Mad River “Mad River”

Mad River were one of the truly unique Berkeley/Bay area groups. In their brief lifetime they released one ep and two lps but have proven to be a durable psychedelic group. People often compare Mad River to Country Joe and the Fish or the Quicksilver Messenger Service but it’s important to point out that the River’s sound was much more neurotic and darker in mood.

Lawrence Hammond was the lead vocalist, principal songwriter and bass player of Mad River. Hammond was born in Berkeley but spent his childhood in the Mid-West where he was exposed to a diverse mixture of country and folk music. In the mid 60s he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It was here he began studying medicine and met the future members of Mad River. The group performed in dives all throughout Ohio and in 1965 they were one of the few rock n roll groups around. To make a long story short, the group became frustrated with their efforts and eventually packed up and moved to the more progressively minded Berkeley, CA. In Berkeley the group’s lineup looked something like this: David Robinson (lead guitar), Thomas Manning (vocals and 12 string guitar), Gregory Dewey (drums), Rick Bochner (2nd lead guitar and vocals) and Lawrence Hammond (bass guitar and lead vocals). Mad River lived a meager lifestyle in Berkeley but were able to record an excellent ep off a local label in 1967. Two of the songs would end up on their self-titled 68 album albeit in different versions. One song, Orange Fire can only be heard on this great ep and is one of its highlights. Orange Fire is a minor key protest rock gem, with explosive guitar noise and cutting, angular riffs. It was both Robinson’s unique, abrasive guitar style and Hammond’s strange, quavering vocals that made people sit up and take note. Robinson’s guitar style was similar to the Magic Band of the late 60′s and much later, Television’s Tom Verlaine/Richard Lloyd on their classic Marquee Moon lp.

In 1968 the group were signed to Capital (along with the Steve Miller Band and the Quicksilver Messenger Service) and afforded the luxury to record the above debut. Disaster struck though, by way of an old recording engineer who knew nothing about current rock music. Thus, the recording and playback speed were not the same, so everything on the album came out faster and higher than Mad River had played it. When the record came out in 1968 it was savaged by Rolling Stone and hated by many rock critics alike.

Today, the Mad River lp sounds fantastic, unlike anything from the time and often considered a dark, ominous masterpiece of psychedelia. Amphetamine Gazelle is the gem of the album, with hard charging guitar riffs and a pulsing rhythm section that really captures the essence of speed. In Wind Chimes, they created an excellent rock instrumental that’s pure psychedelia and highlighted by dreamy eastern scales. Other tracks like High All The Time and Eastern Light are classic Bay area acid blues notable for Hammond’s piercing vocals and Robinson’s fine, sleazy guitar tones. Summary: Once again Rolling Stone proved to be wrong in their judgment and the Bay area produced another classic album of American psychedelia. Mad River would go on to record one more album in 1969, titled Paradise Bar and Grill. This album has much more of a roots rock vibe but is also highly recommended.

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“Amphetamine Gazelle”

:) Vinyl Reissue | Sundazed | 2008 | preorder at sundazed ]
:D CD Reissue | 2001 | Collectors Choice | 2fer | buy at amazon ]


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24 Comments.

  • mark

    There is something almost disturbing about this music (yes, also compelling… most compelling). It is as if they are exploring the darker side of the cultural fabric of their time. Intentionally exploring it. I have listened to their first album, Mad River, and believe that it most likely repelled many listeners. It doesn’t linger at the surface, but reaches into the wounds and fear that was inhabiting the shadows of the late 1960′s. I enjoy it greatly. Oddly enough, I find it somehow honest. Does this make sense? I don’t know. Anyway, I have ordered their second album…
    Thanks for the springboard…

  • Jason

    Mark,

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, It makes sense, I think this record’s dark unsettling feel is no doubt what makes it so good and unique. I think this has the edge over their second album which is more rootsy and relaxed – still a rewarding listening experience but somehow lacks the edge that Mad River has.

  • tom

    thanks for drawing attention to this one, it’s my favourite album of all time. a rambling drug-maimed sickness aching with wild vivid imagery and an overwhelmingly tragic sense of fever and decay. i wouldn’t change a single damned note on this labyrinth.

  • richard

    In my opinion, one of the finest psych albums . Really a unique synthesis of influences that sounds like nothing else from that time or since. Comparisons to the Magic Band and Country Joe don’t really ring true to me. The level of musicianship is quite high-everybody is a standout in this group (Lawrence Hammonds bass playing is superb).This record rewards repeated ,careful listening.
    Strongly recommended for those with an open mind.

