By Richie Unterberger

This feature originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of Record Collector magazine. For more information about Record Collector, the UK's finest publication dedicated to record collecting and rock/popular music history, check out its website at

For What It's Worth: The 25 Top Overlooked American Folk-Rock LPs of the 1960s

It took a good decade after rock'n'roll's birth as a commercial phenomenon for rock and folk music to mate, though there had been awkward experiments at blending the two forms dating back to the late 1950s. Once the Byrds combined the best of the Beatles and Bob Dylan on their mid-1965 Transatlantic chart-topper "Mr. Tambourine Man," however, there was no stopping the folk-rock explosion. We all know about the brilliantly innovative -- and, often, massively popular -- work that American folk-rockers like the Byrds, Bob Dylan, the Lovin' Spoonful, Simon & Garfunkel, the Mamas & the Papas, Buffalo Springfield, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young would generate over the last half of the 1960s. Less of a force on the hit parade, but of equal musical magnificence and nearly as influential in the long run, were the records by more cultish bands like Love, and pioneers of the singer-songwriter movement such as Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

    Yet as with any major upheaval in popular music, folk-rock also spun out a wealth of fine albums that barely made the charts, missed the charts altogether, or were barely even sighted in record stores. There's an irony here, of course, in that without folk-rock, many of these artists might have never gotten to make an LP or even record at all in the first place. Folk-rock paved the way for singers with unconventional or, at times, even grating voices, as well as ambitious lyrical explorations into both social and inner consciousness that would have been considered too controversial, off-the-wall, or impenetrable for the marketplace prior to the mid-1960s. Too, the very lyrical and musical frontiers that folk-rock had opened were crucial to establishing the long-playing record (as opposed to the 45 rpm single) as the leading format for artistic expression in rock.

    All of this no doubt greased the wheels for both major and independent labels to give the green light to full-length albums in an incredibly diverse array of folk-rock styles. As in any genre boomlet, many of the ones that failed to find a wide audience were derivative, mediocre, and forgettable. But there were also several dozen such releases that stood up to all but the best folk-rock albums in quality and consistency, and if none of them were quite on the level of the mid-'60s Byrds LPs or Love's Forever Changes, there were barely-heard near-gems from all across the American folk-rock spectrum. Some sounded almost commercial enough to have been mainstream hits given the right breaks, like the Byrds-meet-the Beau Brummels sound of the Blue Things' sole album and the Ian & Sylvia-go-electric approach of Jim & Jean's Changes. Others were so off-the-wall that it remains something of a mystery as to why they were released at all, like Skip Spence's cult classic Oar and the Holy Modal Rounders' the-title-says-it-all The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders. There was groundbreaking country-folk-rock on albums by Hearts & Flowers, the Gosdin Brothers, the Dillards, and Steve Young; acid folk from the skewed pen of "Get Together" composer Dino Valenti; some of the earliest, and still most underacknowledged, electric folk-rock experiments from Richard & Mimi Fariña; and pioneering singer-songwriter statements from Fred Neil. There were early, tentative efforts by future stars (Linda Ronstadt & the Stone Poneys, Jesse Colin Young); comebacks by old rock'n'roll and folk revival veterans changing with the times (Dion, John Stewart); and even avant-baroque-folk-rock from an ex-member of the Velvet Underground (Nico's Chelsea Girl). And for those who crave rarity as much as quality, there were minuscule private pressings (Sayta Sai Maitreya Kali's Apache and Inca), tiny indie label efforts (Maxfield Parrish's It's a Cinch to Give Legs to Hard Boiled Eggs), big-label releases that seem to have been barely pressed at all (the self-titled Gentle Soul album, Linda Perhacs's Parallelograms), and publishing demo LPs by Jackie DeShannon and Gene Clark that even rabid fans of those artists may have never heard.

    What they all have in common, however, is that none of them ever achieved the respect they deserved. Indeed, in many cases they were never even heard by folk-rock fans who came of age in the era, though fortunately many of the records have gained a widening cult audience as their creators have been rediscovered in the last decade or so. The 25 albums featured here might not have been the rarest American folk-rock of the time; indeed, most have them have been reissued on CD, though in many cases they had to wait until the twenty-first century for that honor. They do, however, constitute much of the most overlooked and underrated US '60s folk-rock, and in their own way testify to the remarkably eclectic mosaic of music spawned by that hybrid.

    Note that we've fudged a bit to make room for a few items that, if stricter boundaries were enforced, might not make the cut for this list. A couple of entries include two albums by the same artist that were roughly equal in quality, and recorded within a pretty short space of time from each other; a few were released in the very early 1970s, though they were extremely close to the 1960s in both chronology and spirit; and in some cases they were actually recorded in the 1960s, but not actually released for a few years, until after the '70s had begun. We've also, somewhat regrettably, excluded fine retrospective CD compilations by artists who never managed to release an album while they were active, though anyone who's interested in rare '60s folk-rock (or folk-rock in general, for that matter) would do well to check out Blackburn & Snow's Something Good for Your Head, Dan Hicks's Early Muses, the Rising Sons' Rising Sons FeaturingTaj Mahal and Ry Cooder, and the Daily Flash's I Flash Daily, all of them featuring unreleased material and/or rare singles on par with the LPs discussed here. Plus there's nothing from the intimately-related-yet-different '60s/early '70s British folk-rock scene, many of whose rarities have been discussed in a couple of recent RC features by Colin Harper (in "Top 20 Neglected Brit-Folk Gems," RC 305) and Richard Morton Jack (in "Strange Folk," RC 309). The music that's covered in the following survey, however, isn't concerned so much with adhering to boundaries as with breaking them -- the one quality that all great folk-rock shared.

1. Jessie Colin Young
Young Blood
(Mercury SR 61005)
March 1965
CD reissue (as Jesse Colin Young & the Liquid 8 Records LIQ 12068 (2003)

Before the Byrds and Bob Dylan blew the electric folk-rock door wide open in the spring of 1965, there were a number of far more ginger (and far more obscure) attempts to weld acoustic folk with electric music. One of the best and most fully realized, though it barely dipped its toes into true electric rock, was the young Jessie Colin Young's second solo album, predating the formation of the fully plugged-in band with which he'd rise to stardom, the Youngbloods. Like his older contemporaries Fred Neil and Tim Hardin, Young really had too much blues, R&B, country, pop, and soul in his voice to remain wedded to purist folk. And even though about half of Young Blood is wholly acoustic, and much of the material derived from traditional folk and blues sources, he was already putting rock and pop inflections into his inflections on cuts like "Rider" and "Trouble in Mind." The same could be said, albeit to a lesser extent, of the entirety of his debut solo LP, 1964's Soul of a City Boy, on Capitol -- a label to which Bobby Darin, also a mentor to Roger McGuinn in his early days, had helped Young get signed.

    Young Blood went into territory Soul of a City Boy hadn't dared to dread upon, however, by also including some cuts with oh-so-light backing that verged on, though didn't quite cross the line into, folk-rock. In fact, two of the session musicians, Peter Childs (on guitar and dobro) and John Sebastian (on harmonica), also played on another album recorded around the same time, Fred Neil's fine Bleecker and Macdougal, that likewise looked forward to folk-rock without quite leaving the folk camp. Only "Nobody's Dirty Business," mind you, boasted actual drums. But the Young originals "Summer Rain," ""Green Hill Mountain Home," and "Lullabye" unveiled a distinctively winsome, bittersweet compositional voice that owed as much to pop as folk -- and, as the soon-to-come work with the Youngbloods later proved, only needed more oomph in the arrangements to make for first-rate gentle folk-rock.

    Young Blood has been somewhat lost in the shuffle even by many Young/Youngbloods fans. Never too widely exposed during its initial press run on Mercury, it was then quickly overshadowed by the Youngbloods' far more popular records on RCA in the late 1960s. It was also hacked apart and reassembled for a confusing 1970 Mercury reissue, Two Trips, which combined seven of Young Blood's eleven tracks and five early, albeit interesting, early Youngbloods recordings of mysterious origin that most likely slightly predated their signing to RCA. The CD reissue Jesse Colin Young & the almost made things simple for completists by combining the entirety of the original Young Blood with four early Youngbloods performances from Two Trips. Unfortunately, it doesn't have one of the five early Youngbloods tracks from Two Trips, an electric version of "Rider" (which Young had done solo on Young Blood); perhaps the compilers didn't even realize that there were two distinct versions of the number done for Mercury. But however you manage to hear it, Young Blood remains an extremely pleasant document of Jessie Colin Young just beginning to find his stride, though he'd need a full complement of Youngbloods to finish the job.

2. Richard & Mimi Fariña
Celebrations for a Grey Day
April 1965
(Vanguard VSD 79174)
CD reissue: Vanguard 79174-2 (1995)

Richard & Mimi Fariña
Reflections in a Crystal Wind
December 1965
(Vanguard VSD 79204)
CD reissue: Vanguard 79204-2 (1995)

Richard Fariña died young (on April 30, 1966) and dramatically (in a motorcycle accident, on his wife's twenty-first birthday), right after publishing a well-regarded novel linking the beat and hippie eras (Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me). His wife Mimi -- sister of Joan Baez -- also died relatively young, albeit a quarter of a century later, after achieving renown in the San Francisco Bay Area as founder of Bread and Roses, an organization dedicated to staging musical events in prisons, old-age homes, homeless shelters, children's hospitals, and AIDs hospices. In their brief recording career, they were among the first folkies to go electric. Yet despite their colorful lives, deaths, and collective accomplishments -- and despite being written about at length in David Hajdu's popular 2001 book Positively 4th Street, which examines the interrelationships between the Fariñas, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan at fascinating length -- they've never quite accumulated the cult following they merit. Nor have they often been acknowledged as folk-rock pioneers, though their first jumps into the music roughly coincided with Dylan's.

    The Fariñas released just two albums in their brief time as a recording act, and admittedly the first of these, Celebrations for a Grey Day (from April 1965), had only mild folk-rock experiments. There were no drums, and just three tracks used electric guitar (by ace session player Bruce Langhorne, who also played on Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home). Much of the record was modernized Appalachian folk with Richard's dulcimer well to the fore, though Richard's lyrics were firmly in the poetic-yet-abstract vein that his friendly rival Dylan had started to pioneer earlier. Still, the bluesy "One Way Ticket" had a rock'n'roll drive, and the doom-clouded, jazzy "Reno Nevada" was a hit single that never was (and later picked up by the early Fairport Convention, whose excellent late-'60s interpretation can be heard on BBC and live recordings).

    Reflections in a Crystal Wind, which followed just eight months later, went further into genuine electric folk-rock, four of the cuts featuring full bands with drums. Among the backup players were John Hammond (on harmonica) and the young Felix Pappalardi (a key session man on early folk-rock outings by Fred Neil and Ian & Sylvia in his pre-hard rock days, as well as producer of the early Youngbloods). Langhorne added haunting Roebuck Staples-influenced tremolo guitar through a twin reverb Fender amp, borrowed from genre-blending virtuoso Sandy Bull. At this point, however, relatively conventional folk-rock was just one of the areas the eclectic duo were dabbling in, mixing it up with beautiful meditative ballads and dulcimer-fired instrumental rave-ups with tinges of Latin rhythms and Indian raga. With Richard Fariña's writing -- adept at both sardonic social commentary, surreal sea shanty-like metaphor, and tender romanticism -- picking up momentum, there seemed to be few barriers he and guitar-playing, vocal-harmonizing partner Mimi would have feared, had only they been able to continue to record.

    Fortunately, neither of the albums have been too hard to find as reissues since the 1960s, starting with a two-for-one package of the pair as a double LP back in 1971 (titled The Best of Mimi and Richard Fariña). For those who want to track down the rarer original LPs, they do offer small bonuses in the form of back cover photos that don't appear on the CD reissues. Incidentally, though the 1968 release Memories is comprised of studio outtakes, Mimi solo recordings, Joan Baez solo cuts (from the never-finished album Richard was producing for her), and live performances, it's highly worthwhile as well, though not up to the consistent level of the two proper albums. All three of the albums were grouped together on the 2001 three-CD set The Complete Vanguard Recordings, which adds some previously unreleased material from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.


Q: As a session musicians, you worked with more noted early folk-rock singer-songwriters than virtually anyone. What do you think distinguished Richard's songs, and Richard & Mimi's studio recordings, most from the other artists in this territory with whom you were working? 

A: Richard and Mimi's songs had tracks that were more rhythmic than most other "folk" productions of the time. Richard's dulcimer playing was reminiscent of Richie Haven's driving, intense guitar strumming. It was too bad that Richard was killed. I think if he had lived, the Fariñas would have had much more influence on the music of their time. Like other artists of their generation, they were evolving and writing the rules as they went.

Q: How easy or difficult was it for the other musicians on those albums to move into a way of playing that was different from previous folk records?

A: The musicianship was there. Many of the active NY studio musicians who were working sessions with folk people at that time had classical backgrounds, great chops, lots of creativity and could have played anything, after a few hearings. Once again, it was Richard's death that stopped the train.

Q: What was your impression of how influential the Fariñas' records were when they came out, and how they were regarded by their contemporaries in both the folk and rock fields? It seems the albums might not have been as influential in their time as they could have been; perhaps Vanguard had more limited resources than major labels such as Columbia.

A: Their material was brand new, hard to pigeonhole, and difficult to imitate. Consequently it was not covered extensively.  I don't know how much a big production budget would have done to spread Mimi and Richard's influence. Due to Richard's untimely death, there was little recorded material available. No record company can hope to sell that which doesn't exist. Artists are long term investments. Mimi's sister, Joan Baez, was on Vanguard. Her titles are still selling. She has lived long enough to record a sizable body of marketable work.

3. Jackie DeShannon
1965 Metric Music Demo
(Metric Music Co. M-64-9/M-64-10)
May 27, 1965
CD reissue: none to date

Although she's more often thought of as a relatively mainstream pop-rock singer, Jackie DeShannon's long career has taken in some fascinating byways to rockabilly, folk-pop, country, girl group-styled records, collaborations with the pre-Yardbirds Jimmy Page, and -- for just a brief time in the mid-1960s -- some of the earliest efforts to hint at the blend that would soon crystallize as folk-rock. Her original versions of "Needles and Pins" and "When You Walk in the Room" were redone for hits by the Searchers that took them close to Byrdsian folk rock before the Byrds had released a single. Too, she had done an album of traditional and contemporary folk songs in 1963 with some early Dylan tunes (including one that Dylan would not release in the '60s, "Walkin' Down the Line"). She played briefly in clubs with the teenage Ry Cooder as a folk duo, and championed the Byrds in their early days; the Byrds, in turn, covered her "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe," on their first album, and backed her on an April 1965 version of "Splendor in the Grass" that appeared on a B-side of no less than three separate singles. Somehow, however, she never dived whole-hog into folk-rock, perhaps getting sidetracked by her Top Ten success with the lushly orchestrated Bacharach-David ballad "What the World Needs Now Is Love."

