Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Exploito # 9 - Everything Electric and the Firebirds

Knowledge of electricity stretches back to at least 1600 and according to some sources as far back as ancient Greece.
By the end of the sixties there was nothing new about electricity. It did not represent the cutting edge of technology, or a science fiction future. In fact it was pretty mundane in the US and Europe.
So how to explain the slew of 'electricy' records put out by exploito kings Crown?
Within a few years 'bands' such as the Underground Electrics, The Electric Underground, Lee Akers and the Electric Generation and the Electric Firebirds, not to mention T Swift and the Electric Bag (already discussed in another post), were all unleashed on an unsuspecting gullible record buying public.
The obvious thought it that the word electric was supposed to make record buyers think of electric guitars and thereby making them think that they were buying some fuzzed out, scuzzed out, deep down and dirty masterpiece.
Of course the electric guitar was not a recent invention and its use in pop music, not to mention jazz, rock and roll, surf, country and western and soul, was old hat. But why let that stop you!

Hey Jude by the Underground Electrics starts badly and gets a whole lot worse!
Seemingly the work of a group of musicians struggling to master their instruments as they are being taped, the Underground Electrics would have been thrown out of any self respecting bar for sounding too weak.
They are not helped by the recording which gives every impression that they are in a lead lined barn. Songs stop suddenly, drum mistakes are retained, fade in and outs are sloppy by any but the most generous of standards.
Everything sounds like a first take, frequently of songs that no one in the band has played before.
The mixing favours the drums over the guitar which might not be so back if the drummer could have kept time. There is a bass in there somewhere but you have to really strain to hear it.
As for the singer, he gets to be placed at the front of the mix which makes his every bum note excruciating. Album opener Hey Jude showcases his peculiar song killing abilities to devastating effect. The good news is that if you can get through it the rest of the record's blues-by-numbers tracks are a better fit to his voice. But only just.
Without doubt the best thing about this record is the psychedelic yoga miss on the cover.
Things have GOT to get better!
Heavy Heavy Heavy by the Lee Akers and the Electric Generation begins promisingly with And When I Die. While not 'heavy' its a fun romp combining blues and country elements. I quite like it to be honest!
Having amused with the bar-room world weary And When I Die, Lee keeps up the pace with All I Ever Tried to Do Is Try. Unfortunately his voice starts to go a bit on the higher notes and he's now heading further into some obvious country territory. Not a heavy song either.
What's this with An Evening in the Country? Lee starts to stretch out a bit and growls a little and ups the tempo. His Electric Generation band mate on guitar provides one of the worst solos committed to vinyl but there's a fun piano solo which comes out of nowhere so we'll give it a pass.
However, having pleased with An Evening in the Country Lee and his cohorts make the fatal mistake of repeating the song for the rest of the record. All of the subsequent tracks sounds the same and for any but the most ardent of Lee Akers acolytes that's nine songs too many.
After a while he begins to sound increasingly demented while his band sound increasingly like an incompetent country bar band. And I don't mean that as a compliment.

We move on to the Electric Underground the their Guitar Explosion.
Look at those crazy cats with their weird facial hair, psychedelic light show and sunglasses - cool man!
And dig the linear notes:-"Electric guitars of today are as far a cry from the guitars of yesteryear as the music that is played on them. Through a process of evolution, the guitar, traditionally a simple folk instrument, has been developed and updated to play the music of NOW; the music that is a true reflection of our present super-technological age. Controlled by buttons, knobs and whatever other device the player has added on his own, the electric guitar has gained a new versatility. Used by today's talented rock groups, the psychedelic sounds produced can be described as a truly 'mind-bending' experience. Presented here is a collection of music recorded by such a group. The titles themselves, THE ULTIMATE TRIP, UNDERGROUND FREAKOUT and AERIAL FLIPOUT give a clue to the rockin' good time you will have listening and dancing to this album."
I love the bit about guitars having buttons and knobs!
Sounds great doesn't it? Alas when the needle comes down you get some sax led rock and roll from the early sixties that is in no way psychedelic.
In fact its our old friend Jerry Cole but this time in an even earlier incarnation as Billy Boyd from about 1963!
Fun but unlikely to trip you out!

