• Meeting Little Richard at his old Hyatt haunt

    In the mid-nineties it was easy to get an acquaintance with Little Richard. All you had to do was haunt the bar at the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset where he lived and at one time or another you would find yourself talking to him over a drink…talking about how he discovered rock and roll or a new project…listening and watching a legend perform in front of you, as if you were at Carnegie Hall.

  • What a Transparent Day: A new musical compilation of psych nuggets is upon us

    When the original Nuggets collection came out in 1972 on Elektra Records….it was a BIG thing. Collecting some of the greatest garage and psych recordings from the 60s, the record took a period of music that was only, at most, seven years old and celebrated it as if it were straight from Tut's tomb (with a third eye hovering above) holding it up as a pantheon of one of recorded sound's greatest (drippiest?) evolutionary eras.

    Found within the grooves were not songs from the mega bands of the time, like the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, or The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but instead bands that emerged from the garage…bands with no-hits, regional hits and the occasional national hit. Bands with names like The Chocolate Watchband, The Blues Magoos and The Magic Mushrooms. Dig it, man? Bands that were making music that realized, musically and lyrically, the free, rebellious, acid visions that bled from the streets and the clubs of both the big cities and the small rural lands across America. Nuggets made the music accessible, influencing the tastes of the next generation of music freaks (and influencing musicians as well).

    With the success of Nuggets came more volumes. A box set. Another box set featuring European Nuggets. All releases killer. All presenting the drooling enthusiast with wonderful psychedelic sounds excavated from oblivion. And there were other great compilation series adding to the conversation: Pebbles (VOLUME 3!), Back From The Grave, Acid Visions, Psychedelic Pstones, anon. With each release, a feeling of amazement that there was still quality music to be mined from a relatively brief era.

    Flash forward to this past Summer….the 50th anniversary of the Summer Of Love. Celebrations of flower power everywhere and with them, a slew of music reissues and compilations. None of them very good, most mere embarrassing marketing ploys (the Monkees comp, which does not even include their psychedelic masterpiece Porpoise Song, needs to be avoided).

    Which makes it that much more amazing that the Summer saw the release of yet another volume of Nuggets, one that continues the genius of the past volumes. Transparent Days: West Coast Nuggets (Rhino Records) was compiled by friend and musicologist premier Alec Palao. It is hard to believe Palao pulled off what is another four sides of amazing nuggets from the 60s, many that have been completely lost in time. And in classic Nuggets fashion, it features both bands unknown and bands that have become celebrated over the years by the now-playing crowd.

    For this set, Palao plays archeologist with the Warner Brothers "family of catalogs" including Valiant Records, Reprise, Autumn, Elektra and York Records. He breaks his compilation up into four thematic sides: Folk Rock, Garage Punk, Pop-Psych, and Psychedelia, providing thoroughly researched liner notes that properly frame each side and each song. The comp comes in a strange-yet compelling gatefold package with a dada-esque cover, sleek clear vinyl and a pull-out Acid Test-inspired poster showcasing the editorial content.

    Like the best Nuggets releases, it is hard not to mention so many stand-out tracks. So let's take a few. The title track comes from the enigmatic ensemble The West Coast Pop Art Experimental band. It is a wistful groovy little number, opening the record by asking the listener "Tell me what to do. Tell me how high to go." OK—let's go really high. Let's go high with the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and their build-up groover "Time Is After You" where the beat-poetic driving chorus is followed by a mysterious sound…of someone taking a hit? No. no way….not here. But then the lyrics start blending into each other… things begin to change… maybe there is something to this wacky tabbacky they were espousing back then.

    There is the sing-song jingle-jangle of the Dover's "I Could Be Happy" and the also catchy "Bye Bye Bye" by the Tikis, featuring harmonies by Harper's Bizarre vocalist and future Van Halen producer Ted Templeman. The Association, one of the most well-known bands of the era present here, breaks its squeaky clean image with a dark, journeying number wonderfully titled "Pandora's Golden Heebie Jeebies": "And I will see the sparrow/That need no longer fly/And all that will be left for me to do/Is die." Yes, even popsters can ride a bummer.

    The Garage Punk side blasts off with the sizzle guitar driven you-really-got-me-now feel of "Make It Easy" by the Collectors followed by the For-Your-Love vibed "I'll Sell My Soul" by the Mohave Dessert's sun-warped Allies. Oh yeah. The side also features an instant garage rock classic, Art Guy's "Where You Gonna Go." Fuzz. Fuzz everywhere. Fuzz all over "She's My Baby" from The Mojo Men, fuzz taking hostage The Ballroom's cover of "Baby Please Don't Go," which ends in a cacophony of amped-up nonsense.

    Are you getting the picture? The compilation is filled to the brim.

    The psychedelic side is the e-ticket ride however, starting out with the driving "Come Alive" from the collector-scum-bag embraced "Things to Come." It is followed by The Glass House's haunted "House of Glass," driving rhythms and organ that reminds us that there is "No need to hide/in a house of glass/Love can be seen/ And it's such a gas." The Bonniwell Music Machine (really the same The Music Machine that had the hit with "Talk Talk") Captain Beefhearts its way through the barrage that is "The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly" followed by the Electric Prunes rarity "Shadows," in its original Mono splendor, featuring the growls of James Lowe and the heavy electric guitar sounds of Ken Williams, together defining the band and in some ways the sound of whole era. The instrumental liquidation of The Ceyleib People's Changes paves the way for the often forgot fragile epic "Your Mind and We Belong Together" from Los Angeles' favorite sons Love, finishing the side and the comp.