    There does, however, exist one ultra-rare relic that hints at just what she might have had to offer the folk-rock scene had she decided to focus on that direction. This untitled collection of a dozen publisher demos -- issued on May 27, 1965, and known simply as 1965 Metric Music Demo among DeShannon fans -- was, like several other such platters Jackie made in the 1960s, done purely for circulation within the industry, probably in hopes of attracting cover versions. Featuring just her and acoustic guitar (which, she has said, she played herself), these are more personal and probing compositions than anything else she'd done to that point, sounding perhaps influenced by 1964's Another Side of Bob Dylan album in its internal rhyming patterns. A few of the tunes will be familiar to '60s pop collectors, like her own version of  "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe" (here titled "It's Gonna Be All Right"), "Splendor in the Grass," and "With You in Mind," the last of which Marianne Faithfull covered. Whether they eventually got recorded by someone else or not, however, everything here is a first-rate, from-the-gut reflection of young adult search for identity and meaning, delivered with great sensual grit, including obscure gems like "Too Far Out," "What's It All About," and "Girl of Yesterday."

    The existence of this LP -- her only known acoustic recordings, and never issued to the general public -- is hardly a secret. It was listed, with complete song titles, in the thorough discography in the liner notes to the 1994 EMI CD What the World Needs Now Is...Jackie DeShannon: The Definitive Collection. So were, for that matter, four other Metric Music demo LPs, though those were of slightly earlier vintage (and a far more pop-oriented style), all bearing a November 4, 1964 release date. Little is known about the May 27, 1965 demo, which was most likely recorded earlier than its release date, though it's anyone's guess as to when the tracks were laid down. The recordings have circulated for years among appreciative DeShannon fans, and really do merit a release in cleaned-up sound, should the original tapes (or at least a clean copy of the vinyl) be available -- as do, in fact, the earlier DeShannon Metric Music demo LPs, which contain some great early-'60s-styled pop and girl group material, often done far better by Jackie herself than by the artists who covered the songs.

4. P.F. Sloan
Songs of Our Times
(Dunhill DS/D-50004)
September 1965
CD reissue: none to date

P.F. Sloan
Twelve More Times
(Dunhill DS/D-50007)
February 1966
CD reissue: none to date

Too often stereotyped as a juvenile Dylan wannabe or a mere pop craftsman, P.F. Sloan in fact produced some of the most accomplished and tuneful early folk-rock. He's primarily remembered as a songwriter, and, for better and worse, specifically for penning "Eve of Destruction," taken to #1 by Barry McGuire at the apogee of the early folk-rock explosion in 1965. Yet though he never had a hit as a solo artist, his own records are not mere "the singer does his own compositions" (albeit sometimes co-writing with Steve Barri) exploitation exercises. Certainly his first two albums are notable for his more sparsely arranged versions of songs it took others to make hits of, most notably "Eve of Destruction," "Take Me for What I'm Worth" (taken to the hit parade by the Searchers), and "Let Me Be" (made into a teen protest anthem by the Turtles). They are surrounded, however, by quite a number of fine tunes that mark him as perhaps the most adept composer to combine folk-rock and more conventional California pop-rock this side of John Phillips. If they are more prone to adolescent self-pity than Bob Dylan and the like, that very earnestness is part of their appeal. And Sloan still hasn't gotten his due as a very fine, winsome singer in his own right.

    Of his two Dunhill LPs, Songs of Our Times is perhaps the more striking, containing as it does "Eve of Destruction," "Take Me for What I'm Worth," the then-controversial "The Sins of Family," the arching pop melodicism of "I Get Out of Breath," the moving "Goes to Show (Just How Wrong You Can Be)," and the is-this-a-Dylan-satire-or-homage "What Exactly's the Matter with Me." Twelve More Times, following a mere five months later, is more fully produced and slightly poppier, accenting romantic numbers both melancholy and bittersweet. "From a Distance," "Here's Where You Belong," "Lollipop Train (You Never Had It So Good)," and "This Precious Time" are all highlights in that respect, though "Let Me Be" and odder numbers like "The Man Behind the Red Balloon" and "Halloween Mary" indicated that more ambitious social consciousness and imagery hadn't faded from his radar.

    Viewed from one angle, Dunhill Records could be said to have shown a lot of faith in Sloan as a solo artist by releasing two albums of his work within six months of each other, even though he didn't have a hit single. In various interviews over the years, however, Sloan has cast a dimmer light on Dunhill's plans, characterizing Songs of Our Times as a limited release that was effectively a demo album to interest other artists in cover versions, and criticizing the company for failing to promote his own recordings. As he said in Stephen J. McParland's Sloan bio P.F. -- Travelling Barefoot on a Rocky Road, "Those (Dunhill LPs) were just 'throw-outs' by the record company and I didn't place any kind of real attachment to myself as a recording artist...I wanted desperately to perform live, but Dunhill refused to let me...I was told under no circumstances could I perform live. In fact, they refused to even press any more P.F. Sloan records of [the 45] 'The Sins of a Family'! They just pulled it back and told me to get involved in another project. They said, 'Don't take P.F. Sloan any further.'

    "You have to understand, the only reason there were any P.F. Sloan singles was because the (so-called) demos were so damn good that promotion men, who they played the albums for, said, 'My God, I could get that on the #1 station in Cleveland tomorrow!' Therefore, the record company would look stupid if they said, 'No.' And so they gave me the green light. But as I found out, when I went on the radio tours, there was no promotion behind it."

    Whatever Dunhill's motivations were behind recording Sloan, the relationship between the label and Sloan-the-recording-artist seemed pretty convoluted, and came to an inglorious, murky end a year or so after the early-'66 release of his second (and, as it turned out, final) Dunhill LP. Sloan never fulfilled the enormous potential unveiled by those longplayers, or indeed recaptured the brilliance of the best of his early work, though he'd only just entered his twenties at the time the albums were issued. While various reissues in the 1980s and 1990s contained much of what's on Songs of Our Times and Twelve More Times, the entire albums, aggravatingly, have never been re-released on CD. The 1993 Sloan/Dunhill 18-song CD compilation Anthology is still missing nine of the songs from the LPs, including such choice items as "I Get Out of Breath," "This Is What I Was Made For," "Goes to Show (Just How Wrong You Can Be)," "From a Distance," "Here's Where You Belong," and "When the Wind Changes." The time has come for a CD reissue that truly covers all of his Dunhill sides, covering not only both LPs, but also the worthy non-LP 45 cuts "City Women," "A Melody for You," "Sunflower, Sunflower," "Karma (Study of Divinations)," and "I Can't Help But Wonder, Elizabeth" -- the last of which is a match for any of the tracks on the albums. (Also recommended is Varese Sarabande's 2001 CD compilation Child of Our Times: The Trousdale Demo Sessions 1965-1967, consisting entirely of previously unreleased Sloan demos from the Dunhill era.)

5. Jim & Jean
(Verve Folkways FT/FTS 3001)
CD reissue: Collectors' Choice Music CCM-477-2 (2004, as part of Changes/People World)

If Jim & Jean are mentioned at all these days, it's usually in the context of the life of Phil Ochs. Both were close friends with Ochs;  Jim Glover had with Phil at Ohio State University as part of a folk duo, and Ochs shared a flat with the couple for a year after moving to Greenwich Village. Jim and his wife Jean Ray, however, had a viable recording career of their own, cutting three albums in the 1960s that saw them follow the generational move from traditional folk to electric folk-rock and beyond. Their rare mid-'60s self-titled debut LP on Philips is a pretty routine straight folk artifact on which the duo sound like a minor-league Ian & Sylvia, interpreting both traditional material and emerging singer-songwriters like Ochs, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Tom Paxton. Like Ian & Sylvia, however, they would soon move into folk-rock, and actually did so with considerably more deftness, even if they never would project nearly as much personality as their Canadian counterparts.

    Their 1966 LP Changes is something of an all-star effort by the B-team of New York folk-rock, in which Jim & Jean drew upon the resources of top session musicians and some of the best young sub-Dylan songwriters. Several of the backup players had just contributed to Dylan's own groundbreaking mid-'60s folk-rock sessions, including Al Kooper (on electric guitar and harpsichord), keyboardist Paul Harris, bassist Harvey Brooks, and drummer Bobby Gregg. For that matter, a couple of the tracks were produced by just-ex-Dylan producer Tom Wilson, though most of them were overseen by their manager, Arthur Gorson. Most of the songs were penned by fellow Gorson clients, including naturally old friend Phil Ochs (who also wrote the liner notes; Phil's wife, interestingly, had done the same honor for their Philips LP), but also Eric Andersen and David Blue. Ochs, in fact, would not release versions of two of his contributions ("Crucifixion" and "Flower Lady") until some time later, on his 1967 album Pleasures of the Harbor, while Andersen never would put "Tonight I Need Your Lovin'" on his records.

    Likewise, Blue mysteriously never put out his own interpretation of "Strangers in a Strange Land," a match for anything else the minor singer-songwriter ever penned, and which Ray agrees "is one of the best cuts we did, a most haunting magical song. We gave it a good showing." There was also a Bob Dylan number, "Lay Down Your Weary Tune," that the composer had yet to release, though the Byrds covered it on their second album, Turn! Turn! Turn! While Jim & Jean themselves wrote little of the material, Jean (with Harvey Brooks) was responsible for the ethereally mordant "One Sure Thing," covered by Fairport Convention on their first LP.

    While the songs were arguably more distinctive than the singers, the result was highly enjoyable, smoothly executed, melodically harmonized early folk-rock, selected and interpreted with imagination. Particularly effective was their tense, eerie seven-minute rendition of "Crucifixion," one of Ochs's most piercing compositions; Gorson, in fact, told me in a 2001 interview that "Phil always thought that was the best performance of the song." As to why so many veterans of Dylan sessions ended up on the record, he confessed, "We knew the people who played with Dylan, because they were around the same scene. We didn't know anyone else. We were the only people we knew!"

    The upbeat, harpsichord-driven Ochs-penned (and Wilson-produced) "Changes" served as the title cut, but the album of the same name didn't cause much of a commercial splash. Jim & Jean did make one more LP, the more orchestrated and mildly psychedelic-influenced People World, before splitting up both personally and professionally. But their influence wasn't as negligible as one might assume: original Fairport Convention bassist Ashley Hutchings told RC in 2003 that "Anyone wanting to understand us then should realize that the Jim & Jean album Changes was very important to early Fairport," who also covered an extraordinarily wide range of obscure early American folk-rock songs, as well as employing close male-female harmonies.

An even more interesting testament to Changes's impact comes from Wayne Stone, who recalls: "In 1968 I was living in the chauffeur's quarters on a large property in Laurel Canyon (Hollywood Hills). A friend of mine from Venice Beach recommended the Jim and Jean album entitled Changes. Since I was a Phil Ochs fan, I immediately took to the music, and played the album many times in my small room over the garage. My neighbor, who lived in the gardener's shack up near the main house, stopped by one day and asked about who the duo was. He also liked their sound. He borrowed the album from me but never returned it. I eventually had to venture up one night and rescue it from his turntable while he was not there. He never seemed to be at home. My neighbor's name: Neil Young." What's more, for her part, Jean Ray told me that Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand" was inspired by a visit he paid her and her family at their beach home in the late '60s.

    Both Changes and People World were combined onto one CD (with liner notes by the author) last year. Both stereo and mono copies of the original Changes LP, for those who seek the original vinyl, still turn up surprisingly often in the used bins for $5 or less, though you'll likely need to pay more than that to find a copy that isn't worn to some degree. One interesting variation to note: while my mono copy (on Verve Folkways) lists "Glover" as the writer of the opening number, "Loneliness," my stereo copy (on the Verve Folkways sister label Verve Forecast) changes the credit to "Baron." The latter, according to Jean Ray, is the correct credit, "Baron" being their friend Steve Baron -- better known as a member of the comedy act the Hardly-Worthit Players, who (under the name "Senator Bobby") had a big American hit in 1967 with a wild satire of "Wild Thing," with a lead vocal parodying then-Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The obscure connections to be found in the world of 1960s folk-rock lead down some strange alleys indeed; could you make that one up?

6. The Blue Things
The Blue Things
(RCA LPM/LSP 3603)
September 1966
CD reissue: Rewind 55017-2/DRC 12868 (2001)

While the vast majority of significant '60s US folk-rock was recorded in Los Angeles and New York by performers based on the west and east coasts, some cool jingle-jangle did sneak out of the midwest. The best heartland folk-rockers were the Blue Things, formed in Hays, Kansas in 1964. Quickly evolving from a quite good Beatles-styled act, as heard on a couple of singles for the small Ruff label, they signed to RCA in 1965, recording several 45s and one LP for the label in Nashville with esteemed country (and, with Elvis Presley, rock) producer Felton Jarvis. By the time of their RCA debut single "I Must Be Doing Something Wrong" (with backup vocals by one of the Jordanaires!), they were firmly in the folk-rock camp, their Beatlesque harmonies and chiming guitars combining the best of the Byrds and Beau Brummels while somehow managing to project a sound of their own.

    Despite recording for one of the biggest major labels in the world, and despite enormous popularity in Kansas and the surrounding midwest region, the Blue Things never did break out nationwide. Part of it was bad luck: their follow-up single, the great "Doll House," found difficulty getting airplay after a July 1, 1966 Time magazine article on pop songs with supposedly controversial/objectionable lyrics cited the tune's (in reality quite muted and sensitive) reference to a whorehouse. Part of it was bad timing: RCA, for all its size, was a conservative label that really didn't get a grip on how to sell records by self-contained post-British Invasion bands until slightly later, with Jefferson Airplane and the Youngbloods. And part of it was the fallout from internal conflict: after recording a couple of remarkable subsequent singles that saw the group evolving at light-year speed from folk-rock to psychedelia, lead singer Val Stecklein -- also the member with the greatest input into their original material -- left the band in early 1967. It was a blow from which no one recovered -- the Blue Things limped along for a while after that, breaking up after a crummy final Val-less single, and Stecklein did a pretty lousy solo album that included tepid remakes of some of the best songs he'd done with his former outfit.

