Much is made of Bob Dylan plugging in an electric guitar at 1965’s Newport Folk Festival. Less tends to said of either the ensuing folk-rock – young, post-Beatles groups like the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield who merged folk’s lyrical aesthetic and harmonies with rock production – or the ensuing electrified folk of an earlier generation like Judy Collins or Richard & Mimi Fariña who experimented, maybe more uneasily, with electrified instrumentation.
Perhaps because folk-gone-psychedelic was, after Newport, less of a statement than folk-gone-electric – just more water under the bridge to the purist factions of ‘60s folk music. Perhaps because the commercial viability of psychedelia-tinged folk was only transitory. Either way, very little is said of the phenomenon of singer-songwriters, duos, trios, groups not only gone electric but gone psychedelic, folk musicians who imbued chiming 12-string guitars and pretty harmonies with mysticism, back-to-the-country beneficence and Eastern-tinged instrumentation.
The Byrds, the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead – all groups with folk pedigrees – famously did so, and even “authentic” folkies like Fred Neil and Hearts & Flowers plugged in and turned on, albeit more at their producers’ behest. It was a diffuse, ephemeral phenomenon, though, and with the arrival of the ‘70s and the fragmentation of the previous decade’s counterculture, psychedelicized folk would be subsumed – along with psychedelia in general – by a wave of boogie-rock, confessional singer-songwriters and cocaine country.
But some proclivities – the deeply felt impulse for creative self-expression and the spiritual liberation of running around naked, stoned out of your mind – never quite lie dormant. Psychedelic-folk would fall from favor, certainly, but it never completely disappeared. It’d just retreated underground. From the late ‘60s onwards into the ‘80s, introspective, psychedelic records pressed in impossibly tiny quantities would continue to be produced by musicians like Michael Angelo, Linda Perhacs, Maitreya Kali and Bobb Trimble, latter-day folkies with cult followings in inverse proportion to their obscurity.
This week’s selections fall somewhere along that continuum, a chronology of psychedelic-folk from its flower power commercial peak to its subsequent home in the hinterlands of “outsider” vanity pressings, shrinking market be damned.
1. The Pre-Cambrian Lightning Bolt, Hey There Sunshine (NWI)
Though not quite the powerhouse rock ‘n’ roll region that it’d been five years previously, the Pacific Northwest’s scene was still fairly vibrant in the late ‘60s. Many of its original bands had dissolved, recasting themselves, true to the time, with longer songs, longer hair, bigger amplifiers and psychedelicized hippie-rock garb. Portland-based Douglas A. Snider, the drummer, vocalist and songwriter of “Hey There Sunshine,” would go on from the Pre-Cambrian Lightning Bolt to form Douglas Fir, a loosely psychedelic blues group; their sole 1970 full-length offering, Hard Heartsingin’, would embody the Pacific Northwest sound.
Much less is known of the Pre-Cambrian Lightning Bolt, however. They were not simply some one-off studio concoction with a baroque psychedelic name invented for the occasion: a 1967 poster reveal that the Pre-Cambrian Lightning Bolt were a real band, with real live shows. They played Portland’s storied Crystal Ballroom, and there’s nothing to indicate they weren’t a popular live draw. Then again, there’s nothing about the wonderfully strange “Hey There Sunshine” to indicate how exactly they could’ve been a popular live draw, either.
Either way, “Hey There Sunshine” and its flipside – a cover of Bonnie Dobson’s hoary “Morning Dew” – are hardly the stuff of ear-bleeding Northwest psychedelic rock. Snider is a bit reminiscent of folk eccentric Fred Neil, and the group sounds like unreconstituted folkies having the old college try at psychedelia and succeeding, at least, with an echo-bathed anomaly.
This was recorded in 1968, I’d guess.
2. Creme Soda, Roses All Around (Trinity)
A foursome hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Creme Soda consisted of Art Hicks (drums, vocals), Ron Juntunen (lead guitar), Bill Tanon (guitar, vocals) and Jim Wilson (bass, vocals).
Their “Roses All Around” 45 was taken from Creme Soda’s sole album Tricky Zingers, released on the tiny Trinity record label. The sensibilities of Tricky Zingers are a dead ringer for the gentler side of ‘60s pop and psychedelic-folk, though tracks like “(I’m) Chewin’ Gum” conjure trashy ‘70s-era punk as well. It’s truly an excellent album, stylistically everywhere. Everywhere but the year 1975, the year when, against all probability, it was actually recorded. A quick glance at the Tricky Zingers album cover gives them away: if you can’t judge a book by its cover, then facial hair.
Creme Soda did get some notice amongst underground rock cognoscenti – power-pop and ‘60s garage-rock champion and Bomp! magazine (and record label) founder Greg Shaw wrote the album’s liner notes – but their low fidelity and general obsolescence only increase their charm. “Roses All Around” – all of Tricky Zingers, for that matter – was a defiantly unfashionable statement in years of bar band rock ‘n’ roll and outlaw country. Too unfashionable, perhaps – Creme Soda were no more not long thereafter, though guitarist Bill Tanon would release a 1982 LP, Free Man’s Rainbow, also on Trinity Records.
3. The Friends of Mind, Not Much Lovin’ (Insounds)
The Friends of Mind? The group – including its songwriter Ken Tumlin – seem to have come and gone with nary a trac
The only salvageable connection here is arranger Bill Cheatwood, presumably the same Bill Cheatwood who was a founding member of the Wayfarers Trio, an Oklahoma City folk trio that released a Civil War-themed album – Songs of the Blue and the Grey – for Mercury Records in 1961. The trio also included guitarist Mason Williams (whose 1968 instrumental “Classical Gas” later topped the charts), and Cheatwood would wind up hanging out again with Williams, by then a hot commodity, in late ‘60s Los Angeles. Where, if I may bring all of this supposition full circle, Cheatwood had a hand in releasing this fascinating duet. “Not Much Lovin’” is the Friends of Mind’s plaint of this dog-eat-dog society of ours; a bum trip atmosphere and some very odd analog guitar effects are put to good use conjuring that same dog-eat-dog society. The Friends of Mind would never be heard from again.
Insounds Records was the tinier subsidiary of the tiny Los Angeles-based Accent Records label, home to some other excellent and obscure psychedelic and garage-band 45s by the Rob Roys, the Human Expression, the Peace Pipe and the Silk Winged Alliance.