Love this lady's mod threads. Although we wouldn't get along well if she treated my records like that!!!!
Is this the same as the Electric Generation? No. Is it the same as the Underground Electrics? Nope. How about the Electric Underground? Could be!
In fact this is Jerry Cole again. That's right its another recycling of an old Cole record, in this case Guitars a Go Go. Two songs from that record did develop into Animated Egg tracks but in their
current form the guitar is very clean and almost polite, they still have a surf/instrumental feel to them.
Again the titles are great but intentionally 'psychedlic' - Woodstock Hour, Let's Make It, Live Cream, Heavy, Doors Time.

No need to do a double take. This is actually a completely different record but with the same sleeve. I'm still not happy about her slap dash way with records.
Bit of an odd one this. The Associated Soul Group, Top Hits of Today, put out on theContessa label its actually a gatefold! The inside contains adverts for other Contessa releases such as The Best of the Polynesians and Top Pop Hits of Today

The covers of Scarborough Fair and The Sound of Silence are as weak as all exploito vocals. And they've also included the cover of MacArthur Park by the Stone Canyon Group, so obviously someone liked it, and Up Up and Away from the Generation Gap.
But would you believe it, all of the other songs are Id/ Animated Egg tracks!
We' get Our Man Hendrix on the Projection Company LP, Are You Experienced from T Swift, Wild Times from the Stone Canyon Rock Group (amongst others) and Don't Think Twice (also known as I Love You I Do) also on the Stone Canyon record and Uh Uh Uh and I Can't Stand It are outakes from the Id LP.
Almost everything is taken from somewhere else. No wonder they had enough money left over for a gatefold! Great exploito stuff!

You've probably guessed already that the Firebirds have nothing to do with the Electric Firebirds - thankfully!
Not a repackaging of an earlier record, Crown obviously splashed out on some musicians. I don't think they spent overly much on them but they were lucky enough to get a band who, within their limitations, really knew what they were doing.
Go straight past the very average Door's cover that gives the record its name and the second track Delusions which is frankly dreadful and play track three, Reflections. Do you like heavy, fuzzy, stoner rock? In which case this record is for you. If you like Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf and the Stooges you will like this. Primitive and hard this is the kind of music that all the other 'electric' 'heavy' records above said they were but weren't.
There were obviously enough tracks in the can to put out two records. I haven't got the 31 Flavors - Hair but by all accounts its the same band doing the same thing.
Check out the YouTube clips below

Friday, 8 July 2011

Exploito # 8 - Hendrixploitation and beyond

Charles Shaar Murray in his wonderful book Crosstown Traffic (which, if you haven't read you really must - its one of the best pieces of writing on pop and rock that I have ever read) points out that the Hendrix image can stand for a range of things.
There's drug use, phallocentric hard rock, wild sex and anti-authoritarianism.
Of course, if you were a teenage boy in the late sixties what could be more attractive than sex drugs and rock and roll? What did you care about the real man, or maybe ever the real man's music? If you could associate yourself with the image of Hendrix maybe people, or even better girls, would see you as the bad boy you really wanted to be? Which in a nut-shell is the purpose of exploito records - image over content every time!
Hendrix, however, was a guitar genius and where were the likes of Miller and Sherman going to find one of those? Jerry Cole of course.
T Swift and the Electric Bag are Jerry Cole and his Id buddies. This record came out in 1968 around the time of Electric Ladyland when Hendrix was at the peak of his popularity and powers.
The cover versions are all competent and quite fun. A Jet is a version of the Box Tops The Letter while Take it Easy Baby is really just Spooky by Classics IV - but we already know that Jerry Cole is very good a 'reinterpreting' the hits of the day.
Interestingly What's Your Bag is Our Man Hendrix which appears on the Projection Company LP  - an even earlier example of Hendrixploitation!
It wouldn't be a Miller record without some Animated Egg which we get in the form of Free Form in G which is really Sock it My Way from the Animated Egg LP.
The Stinger, the Strut and Red Eyes are re-tooled amped up tracks from an even earlier Cole exploito record called Guitars a Go Go - well why waste them even if they were recorded before Hendrix released his first record under his own name?
My favourite is Expo in Sound. A freeform freakout that is quite brilliant and which should have made it on to the Animated Egg LP.
Of course, Hendrix was only one of a number of counter cultural sources that the exploito merchants would draw upon.
That changed dramatically in 1970 when Hendrix died mysteriously in his flat in London, possibly of an overdose of legal sleeping tablets, an overdose of illegal drugs, or as some conspiracy lovers claim, he was killed by the CIA.
What should the owners of a record label do to mark the passing of a guitar god? Release some knock off records of course!