    Like many LPs of its time, The Blue Things (sometimes listed under the title Listen & See due to the use of that phrase as a prominent slogan on the back cover) wasn't actually recorded as a stand-alone album, combining the late-'65 single "I Must Be Doing Something Wrong"/"La Do Da Da" and the May '66 coupling "Doll House"/"Man on the Street" with tracks from sessions held in November 1965 and February 1966. By the time it was issued in September 1966, in fact, it was a bit behind where both the band and folk-rock itself were at the time the material had been cut. All that said, with the exception of two or three slightly duff covers, The Blue Things is a pretty great record that stands with the best of prime "ringing guitar-bashing tambourine-world weary vocal" early folk-rock. Stecklein's yearning, slightly coarse singing and earnest romanticism shone on his "I Can't Have Yesterday" and "Now's the Time"; "The Man on the Street," by Wayne Carson Thompson (more famous as the author of the Box Tops' "The Letter"), was empathy-with-the-proletariat protest at its best; "Doll House" one of the great overlooked singles of the era, both for its engaging midtempo jangle and its unusual (and unusually sympathetic) lyric about a house of prostitution; and ex-rockabilly wildman Ronny Self contributed a grizzled on-the-road ode, "Honor the Hearse," that oozed fatigue and fatalism. There was even a blast of genuine rockabilly with a ferocious cover of Dale Hawkins's "La Do Da Da," perhaps as a nod to their already fast-fading roots.

    One of the few albums on this list so accessible that it could have stood a chance of becoming a big seller if it had been promoted properly, The Blue Things is the great lost folk-rock album for those who worship at the altar of the early Byrds. The original -- which seems to have been barely distributed outside of the midwest -- in good shape will cost you. But fortunately it was reissued on CD in 2001, with six bonus tracks from 1966-67 non-LP singles, all but the last two on the same level as the album proper.
7. Fred Neil
Fred Neil
January 1967
(Capitol ST-2665)
CD reissue: none, but included in its entirely on the two-CD compilation The Many Sides of Fred Neil (Collectors' Choice CCM-070-2, 1998)

The owner of one of the finest, most soulful low voices in all of twentieth-century popular music, Fred Neil concocted a timelessly idiosyncratic, moody blend of folk, rock, pop, blues, country, gospel, jazz, and more. Though probably as admired among his peers as any folk-rock singer-songwriter of the 1960s, and although several of his songs were covered by leading folk-rock and folk acts of the day, Fred Neil never sold a lot of records under his own name. More reclusive and inner-directed in both his music and life than most of his colleagues, he seemed to lack the appetite for the promotional merry-go-round considered necessary to maintain a viable recording career. Of the few albums he did record, Fred Neil is the best, and if it only narrowly edges 1965's Bleecker and Macdougal, it certainly went far further into electric folk-rock, though in a more low-key fashion than most of his competition.

    "Everybody's Talkin'" is the song from this album that everybody knows, mostly due to Harry Nilsson's excellent cover version, which hit the Top Ten in 1969 after getting featured in the soundtrack to the smash movie Midnight Cowboy. Just as brilliant, however, was "The Dolphins," whose swimming electric guitar reverb perfectly complemented Neil's benignly philosophical lyrics. Other mini-gems like "That's the Bag I'm In," "Ba-De-Da" (with harmonica by Canned Heat's Al Wilson), and "Faretheewell (Fred's Tune)" reinforced his persona as the fragile odd-man-out drifter, who seemed to want nothing more than to retreat from the mad mad world into a world of his own. Which he did, more or less; after an unfocused follow-up (Sessions) and an early-'70s contract-filling LP of live material and outtakes, he retreated to Southern Florida to concentrate on charitable work on behalf of actual dolphins, never releasing another album and in fact rarely performing in public.

    Produced by Nick Venet for Capitol, Fred Neil captured the artist at a time when his mercurial talents were most focused, and his songwriting the most concise. "I also feel that the album had more cohesion, sort of one presence, so to speak," says fellow singer-songwriter Cyrus Faryar, who played guitar on the sessions (as well as the memorable trilling bouzouki runs heard near the end of "The Dolphins"). "Nick did a great job, masterful actually, of keeping it all moving along easily. It really just 'came together' with its own special unity, which is often as much happy accident as design. However, I would suggest that such an 'accident' happened easily due to gentle shepherding by Nick; it really was a lovely time and we all had a lot of fun. It seemed so easy to slip into Fred's groove. A pleasure!"

    "When he was working with Nick in the studio, we would come by for some of his sessions," adds Rick Cunha, guitarist in another folk-rock act Venet was producing for Capitol at the time, Hearts & Flowers (see entry elsewhere in this feature). "Fred was just sitting in a chair with his 12-string, and was such a resonant singer. They had a drummer who half the time played on a cardboard box. It kind of blew my mind. Sometimes it was a magazine on his snare drum, and once I remember he had a box in there. But they were wonderful sessions."

    As to why Fred Neil never found a big audience, though his cult continues to grow today, Faryar offers, "I rather expect that you won't find an easy or simple answer to that one. You never know how the public would receive; at least, in the old days before such massive corporate music controlled availability. Even if Freddie had been eager to gather any fame, it might not have happened. His voice and music were certainly rich and deep and able to find a responsive chord in people, but few heard him directly. Perhaps if more folks had him in their ear they might have taken him into their hearts. As they say, fame is too often posthumous. Enough in a way, that he does live on. A sweet and fragile man. And a good friend."

8. The Stone Poneys

The Stone Poneys
(Capitol ST-2666)
January 30, 1967
CD reissue: Capitol C1-80128 (1995)

The Stone Poneys are now remembered only as Linda Ronstadt's first group. But it's often forgotten that, at least at their outset, the Stone Poneys were truly a group, not a backing band, for which Ronstadt happened to be the most prominent singer, though not even the only one in the outfit. Although she quickly overshadowed her colleagues and assumed top billing, when their debut LP came out in early 1967, it was credited to the Stone Poneys alone, and dominated by original material penned by the two other members of the trio, acoustic guitarists Kenny Edwards and Bob Kimmel.

    The Stone Poneys tends to be overlooked by '60s folk-rock fans and '60s rock collectors in general, perhaps because many '60s listeners mistakenly associate the group with the far more mainstream Southern California studio sound of Linda Ronstadt's massive 1970s pop hits. However, the album has little to do with her solo work, and is instead a pretty charming record, if modest and barely electrified. The threesome's coffeehouse folk roots are obvious in the clean, close harmonies, and it all rather sounds like a hipper Peter, Paul & Mary (and far more at ease with light folk-rock than PPM were when those folk superstars tried making their own transition to folk-rockish recordings in the late 1960s). Ronstadt's vocals are pretty rich and full even at these early stage in her career, though without dominating the proceedings at the expense of the other members' contributions.

Like several acts in this overview, the Stone Poneys were produced by Nick Venet for Capitol, and in this particular case, the connection with another, far more critically acclaimed Venet endeavor was tight. For the session musicians employed to fill out the sound on The Stone Poneys -- Cyrus Faryar on bouzouki and acoustic guitar, Pete Childs on acoustic guitar, John Forsha on acoustic and electric guitar, James E. Bond, Jr. on bass, and Billy Mundi on drums -- were exactly the same as the ones employed by Venet on the above-discussed Fred Neil. "We didn't bring them into the project, they were brought in by Nick Venet," confirms Edwards. "I'm sure he wanted to make it more pop. And in fact, he kept pushing it more in that direction through the subsequent albums." As it happens, Ronstadt takes one of her vocal solos on a decent cover of Neil's "Just a Little Bit of Rain," though all of the songs have an engaging light grace, particularly "If I Were You," "Bicycle Song (Soon Now)," and the somewhat earthier "Orion" and "2:10 Train," Ronstadt taking a couple of additional solo vocals on the latter pair of tunes.

    The Stone Poneys made a commercial breakthrough later in 1967 with their cover of Mike Nesmith's "Different Drum," which made the Top Twenty. But although their second and third albums were worthwhile as well, they weren't quite the work of the same band. Ronstadt had already having been picked out for her potential as a solo artist, and Edwards and Kimmel were virtually frozen out of the act by the time of the third and final Stone Poneys LP. Ronstadt herself viewed the Stone Poneys in an unreasonably harsh light in the early '70s, carping to Rolling Stone that "The Stone Poneys tried to combine the roots with rock and roll, and we were miserable." There might be more roots than rock and roll on The Stone Poneys, but it's far from a miserable relic -- to the contrary, it's quite uplifting in its naive good-heartedness. And due to Ronstadt's subsequent fame, it's never been too hard to find over the last three decades, Capitol reissuing it to capitalize on her solo stardom as The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt in the mid-1970s -- under which guise it became the only album in this feature to reach the Billboard charts, albeit at a lowly #172.

9. Tim Rose
Tim Rose
(Columbia 9577)
CD reissue: BGO BGOCD378, as part of Tim Rose/Through Rose Colored Glasses (1997)

Like a few other LPs we're discussing, Tim Rose's self-titled debut wasn't so much a proper album as a collection of singles, puffed up to LP length by a few other items from sessions done around the time. No less than half of the dozen tracks, in fact, had appeared the previous year on a trio of 1966 singles, including what was by far the most famous of the lot, "Hey Joe." A couple others had appeared earlier in '67 on another 45, and a couple more would be plucked off the LP for another single later that year. Possibly as a consequence, Tim Rose is rather more erratic than most of the records in this feature, both in quality and in style, the compass swinging from traditional folk updates to orchestrated near-blue-eyed soul.

    Nevertheless, it contains some significant early folk-rock that was unfairly overlooked both then and now. His voice might have been too gravelly to stand much chance of denting the hit parade, but his slow rendition of "Hey Joe" famously acted as a model of sorts for the arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's far more renowned (and high-selling) debut single at the end of '66. Rose's blustery approach also worked to his advantage on his adaptation of folkie Bonnie Dobson's "Morning Dew" and a bombastic, yet memorably devastating, pass at the ominous nuclear fallout ode "Come Away, Melinda" (which had previously gained its widest hearing via a cover on Judy Collins's third album in 1963). Co-written by Fred Hellerman of the Weavers (who had also recorded it in the early 1960s), it actually wasn't Rose's first go at the tune; he'd cut it a few years earlier as part of the Big Three, the folk trio that also included a pre-Mamas and the Papas Cass Elliot. At the other end of the maze was an unlikely cover of the Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil warhorse "I'm Gonna Be Strong," which had been a massive late-'64 hit for Gene Pitney, and flopped for Rose in late '66 -- though it must be said that Rose's own leather-lunged version isn't half-bad. "That wasn't my idea," the late Rose told me in 2001. "That was, 'Do it or we don't record. We gotta have a single; try this.'"

    As uneven as Tim Rose (which has also been reissued under the title Morning Dew) was, it was really his best shot at stardom. His second album on Columbia -- a major label that really had far too many interesting, not-quite-mainstream artists in the 1960s to grant effective promotion to all or even the majority of them -- made far less of a ripple than even his debut had. Finding more of an audience in England, where he spent his final years, he continued to record intermittently until his death in 2002, never again coming nearly as close as he had to fame with that "Hey Joe" single. About a year-and-a-half before his death, he had this to say about his first album in an interview with me at his local pub in Central London:


Q: What kind of approach were you taking on the material that ended up on Tim Rose?

A:  When I did my first album, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to take that core of bluegrass and country and blues, and not copy it, not be like Fleetwood Mac and copy American blues. I didn't want to copy anybody. I wanted to synthesize. But I couldn't. We got close.

Q: You did some recording with Bob Johnston [producer of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkel] in the mid-'60s as well that not many people know about.

A: My recording with Johnston was '65. Johnston heard the possibility of this kind of person from the folk with rock. I went down to Nashville with Johnston and did five tracks that [Columbia executive] Clive [Davis] wouldn't release. They've been lost. Clive didn't like what I had done with Johnston, although those opening sessions with Bob Johnston were great, with Area Code 615. The backup singers were the Jordanaires.

    Then I was put with [producer David] Rubinson. And even Rubinson didn't hear it. Finally I found a drummer, Bernard Purdie, who I could communicate with, who wasn't from the old be-bop school of drumming. None of the young drummers then were any good. They were just learning to do it. The John Bonhams and the Aynsley Dunbars and the Mick Fleetwoods had yet to come along. They certainly weren't in New York, I'll tell you that. The bass players, the guitarists who could do that combination of blues and rock, they didn't exist. They just weren't around.

Q: It seems like Columbia wasn't sure what to do with you.

A: On "Hey Joe," I used a twelve-string, I wasn't trying to be rock, I was trying to do my thing. I wasn't a rock and roller. And yet I wasn't folky. That was the problem that CBS had. Clive finally told me in 1968, 'Tim, I know what you're not. I don't know what you are. And we just don't know how to market [you]. What am I supposed to do? I'll either give you your release, or take some time and make another album for us and see if we can do something. I know you've made some great records, but we haven't been able to sell 'em. We don't know what it is. It doesn't seem to fit in the rock, it doesn't seem to fit in the' know.

10. Fapardokly
(UIP LP-2250)
CD reissue: Sundazed SC 6059 (1995)

There are grounds for arguing that Fapardokly's sole LP isn't so much a lost folk-rock nugget as an incoherent mess. It's a jumble of unrelated 1964-67 sessions in both Hollywood and the small Southern Californian desert town of Palmdale, much of which had previously been released on singles billed to a group using an entirely different name; some of it sounds much closer to Ricky Nelson's rockabilly than the Byrds' heavenly chime; and it must be one of the few prized '60s rarities where the original cover is actually uglier than the one substituted for it on its 1980s bootleg reissue. About half of the record is actually taken from 1964-67 singles issued by Merrell & the Exiles on the small Glenn label, "Merrell" being leader Merrell Fankhauser, who changed his confusing musical chairs of a band's name to Fapardokly before the final tracks were cut. The album sneaked out virtually unnoticed in 1967 (though one discography gives a release date of February 1968), with only about one thousand copies pressed -- about half of them, according to Fankhauser, given away. can't keep a good album down, no matter how disorganized it is. Original copies of the LP were already fetching high-three-figure sums by the early 1980s, by which time a widely distributed bootleg had also appeared. And while it isn't all folk-rock -- in fact, upon first hearing, it almost sounds like a deliberately Zappa-ish pastiche of '60s pop from teen idoldom to psychedelia -- what folk-rock it does have rates among the finest sub-Byrdsian stuff ever done in the genre. "Lila" in particular is a shimmering 12-stringer, and while "Gone to Pot" is a pretty blatant cop of "Eight Miles High," it's got a reckless spaced-out flavor all its own, particularly after segueing into the reverb-laden gloomfest of "No Retreat." "I think what happened is Bill Dodd [who plays 12-string Rickenbacker on 'Gone to Pot'] had heard the guitar riff and he used to go to sleep with the radio on," Fankhauser explained to me in 1985. "I said, 'Bill, that's bad practice, you're gonna subconsciously get something in there.'"

