|This two-part article originally appeared in issues 10 & 11 of the British journal of psychedelic & experimental music Ptolemaic Terrascope. It was written, produced & directed by Phil McMullen & is reprinted here through the kind permission of the author & the magazine.
The (American) Kaleidoscope were a band who ploughed their own strange furrow during those heady late 60s psychedelic daze and whose albums, being reissued in recent years, haven't really received the wide acclaim that they deserve. It's never easy to see why some bands don't achieve the popularity they deserve - if good music was simply enough, then Kaleidoscope would be easily as famous as so many of their West Coast counterparts, the Airplane, Moby Grape, Country Joe and the Fish or whoever your own personal favorite might be. But they're not, they never were and today, they're largely forgotten.
The coming months look set to put paid to that. A recent new album from the reformed Kaleidoscope might have slipped out un-noticed aside from a review in the last issue of this magazine, but the Sony/CBS 'Legacy' CD package of their material (similarly reviewed last issue) will almost certainly shine the spotlight on them again and this little article, born a few months ago when a few hours of spadework found Chris Darrow happy and more than willing to be subjected to the Terrascope 'treatment', will hopefully turn a few more people onto their records and perhaps cause some of our older readers to dust off their copies of 'Side Trips', 'A Beacon From Mars', 'Incredible' and 'Bernice' - the quartet of uncompromisingly strange, Eastern-tinged, unprecedented albums which for me cause the band to shine above almost all other West Coast contemporaries with the solitary exception of perhaps Mad River. And yes, I know there are other albums credited to their name; but I'll come to them later. And yes, I also know that the first two are THE ones and the second are supposedly inferior, but each has its charm and I'll come to that later as well, despite the fact that this piece is naturally biased in the direction of the former. They are, quite simply, a couple of my all-time faves.
So, Kaleidoscope. Now we all know which lot I'm talking about, I'll try to begin some sort of a story. If you could only see the mountain of material Darrow fed me with when I started out on this adventure you'd know what a pig of a job I've had shuffling it all into some semblance of coherency; but by constantly cutting and pasting trivia and nonsense in and out of the general theme and with an awful lot of help from Messrs. Darrow and Crill, I think I've reached the point where it's pretty much ready for your consumption. Christ, it's taken long enough though; more convoluted even than the Man story (as an aside, Darrow once toured England with Man along with Walter Egan as a sidesman...) and with more trivia to get to grips with than even our Spiritual and/or Canterbury tales. Let me introduce the main players first, who are: David Lindley (born in Los Angeles in 1944) - lead guitars, fiddle and vocals (now estranged from the band); Solomon (Saul) Feldthouse - guitars, caz, oud, bass and vocals; Fenrus Epp (sometimes a.k.a. Charles Chester Crill, which is supposedly his real name, also Templeton Parceley, and finally Maxwell Buda when he decided to kill off the name and the character Fenrus Epp in a bizarre accident involving a falling amplifier in November 1969) - fiddle, harmonium, bass, harp, keyboards and vocals; John Vidican - drums and percussion and of course Christopher Lloyd Darrow - bass, guitar, mandolin, fiddle and vocals.
It was David Lindley who started the band, when, in September 1966 and reportedly fresh out of a nowhere band from San Bernardino called The Rodents (one single on the Pequod label featuring 'And Your Bird Can Sing' c/w 'Come And Live With Me'), he got together with initially Brian Monsour (keyboards), Rick O'Riell (bass) (the latter two only lasted a few weeks), Soloman Feldthouse, Fenrus Epp and drummer John Vidican to experiment some new directions. That's according to the legend as perpetrated by 'Zig Zag' magazine: Crill however tells me, "All of this stuff was made up by Zig Zag and is bullshit. We don't know anything about 'The Rodents' or if Lindley was in it, and we never met Rick O'Reill or Brian Monsour and have no idea who they were... I never played with or knew Lindley before Kaleidoscope, and Solomon Feldthouse was born in Idaho. He was a big Leadbelly fan. Lindley and Feldthouse appeared on the West Coast as a folk duo named 'David, Solomon and the Parables' (1965/66) playing the folk circuit. Solomon also spent time in Turkey with the US Navy. Vidican was a teenager whom Lindley selected strictly because 'he looks like a kid and none of the rest of us do!' He was a marching high school field drummer (in Arcadia High School) Epp studied in Sonny Terry's master harmonica class along with Canned Heat's Alan Wilson and Taj Mahal."
