Published by Feral House on September 16, 2016. Craig Smith was a 1960s golden boy – good looking, charismatic, outgoing; a preternaturally gifted musician and songwriter whose songs were recorde
By Doug Sheppard The musical, cultural and societal waves that Chuck Berry made by pioneering rock ’n’ roll could fill a book. And of course, there are so many great songs—brilliant
By Doug Sheppard
It’s fitting that the Seeds have been retrospectively described as punk — as their history is nothing if not punk before punk. Their wildly contrasting attire of cowboys ’n’ Indians ’n’ Beethoven confounded audiences, their (for 1965 and 1966) outrageously long hair literally turned heads, and their primitive music made the most of members’ limitations. A decade before Johnny Rotten’s snarl set the tone for modern punk, Sky Saxon’s snide snorting added a distinction that obliterated his previous teen idol failures.
But where the Seeds depart from their punk descendants is that they were reaching for the (pardon the expression) sky. Minimalistic as their sound may have been, they were serious artists doing their part to add brushstrokes to a rock ’n’ roll canvas with plenty of unpainted room left. They were a popular band in their native LA, and proud of it – proud of the adulation, proud of their tight musicianship and proud that they scored a major hit with “Pushin’ Too Hard” in ’66. By practicing rigorously and mostly ignoring contemporaries, the Seeds forged their own sound.
Though they couldn’t have known it at the time, they also chose a great record label to keep their legacy alive: GNP Crescendo. As the big fish in GNP’s pond, they ensured themselves immortality. As albums by fellow ’60s punks like Question Mark and the Mysterians, the Sonics, the Shadows of Knight and countless others became pricey and difficult to obtain through the dark pre-reissue days of the ’70s and ’80s, the Seeds catalog was always available — making them one of the first ’60s garage bands that many fans discovered. Heck, long before outtakes albums became the norm, GNP even did one of those with Fallin’ Off the Edge in 1977.
Ironically, in spite of their perpetual availability, Seeds albums never got the deluxe treatment that their once out-of-print colleagues received in the reissue era. All reissues of the first Seeds album used the inferior stereo mix, pressings of A Web of Sound from the 1970s and beyond used an awful alternate stereo mix that wasn’t even on original stereo pressings, and the packaging left a lot to be desired. But all is forgiven now that the vaults have been opened to Ace Records and its garage archivist Alec Palao – resulting in proper mixes, remastered sound, bonus tracks, and extensive booklets with detailed liners, sessionography and many cool photos.
Availability alone doesn’t account for why the Seeds are one of the most renowned ’60s punk bands. They’re also one of the best – and their debut album is as good a place as any to start a ’60s garage education. With Sky’s frustrated vocals, Rick Andridge’s insistent ride-cymbal beat, a killer fuzz riff and tersely great solos by organist Darryl Hooper and guitarist Jan Savage, “Pushin’ Too Hard” remains a crowning achievement in rock history – and it’s not the only standout on the album. “No Escape,” “Girl I Want You,” “Nobody Spoil My Fun” and “Excuse, Excuse” sum up the band’s burgeoning hedonism and Sky’s affinity for the opposite sex, and the five-minute “Evil Hoodoo” dips their feet into the experimentalism of the extended groove.
“Evil Hoodoo” was in fact much longer in its original unedited form, and this reissue treats us to a 16-minute version (with an intercut section) that loses nothing in translation and is a highlight of the 10 bonus tracks (eight of which are previously unreleased). The two alternates of “Out of the Question,” “Pushin’ Too Hard” with an extra verse and “It’s a Hard Life” with more of Savage’s guitar savagery also make nice addenda. Best of all, the album’s original — and far superior — mono mix is reissued for the first time ever here.
A Web of Sound gets similar treatment from Big Beat – expanding to two CDs to restore the album’s original stereo and punchy mono mixes, adding seven previously unreleased bonus tracks and the complete A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues album (released as the Sky Saxon Blues Band). While Web has nothing on the level of “Pushin’ Too Hard,” it’s nonetheless a step forward for the band’s creativity with bottleneck guitar by Cooker providing counterpoint to Savage throughout — not to mention the brilliant “Mr. Farmer,’ where Hooper overlays oboe-like Farfisa sounds over his trademark Wurlitzer piano. Punk like “Tripmaker” and “Just Let Go” provide further highlights on album culminating with one of the first extended jams on a rock album: the simple yet hypnotic “Up in Her Room.” The latter reflects the album and the Seeds in general: repetitive and same-y sounding, yet effective because they deployed their sound so well.
