Tag Archives: Lower East Side Band

Planting the Seeds: The story of Sky Saxon and the Seeds

11 Oct

The Seeds

The Seeds is a band that teeters on the line between obscure and known. I’m not sure where to place them myself. While I do think it is safe to say that many have not heard of this garage rock pioneer, the band may be a little too known to be classified in this obscure category. I’m arguing pedantic semantics with myself. The reason I want to include The Seeds in this Tuesday’s “Obscure Classic Rock” is because I featured David Peel and the Lower East Side Band last week. As you may remember (and if you don’t click here to view last week’s post), I labeled Peel as an inspirational pre-Punk force. The Seeds, with their blend of angsty garage rock and bouncy beats, do fit the description of a band that planted the seeds for Punk rock. Pun very much intended. So for the second week in a row we focus on a pre-Punk performer, but this time we enter into an earlier realm of mid-60s rock n’ roll.

When you explore the premiere early roots of Punk rock bands like the Kinks, the Who, and the Small Faces are mentioned. These are bands that started developing the fast-paced, strained pop sound that Punk became known for in the 70s with the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie, Louie” (1963) is aptly cited as the first proclamation of Punk. The song even sparked an ill-informed FBI investigation over the non-existent obscenities that are not in the song. When I look at the early stages of Punk music, though, I quickly look at the impact of Mick Jagger. His carefree, over-sexualized, Elvis-on-acid-inspired on-stage pelvic movements clearly inspired performers like Iggy Pop and a little-known singer named Richard Marsh, better known as Sky Saxon of The Seeds.

To some, Sky Saxon is a cheap Mick Jagger impressionist, but I think he something much more than this. Saxon formed the Seeds with keyboardist Daryl Hooper, guitarists Jan Savage and Jeremy Levine (who left the band because of personal reasons shortly after the first recording session) and drummer Rick Andridge. Sky is credited as the bassist and in one of the videos below he is playing an egg-shaped fire-red bass guitar, but he did not play bass during recording sessions. Instead, Hooper, much-like Ray Manzarek did with the Doors, played a keyboard bass.

The band released their first single “Can’t Seem to Make you Mine” in 1965 and it became a regional hit. The band, even though remaining most popular in southern California, reached the top 40 with their 1966 song “Pushin’ Too Hard.” After this release, they hit moderate success with a few other singles, but their popularity slid and by the end of the 60s the band was transformed with new members into Sly Saxon and the Seeds and then broke up in the early 70s. We are going to look at the band’s top two singles in this post. Both of these songs can be found on the Seeds’ eponymous debut album released in April of 1966. The album has aged well and it is now looked at as early Punk inspiration and proof that Punk existed before the 70s.

Simple repetitive melody, possessed vocal (Sky seems drugged), neat and concise keyboard solo. It’s pop. I’m not sure if we can hear Punk in this early release (even though Sky Saxon just looks and sounds ahead of his time.) The song is not grungy, but instead pretty organized and easy. It is like cool and collected garage rock mixed with sunny California pop. Keep this sound in mind and let’s move ahead a year.

What a change. Throaty-punky vocal. The guitar has the traditional 60’s twang. The keyboard is one of the most understated and interesting parts of the song. It fits, but it doesn’t fit. I can’t seem to place that quiet, even subtle sound. The tune, which clearly provides a great example of fuzzy and raw garage rock, has a rhythm that resembles Punk. I hear Protopunk in this release.

Sky Saxon’s future would involve joining a religious group in California called YaHoWha for many years. The band reunited in 1989 to headline “The Summer of Love” tour (which also included Arthur Lee and Love). In 2003, Saxon and Savage toured with other members, but Savage had to depart midway through the resulting tour. Saxon continued performing, recording and writing up to his passing on June 25, 2009.

If you click on Sky Saxon’s name above you will be linked to his official website. A tribute album featuring covers of Saxon’s songs by performers like Iggy Pop, The Bangles, The Chocolate Watchband, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Electric Prunes, will be released soon (perhaps by the end of the year) so definitely keep tabs on what will most definitely be a must listen when released.

