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The Gurus “Are Hear”

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.

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“Roads to Nowhere”

:D 2003 | Sundazed | buy from sundazed | amazon ]

Horses (self-titled)

Horses was a Los Angeles band pieced together by the crack songwriting team of John Carter and Tim Gilbert following the success of their lysergic bubblegum anthem “Incense and Peppermints” for the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Toting a bag full of new Carter and Gilbert songs, Horses recorded one album for the White Whale label in 1969, likely expecting the excitement around the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s record to carry over to their own. However, things weren’t quite that easy, and their self-titled record went nowhere fast despite containing a wealth of great material.

The first cut on the record, “Freight Train,” is an uptempo boogie number that was apparently being considered by Johnny Cash for his winning Orange Blossom Special album. Carter and Gilbert decided not to allow Cash to record it, however, wanting to reserve it for Horses. It would have been interesting to hear what the Man in Black would have made of the tune, but alas that was never to be. Either way, it’s a driving opener, and should have made quite a single. The melodic bass work here is courtesy of Dave Torbert, who would later go on to replace Phil Lesh in the New Riders of the Purple Sage. His playing is extraordinary throughout the record, and is definitely worth checking out if you are a student or enthusiast of the instrument in a rock and roll context.

Perhaps Horses’ greatest achievement on this record is that they manage to establish a unique and distinctive sound, a lack of which has brought many similar bands to an early grave. A key component to this sound, the subtle psychedelic flourishes, is perhaps best exemplified by “Birdie in a Cage,” in which the chorus brings in an electric organ and a floating vocal melody. It can’t really be said that Carter and Gilbert’s lyrics are very extraordinary here, but they function well enough in the context of the songs, and by no means detract from the overall experience. The theme to more or less every song is either travel or women, with the notable exception being the single “Class of ’69,” which seems designed to appeal to Summer of Love sentimentality and the revolutionary atmosphere of the times. It doesn’t quite succeed, being too firmly rooted in mainstream attitudes to really catch the spirit of the counter-culture. Nonetheless, it makes for a entertaining song.

The highlight of the record may very well come with the end of the record’s first side. “Run, Rabbit, Run” has a funky guitar riff and a memorable, if somewhat weird, chorus. Meanwhile, “Horseradish” serves as a showcase for Horses as instrumentalists, and the track fits firmly into a Little Walter blues bag, replete with rollicking amplified harmonica. Even this track proves to be memorable, a rare feat for what might otherwise have been mere filler.

It’s more or less impossible to find original copies of this album, seeing as people aren’t even sure whether or not it made it past the “promotional only” pressing stage. However, Rev-Ola Records has reissued it on compact disc with an early single by one of Tim Gilbert’s earlier projects, the Rainy Daze. These two tracks are more in a psychedelic garage rock bag, and aren’t all that memorable. In fact, the first of the tracks, “Make Me Laugh,” may be the one cut on the disc worth skipping, as it has a deadpan laugh going through it that tends to be extremely irritating.

It seems to speak for the unpredictability of the record industry that Gilbert and Carter weren’t able to make Horses a success. Modeled after popular groups like Moby Grape and the Buffalo Springfield, Horses had the musicianship and the songs that many of their contemporaries lacked. Now, however, the group is best remembered for having a singer by the name of Don Johnson. No, this is not the actor Don Johnson, though most of what you read about Horses says otherwise. It’s a real shame that this unusual piece of trivia has tended to obscure a righteous record by an extremely talented group, and Horses is long overdue for re-evaluation.

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“Cheyenne”

:D CD Reissue | 2003 | Revola | buy here ]

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (self-titled)

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is perhaps best known for helping to bridge the gap between the older generation of American folk musicians coming out of the 1940s and 1950s, and the rock and roll youth of the 1960s. Their seminal double record Will the Circle Be Unbroken presented the band alongside a number of country and bluegrass luminaries such as Maybelle Carter and Roy Acuff, and more or less proved that American musical traditions could span the generation gap.

Listeners dropping the needle on the Dirt Band’s self-titled debut for the first time may be taken aback at how far removed the record sounds from the group’s later material. Indeed, the opening cut “Buy For Me the Rain” is firmly in the west coast folk-rock tradition. The chiming guitars and soaring orchestral flourishes may make it clear as to how this tune landed the Dirt Band their first American chart hit, but they also spotlight the dissimilarity between the 1967 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and its later incarnations. The band here is more Beatle boots than cowboy boots, despite sporadic country and bluegrass touches. Jug band roots certainly make themselves clear on the second song, “Euphoria,” with funky instrumentation continuing into Jackson Browne’s “Melissa.” Browne had actually been a founding member of the Dirt Band before splitting to pursue a solo career, and though he does not appear on any of their records, a number of his songs remained in the Dirt Band’s repertoire.

