peace and love and went around killing people.
We don’t preach peace and love…”
By request, we have here some more Jim Kweskin albums from the 60s. Freaturing more prominently than on the Jug Band albums is banjo/harmonica player and acid fascist Mel Lyman – ‘The American Avatar’ who caused Kweskin to break up the Jug Band and join Mel’s God cult in LA, losing a moustache, a heap of common sense, and all of his hipster-dignity in the process. Sigh… another hippy-trippy-cult-god-maniac-fallout of the 60s… But what else could you expect from someone who became a folk singer after a brick-mugging ended his pot-dealing carreer? This post chronicles Kweskin’s slow descent into Lymanism, after which he kept out of the spotlight for several decades (excepting a children’s album) until he re-emerged in 2003 with the Jim Kweskin Band featuring (and introducing) Samoa Wilson, a great young singer. Their music is like his old jug band but more refined and not quite as wild or fun. The albums in this post get steadily worse as the years progress – Relax Your Mind is a great album, America is well, a curiosity and is at least different, if not particularly gripping. And yes, the Mayne Smith featured on America is the same L. Mayne Smith who played on Fahey’s Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death. None of the albums are as good as the jug band albums he did (several of which you can find on this blog), so if you haven’t heard those, go listen.
There was an extensive article published by Rolling Stone and Mindfucker called The Lyman Family’s Holy Siege of America, which also featured a portion called Whatever Happened to Jim Kweskin?. You can read it here. For those of you unaware of Mel’s particular strain of notoriety, he can be easily summed up in one word: Acid Fascist. He would give people LSD and then when they were tripping he would tell them he was GOD. He called himself the American Avatar and he gathered a cult around himself and amassed a small fortune and twisted a lot of people’s ideas around to his own ends and then misteriously disappeared sometime in the late 70s. Of course, like any guru, his combination of charisma and out-there ideas actually helped a lot of people to change something in their life, get a different perspective or whathaveyou. He was also a fantastic, one-of-a-kind harmonica player and a mediocre banjoist, and at one Newport Folk Festival he jumped on stage after the last act and played a 10-minute version of Rock of Ages on harmonica, and then broke into the Vanguard vaults, stole their master tapes for Newport 65 and spliced his performance onto the end, and then sent it to get pressed. Can you say… egomaniac? But great harmonica, really. He makes kweskin’s version of the Cuckoo perhaps the most haunting one I’ve ever heard.
I am going to tear down everything that cannot stand alone
I am going to shove hope up your ass
I am going to turn ideals to shit
I am going to reduce everything that stands to rubble
and then I am going to burn the rubble
and then I am going to scatter the ashes
and then maybe someone will be able to see something as it really is
– Mel Lyman
Mel Lyman was a folk musician, filmmaker, and cult leader in the ’60s and ’70s. Born in Northern California, he drifted across the country in the early ’60s before ending up in the hills of North Carolina, where he discovered old timey music. By the time he had drifted into the folk music communities of Greenwich Village and Cambridge, MA, Lyman had developed his own style on the harp (holding a series of long, lingering, vibrato-heavy notes) and he was proficient on banjo as well. In 1963, Lyman joined the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and was a featured player on a handful of the group’s early recordings for Vanguard. Shortly after the group appeared on the nationally-televised Steve Allen Show Lyman left the group (he was replaced by banjoist Bill Keith, who had just left Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys). Lyman focused, for a time, on his filmmaking and writing interests, authoring a rambling, incoherent book called The Autobiography of a World Savior.
At age 27, Lyman made an impromptu appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where he performed an unaccompanied ten-minute version of “Rock of Ages” for the audience (most of whom had already angrily left for their cars after Bob Dylan’s famous electric set). After Newport, Lyman’s Wednesday-night sessions at a Boston coffeehouse called The Orleans soon found him taking on the role of leading a commune-like cult who apparently hung on his every word. Lyman — some say he was an “East Coast Charles Manson” (an unfortunate comparison but one that every commune faced in Manson’s wake) — and his “family” of 30 or 40 artists lived in Boston’s mostly black ghetto community. Rock scribe Paul Williams, of Crawdaddy magazine, lived with them for a time. In his writings for the Avatar (a controversial underground bi-weekly newspaper distributed on the streets by Boston’s hippie youth), Lyman claimed that music was a gift from God that had to be preserved and nurtured. Lyman eventually cut out the middleman and claimed that he himself was God.