So now we know. Calling themselves initially The Baghdad Blues Band and later Kaleidoscope, a name given to them by producer Barry Friedman (who was instrumental in the formation of the Buffalo Springfield), they were signed to Epic on the strength of a one-track demo they'd submitted (I've researched this, and it seems it's true. Epic was then seemingly reserved by Columbia for bands it didn't quite know what to do with) and, since none of them had anything in the way of experience to speak of, they called on Chris Darrow who was already well versed in electric music and had a modicum of instrumental and vocal prowess. Lindley, Darrow and Richard Greene had all been in the Dry City Scat Band, who appear on an album released on Vanguard and issued their own EP of bluegrass, jug-band, old-timey material; hence Lindley knew Darrow and hence the connection. But I digress.
Chris Darrow, at the time of the call to arms in Kaleidoscope, was in charge of putting on art shows at a local gallery. Having mentioned above that he was in the Dry City Scat Band, it remains to be said that he went on to form a British-invasion influenced beat group by the name of the Floggs, which is where he got the 'electrical prowess' referred to above. Darrow jumped at the invitation to join and they immediately launched into two or three months of rehearsals, rehearsals which in June 1967, the same month as the Monterey Festival, resulted in Kaleidoscope's debut album, 'Side Trips' (Epic BN 26304). The album is at once brilliantly original and a bit of a mixed bag of jug-band ('Hesitation Blues'), acid/folk rock ('Pulsating Dream', the result of an afternoon's worth of work by the band to make it the most 'psychedelic' cut on the album), Eastern-rock ('Egyptian Gardens'), haunting folk ('Oh Death') and out-and-out psychedelia ('Keep Your Mind Open'). Running in at only just over 26 minutes it's a bit on the short side (an understatement!), but the sheer musicianship is/was remarkable and the album remains one of the great eclectic oddities of all time. The chosen cut for a single, and indeed my own personal favorite, was 'Please' - which could have been recorded by no other band but Kaleidoscope, so strong were the early trade marks imprinted upon it. With lyrics by Mark Feedman (supposedly ex-Rodents with Lindley, although Chester has no knowledge of this) and melody by Soloman Feldthouse, it was reviewed well but went precisely nowhere - and was a similar flop when covered by Hearts and Flowers and latterly the Eclection. The B-side was a non-album cut entitled 'Elevator Man', a more straight-ahead rock number with some fabulous guitar playing from Lindley. That still didn't do the trick, so a second single was released (another chart-dud) which featured a remixed version of 'Why Try', double-tracked harmonies added for extra spice, and a version of 'Little Orphan Annie', written by Darrow and Epp and later to turn up in radically different form on the album 'Bernice'. The band also recorded 'Nobody' around this time, a stunning song which was released as a single credited as 'Larry Williams and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson with the Kaleidoscope'. Darrow recalls, "That was one of the most fun sessions I ever participated in. Earl Palmer on drums, me on bass, Dave Lindley on harp guitar, Sol on saz and Vidican on percussion. The 'stars' showed up in matching suits and Cadillacs, one in burgundy and the other in chocolate brown. They were at the top of their game and O.keh Records wished to 'go mod'. Apparently, the politics in the R&B market stiffed the record and it wasn't until Three Dog Night released it as their first single that the song found a wider audience - too bad!"
But, I'm jumping the gun here. Darrow recalls that 'when that first album came out, we thought we were on the road to success - until we realized that not too many people could understand what we were about. We really thought 'Side Trips' was going to appeal to a lot of people rather than the handful that bought it. The singles went nowhere, the album went nowhere, and the group was going nowhere.' Despite all that, the band were getting great reviews for their live shows, which were at the emergent dance/concert venues of '67 in California and which included troupes of flamenco/belly dancers, the album was successful enough to guarantee the band some sort of a recording future and consequently a second album was recorded and, in January 1968, 'A Beacon From Mars' hit the streets (on Epic BN 26333).
