Kaleidoscope (US)

TrackAlbum
PleaseSide Trips
Keep Your Mind OpenSide Trips
Pulsating DreamSide Trips
Oh DeathSide Trips
Why TrySide Trips
I Found OutA Beacon From Mars
TaximA Beacon From Mars
Beacon From MarsA Beacon From Mars
Seven-Ate SweetIncredible! Kaleidoscope
It's Love You're AfterWhen Scopes Collide

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Kaleidoscope photo

Kaleidoscope (l to r): Chris Darrow, Chester Crill, John Vidican, David Lindley, Solomon Feldthouse – photo Steve Cahill

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

“But I think in terms of all that stuff coming out of one band, it was almost too hard for some people to like take.” Chris Darrow, founder member of Kaleidoscope, speaking to Richie Unterberger in 1999

Was that the problem? Were Kaleidoscope just too versatile for their own good? And who were Kaleidoscope anyway?

It’s a band name that’s been popular over the years but there were two groups operating in the late sixties who probably have most claim to it. One of these outfits operated out of London and, in their earliest incarnation used to rehearse in a school hall in Acton. Those gentlemen have already been immortalised in a fine Toppermost from Rob Morgan. The other was from California and in their early days could be found in Sierra Madre (reportedly a poor man’s Topanga, but with much more class). And it’s the second I’m focussing on.

The quote at the start came from an interview conducted with Chris Darrow by Richie Unterberger in the process of accumulating the material that he included in “Turn! Turn! Turn!: The ’60s Folk-Rock Revolution” (which subsequently got subsumed into “Eight Miles High: Folk-Rock’s Flight From Haight-Ashbury To Woodstock”), a folk-rock opus to end all folk-rock opuses. And folk rock, with or without a hyphen, might be a good start point for getting into the American West Coast Kaleidoscope. However, they were a lot more than that. If I were to attempt a generic style summary of their first album it might go along the following lines:

Two American folk items with one – Oh Death – showing elements of rockiness, another trad. arr. but given a jug band treatment, three originals to which the term psych rock might be applicable to varying degrees, an original entitled Egyptian Gardens wherein the instrumentation and the vocal lived up to the title, another original which you would have sworn was country rock but for the fact that the Byrds didn’t invent that genre until another year had passed, yet another original – Why Try – which pits a nihilistic lyrical stance against a relatively upbeat rhythmical mix in which those near Eastern instruments come back, and finally, Minnie The Moocher, a revival of a thirties jazz number with semi-nonsensical lyrics and not-so-heavily-disguised drug references. Oh, and some gorgeous harmonies every now and again plus more instruments than you’d ever imagine in one band including several you’re unlikely to be able to name. And all of it extremely well performed almost regardless of whether you liked the genre you were dipping into or not.

Album #2, A Beacon From Mars, contained two long instrumental jams, Chicago blues, some Cajun, a traditional British murder ballad and a couple of interesting originals.

In light of all that, it’s hardly surprising that the adjective most used about the band is ‘eclectic’ as in “the definitively eclectic L.A. band Kaleidoscope” (Greil Marcus).

Time to back up a bit. Four multi-instrumentalists – David Lindley, Solomon Feldthouse, Chris Darrow and Chester Crill (who more often than not appeared under an alias) – plus a drummer, John Vidican, a relative novice, met up in Southern California – and yes they did semi reside in the Sierra Madre area for a spell – got together and made an album. There’s a long back story relating to that statement which has already been told several times, most famously by Mac Garry and the rock family tree man Pete Frame in the British mag Zigzag in 1976. That version was notable both for its attitude to the band – affectionate – and to the truth. A more reliable story of the coming together (and the falling apart) can be found in a long interview with David Lindley in another British rock mag Comstock Lode in 1979. Both stories can be found in the excellent Kaleidoscope homepage Pulsating Dream which is run by David Biasotti who himself was a member of a band, Maxfield Parrish, back in the days of old. David also wrote the sleeve notes to the compilation of the band’s Epic material, Pulsating Dreams which was released in 2004.

Lindley played mainly stringed instruments, some of a relatively conventional folkie variety though you’d have to include a harp guitar in there, and he had more than a nodding acquaintance with other less conventional instruments. His prowess can be judged by the fact that he won the annual Topanga Banjo-Fiddle contest five times. Feldthouse majored on unconventional stringed instruments often with names you won’t have come across with several related to near and middle eastern cultures. In contrast he was also a dab hand at clarinet. Solomon often took lead vocals though this task did get shared around. Chris Darrow was another strings man though he also stretched to clarinet (and harmonica). He was the only member of the original Kaleidoscope to have played with an electric group – the Floggs – beforehand. Chris was also the one with a significant interest in country music (which was the main factor causing him to leave the band after album #2). Chester (or Fenrus, or Max, or Connie etc.) was the most jazz inclined band member and very handily he covered a range of instruments not found elsewhere in the group like keyboards, bass and the violin family and he was the usual go-to harmonica man.

