of Canadian Psychedelia in rarity as well and is worth no less than $1000. American Dollars, not Canadian.
They began recording their eponymous album for Vertigo at the state of the art Wessex Studios in Highbury and started performing at regarded places such as The Speakeasy and The Marquee Club, where at one of their performances they received an initiation to play in a festival in Czechoslovakia, then part of the Soviet Bloc which was mostly closed to the West. That invitation was met with some skepticism, but law and behold, a month later Cressida topped a music festival in Bratislava, with the rest of the bands being from Eastern Europe. They were paid in Czech currency, which was worth close to nothing and they had to spend it all in special stores designated only for foreign visitors!
The band then returned to England and completed recording their debut, which was released on Friday the 13th February 70, a bit overshadowed by two other debut albums Vertigo had issued that day: Rod Stewart's and Black Sabbath's. "Cressida" is a laid back album, somewhat bi-polar (melancholic yet still somehow happy), which borrows from almost every genre available and dominated by the inventive keyboards work of Jennings and the intricate technical drumming by Clark. The unassuming warm vocals by Cullen and the vocal harmonies fit the music perfectly and the guitar is tastefully used. Surprisingly enough, most songs don't obey Prog fashion and clock around only 3-4 concise minutes.
Peter Sando elaborates on the reasons behind the album's delay: "Our producers, Koppelman and Rubin, signed our band and planned to release our LP on their newly formed 'Hot Biscuit Disc Company' label which was distributed through Capitol. As we were finishing our recording, their deal with Capitol fell apart. Gandalf was put on hold, and in the interim, the band lost faith and also dissolved. Subsequently, K&R & Capitol agreed that two more LP's would be released on the Capitol label, and Gandalf was one of them. When I got the word that our LP would be released on Capitol, for a moment I had visions of an opportunity, but Gandalf got lost in the maze of new underground artists being released in 1969 and the timing just wasn't right". 'Gandalf' is a lethargic psychedelic album, dreamy yet somewhat dark, which combines Pop elements and Baroque tones, as you would expect from an album recorded at that time. Most of it consists of cover versions and it has only two original tracks which were written by Sando. Both of those tracks are the best of the album, and especially "Can You travel in the dark Alone", which its rare quality simply begs us to wonder why did the band settle for so many covers when they had such a great original material in their hands?
To this exact question Sando replies: "At that time we were mainly a New Jersey bar/cover band, but playing at the Night Owl Café in Greenwich Village really opened up my mind to songwriting. I was always tuned in to the 3 minute song experience, that is, being taken to another time and place in a song, no matter where you are or what you are doing. But working alongside such writers as James Taylor (The Flying Machine), Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon (The Magicians) and all the other great Night Owl bands that played mainly original songs, gave me the confidence to write my own songs. I had dabbled in songwriting before that, but now I wanted to write an album. Unfortunately, our chance at recording came before I had time to dream my dream and I only had two songs ready that I felt were good enough to include on the Gandalf album."
|J. Rider - 'No Longer Anonymous'|
The tale begins with Matelic and Medvescek who played together in a garage band called Sir Winston and the Commons when they were both in Indianapolis Northwest high school. The two continued playing together in several ensembles, one of which, Cock Robin, even recorded a number of songs but unfortunately those were lost. Jim Spencer, Matelic's childhood friend who used to write songs with him in the past, offered him to record an album on his tiny yet incredibly ironic and humorously named label "A Major Label". Matelic asked his friends to help him record the album and they were more than happy to oblige. The group rehearsed the songs for several weeks and then went for a one August 1975 weekend to Milwaukee.
Their first album "Inside the Shadow" sounds like a "Rumours" era Fleetwood Mac is singing on top of music co-written by Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds with an offhand touch of Beatles. Matelic and Rollings' harmonies sound so natural and complete each other wonderfully as if it was in fact one person with two voices, echoing from the deepest layers of the soul.
