Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dark Clouds, Vol. 6

There it happened again...
The sixth volume of the epic Dark Clouds series: an array of moody garage music recorded in the mid-to-late-60s! If you want to start from the beginning of the hexalogy, you can download Vols. 1-3, Vol. 4 and Vol. 5.

So this is what I came up with for Vol. 6: a nice little mix of uncomped rarities to appease the garage gods, and a few of my absolute favorites (psst, the Amoebas and the Weads) to welcome my friends who are just delving into this profound musical realm.

This is the real deal. No sophisticated production, no pretension. Just raw, real, emotive performances. Record hiss, crackle and pop, and anomalous (okay, at times downright off-pitch) vocals galore. I can't tell you how much of a joy and surprise it is to continually stumble upon and unveil these types of nuggets. I hope you enjoy! Please feel free to contact me if you can provide additional band info or corrections. Thank you!

01 The Ascensions - "All Alone"
[Gemini 100] (1967) Philadelphia, PA
02 The Wild Cherries - "I Cried Once" [Shoestring 112] (1966) Hampton, VA
03 The Soule Survivors - "Shadows" [River 1306] (1967] Biloxi, MS
04 The Amoebas - "Look At The Moon" [unknown] (1964) Baltimore, MD
05 Sleepy Hollow - "Dark Of The Night" [unknown] (1967) Bridgeport, CT
06 The Intruders - "Bringin' Me Down" [Claremont 665] (1966) Rockford, IL
07 The Royal Knights - "I Don't Want To Go" [Snap SN-005] (196?) USA
08 Lindy Blaskey & The LaVelles - "My Baby Done Left Me" [Space 0003] (1965) Albuquerque, NM
09 The Nomadds - "I'm In Transit" [Radex MLP 6521] (1965) Freeport, IL
10 Billy & The Kids - "It's Not The Same" [Julian 104] (1965) Wenatchee, WA
11 The Squires - "I Can't Do It" [Atco] (1966) Bristol, CT
12 The Counts - "I Will Lose My Mind" [Kingston 19693/4] (1969) Valley View, PA 
13 The Swaydes - "Why" [Paris Tower 108] (1967) Tampa, FL
14 Druids - "Old Willow" [Columbia 4-43639] (1966) Scranton, PA
15 Public Nuisance - "Time Can't Wait" [demo] (1968) Sacramento, CA
16 The Meen - "Say You Love Me" [Varmint VPB-103] (1967) USA
17 The Newports - "Feelin' Low" [Zebb 155] (196?) Ormond Beach, FL
18 The Jades - "I Cried" [Holiday H-101] (1966) Union, KT
19 The Weads - "Don't Call My Name" [Duane 1042] (1965) Stonybrook, NY
20 Road's End - "When I Look At You" [Brahma 621661/2] (1966) New York, NY
21 The Kan Dells - "Do You Know" [Bear 1971] (1965) Minneapolis, MN 
22 The Grapes - "You'd Better Come Home" [Purple 110] (196?) La Porte, IN
23 The Second Generation - "Baby I Need You" [Klan] (196?) USA
24 The Dukes - "Take Your Love" [Signett 3265] (1967) Goshen, IN
25 The Society - "One Way Ride" [Feature 817R-112] (1966) Janesville, WI
26 Low Ebb - "Somewhere" [Patten Bennett 1001] (1965) MI
27 The Willing Mind - "Decide" [Night Owl 6912] (1969) Horicon, WI
28 The Alexander Rabbit - "I Didn't Even Thank Her" [A&M 1101] (1969) Trenton, NJ
29 The Mirror's Image - "If You Are Nowhere Now" [Catamount 01000] (196?) NJ
30 The Members - "I'll Get By Without You" [Label 102] (1966) St. Petersburg, FL

Grab Dark Clouds, Vol. VI -------> Over here!

still from Frank Capra's The Miracle Woman (1932)

A warm, fuzzy and prosperous 2013 to all of you!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dark Clouds, Vol. 5: An Ode To Winter

(still from the 1948 weeper, Portrait of Jennie, dir. William Dieterle)

Hi friends! So for months I've had the idea floating around for a wintery themed mix, but was waiting for the weather to get cold, rainy, windy, just super duper gnarly so I'd have some kind of inspiration to draw upon. And I'm still waiting! I should know by now, being a native/naive Californian, that not a chance in hell was Mother Nature gonna grant us such prolonged weather. We might as well be ground zero for global warming! Not that I don't mind one bit, but I'd one day love to stare sullenly out the window at a torrential storm or play in the snow like most normal kids do... not admire colorful, fiery sunsets from my 15th floor office building or shuffle around the beach in ironic graphic tees, BBQing, sipping icy Tecates at the end of January/beginning of February. Siiiigh. But I digress...