Now, 'A Beacon From Mars' is one pretty damn fine and far-out elpee. The story of the mis-printed title has been repeated several times in the past, but this piece would be incomplete without it so for what it's worth, here it is again: (Epp:) 'The album was supposed to be called 'Bacon From Mars', after a line in the opening song which refers to 'pigmeat from outer-space'. We'd done this great silly song, which I wrote, called 'The Universe's Mysteries', and Epic decided to leave it off the album because it was too long. We'd over-reacted to the shortness of the first album, and provided over fifty minutes' worth for the second. Then they showed us the finished artwork for the sleeve and we freaked - we went up the wall and down the other side! 'A Beacon From Mars' had no relevance at all; the guy must have mis-heard some 'phoned instructions and that's what he came up with. So, to prevent a major catastrophe, Epic persuaded us to retitle 'Stranger In Your City' and call it 'Beacon From Mars' - even though it has absolutely no connection with the song'. The Terrascope can reveal however that there's absolutely no truth in this long-held belief, as Chester reveals; "The entire story of 'Beacon From Mars' was made up by Zig Zag - there's not a word of truth in it! The title came from an old piece of sheet music which the LP cover was stolen from called 'A Signal From Mars'.."
The song 'Beacon From Mars' itself was recorded live in the studio, without overdubs, and it serves as a fitting testament to the instrumental prowess of the band - Lindley's guitar in particular is near-perfect, some of the best use of controlled feedback ever to hit the surface of a disc. Over half of the album was recorded in that manner in fact, the band swapping instruments rather as they did on stage. Four of the band could play fiddle; David Lindley already had a reputation as a phenomenal musician and the others strived hard to keep up with him. With some success, I must say. By now the group had been working together for some time, and there wasn't a tighter unit across the whole of the West Coast. The twin guitar/twin fiddle attack of most of the songs really drives it along, the harp playing is exquisite throughout (particularly on the sublime cover of 'You Don't Love Me') and Feldthouse's voice slides out like volcanic eruptions across numbers like 'Life Will Pass You By' and 'I Found Out', the latter of which which features dobro from Pete Madlem, a musician-friend from the Dry City Scat Band days. The 'title' track aside, the standout song is the epic Eastern-tinged number 'Taxim', the caz, oud and so-on working in hyperdrive and Lindley's harp-guitar (an obscure '20s instrument, featured on the back sleeve of the album) percolating its way across the song in explosive interludes that defy description. The sleeve-art aside, the band nevertheless weren't happy with the results. They claimed they weren't allowed enough time or money to produce the album they'd wanted to, that they were being pushed towards a more commercial sound against their own better judgment - and from this vantage point of some twenty years later, I can only wonder what the resulting album might have sounded like if they'd been given their head, for 'A Beacon From Mars' is a fine a lump of recorded plastic as it's ever been my pleasure to hear.
The album was, however, to mark the end of the road for the original line-up of Kaleidoscope. Financial stresses and internal turmoil began to take their toll, almost inevitably. Darrow was the first to go, although he rejoined immediately when the group got an offer to go to New York and perform their first gigs outside of California, on a six-week tour of the East Coast. 'Sol really loved the idea of flamenco dancers and belly dancers' recalls Darrow, 'and I couldn't see the point of it; it was unnecessary and distracting. I can remember playing in San Francisco, and this chick with huge tits was doing her thing in front of me as I was trying to play - it was just so disconcerting, and had little to do with the music'. More to the point, his own interests lay in country music, whereas Lindley and Feldthouse were becoming increasingly Eastern and avant-garde. Darrow grudgingly agreed to travel to New York, and hated it from the moment he got there. 'We were all huddled into two rooms in the Albert Hotel in Greenwich Village. Some of us had women, there were instruments everywhere - it was awful. To go from living in the middle of a sunny litle lemon grove in California to being marooned in the middle of New York at the beginning of winter just shook me to pieces'. Originally booked in to play at the Cafe Au Go Go, the management of that venue cancelled the engagement after seeing the Kaleidoscope play - they were just too far out. They played once at The Scene where they were second on the bill to Nico (Darrow:) "Frank Zappa was an old friend of mine and I'd run into him at the Albert Hotel street corner. I invited him to the gig, Nico and Tiny Tim were on the bill with us. Nico was on Hammond organ and howling like a banshee. After her set, Zappa walked up to the keyboard and spontaneously did his interpretation of her - he was better by far."
