One of the coolest live music experiences I’ve had was seeing Good Willsmith perform at a residency in Chicago where each of the three members was on a different floor of a three story building. I won’t bother trying to capture the feeling with a lot of adjectives, but it was a great show. I distinctly remember emerging onto the floor where Natalie Chami (aka TALsounds) was performing and after having seen both Doug and Max play solo it really hit home how much her vocals and synth work added to the group’s sound. That’s why I was so pumped to learn my local record store Eroding Winds had a copy of her solo record Love Sick from Ba Da Bing Records. I actually received it as a birthday present and when my gf asked about it, apparently the guy at Eroding Winds said he didn’t think anybody in town would buy it. I guess I have some evangelizing to do.
After listening to it a few times through yesterday, it’s hard to understand who wouldn’t enjoy this album, which consists of all improvisations recorded with no overdubs. In addition to performing as part of Good Willsmith and as a solo artist, Chami is also part of another ambient duo called l’éternèbre, which started in Chicago and is now a long-distance collaboration. The other half of the group records under the name grey ghost, and he appeared on one of the first tapes I bought from Hausu Mountain. It was the second volume of their Mugen series, and he actually shares the tape with TALsounds. You can hear more of her solo stuff over at her bandcamp and order your own physical releases of Love Sick here.
Though not as well-known as Fahey or Kottke, Peter Lang sounds right at home among them on the 1974 compilation released by Takoma records where I first heard his playing. This track comes off his debut The Thing At The Nursery Room Window, which was put out by Takoma a year earlier. Like Kottke, Lang also hails from my home state of Minnesota and to my knowledge still lives there. As the presenter in this segment from Minnesota Public Television in 1977 lays out, the guitarists who are often grouped together under the label of American Primitive were trying to elevate the fingerstyle playing found in American folk, blues, and country music to the level of respect usually afforded to classical instruments. Even if they didn’t necessarily succeed, they definitely produced some great records in the process.
Lang released four records in the 1970s before taking a break to pursue a career in animation. He did return to music in the early 2000s, releasing a couple albums of his own and appearing on a John Fahey tribute compilation. You can see him perform Young Man live in 2007 here. I’m not sure if its the same performance, but a live album from around the same time is available on Spotify along with some of his more recent releases. When I go to record stores I usually keep an eye out for Takoma recordings, as they’re not always available electronically and even if its all in your head I think this kind of music really does sound better on vinyl.
While I’ve been a fan of Thrill Jockey for a while, I only recently discovered Mountains by way of the Radio War Nerd podcast. After a few episodes of really good ambient music between segments they finally revealed their producer Brendon as the source, who works at Telescope Audio. Brendon is one half of Mountains along with Koen Holtkamp. They began releasing material as Mountains through their collective/label Apestaartje in 2005, which focused on “gradual development and extremely detailed listening.” In 2009 they released Choral, their first record on Thrill Jockey, and have released four more albums since then. After a few listens, this album in particular calls to mind another Thrill Jockey release by Town and Country, which I picked up on a whim because it was on sale and I have loved it ever since. Looking into Mountains for this post I found that Apestaartje also re-issued Town and Country’s self-titled debut from 1998, proving conclusively that all of the coolest people are friends with each other. You can pick up copies of this and other Mountains records over at the Thrill Jockey site.
Though I wasn’t around when it came out, it’s hard not to see Dave Bixby’s Ode To Quetzalcoatl as a kind of omen for the hangover that was coming for the Free Love generation as the 60s turned into the 70s. The utter loneliness that suffuses the record comes out of Bixby’s experiences with LSD in high school, which he describes thus: “My love for adventure took me out where no man has gone and I couldn’t get back. I should have stuck to beer and pot. Dave never came back. My empty body wandered aimlessly for months with not much to say. People I knew seemed strange and unfamiliar. The life I had was deleted and I was eventually reborn.”
