The Godz

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Our thanks to reader Srimad1 for reminding us that, while we did once write a post about freak-folk/noise-rock pioneers The Godz, we never actually got around to adding them to The Weird List. Well, we’re gonna fix that right now, Sri. Can we call you Sri? We feel like we’re already on a nickname basis, since we’re all in the extremely small club of Godz lovers.

The Godz (not to be confused with the awesome-in-their-own-way-but-far-less-mindblowing hard rock back from Ohio of the same name) came together in mid-1960s New York City. Their official bio says they were “born out of the grimy streets of the Lower East Side”; another account, which we find far more entertaining, says they met at a Sam Goody record store in midtown Manhattan. United by a love of marijuana and pretending not to know how to play their instruments, they began laying down improvised, repetitive jams that resembled no sound anyone had ever produced before, unless somewhere in Greenwich Village before 1966 a jug band attempted to play three different songs simultaneously while falling down a flight of stairs.

All 25 minutes of The Godz’s nine-song debut album, Contact High With The Godz (or Contact High With Da Godz, as the ransom-note lettering on the cover reads), is equal parts brilliant, deranged and insufferable. It’s one of the first — maybe the first — great weirdo artifacts of ’60s psychedelic music, predating The Velvet Underground & Nico by a year and Cromagnon‘s Orgasm by three. We posted it once before and it’s so great we’ll post it again. Warning: If you have cats, don’t play track two, “White Cat Heat,” on a large home stereo system. I’m not saying my cats are scarred for life or anything, but they’re definitely a lot jumpier than they were the day before they heard it.

Contact High With The Godz was released on the great ESP-Disk label, best-known as one of the vanguards of free jazz but also responsible for putting out some of the most mind-warping folk music to come out of New York in the ’60s (including records by The Fugs, Holy Modal Rounders and the aforementioned Cromagnon). Apparently Godz bassist Larry Kessler worked at the label at the time and arranged for them to audition. It’s a safe guess that everyone treated the whole thing like a joke at first, but somewhere along the way an actual recording session took place and lightning in a bottle was captured.

The Godz released three more albums over the next seven years, each weird and charming in its own primitive way, but never quite surpassing the magic of their unhinged debut. Godz 2, released in 1967, kept the droning, hypnotic qualities of Contact High but sounded more inspired when the guys delved into actual songcraft, as on the proto-punk rave-up “Radar Eyes.” 1968’s The Third Testament leavened the noise with some straight-up acoustic numbers that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a Richie Havens set. Following a few years of inactivity, The Godz got back together after famously contrarian rock critic Lester Bangs sang the praises of their early work in a 1971 article for Creem. But 1973’s Godzundheit, which featured a ragged but surprisingly faithful cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” would prove to be the final chapter in their first act.

Over the years, The Godz achieved semi-legendary status — especially in the NYC post-punk/no wave scene, where they came to be viewed as godfathers, championed by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore among many others. They finally reunited in late 2007 and early 2008 to record several new songs that later turned up on a pair of compilation albums called The Godz Remastered (a kind of hilarious title, given the deliberately lo-fi nature of their early work) and Gift From The Godz. Those recordings featured all three surviving members: Kessler, guitarist Jim McCarthy and drummer Paul Thornton — but inevitably, they’ve ditched the most aggressively abrasive elements of their early work, though they still rock out with youthful punk enthusiasm. (The fourth original member, autoharpist Jay Dillon, died in 2005.)

In 2014, Kessler put together a touring version of the band called L.L. Kessler’s “GODZ” that initially did not include McCarthy or Thornton, though Thornton later signed on to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. According to their official website, they’ve recorded a new album called America — but as far as we’ve been able to tell, only the title track, a jaunty protest song with a horn section, has been released so far.

Even though it’s far from their weirdest song, we’re gonna play this post out with “Radar Eyes” because it fucking rocks. Long live The Godz!

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Cromagnon

Okay, we really went into the vaults for this one, kids. Cromagnon was a project formed in the late ’60s for the influential ESP-Disk label, which put out some of the wildest, most freeform music of the era, including albums by the Fugs, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman and even the godfather of the psychedelic era, Timothy Leary. The official story behind the band is that it was started by a pair of successful pop songwriters named Brian Elliot and Austin Grasmere who wanted to do an experimental album. When they approached ESP-Disk founder Bernard Stollman about the project, he allegedly asked what their theme would be, and when they replied, “Everything is one,” he gave them the go-ahead.

At this point, the story gets a little murky. Supposedly, Elliot and Grasmere decamped to some kind of hippie commune to record with a group of musicians known only as the “Connecticut Tribe” that may or may not have included future members of The Residents and Negativland. Whoever they were, the Tribe helped Elliot and Grasmere record a single album under the Cromagnon name. Originally released in 1969 as Orgasm and later reissued as Cave Rock, it’s an absolute mind-fuck of a record, a dadaist/tribal freakout combining primitive percussion and musique concrète; creepy non-verbal groans, grunts, chants and shrieks; bagpipes; Hendrix-esque blasts of psych-rock guitar; Brian Wilson harmonies; sampled radio broadcasts; and a whole host of other sounds whose origins are impossible to discern. At the time of its release, it must’ve been enough to send even most the tripped-out “Revolution No. 9” enthusiasts scurrying back to their parents’ Johnny Mathis records.

The mystery of the Connecticut Tribe’s identity, and the complete lack of any further Cromagnon releases, has helped fuel the myths and rumors surrounding the group. Even the identities of Elliot and Grasmere have remained somewhat enigmatic. Who were these alleged bubblegum hitmakers turned hippie/freakout psychonauts? And why have we heard nothing further from them since 1969?

Well, we can’t answer that last question, but thanks to the crack team of researchers here at TWBITW, we can shed some light on the true story behind Cromagnon. Turns out the “Connecticut Tribe” wasn’t a hippie commune at all, but a bunch of dudes from a ’60s pop-rock group called The Boss Blues (plus various friends, guest musicians, and even people who just happened to be passing by the studio when they needed an extra pair of hands to bang on stuff). Elliot was the band’s producer and Grasmere was their lead guitarist; you can see a picture of the band’s full lineup, including the late Grasmere, on this guy’s page (you’ll have to scroll down a bit, but it’s there). In 2002, the three surviving members of The Boss Blues–Sal Salgado, Peter Bennett and Vinnie Howley–gave an interview with Connecticut radio station WXCI where they talked at length about Cromagnon and the recording process for Orgasm (which was in fact not recorded on a hippie commune, but mainly in a makeshift studio in New York City). In 2009, some kind soul transcribed the interview for the ESP-Disk website, so the band’s history is now laid out for all to see. (Sorry, everyone who was really, really sure The Residents were actually behind the whole thing.) The interview is long but well worth reading for anyone who’s at all interested in the band; it also features MP3s of most of the tracks from Orgasm, so you can hear for yourself just how off-the-deep-end these guys got.

Sadly, both Grasmere and Elliot–the latter of whom, the other guys admit, was the principal architect of the Cromagnon sound–have passed away, so despite the occasional reunion-tour rumors, we’ve probably heard all we’ll ever hear out of this strange little footnote from the psychedelic era.

This is probably Cromagnon’s best-known track, “Caledonia.” Trippiest use of bagpipes ever? We’re gonna say “aye.” (There’s about 40 seconds of introductory horns and radio noise before the song gets going, so give it till then to get going.)

P.S. Special thanks to WTFmusic.org and their deliriously exhaustive catalog of weird music for turning us on to these guys.

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