Oakland did get several hours of rain and apocalyptic-like fog last week. And for that, I was ever so grateful to use that precious time to assemble a slightly eclectic mix of seasonal moody tunes for you, opening with the predictably distressing "Lonely Winter" (a song later covered by the Bee Gees), and drawing to an optimistic close, finishing with the haunting yet encouraging chorus on "Need Some Sunshine." This mix is slightly distinguished from its Dark Clouds peers in 1) genre: garage rock reigns, but I had to throw in some soft/sunshiny, folk rock, and a Joe Meek production that were just too rad to pass, and 2) location: with the occasional Canadian exception, you might've noticed my unintentional sense of patriotism in past mixes. But for this one I've gone global (thanks to a newly renewed passport) - bowing down to England, Norway and Australia! 

01 Steve & the Board - "Lonely Winter" [Spin EL 31997] (1966) Sydney, AU
02 Hollie Helloms & the Rhythm Kings - "Don't Blame It On the Rain" [Major 1015] (196?) Waynesboro, VA
03 The Whether Bureau - "White and Frosty" [Laurie 3431] (1968) New York, NY
04 The Unrelated Segments - "It's Gonna Rain" [Liberty 55992] (1966) Detroit, MI
05 Nocturnal Day Dream - "Dark Dreary Night" [Unknown] (196?) U.S.A.
06 Firebeats Inc. - "This Rain" [His Master's Voice NCLP 5] (1966) Oslo, Norway
07 The Rainy Daze - "Snow and Ice and Burning Sand" [UNI 73002] (1967) Denver, CO
08 The Kasuals - "Listen to the Rain" [GMA 4] (1964) Chicago, IL
09 The Early Americans - "It's So Cold Outside" [Paris Tower 106] (1967) Tampa, FL
10 John Leyton - "Wild Wind" [Top Rank International JAR 585] (1961) Essex, UK
11 The Fredric - "Saturday Morning With Rain" [Forte 80461] (1968) Grand Rapids, MI
12 Jan & Lorraine - "Snow Roses" [ABCS 691] (1969) London, UK
13 Brigadune - "Misty Mornin'" [Verve VK 10655] (1971) Los Angeles, CA
14 The New Dawn - "It's Rainin'" [Garland GR 70-4569] (1970) Salem, OR
15 Teen Tones - "Long Cold Winter" [T&T 2487/8] (1964) South Bend, IN
16 The Sinners - "Only On A Rainy Day" [Craig 210] (1966) PA
17 Sunset Love - "Winter's Day" [Collectables 0665] (1968) Odessa, TX
18 The Rising Storm - "The Rain Falls Down" [Remnant BBA 3571] (1966) Andover, MA
19 Philamore Lincoln - "The North Wind Blew South" [Epic BN 26497] (1970) UK
20 The Ill Winds - "Fear of the Rain" [Reprise 0423] (1965) Los Angeles, CA
21 The Rock Garden - "The Wind Is My Keeper" [Revise 300] (1967) Camden, AR
22 Electric Train - "Thru Winter and Sunshine" [Moxie M 106] (196?) Marin County, CA
23 The Magic Mushrooms - "Let The Rain Be Me" [East Coast 1001] (1968) Philadelphia, PA
24 The Morning Dew - "Winter Dreams" [Audio House Acetate] (1966) Topeka, KS
25 The Omen & Their Luv - "Need Some Sunshine" [Daisy 4825] (196?) Tuscaloosa, AL

Download 'Dark Clouds Vol. 5: An Ode To Winter' --> HERE!!
Download Vols. 1-3 --> right here
Download Vol. 4 --> and here

Hope you enjoy! Feedback (be it good, bad, constructive, creepy, off-topic, etc.) is always welcome. Thanks!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Check out Cosmic Bonfire, the mixtape I made for the Bold Italic

Happy New Year, friends! I've rung in the new year with some cross-pollinating, and created a mystic, lite-psych mix (of mostly old and several new) for San Francisco's Bold Italic, Mixtape Monday series -

