Psych and Prog

Can “Ege Bamyasi” (United Artists, 1972)

The recent passing of vocalist/lyricist Damo Suzuki (may he rest in peace) reminded us that his short run with krautrock gods Can (1970-1973) constituted the peak for the greatest rock group ever, if consensus opinion holds any water—and I think it does, for a change. Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days—what an unfuckwithable triumvirate of albums! Each one is phenomenal in different ways, exemplifying Damo’s incredible ability to adapt and catalyze. (Suzuki’s crucial contributions to songs on the Soundtracks and Unlimited Edition collections should not be overlooked, either.)

As much as I love Tago Mago and Future Days, I have to pick Ege Bamyasi as my favorite of the Damo era. It captures Can at their most concise and funky and, at times, downright catchy. How many times have you caught yourself bellowing along to Suzuki’s “Hey you! You’re losing, you’re losing your vitamin C”? Too many times to count, no doubt.

Ege Bamyasi begins seemingly in mid jam, as “Pinch” instantly plunges the listener into a vertiginous vortex of torqued funk rock. Talk about an exciting welcome into the closest thing I can think of to a perfect album… Suzuki is in rare tough-guy mode on the mic on this tensile, rugged track, with everyone in the band at the absolute pinnacle of their powers. It’s hard to imagine any other drummer than Jaki Liebezeit executing this kind of complexity and controlled power while keeping the funk bumpin’. In a 180º turn from “Pinch,” the subtly suspenseful “Sing Swan Song” bubbles into life, its aquatic tranquility foreshadowing 1973’s Future Days, but its loping funkiness belongs exclusively to this LP. The seductive cha-cha funk of “One More Night” represents some of the most understated party music ever created, with Irmin Schmidt’s obliquely pinging keyboard motif elevating the song into rarefied status. Suzuki’s sotto voce intonations are a blessing for stressed-out heads, even if toward the end he clenches up.

The record’s best-known song by far, “Vitamin C” is the staccato funk bomb that’s detonated a million acrobatic breakdance moves. This track possesses a strange anti-gravitational pull; it seems to hover five feet off the floor and also contains a passage of oddly moving, old-world melancholy. And then comes a bizarre coda featuring a chorus of crickets and a piercing keyboard drone that bleeds into the album’s longest cut, “Soup,” which eventually breaks into a jagged funk juggernaut not unlike “Halleluwah.” “Soup” goes off on tantalizing tangents, including an agonizing noise interlude that sounds like a pitched-up cement mixer. Then it gets even weirder, with Damo seemingly trying to speak Italian without knowing how, while the rest of the band go on a stridently abstract bender that could break the spirit of the staunchest avant-gardist.

A huge contrast ensues with “I’m So Green,” whose featherlight funk makes you feel as if you’re levitating. Liebezeit’s beats are at once militarily precise and designed for hedonism, while Michael Karoli’s guitar carries a surprising Hawaiian sway and sigh. As for Suzuki, he’s in supplest form. This is one of my go-to Can tracks in DJ sets. Ege ends with the paradoxical “Spoon”: so light yet so ominous, so spooky yet so funky. Schmidt’s head-spinning keyboard swirls entwine with Karoli’s spidery spangles while bassist Holger Czukay and Liebezeit lay down an earthy, girthy rhythm. Thus ends one of the most spellbinding albums ever, one whose pleasures are infinitely renewable. -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.

Hovercraft “Experiment Below” (Mute/Blast First, 1998)

Seattle trio Hovercraft have unjustly vanished from the Discourse™. You never see them mentioned during discussions of greatest bands/albums of the ’90s or even talk of best groups out of Seattle, which is a shame. Not even opening for Mike Watt in their early days—with Eddie Vedder on drums—lifted Hovercraft’s profile very high, though it likely helped them to get signed to Mute Records.

During Hovercraft’s existence (1993-2001), guitarist Campbell 2000 (Ryan Campbell), bassist Sadie 7 (Beth Liebling), and drummer Dash 11 (Ric Peterson) piloted a unique strain of space rock that was as psychedelic and baffling as a chemical equation. Their second and final (and best) album, Experiment Below, features seven tracks that all segue into one another—a series of outrageous jams that ebbs and flows like rivers of magma down a volcano.

