F.J. McMahon – Black Night Woman

F.J. McMahon recorded Spirit of the Golden Juice following his return from a tour in Vietnam with the U.S. Air Force. The record rarely made it outside of California and even within the state the distribution was minimal so he stopped trying to make it as a musician and starting repairing computers. Over time it became something of a cult classic for fans of folk rock from that era. His story is similar to that of another artist I’ve written about here, Robert Lester Folsom, and in fact the largest and most accessible reissue of both McMahon’s only record and Folsom’s come courtesy of Anthology Records.

In June 2017 McMahon performed all of Spirit of the Golden Juice with the band Quilt in support of the re-issue and also gave an interview where he talked about his career and life after music. He had played up and down California with various groups, and in the interview he talks a little about that scene:

I started playing a few old clubs and getting with some old friends to play bar-band gigs for weekend money. But I was also heavily involved in the anti-war thing, so I was trying to get my buddies who hadn’t gone yet not to go in the military. I didn’t want them going over there, so I was involved. Music was a big part of that movement. Everything was music at the time. There was a feeling in the ’60s that, if you saw somebody else with long hair, you knew they felt more or less like you did. There was a feeling guaranteed between the two of you that music could change the world. That may be naïve, but it was an honest-to-God feeling we had.

When asked whether he is surprised that the songs resonate with contemporary audience, he had this to say:

The overwhelming feeling I get today is that all these kids who are going out to the far corners of the earth and getting themselves killed, they’re doing it because there are no jobs. That thought devastated me when I was singing that song. I wrote [Five Year Kansas Blues] 50 years ago about guys who went to jail instead of going to war. That was their choice. But now I’m thinking about the kids who can’t get a job, so they go into the Army and they get shot up. That’s not okay. So things haven’t changed very much at all.

He hinted at future performances in the interview, though there’s no indication he’s got more songs to record. At the very least we might start hearing more of his stuff in Vietnam movies instead of the ubiquitous Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Damien Jurado – A.M. AM

This song has been stuck in my head ever since I heard it in the Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country about the Rajneeshpuram commune in central Oregon, which I guess is no surprise since that series has been all I could think about since I finished it. This song appears underneath some of the sequences showing the commune at its most utopian, which of course is only one part of the story but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sort of see why people went there when I saw all those people hugging and smiling while this song played.

I hadn’t heard of Damien Jurado until now, but he’s been performing and releasing music since the 90s. His debut album Waters Ave S was released on Sub Pop in 1997. This track comes off his most recent full-length album Visions Of Us On The Land, released in 2016 on Secretly Canadian records. Cloudy Shoes, the first song off his 2010 album Saint Bartlett, appears at the very end of the series. I may not have heard of him before, but I’ll definitely be going through his back catalog now. You can purchase Visions of Us here.

The original score from the series is also excellent and is going to be available at the end of April through the composer Brocker Way’s bandcamp. Though I doubt I’m the only one, I did make a Spotify playlist with all the songs from the series I could find in case others are interested.

Robert Lester Folsom – Jericho

Robert Lester Folsom only released one solo album on his own imprint Abacus Records before moving from his native south Georgia to the Florida panhandle, where he worked painting houses. He did play with another group called The Stroke Band, which released an album in 1978 entitled Green and Yellow, but the project disbanded shortly after. While he was painting, his 1976 solo release Music and Dreams slowly accrued a cult following among soft rock enthusiasts and listening to Jericho, it is easy to understand why. Before Anthology Records reissued Music and Dreams in 2014, collectors were limited to a number of quasi-official releases from Asia. However, Anthology did this album right and also made a short documentary to accompany the release. The doc has lots of good color, including Folsom talking about picking pecans so he could buy Led Zeppelin II. Anthology also put out a number of previously unreleased recordings called Ode to a Rainy Day: Archives 1972-1975. That released is also on Bandcamp and is worth checking out if you like this track, especially See You Later, I’m Gone and Another Sunday Morning.

Yura Yura Teikoku – Nantonaku Yume O

Yura Yura Teikoku formed in the late-1980s in Tokyo and were very highly regarded in the Japanese underground music scene there, though there first performance outside Japan didn’t come until 2005. This track comes off their last commercial release, 2007’s Hollow Me. Though the group has had a number of drummers over the years, bassist Chiyo Kamekawa and singer/guitarist Shintaro Sakamoto anchored the group until they disbanded in 2010, citing a lack of enthusiasm. Both Kamekawa and Sakamoto have remained active with solo projects, and while I can’t say I’ve heard Kamekawa’s work I can vouch for Sakamoto’s two solo releases: How to Live with a Phantom and Let’s Dance Raw. What really hooks me about this group (and Sakamoto’s solo work) is the blend of folk rock and psychedelia, which is a combination many have attended but few have pulled off as well as these guys do. If you like this track just listen to the auto-generated playlist for this track. It has a couple tracks from Sakamoto’s solo albums as well as some live cuts and it’s had my foot a-tappin’ all day.

Tin Pan Alley – Yellow Magic Carnival

Following the release of Happy End’s final studio album, Haruomi Hosono and Shigeru Suzuki teamed up with Tatsuo Hayashi to form the short-lived group Tin Pan Alley. Yellow Magic Carnival comes off the groups studio debut though there is a necessary disclaimer needed when discussing these groups. The rock scene in Japan was highly collaborative so drawing firm boundaries between particular groups can be fraught. For example, the three members of Tin Pan Alley released material as Caramel Mama a few years before their self-titled debut. Hosono is certainly well known to fans of Yellow Magic Orchestra, and I’d encourage exploration of the material from the early 70s, especially for fans of the California folk rock scene active around the same time.

While Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi, and Ryuichi Sakamoto had long and productive solo careers, exploring the members’ pre-YMO work shows just how rich and collaborative this scene was. As an example, Hayashi contributed percussion to Hosono and Takahashi’s solo releases and if I had any understanding of Japanese I could probably find more examples. If you dig this release and haven’t heard Kazemachi Roman by Happy End be sure to check that out because it’s been hugely influential on Japanese rock music. I did a short-run radio show about the context of YMO and while licensing seems to have wiped out some of the episodes, the episode about the pre-YMO stuff seems to be still available on Mixcloud and gives a broader sample of this scene.