In fact, it is another Browne composition that closes the first side of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and provides the record with its second highlight. Banjo and harpsichord drive “Holding,” yet another slice of folk rock featuring strong harmonies. “Song To Jutta” takes the mood into more ominous territory, with its plucky guitar picking acting as a weird foil to the chain gang beat and the slow, monotonous vocal. It’s a rather unnatural mood for the Dirt Band, but they’re quick to catch on and the next couple of cuts are back in the ole jug band tradition again. Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candy Man” receives a great arrangement, comparable to that of the Rising Sons, while the banjo comes back out for “Dismal Swamp,” a rollicking breakdown that calls together bluegrass instrumentation and a rock and roll beat. There is a lot going on during the course of this record, and if it were not for the band’s tendency to lean towards novelty numbers such as the snappy “Crazy Words, Crazy Tune,” it may have established them as pioneers in American music far before Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Though The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is currently out of print in its complete form, about half of the tracks found their way onto a 1970 compilation entitled Pure Dirt, which is available on compact disc from Beat Goes On Records. This album is a rather weird combination of tracks off of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Dirt Band’s second release, Ricochet. As to why someone chose to reissue this instead of the original records…well, it’s beyond me, but fortunately original copies are still quite easy to find.

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“Holding”

:) Original Vinyl | 1967 | Liberty Records | search ebay ]

Daniel Moore “Daniel Moore”

Daniel Moore is one of countless songwriters in the history of early rock and roll music that, despite attaining a measure of financial success through their material, never quite made a name for themselves as artists in their own right. It’s a rather old and tired tale, I’ll be honest, but what makes Moore’s story so much more frustrating is that in the midst of penning bland, superficial radio hits for artists like Three Dog Night and B.W. Stevenson, he also crafted one of the greatest ‘back to the roots’ records to come out of the early seventies.

Indeed, the songs found on Daniel Moore’s 1971 debut completely eschew the irritating soft rock sensibilities that scar his more famous material. We’re talking homegrown music here, weaving together the sounds of country, soul and blues into a tapestry that Gram Parsons once beautifully coined, ‘Cosmic American Music,’ From the very first tune, the haunting dirge “May 16, 1975,” it is clear that Moore had been keeping the Band’s first two records hot on the turntable, for the rustic vibes and mythical American spirit of those albums are everywhere. Not to say that this record is derivative, it will only take a single spin to recognize that this album stands very much on its own. From the horn-fueled rock and roll of “That’s What I Like In My Woman,” a spirited ode to wild and independent girls, to the oddly Zombies-esque ballad “Paul and Mabel,” about a preacher who “tried farming, and only grew failure,” Moore pieces together a compelling portrait of America.

As is the case with the best of all Americana, whether or not the world being invoked truly exists or is one founded in folklore and youthful romanticism isn’t really important. In most cases it’s as much about the message as the story anyways. The very last cut on the record, “Did I See You Tremble, Brother?”, may be one of the simplest, yet most powerful songs of brotherhood I have ever heard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The second side of the record kicks up some serious dust with the rock and roll groove of “Funky Music,” but afterwards the band drops off, and things disappear and settle into the lazy acoustics of “World War I.” It should be noted at this point that the ragtag arrangements of background singers on these tracks really tend to capture that elusive, communal charm of the Band’s earliest recordings. It’s a beautiful sound, and one that can be hard to put into words. “Ride, Mama Ride” makes as if to continue the mood, with Moore’s singing evoking something between Lowell George and a backwoods Van Morrison, but before you get too comfortable some funky electric guitar work picks up the tempo and brings back the heavy grooves. The cats playing on this record, I should add, consist of some pretty recognizable names, including Chris Ethridge and Sneaky Pete from the Flying Burrito Brothers, Chris Stainton, Don Preston, Jim Keltner, T-Bone Burnett, Jim Price, and, believe it or not, the 1969 cast of Hair.

Daniel Moore is still very active in music, and since the early 1990s has recorded a number of additional records, but despite its obscurity this still stands as his crowning achievement. I was in touch with the man himself a while back, inquiring as to whether or not this album would ever see a reissue on compact disc here in the States, but he replied that the record company still has control of the master tapes, etcetera, and he is extremely doubtful of its re-release. From what I can tell there is a rather obscure Japanese pressing available, but I’m not all that sure as to its background. If you are a fan of artists like the Band, Delaney & Bonnie, or Leon Russell you should really work at finding yourself a copy; the original vinyl doesn’t appear to be too difficult to find online.

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“May 16th, 1975”

:) Original Vinyl | 1971  | ABC/Dunhill | search ebay ]