In 1969, Kweskin and Lyman reunited in San Francisco to record Lyman’s only solo album, American Avatar. American Avatar reportedly only sold 1,764 copies (1,000 of which were reportedly bought by Kweskin). Lyman apparently never recorded as a solo artist again, but one of his musical highlights is his slow version of “Old Black Joe,” featuring cello accompaniment, which appears on 1971’s Jim Kweskin’s America (Featuring Mel Lyman). In 1978, it was reported that Lyman had passed away at age 40, though his followers claimed that he was, in fact, still “orbiting the earth.”
oh and see virtually everything there is to know about Mel Lyman here.
Relax Your Mind – Liner notes by Mel Lyman
One night in New York last summer I came driving up to my Bowery loft and who should be parked out in front in his Volkswagen Bus but Jim Kweskin, with Marilyn Kweskin and Agatha. Jim had come up from Florida and we hadn’t seen each other for months and for us that’s a long time cause we play in the same band together and in fact we even live in the same house (I live in his attic) and so we were bubbling over with things to tell each other. The band had broken up for awhile to give us all a chance to kick around and see who we were and now we had found out a little more about that and it was so beautiful to be together again and we talked all night and jumped up and down and laughed and slapped each other on the backs m’goodness it was so rich to be sharing ourselves with each other like, “Hey man, dig what I found out about myself” and “Too much! Hey, listen to this, you won’t believe it” and we had piled up so damn much good feeling to share that just gushing all over each other wasn’t enough and Marilyn didn’t need it cause she just squats on her chair and smiles and Agatha didn’t need it cause she’s a dog and everybody knows that dogs are happy so we decided we had to pour it on somebody to keep from busting and so hey man let’s trot on down to Vanguard and get it on a record so it doesn’t go to waste and so we got in touch with Fritz who plays the washtub bass, beautiful red topped striped shirt Fritz O’Rooney and called up all our friends and down we go the whole bunch of us to the horror of the recording industry but that doesn’t matter cause we all feel so groovy that pretty soon everybody feels groovy can you believe it that even the engineers felt groovy hell engineers are people too and there were no studios available so we picked out a friendly little room at least it was friendly after we doused the lights and opened the windows and brought in all our friends and broke out the beer and wine and started playing music, yep, it became a real friendly little room. So we made this record. I think it might have been done unofficially but somehow (it’s all in the stars) we got away with it. We threw a party at Vanguard Recording Society Industry in the middle of the night under the guise of conducting a recording session and not only did we create an LP amidst all the joy, we even got paid for it! When they handed me a check I almost laughed out loud but I didn’t lose my cool. I simply gasped, checked myself and snapped into the yoga parakarya pretzel position for suppressing mirth, controlling excessive laughter and avoiding undue hysteria, dropped to the floor like a slushy snowball and groaned. Ain’t life a gas!
So what I’m trying to say is that we made this record under very loose conditions and it was a real joy to have that kind of freedom in a recording studio, to be able to play music just like you play music instead of like this whole fantastic, schematic, methatic, preconceived and just a little too stern serious and safe scene called “Standard Recording Procedure” wants you to play music. It’s not that they dictate what or how but the WHERE is so dreadful, a nightmare of sterility, white soundproof rooms big as barns and red lights flashing on and off and wires, everywhere there’s WIRES, all over the floor, hanging from the ceiling, twined around your arms and legs and microphones and ear phones and head phones and telephones and rules and efficiency and a bunch of straight looking cats behind big plate glass windows surrounded by so many kinds of intricate machines that each one must require a specialist to operate it and hurriedly shouting orders and frantically twisting dials and jabbing buttons and a thunderous voice comes booming out of a big loudspeaker that takes up a whole wall and it commands, “Take One” and m’God you hardly know where you’re at at all anymore, you can’t be sure you’re not one of those machines yourself and believe me that’s a pretty uninspiring scene to try and make a little music out of, at least for me, and that’s why making this album was such a joy, at least for me. Notice I say at least for me because even though I believe that what is true for me is true for everybody Jim has cautioned me that I must practice humility when dealing with the public, at least for me.