    Other highlights were the goofy "Mr. Clock," which transplanted the Beatles' "Michelle" riff into an actual ode to a cuckoo clock; "Glass Chandlier" [sic], another tripped-out scrutinization to an inanimate piece of furniture, yet pitched perfectly between harmonized folk-rock and astral psychedelia; "The Music Scene," an atypically sour swipe against the no-talents cluttering Sunset Strip; and "Super Market," which soars with the best of sunshine pop, though with tons more drive than that genre was wont to employ. True, other tracks like the Zombies-worthy "Tomorrow's Girl" and the infectious "When I Get Home" were closer to the British Invasion than folk-rock, and "Too Many Heartbreaks" and "Suzie Cryin'" more in tune with the even more dated strains of Ricky Nelson and Roy Orbison respectively. Yet they were still highly enjoyable tracks in their own right that detracted not a whit from the cheerily random, if illogical, whichever-way-the-wind blows flow of the disc as a whole.

    Future Captain Beefhearters John French and Jeff Cotton can be heard on some of Fapardokly, and Fankhauser would likewise turn in more psychedelic and slightly weirder directions at the helm of H.M.S. Bounty at the end of the 1960s and MU (with Cotton back in the ranks) in the early '70s. Both of those bands issued fine albums as well, Merrell retaining his knack for combining slightly off-kilter songs and arrangements with highly accessible melodies, all anchored by his pleasing light, high vocals. Fapardokly -- now easily available on CD, with three previously unreleased bonus tracks from the same era -- might not be as unified in its vision as those H.M.S. Bounty and MU albums were. But its music is just as worthy and enduring, even it is as wackily fragmented as any record of its era, folk-rock or otherwise.

11. Gene Clark
Gene Clark Sings for You
White label acetate (no catalog number)
Summer 1967
CD reissue: none

If there's a holy grail of sorts among '60s folk-rock collectors, it could be this eight-track acetate of demos cut by ex-Byrds co-founder Gene Clark in the summer of 1967. While this wasn't done long after his solo debut album Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, it wasn't, contrary to some reports, intended at any point to be his second LP. Still, Clark fans have been hungry to hear the material, particularly as Gene never would put out official versions of any of the songs. Discovered in the vaults of Liberty Records in the 1980s, very few listeners -- even avid Byrds/Clark fanatics -- have been able to hear the music, which has yet to find release, on CD or any other format. One of those few is John Einarson, author of the excellent new biography Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds' Gene Clark (Backbeat Books). Einarson goes into the Gene Clark Sings for You sessions (as well as numerous other intriguing unreleased Clark tapes) at length in the book, and kindly filled us in on some of the details:


Q: How does the music on Gene Clark Sings for You differ notably from what he was doing with the Byrds and on his first solo album?

A: The songs on Gene Clark Sings For You are far removed from where the Byrds were by 1967 (or even by 1966). While the group explored complex musical vistas taking folk-rock into the realm of acid/psychedelia, Gene remained rooted in the melancholy Dylanesque romantic wordplay of his Turn! Turn! Turn! album contributions two years earlier. He does use mellotron to interesting effect and experiments with time signatures. However, the eight songs on the Sings For You acetate would likely have found little favour among his former Byrds mates. They are closer to the songs on his debut solo album in terms of lyrical direction and a folk-pop orientation yet offer little hint, other than the slight country flavour on "7:30 Mode," of where he would go with his next project and album, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark, eschewing complex arrangements and abstract poetry for a return to acoustic folk/country roots. So, in that sense, Gene Clark Sings For You is a quirky anomaly between the Byrds and Dillard & Clark.

Q: Why do you think the material on the album never found release, either in the form it was recorded or as re-recordings on an official Gene Clark LP?

A: Gene was so prolific at this point that by the time he entered a recording studio with a contract in hand a year later, he had already abandoned these songs and dozens more. He once declared that he had a whole closet full of acetates and tapes from this period and had recorded enough songs in demo form for several albums, all discarded. Recorded properly with better players and a sympathetic producer, these eight songs might have made for an interesting album, but time was passing Gene by. It’s hard to place where these songs fit in on the musical landscape of late 1967/early 1968 (assuming an album made from these songs would be released then). When you consider that he was recording these tracks during the much-vaunted Summer of Love, Gene seems kind of stuck in a time warp, still mining the Dylan folk-rock seam when most of his contemporaries were moving beyond that.

    The myth surrounding this acetate has been that it was the great lost second Columbia solo album from Gene. However, the reality is far less intriguing. His contract with CBS was terminated in June 1967 following sessions a month before for the "The French Girl"/"Only Colombe" single, with no follow-up album ever considered given the failure of Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers. These are demos, some in very basic form, of songs Gene was either looking to hustle to other performers (several acetates containing unreleased Clark material were in circulation at the time, including the one given to members of the Rose Garden that summer), or use to attract a new recording contract (he would land that in early 1968 with A&M, though whether these tracks contributed remains speculative). 

One track, "That’s Alright By Me," a holdover from the Gene Clark Group 1966 live set, remained in Gene's canon as he moved into his next project, a short-lived quartet with singer/songwriter Larry (Laramy) Smith, and was cut in the June 1968 but not released until 1998. "Yesterday Am I Right" was recorded in a bizarre big band arrangement with Hugh Masekela in late 1967 on another acetate with two other unreleased songs, "Without You" and "Don’t Let it Fall Through." The remaining songs on Gene Clark Sings For You were simply abandoned.

Q: In your research, did you find any indication that the LP was well-circulated to other artists considering material to cover? It seems that either it wasn't well-circulated, or that other artists didn't find the material suitable to record.

A: That few artists other than the Rose Garden and David Hemmings covered Gene’s material during this period, despite the respect he continued to garner as a songwriter for his Byrds contributions, supports the notion that this batch of songs was not among his best. He admitted to being deeply troubled personally in the two years between the Byrds and Dillard & Clark, and unable to find either direction or momentum. That a copy of this acetate exists today is quite amazing given that song publishing acetates back then were never intended to last and were discarded quickly. What it offers the listener is a fascinating glimpse into Gene's "lost years."

12. Hearts and Flowers
Now Is the Time for Hearts and Flowers
(Capitol ST-2762)
July 1967
CD reissue: Collectors' Choice Music CCM-321-2 (2002, as part of The Complete Hearts and Flowers)

Hearts and Flowers
Of Horses, Kids, and Forgotten Women
(Capitol ST-2868)
July 1968
CD reissue: Collectors' Choice Music CCM-321-2 (2002, as part of The Complete Hearts and Flowers)

One of folk-rock's chief spin-offs, country-rock, didn't yet exist as a label when Hearts and Flowers' debut album came out in mid-1967. Yet in hindsight, Now Is the Time for Hearts and Flowers was something of a transition between the Los Angeles folk-rock of the mid-1960s and its more countrified late-'60s cousin. The bluegrass-soaked harmonies in particular looked forward to the vocals of many of the country-rock groups that would sprout in Southern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and, further on down the line, even to the slicker sounds of the Eagles. For that matter, future Eagle Bernie Leadon would join the lineup for Hearts and Flowers' second and final album the following year, Of Horses, Kids, and Forgotten Women.

    Produced by the ubiquitous Nick Venet, the first LP has something of the house sound he cultivated with his fellow Capitol acts (including the previously discussed Fred Neil and the Stone Poneys, as well as far more obscure efforts by Mary McCaslin, Vince Martin, and Karen Dalton) -- a calm, spacious, and rootsy (if somewhat dry) blend. Unsurprisingly, some of the same session hands who contributed to the Venet-produced efforts by Neil and the Stone Poneys also showed up on Hearts and Flowers recording dates. They didn't overwhelm the core of H&F's strengths, however, those being the close bluegrass-country harmonies they'd honed on the folk circuit, given a slightly exotic dash via Dave Dawson's autoharp. On the first album in particular, these were crossed with a flair for well-selected covers spanning the gamut of folk-rock, country, and even pop, including material by Donovan, Tim Hardin, erratic-but-sometimes-brilliant California folk-psychers Kaleidoscope, Hoyt Axton, and Gerry Goffin and Carole King.

    By the time of Of Horses, Kids, and Forgotten Women, Hearts and Flowers had already undergone personnel changes. Rick Cunha, who with Dawson and Larry Murray comprised the trio who'd made the debut LP, was replaced by Leadon. Bernie had known Murray for years, ever since the two played bluegrass in the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, whose lineup also included a young pre-Byrds Chris Hillman. Though similar in tone to their debut, Hearts and Flowers' next album offered a considerably higher percentage of original songs, including the atypical but quite thrilling psych-pop opus "Ode to a Tin Angel." It also had fine covers of Arlo Guthrie's "Highway in the Wind" and Jesse Kincaid's "She Sang Hymns Out of Tune" -- the latter a great cryptic waltz that never was a hit for anyone, though several people took a crack at it, including (on a rare single) Kincaid himself.

    The albums met with commercial indifference, and Hearts and Flowers split up not long after Of Horses, Kids, and Forgotten Women came out. Leadon, of course, would build upon many of the elements Hearts and Flowers explored in his subsequent stints in Dillard and Clark, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and finally as an original member of the Eagles. Fortunately, both Hearts and Flowers LPs have been reissued on CD several times over. The two-disc collection The Complete Hearts and Flowers (with liner notes by this author) includes not only both albums, but also a second disc of previously unissued outtakes, much of it more country-oriented than what ended up on the '60s releases. Original Hearts and Flower Rick Cunha, now the owner and operator of a recording studio in the Los Angeles area, took a brief break to answer some questions about his old group -- and reveal that there might be a lost Hearts & Flowers album sitting in the vaults somewhere, if only someone can find it.


Q: A lot of what made Hearts & Flowers different from other folk-rock bands was your heavy background in bluegrass, and knowledge of music by acts like the Stanley Brothers and the Carter Family.

A: Everything that we approached sort of came out of that background. That was a bit of a difference from some of the other groups. David [Dawson] and I just hit it off because we all knew the same songs. And then when we hooked up with Larry, that was a reinforcement, because Larry had been playing bluegrass, and that's kind of where we started.

    Really, nobody was pursuing that, was sort of crossing that line. Like, one of our first shows was opening for Flatt & Scruggs at the Troubadour. And their interest in what we were doing sort of caught me off guard. Earl [Scruggs]'s wife Louise was trying to move them in that direction, and I got the feeling that for Lester [Flatt], that was kicking and dragging. He didn't want to have any part of that. But Earl was really interested in that, both for himself and for his kids. 'Cause he was really looking down the line, and he just wanted to get his kids into something, which they eventually did. And in fact, they did a version of "Rock'n'Roll Gypsies" [a track from the first Hearts & Flowers album] not too long after that -- Earl with the Scruggs Brothers, Randy and the brother [Gary]. Louise would send us a lot of stuff, and vice versa. That to me, it made what we were doing a little more relevant in that context.

    But pretty much right away, we started getting into more contemporary material. We listened to a lot of Freddie Neil, Tim Hardin, a lot of the folk acts of the time. Also, Larry was very active in looking for material in town here. He wasn't afraid to go to any of the publishers and bring acetates home that we'd listen to, and we would just sort of arrange that stuff in an acoustic trio arrangement. And that became our beginning repertoire.

    It certainly was an interesting time. I mean, we basically got record deals by walking into the office of producers and singing for them live. The first stuff we had recorded was with Gary Usher, and it was a very, very convoluted production deal where he was a staff Decca producer, but it seems to me Screen Gems paid for the studio time. In fact it was so convoluted that when we signed with Capitol, they wanted to buy the masters, anything we had done before. And they couldn't find 'em. The stuff had just disappeared. If I'm not mistaken, there was a version of "Rock'n'Roll Gypsies" and a couple of other things. I remember Glen Campbell came in and played guitar on some of the stuff, and then came in and did some high harmonies with us. They just wanted to prevent MGM from doing anything with it. But nobody could find it!

Q: Do you see what Hearts & Flowers did as a precursor to country-rock?

A: Not really. We just wanted to get as much country music into it as we could. And that was a little tough, 'cause it was a hard sell. Nick [Venet] wasn't really interested in that, and he gave us a few token spots that we could do whatever we wanted. But as far as material went, Nick had his own vision of that, so he was always pushing us one way or another. I think if we had our druthers, especially on that first album, we would have probably done more country-sounding stuff.

Q: What were Venet's strengths as a producer?

A: Getting the right people together. That was the best work he did. The Freddie Neil stuff, there wasn't much comment coming from the booth on that. They'd just run the tape, and the band would sort of make it happen. I think Nick was more involved in our group and the Stone Poneys as far as direction went. With Fred Neil, it was a given. It was going where Fred was gonna take it, and that's what made [Fred Neil] such a great record. Nick would tend to get in our way, because he had production ideas that I know we weren't really crazy about, but Nick could talk his way into or out of just about anything. I think he was by design more involved in sort of making the group something that he had a vision of, than just giving us our own way and letting us do whatever we wanted to do. A lot of the material we cut was stuff that he brought.

Q: How do you think the band changed when Bernie Leadon replaced you?

A: I think Bernie just brought a more pop direction to stuff. I remember him sitting and listening to Beatles records and copying, learning parts note-by-note. He and Larry worked on a lot on stuff after I left, and sort of took it off in more of a Beatles direction.

Q: Do you hear the influence of bands like Hearts & Flowers in what Bernie did with the Eagles?

Yeah. They worked really hard on a big vocal sound, and were certainly good musicians. Like they took Steve Young's "Seven Bridges Road," and Steve's version is a real sort of almost a southern blues waltz. And they put it into 4/4 time and just polished it up a little bit. I think "polished" would be the keynote word.

13. Nico
Chelsea Girl
(Verve V/V6-5032)
October 1967
CD reissue: Polygram 835209-2 (1993)

Nico's debut solo album might be the most contentious entry on this list, as many might feel that neither the LP nor the artist fall into that wide chasm we call "folk-rock." This is, after all, a platter from a just-ex-member of the Velvet Underground, one of the noisiest and most controversial bands of all time. There are no drums and little electric guitar on the record, whose arrangements favor ornate baroque orchestrations with strings and flute. And Nico herself would rarely touch upon folky territory in her lengthy subsequent solo career, taking the opportunity to disown the record when asked about it.

    Yet Nico's own background in folk was not negligible. For years, apparently, she'd been bugging whoever would listen to let her perform and record Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine," which Dylan himself had yet to release on his own vinyl, and which (she said) Bob had written for her during their brief affair in Europe in 1964. She had, according to session drummer Bobby Graham, done a Joan Baez cover on an unreleased 1965 French-language EP. She'd done a pop version of Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Sayin'" on her '65 flop debut single, backed by an acoustic ballad produced and co-penned by the young Jimmy Page, who (along with Brian Jones) also played guitar on the track. More recently, she'd been working as a solo artist in the Dom club in New York, where her sole accompaniment was one guitar, played variously by Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, fellow Velvet Undergrounders John Cale and Sterling Morrison, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and teenage paramour Jackson Browne.