Thanks to Nikki Grattan for the beautiful photo and write-up!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Unconventional Holiday Albums: Santa's Funk & Soul Christmas Party

"I haven't had a drink, ooh baby, but I'm lit up like a Christmas tree"

At last! Another Christmas album, besides James Brown's 'Funky Christmas', with not a traditional Christmas song in sight! This fantastically funky and soulful compilation, to be released in the US on December 13th, is the result of a project started in 2010 by German record collector DJ Jan Kohlmeyer of Tramp Records, who assembled 13 rare, raw funk and soul tracks that have never been compiled, with an artist roster of relatively unknown names (a big "Eureka!" for bloggers like me!). With track titles like "Christmas Present Blues" and "Xmas Done Got Funky," this comp is guaranteed to shake yer hips all month and into next year! 

Vernon Garrett & Sir Stan and The Counts - "Merry Christmas, Baby"

Lee Rogers - "You Wont Have to Wait Till Xmas"

Rose Graham - "Black Christmas"

Binky Griptite - "Stone Soul Christmas"

Jimmy Jules & Nuclear Soul System - "Xmas Done Got Funky"

Both CD booklet and LP sleeve contain scans of all 45rpm single labels and extensive liner notes. The LP comes with a gatefold cover and is limited to 500 copies. 

You can purchase from Amazon or from the UK distributor, Kudos Records.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Garage Beat '11: Sonny and the Sunsets

I'm not gonna make it a habit to discuss modern bands here, as I hope to start another blog devoted to new garage and indie rock, but I'm far too impatient and giddy about this band to wait! Now I dunno if it's the water or the earthquakes or the burritos, but my lovely lil hometown of San Francisco has become quite the mecca for new garage music - as documented more eloquently here via Pitchfork.

I've heard the records, I've seen nearly all of these dudes live at least once, but the one group that I think epitomizes the sound the best (regardless of region) is Sonny and the Sunsets! Grimey guitar playing splashed with 60s California pop, male/female harmonies, catchy hooks, sing-a-long choruses... bringing to mind the Standells, Beach Boys, Ronny and the Daytonas. And they're even better live, demonstrating confident stage presence and dynamics. From what I could tell (being front and center at their most recent show, the fangirl that I am!), every single soul in the crowd was either smiling, singing along, or dancing. And to top it all off, they're wonderful, lovely people, too. The ideal package.

Here's a sampling of their latest album, Hit After Hit:

Sonny and the Sunsets - "She Plays YoYo With My Mind"

Sonny and the Sunsets - "Home and Exile"

Sonny and the Sunsets - "Teenage Thugs"

Sonny and the Sunsets - "Don't Act Dumb"

Their tour itinerary:

1 May: Islington Mill - Manchester, United Kingdom
2 May: The Continental Pub - Preston, United Kingdom
3 May: Sound Control - Manchester, United Kingdom
4 May: Shipping Forecast - Liverpool, United Kingdom
5 May: Captains Rest - Glasgow, United Kingdom
6 May: Cockpit - Leeds, United Kingdom
7 May: The Social - Nottingham Nottingham, United Kingdom
8 May: Start The Bus - Bristol, United Kingdom
9 May: The Lexington - London, United Kingdom
11 May: Club dB - Utrecht, Netherlands
12 May: Molotov Oben - Hamburg, Germany
14 May: Henriksbergs Takterass - Gothenburg, Sweden
16 May:Parkeatren - Oslo, Norway
17 May: Debaser Slussen - Stockholm, Sweden
19 May: Privat Club - Berlin, Germany
20 May: 59:1 - Munich, Germany
21 May: Twiggy - Varese, Italy
24 May: Rocket Club - Milan, Italy
26 May: Primavera Sound Festival - Barcelona, Spain
4 Jun: Huichica Festival - Sonoma, CA
24 Jun: Sled Island Festival 2011 - Calgary, AB, Canada
25 Jun: Sled Island Festival 2011 - Calgary, AB, Canada
27 Jun: Waldorf Cabaret - Vancouver, BC, Canada
28 Jun: The Funhouse - Seattle, WA
1 Jul: Great American Music Hall - San Francisco, CA
7 Jul: Soda Bar - San Diego, CA
8 Jul: Echo - Los Angeles, CA
22 Jul: The Empty Bottle - Chicago, IL
23 Jul: Pike Room - Pontiac, MI
24 Jul: Sneaky Dees - Toronto, ON, Canada
26 Jul: Divan Orange - Montreal, QC, Canada
27 Jul: North Star Bar - Philadelphia, PA
28 Jul: DC9 - Washington, DC
29 Jul: Mercury Lounge - New York, NY
30 Jul: Glasslands Gallery - Brooklyn, NY
5 Aug: Pickathon Roots Musicfest - Happy Valley, OR

I encourage you to check out a live show if they happen upon your city. It'll be the most fun you've ever had! Promise.