  • jim ra

    Thanks for the insightful notes on this sadly negected avant ’60s band. Especially insightful is comparing Robinson’s guitar work to Television–his tone similar to Cippolina, but the note-bending is “further out”, sometimes deliberately dissonant. Verlaine (reluctantly)cited Cippolina as an influence, also mentioned Moby Grape & the Elevators, but no mention of Mad River #1–well I’m sure he heard it because the ’68 disc has Television-type moves all over it:: histrionic vocals (which also bring to my mind Jeffrey Lee Pierce), guitar counterpoint, free jazzy drumming, weird words.
    Mad River #1 was ahead of its time like the first 2 Velvets albums. However, MR didn’t know Andy Warhol so their legacy shall remain obscure.
    I first heard MR #! in late ’69 on my sister’s boyfriend’s “Heathkit” stereo–sounded great. I never forgot it. The distribution blew, I heard it in NYC & couldn’t find it back home in CT.

  • Charlie

    Thanks for caring about these lost souls! The first album has always been a great treasure to me. I think some of its strangeness may come from the fact that these guys were working against their natural inclinations. According to the notes in The Berkeley EPs CD, Robinson was a bluegrass flatpicker, Bockner fingerpicked ragtime, and both were pretty much learning electric guitar as they went. Technically advanced no wave? And back in the Jurassic I remember reading about some brainstorming session where they were supposed to be working out the finer points of their psychedelic onslaught and ended up sitting around listening to Merle Haggard. This kind of creative tension can be really useful. For instance, I always thought Chris Hillman was a great rock bass player, but apparently he would have rather been left to his mandolin. Maybe it’s just that bluegrassers can turn into visionary beasts when you plug ‘em in, Clarence White being another case in point. The Verlaine comparison is on the money, too. As for this decades-old controversy about the LP being mastered at the wrong speed, I dunno. I bought the Edsel CD when it came out and returned it when I realized it was dubbed from vinyl. The Capitol two-fer sounds the same as well. I think maybe it’s just that Hammond sings like a rabid squirrel (not a complaint) and the others are jacked into the stratosphere. Some members claim to have been chemically naive compared to their Bay Area comrades, but Amphetamine Gazelle is a pretty convincing look into the heart of that particular subculture. Finally, there are two pieces of the puzzle I’ve been trying to track down for years. There’s a long-dead torrent – West Coast Psych : Mad River – live and demos:

    DR. SUNDAY’S MEDICINE SHOW, PEOPLES PARK,
    SANTA CLARA, OCTOBER 8TH 1967.
    01. INTRO
    02. WIND CHIMES +
    03. SNITSON (cut) @
    04. THE WAR GOES ON *

    1967 DEMOS
    05. JERRY’S TUNE
    06. YOU JUST DON’T LEAVE HER
    07. TIMOTHY
    08. WIND CHIMES

    ANTIOCH COLLEGE, JUNE 1966
    09. LOVIN’ CUP
    10. I JUST WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO YOU
    11. A MAN LIKE ME

    And there’s a second Lawrence Hammond solo LP called To Know A Man, from the German label Line. Does anybody have a line on these long lost artifacts??
    To prime the pump, here’s an unfamiliar tune (the only Mad River track) from a hippie fest in Alameda on 68-10-28 that was recently posted on Dime.

    Hammond is really trying to sound normal here. Just remembered another long lost Mad River title – Divide And Conquer (That’s What She Said To Me).
    This whole comment strives to show what a discerning listener I am, but really I’m just groveling for paths to the stuff I haven’t been able to find. Kudos to ALL the commenters for their insights.

  • Charlie

    Here’s a link that adds a blast of Tom Verlaine at his most hair-raising, Clear It Away from 87-04-03 Berlin, to the Mad River track:

    Exploring the future from the distant past…

  • Chris Till

    Apparently, video footage of Mad River performing has been unearthed. It’s supposed to be a shortish (10 or 15 minute) clip of them playing on the west coast somewhere. I’ve been meaning to go get a copy of the clip from their great drummer, Greg Dewey.

  • Richard

    Hello Chris,
    This is great news ! Please post the link if you can obtain a copy.I’ve got to believe that somewhere, someone has got to have an audience tape or soundboard of Mad Rivers appearances at the Avalon Ballroom,Fillmore West or other west coast venues. If you are in contact w/ Greg Dewey perhaps you could ask him if he knows.It would be a shame if such a talented band was not documented. If not concert appearances maybe rehearsals or studio outtakes are lurking in an old box of mag.tapes.

    Thanks for the update.
    Richard

  • Chris Till

    Richard,

    I’ve certainly asked Greg just that and he does not have any inside scoop on unissued live recordings. As far as I know (which isn’t as much as many, I’m sure), the only Mad River live tapes are those listed here: http://members.tripod.com/lysergia_2/LamaWorkshop/lamaMadRiverTapes.htm (which I now realize are the same as Charlie comments on 12/20/2009 above). I don’t have any of those, though.

    The video that Greg Dewey recently acquired is from a film project of an Antioch student.

    I did “scan” a bunch of Greg’s Mad River photos (and their Capitol contract), which are now posted on the Chicken on a Unicycle site: http://www.chickenonaunicycle.com/Mad%20River.htm.

    One other piece of Mad River arcana I’d like to see is Rolling Stone’s review of their debut album. It was written by Ed Ward (another Antiochian and supposed “friend”) and supposedly trashes the album. I don’t know what issue of Rolling Stone it’s in, but it must be from 1968, if anyone collects old Rolling Stones.

