Music of Faith and Rhythm

Life was filled with guns and war

And all of us got trampled on the floor

I wish we’d all been ready

Children died the days grew cold

A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold

I wish we’d all been ready

Larry Norman “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” from the LP Upon This Rock, 1969

Music is a form of human expression. It reflects every part of our lives. There are love songs, break-up songs, patriotic songs, happy songs, sad songs… songs about every human experience and concern. It only makes sense that music would be used for spiritual or religious expression. In the US every music genre has been influenced in one way or another by the Christian faith. However, in the rock ‘n’ roll genre, that influence had a very rocky start. I have always been fascinated by music that stirs controversy. The convergence of rock music and the Christian faith has been one such point of contention that has interested me over the years.

Many believe that Larry Norman was the father of Christian rock, or “Jesus music” as it was called in the early 70s. However, just as the first automobile was not a Ford, although that is what I was taught in school, things were also a bit more complicated in the origins of Christian rock. Not to take anything away from Larry Norman’s contributions, but there are many more pioneers in both the US and the UK who should be given credit, without whom Larry’s contributions would not have been possible.

This is going to be a two-part series with a focus on the US and the UK. I am including Canadian artists when I discuss US artists, although there were significantly fewer Canadian Christian rock artists in the early days. Note that I am not ignoring Christian rock in other countries. There were Christian rock artists in many other places from Germany to Singapore (probably not so much in North Korea). However, they had no effect on what was happening in the US and I have not learned of many existing before the early 70s. I also do not know if they faced all the opposition that artists faced in the US. Therefore, the focus is where it eventually flourished and that is in the US and to a lesser extent in the UK. The period of this focus is the 60s and early 70s. The first part deals with the foundations of rock in juxtaposition with Christianity, and then discusses the earliest Christian rock recordings from the UK. The second part, to be posted later, will deal with my primary focus, the earliest US artists during that period and beyond. The reason I am discussing the UK artists first, is that the merger of Christianity and rock began earlier in the UK, and this may have provided a blueprint for some early Christian artists in the US. So, a-way we go!

1950s Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Church

Rock ‘n’ roll originated mostly from a mix of rhythm & blues (r&b), country, and folk. Christianity was elemental in the origins of these genres. Many r&b artists started out in the church. Guitarist and vocalist Sister Rosetta Tharpe came from a Gospel music background before expanding her talents in the late 1930s to include secular r&b and jazz; she has even been considered by many to be the earliest rock ‘n’ roll performer.

As for folk music, the more serious compositions applied Biblical moral principles to populist and anti-war themes without becoming religious. In the 1950s folk artists such as Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and The Weavers faced investigations by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and Senator Joe McCarthy for evidence of Communist and other anti-American affiliations despite the Biblical references in their songs.

In the late 50s it seemed obligatory for the most popular early rockers to record a Gospel album or single. So, Elvis Presley recorded the album Peace in the Valley in 1957, totally devoid of rock ’n’ roll. In 1959 Johnny Cash recorded the album Hymns by Johnny Cash. There were others as well but none of these recordings combined a Christian message with rock music. Indeed, these recordings were used to validate people like Presley and Cash as being really good guys, and that rock ‘n’ roll was merely a fad that would soon revert back to more acceptable music.

In the 50s and early 60s combining a Christian message with rock music would have been unheard of in America.  Apart from Black churches where Gospel music was often performed in a rhythm and blues style, many churches, especially the more fundamentalist and evangelical White churches, continued to preach that rock rhythms and wild dancing contributed to the corruption of America’s youth. It was, after all, the music of the devil. Note that Elvis’ third appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on January 6, 1957, almost didn’t happen because TV censors refused to let the show air unless they only filmed Elvis from the waist up to avoid the audience seeing his evil hip shaking. Mind you, he had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice before, going back to the first time on September 9, 1956, without any censorship of his gyrations. In fact, his supposed vulgar moves had been seen on TV before his Ed Sullivan appearances when he performed on The Steve Allen Show, the Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show, and The Milton Berle Show with no objections.