Hovercraft were masters of quiet-and-loud dynamics, their lulls portending imminent terror, their crescendos explosive and extreme. The band forever kept you on edge, waiting for the next comet on fire or supernova to come to pass. Everything on their records (and during their live performances, if you were lucky enough to catch them) seems spontaneous, yet also precision-tooled. It’s a wonderful paradox.

Experiment Below‘s songs are rather long and vocal-free, and their intricacy and spurts of sculpted noise, power chords, and ice-pick tinglings never let you fully get your bearings. Some folks might flash on the longest cuts from Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn or the French band Spacecraft’s 1978 LP Paradoxe as Hovercraft touchstones, but Experiment Below hits with more brutality and scientific rigor than those classic works. Plus, Hovercraft’s fascination with technology’s effect on human physiology and psychology—judging from their song titles—sets them apart from most of their sonic peers.

Experiment Below has never been reissued, probably because it didn’t sell well during its initial run. That’s a sad commentary on the music public’s taste, but most things are. Last year would’ve been opportune for a 25th-anniversary edition, but alas, no. As with most ’90s records, you’ll likely have an easier time scoring the CD than the vinyl (one US dealer is selling the LP on Discogs for $200!), but as the Pop Group sang, where there’s a will, there has got to be a way. Lastly, if you dig Hovercraft, you should seek out the self-titled record by Schema, their 2000 collab with Stereolab’s Mary Hansen. -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.

Rotary Connection “Peace” (Cadet Concept, 1968)

As an agnostic and person of refined taste, I loathe damn near all Christmas music. Always have, always will. However, I do find an infinitesimal percentage of recordings made to celebrate this bloated holiday to be tolerable. On my short list of listenable albums dedicated to xmas, Peace by the Chicago psychedelic-soul ensemble Rotary Connection certainly deserves a special spot under the tree. The fact that they focus on originals amid their freaky interpretations of “Silent Night” sure helps nudge this LP into the victory column, as do the impeccable arranging skills of Charles Stepney.

Beginning with expected solemnity, the first of three versions of “Silent Night” softly explodes into an elegantly chaotic guitar solo, frenetic, Keith Moon-like drumming, and a concatenation of bells. Somebody spiked the eggnog with LSD, praise Jesus! The second rendition’s more traditional in structure, but again boasts some outré guitar fireworks. Finally, “Silent Night Chant” deploys a slinky, funky rhythm in its serpentine, psych-rock reconfiguration of this overplayed Austrian carol. I just might spin it in my next DJ set.

Elsewhere, “Last Call For Peace” is wild-spirited orchestral soul that will make you want eradicate war forever. “Christmas Child” is smooth, progressive soul that challenges the lushest Supremes songs of the era for over-the-top production and arrangement honors. With Stepney and vocalist Minnie Riperton in tow, nothing succeeds like excess. The ballad “If Peace Was All We Had” sweeps and soars like peak-era Brian Wilson and Scott Walker and is a silky wonder of vocal layering.

The record’s not all good, sadly. “Shopping Bag Menagerie” and “Sidewalk Santa” are over-egged schmaltz. Overall, though, Peace performs the miraculous feat of nullifying my perennial “bah humbug” attitude for about 40 minutes. -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.

Honey Ltd. “The Complete LHI Recordings” (Light In The Attic, 2013)

This Detroit quartet released one album in 1968 on Lee Hazlewood’s label and then vanished. Original copies of their lone record go for about $2,000, but thankfully, Light In The Attic reissued it with bonus tracks in 2013. Consisting of Laura Polkinghorne, Marsha Jo Temmer, and sisters Joan and Alexandra Sliwin, Honey Ltd. were originally called Mama Cats (pun noted) and drew on their hometown’s inspirational culture of soul music. They also found themselves playing shows with Bob Seger ca. 1967. After riots roiled Detroit that year, the band moved to LA in 1968 to try to further their music career. One audition later with Hazlewood and the legendary music man signed them to his LHI imprint.

