Monthly Archives: February 2007

Psychsploitation

Three Kandy-Kolored Klassics from the golden age of the psychedelic exploitation cash-in. Psychedelia was in full, gaudy blossom in 1967, and Los Angeles, entertainment engine of the solar system, was right there to capitalize. These particular instrumentals weren’t made for movie soundtracks, but they could have been; any of them would have made comfortable additions to fare like The Acid Eaters or The Love-Ins and those moments when you needed a panning shot of longhairs frugging on the Strip and some stern narrator intoning about bad trips and The Scene.

While Los Angeles may have been pop culture ground zero, there just wasn’t much commercial precedent for psychedelic instrumentals in the late ‘60s. Perhaps their existence owes more to the fact that a 45 rpm release was a low overhead investment in 1967, and that there were reserves of session musicians ready to grind out this sort of thing on a moment’s notice.

I tend to go on and on about Los Angeles and the crass commercialism of the ‘60s; to describe my relationship with the history of pop culture opportunism as love/hate is misleading, though, as it’s mostly love.

1. Peter Pan & the Good Fairies, Kaleidoscope (Challenge)
There’s no oxygen in chilly, rarified reaches of the stratosphere, just the shimmering cosmos and harpsichords and fuzzboxes criss-crossing like satellites.

No guitars here, either. A a pure studio concoction, the futuristic “Kaleidoscope” was in reality the brainchild of Jim “Jimmy” Gordon, a session bassist who recorded a few other ‘60s instrumental freakouts on the Challenge label.

This gem was released in 1967.

2. The Electric Tomorrow, The Electric Tomorrow (World Pacific)
It’s almost too easy to poke fun at the florid excess of ‘60s psychedelic names. Still, it doesn’t get much better than “Electric Tomorrow.” Forecast for next week: Chocolate Whenever.

Co-writing credit here goes to Clem Floyd, a British guitarist who played with David Crosby in the early ‘60s as one half of Crosby & Floyd. Jack Millman, the producer, is perhaps better known as a jazz trumpet player; he mostly labored in anonymity as a capable Los Angeles jazz session musician in the ‘50s and ‘60s. How they wound up together for this for stroboscopic artifact is somewhat beyond me.  So much happened in the shared excitement of cashing in.

Either way, the addition of that funky electric piano was at Millman’s behest, I’d suspect. I suspect, too, that the queasy sound of “The Electric Tomorrow” is the “speed” knob on an early flange pedal turned up for maximum seizure-inducing effect.

The flip side of “The Electric Tomorrow,” by the way, is “Sugar Cube.”

3. The Relations, The Image (Reena)
A theme in search of a B movie, a post-“Out of Limits” instrumental for the Now Generation, “Image” is more from our friend Del Kacher, the Los Angeles inventor and guitar whiz (see Vox Wah Wah promo).

I imagine that there are other obsessive music fans out there with a favorite year when everything in music, if not popular culture, was golden. Mine would be the late 1960s.   If Del Kacher wanted to put out a record in 1967 with a riff he’d invented five minutes before recording, then, for better or for worse, I’ll want to own it, and sit down and write about it.

Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 9 Comments

The gospel glow

Gospel was, and still is, music of the Church. Its recordings are less systematically commercialized (and less anthologized) than music made for popular consumption. Which isn’t to say that there weren’t thousands upon thousands of gospel records made during the post-War reign of the powerhouse quartets – gospel’s so-called golden age. There were. To this very day, though, the recording of gospel still seems to be incidental to the experience of it.

I guess it makes some sense, then, that of the major strands of 20th Century African-American music, it’s gospel that’s the most underappreciated, and perhaps the least understood, at least by the music fans whose experience lies outside the tradition. I’m no different. Someone hands me a box of gospel records and the best I can do is sort of dumbly squint at the grooves and await intervention. My instincts for gospel music boil down to listening to Kevin Nutt’s great weekly survey Sinner’s Crossroads and that vaguely dissatisfying knowledge one gets from reading compilation liner notes.