Support Sonny and the Sunsets and purchase their albums here!

And check out the sweet music video for their song "Reflections on Youth" made by their rad bassist, Ryan Browne -

"Reflections on Youth" by Sonny & the Sunsets from Ryan Browne on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sax In The Garage!!

(photo courtesy of

Who doesn't love loud, hot sax? Whether it be a rad riff or badass solo, you can never have too much sax!

Now before you get turned off (or on!) let me make it clear this isn't the latest release from John Tesh!

01 The Nocturnals - "Because You're Gone" (1965) Vancouver, BC
02 The Reactors - "Do That Thing" (1967) Suffolk, VA
03 The Knights - "Those Things You Do" (1965) Albuquerque, NM
04 The Blazers - "Lovin' To Do" (1966) Kansas City, MO
05 The Sants - "Leaving You, Baby" (1966) AL
06 Clap - "Bluff 'Em All" (1971) Manhattan Beach, CA
07 One Eyed Jacks - "Love" (1967) Champaign, IL
08 What's Happening - "Baby, You're Hurtin' Me" (196?) USA
09 The Vandaliers - "She's Mine" (1964) Toledo-Cleveland, OH
10 The Dominions - "I Need Her" (1966) Eugene, OR
11 Thee Midniters - "Looking Out A Window" (1967) East Los Angeles, CA
12 The Rumblers - "I Don't Need You No More" (1962) Norwalk, CA
13 The Jujus - "I'm Cryin'" (1966) Grand Rapids, MI
14 The Esquires - "Sadie's Ways" (1965) Jonesboro, AR
15 The Imperials - "Crossfiring" (196?) Seattle, WA
16 The Four A While - "Low Class Man" (1966) Charleston, IL
17 The Galaxies - "I'm A Worker" (1965) Tacoma, WA
18 Stairways - "Don't You Care" (196?) PA
19 The Futuras - "Hurt" (1966) Cleveland, OH
20 Phil & The Frantics - "Say What You Will" (1965) Phoenix, AZ
21 The Break-Outs - "Are You Mad At Me?" (1964) Greenup, KY
22 The Plague - "The Face Of Time" (1966) Thunder Bay, ON
23 The Wheel Of Fortune - "Long Long Day" (1967) Salem, OR
24 Wayne & The Impressions - "I Saw You" (1965) Pottsville, PA
25 The Five Of A Kind - "Never Again" (1965) Fort Worth, TX
26 Freddie & The Swingin' Bachelors - "You Had Your Chance" (196?) USA
27 The Dynamic Deadbeats - "No Second Chance" (196?) Philadelphia, PA
28 Banshees - "So Hard To Bear" (1965) Burlingame, CA
29 The Epicureans - "Baby Be Mine" (1966) Fairmont, MN
30 The Executioners - "The Guillotine" (1965) Youngstown, OH

(photo courtesy of

Download 'Sax In The Garage!!' ---------> aqui

Monday, March 1, 2010

Guest comp: Haunters by Jeanpop2

Originally released in February of 2009, Jeanpop2's amazing comp focuses on beautiful, sometimes eerie-sounding - but not scary - haunters from all over the world. Despite a couple of repeat offenders (from Dark Clouds and Autoharp comps), this might be one of my favorite homemade comps, with an impressively resplendent mix of garage, psych, pop, folk, and soul. Give it a whirl !