Produced by Mr. Hazlewood, Honey Ltd.’s songs deftly balance social and political commentary with matters of the heart. The group’s savvy songwriting skills and magical, four-part vocal harmonies received considerable boost from Lee’s access to several world-class studio musicians from the Wrecking Crew, including Carol Kaye, Ry Cooder, Jack Nitzsche, Plas Johnson, Chuck Berghofer, Al Casey, Jim Gordon, and Don Randi.

The album begins with “Warrior,” which is about a lover going off to war, and it sarcastically treats his violent destiny as a good thing, as it shifts from poignant ballad to rousing rocker with verve. I dare any listener not to get swept away by the surging chorus. “No, You Are” and “I’ve Got Your Man” are harmony-rich girl-group brilliance—soaring pop that hits like a more robust Free Design. The latter tune boasts about undermining a woman’s relationship with dulcet brashness. “Eli’s Coming” is a faithful, exciting cover of Laura Nyro‘s brash soul showstopper, which only was released shortly before Honey Ltd.’s own version. The sophisticated pop-soul gem “Silk ‘N Honey” reveals further Nyro infatuation. The sublimely haunting pop of “Tomorrow Your Heart” foreshadows UK goth-pop sensations Strawberry Switchblade, except when it bursts into Motown-ish, soul-belting mode.

Honey Ltd certainly had a winning, eccentric way with covers. Their unconventionally arranged brassy interpretation of the oft-covered garage-rock standard “Louie, Louie” gets laced with fascinating vocal extrapolations. And their euphoric rendition of the Skip James blues classic “I’m So Glad” radically differs from Cream’s more famous version. Psych-pop heads will flip over the exceptionally dynamic “For Your Mind” and “Come Down,” with the latter being a hippie-rock anthem that would segue well into the United States Of America’s “Coming Down.” It features the group’s strongest vocal performance, replete with haunting undertones and undulating harmonies.

Following her short-lived stint with Honey Ltd., Polkinghorne went on to sing backing vocals with Seger, Black Crowes, and… uh, Kid Rock. But if there were any justice, she and songwriting partner Temmer would be much better known for their work in this femme-powered Motor City outfit. -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.

Mercury Rev “Yerself Is Steam” (Mint Films/Jungle, 1991)

Mercury Rev’s 1992 debut album, Yerself Is Steam, was a sensation upon its release in the UK, as the music press there hyped the upstate New York group for months before it actually dropped. Americans who read said media were stoked, as well, including me and several of my Detroit-area friends. Our absurdly high expectations were exceeded. To this day, my buddies and I stan indomitably for Steam, though when music-publication chatter turns to definitive ’90s rock releases, Yerself Is Steam is largely overlooked. This makes no sense.

In the early ’90s, Mercury Rev—led by guitarists Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper—reigned as America’s greatest rock band, the country’s grand sorcerers of whirlwind psychedelic beauty and chaos. Steam deserved its own laser-light shows and made you feel as if your blood had been replaced with rocket fuel. The first three songs on the LP—“Chasing A Bee,” “Syringe Mouth,” and “Coney Island Cyclone”—assay a rarefied strain of bubblegum-catchy freak rock that induced the sensation of being on at least three drugs you’ve never heard of. Then it gets weirder and farther out.

Even that dreaded convention of the CD era, the hidden track, pays exorbitant dividends with the decade’s ultimate waver-lighting ballad, “Car Wash Hair.” (Initially released as a single, this lovable blissout is found only on the compact disc version of Steam.) “Syringe Mouth” in particular reaches a peak of exhilarating delirium, a lysergic splurge that singed plenty of synapses in its four chaotic minutes while “Coney Island Cyclone” is the greatest song ever written about an amusement-park ride.

“Blue And Black” is an unnervingly ponderous showcase for loose-cannon singer-songwriter David Baker to flaunt his morbid croon and ponder his impending mental breakdown over a foundation of quasi-goth brooding. The group’s most prog-like moment, “Sweet Oddysee Of A Cancer Cell T’ Center Of Yer Heart” serves as a fiendish roller-coaster ride of swerving dynamics and swelling melodic grandeur that makes Porcupine-era Echo & The Bunnymen sound like flat-footed underachievers. It’s a one-off slab of monstrous brilliance in the Rev’s catalog. “Frittering” is an expansive ice floe of psychedelia that puts a seething chill on Syd Barrett-era Floyd’s epics. Speaking of epics, the ominous “Very Sleepy Rivers” meanders with an unsettling heaviness; for over 12 minutes, the band sound like they’re marching you down to your watery demise.

