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Monday, April 29, 2013

Various Artists - Feeling High The Psychedelic Sound Of Memphis (1967-69 us, incredible garage psych, 2012 Big Beat release)

Memphis is well known as the birthplace of the blues, the fount of southern soul and the locale that begat rock’n’roll. My colleagues and I have been digging deep in various Memphian vaults over the past decade, but the focus up until now has largely been soul and R&B. Lest we forget, the city boasted a healthy rock scene well into the 1960s and 1970s, but few retrospectives have documented Memphis music in the psychedelic era when, as a major recording centre, it was the nexus not just for local freaks, but those from neighbouring Arkansas, Mississippi and beyond. Big Beat’s “Feeling High – The Psychedelic Sound Of Memphis” shines a welcome light on this long-neglected area, focusing on the years 1967-1969 and principally on the work of two renowned Memphis mavericks.

With a decades-long career as an iconoclastic musical polymath, Jim Dickinson needs little introduction. However, his rarely-discussed apprenticeship as a producer-engineer at Ardent Studios in the late 1960s made Dickinson responsible for many of the wildest and wackiest sessions ever held in Memphis. Some excerpts slipped out at the time on obscure singles on Stax and elsewhere, such as the absurd version of ‘For Your Love’ by Honey Jug. “Whenever anybody came into Ardent, it was obvious who was going to do the crazy stuff, ”Dickinson recounted to me several years ago. The bands he produced there include the pyjama-wearing Kinks-ish Wallabys of Jackson, Mississippi and psychedelic hillbillies Knowbody Else, later to become famous as Black Oak Arkansas.

In contrast, James Parks was a young wet-behind-the-ears punk who took over the control room at uncle Stan Kesler’s Sounds Of Memphis studio in 1968, bringing in his freak friends from counterculture hotspots such as the Bitter Lemon. Parks’ production work included Changin’ Tymes, Mother Roses and Triple X, featuring future country star Gus Hardin, as well as crazoid studio-only experiments such as ‘Rubber Rapper’ and ‘Shoo Shoo Shoo Fly’. There is a palpable air of chaos about much of what Parks produced, which explains why he was unable to place a lot of it at the time – but in hindsight it’s a remarkable cache of work.

Dickinson and Parks represent the outer edge of the Memphis music scene in those years. While the vast majority of tracks on “Feeling High” have not been issued before, their inspired lunacy and a shared willingness to push the envelope make the recorded evidence very special indeed. Local notables such as the Poor Little Rich Kids, 1st Century and Goatdancers share the tracklisting, the sound quality is excellent, and the detailed liner notes spill the beans on this fascinating tributary of the city’s musical legacy. 
by Alec Palao

Artists - Tracks
1. Sealing Smoke - Rubber Rapper - 4:30
2. The Honey Jug - For Your Love - 2:49
3. The Changin' Tymes - Blue Music Box - 2:09
4. The Knowbody Else - Secret Storm - 3:06
5. Triple X - Spare Me - 3:37
6. The Wallabies - Holy Days - 2:28
7. Greg McCarley - Shoo Shoo Shoo Fly - 4:11
8. The Changin' Tymes - Hark the Child - 5:32
9. Poor Little Rich Kids - Come on Along and Dream - 3:02
10.The Goatdancers - Eat Me Alive - 2:33
11.Greg McCarley - Crazy Man's Woman - 3:49
12.Judy Bramlett - Deja Vu - 2:48
13.The Knowbody Else - Free Singer's Island - 2:18
14.The Wallabies - Feeling High - 3:16
15.Triple X - Rockin' in the Same Old Boat - 4:25
16.Poor Little Rich Kids - I Need Love - 2:37
17.Mother Roses - Ticket to Ride - 4:46
18.David Mitchell - Ogden - 2:55
19.Greg McCarley - If You're Thinking - 2:09
20.The Wallabies - Old Man of Time - 2:27
21.The Goatdancers - We're in Town - 2:54
22.1st Century - Dancing Girl - 2:11
23.The Knowbody Else - Flying Horse of Louisiana (Live) - 6:05
24.The Goatdancers Advert - 1:03

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Headstone Circus - Headstone Circus (1968-70 us, west coast influenced bluesy folk psych, Shadoks release)

"Around 1966, Nick Bonis, Mike Johnstone, Randy Pope, and I formed a psychedelic band. On Halloween night we went to an old cemetery, dropped acid, and spent a very strange night among the tombstones. The tombstones appeared to be melting and taking on animal shapes. Some of us saw spirits, and I'm not sure what I saw, but it was disturbing. Afterwards, we referred to that night as the 'Headstone Circus.' It seemed appropriate to call ourselves Headstone Circus as a band so we did." 
by Glenn Faria

The band plays a (rather) West Coast style while recorded on the east coast, with a certain Crosby, Stills, Nash ‘n’ Young / Buffalo Springfield or Neil Young -Crazy Horse period- influence, but additionally with a more bluesy side-effect, and with some portions on certain tracks, where a smoky dark bluesy feeling is improvised calmly upon. This is of course the acid bluesy side associated with something of the east coast that gives this slightly smokey feeling. The lead vocals have a warm attractive effect and fit well with the West Coast feeling. 

Several of the more song orientated tracks are more acoustic. The last four, and also more simple,  I guess are more like rough demo versions. I am sure that if they would have had a chance with a big studio production and treatment on some tracks, these could have been better, (-a few tracks also suffered from a few worn-tape errors)-, while most of it for me is already great as it is, and makes it, almost essential to check it out, especially when you like the CSNY. 

A track like “Summer’s Gone” could have easily been a Neil Young track, and still is one of my favorite songs. After a while, singer/composer Glenn Faria left the group only because he was offered a solo contract. This solo album was reissued by World In Sound some years ago. Here, the Neil Young influence still is noticeable, but for me this solo album isn’t so rewarding as the previous Headstone Circus, but it also features a nice redo of the already mentioned “Summer’s Gone” song.

1. I'm Goin' Down - 4:38
2. You Don't Know - 6:52
3. Summers Gone - 4:44
4. I'm Crazy - 5:57
5. Healer - 4:09
6. Arms Of God - 3:31
7. Born In Georgia - 3:56
8. Reason To Live - 3:16
9. Reach Out - 2:45
10.I Hear The Thunder - 3:43
11.I Love The Wind - 4:11
12.Bear Down - 5:18
All compositions by Glenn Faria

Headstone Circus
*Glenn Faria - Lead Vocals, Guitar
*Mike Johnstone - Guitar
*Randy Ray Pope - Drums, Vocals
*Nick Bonis - Bass

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