It would have cost money to use some of Hendrix's own music and as we know spending money was not something that the owners of Alshire liked to do.
Instead why not simply use a photo of the dead musician on the cover and retitle some old songs so that they sound a bit like ones Hendrix wrote?
So we have Hazy Color - Purple Haze, Flame - Fire, Experienced You - Are you Experienced? etc etc. All credits are to Sherman/Miller!
But what about the music I hear you ask. Oh yes the music. It is of course the Animated Egg LP. Of all the things that Jerry Cole was, a Hendrix follower was not one of them. And given that he recorded the Animated Egg tracks in 1967 it would have been pretty amazing if he had been!

Alshire liked the Black Diamonds approach so much that they licensed the record to Swedish record company Super Sound. It was repackaged with this slightly scary free-floating woman's head on the cover and retitled Fire Music, although the Hendrix-y song titles were retained.
To be honest I'm slightly surprised that this only got a limited release.
Perhaps Alshire/Europa realised that they had already released the Animated Egg LP in as many countries as they could and they just couldn't squeeze anything more out of it. Maybe the Black Diamonds didn't sell well enough? Or perhaps they just didn't think of it?
Instead they continued to use the Hendrix image but this time with the twist of some new songs!
Although there are some Hendrix originals, such as Fire, Purple Haze and are you experienced, there are some new tracks, which of course are by Miller/Mueller.
To be fair they are not bad, but not a patch on anything that came from the Animated Egg.
This record, however, does have one other claim to fame. Fat Boy Slim/ Norman Cook sampled the intro to Acid Test for this track Build It Up - Tear It Down. It seems fitting that a Mueller record should be sampled.
Here are the priceless linear notes: "Alex Boggs is a young man "with hair down to his knees" (as the man said), that sings and plays a wailing guitar under the name, The Purple Fox.  His sidemen: Bob Gray, bass, and drummer: Raff Witkin: both came up from New Orleans to join The Fox in St. Louis about a month after Jimi Hendrix's untimely death.  Their understanding of the Hendrix idiom is uncanny.  Their drive and the Fox's blues inflections could possibly fill the void left by Jimi." Or maybe not.
The Purple Fox must have been pretty successful because in Germany someone called Jeff Cooper and his band the Stoned Wings came out with this.
 But wait a minute! Look at the track listing. Acid Test (a track name that appears on numerous Miller/Sherman exploito records), Patch of Grass, Git Some, Gittin' Busted and Requiem for Jimi appear on both records - as does the Jimi track Fire.
There are some other originals, Blues for Jimi
Having typically squeezed two records out of the sessions that produced the originals the same tracks continue to pop up in the most unlikely of places.
Bluesy hard rock, or Motown, or Soul??? Perhaps none of the above.
Some rather lame Motown covers find themselves rubbing shoulders with three tracks (Talkin Trash, Road's End and Steve Says) from the Purple Fox/ Jeff Cooper sessions. Dianne and the New Worlds was put out on the Stereo Gold Awards label in 1971. Stereo Gold of course was Mueller's UK exploito label.

Looks like a Gladys Knight record - but of course its just a covers record.
For some reason there weren't enough Knight covers to fill the paltry 40 minute record so something else was added. You guessed it, two of our ex-Hendrix tribute tracks, Talkin' Trash and Road's End.
This time attributed to Funky Junction who were also supposed to be behind a Deep Purple tribute record which if you find I suggest you leave it behind!
But who was behind these records. It has been suggested that it was the same people behind at least one of these beauties.
The first is better than the second, which is not saying very much, however, the guitar work does sound very similar. 
The model for both sleeves appears in a number of other easy/exploito/Top of the Pops record sleeves from that era but I don't know her name.
I have read somewhere online that the Purple Fox is actually the Chicago-based Christian  band the Exkursions.
 Well they do sound quite Hendrix-y but then so did lots of other bands.
Its not impossible, although the singer is definitely not the Purple Fox. However, it seems highly unlikely.
I am sure that there were any number of bands and musicians in Europe who would have jumped at the chance to make a few pounds or deutchemarks and knock out a few dodgy tracks one day.
Finally, just in case you thought that this was in any way an exhaustive trip through Hendrixploitation here is a copy of a Canadian Hendrixploitation attempt. Purely covers of the man's songs, some better than others, none great. I love the cover though. There are literally hundred of these kinds of records, just as there are hundreds of Beatles cash-ins. Which are you favourites?