That Steam came out on Columbia Records (a year after its initial micro-indie release) somehow makes the whole thing even more ridiculous. Did the conglomerate’s execs get swept away by Melody Maker and NME‘s frothing praise, too? Were they looking for the next Nirvana with Mercury Rev? Did they think Suzanne Thorpe’s flute was the future of rock?

In retrospect, the early-’90s “alternative rock” frenzy probably helped Mercury Rev to sign with a major, but Columbia’s mighty marketing machine failed to move the needle for them in the US. (Grasshopper once told me that Steam has sold more than 200,000 copies worldwide over the last 31 years, most of them in Europe.) Although Mercury Rev went on to earn more commercial success with 1998’s psych-lite, Americana-leaning Deserter’s Songs, they have yet to surpass Yerself Is Steam‘s unfettered creativity. -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.

Friar Tuck “Friar Tuck & His Psychedelic Guitar” (Mercury, 1967)

Many people’s favorite guitarist from the world-class LA studio band the Wrecking Crew, Mike Deasy is one of the mad geniuses behind the Ceyleib People’s one-off 1968 masterpiece, Tanyet, which I reviewed for this blog in 2018. Deasy’s session credits include a litany popular artists, some of whom made it into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Mike, however, has remained a deeply idiosyncratic cult figure.

Under his goofy Friar Tuck persona, Deasy let his freak flag fly, albeit not as sublimely as he did on Tanyet. Rather, Friar Tuck & His Psychedelic Guitar is a lysergic distortion of ’60s pop and rock that seems as if it were bashed out in a day, with help from some ringers such as bassist Jerry Scheff, drummer Jim Troxel, vibraphonist Toxie French (all from the great, short-lived Goldenrod), vocalist/arranger Curt Boettcher, and many others. Yes, this is a psychsploitation record from the subgenre’s red-hot peak of 1967, but Deasy does it with more inventiveness (and echoplex) than most.

Friar Tuck & His Psychedelic Guitar splits its two sides between covers and originals. The first side hints that the monk outfit Deasy’s wearing on the cover ain’t the only thing kooky about this LP. Tommy Roe’s cutesy 1965 hit “Sweet Pea” abounds with all sorts of flamboyant six-string filigree, negating the corny recitation of banal lyrics and cheesy backing vocals. A bad-trip, FX-laden coda telegraphs Deasy’s subversive motives. “Louis Louis” (aka frat-house garage-rock standard “Louie Louie”) receives a total makeover into a blissed-out psych saunter. EZ-listening female vocals sound absurd amid the increasingly disorienting disintegration of this overfamiliar classic. Mike completely rearranged the song’s DNA into something chaotically beautiful—and barely recognizable. Deasy and his super sessioneers also transform Oscar Brown and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” into a baroque rave-up. Finally, Hollywood Argyles’ 1960 novelty hit “Alley-Oop” fits right in with Deasy’s loopy irreverence; surely notorious Argyles member Kim Fowley approved.

Deasy’s original songs occupy side 2, and it’s here where he really lets his imagination run riot. The compositions initially seem to have conventional structures, but as they go on, the backing vocals get stacked into infinite halls of mirrors and the guitars (also played by Ben Benay and Jim Helms) color way outside the lines in fluorescent colors. “A Record Hi” psychedelicizes “Louie Louie” even further into United States Of America territory (the band, not the country). “Fendabenda Ha Ha Ha” ingeniously uses extended chants as a foundation for brain-scrambling biker rock. By the time of the closing “Where Did Your Mind Go?” you’ll be laughing at how absurd this album’s journey from chart-fodder spoof to psychedelic excess has been, as well as pondering the question in the song’s title.

(The 2007 CD reissue on UK label Fallout includes four amiable bonus tracks from Deasy singles under the Flower Pot alias.) -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.