Their debut LP, the rather knowingly entitled Side Trips, was absolutely glorious and it sits proudly in my list of all-time great first albums. Yet the odds were stacked against commercial or critical success with band members unfamiliar with record studios and a producer, Barry Friedman, who was still finding his feet and whose main claim to fame at that time was being the catalyst who helped to get the members of Buffalo Springfield together. It contained ten short or shortish tracks although much longer numbers had already started to appear in the band’s live set.

The opening track, the aforementioned Egyptian Gardens, set the tone superbly. Rocking the Casbah might be another way of putting it. According to Chris Darrow in the interview referred to earlier, Kaleidoscope didn’t import a group of foreign musicians into a recording session to add exotic colour – like say, Paul Simon – they made the addition of pigmentation an integral part of what they were creating and played all the instruments themselves.

Three minutes of exotic odours and liquid heat, then, with a mega time and space shift, we’re into 1960’s L.A., with If The Night, a number that could have fitted easily into the Doors’ first or second LPs, containing semi-psych eerie moments plus some of the wham bang stuff. (And if there’s a reader out there inclined to turn his or her nose up at Jimbo & co. can I implore them to go and listen to those two albums). If track #1 had Sol written all over it then this was Chris’s turn; he hadn’t fully made the transition to country yet. Two minutes more and we’re out on the porch with the lovely laidback Hesitation Blues, a number that dated back to 1915 and possibly before (see also Footnotes). While nominally a blues, it’s of the you-wouldn’t-think-electricity-had-been-invented sort and probably entered the repertoire via David and Chris’s spells working in jug bands. It’s notable that the composer credited on this number is Charlie Poole from the old time banjo and country tradition rather than anyone who could broadly be categorised as blues (but see Footnotes).

I started working through the tracks sequentially in order to illustrate both the band’s amazing range of material and their ability to deliver the same with not remotely misplaced confidence, but by pure coincidence, tracks 3 through to 7 on this album just happen to be selections, so let’s just keep on truckin’ …

… off to Bakersfield maybe. Well not really, but there were certainly hints of California country present in Please mingled in with song-writerly personal stuff and some harmonies that C, S and N with or without Y would have been proud of (and that group didn’t exist yet). If you’ve been following you might have expected this to be a Chris Darrow composition but it was multi-talented Solomon Feldthouse who dreamed up the song along with a gent called Mark Freedman who worked as engineer and eventually producer. And Sol sang it.

Flowers bloom and there is day and wind and trees and tides
Yet across the sea men know not why they have died

So started the next track, positioning it pretty clearly in the psych bag, as if the title Keep Your Mind Open hadn’t already provided a giant clue. One suspects that writer Chris might just have heard a song that started “Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream / It is not dying, it is not dying”. Eastern strings, angular chord changes and a reverb effect on the punch line all confirm the psych intentions and it’s a more than decent example of its type, though whether those distant gunshots – presumably an allusion to Vietnam – were strictly necessary is debatable.

We’re still in mild psychedelia territory for track #6, Pulsating Dream, which has faint echoes of the Byrds circa Eight Miles High though if it was really intended as a pastiche it’s certainly a warm hearted one. Harmony vocals, duelling strings and crashing drums and cymbals combine to create a sound that’s more evocative of Southern California rock-inclined pop than anything the band had done or would do in the future. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the boys never sounded like the Byrds, Doors or Beatles ever again on record. But, I have to add, they didn’t half do it well – this track is just over two minutes of sheer bliss.

Oh Death might be the best track on the album. The song comes from that Old Weird America as Greil Marcus termed it and the Kaleidoscope cut is up there with other classic versions of the number (see also Footnotes). I’m not going to say anything more. Just listen.

I’ve started so I’ll finish, or, why not complete the run-through (which is rhetorical of course because momentum’s on my side). David Lindley comes to the fore on the next couple of numbers. Come On In is a trad. arr. Lindley, and if by and large, they did without the salacious lyrics on Hesitation Blues (see Footnotes) they made sure they retained some here, and with glee judging by the results. Part of the pleasure in listening to this one comes from the Chester Crill/Fenrus Epp piano which captures the listener’s attention from the second verse and doesn’t let up. As if to provide a contrast to all this hedonistic stuff, David’s own Why Try is a savage put down song which brings to mind the master of such things, a certain Robert Allen Zimmerman. The arrangement is splendid with Sol on sneering lead interspersed with full harmony sections and a middle eight which takes the song into down home country rock ‘n’ roll from the near eastern main theme. Just played this three times in a row and am seriously wondering why I didn’t make it a selection … so I just have.

Some gorgeous Stéphane Grappelli inspired fiddle work from Chester introduces Minnie The Moocher, an effort that doesn’t find favour with all listeners but it’s all right with me (and that’s not only because it rhymes “King of Sweden” with “needin’”). It’s almost a throwaway encore after the somewhat heavier Why Try and serves as yet another reminder that the band could play almost anything when they put their mind to it.

