Sandy Bull emerged from the acoustic folk and fingerpicking revival of the 1960s, and while his first release, a collaboration with Billy Higgins entitled Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo, hinted at his later experimentation, 1969’s E Pluribus Unum showcases his innovative blend of fingerpicking techniques and electric experimentation. He was a master of many string instruments including the banjo, pedal steel, and the oud, which he’s holding shown in the album cover for E Pluribus Unum.
Another remarkable thing to keep in mind listening to No Deposit-No Return Blues is that Bull is playing every instrument on the record, including percussion. Not only did he make use of overdubbing in the studio, but he also performed with pre-recorded tracks when playing live, as demonstrated by the live record Still Valentines Day, 1969 put out by Water in 2006. While the oud is featured on No Deposit-No Return Blues, to get a better idea of what it sounds like I’d suggest giving a listen to this improvisation from that live record.
Vanguard has released a number of compilations of Bull’s work from the 1960s, including improvised material, classical pieces by Bach, and more blues-oriented stuff like this track. One of my favorite labels, Drag City, put out a live album by Bull which also credits the Ace Tone Rhythm Machine, thought to be the first commercially-sold drum machine. To hear Bull perform live with his oud and this early drum machine check out this track from the Drag City album. In 2010 his daughter KC released a documentary about her father also called No Deposit No Return Blues that I couldn’t find a full version of online but which I would definitely want to see.
It’s as if someone opened a time capsule and found a whole new Fripp/Eno record for me to put in my ear holes. Transcendence comes off the groups 2013 release Bitchitronics put out by Drag City. The group coalesced as a solo project of CAVE guitarist/organist Cooper Crain and primarily comprises Crain, Rob Frye, and Dan Quinlivan. All three are active in the psychedelic/experimental scene in Chicago, with Frye and Quinlivan contributing to releases for Chandeliers, who came to WNUR when I worked there and rocked it, as well as appearing on small-print releases for Circuit Des Yeux, who appears on Chicago label Thrill Jockey. Crain is also an active recording engineer, working on records for Heavy Times and Circuit Des Yeux. Given that the earth is rapidly heating, if you’re not gonna get out there and try and shut down Exxon Mobil then I’d recommend loading up on fuzzy guitar drones and blasting the hell off.
Meg Baird began her music career as the vocalist and guitarist of Philadelphia psychedelic folk trio Espers along with Greg Weeks before releasing a string of solo releases. “All I Ever Wanted” appears on her first solo record, Dear Companion which was released by Drag City in 2007. The tune was originally penned by John Dawson for the first New Riders of the Purple Sage album, which features Jerry Garcia on pedal steel, Mickey Hart on percussion, and Phil Lesh credited as a producer.
Dear Companion features a mix of covers, arrangements of traditional folk tunes, and original songs and it’s a treat from start to finish. She has since released two more solo records on Drag City, including Don’t Weigh Down the Light at the end of 2015, and has appeared on releases by Kurt Vile, Sharon Von Etten, and Glenn Jones. I couldn’t find much in the way of tour dates in support of her latest album, but if I were a betting man I’d say it’d be a pretty awesome show.
Gary Higgins recorded only one album, 1973’s Red Hash, before he was arrested on drug charges, never to record again. Luckily for us, he left an absolute gem of a record, with beautifully sparse guitar arrangement and an irresistible loner charm. According to this interview it was recorded in hurried sessions before Higgins was to begin his prison term, and was released on Nufusmoon Records. Though well received at the time, Higgins confinement made touring to support it impossible and it was largely forgotten outside of record collecting circles, where it is considered quite the find. Six Organs of Admittance, aka Ben Chasny, recorded a cover of Thicker Than A Smokey for his 2005 Drag City release School of The Flower, and on the liner notes he included a plea for information about Higgins. Eventually Drag City reissued Red Hash with two bonus tracks and Higgins would eventually perform with Six Organs of Admittance on tour. When asked about plans to record again, Higgins was cryptically hopeful:
That is ongoing and always will be; there are lots of things in the archives and on the stove…how or what makes it out there is yet to be seen. Having an avenue to make that possible is my greatest realization with all this renewed interest.
Here’s hoping for more Higgins!