Brightblack Morning Light “Motion To Rejoin” (Matador, 2008)

Brightblack Morning Light essentially have one song—but lord have mercy, what a wondrous song it is. Their third album, Motion To Rejoin, finds singers/multi-instrumentalists Nathan Shineywater and Rachael Hughes continuing to hone their slow-music formula to a sublime burnish.

Generally speaking, the nine songs here creep in on worn-out moccasins, emit a holy glow, and slouch into a groove akin to Dr. John’s “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya” on Quaaludes. Nay and Ray croon as if trying not to wake a baby in the next room—a vocal style that perfectly melts into the molasses-y ASMR-rock they summon.

As with Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock, faint glimmers of cool jazz seep into BML’s hazy, nocturnal soundworld; the bass part in “Oppressions Each” even recalls Cecil McBee’s resonant, majestic motif on Alice Coltrane’s “Journey In Satchidananda.” Yeah, that’s the kind of hallowed ground upon which BML tread.

Ultimately, Motion To Rejoin ranks as one of the greatest records to play first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It’s at once one of the most calming LPs in rock—and one of its most sensual. It didn’t get much better than this in 2008. -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.

Rodriguez “Cold Fact” (Sussex 1970)

As you probably know by now, Detroit troubadour Sixto Rodriguez passed away on August 8 at age 81 (cause of death has not been reported). Heads around the world have been mourning and eulogizing this Mexican-American cult hero’s art and humanity with an intensity, if my social-media feeds are any indication.

After decades of obscurity in the US, the trenchant singer-songwriter finally began to get the recognition and accolades he deserved when Light In The Attic reissued his 1970 debut LP Cold Fact in 2008. Director Malik Bendjelloul’s 2012 documentary Searching For Sugar Man further elevated Rodriguez’s profile and sales figures while revealing that he’d achieved shocking commercial success in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand in the ’70s.

Produced by legendary Motown session guitarist Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore and featuring Funk Brothers bassist Bob Babbitt and drummer Andrew Smith, the 12 songs on Cold Fact should be granted the lofty regard those on Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and Phil Ochs’ All The News That’s Fit To Sing have earned.

Like Dylan and Ochs’, Rodriguez’s voice isn’t technically “good,” but it’s idiosyncratic enough to slice through pop culture’s innocuous glut and command your attention. It’s a cold fact that the content of Rodriguez’s songs—gripping conflicts stemming from drug abuse, inequality, sexual promiscuity, street hassles, etc.—would sound absurd if expressed by someone with perfect pitch and chart-friendly timbre.

Cold Fact begins with its most famous song (nearly 63 million streams on $p0tify), “Sugar Man,” a phantasmal folk-soul ballad enhanced by a poignantly descending bass line and psychedelic effects (echoed backward violin, Mort Garson-esque analog-synth bleeps, delayed vocals as it fades out) from the Theo-Coff production unit. (I discovered the song on David Holmes’ 2002 DJ mix album Come Get It, I Got It, and was instantly hooked.) The album’s next track, “Only Good For Conversation,” bursts in on a cantankerous fuzz-toned bass riff and Coffey’s monumental electric guitar pyrotechnics.

After this potent one-two punch, Cold Fact eases into more conventional singer/songwriter moves, but gritty Detroit funk still runs through these lyrically compelling compositions. An eloquent voice for the underdog and the poor, Rodriguez came out of the gate on fire musically and lyrically. Cold Fact still sounds vital and essential 53 years after its release. -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.

The Funkees “Now I’m A Man” (EMI, 1976)

Their name may be slightly cringe, but the Funkees rank as one of the best Nigerian groups from that Western African country’s 1970s musical heyday. Formed by guitarist Harry Mosco at the conclusion of Nigeria’s 1969 civil war, the Funkees initially were a cover band, interpreting songs by artists such as the Beatles, Fela Kuti, Aretha Franklin, Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley. In 1973, the Funnkees moved to London and used that opportunity to open for popular groups such as Kool & The Gang, Osibisa, and Fatback Band.