Kaleidoscope ended up playing a disco on 42nd Street. It was all too much for Darrow - he left during Christmas, 1967, almost immediately picking up with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. 'They were kind of Kaleidoscope rivals; a bit younger and coming from a completely different direction musically and initially I was going to turn it down. But I was stuck in New York with no money, I'd had two of my guitars stolen, I was sleeping in a miniscule room - and so the job saved me'.
He was replaced by Stuart Brotman for the remainder of the tour, after which the band retreated to Los Angeles with their tails between their collective legs. Formerly in an early incarnation of Canned Heat (he was their original bass player), Brotman was enlisted as the Kaleidoscope's first full-time bass player, although he also shared an interest in, and was able to play, the stranger Eastern instruments which had increasingly left Darrow cold. John Vidican followed Darrow a few weeks later; his real interest had always lain with the electronics side of things and he was considered to be the weak link in the band by the remaining members. Chester: "Vidican was the weak link. Some of the drumming on the first album was done by Billy Mundy, but I'm unclear as to what." Vidican was in turn replaced by Paul Lagos, a former straight-jazz drummer and percussionist, and so one of the most stable line-ups of Kaleidoscope were born. It was this one which went on to record the band's third album, 'Incredible' (Epic
Although lacking in the shorter acid-folk tunes of the previous two albums, 'Incredible' contains some of the finest musicianship the band ever recorded and ill deserves the tag 'Inedible' which it was given by some parts of the press at the time. It has a real stand-out track in the lengthy 'Seven Ate Suite', the finest amalgam of middle-Eastern rhythms and western acid-rock ever laid to vinyl and one which for once relies on a single time signature rather than jumping all over the place; some of the charm is lost on me because of that, but it is undoubtedly a classic of its ilk. The opening track, 'Lie To Me', is akin to the older 'Egyptian Gardens' with a strong chorus and the caz/oud/whatever-it-is driving the song along in a fine manner, and a further standout track is Lindley's 'Banjo' - an instrumental in the country-rock mould, but without slipping into the cliches of bluegrass, it remains one of my favorite shorter Kaleidoscope songs . Other than that the album relies on cover versions - 'Let The Good Times Roll' (basically Buck Owens' 'Let The Good Times Flow'), 'Killing Floor' and a heavy blues rendition of 'Cuckoo' amongst others. The LP was to be Kaleidoscope's most successful - although, like the others before it, it failed to get a British release.
The recurring lack of success and further internal squabbles took their toll however, and by the end of 1969 the band were literally falling apart. Lindley, this time, was the one who felt he needed a new direction, choosing straight-ahead R&B. One last album was recorded, 'Bernice' (CBS 6405), during the recording of which the squabbles came to a head leading to the sacking of Brotman in place of a funk bass player named Ron Johnson and the introduction of Jeff Kaplan as a vocalist. Templeton Parcely/Max Buda/Chester Crill somehow became Connie Crill for this release. Sad to say, it's a disappointing one. The only Kaleidoscope album to get a British release (and quickly to be destined for the Woolworth's bargain bins at that), the one extended track ('New Blue Ooze') completely lacked the inventiveness of their previous work-outs. According to Chester however,
"'Bernice' was to have included many tracks which were censored by Epic/Pete Welding due to their so-called political content, including 'I'm White & I'm Liberal'. 'New Blue Ooze' was substituted for three songs which were removed for taking stands on the Chicago riots etc. Only 'Sneaking Thru The Ghetto' was retained as part of the 4-part 'Whiteman suite'.
