Zerfas “Zerfas”

Until recently this one was completely unknown to me; I bought it after reading a glowing recommendation from a Rising Storm commenter (nice to see the process working in both directions.) Gratifyingly, it turned out to be as good as its reputation.

It’s better still for being a vanity release from a bunch of unsigned but clearly precociously talented teenagers. It was lovingly cut over six months in 1973 at the tiny 700 West Studio in New Palestine, Indiana, using a four-track 3M recorder, plenty of overdubs, a lot of homemade wine and a hell of a lot of creative ingenuity. There’s no need for me to give a detailed historical perspective of the band, the album or the studio here, because it’s all available at the excellent website dedicated to 700 West and I couldn’t improve on that compiler’s excellent job.

Interestingly, the band members chose to add colour to their 1969-British-prog-rock style songs with the techniques of 1967 psychedelia, and the album stands as a fine psych/prog artefact despite being several years behind the timeline. The fun starts with “You Never Win”, which opens with a fade-in backwards version of the closing fade-out – a simple but brilliant idea. “I Don’t Understand” launches with an eerie half-speed recording of small children’s voices, whilst the meandering instrumental heart of “Hope” is washed by shoreline effects. Much use is made elsewhere of backwards voices, backwards instruments, fade-outs, fade-ins, wild stereo panning, ring modulators, tape loops and leftfield echo effects, and even a blast from an elkhorn. However, the underlying compositions don’t rely solely on these touches for interest; the eight songs, all originals, offer an engaging variety of styles from the “Born To Be Wild” knockoff of “You Never Win” through the cosmic boogie of “Stoney Wellitz” to the lush progressive soundscapes of “Hope”, culminating in “The Piper” which appropriately recalls Pink Floyd’s earliest stoner offerings. The playing and singing are excellent throughout, especially considering the tender ages of the musicians; Herman Zerfas’s keyboards in particular are exceptional.

The word on the street among other reviewers of this album is that it’s the record the Beatles might have made if they’d stuck with the psychedelic formula after Pepper. Personally, I don’t buy this; these youthful compositions lack the distinctively whimsical signatures of the mature Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. To my ears there’s some Floyd influence, some Grape, some Dead, some Steppenwolf, some Allmans, maybe even some Steve Miller, but really such comparisons are unnecessary. This is a fine album by a fine band in its own right, and should be respected as such.

Finally, be sure to ignore the CD release by Radioactive, which is purportedly mastered from vinyl and has a poor sound to suit. The Digipak CD from Lion Records of Germany is another bootleg to be avoided.

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“Stoney Wellitz”

:) Vinyl Reissue | 2008 | Phoenix | buy here ]


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6 Comments.

  • phil spector

    nice to see this wonderful Lp on your also wonderful website !!

    for those with some money you can find here, the legit vinyl reissue from 1994 (from the master tapes, sounding better than the original Lp, though i’ve never heard the original… with a lot of bonus inserts) :

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ZERFAS-S-T-LEGIT-RE-MONSTER-PSYCH-W-INSERTS-170-500-/390127625797?pt=FR_VC_Vinyle&hash=item5ad56b2645

    i know it is expensive, but the last time i saw an original copy on ebay it has been sold for more than 1500US$ !!

    bravo !!

    phil

    PS : next time try this one

    it is not as magnificent as the Zerfas Lp but it is still really good, and easy to find on CD …. and the original Lp of this one has some mispressed copies (side two pressed on both sides…. and copies where the side one is so off center that it sounds like a huge warp)

    finally an another i really want to recommend :

    http://rateyourmusic.com/release/album/arrogance/prolepsis/

    a band with the famous producer Don Dixon, really great but not psych or prog in any way

  • phil spector

    it is wonderful to finally see this Lp on this no less than wonderful website!!!

    if you have 175US$ to spend try to find a copy of the legit vinyl reissue (in 1994, from the master tapes and with a lot of inserts) of this extraordinary Lp….. last time i saw an original copy it has been sold for 1000US$…. this legit reissue sounds better than the original.

    bravo

    Phil

    other recommendations :

    to stay in the Zerfas-pop-prog vein…. really great and easy to find (CD reissue on Sunbeam Records)

    finally try to find this one, a disc not psych nor prog in any way but still really great (with future star-producer Don Dixon on bass)
    http://rateyourmusic.com/release/album/arrogance/prolepsis/

  • Jason

    Ithaca – A Game For All Who Know, an early 70’s British private press LP, is the UK equivalent to the Zerfas album. Both records are very good. I always liked the guitar sound they conjured up on The Sweetest Part…great song. Good review Len.

  • Len Liechti

    A little bird told me you’d like to se the Zerfas album up here, J. Glad to oblige. I’ll have to investigate the Ithaca record. Just a hint for those who purchase Zerfas – the sudden ending to the last track is allegedly deliberate according to the band, though it sounds to me more like the tape ran out! Anyway, rest assured it’s not a fault on your CD.

  • Len Liechti

    Sorry, guys. I thought the Lion Records release was kosher. Looks like you’ll have to go for the vinyl reissue for a legit version.

  • rick wilkerson

    To clarify: there are ZERO legit reissues of Zerfas on CD. All of them are counterfeits. All vinyl reissues are also counterfeits with the exception of the 1994 deluxe 180 gram reissue that is mentioned in another comment. And yes, that one does sound better than the original–it’s mastered from the original tapes but the pressing is a little better. Stay tuned, a legit from-the-tapes LP and CD reissue are in the works for 2014.

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