The group started rehearsing for the possibility of doing some live dates. A new guitarist named Justin Garriot joined the group, which was now going by the moniker J. Rider, named after the song from "Inside the Shadow". The band did perform a few times in their region but had trouble finding a spot where they could play original material, and thus, began to play more and more covers just so they could even get gigs. J. Rider were reduced to a three-piece, its members entered a recording studio to record demos financed by a friend named Norm Welch for the purpose of interesting major record companies. Nothing was done with those demos back then, but they were released in 1996 under the title "No Longer Anonymous", and let me tell you that these demos' quality don't fall much shorter than that of the songs in "Inside the Shadows". These are absolutely mandatory for the fans of Anonymous' album. The recording, despite being only a demo, is much better sounding and professional than that of "Inside the Shadow".
|Daisy Debolt Allan Fraser|
For their first staggering album they were joined by a violinist named Ian Guenther. All of the material was written by Debolt, but the collaboration of the three is no less than brilliant, whereas we're actually not talking here about a perfectly done collaboration but exactly the opposite. What makes this album so grand is in fact its very humane imperfections, imperfections which cannot be planned ahead or later recreated, but are a one-time display of ravishing humanity: starting from the slightly out of tune violin, through every miss in the going in for a vocal harmony and ending with every grating guitar chord – all of it creates a moving and unique musical performance. This is the perfection within the imperfection. With the exception of one, all the tracks in the album are backed by two acoustic guitars and violin only. The superb even if not perfect vocal harmonies are mainly thanks to the wonderful voice of Debolt, which reaches the highest of high tones and enriches this minimalism in an awe inspiring way.
This is Rock'n'Roll without bass and drums. A year had passed and Fraser and Debolt went to record their sophomore release, which was issued in 1973. As you might have expected, the new album was much more produced: not only that bass and drums were added, but a whole act named Pleasure now backed the duo, featuring keyboards and wind instruments. It was only logical that this would be the direction the couple go to, but the rich minimalism of the previous album was now lost, along with the enchanting songwriting and the accompanying vocal harmonies. This was the end of the duo. Allan Fraser remained in the music business and has worked as a solo artist, with several other people and even composed movie soundtracks. Daisy Debolt went on to a solo career as a Folk singer which stepped out of this book coverage boundaries and continuing even today.
Lyrically, don't expect mind altering philosophy or flower power preaching, as Morgen prefers to sing about sexual frustration and it seems as if he plays with his guitar pedals to compensate for that frustration. The album's cover, a black and white reproduction of Edvard Munch's "The Shriek", really challenges the colorfulness of the era's album covers. It also came with a poster featuring the lyrics.
Opener "Welcome to the Void" is a fantastic strident psychedelic gem while "Of Dreams" is probably the best track on the album, when for a change Morgen's singing, which for the most part is pretty mediocre, matches his saccharine Fuzz guitar and creates something that resembles the quality of the poppier sides of the British Psychedelia, especially those of early Pink Floyd. The quite lengthy "Beggin' Your Pardon (Miss Joan)" contributes the obligatory bluesy moments every album released at the time had to provide (but still through a completely psychedelic prism) while the excellent "Eternity in Between" and "Love" make it clear that Morgen was a big The Who fan. Some The Doors influence is also detectable from time to time.
"Morgen" was the sole album by the band formed by Morgen and nobody knows what had happened to any of the members after that. All that is left as a testimony to their work is this single album which sells for about $350.
The band's big break came while participating in a bands talent competition which was broadcasted on TV. The band won by a landslide and representatives from Mexico City record companies came rushing in to sign them, but the members refused the offers claiming they did not want to be told what kind of music to record, as it was usually done under the custody of the regime which was not an Anglo-American culture sympathizer. Eventually, Polydor sent someone who was able to coax them to sign a contract.
Their debut album, which sounds like it was freezed in San Francisco/Los Angeles/London of the late Sixties and then defrosted in the Mexican desert in 1971, was released several months after they signed the contract and is one of the best psychedelic albums to have been recorded in Latin America. The lengthy opener "Nasty Sex" sounds like a dirty version of Creedence Clearwater Revival and also features a Fuzz drenched jam. The single version of the song became the first Mexican song to ever chart on the American Billboard. "Melynda" serves as an exciting salute to the chilly British psychedelic scene, but a stupendous Acid guitar warms it up in the solo. "Si Tu Lo Quieres" ends side 1 with more fantastic Acid guitars and super sleazy bass line.
Five months after their debut hit the shelves the band performed in Avandaro Festival – the Mexican Woodstock. Even though contractually they were unable to perform there, they simply couldn't miss this enormous opportunity. The radio DJ who broadcast the event live, Felix Ruano Mendez, supplied the biggest compliment of them all: "From the moment Zapata took the stage, and the Mescaline started to affect me, I sat there with my jaw dropped and saw some amazing hallucinations. I've never heard such guitars before".
|The Wizards from Kansas|
The band were invited to perform in the Fillmore East in the fall of 1969, a performance that entailed a flood of offers from record companies, but the band rejected all of them at first. However, when the year came to an end, Mercury managed to persuade them to sign a contract and also convinced them to lose the "Pig Newton" schtick in fear of getting sued by Nabisco – the maker of the Fig Newtons. And so, in July and August '70 the group ventured to San Francisco to record their only album.