An early take on “The Wind Blows Your Hair” is the best of the bonus tracks, while alternates of five album tracks also make for interesting (albeit not essential) listening. Though the original stereo mix is much better than the alternate stereo that afflicted 40 years worth of Web of Sound reissues (in all formats), the mono version (another first-ever reissue) is the keeper.
A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues is also represented in mono – but the mix is beside the point. Much as the members seem to take pride in their attempt at blues, the results are lackluster – and even guest spots from members of Muddy Waters’ band and a new song written by Muddy himself for the Seeds (Did he give them one of his best? Let me guess …) can’t rescue this mess. Tellingly, it’s the only ’60s Seeds album that Big Beat has no plans to reissue individually.
But with A Web of Sound finally reissued the way it was meant to be heard, it doesn’t matter. Even better — Big Beat isn’t finished with the Seeds yet, as an expanded remaster of Future just came out (it will be reviewed in UT#36), with Raw & Alive and a singles collection – not to mention a documentary film spearheaded by Palao and GNP’s Neil Norman – soon to follow.
By Doug Sheppard
Like the authorities catching up to the protagonist in a biker exploitation film, time had caught up to Sky Saxon in 1970. Between Altamont, harder drugs and the frowning faces of war protestation, there was no room for the Seeds’ idealism and – if analogies are in order – the times had indeed spoiled Sky’s fun. Rock was now serious, like really serious, man — discovering all kinds of wimpy folk, phony roots, long solos and (thanks to Woodstock) corporate influences. Sky was Davy Crockett at the Alamo – or rather, a rocker past him prime getting laid a lot at his Malibu home. But it didn’t mean he didn’t have one last charge in him.
Calling on old keyboard sidekick Darryl Hooper, plus three new members, the re-sprouted Seeds departed GNP Crescendo for MGM and recorded two killer singles that sadly never made it past the promo stage, falling into permanent rarity status and never getting a legit reissue – until now, thanks to Sundazed and Record Store Day.
The Seeds’ first MGM offering, “Bad Part of Town” b/w “Wish Me Up,” paired a biting fuzz rocker with a more flowery, keyboard-dominated number that harked back to the band’s later GNP material. It was the heavy influence of “Bad Part of Town” that would propel the even better followup, “Love in a Summer Basket” b/w “Did He Die.”
In spite of its title, “Love In a Summer Basket” isn’t so much a floral excursion as it is a tidal wave of loud fuzz guitar squalls crashing the shores of idealism as keyboards and flute weave in and out. Perfection. And if that trip isn’t bad enough, then the war-torn flip of “Did He Die” – rumbling bass, screeching guitar distortion and all — blurs visions even more, as Sky lets the Vietnam anxiety out by screaming “He shot him in the head! He killed his bro-ther-ah-ah-ah-ah” without fear of pushing too hard.
But when MGM President Mike Curb purged his label of acts with drug influences (like the Seeds) just two days before its release, he denied the world what would undoubtedly have been the finest Seeds album yet. (The Seeds would go on to make one more great indie single the next year, “Shuckin’ and Jiving” b/w “You Took Me By Surprise,” two barnstorming rockers that up the heavy ante even more.)
This Sundazed gatefold double-single set not only replicates the sound of the originals thanks to use of master tapes, but also offers a great essay by Seeds scholar Jeff Jarema that finally reveals the names of the other musicians (outside of Saxon and Hooper) on the MGM sessions, plus some really cool vintage photos. File under “must have.”
Speaking of screaming punks, Sundazed has unleashed another punk killer among its RSD releases, the lasciviously lustful “Lorna” by Adrian Lloyd. Busting and burning the surfboards he brandished in the Rumblers and the Sunsets, Lloyd unloads a torrent of tribal drums, snotty vocals and screams (“approximately 25,” sez Jarema in the liners) for a rightly regarded classic getting its first reissue on a seven-inch. Possibly (and if so, justifiably) winded, Lloyd is a little more restrained on the B-side, “Got a Little Woman,” a groovy rocker with “woah yeah” call-and-answer vocals that’s pretty cool in its own right.