Enter the 60s

But then came the beginnings of the Vietnam war and the increasing demands from the civil rights movement, followed by the assassination of President Kennedy. And then there was the British invasion, with the arrival of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and numerous other bands introducing America’s youth to a more energized rock ‘n’ roll sound. Under President Johnson, the Vietnam war escalated. The war became the leading topic of the nightly news; each night we learned of more losses of American soldiers’ lives, many of whom had not willfully enlisted.

Folk music had always been a vehicle for commentary on our social ills. Pete Seeger’s 1955 song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was revived by The Kingston Trio in 1961 and by Peter, Paul, and Mary in 1962. Bob Dylan recorded “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1962 and “Masters of War” in 1963. The Vietnam war coupled with the civil rights movement supplied folk singers the material for more songs, often citing Biblical references to support their concerns. Many of these songs received radio play, reaching the Billboard charts…and America’s youth, especially draft-age young adults, were listening and taking notes. With songs like “The Times They Are a-Changin’” in 1964, Dylan was becoming a prophetic folk hero. Then Dylan went electric in his famed 1965 performance at the Newport Folk Festival. It wasn’t long before folk-rock groups like The Byrds were following Dylan’s lead. In 1965 they made Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” into a folk-rock hit. In their late 1965 hit “Turn, Turn, Turn,” they repeated the formula. The lyrics for “Turn, Turn, Turn” were from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, and had been transformed into a folk song by Pete Seeger in 1959. The song became the title track to their next album, released in December 1965. Folk singers like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and Peter, Paul, and Mary were highly influential in the development of folk-rock of the mid- and late-60s. But the focus of these songs, although often invoking Biblical references, was not evangelical or even liturgical; it was about protest against social injustice and war.

Of course, there continued to be a wilder side of rock. Contrast The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn” with The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night.” These songs and others like them provided justification for the church to proclaim that rock was indeed the devil’s music. Of course, it did not help when in March 1966, John Lennon said in an interview for the London Evening Standard, later reported in the American teen magazine Datebook  “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” After hearing about this, Birmingham, Alabama DJs Doug Layton and Tommy Charles of WAQY initiated a “Beatle Boycott”. Lennon apologized and tried to walk it back saying his statement was misunderstood, but the damage was done. Many churches, especially in America’s South, had public burnings of The Beatles’ records. If the church-going public was not already against rock ‘n’ roll, now they were.

God is Dead

It is also important to see how young people began to view the church. Although the concepts contained in the phrase “God is dead” had been with us since the 17th century, in the late 1950s and early 60s it began to be discussed more frequently outside academia. Jazz and folk lyricists as well as beat poets wrote about the apathy of the church toward racism, exploitative capitalism, the cold war, and an unending arms race. Many teenagers and young adults were questioning the relevance of God and the church while the fear of nuclear annihilation loomed over them, reinforced by “duck and cover” drills in grade schools. A common question among the youth was “if God was real, how could all this be happening?”

The mainline Christian denominations in both the US and the UK were concerned with the alarming number of young people leaving the church but they did not know how to get them back. Insisting that youth meet the church on the church’s terms only perpetuated the problem. Rock ‘n’ roll allowed young people to escape from an uncertain future. But adults, especially church-attending adults, often saw rock ‘n’ roll as being part of the problem. The youth saw church attendance as looking for solutions in the wrong place.

As the beatnik era evolved into the hippie culture, many more changes were happening in the world of high school and college age young people. A fascination with Eastern philosophies, religions, and music began to grow. Experimentation with marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs became common. New clothing designs and longer hair for both males and females separated them in appearance from older adults. The generation that had entered adulthood during World War II did not understand the youth culture and were hyper-critical. The generation gap was widening. By the mid-60s adults over 30 were considered “The Establishment” and not to be trusted.