But if you wanted to put a label on them, Kaleidoscope were starting to grow a reputation, mainly from their gigs up and down the Pacific coastline as one of the new psych or underground bands, albeit from Los Angeles rather than San Francisco from whence most such groups seemed to emerge. So, was the second album, A Beacon From Mars, going to be more or less psych? Like most things to do with Kaleidoscope, the answer wasn’t straightforward. The title (and sleeve) suggested the former but the variation in content or genre-hopping to put it another way, were in line with the second. They demonstrated competence in performing Chicago blues: the Willie Cobbs/Bo Diddley You Don’t Love Me was an okay choice at the time but has attracted more than its share of covers over the years and did Kaleidoscope really want to compete in the blues rock field, one wonders. I ponder also on another song, Louisiana Man, a number indelibly associated with the brothers Rusty and Doug Kershaw, particularly Cajun fiddler Doug who wrote it (and it was autobiographical of course). Do we need a version in addition to Rusty & Doug’s which doesn’t even stir up the gumbo of ingredients more than a little? Mind you, I do have a fantasy of the Kaleidoscopers kicking into this one in the early hours at a gig in some steamy club and extending it to well beyond ten minutes with Messrs. Lindley and Crill (or Max Buda as he called himself for this album) sawing away on their instruments to see who could be the hottest fiddler in, say, San Diego, and maybe there wasn’t room for a ten minute opus so they had to tone it back in order to fit it in.

All of which gives me a reasonably neat segue into the long songs that did get into the album, Taxim and Beacon From Mars, the pair that are widely regarded as psych tracks. Taking the second first, Beacon From Mars, the closing track, was an extended instrumental with vocal interludes, in part based on the riff from Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightnin’, which incorporated chunks of feedback via the Lindley guitar/amp combination. It’s tempting to say that this is the Kaleidoscope answer to the Paul Butterfield Band’s East West – the track not the album – though there’s only limited similarity and it’s probable that the Kaleidoscope guys would say that they were playing numbers of such duration in a live format before the Butterfield Band. Certainly they’re on record as stating that they were doing so before the San Fran bands i.e. the Dead, QMS, etc.

The general mournful air about the track plus the occasional bursts of anger plus feedback from the Lindley axe suggest that this number too is a blues with a theme not a million miles from You Don’t Love Me, which thoughts are only reinforced by the opening lyrics:

Well I’m leavin’ in the morning
And I don’t know where to go
Because the woman been with for years now
Said she don’t love me anymore

Further on the singer (Lindley) refers to himself as “A stranger in your city, I’m a stranger in your town” which might be a borrowing plus inversion of Percy Mayfield’s “I’m like a stranger/ Like a stranger in my own home town”. Though I have to add that, in my experience, good lines often stand up to repetition. Much the same comment could be made about the Smokestack riff – a blues icon if ever I heard one – which doesn’t outstay its welcome, appearing every now and again rather than dominating, almost as a beacon for the narrator to cling on to and guide him out of the pain (with metaphors mixing left, right and centre).

Psychedelic? I put forward a few thoughts on what music is termed psych in my Fifty Foot Hose Topper. Prior to so doing I consumed several features on the topic on the net and observed that many of them start with big words like dechronicization, depersonalisation and dynamisation but then almost invariably go on to “list common features that can be found in such music e.g. use of instruments from other musical cultures, electronics, lyrical whimsy (a peculiarly British strain), long jams, guitar distortion and feedback, and much, much more.” Beacon ticks a few of those. More importantly, it stacks up well against something like Dark Star and, remember, the Dead used to extend things like the up tempo soul number Turn On Your Lovelight as well the more mysterioso ones.

Taxim ticks another box, the “instruments from other cultures” one. With a vengeance. This isn’t a “let’s add a sitar as a touch of the exotic east”, this is full-on stuff. Wiki state that the track is based on “Şehnaz Longa”, a Turkish piece by Santuri Ethem Efendi, and who am I to disagree with them. It’s mostly Sol on baglama and oud (according to Discogs) but David is in there with his harp guitar too. There hadn’t been anything like this from a rock band before. Ever. And if you’re at all worried that the attention will drift, just give it a try.

I reckon that the first time I heard Kaleidoscope was at the Roundhouse, way back in the 1960s (to quote some Brit psych folkies) when an intriguing long record got played by the DJ – who was probably Jeff Dexter – which impressed the hell out of me. It was probably this one or Seven-Ate Sweet. It stuck in my brain but I was unable to find anything by the band in record shops so interest dissipated till years later.

There were a couple of originals in the set: Life Will Pass You By a country rocker from Chris Darrow with plenty of sweet mandolin from the man himself plus the one I prefer, I Found Out, for which the composer was listed as one Earl Shackleford who would later provide songs for Chris in solo mode. It’s an ominous sounding number anchored by Chester’s organ and lyrics that don’t all make a lot of sense out of the musical context – “Everybody is finding time to twist about / Reality, it must be seen to keep you clean” – so I guess you might call them psych for want of a better word (though whether the cascading dobro really fits into the genre is arguable but illustrative of the Kaleidoscope attitude).