Unsurpisingly perhaps, within a few months of the release of 'Bernice' the
Within a few months of the release of 'Bernice' (in early 1970), Kaleidoscope had broken up. Paul Lagos later went on to work with John Mayall's band, with Leo Kottke and with Harvey Mandel; David Lindley worked with Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Terry Reid and a myriad others, had his own band 'El Rayo-X' (who I must admit, certainly had their moments) and more recently has ben spotted working with Henry Kaiser. Stuart Brotman joined Morning (a splendid album in 'Struck Like Silver'). Chris Darrow, after his two-year/two album ('Rare Junk' in 1968 and 'Alive' in 1969) stint with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band finished when the band broke up after appearing in the Lee Marvin/Clint Eastwood film 'Paint Your Wagon', formed a group called The Corvettes with Eagle Bernie Leadon and future members of Mike Nesmith's First National Band (sans Darrow, they would later become Linda Ronstadt's backing band), did some session work for the likes of John Fahey and Kim Fowley and released a solo album for Fantasy Records called 'Artist Proof' in April '72 which he followed with two more for United Artists which explore more traditional rock, folk, country and jazz (perm any two) territories. 'Chris Darrow', the second album (1973), features the archetypal English folk rockers Dave Mattacks and Dave Pegg from the Fairport Convention as well as the more traditional folkist Alan Stivell and ace sessioneers Roger Pope and Caleb Quaye, formerly of Hookfoot. It's an interesting mix, and one which works well. 'Under My Own Disguise' (1974) saw a return to America, half of it being recorded in Los Angeles and half in England; Max Buda returned to the fold at this point and the two have worked together consistently since, appearing on more albums than I can possibly begin to recount here ('Fretless', 'A Southern California Drive', 'Rank Strangers', the Pacific-ocean inspired instrumental album 'Eye Of The Storm' and innumerable session-appearances). Maybe next time; but meanwhile there's still some loose ends from the ball-of-knots Kaleidoscope story to tie up.
There was a reformation of sorts in 1976 when several ex-Kaleidoscopers reassembled to record 'When Scopes Collide' (Pacific Arts 102/Island ILPS 9462). 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'. Darrow recalls, "Warner Brothers put up the original money, but it was too weird for them so Mike Nesmith bought it from us and started up Pacific Arts Records on the strength of it. Many people think that 'When Scopes Collide' is the best of the true Kaleidoscope sound. Every song is good. It's a little short for even my tastes, but sometimes expenses dictate... 'Hard On The Trail' and 'Ghost Riders' in particular show Sol's voice better than almost anything until the new album" - a new album which I'll come to in a moment; first though the flurry of reissues that appeared in the last decade.
The early Nineteen Eighties saw several retrospective releases from Edsel Records in the UK, kicking off with 'Bacon From Mars' (Edsel XED 115) which, far from being a straight reissue of 'Beacon From Mars' with so-called corrected title, actually rounded up the shorter songs from 'Side Trips', 'Beacon From Mars' and 'Incredible' plus a clutch of singles including 'Nobody', the 45 originally released by 'Larry Williams & Johnny\ Guitar Watson with the Kaleidoscope' (see Part 1). This was followed in '84 by an album entitled 'Rampe Rampe' (Edsel ED 138) which, the title track (originally the B-side of 'I Found Out') and the four-minute 'Greenwood Sidee' (from 'A Beacon From Mars') aside, collected Kaleidoscope's three epic experimental numbers 'Beacon From Mars', 'Taxim' and 'Seven Ate Suite' into one splendid whole which must rank as essential listening for those of you new to the band. The same year, Columbia released 'The Psychedelic Sounds of Kaleidoscope featuring David Lindley' (Back Track P-17936) which included a fascinating cover of 'Killing Floor' and a rare single entitled 'Just A Taste' - Chester: "'Psychedelic Sounds' could be retitled 'The Worst Of Kaleidoscope'. The rare single 'Just A Taste' was produced by Bernie Krause of Beaver/Krause - this hideous joke cost more than an album!"
