Words by Paul Hillery
There seem to be a good many records in the vinyl ether being described as Loner, Downer or Outsider Folk. While I wouldn’t be as presumptuous to think I could define what those terms actually mean, I can say with some certainty that the tracks below may well fall into one (or both/neither) of those categories.
Written in that strange place in time where the hangover of 60’s hippie idealism cast a long shadow across fading rainbow skies and the thought of a cold nuclear wind blew into the grey concrete depression of the mid 70’s, these are 21 tracks that document environmental yearning, lost love, and a creeping uncertainty of what tomorrow may bring. During these dark times, some troubadours transformed themselves into cocaine cowboys – but for those still yearning for the smoky, folk-filled cafés of the 50’s and 60’s, music became a canvas upon which to ponder a future alone in the wilderness. Happily, the results aren’t quite as depressing as I’ve made them sound. In fact, I’m certain you’ll rather enjoy these troubadourial transmissions from after sundown…
Before I’m Gone – Wolves And Whales
A musical exploration called ‘Wilderness America, A Celebration of the Land’ was specially commissioned to emphasise our place within the cycle of living things. This track, arranged by Ed Bogas, is blended with natural sounds recorded in the wild. Just listen to those animal noises and don’t bogart that tofu my friend.
The Lake – Wendell Ing With Hank Leandro & Friends
A stone-cold classic from the wonderful Hawaiian ‘Home Grown’ compilation series. Cut in ‘76, the song describes the dangers of over-development, and a Hawaiian lake that was filled in to make way for a golf course. Another good walk ruined.
Memories Of The Mind – Sun
The B-side to a very rare 45 written by N. Pack and privately pressed on the label Up-Sun-Down distributed by Jonogle Music. A lazy downbeat memory of a long lost love drifting in and out of lonely dreams. I hope the future held wondrous things for Sun, I have looked them up and AltaVista has very little to say about them, I rather fear they may have been eclipsed by more well-known beat combos.
Greenpeace Whale Song – Laurent Trudel
Laurent Trudel is a self-taught and master of many instruments, plus a collector of sounds and emotions. This one comes from a 45 on the Greenpeace label from 1977. “Greenpeace Whale Song” is the B-side, with the A-side entitled “Seal Hunt”. However, I thought that may be just too much. Those poor seals. Not that I am expressing a preference on which animal should live. Goodness, no. Unfortunately this one doesn’t end well for the poor whale either
Love Don’t Know Your Name – James Cann Band
I have only seen a couple of these 45s turn up. Written by Cann/Flanagan, this one is an English release produced by David Lord,who may be the British composer who created Crescent Records. Ethereal backing vocals and strings accompany a heartbeat bass. It isn’t just love that don’t know your name though, James Cann, I’ve asked round and most people say “isn’t he that actor?”
Why Is It Always The Same – Randy
When I think of loner folk this one by Randy Rogers from 1975 on RSi Records is what comes to mind. Sparse instrumentation, an acoustic guitar and the singer songwriter squeezing every last drop out of his punctured heart. He’s lying awake thinking of the one that got way and the mistakes made that led up to the ultimate tears before bedtime. Will someone please give Randy a hug!
Sam – Lenny Lamb
Another song about lost love. Not much info on Lenny Lamb – a search online yields a lot of baby products, but somehow I don’t think it’s the same Lenny. This one is produced by Billy James, who worked developing musical talent for lots of record companies, including Columbia, Elektra, and RCA Records. He also produced a favourite here at Folk Funk Towers: Penny Nichols’ ‘Penny’s Arcade’. I wonder if Sam ever came back?
On This Day – Michael Koren
Out of Buffalo, New York. On Amherst Records, the label formed by Leonard Silver and one of the oldest independent record labels in the United States. Under 2 minutes in length this one consists of an acoustic guitar and Michael singing. I’m not sure if it’s about someone coming of age, a marriage, or a birth. But yay! There is (or doesn’t seem to be) no death for a change.
June Marie – Randy Loyd
A track from the 1976 album ‘The Moment by Randy Loyd’. Sending long lost love to a girl who had to be let go, she is far away over windy hills and autumnal days. The production is high on this one and you must hear those vibes. Recorded at Carousel Recording Studios, Denver. If you do see June Marie send her Randy’s love, you know it’s the right thing to do.