Album #3, Incredible! Kaleidoscope, released in ’69 found Chris Darrow having been replaced by Stuart Brotman on bass (mainly, since he was actually another multi-instrumentalist) leaving David Lindley handling the more, in relative terms, conventional string roles. In addition, the experienced Paul Lagos took over the drummer’s stool from John Vidican. Lindley has stated more than once that in his view, this was the best album from the band and that this period was the most together for them. Judging by the credits, he could well have been right on the second point since the whole band appear as writers or arrangers on more than half the numbers. He might also have been biased by the fact that there were three instrumentals present this time round, with one of them, Banjo, a showcase for his skills on said instrument. Very fine it is too.

The coupling of six vocal/instrumental tracks plus one almost purely instrumental long number gives the album a superficial resemblance to Love’s Da Capo though I should stress the word ‘superficial’. I was probably the first person on my block to buy Da Capo but even I would admit that Love’s nineteen-minute slog entitled Revelation doesn’t stand an earthly when stacked up against Kaleidoscope’s eleven-minutes plus Seven-Ate Sweet (I shouldn’t knock Da Capo; its six tracks on side one are better than a dozen tracks from almost anyone else.)

Which was all a rather roundabout way of getting to Seven-Ate Sweet. It’s on this one in particular that you can see what Lindley was getting at; while the front men with Feldthouse to the fore (on guitar, oud, clarinet, saz, jumbus and occasional vocal) play their roles superbly, the new rhythm team of Brotman and Lagos supply a lot more than that label ‘rhythm team’ implies; they’re an integrated part of the whole. I’ve read that the number is based on a traditional Greek song named Gerakina or γερακινα and/or another Greek number called Samiotisa but the linkage isn’t that clear to me. If anything the sourcing sounds a little further eastern or even North African but I could be talking rubbish. Whatever, it’s highly effective with sufficient variety that something is always catching the ear. We’d call this sort of thing World Music these days; indeed it’s a wonder that I’ve got this far without using those words. Maybe World Music Fusion is a better term since there’s a western rock sensibility at play too. Mind you, even today when we’re deluged with examples of such fusion, they’re almost invariably from musicians for whom the ethnic sourcing is part of their own roots so this piece of music stands out as something special.

In contrast the choice of Killing Floor (aka Tempe Arizona) seems to me to be something of a misstep. While the Kaleidoscope version is not displeasing with a mild funk underlay provided by the Brotman bass, there were plenty of other blues rock bands out there who had this number in their repertoire and not one of them could get within touching distance of the original from the mighty Howlin’ Wolf.

Much better in terms of plundering America’s own ethnic roots is Petite Fleur which conjures up one of those Cajun dance halls in somewhere like Eunice or Lake Charles, late on in the evening with the band huddled behind a chicken wire screen as a defence against the regular fisticuffs that erupted, sweat pouring down profusely and the audience setting up their own counterpoint to the music via encouragement cum caterwauling, and that’s on the raw, sad slowies like this just as much as the up tempo knees-up stuff. Fantastic fiddles and great atmosphere (and Paul Lagos’s martial drumming deserves a mention). For the last half a minute or so the band break into a yee haw style two-step which serves as a release of tension for one and all. Amazing.

Maybe there was an element of p***take about Petite Fleur but it was well observed and the result was enjoyable, so did it matter?

One more track warrants a mention (and almost made the Ten): Cuckoo is a traditional number emanating originally from England with printed versions, or broadsides, dating back to the late 1700s. It spread throughout the British Isles plus Ireland and crossed the Atlantic into the USA and Canada. The Kaleidoscope version of Cuckoo takes us back to the folk rock sound of things like Oh Death, although the rock element is more emphatic this time around with bluesy mouth harp from Chester and a strong backbeat.

1970’s Bernice was the last album proper from the band apart from reunion efforts in ’76 and ’91 plus compilations. Wiki, witheringly, don’t even give the album a feature (and that’s after perfectly good descriptive jobs on the first three LPs). AllMusic give it two stars, use adjectives like ‘desultory’ and quote the words of John Platt in the Notes to the compilation A Beacon From Mars And Other Psychedelic Side Trips regarding the Bernice tracks, “Lindley, in particular, decided what he really wanted to play was R&B, perhaps the one style, at the time, he wasn’t good at.” One amateur reviewer on YouTube put it more simplistically: “This is where it all began to unravel”.

In his book “Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators And Eccentric Visionaries Of ’60s Rock” (in the chapter headed Psychedelic Visionaries), Richie Unterberger makes some observations about Bernice which bear repetition:

“Kaleidoscope’s unceasing pursuit of genres to blend and bend seemed to have exhausted itself by the time of the final album by the band’s original incarnation, Bernice, recorded around the end of the 1960s.”

and he goes on to state:

Bernice could have even been mistaken for the work of an entirely different band which was now concentrating on routine R&B rock numbers and fitfully funny comic/satirical numbers in a sub-Mothers of Invention vein.”

