Tina and I were under contract with Vanguard
Records where we recorded two albums -
Serpent Power and
Poet Song -
both produced by noted blues scholar, novelist and poet, Sam Charters.
Serpent Power reassembled as a working band which included Bob Cuff (of The Mystery Trend) on rhythm guitar, Jim Moscoso (kid brother of artist/poster maker/cartoonist Victor Moscoso), and myself as lead guitarist and vocalist. In our weekend gigs at The Coffee Gallery and Dino's & Carlo's (which became Keystone Korner in the 80's), the often included additional musicians like J.P. Pickens on amplified 5-string banjo, poet Daniel Moore on shenei (Chinese oboe), conch shells, miscellaneous bells and his friend Christian (nobody ever knew his last name) who was exploring the alto saxophone.2 Besides regular gigs at the two North Beach venues we also did our share of benefits and weird gigs like playing off-nights at a strip club or for prototypical yuppies in a singles bar on Union Street. It should be mentioned that Serpent Power was more influenced by modal free jazz and spontaneous bop prosody than by the coverable pop tunes of the day. Our ears were tuned to Monk not the Monkees.
Our Vanguard contract was for two albums with an option for more. Since the band had developed into a performing and improvisatory unit,3 we had hope the second Vanguard albumcould be a document of a live performance at one of the clubs we worked at. Sam Charters came to check us out one weekend at Dino's & Carlo's, sat through a set, and when we met afterwards told us that what we were doing wasn't commercially feasible. Sam told us we'd have to rethink our second album. After working almost a year in this format, rejection brought the band members down. Everyone was bummed out. Soon the band dissolved: Jim went to join The Cleveland Wrecking Company, a funk band; I think Cliff stopped playing;4 Clark found Susan, married and moved with her to the Berkshires to become a major voice in experimental writing; Daniel went to Europe and became deeply immersed in Sufism, changed his name, and continues working in that discipline; as for Christian, nobody knew where he went or what he's doing now. J.P. Pickens and his family became involved with various communes, he continued playing, creating junk sculptures, but was betrayed by methamphetamine and died too early.
Cover photos were taken
and liner notes were written by poet Kenneth Rexroth, a founding father
of the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat movement. In a couple of weeks
we received a tape of the mixed-down
1 On the program
were Big Brother & The Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe
& the Fish and Serpent Power. Jim Gurley and I used to play acoustic
guitar freejazz duets at the Coffee Gallery. Janis Joplin, 20 years old
and fresh from Port Arthur, Texas, sang blues-- her hands balled into
fists glued to her side.
Poet Song, our second Vanguard album, was written for Tina as a showcase for her intimate and warm voice. Sam suggested that I read some of my poems and double-track guitar behind them. We recorded it at Sierra Sound in Berkeley where Serpent Power was recorded. Some string players from the Oakland Philharmonic -- including violist Tom Heimberg, an old Fairfax High School buddy-- were assembled at the studio by arranger Ed Bogas. I wanted to write songs almost exclusively for Tina, since I'd dominated our first album. The songs and orchestration were to sound more like art song, the antithesis of what Serpent Power was doing in the clubs.
Vanguard seemed pleased and held an option for us to do a third album. A mutual friend Chris Brooks introduced us to Vic Briggs who had been the lead guitarist with The Animals. Vic was now producing records for Capitol and liked Poet Song tremendously but thought he could produce a better album. He asked us to make a demo-tape for him to pitch to his bosses at Capitol. I wrote some more songs and Tina and I put together a tape using a clunky Sony tape recorder. (We managed to double-track vocal harmonies and guitar textures but, being technologically challenged, didn't realize they had to be mixed, which was moot since we didn't have the equipment.) Nevertheless, Capitol liked what their new British producer played and they gave the green light. We left Vanguard amicably and signed with Capitol.
The instrumental tracks were cut at the Capitol Recording
Studios in Hollywood. Our studio was down corridor from a big
studio where Sinatra was in the process of cutting an album. Vic
selected most of the musicians for the date including John
Guerin on drums, Lyle Ritz on bass,5
David Lindley played violin, Michael Rubini, piano. I hired
bluegrass mandolinist Scott Hambly. The string section was added
at another time. (During a session break, some of the A-List
Hollywood studio musicians talked about their various
investments, airplanes, real estate holdings, while Scott and I
reminisced about his bluegrass band, The Ridge Runners,
featuring Greg Lasser on the 5-string, who was part of my band,
Snopes County Camp Followers, with Tina, Joe Edmiston on