There is a particular sound in gospel productions that I do gravitate to, however, a sound that was an unintentional part of sounding heavenly. As with this week’s selections, my tastes tend to run to the more, well, I’m not sure how to put it exactly. The more psychedelic side of gospel.


1.
Maggie Ingram with the Ingramettes, Melody of Love (Nashboro)
From 1964, the hypnotic “Melody of Love” sounds like nothing else I’ve heard. Otherworldly, if not downright heavenly, Ingram is sublime here. Her voice croons and yearns – mysterious vibrato pulses and the crescendos of the Ingramettes do the same to respond to her. Ingram might have just as easily stayed up there – unmoored in the aether – and simply floated away.

She didn’t, though. The Richmond, Virginia-based Ingram was, as of 2005, still performing. In addition to “Melody of Love” Maggie Ingram released seven other 45 rpm releases between 1962 and 1966 on Nashville’s fantastic Nashboro label. (Nashboro, founded in 1951, was surely the greatest and most prolific Southern gospel label in its day.)

Thanks to Robert Termorshuizen’s excellent Record Connexion (a Dutch website dedicated to post-War American gospel labels) for the discographical information.

2. Edna Gallmon Cooke, Lord When I Get Home (Nashboro)
“Madame” Edna Gallmon Cooke was born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1917. A gospel star in what was later her home city of Washington, D.C., Cooke recorded prolifically from the late ‘40s onward (for the Nashboro label, most notably) until claiming her reward in 1967.

On 1962’s “Lord When I Get Home,” Cooke uses her extraordinary voice to blur that line between gospel song and secular soul music (which gospel begat). You either go really fast or really slow to blur that line; it just depends on who’s doing the blurring, of course. Cooke’s would be the monumentally slow route.

A year later Mahalia Jackson would galvanize a crowd of hundreds of thousands assembled for the March on Washington with a permutation of this song known as “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned.” Edna Gallmon Cooke’s earlier version assumed a more earthly and intimate twist, however; her monologue (a Gallmon trademark, apparently) seems to be a premonitory rebuke to all would-be backstabbing friends and treacherous lovers.

Thanks again to the
Record Connexion, and to the mighty SC Gospel Quartets website for the Cooke mini-biography.

3.
Staple Singers, I Had a Dream (Vee Jay)
Chicago’s Staple Singers, directed by the Mississippi-born Roebuck “Pops” Staples, were a richly talented family of gospel and R&B; vocalists whose deep Southern aesthetic imbued even their later crossover hits of the 1970s. This was an aesthetic most profound in their earlier recordings, like this selection, 1958’s “I Had a Dream.” Judgment morning – here in the hands of Pops Staples’ rasping tremolo guitar and his unearthly harmonies with daughter Mavis – rarely sounded quite so psychedelic.

Posted in Gospel | 11 Comments

West Coast boogaloo

More this week on the Latin music scene of post-War California, a scene that I find endlessly fascinating and frustratingly undocumented.

Boogaloo was a mid-‘60s phenomenon original to New York City’s Spanish Harlem, a juiced-up mash of popular Latin dance styles like mambo and guajira, infused with R&B; and a bilingual Nuyorican identity. It was ephemeral, but as a style it attained a degree of national popularity beyond the Five Boroughs; Joe Cuba (“Bang Bang”) and Ray Barretto (“El Watusi”) sold hundreds of thousands of records.

The boogaloo’s popularity, in addition to its Latin roots and bilinguality, caught the attention of young musicians, Puerto Rican or otherwise, in Spanish-speaking communities beyond New York City, though. There are ‘60s boogaloo records from Miami. There are ’60s boogaloo records, albeit more infrequent, from Chicago, Albuquerque, Tucson and various cities in Texas, too. These were records made by local Latino groups who seized on the then-hip boogaloo, adding it to their live repertoires and stamping it in the process with a distinct musical and cultural pedigree. (The fairly rare boogaloos from the Southwest often have identifiable Tejano-sounding horn lines, for instance.)