I wouldn’t disagree with either of those comments but to elaborate a little:

– the Feldthouse cabinet of exotic and intercontinental instrumentalia remained firmly shut throughout the bulk of the sessions which went into the production of Bernice.

– for a then contemporary comparison to musicians in the ‘routine R&B rock’ vein, I’d single out people like the Steve Miller Band and Boz Scaggs i.e. white boy R&B, not necessarily bad but not necessarily fascinating either.

– Chester Crill in his interview with Unterberger which formed part of the input to “Urban Spacemen” and which is contained fully on the Pulsating Dream website, talks about the origins of Bernice: “And what we had written collectively was “The White Man’s Suite” which was – it was kind of Zappaesque, in ways. If you listen to the fourth album, there are a couple cuts which did survive, like “Lying Hide” and “Sneaking Through the Ghetto”.”

– Perhaps to maintain some kind of continuity with the earlier albums they included one long instrumental, New Blue Ooze but it wasn’t a patch on its predecessors in this vein (and its presence does give rise to a suspicion that it was filler).

All of which leaves us with a smattering of singles and the comeback cum reunion albums. Taking the former first, there are tracks which didn’t see formal album release at the time but have now been appended to certain of the reissued albums – A Beacon From Mars in particular – and appear also in the Pulsating Dreams compilation. I’d single out the following, some of which would have merited selection if the Ten had been Ten plus a sneaky few more:

Rampe Rampe – another delicious slice of all-too-brief psych eastern stringed stuff with hints of both southern Spain and north Africa – it might even be the closest they got to anything resembling a Spanish sound which is puzzling since Mr. Feldthouse is often typecast as majoring on flamenco

Love Games – a trippy affair with Sol on echoey vocal and lyrics that definitely places the number in the second half of the sixties

Egyptian Candy – possibly their most deliberate evocation of substance-abuse – “Take a walk upon a road you haven’t walked before” – but the eastern is never far away, present also is a vague air of menace as if that road might have its dangers too

Hello Trouble (not on YT but see live Newport clip at the start) – a Buck Owens cover – Darrow was a known Owens fan – and well done although missing the Owens larger than life persona

Just A Taste – when the title is expanded to the full first line – “Just a taste of my good lovin’, sweet as bread you can bake in your oven” – it’s clear what this one is about, blues rock but dripping with eastern promise

Included also is a curious item featuring the band as support to fifties rock-turned-soul man Larry Williams and his colleague, blues-turned-soul man Johnny “Guitar” Watson. The number is Nobody and the boys supply a suitably funk eastern backdrop of sitar and congas to what otherwise would have been a conventional up tempo soul effort. And it comes off rather splendidly I feel. The number was released as the A-side of a single by the duo with Kaleidoscope credited too. It also found its way – as a bonus track – on the CD release of the 1967 album from Williams and Watson, entitled Two For The Price Of One.

But there were more ‘missing’ tracks which didn’t see release. According to several writers, many good tracks are known to exist, several of which were excised from the Epic albums.

To switch attention to the later albums, 1976’s reunion set When Scopes Collide, which was released on Michael Nesmith’s Pacific Arts label, could have been a disaster. It wasn’t. In the words of Phil McMullen in the British mag Ptolemaic Terrascope (as reprinted in Pulsating Dream):

“The album could be seen as a logical extension of Incredible!, with all the members of the band (excluding Vidican) together once again. David Lindley participated throughout on guitar, but at the last minute insisted on being listed as ‘D. Paris Latante’ (his initials, David Perry Lindley). The album is in some ways the last word in eclecticism with Chuck Berry holding hands with Duke Ellington to cover such old chestnuts as ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’.”

(I would add that when Phil states “all the members” he means the full Incredible! band including Brotman and Lagos.)

AllMusic go to the other extreme and give the album one star only which fits rather oddly with a not totally uncomplimentary review.

I’m with Phil though. While lacking the surprise element of Side Trips and to a lesser extent its follow-ups, When Scopes Collide represented a welcome return to the sheer joy of music making contained in those albums, and even a degree of deepening of the multi-cultural fusion which we had no right to deserve (given the minimal attention the vast mass of the record buying public had shown to the Epic albums).

I’m thinking in particular of tracks like My Love Comes Softly and, even more so, the only lengthy number in the set, It’s Love You’re After. All the heat and stickiness of Tangiers, Piraeus and points further east but some of the agony of Petite Fleur too. Unlike the boys’ other long numbers this one’s mainly vocal and is, perhaps unexpectedly, in English:

Do you know the words called love
it’s just to know it when the time has come for giving
Do you know the meaning of a smile
it’s just to show that you’re happy to be living
When I feel the fire burning in your heart
I know it’s love you’re after

A triumph for Solomon and as good as anything they’d recorded in the sixties. I’m not alone in falling for this track, the reviewer of When Scopes Collide in the blog Rising Storm states:

“… the most transcendent moment on this record does in fact come on the cut with the strongest middle-eastern influence. Solomon Feldthouse’s “It’s Love You’re After” is a hazy, nine-minute tapestry of saz, oud, kemenche, piano, doumbag, violin, gudulka and steel guitar. This may very well be one of the band’s great masterpieces; an epic descendant of earlier Kaleidoscope classics such as “Egyptian Gardens” and “Lie To Me”. Not even an awkward attempt at a percussion solo halfway through is able to dampen the magic.”