Early Beginnings in the UK

The UK was the first to respond to the growing disillusionment of youth by incorporating Christian lyrics into music for the youth. A compilation album, only released on reel-to-reel tape from Cathedral Recordings Limited in London, titled Showers of Blessing, presented Christian songs performed by The Pioneers, The Couriers, The Cobblers, American Teen Team Quartet and others. Some of the artists were from the US, in a Youth for Christ US/UK music exchange of both artists and evangelists. This commercially sold tape collects songs recorded from 1961-1965 that were precursors to Christian rock music. The style varies by artist but is largely standard folk with acoustic guitar, or vocal quartet accompanied by organ or piano. Only one, The Pioneers’ song “Then I Found the Lord”, uses drums (just brushes on a snare) but is still in a pop vocal quartet style. None comes close to rock. Yet these were evidently geared toward unchurched youth in the UK to bring them into the fold. Apparently, it didn’t work very well, and more drastic measures were needed, like using an actual rock band to deliver the message.

So, the next attempt was to form bands performing music with a Christian message in styles popularized by The Beatles, The Who, and other rock heroes. These artists often had less musical ability, weak lyrics on original songs and were more subdued than the popular bands. Members were often culled from church youth groups. To be fair, some were very professional in sound and could rock out with the best of them, but that was the exception and not the rule. Their purpose was to get the youth back into the church by making the Gospel message more relevant to their daily lives. Organizations like Youth for Christ (YFC) were instrumental in these efforts. However, these bands were seldom permitted to become part of the worship service; live performance was relegated to secular locations such as coffee bars and college campuses where youth gathered.

The very first attempt to merge Christianity and rock ‘n’ roll was a musical drama about the life and death of Christ titled A Man Dies, which was a passion play recorded in 1961 and released as an LP on Columbia Records in the UK in 1964. The drama places Christ in modern times to bring relevance to the message for youth who had strayed from the church. It appeared on A.B.C. Television in the UK in 1961. There were five performances of this play from 1961 through a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1964. The performers were “the Boys and Girls of St. James’ Presbyterian Church, Lockleaze, Bristol” featuring Valerie Mountain and Ricky Forde on vocals with arock band named The Strangers. The drama was written by organist Ewan Hooper and Reverend Ernest Marvin, both of the Lockleaze church. It appears that this was written in 1960 and performed at Easter at the church each year. A single from the drama “Go It Alone” backed with “Gentle Christ” and credited to Valerie Mountain was released in 1961 making that single the very first commercially released recording of Christian rock. It appears that The Strangers was the backup band for Ricky Forde, but I cannot find anything about The Strangers playing or recording anything except what is heard on this album and single. The Strangers perform here in a Mersey/beat rock style. Note that in 1964 Columbia also distributed this LP in Australia! Keep in mind that this church performance was unique as most all other churches in the UK resisted having rock bands perform in the church, but then again, most churches did not have pastors who wrote rock-oriented passion plays. One might wonder if Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had been influenced by this recording when they created their rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970.

In 1964 The Joystrings (aka Joy Strings) released their first single “It’s an Open Secret” backed with (b/w) “We’re Going to Set the World a Singing” and followed with three more singles that year, two more singles and three EPs in 1965, several singles and EPs in 1966, and Christmas LPs in 1966 and 67. The band consisted of four men and one woman with a variety of sounds reminiscent of The Beatles on their pre-psychedelic albums. Their music improved in quality over time to become one of the more polished UK bands performing Christian rock in the 60s. They were part of the youth outreach of the Salvation Army. Formed in 1963, they lasted until 1969 when they disbanded. Their records were also distributed in the US.

The Pilgrims had a single in 1964, “Heaven’s the Place for Me” b/w “Think of God’s Love.” In 1966 they had another single and went on to record several more that were released on CD in the early 2000s. They were a beat group with a gritty garage sound and in 1970 evolved into the more well-known Christian rock group, Out of Darkness, with an even heavier sound.