Thursday, 7 July 2011


As you may know I am a huge Guy Warren fan.
I don't think, however, in this instance I can say anything that is going to improve on the great man's own sleeve notes for his own record.
I guess I want only to point out his love of his country and continent, particulary at a time of serious political problems, his love of jazz and his interest in using the studio as a tool to develop his music. A man very much ahead of his time

Click here for the music

Hail! The Osagyefo is a rhythm portrait of President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. I borrowed the stirring Atumpan (Ashanti) rhythms of Ghana and used two jazz drums to execute my painting here. I cut this performance at one isttnig and there was no dubbing.
A Recital for Flute and Drums. I had to use the techniques of dubbing for this one. I first played the African bamboo flute, accompanying myself at the same tie with the rhythm of ankle bells tied to my right foot. Next I dubbed in the drum part - and the result is just what I wanted: a loose, swinging rhythm, suporting a swinging loose melody. Are you with it?
I recorde the bell part of An Akwapim Theme first and dubbed the drums on this afterwards. (That clear, tinkling sound, by the way, is the result of my forgetting to bring along a bell to the studio. There were two empty strong glass ashtrays lying around - and one of them came in pretty handy! Which gives me the opportunit to emphasis that, in most African music, it's not so much what yu use to get the desired effect, but how well you can play your part with what you have, and above all, if the sound it right!) The rhythm here is built to urge and move forward... this is the kind of rhythm that was used by the Akwapims of old Ghana, in their wars with the Ashantis. Even now, when it is played, you can feel the same sense of urgency all around...
The Blind Boy again uses the dubbing technique. I first played the African flute, laid it aside and, as this was played back, recorded the jazz drums on top of it as an extension of the theme,returning to the flute for a third track and out. I dubbed the 'talking drum' passage also as an extension of the theme. The title was suggested by a blind youth who wanders around the city of Accra, the capital of Ghana, playing his flute and accompanied by another boy who performs on a single African shaker. This second boy is also the eyes of the team: he plays an accompaniment, dances, collects the pennies, and guides his companion through town.
Black Flute.  When I take my bamboo flute, walk down that little meandering, laterite road somwhere in teh county, and take in nature ... then I blow my blues - the blues that comes from nowhere and goes nowhere because it is part of us. It's happy and it's sad. It's life and it's death. That's the blues!
In Buddhism, Prajana means self-nature, the realisation of the SELF. In the studio, I sat behind my two sets of drums and allowed my self to emerge. That's all I can say about Prajana. (I recorded the jazz drums and voice first, and then dubbed in the conga. Towards the end, the jazz drums had introduced a few break patterns. When I took up the conga, it started to solo in and out and in between. The jazz drums at this point sound as if they are almost twisting around the conga - but in a split second they break away and start to do a ritardo - kind of sliding to a stop. Such was the feel that existed during the dubbing that I shaded the conga solo right there into the jazz drums and the two sets of percussion slid out together in perfect concord.)
Babinga Babenzele! There was no dubbing in this pygmy drum suite from the Congo: it was recorded straight and at one take. I sat behind two sets of jazz drums and distributed rhythms to each drum in the twin ensemble, handling at the same time a bamboo flute for opening and fade away.
The Babingas are a pygmy tribe in the Congo. They are subdivided into the Bangombes and the Banenzeles, though both groups are essentially the same. For their music, the Babingas either yodel or play single-note flutes each of which has been pitched differently. And there are drums, too. For many years it was believed that only nativesof the Tyrol or other dwellers of mountainous areas yodelled. The Babingas - who live in the middle Congo, where there are no mountains - give the lie to this.
This suite is supposed to give you an idea of the music of the Babingas. A team of flautists come together to play on their single-note instruments: they perform in such smooth succession, one after the other, that they produce a hightly rhythmic melodic line. At the same time, the drummers man the drums. Teh village swings. As we approach, the music gets louder, more intense. Now we join in the fun and dance until we are exhausted, knocked out. Finally, we free ourselves from this musical hypnotism and depart. As we get out of range, the flutes fade - but we can still hear the two master drums. They are powerful, this pair - they were the ones we heard first! Now, at last, we still hear them in the distance ... like the alpha and omega of the jungle.
The Agasiga rhthym comes from Central Africa, from Watutsi-land. Like all Watutsi rythyms, it is slow, majestic.  I cut the piano part first and dubbed the rythym and voice on top.
The music you here now paints you a picture of what is happening in Africa today, not forgetting what happened yesterday. Many live have been lost. Many homes have been broken. But out of chaos will yet rise the power of the new Africa.