Goodbye now, we love you.
Review by Ronnie D. Lankford Jr.
Released in 1966, Relax Your Mind finds Jim Kweskin taking a break from his jug band for a mellow solo effort. He’s joined by harp player Mel Lyman and washtub bassist Fritz Richmond for what amounts to a stripped-down jug band on a dozen tracks. Two of the tracks, “I Got Mine” and a long version of “Buffalo Skinners,” were recorded live at Club 47 in Cambridge. Even stripped down, the arrangements of traditional songs like “The Cuckoo” are quite lively when placed side by side with the one-singer/one-guitar approach preferred by some revivalists. Kweskin’s guitar and Richmond’s bass keep time and fill in the background while Lyman adds asides and flourishes to Mississippi John Hurt’s “My Creole Belle” and Grandpa Jones’ “Eight More Miles to Louisville.” Richmond helps out on the vocal of “Guabi Guabi,” an African folk song recorded a couple years earlier by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Marilyn Kweskin sings a fine lead on “I Ain’t Never Been Satisfied.” Overall, Relax Your Mind is a subdued recording, and lacks the irresponsible hijinks fans had come to expect from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Compared to other more traditional folk with barebones arrangements, however, Relax Your Mind is a lively affair. The album also shows that good folk recordings continued to be made after Dylan supposedly pulled the plug on the folk revival in 1965. The packaging of the 2003 reissue by Universe reprints the original liner notes and looks great.
1 Three Songs – A Look at the Ragtime Era (Sister Kate’s Night Out) – Atkins, Jaxon, Piron – 3:22
2 Hannah – Bouchillion – 4:08
3 Bye and Bye – Traditional – 3:39
4 The Cuckoo – Traditional – 4:04
5 I Ain’t Never Been Satisfied – Kweskin, Kweskin, Traditional- 2:38
6 Eight More Miles to Louisville – Grandpa Jones – 3:01
7 I Got Mine – Traditional – 3:38
8 Buffalo Skinners – Traditional – 5:28
9 Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor – Traditional – 3:10
10 Guabi Guabi – Traditional – 3:12
11 My Creole Belle – Hurt – 4:41
12 Relax Your Mind – Leadbelly – 3:58
warble as you fly.
m4a (aac) 256kbps | w/ cover | 87mb
full liner notes & song notes (but not musical notes…) here
Review by Richard Foss
Though Jim Kweskin stays with his beloved repertoire of material from the early 20th century, on this album his accompaniment is very different from the string and jug bands he is best known for. The Neo-Passé Jazz Band is self-consciously true to turn-of-the-century styles, with the saxes and clarinet prominent in the mix. On some tracks, like the sentimental version of “Melancholy Baby,” the band plays with commendable subtlety and Kweskin delivers a straight jazz vocal that is surprisingly heartfelt. Elsewhere, the sound is upbeat and flavored with a distinct Dixieland swing. Kweskin and band sound great here, and nobody got this kind of mileage out of this material again until Robert Crumb formed the Cheap Suit Serenaders.