01 William Penn & The Quakers - "Ghost Of Monks" (1966) Boise, ID
02 The Clue - "She's The Reason" (1967) Midland, TX
03 Kenny & The Kasuals - "As I Knew" (1967) Dallas, TX
04 Paul Martin - "It Happened" (1966) NY
05 Pussyfoot - "Hasty Words" (1967) London, UK
06 Chris Lucey - "Girl From Vernon Mountain" (1966) Tuscon, AZ
07 Reuben Bell & The Casanovas - "It's Not That Easy" (1967) Shreveport, LA
08 Derby-Hatville - "Turn Into Earth" (1967) Lubbock, TX
09 Flower Power - "Stop" (1967) Melbourne, FL
10 The Dhag Dhag's - "Tipo Sicodelico" (1968) La Paz, Bolivia
11 Brym Stonz Ltd - "Times Gone By" (1967) Tyler, TX
12 The H.T.3 - "I'm The One" (196?) Minneapolis, MN
13 The Juniors - "Lost Friend" (196?) Athens, Greece
14 Mad Lads - "Everything Is Blue" (196?) Hawarden, IA
15 Normie Rowe - "Going Home" (1967) Melbourne, Australia
16 The Mojos - "What She's Done To Me" (1966) Hurricane, WV
17 New Colony Six - "The Time Of Year Is Sunset" (1966) Chicago, IL
18 The Moxies - "I Must Apologize" (1965) Paducah, KY
19 The Nightcrawlers - "The Last Ship" (1966) Daytona Beach, FL
20 The Redcoats - "Words Of Wisdom" (1965) Wildwood, NJ
21 Diamond Joe - "Fair Play" (1963) New Orleans, LA
22 The Savages - "Quiet Town" (1965) Bermuda
23 The Spiders - "Yves" (196?) Tokyo, Japan
24 Johnny's Guitar - "Supannahong" (1965) Bangkok, Thailand
25 The Syndicats - "On The Horizon" (1965) London, UK
26 Uncivilized - "Back Again" (196?) U.S.A.
27 Yabancilar - "Agit" (1967) Ankara, Turkey
28 The Fantastic Dee-Jays - "The Love Of Ours" (1966) McKeesport, PA
29 Virgil Griffin - "A Forgotten Lover" (196?) Greenville, MS
30 The Persuaders - "Whispering Surf" (196?) NY

Download 'Haunters' --------> HERE !!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dark Clouds, Vol. 4

Let's ring in the new decade with yet another volume to add to the Dark Clouds series.
Happy Melancholy New Year everyone! Listen and weep -

01 The Smubbs - "Down On The Corner" [ABC Paramount] (1966) New York, NY
02 The Dynamics - "All She Said" [Jerden] (1966) Seattle, WA

03 The Beau-Jives - "Something's Wrong" [Tamio] (196?) U.S.A.
04 The Invaders - "Cryin' All Night Long" [TMS] (1967) U.S.A.

05 The Grodes - "I've Lost My Way" [Rally] (1966) Phoenix, AZ
06 Terry Randall - "Tell Her" [Valiant] (1966) Los Angeles, CA
07 The Dangs - "Lil' Girl" [RBP] (196?) U.S.A.
08 Leaping Ferns - "It Never Works Out For Me" [X-P-A-N-D-E-D Sound] (1965) Los Angeles, CA
09 Charlotte And Emily - "Love Not Have I" [New Voice] (196?) New York, NY

10 The Distant Cousins - "Empty House" [Date] (1967) New York, NY
11 The Dolphins - "I Should Have Stayed" [Yorkshire] (1966) Larchmont, NY
12 Robb London & The Rogues - "Bitter Tears" [Beckingham] (1965) San Antonio, TX

13 The Satins - "The Lonely One" [Aldon] (1967) New York, NY
14 The Era Of Sound - "Stay With Me" [Delta] (1966) Espanola, NM
15 The Fabulous Four - "Now You Cry" [Coral] (1966) Kansas City, MO
16 The Tuesday Club - "A Goddess In Many Ways" [Unknown label] (1967) U.S.A.
17 The Five Tymes - "Hold Me Now" [Bear] (1965) Duluth, MN
18 The Monacles - "You'll Do It Again" [Variety Films] (1966) Garden Grove, CA
19 The Remains - "But I Ain't Got You" [Epic] (1965) Boston, MA
20 The High & The Mighty - "Trying To Stop Cryin'" [ABC] (1966) Detroit, MI
21 The Avlons - "Mad Man's Fate" [Pyramid] (196?) Toccoa, GA
22 The Other Half - "I Won't Be Back" [Bell Sound] (196?) U.S.A.