Though from Kansas, but "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore". "The Wizards from Kansas" is a true psychedelic gem which is quite hard to believe that indeed arrived from a Southern and musically dormant state like Kansas. Delicate features of Hard Rock and Country creeps in almost without noticing to this fine album, which is without a doubt influenced by the San Franciscan scene. Two outstanding covers are here – the folky/psychedelic "High Flying Bird" that opens the album with Crain's divine guitar and "Codine" which makes a great use of vocal harmonies and evolves into a psychedelic jam. Among the originals, "912 ½ Mass" which again practices and excels the free psychedelic jam and the splendid solo in the somewhat Country-like "Freedom Speech" are definite highlights. Other praise worthy moments are "Misty Mountainside" – a dark melancholic Folk which resembles Black Sabbath's brief quieter moments; "Country Dawn", which is spiced with sophisticated guitar and a piano that create here a could-have-been-a-huge-hit and "She Rides with Witches", which despite a standard drum solo manages to rise up to a very high level of quality.
The sorcerers from Kansas had a brilliant album under their belt, much better than a lot of albums by groups who actually breathed San Francisco's Acid soaked air on a regular basis, but one week before "The Wizards from Kansas" was due to be released, Caplan and Menadier suddenly decided that they'd rather play Jazz over Rock and left the band in order to pursue their dream. This was The Wizards from Kansas' end. In the lack of a band that'll support the album, Mercury didn't bother to promote it at all and it sank into oblivion. In order to salvage a copy from there, you'd have to cough up about $200.
|'Almendra II' LP|
Their big break came after they met Ricardo Kleiman, a producer and radio DJ who played popular music from around the world on his show "Modart en la Noche". It was Kleiman who financed the recording of the first They performed in a festival in Lima, and in the Pinap Festival which was organized by "Beat" magazine, a festival which is considered to be the first Rock festival ever in Argentina. In November 69 Almendra released their wonderful debut album. An interesting story accompanies the album's beautiful cover art painted by Spinetta: It seems that the record company didn't like the painting as an idea for the cover art and a few days after the painting was submitted to them, they claimed that it was lost and instead they would use a group photo for the upcoming album's cover. The band members didn't give up, looked for the painting everywhere and ultimately found it broken in a trash bin outside the record company offices. Spinetta pulled an all-nighter to restore the painting and on the next day took it to the record company. This time, they had no choice but to issue the album with the original cover art intended by the band.
After Almendra dissolved, Spinetta formed Pescado Rabioso and Invisible, two other great and highly regarded bands. Molinari formed Color Humano, it too is whole heartily recommended, while del Güercio and García formed Aquelarre, which is also, how unsurprising, excellent.
Deeply influenced and excited over what was happening in the west coast, Byrd left New York and took up a teaching assistant position in UCLA, but still found the time to study the history and psychology of music, acoustics and Indian music. Eventually, he left the college and decided to focus on music entirely. In order to record the psychedelic sounds he composed following his experience of 1967's "Summer of Love", he formed The United States of America, which included the talented singer Dorothy Moskowitz (his former girlfriend from New York), the radical political activist Michael Angello and bassist Stu Brotman. However, when the band entered the studios in December 67, Angello and Brotman already left and been replaced with Marron, Forbes and Woodson.
Their only and revolutionary album from 1968 is a showpiece of avant-garde Psychedelia, mostly radical and absolutely brain melting. This was one of the first attempts and most definitely one of the best to combine experimental electronic music with a Rock attitude, whereas the guitar is a less favored instrument here. The beauty of the lyrics is only matched by the sheer beauty of Moskowitz's voice.
Early on, it was designed that the cover will illustrate the US flag dripping with blood, but understandably Columbia decisively vetoed it. Despite the widespread support from music critics, "The United States of America" spent only couple of months in the lower regions of the charts (at its peak it reached the 181st place) and became a collectors item with mint copies fetching as much as $250. The band had difficulties performing the album's intricate songs live and some other problems on the road. In addition, tension was a constant between the band members and Byrd, which was somewhat of a control freak who tried to dictate the other musicians what to do.
In the end, when all the band members except Byrd and Moskowitz got arrested for Marijuana possession during a gig in Orange County, California, the two decided to turn to different places. Each of them popped up a year later in his/her own outfit. Byrd assembled a band called Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies that included 12 members, among them three female singers. This group recorded one album in 1969 which got the thumb down of both critics and consumers. Byrd didn't record music since then until 1975, when he issued a synthesizer solo album. He issued another synthesizer album in 1980 and since then he composed music for movies, television and commercials. Today he runs a hostel in north California and occasionally teaches music in the nearby college. Moskowitz got married and today teaches music to children.