I’d also commend the band’s unique take on Ghost Riders In The Sky though perhaps it should be renamed Ghost Riders Deep In Southern Molasses. The reader might also be intrigued by a version of Duke Ellington’s Black And Tan Fantasy (not on YouTube) which has two members of the band on tuba.

1991 and Greetings From Kartoonistan…(We Ain’t Dead Yet) saw the same band members back together again with the genuine exception of David Lindley this time. There was more Ellington and more Coasters – I managed not to mention that the latter’s Little Egypt was present on Scopes – evidence of both Crill and Darrow bringing their taste buds to the party. I should explain that Chris had (and probably still has) a love of fifties rock and roll. I’d assume that Jungle Hop, originally from the splendid Don and Dewey, was also a Chris pick. At long last Sol got a chance to demonstrate his flamenco skills on Gitano Fino (not on YT) and the guys widened their range to encompass klezmer music on the seven minutes plus number, (the) Klezmer Suite, (which is also not on YT though I should add that samples are present on AllMusic for the album). The wider palette this time round – there was also a cover of Abdullah Ibrahim’s instrumental, African Marketplace – might have been a reflection of the fact that ‘world music’ had by now entered our vocabulary. However, as already noted, there was strong representation from the U.S. of A. including a reminder of the more garagey side of sixties psych via a cover of The Music Machine’s 1966 US Top 20 hit Talk Talk.

All of which brings me pretty well up to date on the Kaleidoscope oeuvre. There are other tracks floating around but it’s for the first three Epic albums that they’ll be remembered. By the few that is, since their fame has never seriously got beyond cult level. However, to his credit, the writer in “The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Companion”, refers to the band as “creators of cutting-edge acid rock and trailblazers of world and fusion musics who by rights should now be regarded as legends”.

They’re not but hopefully a few more people listening to these tracks might realise what they’ve been missing.

 

 

FOOTNOTES

1. The reference to Sierra Madre as being “a poor man’s Topanga but with much more class” came from an interview with David Lindley that appeared in British mag Comstock Lode in 1979 (and contained in Pulsating Dream of course), though it’s unclear whether this is Lindley’s or the interviewer’s opinion. Whoever it was – and it sounds like Lindley – goes on to say that “It was like a little mountain village in Germany but deep in the heart of California”.

2. For those not in the know, Zigzag was a British rock magazine which commenced its usually monthly run in April 1969 and finished in January 1986 with the occasional hiatus in between. It was founded and initially edited by Pete Frame whose Rock Family Trees became a regular feature. Its original focus was on artists who were perceived as underground and rarely covered by the established musical press. Frame took the title from the Captain Beefheart song, Zigzag Wanderer.

The mag was a big supporter of Kaleidoscope. In 1976, it ran a three part article on the band authored by Mac Garry with editorial input from Pete Frame. The authors fully admit that they played around with the truth but in a tongue-in-cheek and rather British manner. One of their more notable flights of fantasy was the claim that A Beacon From Mars was originally to be titled “Bacon From Mars” but the record label insisted on the change. The article is republished on the Pulsating Dream site.

3. The band Maxfield Parrish operated out of the L.A. area in the late sixties/early seventies. They made one album, It’s A Cinch To Give Legs To Hard Boiled Eggs, which was produced by Chris Darrow with other members of Kaleidoscope providing instrumental support. Stylistically they were country rock with the occasional hint of psych. This is what they sounded like. Think Byrds and you wouldn’t be far out. Their obscurity is such that there are only four tracks on YouTube and nothing on Spotify. I assume the band name was taken as a tribute to the American painter and illustrator (who’ll come up first if you Google the name).

4. Barry Friedman/Frazier Mohawk – the name change came in the late sixties – produced and/or managed several well-known artists from that era. Outside of Kaleidoscope these included Buffalo Springfield, Paul Butterfield, the Holy Modal Rounders and more. For a spell he was A&R Man for the Elektra label in their L.A. office with supervision for albums such as Nico’s The Marble Index and others. In the early seventies he moved out of music altogether.

5. According to Wiki, Oh Death (sometimes O Death) is variously attributed to Appalachian musician and preacher Lloyd Chandler who called it “A Conversation With Death” or Dock Boggs who recorded it in the late twenties. This is the record. Moran Lee “Dock” Boggs was an Appalachian folk singer who was known to incorporate elements of blues in his output. Ralph Stanley performed a fine a cappella version of the number in the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Kaleidoscope credit the song to Dock Boggs on Side Trips.