1 Moving Day – Kweskin, Sterling … – 3:22
2 Memphis Blues – Handy, Norton – 2:58
3 Kickin’ the Gong Around – Arlen, Koehler – 3:19
4 You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew – Burke, Spina – 2:57
5 He’s in the Jailhouse Now – Anderson – 4:33
6 Melancholy Baby – Burnett, Norton – 3:20
7 There’ll Be Some Changes Made – Higgins, Overstreet – 3:26
8 Medley: O Miss Hannah/That’s My Weakness Now – Deppen, Green, Hollingsworth … – 3:52
9 Jazzbo Brown – Gershwin, Gershwin, Heyward – 3:46
10 Staggerlee – 3:40
11 I Can’t Give You Anything But Love – Fields, McHugh – 3:27
12 Louisiana – Johnson, Razaf, Schafer – 3:05
the other kind of banjo.
from vinyl | mp3 >192kbps | w/ cover | 70mb
Review by Richard Foss
Jim Kweskin may not have been a groundbreaking instrumentalist or a spectacularly gifted singer, but he certainly was an entertainer who knew how to get every bit out of his repertoire of American traditional music. On this live album, the complete title of which is What Ever Happened to Those Good Old Days at Club 47 in Cambridge Mass. With Jim Kweskin & His Friends, Kweskin is backed only by his faithful sideman Fritz Richmond and by Maria Muldaur on one track. His autoharp may be slightly out of tune and his piano playing a bit shaky, but Kweskin grabs the audience’s heart on the very first track and keeps it until the end of the album. The sound quality has its off moments too, but that doesn’t matter either, because as long as Kweskin is bashing away on that old-time music, all’s right with the world. If there was any doubt that Jim Kweskin was a great showman even with minimal accompaniment, this album would dispel it.
1 Mississippi Mud – Barris, Cavanaugh – 2:53
2 Buddy Bolden’s Blues – Morton – 3:15
3 Bioll Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home – Cannon, Traditional – 3:18
4 Ain’t She Sweet – Ager, Yellen – 4:29
5 La Bomba – Traditional – 2:52
6 Good Morning Little Schoolgirl – Williamson – 4:09
7 I Had a Dream Last Night – Rodgers – 3:29
8 Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue – Henderson, Lewis, Young – 3:16
9 Ella Speed – Traditional – 2:36
10 Blues – Traditional – 2:45
11 The Sheik of Araby – Smith, Snyder, Wheeler – 2:49
your love belongs to me.
from vinyl | mp3 >256kbps vbr | 49mb
When Jim first called me in New York to come out to San Francisco and help him produce an album of “American” music I was more than a little hesitant as I was currently engaged in trying to start the second “American” Revolution and didn’t quite know if the two projects were reconcilable. Having just recently closed my now defunct “History of Rhythm and Blues” series with KPFK in Los Angeles I was more than a little wary of entering upon a new musical enterprise but he assured me that there would be no outside interference and I was free to follow my own whims and impulses as time and space allowed and so I dismissed any further creeping uncertainties and cast my fate to the wind. I embarked upon my new adventure by air and can even now recall how with great confidence and bravado I impressed upon Captain Pettigrew the importance of this record. We stood in the lounge of the 747 Jet excitedly discussing the merits of this or that kind of music and when I told him people were flying in from all over the country to participate in this album he was duly amazed. By this time I was quite overtaken by the spirit of this record we were about to create and I even ventured so far as to guarantee him it would be a success. I don’t know who was flying the plane.
Jim’s Road Manager, O.D. Long, met me at the airport and accompanied me to my Suite and early the next morning I entered Mr. Weston’s studio for the first time. All the musicians had already arrived. Mel Lyman had flown in from Boston. Reed Wasson, the renowned Jazz Bassist, had left his job as legal advisor to the Tehachapee Indians in upper New Mexico and flown in by private plane. Etta Green had abandoned her post with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra to come out and attempt to imitate country fiddle on her cello. Mayne Smith had come down from Alaska to play the dobro. Many more were assembled and as we milled around making small talk and getting acquainted we somehow felt we were on the verge of some great historic gathering. I, myself, was almost in tears when Jim asked me to play the tuba on “Stealing” as there are so few who really can comprehend the virtues of that great instrument. But that was only the beginning.