2004 saw the release of a reissue to "The United States of America" that included 10 bonus tracks in addition to the original 10. These extra tracks are preliminary versions to the album's tracks, several tracks that didn't end up in the album and some that Byrd originally wrote for The United States of America, but due to its break up were ultimately used for the Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies' album.
|The C.A. Quintet|
"Trip Thru' Hell" is a slice of gloomy Psychedelia, a truly rare bird, teeming with talent and unique like no other. A truly one of a kind album!
When I asked what prompted him to write such a unique album, Ken Erwin, who turned out to be one of the humblest persons I've met, musicians or not, replied: "I’m sure we didn’t set out to write a 'unique album'… we just set out to write a good album. We didn’t really care if the end product will fit in any kind of 'template' or even the music was going to be a 'hit'. We hoped it would sell enough copies to keep us going in the Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North and South Dakota). I’m not sure where the inspiration came from to head in the direction we headed in the creation process.
We certainly didn’t attempt to copy anything or emulate anything/anyone else that was popular at the time. Oh, for sure we were influenced by the music that was happening at the time and the musicians... like Jimi Hendrix and so forth, but I think we knew that this was probably our one and only chance to make an album. We probably knew in our hearts that the odds of us 'making it big' were slim, so we figured … 'what the hell, let’s just create the best damn thing we can and move on'. We didn't even consider whether it was unique or no. The only inspiration for me (and I can’t speak for the others) was, and still is, the search for what the heck is going on here".
The recent reissue by Sundazed is the only one authorised by the band and includes the Stereo channels missing from the bootlegs. It also includes 12 bonus tracks to the original seven – almost all them recorded before "Trip Thru' Hell" and although very good, they understandably do not match its quality.
Howe, West and Wood played together in The in Crowd, and R&B outfit which issued two singles in the mid-Sixties. Twink, or in his real name – John Alder, previously played in The Fairies, another R&B outfit. In 1965 he joined the three others and in 1967, after adopting the Twink moniker, the group changed their name to Tomorrow.
The band began playing regularly on the legendary UFO club and often shared bills with Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, and despite the glittering names who performed there regularly, club owner Joe Boyd later argued that Tomorrow were the best band ever to perform there. In 1967 the band issued two singles, but neither of them managed to break into the market. The record company gave them a complete vote of confidence despite the singles failure and Tomorrow, still full of hope, entered Abbey Road studios to record their full length, exactly at the same time when The Beatles were recording at the very next room "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".
Their self titled album was released in early 1968 to rave reviews and for a good reason. While the vocals are definitely not its strongest point, the rhythm section is excellent and resembles in quality that of early The Who. The songs vary from very good to simply amazing. Despite the favoring reviews and the massive support they received from legendary DJ John Peel, the album did not fare well. Today, its Stereo version (the American with the colorful writing) is worth about $150 while the British press (the black & white which was Mono) can fetch as much as $800.
Parallell to their work in Tomorrow, each of the band members also had an outside musical affair. West worked with the German composer and producer Mark Wirtz on a "Teenage Opera" which was never completed, but two tracks out of it, "Excerpt from a Teenage Opera (Grocer Jack)" and "Sam", entered the charts (the first one peaked at the second place!). The legend says that Pete Townsend from The Who was so impressed with these tracks that he decided to make a Rock Opera of his own – "Tommy". Years later, West admitted that the whole project was just a publicity stunt though.
Twink later formed The Aquarian Age which was active for a very short time and then joined The Pretty Things for the recording of their stellar Rock Opera "S.F. Sorrow", which too has inspired Townsend. In 1969 he left them behind as well and went on to form the Pink Fairies, which too couldn't keep him interested as he left in 1971. In the in between he recorded a highly recommended psychedelic album titled "Think Pink" with the generous help of Steve "Peregrin" Took and several other musicians from the Deviants. In 1972 he formed a group called Stars with Syd Barrett, but during one show in the Corn Exchange, this after already having performed successfully several times in Cambridge, Barrett left the stage mid-show in a typical hallucinatory confusion. The reviews slew the new band and Syd refused to play again. This was Barrett's last performance ever and the band obviously dissolved. After this fiasco, drugs and alcohol problems plus a marriage in 1974 kept Twink away from the music world until 1977.
Many Thanks to Ra'anan, and I hope this was a good trip! Rich