    Most of those sidemen would end up contributing songs to Chelsea Girl, which is notable not so much for Nico's oddly low, deadpan vocals (which sometimes wavered into flatness) as the well-selected repertoire and the adroit combination of acoustic folk with gorgeous (if somewhat fruity) quasi-classical chamber music. Perhaps it was consciously or subconsciously inspired by the similar baroque-folk approach Judy Collins had used (with much more commercial reward) on her recent In My Life album, which likewise cherry-picked underexposed tunes by up-and-coming singer-songwriters. (Collins, as it happened, also had eyes on "I'll Keep It with Mine," beating Nico to it by covering it as a non-LP track on a 1965 single.)

    Chelsea Girl, however, was odder and less apt to capture a wide audience, both by virtue of the singer's almost macabre vocals and the more obtuse songs that were selected. But those songs, obscure as they were both in renown and in their lyrical flavors, were quite good ones -- by Browne, Hardin, Cale, Morrison, Lou Reed, and Dylan -- that for the most part had not yet been included on releases by anyone. (In some cases, versions by the composers themselves have yet to be released.) Certainly the Reed-Morrison collaboration "Chelsea Girls" is a devastating portrait of Warholian decadence every bit the equal of any such number the Velvet Underground tackled on their albums. It was also the first airing for Browne's much-loved "These Days," though his "The Fairest of the Seasons" (co-written with Greg Copeland) and "Somewhere There's a Feather" are equally attractive in their almost timid daintiness. Hardin's "Eulogy to Lenny Bruce," to be included on the composer's live album the following year, is as funereal as anything Nico did in her goth phase, though here accompanied solely by guitar.

    Only "It Was a Pleasure Then" (written by Nico with Cale and Reed), with its cacophonous guitar shrieks and rumbles underpinning rhythm-less melismatic stream-of-consciousness, sounds at all like the Velvet Underground. (It sounds a lot like the Velvet Underground, actually, enough so that it could have fit on their early albums without causing too much of a jolt.) The only cut that fails to convince, ironically enough, is "I'll Keep It With Mine," whose bouncy strings seem to be trying way too hard to make this into an appropriately upbeat feel-good number.

    Though it was produced by one of folk-rock's top aides-de-camp, Tom Wilson (who'd worked on Dylan's early electric recordings and grafted electric guitar and drum onto Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence"), Chelsea Girl did not, as Verve was probably hoping, make Nico into a pop star for the artsy. Both Nico and others involved in the record, in fact, heavily criticized Wilson's role in the sessions. Cale and Browne have recalled how Wilson seemed to spend more time on the phone than paying attention to what was going on in the studio, while Nico (as quoted in Richard Witts's biography Nico: The Life & Lies of an Icon) griped, "I cried when I heard the album. I cried because of the flute. I hate it so much! It is a great mistake. The arrangements in general were not so good. Even so, I could bear the string sound. But I wish I could take the flute off. There should be a button on record players, a 'No Flute' Button....I wish I could un-orchestrate Chelsea Girl. The flute, anyway." Nico was soon free to record wholly dissimilar albums, occupied primarily by her own material, in which there were no flutes, no folk, and barely even any rock in the conventional term, focusing on music of the most uncompromising, avant-garde sort. But while Chelsea Girl ended up being something of an anomaly in the context of her career as a whole, it remains her most accessible work -- though, by the standards of '60s folk-rock, it's downright avant-garde in many respects.

14. Holy Modal Rounders
The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders
(Elektra EKS-94026)
CD reissue: Water 101 (2002)

Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber had been doing addled folk music for about five years by the time the Holy Modal Rounders went to Los Angeles to record their sole Elektra album in the spring of 1968. In their original guise as an acoustic duo, the Rounders had taken great delight in simultaneously mocking and paying loving homage to traditional old-timey music on their Prestige recordings. Breaking up for a while, and briefly surfacing in an early version of the Fugs, the pair reunited and expanded into a full rock lineup (with playwright/actor Sam Shepard on drums) for one chaotic ESP recording, Indian War Whoop. Shepard was still on drums for The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders, which -- though just as chaotic as Indian War Whoop -- upped the psychedelic wattage, inspiration, and drug-fueled craziness.

    It's tempting to view the LP in some respects as an acid folk parallel to early Mothers of Invention albums, particularly as it segues between zany song fragments without a break. "Bird Song" -- by far the most widely known song, due to its memorable use in the soundtrack of Easy Rider -- was bad-trip honky-tonk country, giving way in turn to zigzags among manic-depressive acoustic folk, field hollers, barroom country, and shambling tongue-in-cheek white boy blues. "Half a Mind" was a frighteningly self-descriptive title for a piece with mind-melting demented acid-blues-rock guitar and the croakiest vocals ever to be heard on a popular music recording. (That vocal was by Weber, aided by a splash on his throat from a spray can of a substance used to make instrument necks slippery.) The whole exhilarating mess came to a halt with Shepard's butchered pledge of allegiance to the American flag, an act that many right-thinking Americans would equate with treason in the tumultuous year of 1968. This was roots folk taken to its absolutely most cracked extremes, like hillbillies transported to a warped fifth dimension where fiddles and guitars refused to play as they usually did, and backporch singalongs got unrecognizably distorted and mangled.

    Whereas Frank Zappa and his crew had constructed their fun-house epics quite meticulously and consciously, however, the Rounders and producer Frazier Mohawk seemed to have ended up with their manifesto more by seat-of-the-pants spontaneity than anything else. Stampfel has contended that the engineers eliminated the grooves between the tracks without his knowledge; Mohawk, for his part, says that none of the songs were completed (which Stampfel in turn disputes). Both amiably agree that drug use during the sessions was abundant. "It is a reflection of the mental and physical condition of all of the parties involved," states Mohawk simply today. "We were all very impaired, so what you hear are snap decisions made through a fog of many additives. What was amazing is that we made it to the studio at all, much less accomplishing anything."

    Rather surprisingly given the fairly insane end result (and its modest sales figures), the Holy Modal Rounders did start on a second Elektra album. That project was aborted, though, when the drug use and craziness accelerated even more. Stampfel, who's made much music with and without the Rounders in the intervening 35 years, isn't all that fond of The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders. That didn't stop the genial trickster, however, from contributing detailed liner notes to its 2002 CD reissue (also including an essay by this author), which restored one of the strangest and -- yes -- funniest folk-rock albums of the late 1960s to wide availability.

15. Dino Valenti
Dino Valente [sic]
(Epic BN 26335)
August 1968
CD reissue: RPM 289 (2004)

Dino Valenti was one of folk-rock's most fascinating enigmas. He'd been among folk-rock's leading backroom boys since the mid-1960s, recording a little-heard electric 1964 Elektra single, "Birdses"/"Don't Let It Down," that not only tilted in a folk-rock direction but also (via its A-side) inspired Gene Clark to suggest that his new band call themselves the Byrds. His "Get Together," probably written in the early 1960s (the composer himself recorded it on a January 1964 demo), became a folk-rock standard, particularly when it was covered by Jefferson Airplane on their first album, and made into a Top Ten hit by the Youngbloods. He almost formed a band with Roger McGuinn right before the Byrds got off the ground, and falsely claimed the songwriting credit for another folk-rock standard, "Hey Joe." It's been reported (and disputed) that he was set to be a founder-member of Quicksilver Messenger Service before a drug bust sent him to jail. All this and by the late 1960s, he somehow had yet to put out a record, other than that rare '64 Elektra 45.

    Given Valenti's, um, unconventional attitude toward major label recording, it's something of a miracle that an album got finished and issued at all. Valenti's buddy (and Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist) Gary Duncan has said that an entire unreleased album of "well-produced little nuggets of radio stuff" was produced by Jack Nitzsche, but scrapped at Dino's insistence (if such material was laid down, it doesn't seem to have surfaced). The relatively sparsely arranged cuts that did end up on the final Dino Valente (sic) album were all credited as the work of Columbia producer Bob Johnston, who was already an old hand at folk-rock by 1968, with several Dylan albums under his belt. And, presumably, already an old hand at patiently dealing with temperamental artists -- Duncan's also said that a couple of days in the studio were spent doing nothing by flying paper airplanes, and Johnson's recalled asking Valenti to chop super-long compositions into smaller pieces in order to come up with relatively concise songs to record.

    For all its apparently fraught birth, Dino Valente itself beams with beatific, placid hippie sunshine. Capturing the brightest essence of acid folk, its sagely cosmic ramblings were at their heart beautiful acoustic guitar ballads, tweaked into psychedelia with some ghostly reverb and swathes of harpsichord. If Valenti's nasal voice sounded a tad creepy in its suggestive probings of the inner psyches of the beautiful-but-troubled young women he seemed to be aiming most of his words at, they were balanced by a certain utopian glow, seemingly burning with expectation of a new dawn not just for him, but for all of humanity. Taking things back to earth was his spooky cover of John Phillips's "Me and My Uncle," while the oddly out-of-place pop orchestration decorating "Listen to Me" was the only hint of how he might have sounded had he decided to aim for a mass audience instead of pleasing himself.

    Due in part to his determination to alienate Columbia Records executives, the one and only solo album by the man dubbed "the underground Dylan" was destined to remain underground, even by underground rock standards. Issued on Columbia subsidiary Epic, Dino Valente was barely promoted, and the artist's very name apparently misspelled on the cover (though, contrary to legend, it seems at least some token promotion was undertaken, as there was a full-page ad for the LP in the September 14, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone). Valenti would soon gain some measure of stardom by joining Quicksilver Messenger Service for real, but nothing he wrote or recorded afterward recaptured the magical bliss of his solo album. Like his labelmate Skip Spence (see entry for Oar elsewhere in this feature), his piece de resistance was nearly unnoticed, even in the counterculture that had made it possible. And unlike Skip Spence's Oar, Dino Valente somehow has failed to be honored with a sizable cult revival, although it's been reissued on CD (with two previously unissued outtakes) more than once.   

16. John Stewart & Buffy Ford
Signals Through the Glass
(Capitol T/ST 2975)
September 1968
CD reissue: Folk Era JST 7088D (2004)

The folk-rock revolution caught a lot of the old guard off-guard, and the late-1960s saw many veterans from the pre-Beatles folk revival, rock, and pop scenes vainly trying to get in tune with the times. Most of these efforts were woeful; many of them were embarrassing. But a few unlikely (relatively) oldsters did reinvent themselves as gentle folk-rock singer-songwriters with fairly successful, if aesthetically variable, results. Bobby Darin -- who'd given both Roger McGuinn and Jesse Colin Young valuable breaks when those future stars were unknown -- made the Top Ten with a cover of Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter." Dion -- who, it's worth noting, had made his own pretty respectable, almost wholly overlooked forays into folk-rock in the mid-1960s on Columbia with Bob Dylan producer Tom Wilson -- had a huge hit with "Abraham, Martin, & John." And John Stewart, who'd just come to the end of a long run with the waning Kingston Trio, was -- almost uniquely among his fellow early-'60s folk revival stars -- reborn as a critically respected singer-songwriter in the late 1960s and 1970s.

    His first album under his new persona, however, was a bit of an awkward baby step into the brave new world. First off, he shared billing with his wife Buffy Ford, who took frequent harmony and lead vocals, although in truth Stewart -- who wrote all of the songs -- was the main force behind the music. Too, there's a sense of a man desperately trying to make up for lost ground, as if the changing times were threatening to throw him off the pop music merry-go-round permanently if he didn't prove he was up to date. And it certainly is more serious, probing, and sophisticated, generally speaking, than what Stewart had done in the Kingston Trio, even on their later recordings.

    Yet he hadn't quite arrived at the rural-flavored, rootsy country-folk-rock that would characterize much of his solo work.  While the earnest Americana for which Stewart would become known is already in evidence in songs like "Nebraska Widow" and "Lincoln's Train," "July, You're a Woman" was a quality middle-of-the-road production on the order of Glen Campbell, and "Holly on My Mind" quite fetching in its ornately orchestrated pop. Yet social consciousness was the order of the day on "Muckee Truckee River" and the slightly contrived but extremely moving "Draft Age." As the LP's closer, the latter song is a nearly cinema verite travelogue of the thoughts of one Clarence Malloy on the day he becomes eligible for induction into the American army, which in those days quite likely meant fighting in the horrific Vietnam War. Steadily building in tension with martial drums and fanfares, the bright sentimental melody and lush strings wholly undermined by the lyrics' evocation of impending doom, it's one of the most overlooked protest songs of the 1960s.

    Some Stewart fans view Signals Through the Glass as a failed, compromised solo debut, watered down by inappropriately lavish orchestration. Arranger/conductor John Andrew Tartaglia, in fact, was primarily known for his work on jingles, soundtracks, and the easy listening Mystic Moods Orchestra. While the combination is admittedly somewhat incongruous, it's also fascinating to hear such disparate elements playing off each other, doing tense battle without quite canceling each other out. While many Stewart fans consider his second album, 1969's California Bloodlines (produced by the ever-industrious Nick Venet), to be the one where he truly found his metier, Signals Through the Glass odd but appealing tug-of-war between styles should not be ignored. It's a lot easier to hear, too, after its low-key reissue on CD last year, but if you do want the vinyl, note that the 1975 reissue (on Capitol SM 2975) has a different version of "July, You're a Woman" than the one on the original LP.

    Here's as good a place as any to note that if you crave some really rare early solo John Stewart, be on the lookout for the 1967 four-LP Columbus Tower Demos box set (CRS-1162). Circulated within the industry only by SFO Music, it contains numerous Stewart solo demos (as well as quite a few unrelated tracks by other artists). While most of these aren't full-band electric folk-rock, nor up to the standards of Signals Through the Glass, they do demonstrate that his shift from the Kingston Trio to his solo work wasn't as abrupt as it might seem. No plans seem to be afoot to make these available for official release, unfortunately, and if you do manage to find Columbus Tower Demos, it'll cost you big-time.

17. The Gosdin Brothers
Sounds of Goodbye
(Capitol LP ST 2852)
October 1968
CD reissue: Big Beat CDWIKD 235 (2003)

Purists might carp that an album by the Gosdin Brothers has no place in a folk-rock retrospective. After all, they're usually classified as country singers, with one half of the duo, Vern Gosdin, attaining mainstream country-pop stardom in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the beauties of '60s folk-rock, however, was how it drew so many unlikely contributors into its orbit at point or another, even if sometimes for just a brief moment or two. And the Gosdin Brothers really did play forward-looking country-folk-rock, even if it was for just a year or two, and even if virtually no one was listening.