Seagull – David Savage
From the compilation album ‘Sounds Like North Cornwall’, here’s a song about an angelic seagull sung by David Savage. Just David and his acoustic guitar rolling along, mimicking the sound of the rolling ocean. I do hope it wasn’t the same seagull I met at Lyme Regis. He dive bombed me and stole my chips, the vicious swine.
Maybe In Another Year – Jennie Pearl
Taken originally from the extremely rare ‘Peoria Folk Anthology Volume Three ‘on the Webster’s Last Word label. In Peoria, Illinois, stood a small café run by Chuck Perrin, from The Chuck And Mary Perrin (whose album is worth a listen and fortunately re-issued as it was reaching the dizzying heights price-wise in its original format). The café served the central Illinois folk community and each artist put in $100 for the studio time, leading to a 500-copy pressing of ‘The Peoria Folk Anthology Volume Three’. Jennie Pearl was just 15 years old at the time and had two songs on the album, “Bye-Gones”, and “Maybe In Another Year”, which was featured more recently on ‘Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From The Canyon Numero Group’ compilation. You could think of this mix as an oyster and Jennie as it’s pearl.
That Is All – Timothy
The B side of Mr. Moonlight and released out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Seguē Records; the company founded at the WRS Motion Picture Labs in 1971. Seguē had George Bacasa as president and jazz musician Nathan Davis as vice president. Seguē records unfortunately went out of business with major money losses after pressing records for several failed releases. This one features Timothy Wahler, with a backing vocalist, an acoustic guitar and a distant bongo. It’s a song about autumnal castles made of time, forgetting the past, holding hands and walking into an unknown future. I just hope they were wearing a coat and sensible shoes.
Age And Wonder – S.J.C. Powell
The B side from the 45 release “Celestial Madness” which comes from the 1975 album by Stephen Joseph Christopher Powell. Ask Jeeves tells me he was the guitarist and vocalist in Australian band, The Mint, who released four singles between 1969 and 1971 on the Ramrod label. “Age And Wonder” seems to be a song where S.J.C. Powell speaks to a God asking him to explain why life is so hard, and never as good as it should be. A look into the impending future, a newborn and the distant hope that there has to be more than this. Why this album has never been re-issued is madness, or should I say ‘Celestial Madness’?
Crying – Scott Fagan
Brill Building songwriter Scott Fagan had just entered his twenties when his 1968 debut album was released, it didn’t make an impact and that is definitely worth crying about. A delicate mix of psych and soul, the album is an odyssey of Fagan’s life. He moved to the Virgin Islands where he was raised. At 19 he returned to New York City, the place of his birth, on 52nd Street. The son of a singer/jazz saxophonist father, music was in the family blood line, continuing to a 3rd generation. In 2012 he discovered he was the biological father of songwriter Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields. The track chosen has heart felt hazy vocals, warming bass and gentle percussion intertwined with Bacharachess horns to create a trance like emotion. Thanks go to Peter Beaver who introduced this to me a few years ago. You can now get it on re-issue from Saint Cecilia Knows. I also got see him play live at Café Oto in London which left me crying, with joy, I might add.
Don’t Be So Nice – Chuck Senrick
Out of Minnesota singer/songwriter, Chuck Senrick released one LP called ‘Dreamin’’. It was 1976 and he had just 200 copies privately pressed. What makes the album a little different from others of the time is the addition of a Doncamatic rhythm machine. In 1963 KEIKO (the original company name of Korg) released the Doncamatic DA-20 drum machine. It was one of the world’s first drum machines and featured a rotating disc which let the user select the sounds they required. The album has been re-issued on Notes On A Journey, licensed from the mighty Numero Group, whose digging has really hit the spot over the last few years. Chuck was just 21 years old when he put down ‘Don’t Be So Nice’, a minimalistic tale of being lost and tossed aside by an old friend. Asking for redemption, he is told not to be so nice and not to try so hard. Personally, I think young Chuck is better off without ‘friends’ like this one, let’s face it, we’ve all been there!
