Cauldron by Bay Area freaks Fifty Foot Hose exists in that minuscule niche of far-out ’60s albums that fused electronics with psychedelic rock: The United States Of America’s self-titled LP, the Silver Apples’ self-titled album, Lothar And The Hand People’s Presenting… and Space Hymn, and Spoils Of War. Recorded in 1967, Cauldron may have predated them all. Even in that lysergic-friendly era, most heads could not grok Fifty Foot Hose. And though it’s been reissued many times, the album still flies under most music fans’ radar.
Mainly the brainchild of electronics wizard/inventor Cork Marcheschi, Cauldron is split between semi-conventional songs riddled with DIY sound-FX tomfoolery (and even a bleep-augmented cover of Billie Holiday’s 1942 jazz standard “God Bless The Child”) and form-busting experiments geared to blow minds. In the former category, “If Not This Time” is a midtempo slice of Jefferson Airplane-style songcraft that transcends Grace Slick & company’s popular psychedelic machinations, thanks to an unconventionally tuned guitar intro/motif that alerts you to the weirdness that lies ahead. Nancy Blossom may not be as powerful a vocalist as Slick, but her enigmatic delivery and defiant demeanor suit Fifty Foot Hose’s skewed compositions and improvs.
In the rather conventional love song “The Things That Concern You,” guitarist Larry Evans sings, “I love you I love you I love you you/Please love me, too” with surprising sincerity and banality. But thankfully, the track possesses the loopy aura of the United States Of America’s “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar,” complete with zonked electronics that sound like a Moog suffering a nervous breakdown. “Rose” is essentially a more psychedelic variation on Classic IV’s “Spooky”—lounge pop embellished with all manner of electronic frippery that would impress Beaver & Krause. The album’s ominous psych-rock zenith is “Red The Sign Post,” whose marauding, fuzz-toned guitar riff prefigures Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’.” Add in some 13th Floor Elevators-esque bass mesmerism and Nancy Blossom’s strident declarations and swirling-down-the-vortex screams, and you have a classic that’s too heavy and traumatic for a Nuggets comp.
Side two is where things get really crazy. “Fantasy” starts with obsessive guitar riffing, tom-tom-hitting, and frittering bleeps, then shifts into a groovy hippy-rock jam of the sort that you’ve heard in a dozen psychsploitation movies—so it fucking rules. Then the song shifts into a creepy Nancy-sung ballad before evolving into a seriously horrific, occult-rock march. It’s a helluva trip, any way you cut it. The aforementioned “God Bless The Child” provides a little respite before “Cauldron” assaults the senses with some mushroom-trip-gone-horribly-awry rock. This witchy nightmare makes just about everything else that was touted as “psychedelic” in the SF’s ’60s psych scene sound as buttoned-up as William F. Buckley. Only White Noise’s “The Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell” comes close to “Cauldron”’s disturbing disorientation.
Fifty Foot Hose came back in 1998 with a shockingly good LP, Sing Like Scaffold, but even if they’d only released Cauldron, they’d be underground stars worthy of lifelong devotion. -Buckley Mayfield
Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.