The Funkees’ 1974 debut album, Point Of No Return, abounds with gritty Afrobeat cuts animated by Mosco and Jake Sollo’s flinty guitar riffs and the robust polyrhythmic attack by drummer Chyke Madu and percussionist Sonny Akpabio that surely made Fela sweat in approval. (Trivia: Akpabio later played in Eddie Grant’s post-Equals 1980s band.)

With 1976’s Now I’m A Man, the Funkees leaned more heavily into their funk-rock inclinations. You can hear this shift toward a sound more friendly to Western ears with the opening title track. It begins in mellow, Latin shuffle mode, like a blissed-out Santana, but Sollo’s (or Mosco’s) wah-wah guitar squelches increase the funkadelic factor. Mohammed Ahidjo’s warm, proud vocals really draw you in to this self-empowerment jam. I love to open DJ sets with this song, as it instantly conjures positive vibes.

The humid afro-funk trudge of “Korfisa” is sexy as hell while the slinky, self-explanatory “Dance With Me” is the sort of nonchalantly funky entreaty to get on the good foot on which !!! have based a large chunk of their output. “Mimbo” features the sort of sparse, percussion-heavy groove that would segue well into undulant cuts by Konk or Liquid Liquid—a very good thing. With its refrain of “everybody get together,” infectious call-and-response vocals, and fiery guitar/organ interplay, “Salam” is a buoyant, optimistic dance track that rolls and roils with an unstoppable force. This could still work on 2023 dance floors.

“Time” acts as sort of a reprise of “Now I’m A Man,” but with different lyrics and lighter overall feel. The instrumental “303” ventures into prog territory, with its circuitous piano motifs, surprising tempo changes, complex counterpoint between the curlicuing bass and pointillistic guitar calligraphy. It’s the Funkees at their most mind-bendingly virtuosic. The album’s only dud is the unengaging ballad, “Patience.”

In 2016, the Austrian label Presch Media GmbH reissued Now I’m A Man—albeit with no liner notes or any credits whatsoever, which is scandalous. Unfortunately, prices on Discogs for this edition have skyrocketed to as high as $100. Perhaps another reissue done with more care for historical context is in order. -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.

Groundhogs “Hogwash” (United Artists, 1972)

Groundhogs leader Tony “T.S.” McPhee passed away on June 6 at age 79, and the outpouring of love and respect that followed on social media was gratifying. Though he never became a household name in the US, the British guitarist/vocalist earned renown from discerning listeners for his inventive, explosive guitar playing and incisive, sociopolitical lyrics, as exemplified on albums such as Thank Christ For The Bomb, Split, and Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs. McPhee was a cult guitar hero’s cult guitar hero, and he shined hard on one of Groundhogs’ best—and most underrated—records, Hogwash.

As many English musicians had done in the early/mid ’60s, Groundhogs began their existence as a blues-inflected rock group. In 1964, they even backed American blues legend John Lee Hooker on some of his UK dates and later cut an LP with him titled …And Seven Nights. Auspicious! Unsurprisingly, Groundhogs’ first two albums—1968’s Scratching The Surface and 1969’s Blues Obituary—trawled in traditional, gritty blues territory, but they began to expand beyond those strictures with 1970’s Thank Christ For The Bomb.

On Hogwash, the addition of Egg drummer Clive Brooks enabled Groundhogs to venture into more complex realms. This becomes apparent from the opening track, “I Love Miss Ogyny,” whose unpredictable, slow-fast dynamics and strange guitar tunings and riffs mark a bold move into prog-rock. McPhee not only sang like a more blue-collar Richard Thompson and wielded electric and acoustic guitars, but he also messed with an ARP 2600 synthesizer, Mellotron M400, ring modulator, and assorted FX pedals. These weapons allowed Tony to spice up Groundhogs’ tough and twisty rock, lifting it further out of their earlier bluesy muck.

“You Had A Lesson” is ominous rock that verges on Van Der Graaf Generator bombast, with Peter Cruickshank’s riveting and girthy bass plowing a devastating groove. “The Ringmaster” is an 83-second experimental interlude centering on a heavily FX’d drum solo. Some people can’t handle this sort of anomalous abstraction from a rock group, but those types are a drag; this is cool. The album’s longest and perhaps best song, “3744 James Road” contains over seven minutes of metronomic, Can-like bass and drum interplay, torrid guitar expressionism, and a surprising earworm chorus. “Sad Is The Hunter” rocks as ruggedly and threateningly as John Lennon’s “Well Well Well,” but with flashier solos and extrapolations by McPhee and Cruickshank.