23 The Strangers - "Plan On Someone New" [Jubilee] (1965) U.S.A.
24 Those Boys - "The Only Girl" [FED] (1966) Houston, TX

25 The Fugitives - "Don't Pretend" [Trophy] (196?) Portland, OR
26 The Travelers - "Libby" [Prism] (1966) Dayton, OH
27 The Other Side Of Time - "What Ya Gonna Do" [R.S.D.] (196?) U.S.A.

28 The Fogcutters - "Cry Cry Cry" [Liberty] (1965) Denver, CO
29 The Embermen Five - "My Love For You Won't Die" [Studio City] (1967) Minot, ND

30 The Mourning Formation - "Rider" [Pinpoint] (196?) U.S.A.

Download Vol. 4 -----> HERE

Find the first three volumes -----> HERE

Feedback is always appreciated : )

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Guest comp: Rascalized ! by Jeanpop2

Rascals-inflected cuts and other garage soul delights from the godlike Jeanpop2. Listen to (or podcast) his rad radio show every Wednesday from 8:30PM-10:00PM French time (11:30AM-1:00PM PST) here !

01 Giant Crab - "It Started With A Little Kiss" (1967) Santa Barbara, CA
02 The Buckinghams - "Love Ain't Enough" (1966) Chicago, IL
03 The Caravelles - "Self-Service" (1966) Phoenix, AZ

04 Little Willie & The Adolescents - "Looking For Love" (1967) Orlando, FL
05 The Myddle Class - "Who Does He Love" (196?) Summit, NJ

06 Five Cards Stud - "Beg Me" (1967) New Haven, CT
07 The Hassles - "Every Step I Take (Every Move I Make)" (1967) New York, NY

08 The Vagrants - "I Can't Make A Friend" (1966) Forest Hills, NY
09 The Solitary Confinement - "A Winner Never Quits" (1968) Detroit, MI
10 Aesop's Fables - "Take A Step" (1967) Hampstead, NY
11 The Soul Survivors - "Expressway To Your Heart" (1967) Philadelphia, PA
12 The Illusion - "I Love You, Yes I Do" (1969) Long Island, NY
13 The Uniques - "I'll Do Anything" (1967) Springhill, LA
14 Daze Between - "Every Little Raindrop" (1967) New York, NY
15 The Warlox - "You Can't Win" (1967) Alexandria, VA

16 The Bad Boys - "Love" (1966) Frederick, MD
17 The 5c Stamp - "Gotta' Go Now" (1968) Eastaboga, AL
18 The Five Emprees - "Mama Didn't Know" (1966) Benton Harbor, MI

19 Larry Knight & The Upsetters - "Hurt Me" (1966) Detroit, MI
20 The Bougalieu - "When I Was A Children" (1967) Albany, NY
21 Soul, Inc. - "Love Me When I'm Down" (1968) Louisville, KY

22 The Blue Beats - "Extra Girl" (1966) Danbury, CT
23 The Spectrums - "I'll Never Fear" (1966) Newark, NJ
24 Gary & The Knight Lites - "I Don't Need Your Help" (1966) Cicero, IL
25 The Yo Yo's - "Leaning On You" (196?) Memphis, TN

Download 'Rascalized !' --------->

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mini-comp: Unconventional Instruments Of The 60s: The Autoharp

Inspired by Mark Brend’s, ‘Strange Sounds: Offbeat Instruments And Sonic Experiments In Pop,’ (a fantastic read!), this hopefully reoccurring series of blog posts will focus on strange and unusual instruments used by pop, psych, garage, and soul artists during the 60s (and, in rare cases, the early-70s). Most of the artists in Brend’s book profile bigger names and their hit records. I plan to stay true to my primary intention of this blog, and continue to showcase the underrated/under-appreciated/obscure. So let’s kick off this series with the autoharp!!


The autoharp is a fairly recent invention as far as musical instruments go. While there is actually some debate about the exact year the autoharp was invented, it was definitely sometime in the late 1800's. Some sources give Zimmermann credit for his 1871 patent of the idea for the autoharp. Other sources say that Gutter should get the credit for his 1883 patent and creation of the instrument (or rather, something somewhat similar to today's autoharps). 

What is an autoharp? 

Basically, an autoharp is a chorded zither. It is a stringed instrument that normally is made up of 36 strings (although, this number varies as there are several custom instruments out there of all kinds of specifications). A typical store bought autoharp will have 15 or 21 chords. Some of the older factory made autoharps may have only 12 chords. The exact chords used and the arrangements of the chords vary depending on the manufacturer. Many autoharpists change the chord bars around to an arrangement that best suits their needs. These chord bars dampen the strings that are not in the chord (using felt) so that you can easily play the desired chords on your autoharp. While the autoharp is not actually a true harp, it can certainly produce some beautiful harp-like sounds. 

