Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kak; Mad River

The Secret Museum
Jim Webb

The Unknown San Francisco Sound: Kak, Mad River


There is a reason most groups who become cult favorites never make it in the mainstream: a weak link is somewhere in the chain. Either they are good musicians but don’t have the songs, or have the songs but maybe a terrible singer who just happens to own all the amps and a van to drive everybody around to the gigs. Kak’s sole album was released in 1968 on Epic. All the trademark sounds of the day are in place: buzzing guitars and cosmic lyrics, and some nice vocal arrangements with a Donovanesque feel on a couple of numbers. HCO 97658 opens things with a classic sounding 1968 guitar lead, and is followed by Everything’s Changing, another up tempo blast that let’s you know this will be a guitar dominated LP. I hear a faint resemblance to The Buffalo Springfield on Disbelievin’; Lemonade Kid sounds like Jerry Garcia circa Dark Star. Overall, this is a solid period release which comes closest to sounding like Moby Grape through its guitar/multi-vocal approach, and one indication why they didn’t make it. Kak disbanded before getting off the ground, having only played a handful of live shows before packing it in. In those days, your NEXT band was the one that would conquer the world. Singer/guitarist Gary Lee Yoder’s next stop was a post-heavy Blue Cheer. On the current Cheer web site Kak is dismissed as a poor man’s Moby Grape, but that’s a little unfair. Sure, they sound a bit like The Grape, but I don’t care if a band sounds like someone else, as long as the material is good, and Kak in my opinion were a good band. The next time I see Dickie Peterson (B.Cheer leader) I will ask him what the bad blood is all about. Maybe Yoder gave him a bad count on some shared weed they purchased; whatever happened must have been a heavy scene for it to linger on for the last forty years.

Mad River

Mad River falls into the ‘good musicians, below average vocals’ category. Merciful Monks kicks off the LP with slashing guitar work and a great David Robinson guitar solo, and features some frenzied drumming. High All The Time is classic psychedelia (how could it not be with that title) that starts with the piercing guitars before Lawrence Hammonds semi-grating vocals kick in. Wind Chimes is the standout track on the album, as an atmospheric opening leads into some soaring guitar parts with tasteful flute included as well. The War Goes On comes from a creepy, dark place and is a great late night groover (play after 11pm and keep the lights dim.) This LP is another guitar feast that will satisfy any cravings for late sixties acid rock. If you are tired of your old Dead and Quicksilver CDs I suggest you give a listen to Mad River’s first self-titled LP. Their second release, Paradise Bar and Grill, heads off into stoner cowboy rock, and sounds like an early version of The New Riders of The Purple Sage. Pretty boring. I will tell you up front I had no mind-altering substances on hand when I listened to this second release, and will gladly send it to anyone who does; you can update us from the appropriate higher perspective. What hurt Mad River was having an acid rock guitar-dominated first LP, and then a completely different, more acoustic sounding follow up.

Neither Kak nor Mad River are essential listening, but are good examples of a Bay Area music scene that was expanding beyond the big names headlining at the Fillmore and Winterland. If you want to hear what it sounded like on the corner of Haight/Ashbury in 1968 these are good choices.

Recommended listening:
Kak (Epic LP 1969)
Mad River (Capitol LP 1968)

I have created a brief timesaving checklist that will help you decide if you are a real 60’s kind of person.

Buy these CDs if:
1.) You still like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane
2.) You occasionally ride a motorcycle
3.) You have chanted the Hare Krishna maha mantra
4.) You read Horse Fly religiously because you want to stay informed
5.) You live in an Earthship
6.) You were naked during at least one outdoor rock festival in the 60’s
7.) You bought a keg of beer in the last year
8.) You feel that The Secret Museum has given added purpose and renewed vitality to
your life.

Ignore these CDs if:

1.) You like Celine Dion and Mariah Carey
2.) You drive a Hummer, Yukon, Expedition or any other personal tank
3.) Bernie Madoff was your guru
4.) You are too busy being a consumer to make time to read
5.) You dream about moving to a packed subdivision
6.) The last time you were naked with anyone was when Mommy bathed you at age three in the kitchen sink
7.) You have spent more time on a treadmill in the last 10 years than in a bar
8.) You spend most of your time watching the 58” plasma TV set, and are crabby that
not all the channels are in high-def.

-Jim Webb


tommygunn said...

The "humble curators" of the Secret Museum have hit their stride in last couple of weeks! These last few posts have really had me hitting the 'net for more info on these artists. Mike and Jim, there were a good number of sides you mentioned in your personal faves a post or two back that I hope get the full S.M. treatment someday soon. Cheers

Michael Mooney said...

Thank you, Mr Gunn.

A local record shop (TaosSound) asked us to provide a list of indispensable albums. I'm sure we'll be revisiting as few over the coming months.

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