6. There’s a fine essay on Hesitation Blues in Wiki which talks about the song originating in oral format sometimes involving the invention of new verses. Two slightly different published versions came into being in 1915, one from Billy Smythe, Scott Middleton and Art Gilham, and the second from W.C. Handy with the alternative title Hesitating Blues. Gilham recorded the first of the pair in 1925 for Columbia. Subsequent versions spanned a range of genres. Wiki go on to list 45 artists who’ve recorded the number though I suspect that list is now incomplete.

An alternative history – there would appear to be several – contained on Elijah Wald’s website Old Friends: A Songobiography focuses more on the early years and states that the song “may have been the first twelve-bar blues to be known all across the South, circulating in oral tradition for years – perhaps decades – before it was written down, mostly in versions that were far too dirty to be printed or recorded.” The article goes on to quote several verses of which I’ll include but one:

I ain’t no butcher, no butcher’s son,
But I can cut your meat until the butcher comes

A version of the song recorded in 1964 by the New York folk duo, the Holy Modal Rounders, has some pertinence to the Kaleidoscope story. According to Wiki, it “featured the first use of the term ‘psychedelic’ in popular music in the verse “Got my psycho-delic feet, in my psycho-delic shoes, I believe lordy mama got the psycho-delic blues, tell me how long do I have to wait, or can I get you now, or must I hesitay-ay-ay-ate.” And the sleeve notes to the LP on which it was present state that the song was a hit for Charlie Poole, which takes us back to the main text.

7. “Keep on truckin’” is a phrase that was widely associated with sixties counter culture cartoonist R(obert) Crumb.

8. Regular Toppermost readers and quite a few other people will be aware of the song You Don’t Love Me since a version of it with a distinct Jamaican lilt became so popular in 1994 that it reached the #3 spot in the UK pop chart. The artist was a lady called Dawn Penn who has been given the full Topper treatment by Ian du Feu. Within his fine essay Ian details the somewhat unusual birth pangs of the number. Essentially the source was Bo Diddley’s She’s Fine, She’s Mine which was recorded in 1955. Curiously that title doesn’t appear in Bo’s performance. It was then effectively covered by Willie Cobbs in 1960 with some new lyrics and an alternative title You Don’t Love Me, which words appear as part of the climax line in the Diddley original. To confuse the affair even more, Diddley recorded another song entitled You Don’t Love Me in broadly the same timeframe.

9. A ‘harp guitar’, in case anyone was wondering, has open unstopped strings à la harp, as well as the usual guitar fretboard.

10. When talking about Seven-Ate Sweet I made reference to a couple of Greek songs which may (or may not) have formed source material. The first of these was Gerakina from Macedonia. This is what it sounds like, and the second was Samiotisa from Samos. This is the Nana Mouskouri version of the song.

11. In case anyone was wondering, Kaleidoscope’s Petite Fleur has nothing to do with the Sidney Bechet number with that name. The song was actually co-written by the whole band and was loosely based on the Cajun anthem Jolie Blonde.

12. My reference to the band being protected by chicken wire in Cajun dance halls wasn’t pure fantasy. In the Notes to the LP From The Bayou: Authentic Cajun Music Of Louisiana, which was released in 1970, Mike Leadbitter states:

“In the old days the band would be separated from the dancers via a chicken wire screen, for if they did not play to the crowd’s satisfaction they could be severely mauled. Today they rely on a raised stage surrounded by wooden bars. The noise of the crowd is fantastic. If they are enjoying the number they will yell and whistle encouragement, stamping on the floor or beating time on the tables.”

And specifically in relation to the band:

“The attitude seems to be every man for himself with the amplification turned well up so you can hear them well down the street. Beside each man stands a bottle, and whoever feels like singing takes the vocals, even though he can hardly be heard over the violence of the music.”

13.I had thought of including a paragraph or two on the subject of The Cuckoo song but decided that I was unlikely to do justice to it. Instead I’ll point the reader to the fine Wiki essay on the subject. While it’s likely that members of the band, particularly David Lindley, were aware of the number from live performances in folk clubs and could well have been familiar with the Jean Ritchie 1952 version on Elektra, it’s also worth noting that San Francisco band Big Brother And The Holding Company recorded it in 1967 though the track didn’t see release till the following year as a single (and it subsequently got added as bonus track to the Columbia re-release of the band’s eponymous debut LP). It’s entirely possible that Kaleidoscope could have heard Janis & the boys performing the number in clubs, or Janis & co. could have heard Kaleidoscope performing it. Who knows.

14. There’s a fascinating live version of Kaleidoscope performing Cuckoo on YouTube which is preceded by a very brief ‘folk’ version of the number and a touch of semi-academic voiceover.

15. The writer of Love Games and Egyptian Candy was Alex (Earl) Shackleford, the man who also wrote I Found Out and one-time member of garage band The Deepest Blue who made one single in 1966, Pretty Little Thing coupled with Somebody’s Girl. According to Shackleford, the two tracks, Love Games and Egyptian Candy “were warehoused for twenty something years until a compilation LP was done in 1991 on a Sony International release Egyptian Candy. Apparently no one knew whose songs they were so they credited them to the band.” (Source: interview with Shackleford in Pulsating Dream).