Fed by the African- and Mexican-American communities of Los Angeles, as well as the loose-knit world of California Latin and Latin jazz, the boogaloo acquired its own polyglot tang after arriving on the West Coast. You could dance to it, but it was jazzy, too – and more relaxed than its hot-headed older brother from New York City. West Coast boogaloo was a profoundly Pacific creature.

1. Brown Sugar, Batakum (Mares)
That itchy-twitchy feeling in your toes. “Batakum” starts by beckoning us to the dance floor, thus observing one of the boogaloo’s guiding edicts.

Brown Sugar never quite unleash it all, however, the way their New York City counterparts might have done with their blaring trombone lines and crashing, percussive piano chords. Brown Sugar are Los Angeles instead. They’re air-conditioned. They’re Bob Barker. Unflappable, good with the ladies.

The tiny Mares label seems to have been a side project for the obscure Los Angeles-based pianist Vladimir Vassilieff – or someone fanatically devoted to his compositions. Both “Batakum” and the other record on Mares Records that I know of (Ray Medina and the New Latin Breed’s “Head’s Head”) are compositions by Vassilieff. Vassilieff was the Belgian-borne mastermind behind the Aquarians, who in turn released Jungle Grass, one of the definitive albums of ‘60s West Coast Latin jazz.

I’d guess “Batakum” was released around 1968. The group’s name and this selection’s flipside – the brown-eyed soul “In a Moment” – suggest that Brown Sugar hailed from the Mexican-American neighborhoods of East Los Angeles.

2. Hayward Lee and the Marauders, Oogaloo (The Scamm Sound)
“Oogaloo” follows the spirit of Latin boogaloo more than its letter. The basic vamping rhythm is there, but there’s no actual Latin percussion on this, no timbales or conga drums.

And, sure, it may have been rehearsed and recorded in two takes. Sure, it almost stalls under the weight of its own tastefulness. But “Oogaloo” was the B-side of the record, so give it a break. It makes sense, actually: the B-side was your wildcard, a place, say, to knock out your jazzy interpretation of some new Latin dance you’d heard across town. A place to channel your inner Spanish Harlem without losing that sense of West Coast composure.

The A-side of this record is a funky discotheque soul version of Billy Mayhew’s “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” with R&B singer Hayward Lee assuming a more direct role in the proceedings. This 45, released around 1967, was one of only a few records on Hollywood’s brief-lived Scamm Sound label.

3. Chuy Castro and His Orchestra, Swahili Baby (Baronet)
More unknown Los Angelinos, Chuy Castro and co. go native in their own way on “Swahili Baby.” Which is not an apology, just an explanation: contending with the boogaloo means contending with a novelty factor inherent to the era’s long lineage of disposable dance crazes and disposable lyrics.

It’s jazzy, and again there’s that vague sense of nonchalance. Of this week’s selections, though, “Swahili Baby” bears the most resemblance to the classic New York City boogaloo sound. Like Eddie Palmieri (“African Twist”), Orquesta Olivieri (“African Guajira”), Joey Pastrana (“Afro Azul”), or the Latinaires (“Afro-Shingaling”), Castro makes that hip connection between the boogaloo and Africa, too. Castro succeeds where his Nuyorican contemporaries don’t, however, with the rarest of all trifectas: a surfing reference. Helloooo, California.

“Swahili Baby” was likely recorded around ’65 or ’66. Baronet was a Los Angeles label known for its ‘60s R&B and soul releases.

Posted in Latin | 7 Comments

San Antonio

Thousands of garage bands flourished weed-like in mid-‘60s America, their thousands of 45 rpm records basically reflecting the homogeneity of suburbs which spawned them. There were vague regional variations in sound amongst the American garage bands, but such variations seemed to owe more to regional individuation amongst radio stations, music stores, record stores, venues, producers, and recording studios. Cultural differences amongst these regions, if they existed at all, seem pretty insignificant – at least as far any influence might’ve had on the garage band phenomenon itself.