Though he had played in some folk and rock groups as a teenager, the songs that would become Ode To Quetzalcoatl emerged from his playing at prayer meetings led by Don Degraff. As attendance grew, others encouraged Bixby to record the songs and the record was released in 1969. Around the same time his draft number was called and I’ll let him describe what happened:
“I made an appointment with the draft board and I handed them a letter from my father stating he had been a marine and fought in WW II. His father fought in WWI and supported my decision to pass on war. Then I handed them Ode to Quetzalcoatl. After reading the back cover and asking me some questions. I remember being asked “David do you have any questions for us? Yes, why don’t we deprogram and retrain our soldiers for civilian life after they do the dirty work? WW II left emotional and mental scars on my father and compromised our whole family.” No answer to the question but they thought it was a good question.”
A year later he released another album under the name Harbinger called Second Coming which is a little more upbeat in tone but has the same stripped-down production that makes Ode such a treasure. Speaking of treasure, if you happen to own an original then I’d hang onto it as the originals are nearly impossible to come by. Both records were re-issued in 2009, though the re-pressing of Ode has since sold out. Digital files of both are available at Bixby’s Bandcamp page along with an album of previously unreleased songs.
Bixby relocated to the Grand Canyon in 1979 and has lived there ever since. I wrote to him a while back to ask about chords for Morning Sun which he was willing to provide, so I’ve included a link to those below for others who might like to play this song themselves.
Morning Sun chords
Before they ever stepped into a recording booth, the Ghetto Brothers had already achieved some local fame for their role in brokering a truce among themselves and other Bronx gangs in 1971. While he was trying to clean up his neighborhood, Benny “Benjy” Melendez and his brother Victor formed a musical group also called the Ghetto Brothers that combined their love of the Beatles and their own Puerto Rican musical heritage. The group recorded their only album, Power-Fuerza, in one afternoon in Manhattan, and the album has since become a collector’s item because it’s really really good and really really rare. According to a 2002 interview, the Ghetto Brothers were known to don berets to emulate Che Guevera and some of their lefty leanings can be heard on the song Viva Puerto Rico Libre. Power-Fuerza was re-issued by Truth and Soul in 2012 and from what I can see the re-issue comes with extensive liner notes about the group and its history. Getting the re-issue on Discogs is your best bet if you want to pick one up, as the originals sell for about a thousand bucks when they do come up for sale. Check out this video Truth and Soul produced for the re-issue if you want to see some cool archival photos and videos of the Ghetto Brothers in action:
At the beginning of February Justin Wright, the brains and brawn behind Expo ’70, sustained a serious injury to his hand. Given that he lives in America and this country’s healthcare is essentially bloodsport, someone has set up a fundraiser to support him while he recovers and to pay off his future medical bills. To that end, I wanted to share one of my favorite tracks off of a tape I brought from the man himself that makes me long for my old Toyota with the tape deck every time I hear it. I’ve written about Expo ’70 on a previous post so I won’t repeat it here, but suffice to say that he is a good guy who works his ass off making great music and if you can support him with a donation or by buying some of his music I’m sure he’d appreciate it. The Expo ’70 bandcamp page is here but this and many other tapes can be found at Sonic Meditations. If you can join me in donating please do or at the very least pick up some of his music. I have yet to hear anything I don’t like, but this tape is definitely among my favorites.
Long before he would become the king of Latin Soul, Joe Bataan was born Bataan Nitollano in East Harlem and in his teenage years headed up a street gang called The Dragons, according to a 2009 interview with Blues and Soul. As a result of his days in the Dragons, he was incarcerated at Coxsachie Correctional Facility and it was there that he discovered an interest in music. Upon his release in 1965, he formed his first group, Joe Bataan and the Latin Swingers, and the group was quickly signed to Fania Records. Gypsy Woman is the title track from their first release in 1967.
While Bataan is credited with writing this version, Curtis Mayfield’s group The Impressions released a song called Gypsy Woman in 1961. The lyrics are nearly identical, though the Impressions version doesn’t have people chanting “she smokes pot!” in the background or the Latin percussion that ties this song together in my opinion. Bataan would eventually help found the label Salsoul, for which he would record a few albums including this early hip hop song Rap-o Clap-o from 1979. Incidentally if you listen to Rap-o Clap-o and don’t enjoy it then kindly close this browser window and never return to this blog again, as it is not for you and very little in this world is.