With the current level of interest in Turkish and middle-eastern psychedelia out there, this may be
the perfect time to rediscover the sounds of The Gurus Are Hear. Formed in New York city in the
throes of 1966, the Gurus were the brainchild of a certain Ron Haffkine, a jeweler who liked to hang
around at Cafe Feenjon, a hip coffee shop on MacDougal Street that catered to a wild mixture of Arabs,
Israelis, and, apparently, psychedelic rock and roll musicians. His concept was a simple one: combine
the electric rock and roll beat that was rumbling across the charts with the exotic sounds of the middle
east. He put forward the concept to a number of talented local musicians, who not coincidentally also
happened to moonlight as Cafe Feenjon regulars, and they went in to cut a record.
The results could easily be compared to what Kaleidoscope was doing across the country at around
the same time, but the Gurus really kick things up a notch and cut back on some of the eclecticism
that distinguished their musical compadres. The Gurus Are Hear is very much a psychedelic garage
rock record, despite the prevalence of Pete Smith’s oud and the eastern warbling (the liner notes reveal
that these were often simple obscenities mispronounced in order to sound exotic). The record is full
of highlights, including a wonderfully unique take on the old garage band chestnut “Louie Louie”
coated in Smith’s tasteful oud playing. If you thought you’d heard every possible variation on this one
you could bear, you may want to reconsider. It really does speak to the band’s credit that, even when
delving into cosmic territories, the songs never stray far from their heavy go-go grooves. It may be
weird, but it’s always danceable. The single from the record, “Blue Snow Night,” backed with the crazy
album opener “Come Girl,” even managed to do well enough to land the band on the covers of both
Cashbox and Record World magazine.
Despite sounding so ahead of their time, however, the Gurus still come across as being an acquired
taste, due in large part to the eccentric singing of (the rather inexplicably named) Medulla Oblongata.
His faux-eastern vocalizing may lend the record a good deal of character, but also risk confounding
the unsuspecting listener. This is not to say that straighter singing would have made the record any
better, however, as his most accessible vocal just so happens to come with my least favorite cut on the
album, “Rainy Day in London”. Despite some intriguing instrumental flourishes, this one is a rather
turgid, sentimental ballad about walking in the rain and eating leftover cake that doesn’t quite sound
like anything else the band ever recorded.
It may come as a surprise that despite the success of the aforementioned single, The Gurus Are Hear
was to remain unreleased until 2003, when the tapes were rescued from the vaults by the good folks
at Sundazed Records. Five bonus tracks round out this rather belated release, those being a number of
alternate takes of songs already on the record and “They All Got Carried Away,” a moody psychedelic
pop number with some otherwise trying “Polly wants a cracker” vocal interjections.
“Roads to Nowhere”