The Peacemakers released a single “Some Folks Search for Peace” b/w “Don’t You Know” in 1964. There was another single later that year. These are a bit crude and a little more folk than beat in style, but their self-titled EP in 1965, followed by a self-titled LP in 1967 are fully garage/beat records and show much improvement in musicianship. Their guitarist/vocalist, Justyn Rees, moved to New York and went solo in 1969, still in the Christian rock genre.

The Envoys, another Gospel beat group, released a single, “Nobody Like…” b/w “Door,” in 1965 with an EP in 1967. Patterning their sound after The Hollies and other UK hit makers, their energized sound consisted of the standard electric rhythm and lead guitars, electric bass, and drums with male vocals and two female backing vocals.

The Chordials was yet another early beat/pop band with a 1965 single “Walking in the Shadow” b/w “He Is the Answer”. Later, in 1969, they released their only album, Topsy Turvy. The album is a bit over-the-top, getting wild with fuzz guitars at times and with vocal harmonies reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge.

The Crossbeats had two singles in 1965, the first being “If Only” b/w “He Wants to Know” and the second “I Know” b/w “He Waits”. They were one of the very few UK Christian beat-rock bands to tour the US. They played at a variety of venues in the UK. Like The Joystrings, they formed in 1963. While their final recordings were released in 1967, including the album Crazy, Mixed-Up Generation, they continued to perform into the mid-70s.

The Proclaimers were from Wales, releasing two EPs in 1965, The Gospel Train and Messages with a Lilt, and two EPs in 1966, both titled The Proclaimers. Their sound was more folk/skiffle acoustic with some electric guitar. They were an eight-piece group, both male and female members and in their two short recording years there were many personnel changes.

Beginning in 1966 several more UK bands began to get on the Christian beat music bandwagon. To give you an example I have compiled a list gleaned from various Internet sources and the Archivist book by Ken Scott. The list only has artists from 1966 to 1971. Unlike the US, the number of new artists recording Christian rock music in the UK seemed to diminish throughout the 70s.

The Cobblers – EP, 1966

The ConcordsSoul Purpose, 1966; A Turn for the Better, 1967

The Liverpool RaidersBig Story EP, 1966

The RevellersThe Revellers, 1966; The Revellers Again, 1967; Shout and Sing, 1969; Go Tell It, 1970

The Witnesses – EP, 1966

The Fishermen Amen, 1967

Pauline FilbyMy World, 1968

Gerry McClellandSouth Wind and Spices,1968; Echoes Surround Me, 1970

The Forerunners The Forerunners, 1968; Running Back, 1970; Genuine Imitation Life, 1971; Prepare the Way for Jesus, 1974

The HarvestersThe Harvesters, 1968

Peter Smith & The Kinfolk Faith, Folk and Clarity, 1968

The PebblesThe Pebbles, 1968

ReflectionThe Present Tense, 1968; Beaumont Meets Reflection, 1970; Reflection on Hymns of Our Time, 1971; Nativity, 1971

Roger & JanMovin’ Over – Movin’ On, 1969; Question, 1974

The SowersSeeds, 1969

Justyn ReesHow Can I Tell Them, 1969 (recorded in the US)

Harvey’s People Loving & Living, 1969

The Overcomers – EP, 1969

The Messengers of the CrossThe Messengers of the Cross, 1969

Peter LewisSing Life, Sing Love, 1969; Give Yourselves to Me, 1971

Glorylanders Volume One, 1969; Volume Two, 1971; About Time, 1973

The GospelfolkProdigal, 1969

Alive! – Various Artists, 1969

Dana Scott and The Crown Folk Folk in Worship, 1969

Cambridge Twentieth Century Church Light Music Group A Folk Passion, 1969

Sound Vision in Concert – Various Artists 1970

The Kingfishers It’s Real, 1970

Out of Darkness Out of Darkness, 1970

Judy MacKenzieJudy, 1970; Peace and Love and Freedom, 1971

The SharonsSomeone to Turn To, 1970

The FoursomeUpside Down, 1970

Peter Smith & The JohnsonsFaith, Folk and Nativity, 1970

Peter Smith with The Common RoundFaith, Folk and Festivity, 1971

BridgesBridges, 1971

The Way Rhythm GroupThe Way Rhythm Group, 1971

I have a few of these, as pictured.