    In truth, the Gosdins had closer ties to the epicenter of Los Angeles folk-rock than most people realize. In the early 1960s their bluegrass group, the Hillmen, also included a young pre-Byrds Chris Hillman on mandolin. The Hillmen recorded an album's worth of material for future Byrds co-manager Jim Dickson, and though that LP didn't see the light of day until the late 1960s, Dickson continued to work with the Gosdins in both production and management over the next few years. Another future Byrd, Clarence White, played with the brothers live in the mid-'60s, while the Gosdins opened for the Byrds themselves at some concerts. Vern added guitar to the Byrds' "The Girl with No Name," and both Vern and Rex overdubbed harmonies on Gene Clark's 1967 solo debut album, though their contributions were not quite as major as the title (Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers) suggested. Chris Hillman produced a Gosdin Brothers single in late 1966, and although the Gosdins and Dickson parted ways soon after that, both White and yet another Byrd-to-be (Gene Parsons) got involved in the brothers' subsequent recordings for producer Gary Paxton.

    Given all the Byrds connections, it's perhaps unsurprising that the Gosdin Brothers' 1968 LP Sounds of Goodbye bears the heavy influence of the Byrds, though it comes at folk-rock from a country angle rather than a rock one. Certainly "Love at First Sight," with its anthemic thrust and ringing guitars, sounds like a great lost 1966-67 Byrds cut. Much of the rest of the album was more muted and countrified, however, rather like a more country-soaked Gene Clark with fraternal vocal harmonies, projecting a similar aura of stoic melancholy. In Gene Parsons's view, it's "more than slightly melancholy -- haunting, you might say. When you listen to some of the original stuff that Vern sang in that voice and with Rex right in there with him, it just grabs ya. Gene's got that same quality -- honesty in the music. It's not an affected style. It's plain and honest and straight from the heart."

    It's true that "She's Gone" -- a simply great lovelorn ballad -- might be more pure country music than anything else. But Sounds of Goodbye is not a pure country album. It's Byrdsian country-folk-rock that manages to retain the Gosdins' own stamp on things. It was a direction, too, that took some courage for the pair to pursue. For it was not just a rather radical turn from their Alabama country roots, but really too radical for the country audience that was their primary constituency. This was an act, after all, that played a pep rally for controversial segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace when he ran for president in 1968!

    Though Sounds of Goodbye is a highly accessible record, it was perhaps too country for rock ears, and too rock for country ones. The brothers split not long afterward, Vern Gosdin eventually re-emerging in the country mainstream. Testifying to its unpopularity, copies of Sounds of Goodbye are hard to come by indeed. But fortunately, the music's now available again and then some on Big Beat's expanded CD reissue of the album, which adds no less than 13 bonus tracks from rare singles and previously unissued outtakes recorded in the same time frame.

18. The Gentle Soul
The Gentle Soul
(Epic LP BN 26374)
October 30, 1968
CD reissue: Sundazed SC 11123 (2003)

While much folk-rock (and rock in general) was getting noisier and more psychedelic in the late 1960s, a few Los Angeles folk-rockers were moving in a rather calmer, rootsier direction. We've already looked at a few -- the Stone Poneys, Hearts & Flowers, and Fred Neil -- all of whom, uncoincidentally, were produced by Nick Venet for Capitol. Elsewhere in town, the Gentle Soul took a similar approach to their Columbia sessions for another top producer, Terry Melcher, most famous for his work on the first two albums by the greatest folk-rock act of all, the Byrds.

    Though a few musicians (including, briefly, the young Jackson Browne) passed in and out of the Gentle Soul, the band centered around the male-female harmonizing duo of Rick Stanley and Pamela Polland. Indeed, they're the only two pictured on the cover of this ultra-rare late-'68 release, on which Epic Records thoughtfully forgot to credit them by name on the back, though they did manage to list nearly ten session men (including Ry Cooder, with whom Polland performed live in the mid-1960s). Though there were quite a few musicians involved in the sessions and some orchestration was used, it's quite a low-key record, somewhat in the mold of the Stone Poneys. If the Gentle Soul lacked a singer on the order of Linda Ronstadt, or material as strong as that heard on the Stone Poneys' records, it's still an attractive relic from the more laidback corner of the L.A. folk-rock scene.

    It took quite a while for Melcher and the band -- who had made their first recordings together back in late 1966 -- to get an album assembled, and by the time it finally came out on Columbia's Epic subsidiary, the Gentle Soul had just split. Like several other worthy folk-rockers on Columbia (Cooder's Melcher-produced band the Rising Sons, for instance, never even got to release an album for the label), the group were buried by an avalanche of under-promotion. Barely distributed, copies of The Gentle Soul were going for three-figure sums 30 years later. But its recent CD reissue, which augments the album with eight cuts from non-LP singles and outtakes (including the never-before-heard early Jackson Browne song "Flying Thing"), ensures that the music can be heard without spending half of your next paycheck.


Q: What qualities do you think made the Gentle Soul LP stand out most from other folk-rock coming out in the late 1960s?

A: I think the music on this album and some of the singles capture the more subtle spiritual essence of that little golden age of creativity called the '60s. This music is the pure expression of kids with no care for money or fame. We were guileless and wrote from our deepest experience and understanding of love and spirituality. We wanted to give only the highest expressions of ourselves, the most beautiful music we could make. We had no plan or agenda for success and this is probably why we so easily parted, Pamela off to Greece with her Poet and me off to India to write two albums of music for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, just as the Beatles took their leave. Another quality that obviously helped us out was our love for some of the greatest musicians of the time who were unknown outside of the Troubadour crowd. People like Ry Cooder, who met with me for a couple of weeks as we worked up his guitar parts.

    Just for the record, much of the guitar that you hear on Gentle Soul is mine; this is something that I have never been credited with. But I was the guitar picker who did the finger picking and funky rhythmic stuff on the album, like "Young Man Blue." I laid all the basic tracks with my own three- and four-finger style, and Ry added his awesome flatpicking style on guitar and mandolin. Van Dyke Parks, and especially Paul Horn, played an important role as session leader.  Fortunately, Terry Melcher had the same taste in session musicians that we did.

Q: What were Melcher's greatest contributions to the record?

A: Terry had a great foundation of folk-rock experience with the Byrds, and great taste in session musicians as I've mentioned. We hadn't recorded all the songs for the album before we stopped recording. Terry had to bring in Ry and some of the other musicians after he had commissioned Jack Nitzsche to write an arrangement of the themes of all the songs on the album to fill up the record. This compilation made up for the missing one or two songs, and I think it was very well done. What I liked best about him was that he wanted us to love what he did with our music, and would listen and respond to our input. He just wanted to make us sound as good as we possibly could. He kept it simple, just as we wanted it to be. We didn't want the "wall of sound" or any other gimmick of the time, although they did give it a try on one of the singles.

Q: Did your splitting up right before the album's release help account for the rarity of the original LP?

A: You got that right!! I found copies in some of the most out-of-the- way places for several years, so they must have sent it out, but without promotion or any sort of advertising. They did send some copies around for review before it was released. I happened upon a Billboard review years later that said "Gentle Soul, the most beautiful unknown album of the year."

Q: What kind of musical and recording directions do you think you might have been able to explore had you managed to hold together longer?

A: I think we would have gone in the same direction that I went myself when I started recording with Henry Lewy, Joni Mitchell's [engineer], at A&M Records. I studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for seven years, starting in 1968, and wrote and recorded two albums of  songs with Maharishi's inspiration; I think Pamela would have gone to India as well if we had remained a group. Instead, Paul Fauerso, of the San Francisco group the Loading Zone (with Linda Tillery),
teamed up with me on [my 1972 solo] album, Something Good Is Happening, and we wrote and harmonized much like Pamela and I had done. We had to blend our singing styles a bit -- Cat Stevens and Stevie Wonder become the Everly Brothers, sort of. The two albums sold at least a couple of hundred thousand copies during the '70s. Paul Horn played some great flute on both albums, as he had done on Gentle Soul; Tom Scott and Doug Dillard added some great parts as well.

    So I guess what I'm saying is, if Pamela and I had stayed together we would very likely have done those albums together. If you carry the "if factor" up to the present, we would probably be writing and singing some songs against war like "Bonny Brave Boys" (about my Vietnam experience, on the CD Border Lord) and no doubt, songs about Pamela's love for nature and the environment, and beautiful Celtic-influenced songs like the Gentle Soul's single, "Tell Me Love." We would be singing them in rich, weaving harmonies. I would be playing my self-made Irish harp, guitar and banjo and she would be playing keyboards, maybe harmonium? In truth, it would have been great if it had worked out that way. But she is in Hawaii singing traditional songs as she sways to the hula, swimming with the dolphins and monitoring her environmental website. Me, I'm writing songs and performing when they pour through me, sometimes about the distant past and sometimes about the rapidly disintegrating world order. What keeps me writing and performing is the high I get when I can go to the feeling level of the audience and share a communication and upliftment of the heart that heals us all.

19. Steve Young
Rock, Salt & Nails
(A&M 4177)
CD reissue: Edsel 193 (1994)

Alabaman Steve Young had been on the folk and folk-rock scene for years before his solo debut, even briefly playing in a pre-Buffalo Springfield group with Stephen Stills and Van Dyke Parks, the Gas Company. He was also part of Stone Country, whose sole late-'60s album, though largely given over to pop-psychedelia, had a couple of Young songs on which his southern grit cut through the band's usual mediocrity. Recorded in November 1968 and released the following year, Rock, Salt & Nails -- on which he finally got a chance to express himself for the length of an LP -- was a wholly overlooked blend of folk, rock, soul, blues, country, gospel, and swamp pop. It's been cited as an early country-rock milestone, and gotten some attention among Byrds/Flying Burrito Brothers collectors for the presence of Gram Parsons, Gene Clark, and Chris Hillman among the supporting players. It's not purely country-rock, however; it's folk-rock that draws from all shades of roots music. There are few, if any, more Southern '60s folk-rock records than this one, even if it was recorded in Southern California, not the Southern United States. And for what it's worth, though Gram Parsons gets far more kudos for combining country and soul in the Flying Burrito Brothers, Young did it too, and just as early as Parsons did.

    "Seven Bridges Road" is certainly the most renowned song on the LP -- and, for that matter, the most famous song Young wrote and recorded during his entire lengthy career -- owing to its subsequent cover by the Eagles. Just as memorable, however, are "Holler in the Swamp" and "Kenny's Song," where far-off strings effectively heighten the stark, tense drama that Young created at his best. It's a little too cover-heavy, and it comes as a disappointing surprise to learn that Young had to fight to get any of his own compositions onto the record at all. The album made even less commercial headway than A&M's other late-'60s country-rock ventures by the Burritos and Dillard & Clark, and Young never has been able to cross over to a big audience in either the rock or country realm, despite a subsequent long and critically respected career as a singer-songwriter.

    Still writing, recording, and performing -- he even toured India in 2004! -- Young is proud of his first album, which remains his favorite. He'd also like to see it get back in print somehow; although it has been reissued on CD, it's unfortunately out of catalog at the moment. Speaking to RC from his Nashville base in spring 2005, he had to this say about Rock, Salt & Nails:


Q: Why do you think Rock, Salt & Nails holds up more than 35 years later?

A: Something that makes it hold up is its simplicity. It's just sort of classic, which is something I aspire to do, hope to do, when I make a record -- [that] it not be dated, no matter when you might hear it. It just did incorporate all the roots styles that I grew up with, plus the more folk-rock element too, some of that. Of course, at the time we did the record, A&M said, "Well, this is country music." They sent it to Nashville and they said, "No, we don't know what it is, but it's not country." That story's been going on forever.

Q: What was Gram Parsons's involvement with the album?

A: We only kept a little bit of what he did on Rock Salt & Nails. But Gram really was interested in what I was doing, 'cause the producer, Tommy LiPuma, had taken the tapes and played it for Gram. He really liked it, and lent a lot of moral support. I'm just projecting, but I would think that [Gram] thought there might have been more interplay between us. I have a little bit of regret about that. He also played on some outtakes that were not on the record, and I've never known what happened to those. Somebody said recently that in England, Universal looked for these outtakes and could not find them. I don't truly know if any of those outtakes were all that good or not, but he was more active in actually playing on those cuts.

    I remember several of them being Dylan songs, because Tommy LiPuma had this idea that I should not do original songs. He just wanted me to be a simple interpreter. I know it sounds odd, but he didn't really want me doing original stuff. And only accidentally did two or three original songs wind up on the record, one of them being "Seven Bridges Road," because [session guitar great] James Burton was there. We ran out of songs one day, and I started playing "Seven Bridges," which I wasn't even sure was a finished song, really. And Burton said to LiPuma, "This is good, let's put it down." He said it with such authority -- LiPuma was kind of in awe of Burton -- so [LiPuma] said okay, and put it down.

Q: How did "Seven Bridges Road" end up getting covered by the Eagles?

A: I believe it got to the Eagles through Ian Matthews. I'm sure that the Eagles, or some of them, had and were aware of Rock Salt & Nails, and maybe they liked the song already. But I think what sold them on the song was Ian Matthews's arrangement. He's a brilliant arranger, and did that different arrangement with the voices, more upbeat 4/4 time,  pedal steel, autoharp and different things. A very good cut, and it got some FM airplay [in] the early '70s. I think he was in Mike Nesmith's studio, and the Eagles had come in there. Ian was finishing up, and they heard this recording of the song, is the story I've always heard. Then they liked it so much that they started closing their show [with it], and based their arrangement on his arrangement.   

20. Alexander "Skip" Spence
(Columbia CS 9831)
May 19, 1969
CD reissue: Sundazed SC 11075 (1999)

The tragic events that led to Skip Spence's Oar have, for better or worse, achieved as much notoriety as the album's quite magnificent music. The original Jefferson Airplane drummer, and one of the three guitarists in the first Moby Grape lineup, he freaked out violently during the recording of the Grape's second album in New York. An axe-wielding Spence was disarmed, briefly jailed, and then committed to Bellevue mental hospital for six months. Upon his release he traveled to Nashville to record, in a mere four days of sessions, the primordial acid folk of what would be his only solo album, Oar, credited to his given name, Alexander Spence.

    Certainly Oar's unique brand of roots voodoo folk-rock was uncommercial. Like a hoarser Johnny Cash, Spence's low growl spun oblique tales of murder, lust, ebullient mattress-bouncing sex, regret, and redemption. Like a dying rural bluesman given one last sugar cube to ease his breakthrough to the other side, it was equal parts Delta blues, Appalachian folk, and Haight-Ashbury haze. For all its gravity, however, it was pretty funny in places -- Spence had a great ear for witty puns, some of which even made their way into the song titles ("War in Peace," "Weighted Down (The Prison Song)," and "Lawrence of Euphoria"). Raw, naked, and utterly devoid of artifice, Oar is not just the greatest low-selling '60s folk-rock album of all time -- it's one of the greatest '60s folk-rock albums, period.

    Oar is so akin to a final testament that it's hard to imagine how Spence could have followed it up, but he sealed his cult legend by never releasing another solo album, although he would record and perform again sporadically with Moby Grape. Despite a glowing review by a young Greil Marcus in the September 20, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone, Oar sold poorly -- less than a thousand copies, in fact, according to one account. Worse, Spence battled with mental illness and homelessness for much of the rest of his life. It was an American counterpart of sorts to Syd Barrett, albeit with even more tragic consequences.