No discussion of screaming rock ’n’ roll would be complete without the Trashmen, who rode it into the Top 10 with the infamous Rivingstoned rant “Surfin’ Bird” in 1963. By 1966, the hits had dried up, the British had come, and a trip was about to be taken, but the Bird men defiantly stuck to rock ’n’ roll — as evidenced by the live versions of “Mean Woman Blues” and “Big Boss Man” on this RSD single on Sundazed, which has done more than perhaps anyone else in spreading the Trashmen gospel.
Sundazed head Bob Irwin’s other employer, Legacy, also did some great releases for Record Store Day – the best unquestionably being the 180-gram vinyl reissues of the mono mixes of three vintage Miles Davis albums: ’Round About Midnight, Milestones and Someday My Prince Will Come. Housed in sharp reproductions of the original covers, the sound emanating from the grooves is nothing short of stunning – presenting the material with a clarity that almost feels like being in the studio with Miles, John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones and (on Milestones) Cannonball Adderly.
Much has already been written about Miles’ first and third Columbia offerings, ’Round About Midnight and Milestones, respectively, what with the all-star lineup and groundbreaking evolution of hard bop into modal jazz – not to mention classics like the rearranged version of Monk’s “ ’Round Midnight” on the former and the swinging title track of the latter. So that leaves the mono vs. stereo question and, to these ears, much as I enjoyed the stereo CD remasters, the more intimate sound of the mono mix is preferable.
Released on the heels of two landmarks, Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain, Someday My Prince Will Come was bound to suffer in comparison. But it’s a fine album in its own right, thanks to all of the Kind of Blue lineup save Adderly and Bill Evans — although here the mono mix is more of an alternative for collectors.
Legacy has also given us 10 inches of previously unreleased Sly and the Family Stone at their peak, including “Music Lover/I Want to Take You Higher/Music Lover” from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, the rare promo-only single version of “Higher,” and a TV medley of “Sing a Simple Song/Hot Fun in the Summertime/Sex Machine/I Want to Take You Higher” from 1969. Nice to have, but the best news is the insert in this I Want to Take You Higher EP noting the upcoming release of a four-CD Sly box set with rarities and 18 previously unreleased tracks.
BELATED BLACK FRIDAY
Black Friday has become to Record Store Day what Labor Day is to Memorial Day – and spotlighted some worthy limited editions of its own the last time around, including a self-titled 12-inch four-song EP by Eric Burdon & the Greenhornes on Readymade. Old-meets-new affairs usually signify guest appearances on remakes, so I’m pleased to note that this is not only all new songs — but the best music that both Burdon and the Greenhornes have made in years. Hard rockers (“Black Dog,” not the Zeppelin or even Timebox track), slow blues (“Out of My Mind”) and flat-out rockers (“Can You Win”) fire up a package that makes one wish for a full-length. Age can be detected in the old Animal’s voice, incidentally, but like the bluesmen he’s long idolized, it’s fine seasoning, not wear.
Also worthy of investigation is Secret Stash’s single by the Prophets of Peace, “P.O.P” b/w “46th Street Bump Time.” From the same 1974 session that produced one side of their lone single (included on Twin Cities Funk & Soul, reviewed in the upcoming issue) comes this previously unreleased pairing of two fine Tower of Power-styled horn soul groovers: a vocal number on the top side and an instrumental on the flip. Limited to 500 copies.
Due in great part to the compilation release of Those Shocking, Shaking Days (Now Again, 2010), the exposure and subsequent interest in unknown and/or long forgotten Indonesian psych/hard rock groups of the late 1960s to early-mid 1970s has been growing in recent years. A virtual treasure-trove of lost tracks and obscure bands, one can only wonder why these Indo treasures weren’t excavated sooner. One of the stand-out tracks on …Shaking Days is undoubtedly Shark Move’s “Evil War”, an incredibly eerie, psychedelia drenched gem that just oozes monster tones and thumping bass. Lest we forget, during the early 1970s, Southeast Asia was very much in turmoil and littered with devastating violence. “Evil War”, a song written in the very backyard of that seemingly never ending conflict, speaks volumes about the people who endured so much, yet who persevered in spirit, as evidenced in their their music. And so, in 1973, against the backdrop of war, Shark Move laid down their one and only album, Ghede Chokra’s.
