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
I recently came across this album and have been absolutely hooked since I heard it, especially this tune. But every time I would go to start it again from the beginning I couldn’t help but wonder why this was the only album Bobby ever released. There’s an undeniable vibe to the whole record, and I couldn’t imagine finding a way to capture that in a recording and then calling it quits. Though it could have happened for a lot of reasons, I suspect that it might have something to do with one of the members, Amelia Meath, getting a little busier with her other project, a group called Sylvan Esso. Both this album and Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut were released on Partisan Records based out of New York/London. In addition to her work with Sylvan Esso, Meath also recorded vocals for Phil Cook’s latest record along with another project called Mountain Man which features another member of Bobby, Molly Sarlé.
Researching this record really had the feeling of convergence for a lot of threads in my musical taste that seemed disparate but are in fact closely connected. From this record reminding me of the first time I heard Animal Collective Sung Tongs to the personnel overlap between Bobby and Sylvan Esso (one of my girlfriend’s favorite groups) to Meath’s collaboration with Phil Cook. Cook is in the touring band of Hiss Golden Messenger, who my dad and I both try to see live whenever he’s in our neck of the woods. Maybe this is cheesy, but I like to imagine that there is some underground cadre of people who all have a tacit understanding of what good music should sound like regardless of genre and seeing all these overlaps isn’t exactly disproving that thesis. From the description on Partisan’s website it seems like the sessions for this record would be hard to replicate, but whatever they did I’m sure glad it was being recorded.
My Red Dog appears on Lukas Read’s debut self-released record Ramble Man, Ramble, which he put out in late 2013. After releasing one more EP on his own, Read just put out another record Neo Age with the German label Dying for Bad Music. Though his latest release is all instrumental fingerstyle guitar and experimentation with effects, his first record is a nice blend of instrumental guitar and original singer-songwriter material. You can check out a video for the title track of Neo Age here. I knew that I was going to like this album as soon as I saw there was a tribute medley to John Fahey’s Poor Boys Long Way From Home, which is one of my favorite Fahey tunes. You can find his EP over at Bandcamp and purchase a limited edition CD from Dying for Bad Music here.
An Die Musik is part of a fascinating release by Josephie Foster which presents a modern revival of a tradition in German music known as a lieder. Lieders refer to the practice of setting the words of German Romantic poets like Goethe to music which was particularly popular among composers like Schubert and Schumann. Though music has accompanied poetry for about as long as both poetry and music have existed, the term lieder or lied often describes a setting for piano and solo vocalist, though some were composed for a full orchestra. Foster recasts this tradition with her haunting vocals and interleaving guitar strumming and distorted electric riffs for her second album A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. I found this release because it was recorded and mixed by John Dawson of New Riders of the Purple Sage fame, whose discography I’ve been known to peruse from time to time. This lied was originally composed by Schubert and is a setting of a poem by Franz von Schober.
Foster has released a number of albums of her own compositions since the release of A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Her most recent album, No More Lamps in the Morning, was released on Fire America Records earlier in 2016.
Nossa Bova comes from Bröselmaschine’s self-titled debut, but is also featured on the excellent Soul Jazz Deutsche Elektronische Musik 2 compilation. Their debut was produced by Rolf Ulrich-Kaiser, who was an influential music critic and label owner in 1970s Germany and who also produced Tangerine Dream’s Zeit as well as Sergius Golowin’s debut record, which was featured as a track of the day a few weeks back. Like Golowin, Bröselmaschine’s founder Peter Bursch was a folklorist who has published a number of books about German folk music as well as guitar instruction books in Germany. Despite vocalist Jenni Schuckes really making the tropical vibe here, she only appeared on this album with the group and as far as I can tell didn’t record anywhere else, which is a shame. I’m gonna take another opportunity to plug that Soul Jazz comp because it is really excellent.
The Trees Community was a communal musical project based out of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. The group were a religious order of sorts in that community, splitting their time between performing music, giving tours of the church, among other duties. A key feature of their work was the use of an array of instruments from around the world including the sitar, tamboura, and Venezuelan harp accompanying complicated vocal arrangements.
According to their website they began meeting in an abandoned loft in New York’s East Village to share meals and discuss all manner of spiritual matters, eventually incorporating music into their spiritual practice. When the building was set to be demolished, they–in true hippie fashion–purchased a bus and began living communally within and performing across the country. A member of the group has written a book documenting their experiences that you can read here. A few years after leaving NYC, they recorded an album called The Christ Tree, which was the only official release that the group ever put out. In 2006, Hand/Eye released The Christ Tree on CD for the first time. This box set contained all extant material recorded by the group, including live performances and a cassette released by the group called Portrait of Jesus Christ in Music. It looks like Discogs is your best bet to track down the release, although digital files can be found on CDBaby if that’s your bag.
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.
Michael Hurley has been writing songs and performing since the early 1960s, though never in the same place for very long. His first release, First Songs, came out on Folkways Recordings in 1964 and he didn’t release another record until 1971’s Armchair Boogie. Though Lonesome Graveyard features keyboards over guitar, much of his output relies on acoustic guitar, fiddle, and his weary vocals. Before he even began writing songs, he would draw comics for his own amusement which featured two wolf characters named Boonie and Jocko who wear human clothes, drink wine, and generally philander. He paints the art for his albums himself, and many feature these two and other humanoid animals engaged in other forms of debauchery. Over the years he has developed something of a cult following, and as a result he’s been able to release records and perform pretty regularly since the early 1970s. His songs have been covered by the likes of Cat Power and Espers, which has led to increased interest in his work in recent years. According to an interview with NPR:
“They have to have their festivals … [w]henever they have one, they have to have their grandfather with them, which is good for me, because my peers aren’t going to come out that night anyway.”
With over 25 releases, it can be a bit daunting to know where to start. For what it’s worth, I’d check out Armchair Boogie, Parsnip Snips, and Ancestral Swamp.
Perhaps best known for their tight vocal harmonies and recordings of old folk standards as The Watersons, Danny Rose comes off Lal and Mike Watersons now-beloved folk classic Bright Phoebus. The renewed interest in folk music in the 1960s was kind to the ancient sounding vocal work of The Waterson Family. However, many fans of their vocal work were not kind to Bright Phoebus because it incorporated elements of rock n’ roll and country music, an apparent betrayal to their central role in the folk revival. It was beset by further problems when half of the 2,000 albums were pressed with center holes which were not quite center followed by their label, Trailer Records, going bankrupt soon after.
Since this initial frosty response, it has since been embraced as a pioneering record and many covers have been recorded. The best version I’ve heard comes from Hiss Golden Messenger and William Tyler who I first heard perform it on a cassette recording of a session at Duke University’s WXDU. The record was recorded in a tizzy over a two week period, and includes performances from Richard Thompson and Steeleye Span’s Tim Hart. Lal Waterson passed away in 2009 and Mike went two years later, leaving behind a once-forgotten gem that has now become a collector’s items, with original pressings fetching as much as 280 bucks.