UK Christian rock artists in the 1970s had little influence on the US artists. In the US the genre known as “Jesus music” was becoming more refined and commercialized, and by the 1980s it had evolved into Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), with very few artists from outside the US. CCM is a broad category of music covering all genres but mostly country, popular (Adult Contemporary), r&b/soul, metal, and rap, but it is a dying music category. I will discuss this in the next post, which will concentrate on the earliest bands recording Christian rock in the US and how things are different today, and why.

Make America What, Again?

“No fun, my babe, no fun. No fun to hang around. Feelin’ that same old way. No fun to hang around. Freaked out for another day.” 

By Dave Alexander, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, and Iggy (Stooge) Pop, from the song, “No Fun” on The Stooges first (eponymous) album, released in 1969.

Happy 2017. Really. My excitement for a “new beginning” overwhelms me. Whoopee. Happy days are here again. (yawns pessimistically) But of course, we must make America great again, right? We will do this while we make America straight again, make America fake again, make America gray…and make Americans afraid again.

But this time the fear is not from without; it is from within. Well, far be it from me to swallow up or destroy… the party. After all, it’s my party (no, it’s not), but I fear all tomorrow’s parties. Now if you close the door I never have to go to parties again. I am peaceable and faithful to the “new King”, for I am scared shitless of him. Now let me be clear that when I use the term “party” I am not thinking of a political party (lies, lies, lies). I am thinking about the kind of party where cake is served. You know, let ‘em eat cake? Ummmmm, boy!

So, readers may ask, “Popeswami, where are you going with this?”  I am going nowhere. I am nowhere, man. Can’t you see? Perhaps you should tell me what you see. I will hold out hope that you see something different. But I can see for miles and miles and miles, yet all I can see is a river of shit. And I’m getting tired of it. But enough of the cheap efforts to be clever, using snippets of songs or song titles to make a point. There is no point. Pretty dull, eh? Well, happy 2017, anyway.

Seriously, America enters 2017 with more uncertainty than ever. It is difficult to remain optimistic, but I will attempt to continue to be a Ray of light and spread any joy I can muster. So, let’s talk about music! Hell, I quoted enough lyrics and esoteric Biblical references above!

Isabel Baker – I Like God’s Style

Speaking of the Bible, let me start out with what may be the earliest American Christian rock album ever recorded, Isabel Baker’s “I Like God’s Style”. This LP (in the form of a limited issue pressing on Harkit Records in 2015) was one of my prize acquisitions of 2016. While parts of this album sound like music from a Jimmy Swaggart revival, there are excellent examples of garage-rockabilly stylings coupled with down-home, real people singing and songwriting. All songs on the album were written by the mysterious teenager, Isabel Baker, who also sings and plays rhythm guitar. Not much is known about her. The liner notes, written by a certain Naomi E. Fieldstad, reveal that she was 16 years old when she recorded the album. Her father was an evangelist named George Baker. Besides Ms. Baker, the album includes Joe Utterback on piano (adding revival tent flourishes on the ivories that would make Jimmy Swaggart proud), Bob Garvey on lead guitar, Don Nunn on bass, and Jim Kincaid on drums. Per album notes, the original album was recorded in two days, on June 18th and 19th, 1965, in Wichita, Kansas. It was issued on the Kansas-based Romco Records label, with only 100 to 500 being pressed. They were primarily sold at her father’s church and prayer gatherings as they traveled the West and Midwest. It was produced by her father’s organization “The Challenge of Calvary Ministry, Inc.,” headquartered in Garden Grove, California. The front cover shows Isabel with her Fender Jaguar guitar. Upon hearing, it is obvious that Isabel has no formal music or vocal training. An insert in the reissue package says that Joe Utterback, who provided some recollections of the recording event, later became an annual performer for the Tony Awards gala reception and has recorded several solo jazz piano albums. On the other hand, efforts to track down Isabel Baker over the years have proven futile. People have posted several songs from this album on YouTube. Here is the title track:

 Michael Angelo – Michael Angelo

Another acquisition this past year was the self-titled LP by Michael Angelo. His album was issued in 1977, on the Guinn label from Kansas City, Missouri, in a limited pressing of 500. Michael Angelo Nigro was a studio musician at the Liberty Recording studio in Kansas City at the time. Late at night and at other times when the studio was not being used, he would record the songs that would become this album. Liberty was not interested in issuing it, so he did the final mastering at Big-K Studios, a smaller studio in Kansas City, that issued it on the Guinn Records label. All vocals and instruments except drums were performed by Michael Angelo; all songs were written by him. Drums were provided by Frank Gautieri. The master acetate was destroyed shortly after the album was released and the record company went out of business. Original pressings sometimes go for over a grand. There were a couple reissues in the late 90s and early 00s using the needle-drop method with lots of Cedar noise reduction, which literally ruined the sound and ambiance of the album. A South Korean label, Big Pink/Beatball, issued a CD taken from one of these reissues and should be avoided. When I communicated with Michael in 2010 he was not aware of the Beatball release. Fortunately, a pristine original Guinn LP was located and provided for an excellent reissue by Anthology/Mexican Summer in 2015, with full permission of Michael Angelo Nigro. This release was also limited to 300 copies and includes an accompanying 7” record with three songs, one of which did not appear on the LP. Later in 2015, Lion Productions issued a double CD, again with full authorization of the artist, which includes both this album and a never-officially released second LP, “A Sorcerer’s Dream,” plus a third LP, “Nuts”, which was released under the name Michael Nitro. This double-CD release of the three LPs was made possible with the assistance of the late Patrick (The Lama) Lundborg (Acid Archives editor and author of the book, Psychedelia), Aaron Milenski (contributor to The Acid Archives book), Mike Stax (Ugly Things magazine), and Vincent Tornatore (Lion Productions).

So, how does it sound? It sounds both retro and ahead of its time all at once. Keep in mind this was recorded and issued in 1977. It did not fit that period, musically, hence it went nowhere. Besides, it was very limited in its exposure with such a small pressing.  There is a Paul McCartney influence both in voice and melodicism. Perhaps this is an indirect influence, since he sounds even closer to Emitt Rhodes, who himself, was influenced by The Beatles, and McCartney in particular. However, that is where the similarity ends. Michael Angelo’s songs are more “dreamy” with references to Greek mythology and a darker, romantic, and even suicidal longing. There are flashes of the late 60s Los Angeles sound but then there are new innovations overlapping Middle Eastern scales with 60s Donovan-like psychedelia coupled with an aggressive guitar, pointing to a newer sound from which perhaps Big Star and REM in the 80s and My Bloody Valentine, Lush, and other shoegaze bands in the early 90s took their cues. Yet, the album is significantly an understatement through-and-through; beautiful, but not flamboyant, leaving a sense of longing for some form of resolution. His second album, “A Sorcerer’s Dream,” sounds like an extension of the first. His Michael Nitro album is a bit more aggressive but it certainly has his trademark sound and songwriting style. Here is “Future,” the closing track from his first album:

Mistress Mary – Housewife

A few years ago, I watched a cache of original copies of this LP in sealed, mint condition go for nearly a half a grand each at various online auction houses. In the meantime, Companion Records had been promising for years to obtain permission to re-release it, making it more accessible to those of us who were curious to hear what all the fuss was about. My waiting paid off. In 2016, Companion Records released the LP, along with a digital download of the album with three bonus unreleased tracks. The original album was issued on the Afton Co. Records label, from Hacienda Heights, California, in 1969. Note that Mistress Mary’s real name is Mary Afton. It is rumored that Roger McGuinn and other members of The Byrds are the backup band on the tracks “And I Didn’t Want You” and “My Country Boy”. We now know that the 5-day session was conducted at Darrel Cotton’s Ion Studio, and the session was led by Cotton and steel guitarist Carl Walden. Also, one Byrds alumni is identified as Clarence White. Early rockabilly artist, Johnny Redd, also participated in the sessions. It is said that Mary was dissatisfied with The Byrds’ treatment of her songs, making them sound more rock than country. While her singing isn’t on the level of the leading country singers of her day, it isn’t bad at all. And, her songwriting, while a bit quirky and definitely unique, is solid. Being from Southern California, her singing has a softer touch than most country artists of the era. Mistress Mary – Housewife rides the picket fence line between a real people vanity recording and a commercially viable country sound. The back cover shows her being a true “Los Angeles housewife,” sporting a black negligée while mopping the floor and preparing a meal.  The liner notes are hand-written, and Mary describes herself as “Wife – Mother – Civic Leader – etc. – Artiste,” and she refers to “the more intelligent and perceptive of her in-laws.” This should give an idea of what her lyrics are like. The original pressing was only 500 copies, with about 50 of these going to key people in the music industry, including Elvis Presley. Mary Afton’s efforts to break into the country charts were met with little interest. So, after a couple years with no “bites” she moved on to other interests, including auto mechanics instructor for women, female self-defense instructor, belly dance instructor, and disco dance instructor. She continues to live in Southern California, and she loves throwing huge pool parties for hundreds of people at a time in her back yard. Here is “And I Didn’t Want You” from her LP:

Palmer Rockey – Scarlet Love/Rockey’s Style

In the “anals” of recorded music, the Palmer Rockey story is one of the most amazing and incredulous. I was amazed, and quite pleased to find that Trunk Records located a mint copy of the first version of this album, Scarlet Love, and re-issued it on both LP and CD in 2013 (but using the third release, Rockey’s Style, title). I purchased the CD version soon after it was issued. This past year I was very fortunate that the Mr. Weird and Wacky blogsite had the other music version for download, and it is a crisp, clear copy. The original pressings of this album were in 1979, 1980, and 1981, all on the AB-Rock Music label. It is unclear how many were pressed, but with the scarcity of originals, it could not have been many. There were three pressings but as far as I can tell, only two variants of the music. The first version is what was re-released on the Trunk label in 2013. This version has two songs that do not appear on the other two versions, “Sunday Love” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. The second and third versions are musically the same but the second retains the “Scarlet Love” album title while the third release is retitled “Rockey’s Style” and both have slightly different sleeves. The latter two versions have a slightly different mix of some of the songs that appear on all three versions, and have two songs that do not appear on the first release, “Love, Love Rock” and “Love Is Deep Inside,” and one song title was changed from “Rock It Nice N’ Easy” to “Rock It”. There are three variants of the sleeves but none of them match the songs and sequencing on the first release. And to further the confusion, the album sleeves provided no guarantee which version of the LP would be found inside.

The music is what would be considered Twilight Zone crooner lounge, with some lounge rock thrown in for good measure. Little is known about the sessions. According to liner notes on the CD, it is rumored that the recording “sessions were fraught with tension and madness.” The session musicians are professional. Palmer Rockey’s singing is not. It is obvious his voice is untrained, but he tries to sound hip, sometimes attempting to imitate Elvis, and at other times attempting to sound like classic crooners such as Dean Martin. His singing is unique and some lyrics sound like they are improvised. All songs were written by Palmer Rockey. The songwriting is fair to good musically, but corny and weak lyrically. Sometimes the lyrics are just weird, meaning it is right down my alley! One song, “Rock It,” sounds like it was designed to be used in aerobics classes. We don’t know if Palmer Rockey played any of the instruments during the session, but my bet is that he didn’t, otherwise he would have stated it on the album cover.