Come With Me – Brian Cadd
Taken from the soundtrack to ‘Morning of the Earth’. A film about surfers living in spiritual harmony, at one, with nature. Crafting homes and surf boards as they journey, looking for that perfect wave. Crossing Australia’s north-east coast, through Bali and on to Hawaii, it is regarded as the finest films, and for me the finest album, of its genre. 1946, Western Australia, the Earth was blessed with Brian George Cadd. A singer-songwriter, keyboardist, producer and record label founder, he has performed as a member of The Groop (uncredited appearance as instrumental support on Russell Morris’ single “The Real Thing”), Axiom, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. ‘Come with me’ asks you to hold hands with Brian and become free. Feel the spray upon your face, as the guitar washes over you in wave upon wave. You did bring a towel, didn’t you? You didn’t? Don’t worry, just lay back in the sun and listen to the rest of the mix.
Just a Wanderer – Will and James Ragar
Seagulls in the air and bells ringing as Texas brothers Will and James Ragar give you a wonderful tale of towering cliffs and an orangey yellow sun casting a warm glow over the fishermen and their nets. Harmonic singing and acoustic guitars. From the self titled album which is sometimes known as ‘One’. Released on Nick Carlton’s No Mountain (NoMountain) label in 1980 and made up of 11 original numbers penned by the duo. I read somewhere that ‘it’s sunrise music for people that haven’t quite stumbled to bed yet’. 2010 brought us a re-issue in compact disc form from Riverman Music, a label out of South Korea, and sub label Bella Terra Records, both of whose back catalogue is well worth looking into, especially if you dig this sort of thing, which let’s face it you do or you wouldn’t have read this far down!
Wondering – Greenwood, Curlee & Clyde
The trio of Greenwood, Curlee & Clyde were based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. ‘One time, one place’ was their sole self released album. It was 1972, and the trio’s psychedelic folk gave rise to an amazing album. “Wondering”, the track I chose to adorn this mix, picks up on the theme of waiting for a girl, ‘the girl’. He wants them to be together. One day he will find her and touch her, but she keeps escaping. Oh dear, that makes it sound a bit like she’s being stalked! Scrub that last bit, it’s a lovely but lonely song about unrequited love. Recently re-issued on CD by Big Pink Music.
One Of Those Days – Steve Guthrie
Taken from a compilation album called ‘Time To Listen’ on Sweetbay Records out of Tallahassee, Florida . The album features music by David Griggs, Steve Guthrie, Bluesberry Jam, and Fred Chester. This track has a bluesy feel and is given an edge with some great femme backing vocals. As the instruments melt together, you hear a sound reminiscent of a ticking clock, a clock perhaps running out of time, Guthrie sings of letting go and just chasing the blues away. Sometimes things just don’t work out, but this track certainly did.
For Your Return – Jeff Eubank
Taken from the super album ‘A Street Called Straight’ on Dorothea Records and released in 1983. Eubank sings of hiding love in a snowfall while the guitar oozes around you, harmonies drift in and out like a dream. The album was named after a passage in the bible “rise and go to a street called straight” from Acts 9:10-19, although neither Eubank or the album is particularly religious. To explain some more let’s see what Jeff Eubank has to say; “Ananias is being directed to risk harm and perhaps his life to help a man he knows to be dangerous. The implication of the fact that the name of the street was (and is) Straight (like straight and narrow) shouldn’t be lost on someone who is reading carefully. As this relates to the lyrics of the song, we all have had to, at some time (or many times), move on in courage and leave the past behind (good or bad). In the case of these lyrics, there is hope: ‘there is an end to this endless night… after all’”. One thing I do know for sure, you’ll be returning to this track.
Playground Of Burial-Funds – Spinning Motion
Taken from the album originally released in 1980 out of Germany on the Music Lab Berlin label – more recently re-issued on German based Notes On A Journey. The last track in this mix has a dark and haunting energy to it, a slowed down pace, a tender vocal performance from Manfred Tappert. Unusual bell like sounds emerge from the Electric 88 piano. Achim Hirsch’s lyrics tell of there being no place to hide while the hunters come to break your neck. It seems like the perfect place to end this cheery mix. Hope you enjoyed yourself.
Check out tracks by these lot too : F. J. McMahon / Philip John Lewin / Dave Porter / Gary Ogan & Bill Lamb / Gavin James / Cy Timmons / Stephen Whynott / Hendrickson Road House / Jerry Solomon / Justyn Rees
pH is a record collector and loving curator of musical joy. A Piscean whose grubby fingerprints can be found all over the compilation series Folk Funk & Trippy Troubadours.
A truncated version of this article can be found in a physical format inside MOOF issue no.3 – order here
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