16. In the Chris Darrow interview with Richie Unterberger, re the recording of Nobody, he (Chris) reports that Larry Williams was A&R Director of OKeh Records at the time and …

“He and Johnny “Guitar” Watson were like best friends, and they showed up at the session with matching coupe de villes, matching suits, and matching hats, with chicks on their arm, I don’t know who the chicks were, wives and girlfriends or what. One of the cars was chocolate brown, and the other one was like deep burgundy. And the suits were deep burgundy, and the suits were chocolate brown. It was like the coolest. They walked in simultaneously together, they looked like two cool guys coming out. It was a really beautiful session. The guys were really nice to us.”

17. Unfortunately When Scopes Collide isn’t on Spotify and there’s not a preview version available on Amazon UK. However, I did manage to locate such a thing on Amazon Italy.

18. AllMusic was not alone in panning When Scopes Collide. Decades earlier “The Rolling Stone Record Guide” (published in 1980) gave the album one star but they stated that “The earlier version of the group did several fine LPs on Epic”. A case of disappointment in not living up to stoned memories perhaps?

19 The black pairing, Don “Sugarcane” Harris and Dewey Terry were L.A. based fifties rock singers. I wrote the following (and more) about them in “RocknRoll”:

“The singing duo, Don and Dewey, aren’t the most well known rock‘n’roll artists since they didn’t actually shift that many records. They may even be better appreciated in the US than in the UK (which is the opposite position to many other artists). What they did achieve, was a stunning series of records which were covered by others, who often had more success with them. The most notable example is their original cut of “Farmer John” which the twosome wrote and sang in 1959. It was subsequently recorded by a garage band, the Premiers, in 1964 after the success of the Kingsmen with another R&B copy “Louie, Louie”. The record reached No.19 in the Billboard Hot 100 and subsequently got played by God knows how many garage bands.”

This is the Don & Dewey’s Jungle Hop. I guess it would be seen as non-PC these days.

20. For anyone not aware, Klezmer music came from the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, here is the detailed article on the subject in Wiki.

21. The Music Machine was an L.A. group led by Sean Bonniwell. Their ’66 debut single reached #15 in the US chart but unfortunately for the boys they had no success with follow-up attempts. Their sound was typical of the short-lived mid-60s explosion in garage groups, often, as in this case, with farfisa organ to the fore plus edgy guitar.

22. The lengthy (32:41 minutes) good quality audio clip at the start of this post captures the 1968 version of Kaleidoscope appearing at the Newport Folk Festival. The numbers performed are: Hello Trouble (Buck Owens song), Oh Death (long version with stories), an introduction to the band members, then Taxim. You might want to skip the two minute intro.

23. I quite deliberately have said nothing about the post-Kaleidoscope activities of band members in the main section since I wanted the piece to be about the band only. However, I can inform the reader that Messrs Lindley and Darrow have individual Wiki entries which are well worth delving into, Solomon Feldthouse went on to work with a number of groups often incorporating a middle eastern flavour, Chester Crill became an underground comic writer for a time but also continued in music, producing the first 78 RPM record by R. Crumb’s group, Armstrong’s Pasadenans (source: Chester Crill interview on Pulsating Dream), Paul Lagos continued as a drummer working with people like Johnny Otis, John Mayall and even Little Richard, he died in 2009. Stuart Brotman continued working in music (including klezmer) and also worked as a movie extra.

24. I should say thank you very loudly to David Biasotti for his excellent site Pulsating Dream, which has to be in the top five of all sites I’ve ever seen on recording artists. I thoroughly recommend it to readers wanting to do more than tip their toes into the Kaleidoscope lake of exotica.

25. A point regarding nomenclature: the band were known as “The Kaleidoscope” for the first few singles and debut album. Elsewhere the “The” was dropped.

26. I managed to get through the entire piece without mentioning Jimmy Page who once stated that Kaleidoscope were his favourite band. Sorry Jim. Plant was quite impressed with them too.

 

Kaleidoscope poster

 

Kaleidoscope website – edited by David Biasotti

David Lindley official website with full discography

Chris Darrow archived website with discography

“Pulsating Dreams: The Complete Epic Recordings” 3CD set

Kaleidoscope biography (iTunes)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Coasters, Bo Diddley, Doors, Grateful Dead, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Richard, Love, John Mayall, Percy Mayfield, Steve Miller Band, Johnny Otis, Buck Owens, Quicksilver Messenger Service

TopperPost #732

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Jul 25, 2018

    Thanks for this excellent piece. Know David Lindley from his work with Ry Cooder and his excellent solo albums, but have to admit I had barely heard of the American Kaleidoscope before reading this. This is the perfect introduction from which to start exploring their work. Thanks again.

  2. Ian du Feu
    Jul 30, 2018

    A classic American group, that makes me wish I’d lived in 1960s California. This is a superb introduction to their music.

  3. Dave Stephens
    Jul 31, 2018

    Andrew and Ian, thanks for your kind comments. The guys in Kaleidoscope were something special even for 60’s California.

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