From the very opening moments there was an aura of excitement in the air, this was no ordinary recording session, the Muses were with us! The music flowed easily and the studio reverberated with a sound that we knew we were only partly responsible for. When I delivered the stirring testimonial in “Okie from Muskogee” the words seemed to enter and pass through me from some far off distant place, I scarcely knew what I said. Mel crouched over his harmonica and seemed to shake all over, Reed towered and swayed as though on the strings of some gigantic puppeteer. The women drifted in and out like remnants of a celestial choir and Jim was clearly in another world. Etta later testified she had never reached more inspiring heights and even Phil, the recording engineer, could not restrain himself from occasionally bursting into song. All in all it was a magnificent experience, one to never be duplicated. As the last day of the session drew to a close all the musicians magically left their instruments and gathered around a microphone to join voices in a glowing tribute to the beloved Stephen Foster.
And then we were done. the spirit of this once great country of ours had come and left its mark as minute little tracings in a plastic disc and the second American Revolution was underway.
sincerely, Richard Herbruck
Jim Kweskin (Cancer) – Guitar, Vocals
Mel Lyman (Aries) – Harmonica, Vocals
Etta Green (Pisces) – Cello, Vocals
Mayne Smith (Pisces) – Dobro, Guitar, Percussion, Vocals
Reed Wasson (Gemini) – Guitar (Bass)
Richard Herbruck (Gemini) – Narrator, Producer
Marilyn Kweskin (Gemini) – Vocals
1. Back in the Saddle (Ray Whitley – Gene Autry) (2:46)
2. Sugar Babe (Mance Lipscomb) (3:00)
3. Okie from Muskogee (Merle Haggard – Roy Burris) (3:50)
4. 99 Year Blues (Julius Daniels (Arr. by The Lyman Family)) (3:43)
5. Ramblin’ Round Your City (Woody Guthrie – Huddie Ledbetter) (5:42)
6. Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight (David D. McEnery) (4:57)
7. Stealin’ (The Memphis Jug Band) (4:27)
8. Old Rugged Cross (Rev. George Bennard) (7:50)
9. Dark as a Dungeon (Merle Travis) (6:33)
10. Old Black Joe (Stephen Foster (Arr. by The Lyman Family)) (6:59)
he likes living right and being free…
mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/o cover | 85mb
My soul was born in Cancer and it was born into the great river of the American Soul, still flowing in deep strains of hope and conquest. That soul was the Freedom that the earliest Americans dreamed and fought for which was the freedom to find God in themselves and follow Him, and it was finally born on earth as the spirit of a nation which would live in men, in Cancer . . . the sign of the birth of God in Man.
Throughout the life of this country that soul has been shared and carried by great men who lived to bring it to the PEOPLE. It has appeared in all ways but it has been most greatly loved and rejoiced in through its music. Those who sang it best sprang right from that soul and spent their lives singing it out. At every turning point in the life of America a Cancer has stood up to sing new soul as it flowed into the old and transformed it. Stephen Foster, George M. Cohan, Louis Armstrong, Woody Guthrie, Jessie Benton were all born as America was reborn and each was a prophet who did not speak of history but sung purely from the heart that creates it . . . and people who could truely hear them have felt history before it happened.
I am here once again to sing that song for you. And as this album was born in a burst of spirit and recorded simply in three days as it was sung . . . a new life for the world is bursting forth from the Heart of America.
The soul that is born in Cancer must always find its completion in Aries, when God and man become one. You can read the story of it in Mirror at the End of the Road by Mel Lyman. It is the story of his life from the moment it doubts itself and receives its first intimations of immortality to the time it becomes God as it grows from Cancer to Aries. You can hear that story on this album if you will step aside and let your soul listen.
I am singing America to you and it is Mel Lyman. He is the new soul of the world.
– Jim Kweskin
oh, and hey – if any of you have the following albums, I’d love to hear them:
Mel Lyman & the Lyman Family – Birth
Jim Kweskin Lives Again (or any Kweskin album on the Mountain Railroad label)
Jim Kweskin – Relax Yourself