    Though original copies of Oar are undeniably scarce, there's some suspicion that the album couldn't have sold as poorly as legend would have it. A major label truly has to try hard to sell less than a thousand copies of an album praised so enthusiastically by Rolling Stone, and over the past half-dozen years or so, three owners of the first pressing have told me they had no trouble whatsoever finding the LP when it came out. (It was also cited as an influence on one of the other albums surveyed here, It's a Cinch to Give Legs to Old Hard-Boiled Eggs, by Maxfield Parrish singer-songwriter David Biasotti.) Perhaps it's an urban legend whose roots can be traced back to Pete Frame's "San Francisco: 1" family tree in April 1979, which stated that Oar had sold less than 700 copies worldwide. The story has a happy ending, though, for the album if not for Spence himself. Reissued on LP in the late 1980s, and then on CD twice in the 1990s (with progressively more unreleased, if rather unimpressive and half-formed, outtakes tacked on), Oar's cult just grew and grew. There was even a tribute album with contributions by Beck, Robyn Hitchcock, Robert Plant, and Tom Waits. And in its latest iteration, the CD reissue of Oar has sold tens of thousands of copies -- not a gold record by the RIAA's standards, perhaps, but pure platinum validation for such a weird and wonderful cult album.

21. The Dillards
(Elektra EKS 74054)
January 1970
CD reissue: Collectors' Choice Music (2002)

The Dillards established themselves as a popular bluegrass act years before they moved into electric folk-country-rock. Rather like the Gosdin Brothers, they too moved into the Byrds' flight path, likewise opening some shows for the Byrds in the mid-1960s. Their 1968 album Wheatstraw Suite has been justly acclaimed as a country-rock groundbreaker, putting bluegrass, country, folk, rock, and pop together with a natural ease. Their 1970 follow-up Copperfields was quite similar, but somehow has failed to garner nearly as much praise as its predecessor, though it's just about as good. Perhaps it was just too similar; what was novel in 1968 on Wheatstraw Suite was more taken for granted in country-rock by the time Copperfields hit the shelves.

    Much of Copperfields was devoted to beautifully harmonized folk-country-rock, the largely original material broken up by well-chosen covers of songs by Eric Andersen ("Close the Door Lightly"), Harry Nilsson (who co-wrote "Rainmaker" with Bill Martin), and the Beatles (a lovely one-minute a cappella version of "Yesterday"). There were some surprising moves toward pop and acid rock, however. "Touch Her If You Can" could easily pass for a classy AM radio hit single that never was, while the harmonies on "In Our Time" verged toward California sunshine pop. And there can be few better approximations of the Fifth Dimension-era Byrds than "Brother John," with its jazz-waltzing tempo, angelic harmonies, and McGuinn-esque guitar runs. If the Dillards were taking some inspiration from the Byrds, it's worth noting that some water had flowed under that bridge in the opposite direction; it's still not widely known that the Dillards' Dean Webb helped the Byrds work out their vocal harmonies for "Mr. Tambourine Man."
    Unlike most of the other albums in this rundown, Copperfields has little in the way of strange stories, unexpected artistic U-turns, odd alliances, celebrity cameos, and personal or business misfortune attached to its conception, execution, and release. Which shouldn't count against it, by any means: it was just the Dillards doing what they did best, and they were among the best at what they did. And, like several of the other country-rockish LPs we've previously discussed, it contained -- particularly in those vocal harmonies -- seeds of the formula the Eagles would, with much commercial pop finish, take to the masses in the 1970s. Not that it helped the Dillards sell too many records in their time; it would take a tour with Elton John to help their next album, Roots and Branches, become their only LP to make the Billboard charts.

22. Dion
Sit Down Old Friend
(Warner Brothers WS 1826)
CD reissue: Ace CDCHD 2001 (as part of Sit Down Old Friend/You're Not Alone)

Dion's late-1968 hit single "Abraham, Martin and John" was one of the most remarkable comeback stories of the decade. To those who hadn't been paying very close attention, it must have seemed as though he'd changed himself from a teen idol to a credible folk-rock singer-songwriter overnight. Actually, however, Dion had tested the folk waters as far back as late 1963, when he'd covered Woody Guthrie's "900 Miles." He also encouraged an uncertain Roger McGuinn to go in a folk-rock direction in 1964, and in his autobiography, he recalled helping Tom Wilson work out some rock'n'roll arrangements to overdub on acoustic Bob Dylan tapes, as an experimental preamble to Dylan's actual initial mid-'60s folk-rock sessions. By 1965, Dion himself was recording and writing some quite respectable early electric folk-rock for Wilson. He was derailed by a serious drug problem, however, and most of those cuts were buried as flop singles, obscure album tracks, or outtakes that didn't come out until the CD era.

    So it wasn't as much of a detour as it seemed when he cut an entirely unplugged album in 1970, Sit Down Old Friend, on which the only accompaniment was his own acoustic guitar. He'd already gone into singer-songwriter folk-rock, more or less, with the "Abraham, Martin and John" single and his 1968 self-titled album, which included the anti-war original "He Looks a Lot Like Me" among covers of songs by Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Fred Neil, Lightnin' Hopkins, and even Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." Yet Sit Down Old Friend, it must be said, is the more impressive and certainly more uncompromising LP. Most of the songs were Dion's, and showed him at perhaps his most confessionally personal on record. Some might contend that there's no "rock" involved as everything's acoustic, but certainly it's neither mild nor twee, if more tender than harrowing. He unveils some surprisingly nimble blues chops and scat vocals at times, particularly on "Jammed Up Blues." The main pleasure, however, is hearing one of the finest rock'n'roll vocalists sing a more intimate, gently crooning folky style than he did on his famous hits, proving as adept in this persona as he had as the macho brute behind the likes of "Runaround Sue."

    Both Dion and Warner Brothers must have had high hopes for his first album on the label. Dion was moving from a waning indie, Laurie, to a powerful major. Warner Brothers was scooping up singer-songwriters right and left at the beginning of the '70s -- indeed, perhaps too many to promote all of them effectively at once -- and likely thought of Dion as a prestigious addition to its roster. Sit Down Old Friend missed the charts entirely, however, and Dion returned to full rock band arrangements for his less impressive follow-up, You're Not Alone -- which also failed to chart. Indeed, Dion would never land another hit album or single, or make as bold a musical move as he had with Sit Down Old Friend, which is now paired with You're Not Alone on a single-disc CD reissue.

23. Linda Perhacs
(Kapp KS 3636)
CD reissue: The Wild Places WILD005-RE (2003)

Linda Perhacs's route to a record deal was perhaps more circuitous, fortuitous, and accidental than any of the other artists covered in our survey. Working at a Beverly Hills dental office, she came to be friends with one of her patients. She mentioned that she also wrote songs; he asked to hear them; she gave him a home tape; and the next day, 8am on Saturday morning in fact, he and his wife called to ask Linda to come over. He was Leonard Rosenman, and he wanted to produce her album for Kapp Records. That's how quickly things could get thrown together back then; these days, it might have taken four lawyers and many more weeks before he even asked for a demo.

    Perhacs might have stumbled into her recording career through the back door, but she had unusually sophisticated, even avant-garde ideas in mind for her LP. Wanting to create a motion painting of sorts, she brought an unconventional "score" into the studio on a long scroll of graph paper, complete with picture graphs and timings. The "parallelograms" of sound she and the other musicians (including renowned jazz drummer Shelly Manne) generated were hardly inaccessible, however. More than one reviewer and listener has described the album as something of a spaced-out Joni Mitchell. The largely acoustic settings were matched with lyrics riddled with penetrating images of nature, as if the singer was seeing the true hidden depths of her environment for the first time and bursting to share them with her listeners. The otherworldliness was amplified by cascades of double-tracked voices that could whirl in the mix like leaves on a gusty autumn day. Its ethereal loveliness was not heard by many listeners, however, as the album -- in a refrain familiar to many of the LPs we're dealing with here -- was unpromoted and barely distributed, though Perhacs has said it did get airplay in Washington State, Portland, Hawaii, Canada, Colorado, and Northern California.

    Perhacs vanished from the public eye after Parallelograms, and even after it was reissued on CD by a small independent in the late 1990s, it took a while for the label to track her down. (The album was reissued on CD yet again in 2003 with several demos and outtakes as bonus tracks, and that's the preferable edition to locate.) Unaware of the record's mushrooming cult following until just a few years ago, Perhacs is highly appreciative of her new audience, recording again, and glad to answer a few questions about her Parallelograms.


Q: What type of music were you trying to create on Parallelograms?

A: Deep in my soul I have always longed to create multidimensional and visual music. Because even as a tiny child, I have seen music and color as twins (and they are twins in physics). It is all a wavelength phenomena of amazing beauty -- shapes and movement also correspond. Our universe is incredible! That is why I love nature so much.

    Leonard Rosenman and I were both experimenting with early multidimensional sounds in our music, long before the equipment was created to do this type of music. He loved atonal classical and my love was softer, more ethereal sounds. I created the title song on the album, "Parallelograms," to express music this way, i.e. as a three-dimensional sound, and color and light sculpture in movement. But the musical equipment to do this type of music was not yet created.

    Finally, this year, an unusual music composer, Ron Shore ( of Los Angeles, helped me to realize this dream by using today’s equipment to redo the title song. I call it "Parallelograms -- 2005." It is amazing! Ron is a genius at multidimensional music sculpting and layering of harmonies and unusual sounds. (You can hear a demo (rough copy) of it by going to the above web site and following the prompts, but ear phones are a MUST!) There is a "visual" mix version that is very contemporary, but not my own. I have a very special dream for the final visual, it will be graceful and full of light and color.

Q: What about Parallelograms makes it so attractive and relevant to recent listeners, many of whom did not know about the album or were even too young to hear the album (or not even born yet) when it was initially released?

A: Perhaps the reason the album has had such a following for so long is because it evolved as an attempt to be in balance with the harmony of the natural universe, and these balances are timeless and belong to everyone! It was a creative endeavor, done from the beginning without hype or promotion. It was done with love and inspiration by people who were happy to create music.

    I am very grateful and somewhat humbled to realize that what I have done so long ago has not only a good following of people that enjoyed it when it was first issued, but is also gathering appreciation and interest from the "now" generation. It is quite wonderful to reflect on remarks that I get via E-mail these days from fans from all over the world. I think that what surprises me more than anything is that even after doing interviews that are considerably deep and searching, more questions are generated.

Q: Why wasn't it promoted when it first came out?

A: I simply do not know. But quiet things are sometimes the rare and special ones, and time has proved this to be so in this case.

Q: What kind of musical directions do you think you would have explored had you been able to make more albums in the years after Parallelograms was made?

A: Actually I feel more ready now than at any time since the first album. The inner development and growth inside me is stronger now than at any previous time. Songs pour out of me faster than I can write them down. And I am only hampered by the demands of "life." But the creativity level has increased because it is pure spirit -- it flows through us when we are truly ready to receive it.

    I feel that in other dimensions of life, we express our love for one another in not only words, but in color and tones and shapes. I feel that this is a more complete expression of our love for one another. I want to create music to express this and to increase this love in our world today.

24. Maxfield Parrish
It's a Cinch to Give Legs to Old Hard-Boiled Eggs
(Cur Non 721)
Summer 1972
CD reissue: Taxim TX-2051-2 TA (1999)

The Byrds were actually not among the biggest record sellers of the 1960s by a long shot. They never had a Top Ten US single after their early pair of #1 hits ("Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!"), and only made the album Top Ten charts twice (with Mr. Tambourine Man and Greatest Hits). Their influence among other bands, however, can hardly be overstated, spreading not only all the way up to the Beatles and Bob Dylan, but all the way down to numerous younger bands that barely or never recorded. One of these, Maxfield Parrish, could be said to have taken their Byrds worship to extremes. They started life as the Jim McGuinn Memorial Band, and even wrote a song ("Ellie McCall") with a character living at Ten Canyon Road -- Roger (nee Jim) McGuinn's home address, according to something they'd read.

    Recorded in 1969 but held up for release for several years, their sole album -- the not-exactly-roll-off-the-tongue It's a Cinch to Give Legs to Old Hard-Boiled Eggs -- was unsurprisingly much like the late-1960s Byrds in its cosmic, countrified folk-rock. Obviously the fellows admired the head Byrdman above all else, and it's sometimes like hearing a Byrds in which McGuinn's reedy voice and kindly, mischievous space cowboy persona were even more dominant. Several of the songs, too -- check out "Julie Columbus," "Cruel Deception," "The Widow (Lennie Porrue)," and "The Untransmuted Child" (the last of which was not on the original LP, but added to the CD reissue) -- can't fail to recall the modernized electric sea shanty lilt at which McGuinn was such a master, and "Cross Over the World" gets the bluegrass beat of Byrds songs like "Mr. Spaceman" down to a T. Despite the inevitable comparisons, the LP did have its own spin on their obvious inspirations, with a somewhat goofier, more whimsical, and at times spacier lyrical vision. They also crafted commendably creative, eerie mild psychedelic arrangements on "The Widow (Lennie Porrue)" (with bowed banjo and prepared piano) and "The Untransmuted Child," with its unsettling celestial organ, quivering harmonica, and disappearing-down-a-mineshaft vocal refrain.

    Maxfield Parrish also had help from some quite esteemed friends when they recorded the album in the Los Angeles suburb of Monrovia in 1969. Producing was Chris Darrow, fresh from stints in Kaleidoscope and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and also (with Bernie Leadon) part of Linda Ronstadt's backing band, the Corvettes, in her early solo days. A couple of Darrow's Kaleidoscope bandmates, David Lindley and Chester Crill, helped out on various instruments; Leadon pitched in with some acoustic guitar; and John London and John Ware, soon to join Mike Nesmith's First National Band, chipped in on bass and drums respectively. The spotlight, however, remained very much on the singing of guitarists David Biasotti and Perrin Muir, who as a songwriting team also wrote virtually all of the material.

    Unfortunately the album wasn't released until 1972, on the small Cur Non label, by which time the group had long gone their separate ways, though Biasotti and Muir continued to work together as a pair for a while. It's unfortunate that the band didn't have more of an opportunity to develop their obvious potential into more original directions, but at least the record's easy to obtain since its CD reissue, bolstered with two outtakes from the original LP sessions and five previously unreleased demos cut in 1972 by Biasotti and Muir as a duo. Now living in Japan and doing some writing as a rock historian himself, David Biasotti gave us the scoop on the brief life and times of Maxfield Parrish, with Chris Darrow offering a comment as well.