  • Chris Till

    And also…

    In Carl Oglesby’s “Ravens on the Storm” book, he states the Mad River backed him up for his Vanguard debut album. Oglesby was a former SDS president and fellow former Yellow Springer. Mad River recorded his tune “Cherokee Queen” on their second album.

    Anyway, Greg Dewey does not seem to recall these recording sessions. I just found MR guitarist Rick Bockner’s email address on the web and asked him whether MR backed up Oglesby. If so, this would be another example of MR’s musicianship…

  • Richard

    Chris,

    Thanks very much for the info.If you go to Rolling Stones website you may be able to find the review in their archives.Ed Ward appears on the NPR program “Fresh Air” occasionally doing on air record reviews. The best,most informative article on Mad River is on the Richard Brautigan website.Authored by David Biasotta(unsure of spelling) the article concerns the relationship between Brautigan and the band and is absolutely fascinating.

    Also, check out Rick Bockner on U-tube- a couple of acoustic solo numbers from an appearance in Amsterdam.

    Richard

  • Chris Till

    I love Biasotti’s piece, titled “Just Like a Poem.” Unfortunately, apparently nobody ever bothered to take a photo of Brautigan with Mad River, even during the “Love’s Not the Way to Treat a Friend” recording session.

    (Another individual mentioned in Biasotti’s Brautigan/ Mad River article is the Digger/ Hells Angel, William Fritsch. I’ve been trying to research Fritsch as I suspect that he’s the Hells Angel who commandeered Marty Balin’s microphone during Jefferson Airplane’s set at Altamont, as documented in the “Gimme Shelter” film.)

    I tried searching the Rolling Stone website and came up with nothing. I joined the site too and it didn’t help.

  • Richard

    There was also a shorter article on MR in the British fanzine Shindig titled “High all the Time” which featured some interesting quotes from Jerry Corbitt of the Youngbloods regarding the making of Paradise B+G.It would be nice to hear from some of their other peers and from those lucky enough to have attended their shows.

  • Charlie dba reservatory

    Thanks all for the reading material tips. Here are links for the Mad River live/demos torrent I was searching for back in December, which finally turned up on Dime, along with the live ’68 Alameda track. The sound quality is not the absolute greatest, but there’s plenty of great stuff here amid the underwater murk and wobble – including a ’66 cover of Paul Butterfield’s Lovin’ Cup that almost outpunks The Stooges. I kept the files as flacs, divided into two folders to get around Mediafire limitations. If any of you have trouble with flacs, I can upload mp3s…

    http://www.mediafire.com/?vv2lkbdw8vphy3q
    http://www.mediafire.com/?3rcpohoc7h99y40

    Enjoy these Dead Sea scrolls….

  • pat

    thanks for mad river very cool can anyone find blue cheer – nights of the roundtable demos thanks

  • Jason

    Hi Pat,

    I do not own the Nights of the Roundtable Demos. I haven’t even searched the internet for these recordings but I’ve heard a little about them. Were they a radio broadcast? Possibly rawer and louder recordings of what ended up on their first album?

  • pat

    i know it includes 3 demos from 67 not sure what else looks interesting if you like blue cheer thanks

  • pat

    also looking for blue cheer live matrix 68 shrine auditorium 68 and a 1968 fm broadcast bootleg these are hard to find.thanks

  • Mike Lake

    Hi guys. I managed to fall for Mad River way back in 1968 when I was living in a tiny town in the North of England. Loved the LP then; still do. Recently I’ve been digitising all my old vinyl, and just for fun worked out the “change of speed multiple” to try and correct the LP mastering mistake…take the length of the original LP tracks and compare it with the run-time on the CD release. If you digitise the LP using Audacity, or whatever, you can speed up or slow down the recording at will.

    FYI I slowed down the digitised LP tracks by a factor of 1.00481927711 !!!!!

    I’m so proud of myself! And actually, I have to say, it does sound even better.

  • Chris TIll

    Cool stuff, Mike. 1.00481927711! By the way, I talked to Greg Dewey, Mad River drummer, the other week, and he told me that there will be a new CD of unreleased Mad River material. It’s early stuff, I think from between the EP and the first album. Greg also recently came into possession of some long-lost video of Mad River performing.

  • Texas Tom

    The new FLASHBACK magazine has an excellent cover story on Mad River.

  • mike waldegrave

    Thanks to all the insightful comments, i too have liked their music right from when i bought their records in the early 70′s here in Auckland,New Zealand, and have been able to listen to them heaps in the last 4 years since separating from my exx. Hopefully other live/studio recording’s do come to light and are available…Mike.

  • If anyone is looking to know what Lawrence Hammond (the lead vocalist and songwriter) of Mad River is up to these days, you can head to his website: https://www.hammondlawrence.com.

    From there, you can also purchase his second solo album, Presumed Lost, released by Shagrat Records, as well as Jersey Sloo, which is that collection of unreleased Mad River tracks.

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