That, as they say, was about it until with a minimum of fanfare messrs. Feldthouse, Brotman, Buda, Lagos and Darrow reunited in 1990 to record and release 'Greetings from Kartoonistan (We Ain't Dead Yet)' on Gifthorse Records (D2-77406), the highpoint of which is Brotman's 'Klezmer Suite' amid another distinctively eclectic collection of covers (Duke Ellington's 'Wild Man', Lieber & Stoller's 'Down In Mexico' and the classic garage anthem 'Talk Talk'). Darrow: "The new album takes a new step forward for us, for we had never been able to co-operate like this before. As in the early, democratic days, we all contributed and got what we wanted. Everyone was invited to participate, and most did."
So here we are in 1992, and at the tail end of last year arrived the Epic/Sony/Legacy collection of Kaleidomaterial entitled 'Egyptian Candy'. Like Edsel's earlier 'Bacon from Mars', this one concentrates on the shorter, song-based numbers (the notable exception being 'A Beacon From Mars' itself), but this one wins out by including three previously unreleased songs: 'Love Games', 'Sefan' and 'Egyptian Candy' itself. Even so, all is not what it seems - Chester (again): "We have no idea what 'Love Games', 'Sefan' or 'Egyptian Candy' are. It's suspected that they are demos for a proposed Solomon album in 1968 - they're definitely not Kaleidoscope, although they probably have Lindley on them. Many good cuts which were excised from each album are known to exist though; among them 'Midnight In Moscow' (from 'Side Trips'), 'I'm A Hog For You Baby' (from 'Beacon'), 'The Mooche' (from 'Incredible') and 'White Man Suite' (from 'Bernice').
Chris Darrow is rightfully proud of the band Kaleidoscope and all it stood for, and indeed still stands for today. "We feel, like yourself, that Kaleidoscope were THE archetype band of the Sixties and the first of the true 'world-beat' bands. We anticipated too many trends and musical styles to have been wrong. Being ahead of our time has been a problem all along and will probably continue to be. The Kaleidoscope legacy is important to us and I know that it will continue to grow, mainly thanks to people like yourselves.
"The band was always intended as a democratic unit and each controlled his own portion of the music. We were all authorities in our own area and led the band when our chance would come. Natural alliances formed, based on musical bias and that is only natural. After all these years we all still know where we stand and defer to the 'best idea' when we hear it. The Kaleidoscope formula actually exists and the flame is kept burning by Chester and myself. Our concept basically incorporates all music and our relationship to it. We don't copy, we reinterpret and blend. The idea of 'world beat' for us is influence and growth, not just hiring a bunch of Africans. Because of the breadth of our music we are constantly misunderstood, or misinterpreted. We basically want to play music that interests us. Music is the watchword. Not money, not fame, or any other purpose. We're all pursuing our individual interests and are playing better than ever. Solomon and Stuart are still at the forefront of Baltic/middle-Eastern music, Chet and I are pursuing our particular areas as well. I'm involved with music of the Americas as well as tropical stuff like Hawaiian and Tahitian. Country music is still and always will be a great love and rock & roll still lives in my soul. Paul Lagos still continues to push the limits of the drum, and playing jazz does that for him. Dave, being most obviously in the 'pop' limelight, has taken his own direction. He always wanted to be a star and I hope that he feels he is. I do.
What of the future for Kaleidocope? I'll leave the last word (-ish) to Chris Darrow: "Paul Lagos and I became a rhythm section in 1982 with 'The Chumps' -Chester, myself, Lagos, Jerry Waller and Steve Bruin. As a result we have re-invented, if you will, the concept and we may in future drop the Kaleidoscope name and move away from the format - maybe call it 'Son Of Kaleidoscope' or something. We are the only ones that can make the sound we crave. I know that regardless of what area the individual members roam, this band made an indelible mark on each and every one. The Kaleidoscope was a great band and is a great band. It's too bad that it's taken 25 years for some people to discover it!"
Perhaps, a mere twenty or more years too late, Kaleidoscope are going to finally get the recognition I always thought they deserved. Let's hope this little article goes some way towards achieving that, as well....
Written, produced and directed by Phil McMullen, August '91