Q: It's a Cinch to Give Legs to Old Hard-Boiled Eggs obviously reflects the band's deep love for the folk-rock of groups like the Byrds and Kaleidoscope. What do you think set Maxfield Parrish most aside from what else was going on in folk-rock in the late '60s?

A: That we were using traditional instruments (banjo, mandolin, dulcimer) on original songs was pretty unique at the time, at least for a group. We certainly recognized Dillard and Clark as musical cousins, once they came along. More though, I’d say David Muir’s lyrics set us apart. They were deep and strange, quite unlike anything I’d ever heard.

Q: If the album had been released in 1969 or 1970, what do you think the reception might have been?

A: To be honest, I don’t think we’d have fared well critically or commercially, at least in the States, even if we had released the album in 1969. We were a pretty weird proposition. On the one hand, you had fairly straightforward numbers like "It’s Alright (I Love Her)," and then you had these genuinely horrific ballads about still-born babies and the like. Maybe we were delusional, but we did think we were on the cutting edge of something, and I guess there’s a sliver of possibility that, in the climate of 1969, some label might have thought us interesting enough to give us a chance.

Q: Could you explain the differences between the LP and CD versions of the album, and between the different pressings of the original LP?

A: By the time the LP was released, David Muir and I were estranged from the process, and were pretty pissed that "The Untransmuted Child" (or "Death of the Desperate Outlaw," as we called it at the time) was left off. Less so "'Round the Morning," which was a pretty weak cut -- though God knows, we thought it was the coolest of the cool at the time it was recorded. I remember being embarassed, in any case, that the runtime for the LP was so short.

    When Taxim decided to reissue it in '99, Muir, Darrow and myself got together at Darrow's place and decided to go with the original, unreleased mix, rather than the second one. That, plus the fact that the CD restores the two album cuts, means for me that, weirdly, the CD is more "authentic" than the LP. But so it is.

    Another thing perhaps worth mentioning -- from a collector's point of view -- is that there are two versions out there. One with a picture inner sleeve (individual band member photos and album credits on one side, lyrics on the other) and one with a plain sleeve. I didn't know this myself until a few years ago, when Darrow produced a copy from his stash to have us autograph for a Japanese club owner friend of mine. There were, then, two pressings. I'm not sure if this is the proper term for it, but in the "inner groove" of the LP, the blank bit between the actual grooves and the label, there's a crude image of a turtle, along with the words "turtle theory." This had absolutely nothing to do with Maxfield Parrish, but meant something to the Cur Non people. Something to do with an ancient origin of the Earth myth, I recall being told.

    As it happens, George Goad, who did the art direction, had just gotten in touch with Chris Darrow over the last few days. I've never met George, but Chris passed on his e-mail address to me, and I asked him what he remembered about the "turtle theory" bit, etc. George wrote:

    "Turtle theory maintains that the world is carried on the back of a giant turtle, which in turn is riding on the top of the Spruce Goose, which is piloted through the void by Howard Hughes himself. The limited area of the turtle's back explains why you kept running into people from Claremont, no matter where you went.

    "The inscription on the lead-out spiral was probably put there by either [John] Pashdag or Jim Woller [both of Cur Non] when they took the master to the duplicator. I only put the package together, Chris [Darrow] having shot the cover photo with the photographer friend at the time. I designed the Cur Non logo (because it means 'Why Not?' in Latin) and Bulbous Graphics is from a phrase on an early Zappa album cover which read "Fast and Bulbous -_ Zorch stroking!"

Q: Why wasn't the record released promptly, and what kind of sales and distribution did it have when it finally came out in 1972?

A: To the best of my recollection, 5,000 were printed. But Muir and I were really out of the loop with the people involved with Cur Non by that time. I asked Chris Darrow for what he remembers, and Chris today contributed this:

"The powers that be in the origins of the label known as Cur Non were banjo player Randy Groenke, Jim Woller, and Howard Hinkley, with the help of John Pashdag. The label was a labor of love and it tried its best. To my recollection money and distribution were always an issue with the investors. There were even two mixes of the album that were done to satisfy everybody. We were all new at the game and were finding our way in the record biz. Since the principals of the time are not here any more, it is hard for me to piece together the exact scenario. However, there wasn't an immediate release for the record. It was, in its time frame, a completely unique amalgam of folk, country, traditional and rock and roll music merged with gothic elements of traditional European music, both Anglo-Saxon and Celtic. We felt that we had a winner, yet finding its place proved to be harder than we had anticipated. Almost 3 years of false starts, album design, and looking for the right place finally led to its 1972 release. Not that it wasn't good, even then, but by then the band had dissolved, the '60s became the '70s, and the newness of the idea was tarnished somewhat by time having passed. Getting the record out the door became another problem, and I always heard of boxes of records taking up spaces in homes, apartments, or garages. We all tried our connections to make something happen until the label chose to pay for and release the album themselves. The rest is history."

Q: Where do you think the band might have headed had you not split up after the recording?

A: I don’t think we’d have continued as a strictly acoustic band. Nor would we have been particularly "country." Once David Muir and I got a taste of what it was like to work with drums and the whole bit, we started writing to that concept. Had there been a second LP in, say, 1970, I think you’d have heard something like a cross between the Band and Fairport Convention. But with weird lyrics!

25. Satya Sai Maitreya Kali
(Akashic CF 2777)
ca. 1971
CD reissue: Normal/Shadoks 5 (as part of Apache/Inca, 2001)

Satya Sai Maitreya Kali
(United States of America)
ca. 1972
CD reissue: Normal/Shadoks 5 (as part of Apache/Inca, 2001)

Satya Sai Maitreya Kali
(Akashic CF 2777/United States of America)
ca. 1972
CD reissue: Normal/Shadoks 5 (2001)

Saving the best for last -- or, at least, certainly the most mysterious for last...the epic tale behind these incredibly strange, privately pressed LPs has yet to be unraveled. There's even a lot of confusion about where the artist should be filed, and in the few specialty shops stocking reissues of these works, you might find them alphabetized under S, M, or K depending upon the judgement of the proprietor. What's known for sure is that Satya Sai Maitreya Kali was the name adapted by Craig Smith, who pressed just a few hundred quantities of both Apache and Inca sometime in the early 1970s (also issuing them together as a gatefold double-LP set). Pasted together from sessions spanning approximately 1965-1971, the packaging was crude, primitive, and downright creepy in its shoddiness. Yet the music was rather more accessible than the homemade covers give you any right to expect, sounding something like a lost alternate universe Buffalo Springfield on the tracks done with a full band. The solo acoustic cuts were altogether more disturbing, like a cross between Skip Spence and Charles Manson, though even these had their moments of beauty. Who was this guy, anyway?

    Smith had actually been in the shadows of the music scene for some time. In the fall of 1965, he and fellow folk singer-songwriter Chris Ducey starred in a pilot for an NBC series that would have documented a struggling fictional folk-rock trio called the Happeners. The series never got the go-ahead, but Smith and Ducey continued working together, putting out a 1966 single on Capitol as Chris and Craig, and then forming the folk-rock band the Penny Arkade in Los Angeles. The manic roller-coaster flavor of the Satya Sai Maitreya Kali albums is to some degree explained by the revelation that seven of the full-band tracks -- generally speaking, the most "normal" material here -- were cut not by Craig Smith/ Satya Sai Maitreya Kali per se, but by the Penny Arkade, in which he shared songwriting and lead vocal duties with Ducey. Produced by Monkee Mike Nesmith, these seven recordings would have comprised all or most of what was hoped to be the first Penny Arkade LP. And good they are too, coming over as a highly likable blend of Buffalo Springfield at their poppiest and the Monkees at their earthiest.

    The Penny Arkade, sadly, never managed to find a record deal, and broke up without even a 45 to their name. Around early 1968, Smith left the band (who carried on briefly without him), later slapping these seven Penny Arkade cuts onto his vanity LPs without the rest of the band's knowledge. Fortunately, all of these tracks, and sixteen others (all but five with Smith in the lineup) that the Penny Arkade recorded in 1967-68, were recently issued on Sundazed's fine Not the Freeze CD compilation. Ducey, who later recorded as part of the duo Prairie Madness on Columbia and then as a solo act for Columbia and Warner Brothers in the 1970s, gives his own take on the Penny Arkade/Smith saga in the accompanying Q&A sidebar.

    Using the songwriting royalties he'd collected for penning the Monkees' "Salesman" and Andy Williams's (!) "Holly," Smith took off for the hippie trail later in 1968, returning to California in the following year, and subsequently taking off for Central and South America. What happened during his globetrotting has yet to be fully revealed, but those who knew him before and after his travels agrees that Craig came back changed -- and not for the better. Now calling himself Maitreya Kali, he cobbled together scraps from the past five years or so -- some of the spooky solo tracks most likely recorded after he'd taken a turn for the dark side -- on Apache and Inca.

    Even given the homemade look of many such self-pressed albums from the time, the covers of these appeared to be the work not so much of a born-to-wanderer as the inmate of a lunatic asylum. Their mix of snapshots from his recent travels, hand-drawn religious and celestial symbols, and incoherently fractured liner notes suggested a seriously disturbed state of mind, reinforced by the negative of a skull-like image glaring out from the cover of Apache, a spider tattooed on its forehead. (To be fair these LPs did offer some bonus features of value, including a booklet (with Apache), an insert and poster (with Inca), and a booklet, insert, and poster (on Apache/Inca); the grapevine has it that some copies even came with a stick of incense and a feather.) It was as if Smith was doing his best to scare listeners away, not only with his album covers, but also with the more spectral solo cuts, where both guitar and voice rang with the reverb of a man lost in the caves of his inner psyche. Even friends and bandmates were uncomfortable with Smith when they encountered him in the early 1970s, and they haven't seen him since then, though it's known that he was stopping by to pick up song royalties from the Glen Campbell Music office as late as the 1990s.

    It's this writer's opinion -- not universally shared among collectors by any means -- that few of the private American folk-rock pressings of the late 1960s and early 1970s boasted truly noteworthy music. Apache and Inca -- both of which, incidentally, draw scattershot from the same pool of mid-1960s-to-early-1970s material, sometimes linked by lo-fi spoken word snippets -- are the most outstanding exceptions, of interest to any collectors of both commercial late-'60s L.A. folk-rock and weirder acid-folk. Only a few hundred copies or so of each LP, and the gatefold double-LP combo of the two, were pressed, though they've been reissued on both vinyl and CD. Meanwhile the search for Craig Smith/Satya Sai Maitreya Kali's current whereabouts, intriguingly, could have even longer odds of success than the near-impossible search for original copies of his LPs.


Q: What do you think distinguished the Penny Arkade the most among other bands working in Californian folk-rock at the time?

A: Nothing really set us apart. In fact as I reflect back on those days we probably weren't good enough to break through against the likes of Buffalo Springfield, Love, Seeds, Byrds, see, we didn't have a cut that jumped off our record in the ears of those A&R guys who bought projects at labels. In retrospect, you and others may feel we did. But hey, at the time we were just another bunch of kids trying to break with some average tunes.  I think we were too clean- cut...not "hippie" enough as well.

Q: What were the key similarities and differences between your style and Craig Smith's?

A: Craig was much smoother singer and player than I. I was the rough stone...louder (too loud all my career, over-sang everything!) and a brasher strummer as well. Craig came from the Good Time Singers, a very polished folk act that had regular appearances on the very square Andy Williams TV show. I came from a little folk trio in upstate New York...then to L.A. where I did a Dylan kind of thing with git and harmonica. Those were my real folk days. Then the Happeners brought Craig and I together. Post-Happeners, failure to make the TV cut started us off as Chris and Craig folk duo, though our first Capitol record wasn't folk. Craig wanted us to be like McCartney & Lennon...everyone loved the Beatles, you know, and we were huge fans. At the end of our Penny Arkade days he even accused my wife [as] the reason for our breakup...kind of a Yoko thing. Pretty dumb, as what caused us to split up was his insanity.

Q: What did Mike Nesmith contribute to the Penny Arkade recordings?

A: Mike was our benefactor/producer. Riding high with the Monkees, he had good cash flow and liked our duo act so much he suggested we form a band and he'd back us. In fact, got Bobby to come up from Texas to play with us, and we found Don through the union. Without Mike there would have been NO Penny Arkade. He bought our gear and had a converted garage at his house that was our rehearsal studio. At the end (when he stopped trying to sell our master) he moved us aside to let Three Dog Night use the studio and our amps etc. That was it. Craig left on his infamous trip to Peru or wherever, and came back totally loony tunes.

As a producer Mike just let us do our thing, which we attempted to do. He gave it one last try when the three Texas guys joined up and we became Armadillo. Got way more blues-infused and did cover tunes so we could gig at local clubs...recorded "Give Our Love (To All the People)" [an outtake now available on the Not the Freeze CD] and died.

Q: What's your best guess as to why the Penny Arkade never managed to get a record deal, even with Mike Nesmith as a key supporter?

A: I have to go back to no hits...or anything vaguely resembling a hit, anyway. This always plagued me throughout the rest of my career as well.

    Besides not having hits I also think we played the very unhip club scene and were also unfashionable. Mike thought we'd be cool in these blue suits when everyone cool was wearing longer hair, love beads, and leather. We were too "clean." Also, being attached to the Monkees, though they were a big TV teenybopper hit, they were uncool in the hip, upcoming musical circles.

Q: How do you think the Penny Arkade might have evolved had they had a chance to release the LP and record additional albums?

A: Wow, who knows. If you heard those demos I made in Craig's absence on the Sundazed disc -- "Year of the Monkey," "Woodstock Fireplace," "Sparkle & Shine" -- you can get a flavor of my direction, anyway. We did that stuff on four tracks with a lot of bouncing, and in one night too. A few months after that we were dust. I met pianist Ed Millis, and started my four years with him as Prairie Madness. Wrote lots of cool things (over 50) with him including the rock musical that ran for a whole week at the Ivar Theater [in Hollywood] called Oh Fuck Visigoths! But once hits. I guess if you listened to all the things I released and the eleven-self produced tracks I never did release, my stamp was legible. One can see how I evolved...with Craig's influence on those, one can only imagine. One thing I always thought, though, was Craig would have become a lead guitar player the more we played electric guitars. That would have been a natural step for him, and I feel he would have held his own.

Q: What do you think of Craig's solo material on Apache and Inca, which is quite haunting and spooky in places?

A: His best song, "I'm Walkin' Solo" [on Apache], was one he had written back before we met and, in fact, impressed me so much that it drew me to work with him. "Salesman" was cool but, what can I say, the others were such downers and had such low energy. It was a sad thing to hear his talent and originally good nature devolve into the loneliness of an echo chamber. Sometimes, with the cans on, that's a safe place for the struggling psyche of a down-and-out singer. It's warm and safe in there.

Thanks to Paul Bradshaw of Mod Lang Records in Berkeley, California, and Mike Stax of Ugly Things magazine.

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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