What can you do with an autoharp? 

If you've ever even heard an autoharp before, chances are that you heard someone doing some simple strumming on one. The autoharp is great for strumming chords because you don't even need to know what notes are in each chord to be able to strum the chords. However, there is so much more you can do with an autoharp. The autoharp can function as a rhythm instrument in a band. You can also play melody on an autoharp, which is something that most people don't realize. Even though the autoharp is essentially a chord instrument, you have to remember that chords are in fact made up of individual notes. These individual notes can be picked out so that you can play beautiful melodies and even back yourself up with some chords. 

How do you play the autoharp? 

There are several different styles of playing the autoharp. This instrument does not have as many boundaries as say, a flute or violin. The autoharp can be played on a table or your lap. You can play the autoharp cross-handed or if you don't want to cross your hands, you don't have to. You can play the strings above or below the chord bars, your choice. If you don't want to play the autoharp laying flat, you can also hold it upright and play it Appalachian style, with or without a strap. You can stand up or sit down and play the autoharp. Some autoharpists use fingerpicks, others use flatpicks. Some people prefer to use their fingernails or even their bare fingertips to play the autoharp. If you look for an autoharp video on YouTube, you will see a huge variety in styles. Many people just play accompaniment, but there are still many different picking and strumming styles to choose from. Others play melody, but some use the chorded method while others use open noting. If you're tired of sticking to other people's rules on how to learn an instrument, the autoharp is for you. No rules, no boundaries, just fun and music.

Okay, so who's actually played the autoharp? 
Autoharps have been used in the United States as bluegrass and folk instruments, perhaps most famously by Maybelle Carter and Sara Carter of the Carter Family. The instrument was then introduced to mainstream pop audiences in 1964 when the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian started experimenting with unusual sound combinations: “I played autoharp and knew it had never been used on a pop record. I'd been screwing around with the idea of taping a ukulele contact microphone to the back of the autoharp, and hearing its amplified sound was a real ‘Eureka’ moment. I realized instantly that this could be the heart of a new sound.”

Other bands like the Monkees and Rolling Stones followed their lead and featured the autoharp on several of their own recordings.

But what about psych... pop... SOUL? What? Yes to all! Download this mini comp (link below), and listen to these brilliant songs where the autoharp play a predominant, memorable or inspirational role:

01 The Electric Prunes – “Big City”

Previously recorded by San Jose’s The E-Types, “Big City”
is one of the more popier tracks put out by this experimental psych band. The ethereal autoharp is played by James Lowe, who also sang lead and played harmonica and guitar. 

02 Every Mother’s Son – “I Believe In You”
Monkees-style pop band who had a Top-Ten hit in the U.S. in ’67 with “Come On Down To My Boat.” But they unfortunately lost their notoriety after the release of their second album, and dissipated by ’69. “I Believe In You,” from their first album features gentle autoharp from vocalist and guitarist, Larry Larden. 

03 The Merry-Go-Round – “Time Will Show The Wiser”
This pop band who was well known for producing singer/songwriter Emitt Rhodes, released only one album in ’67. “Live,” the first single from their album, became a huge hit in LA. “Time Will Show The Wiser” was the b-side, featuring overdubbed autoharp played by producer, Larry Marks, became somewhat well known too, as the Fairport Convention cut a version on their 1968 debut album.

04 The Mystery Trend – “House On The Hill”
One of the more overlooked bands of the San Francisco music scene. But rather than mindless jamming or trip-outs, they were more interested in putting out well-crafted pop songs, recalling Burt Bacharach or Brill Building. “House On The Hill,” one of their exceptionally strong pieces, features electric autoharp.

05 Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours – “Mirror Mirror”
They were one of the first groups in Britain to use an amplified autoharp (following the success of The Lovin' Spoonful in the States). They were signed to Decca Records in late 1965 and recorded "Mirror, Mirror", which became a No. 8 British hit in 1966. Autoharp player Samuel ("Pinkerton") Kemp was also a vocalist in the band.