    There is no denying that this Nuggets is very much like the final Game Of Thrones novel that we did not even know to look forward to. It is thoroughly satisfying. And while we live in an age where musicologists rule and new lost collections of bygone day recordings are commonplace in the racks of your local record store, there is something extra special about a new Nuggets compilation, one that courageously continues the mind bending tradition, started so many years ago, of saluting the lysergic laminations of a tripping period of time that was like no other.

    Transparent Days: West Coast Nuggets (Amazon)

  • Old-timey mass evangelism and the phonograph

    The Grammy nominations were announced today and along with Beyonce, Drake, Adele, and Kanye there was a nomination that went to music recorded by Ira D. Sankey, Winfield Weeden, Silas Leachman and the Rittersville Singing Club. No, those are not artists from today… In fact, those performers lived 125 years ago and their recordings have been newly compiled by a husband/wife team dedicated to bringing back to life the music of the post-Industrial Revolution 19th century.

    Richard Martin and Meagan Hennessey have one collective dream, and that is to preserve, expose and celebrate the earliest eras of recorded sounds for new generations of listeners. Their label Archeophone Records has produced dozens of releases showcasing music created even before electricity got in the way. These are acoustic recordings created when the music industry was still "cutting wax" and "the business" was in its infancy. John Phillips Souza's marches were chart toppers, along with sappy ballads and jocular tunes. The world was introduced to "Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," and of course, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame."

    Richard and Meagan collect the cylinders for each release, digitize the music found in the 100+ year old grooves, painstakingly master the tracks, rabbit-hole copious amounts of research about the recordings, the artists, and the era, and bring forth a truly amazing product that takes any listener back to a time long forgotten..an almost alien world.

    And while in many circles they are known for their Grammy-winning expert work, nothing can prepare an enthusiast for their latest epic deep dive. Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph is an incredible study of gospel recordings made from 1890-1900. Yes, two centuries since the earliest recordings were made, and ten years since Richard and Began began collecting and researching the material, they present 102 to be recordings and over 400 pages of notes telling the story of the birth of recorded gospel music and the true pioneers who recorded them. A few songs are still familiar even today, like the 1894 version of Swing Low Sweet Chariot or the 1895 version of Rock Of Ages. The the former, by the Standard Quartet, is an unfortunately rare early recording by an African-American ensemble.

    The set contains beautiful orchestral pieces like Holding's Parlor Orchestra's Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep, with an arrangement that almost sounds psychedelic as it comes alive 124 years after it was originally recorded. The same goes for the organ sounds in Frank Butts' Almost Persuaded. The set also features hauntingly beautiful vocal quartets and captivating sermons that seem almost a drone mixed with captivating noises from the cylinders, reminiscent of Current 93/Nurse With Wound sound sculptures.

    Waxing the Gospel is definitely one of the highest musicology achievements of 2016. Regardless if you are a believer or an atheist, a sinner or a grinner, pure of heart or just plain funky, the music presented here — much of it for the first time since it was released — is an incredible sonic pulpit that makes history truly come back to life.

    "Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph, 1890-1900" (Amazon)


  • Swim Through the Darkness: the strange story of a mysterious 60s psych songwriter

    Swim Through the Darkness: My Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali is the much-anticipated story of one of the more esoteric, fascinating casualties of the flower power generation. As told by Ugly Things magazine creator Mike Stax, the book tracks the odyssey of Craig Smith, a musician who evolved from clean-cut singer songwriter, landing gigs on the Andy Williams show and a Monkees-esque television pilot, to a post-institutionalized street messiah, Maitreya Kali. Smith wrote songs for The Monkees (and was nearly cast in the band) and Glen Campbell, headed the much fabled psych pop band The Penny Arkade, and released two of the most acid-drenched folk records of the early 70s before fading into obscurity. After his initial songwriting success, he used the money he earned to travel the world, only to return as a permanently damaged shell of his former self, complete with a spider tattoo on his forehead.

    Until now, Smith's life has mostly been told by the music he left behind. And even so, his Penny Arkade recordings were only made readily available within the last twenty years, while his psych folk records, self-released under the moniker Maitreya Kali, have only been experienced by extremely lucky record collectors or in varying quality online. Apache and Inca, those latter releases, include an early demo of the Monkees' "Salesman" (from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd.) as well as alternative versions of songs recorded by The Penny Arkade. But what the records are really known for is their otherworldly vibe that could only be made by someone whose mind was no longer on Earth. Stax's new book piecees together the story of this lost musician, whose path is not dissimilar to those of Syd Barret and Roky Erickson. Swim Through The Darkness tells the tale of an artist who got lost between fame and discovery, until all that was left were musical echoes.

    "Swim Through the Darkness: My Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali" by Mike Stax (Amazon)