The ridiculously fun and intricate “S’one Song” is a party-rockin’ tune for people with high IQs while “Earth Shanty” is chest-puffing, Mellotron-enhanced prog that makes you feel more heroic than you have any right to. It’s like the Moody Blues with wilder instincts and bigger biceps. The LP ends with “Mr. Hooker, Sir John,” a heartfelt homage to the god John Lee Hooker, fueled by McPhee’s hard and nasty acoustic guitar strumming. McPhee sings, “You taught so many people how to play/Your music is as timeless as a mountain and as earthy as clay/Your voice is clear and resonant as a bell.” Tony really lays it on thickly, and it’s touching. The song’s a curiously retrograde end to a forward-thrusting record, but, hell, JLH deserves all the tributes and Groundhogs had broken so much new ground before, so slack is cut. Call this album “hogwash” at your peril. -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.

Fifty Foot Hose “Cauldron” (Limelight, 1968)

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.

James Brown “Sho Is Funky Down Here” (King, 1971)

Here it is, perhaps the most curious anomaly in Soul Brother #1’s vast discography. Strictly speaking, Sho Is Funky Down Here is not so much a James Brown album as it is a chance for the Godfather Of Soul’s musical director at the time, David Matthews, to flex his psychedelic-funk chops and arrangements. The thing is, David Matthews’ name didn’t have marketing potential, although the LP he released in 1970 under the name The Grodeck Whipperjenny became a gold mine of samples nearly 20 years later.

So, King Records slapped James Brown’s name and a photo of him on the cover, even though his contributions were minimal. In the liner notes from the Now-Again label’s 2019 reissue, Matthews said, “[Brown] simply told me to make an underground album… He had nothing to do with the arrangements. James just wanted a piece of the psychedelic movement.” True heads grokked that Sho Is Funky was dope, but most of JB’s fan base ignored it. In Brown’s very busy 1971, this record got lost in the hoopla generated by the release of Super Bad and Hot Pants, and the singles therefrom.

An extraordinary organist, Matthews (not to be confused with Dave Matthews Band’s leader) co-wrote all six tracks on Sho Is Funky Down Here with JB. Brown allegedly plays organ and harpsichord and utters a few words on two tracks, but most of the heavy lifting here was done by the same musicians who animated The Grodeck Whipperjenny. Drummer Jimmy Madison, bassist Michael Moore (not that Michael Moore), guitarist Kenny Poole, and Matthews were essentially jazz cats dabbling in psychedelic funk. For the most part, they slayed.

The album gets off to a slow start with the title track, whose residual mood and tuneage derive from Brown’s 1966 song “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” but it’s snazzed up with extremely crispy guitar riffs and soulful organ whorls. Things ascend with “Don’t Mind,” a swirling, scorching funk cut with Moore’s devastating, strutting bass line, Matthews’ insanely amped keyboard, and a guitar part by Poole that’s so thrillingly distorted it could’ve come from a Brainticket record. “Just Enough Room For Storage” might be the best song not on Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, powered by Moore’s rugged yet nimble bass riff, Poole’s Eddie Hazel-esque guitar heroics, and slamming, in-the-pocket drums by Madison.

“You Mother You” flaunts complex, Dennis Coffey-like funkadelia that will, against the odds, get asses moving on the dance floor. Yes, I’m planning to spin it in my next DJ gig—thanks for asking. As far as I can tell, “Can Mind” has nothing to do with the amazing German rock band; rather, it’s just yet more filthy funk in the remarkably consistent manner of this album. Stellar hip-hop group Brand Nubian sampled it for “All For One,” which is all the seal of approval you need.

Sho Is Funky Down Here is the red-headed stepchild of James Brown’s catalog, but it’s a low-key mind-blower—a brand new bag that’s gone unloved for unjustified reasons. -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.