06 The Golden Earrings – “Daddy Buy Me A Girl”
More known for their countless hits during the 70s ("Radar Love") and 80s ("Twilight Zone,” "When The Lady Smiles"), the electric autoharp kicks off “Daddy Buy Me A Girl,” their second hit single released in the summer of ’66.

07 The Avengers – “Everyone’s Gonna Wonder”
Considered by many to be the finest pop song to be recorded in the 1960s in New Zealand. This song comes off their first album, after hooking up with US hippie hitch-hiker Chris Malcolm who went on to write over half of the songs on this record, playing and singing his tunes to the band on his autoharp. The band went on to become one of the biggest local sensations of the late 60s, releasing seven 45s and three LPs in their two year period of fame.

08 The Folklords – “Jennifer Lee”
This Canadian band released one album in ’68 then disappeared into obscurity. “Jennifer Lee” is like most of the songs on the album: a nice piece of folk/sunshine pop with resonant autoharp and guitar. 

09 Hearts And Flowers – “10,000 Sunsets”
This band was among a handful of '60s groups to turn out stellar major-label releases to little or no acclaim, and only faint memory among the few who heard them at the time. Their two Capitol albums of West Coast country-inflected folk-rock predated or paralleled many. Their eerie cover of Hoyt Axton’s, “10,000 Sunsets,” was one of the many Hearts And Flowers songs featuring singer and guitarist Dave Dawson's hypnotic use of the autoharp. 

10 Michaelangelo – “Son (We've Kept the Room Just the Way You Left It)”
Yet another band who only recorded one album. Sounding more like a record from the late '60s than the early '70s, its folk-rock-psychedelic blend was unusual for prominently featuring the autoharp of Angel Autoharp (as she's billed on the record), which sometimes functioned much as a lead guitar or organ would within a rock lineup.

11 The Charlatans – “We’re Not On The Same Trip”
The first on the scene of the 60s San Francisco psychedelic rock bands. With most of their songs written by Dan Hicks, his classic anthem of hippie relationship ennui, "We're Not On The Same Trip" (with band founder, George Hunter, on autoharp), should have had the success he envisioned for it. The Charlatans were not fated to get swept up in the massive SF Band Signings by major labels in the 60s.

12 The Lewis & Clarke Expedition – “Freedom Bird”
Originally from Dallas, Texas, Travis Lewis (aka Michael Martin Murphey) was a passing acquaintance of Mike Nesmith. The connection helped Murphey and songwriting partner, Boomer Clarke, place one of their compositions "Hangin' Round" with the Monkees, in the process bringing them to the attention of Colgems which quickly recognized their potential and signed them to a recording contract. Produced by Jack Keller and built around the talent of Lewis and Clarke (the line up rounded out by multi-instrumentalist (autoharp included) Ken Bloom, guitarist John London and drummer Johnny Raines) actually debuted with an instantly obscure 1966 single for the small Chartmaster label. While parallels to The Monkees were apparent, there were also some major difference; notably the fact the band were all capable musicians and namesakes Lewis and Clarke were responsible for the majority of material. That said, their debut was easily as good as anything in The Monkees catalogue. Unfortunately, with Colgems devoting most of his energy to marketing The Monkees, neither the band nor the LP had much in the way of promotional support. Needless to say, it failed to chart.

13 George Edwards – “Never Mind, I'm Freezing”
Ex-folk troubadour who cut a solo 45 for Dunwich Records. Directly after recording “Never Mind, I’m Freezing, “he sang backup on the Shadows Of Knight album, ‘Gloria.’ He continued to work at Dunwich as an in-house session vocalist before he joined H.P. Lovecraft in February 1967.

14 The M.H. Royals – “She's Gone Forever”
Chicago area band who recorded two fine garage 45’s. Any more info would be greatly appreciated.

15 The Dutch Masters – “You're Nearby Me”
An experimentally daring group with a proto-punk attitude. They started off as backing vocalists for My Records label-owner, Earl Denton. They continued on their own and recorded two solid 45’s.

16 Diamond Joe – “Fair Play”
The inspiration for this blog series, “Fair Play” is one of the great lost soul songs of the 60’s. Never discovered, not even comped, it probably never even had any airplay outside of New Orleans. With brilliant arrangements by Allen Toussaint and heart-wrenching vocals by Diamond Joe, this is probably the only soul/R&B record to feature autoharp (?) A masterpiece !!

Download 'Unconventional Instruments Of The 60s: The Autoharp' - HERE