The album is supposed to be a soundtrack to his second movie, “Scarlet Love.” It is suggested that this movie evolved from his first, “It Happened on Sunday,” also titled in some sources “It Happened One Weekend,” from 1974. He was working on edits to the second movie for years, even after the last release of the LP. On his Lysergia Website, the late Patrick Lundborg provided many hilarious and interesting details about the making of the movie. It seems Mr. Rockey swindled many wealthy, elderly Dallas, Texas women to obtain the money for his endeavors. He maintained a post office box where he was known to read “mail from Hollywood” out loud for those passing by. When approached in the 90s about the album and movie, he informed the inquirer to never contact him about this again. He passed away in 1996. He was married to Mary Ann “Cookie” Carson in 1968 when she was just 21 and he was 47. They were divorced in 1977, prior to the release of the movie and soundtrack. Cookie Ann Rockey recently wrote a book about her life with him, “The Rock: The Life and Crimes of Palmer Rockey.” Here is the song “Scarlet Warning” from the LP:

Frunk – If at First…

Another rarity that sells for a grand today is an album that could possibly be the first karaoke album ever produced. It contains the music of five young women in their 20s singing along to some popular songs of their era. It was recorded in the private studio (Vampire Studio, Haddonfield, NJ) of Peter Graulich, who was the brother-in-law to one of the singers.  It was pressed in a limited quantity of 25 on the RPC label. This would have been beyond all possibility of being heard let alone being owned by this Popeswami if it had not been for Peter Graulich discovering that he had 8 original Frunk LPs stashed away. He came to my attention when I saw him selling them on eBay for around $600 each. He used the funds to reissue the LP, again in limited quantity. It is one of these re-pressings that I was able to obtain. In his own words, here is how the recording came about:

“The album was released in the Summer of 1972. There are 8 copies available and we believe the initial pressing was 25 records, not 100. We have also located the original Master as received from Frankford-Wayne Recording Labs at 212 N. 12th St. in Philadelphia PA. I have also located the original master tape on which I recorded all of the sessions, then mixed them down via a TEAC 4 channel mixer, to the final set. The record was recorded on a Teac 3340 10 1/2″ reel 4 track recorder. The tape is exactly as it was when it was delivered to the pressing company. If you would like details of how the record was created and the group formed: Back in 1971 I was just getting into serious electronics and high end audio was my current compulsion. I was living in Haddonfield and I build a recording studio in my basement. One day my sister in law and her friends were visiting and I was playing “500 miles”, Peter, Paul & Mary in the studio and they came in and started singing. It sounded interesting, so I suggested we record. Over the next few weeks we recorded many takes on my Teac 3340 4 channel recorder. As there was no karaoke in those days, I dubbed the girls voices over the original music from the turntable. Eventually we got “acceptable” material. I mixed it all down and created a 10” reel with the master on it (which I still have) and took it to Frankfort Recording Labs and had 25 copies made. We created covers, pasted them up and poof! We had a record. I gave the girls each a 3 copies and asked if they could sell them (for $5 each to help off set the cost of the project. I think my Mom bought the only copy sold, but I felt sorry for her and gave her a refund)…”

The five singers were Dee Graulich, Mary Anderson, Kathleen Anderson, Mary Anna Baptiste, and Terry Wadlinger. Peter Graulich was audio engineer and producer. Larry Viarengo was responsible for the cover design. The music sounds a bit eerie to me, hearing the original music with different singers. But there are a few giveaways such as hearing Paul Simon singing in the background on “El Condor Pasa”. Their singing is not always synchronized with the recording, but it really was never intended to be a commercial release. It was definitely for themselves, their friends and family. Here is Frunk singing along with Karen Carpenter on “Close to You”:

In Closing


I did not discuss any local outings in this post. But believe me, I have been seeing some great stuff in San Diego. I will write about it later. This will be my final post before the presidential inebriation. In the meantime, stay safe and warm.