Peel the Lower East Side and Enjoy Pre-Punk Punk

4 Oct

So let me introduce to you, the one and only David Peel. Wondering why I just quoted “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?” You will find out in due time (even though the reference doesn’t link up perfectly because McCartney wrote these lyrics even though the lyric is credited to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting duo). I’m being pedantic. Let’s move on to the first post in the new category Obscure Classic Rock.

I want to first share with you all how I heard about David Peel. Don’t worry, this is not a long, fireplace story. Actually, my father told me about David Peel last night. This is one thing I love about 60s/70s music. At times, the list of acts seems endless. It’s not, obviously. There is a fixed number. But I have done a good amount of research on 60s/70s music over the past 4-5 years (starting when I was a senior in High School), and, I’m still learning about influential acts that I had never come across previously. And that is awesome.

My dad recalled how he used to go down to Greenwich village in New York City with his buddies back in his teens (early 70s) and he would often see David Peel (born David Rosario) performing with the Lower East Side Band (apt name). Peel would sit down and talk with my dad and his friends occasionally. My dad remembers him as a nice, intelligent guy, who sang songs about marijuana and revolution. Revolution, specifically the recent Wall Street Occupation, is why Peel was brought up in conversation.

David Peel and the Lower East Side Band. Ever hear of them? No? Well did you know that they are often cited as early progenitors of punk rock? Also, did you know that Peel became incredible friends with John Lennon and Yoko Ono (there is your answer for the opening segment)? Lennon had good taste. Well, so did Peel!

David Peel (left) performing with Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Don't Lennon and Peel sort of look alike? More on this later

John Lennon once compared Peel to Pablo Picasso. A bold proclamation, indeed. Well, similar to Picasso co-founding the Cubist movement, Peel definitely had a hand in providing some inspiration to the emerging genre of punk.

Peel and the Lower East Side band first recorded music in the late 1960s. They created a blend of “street rock” that targeted topics like marijuana and the police. It was fresh and attractive to the counterculture movement. Songs like “I Like Marijuana” and “Oink Oink” were obviously scorned by authority, but enjoyed by the youthful population that gathered in Greenwich Village. Peel and the Lower East Side band was actually among the first bands to regularly perform on cable TV in Manhattan. He appeared on the public-access cable TV channel of Manhattan Cable Television. He also performed at the first Smoke-in concerts at Central Park.

It was in front of a crowd at Washington Square Park in 1971 when Lennon first saw Peel. He was quoted saying, “He was shouting: why do you have to pay to see stars? I was embarrassed. I thought surely he must know we are here. Yoko and I love his hair, snazzy tight trousers and Hai Karate aftershave.” They quickly became friends and Lennon signed Peel to Apple Records where he promptly released The Pope Smokes Dope in 1972. The record was banned in nearly every country in the world, except for the US, Japan and Canada. I don’t believe this record was playing in cafes outside the Vatican. The fervor that Peel engendered is funny. It’s very…punk! And the music backs that statement up.

I mean listen to this. “Oink, Oink” was recorded in 1968. It is like Beach Boys meets the Ramones. And this was recorded when Dee Dee Ramone was 17 years old. Punk music is rooted in US garage rock and the New York underground (bands like the Velvet Underground). Peel, like Lou Reed, sang about drugs and unsavory NYC practices. In 1969 Protopunk was founded by MC5 and the Stooges (Michigan-based bands), but I do believe that Peel was a true predecessor of the burgeoning movement and, unfortunately, he does not get the credit he does deserve.

Peel and Lennon stayed close friends, Peel adopting Lennon’s thick-glasses style, and Lennon sampling Peel’s leather coat look (similar to retro Cavern Club Beatles). The two looked so much alike that Bob Dylan actually called a picture of Peel, John Lennon, and, because everyone takes what Bob Dylan says as the truth it seems, the FBI was also fooled. A picture of Peel was in Lennon’s FBI file. Lennon did help Peel become well known and he has performed with musicians like B.B. King, ELP and Alice Cooper. Peel still records music today and his full discography can be acquired. I suggest checking him out more. He is a punk visionary. And he recorded an album entitled The Pope Smokes Dope. I mean, come on.

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