The burgeoning post-War suburbs of San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas/Ft. Worth teemed with their own independent teen rock ‘n’ roll scenes in the ‘60s. No surprises there. Defying the standardizing logic of the suburbs, however, there did actually seem to be something to Texan garage bands that was more than just the sum of their logistical parts. As with this week’s selections from San Antonio, there was something about many of the Texas groups which favored elemental madness and raw energy and raw-ness over subtlety. While it wasn’t universal by any means, there is something indisputably Texan about these – something which was overdriven and which was drinking beer long before you or your older brother.

1. The Rightly Sew, Lights Brightly Shining (Alamo Audio)
They’d read about it in Life magazine, they’d watched the news exposes, and they wanted some of it, too. A way out of the Vietnam War – or a way out of the suburban lifestyle of their parents. Drugs or spiritual enlightenment, sex or free love. Some of it was standard adolescent lust masquerading as counterculture. Some of it was desire for something genuinely new. You name it, though, and there were rebellious kids from the suburbs who were looking for it in 1967.

The Rightly Sew seemed dead set on something new that year, their weird, nervous energy and weird, nervous chord progressions obviating the need for anything so conventional as a solo or catchy chorus. Whether the Rightly Sew ever successfully clanged their way to something new is anyone’s guess – they were never heard from again after “Lights Brightly Shining.”

This 45 is one of the more obscure on Alamo Audio, a San Antonio record label with a reputation for releases by the area’s wilder garage bands.

(Ed. note: Thanks to Dominic Welhouse for providing this 45 to Office Naps.)

2. The Bourbons, Of Old Approximately – A Time for a Change (Royal Family)
If one of the eternal motifs of 1960s garage bands was declaring war on female perfidy, then fuzztone guitar and weedy Farfisa organ was its unofficial soundtrack. The Bourbons charted exactly such territory with the raw “Of Old Approximately – A Time For a Change,” bolstering their ill-advised vows with an almost comical amount of self-assurance and attitude.

It’s success, of course, that’s the ultimate revenge. While I can’t vouch for the singer or whether he ever got the desired vindication, “Of Old Approximately…” is off the charts in terms of emotional wipeout. In terms of record sales, of course, it was probably a disaster.

From 1967, this was the one and only record by the Bourbons.

3. The Outcasts, 1523 Blair (Gallant)
Like the Rightly Sew, the Outcasts dispensed with some of the formal musical conventions that were the bread and butter of mid-1960s rock ‘n’ roll. They left the pop lyrics behind – they left all decipherable lyrics behind, actually – a move which may have struck some as brazenly futuristic and others as just frustrating. They had no time for catchy choruses. Guitar solo? Not really – it’s all happening so fast!

The Outcasts must be praised for their unorthodoxy, however – they were busy doing everything but inventing punk rock in 1967. The music on this selection is jarringly experimental, the spirit is possessed fervor. “1523 Blair” is one minute and forty seven seconds long because it couldn’t have possibly been any longer.

This was the fifth and last release from the Outcasts, a fantastic band who dominated the San Antonio teen scene of the mid-‘60s, and whose business card read “Music from the OUTER LIMITS.” At the time of this record, the Outcasts included Buddy Carson (keyboards, harmonica), Rickey Wright (drums), Galen Niles (guitar), Jim Carsten (guitar), and Jim Ryan (bass).

1523 Blair, incidentally, was the address of Texas producer Lelan Rogers’ recording studio in Houston, thus making this the second time in less than nine months for the
same Kenny Rogers reference.

Thanks to Jim Ryan and Denny Turner for their memories of the band, and for the amazing music.

Posted in Garage Bands | 12 Comments