One of the members of Shark Move, a cat by the name of Benny Soebardja, would go on to work with another well-known Indonesian band of the period, Giant Step. It was with Giant Step that Benny almost caught his “big break”, when they came painfully close to signing with Virgin Records (UK). However, as with most Indo acts of the time, this was not to be; the world just didn’t seem ready. Eventually, Giant Step ran its course in relative ambiguity, being contained, and ultimately lost, within the confines of mid-70s Indonesia. Refusing to lay down his pen, however, as well as his guitar, Benny would go on to crank out some of the most phenomenal solo music the Indonesian music market has ever been hit with. Much like his earlier work with Shark Move and Giant Step, Benny’s seminal solo recordings of the 1970s were released without label support, making them essentially private pressings. Between 1975 and 1980, Benny recorded five albums, all of which have never seen any official vinyl issuing…until now. Thanks to the salvage divers over at Strawberry Rain, Benny’s first three solo albums, Benny Soebardja & Lizard(1975), Gimmie a Piece of Gut Rock (1977), and Night Train (1978), have been released on vinyl for the first time ever.
BENNY SOEBARDJA – Benny Soebardja & Lizard (1975/2012) [Ltd. Ed. 250] (Strawberry Rain) LP
Where to begin? Well, for starters, this was Benny’s first “official” solo release. And, with no label backing this sucker, the creative freedom was flowing — and man, can you hear it. Hell, you can feelit! Backed by Lizard (a group made up of essentially mystery musicians, although I personally suspect some Sharkmovers are present), what you hear on this album is beyond amazing. Standout tracks include “18 Years Old” and “Cynthia”; “Cynthia” will leave you wondering if you’ve ever really heard a love song before. Upon its original release (if you can even call it a release), Benny Soebardja & Lizard appeared on cassette only, in sudo-bootleg form, and was ultimately absorbed by the sands of time. Enter Strawberry Rain records! This reissue has everything going for it. One, it’s a limited edition pressing of 250 copies (however, the Indonesian market had reserved 50% of those pressings, leaving only 125 copies available worldwide). Two, the sleeve on this LP sports the original banned artwork. And three, the album (as well as the other two re-releases) is housed in a vintage tip-on style jacket! How cool is that?
BENNY SOEBARDJA – Gimmie a Piece of Gut Rock (1977/2012) [Ltd. Ed. 500] (Strawberry Rain) LP
Ah, Gimmie a Piece of Gut Rock. Just the title alone is far out! Recorded in just 30 days — rumor has it that Benny was given unlimited studio time — the sound you get off Gimmie… is layered, at times complex, and not necessarily what one would expect coming off of Benny Soebardja & Lizard…but it works! It works so well in fact, that some collectors argue this to be his finest hour. While I personally don’t adhere to that opinion, it is nonetheless an epic ride and one definitely worth buying a ticket for. Hey, speaking of Lizard, guess who backed-up the noise on this effort? You got it! But what most people don’t know is that Benny also had help from some even older pals on this one, with Giant Step filling the gaps.
BENNY SOEBARDJA – Night Train (1978/2012) [Ltd. Ed. 500] (Strawberry Rain) LP
Recorded in 1978, Night Train may very well be the rarest thing that Benny Soebardja ever laid down. Cassette copies of this creature fetch an upwards of three figures on the Indonesian market! The first track, “Wise World”, is a testament in itself; it’s also a track that paves the way for the rest of the album, preparing you for some amazing fuzz as well as other trippy musical dealings. Laced in classic Benny Soebardja psychedelic style, Night Train stands out as one of his most crowning achievements. Thanks to Strawberry Rain, this “Benny at his best” title has finally seen a proper vinyl pressing, although it is limited to 500 copies and is getting harder and harder to track down nowadays. (Bryan O’Keefe)