Monday, September 12, 2005

Holy Modal Rounders

"The Holy Modal Rounders were almost the very definition of a cult act. This isn't a case of a group that would be described by such cliches as "if only they got more exposure, they would certainly reach a much wider audience." Their audience was small because their music was too strange, idiosyncratic, and at times downright dissonant for mainstream listeners to abide. What makes the Rounders unusual in this regard is that they owed primary allegiance to the world of acoustic folk -- not one that generates many difficult, arty, and abrasive performers.

The Holy Modal Rounders were not so much a group as a changing aggregation centered around the two principals, Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber. When the pair got together in 1963, the intention was to update old-time folk music with a contemporary spirit. As Stampfel told Folk Roots in 1995, "The Rounders were the first really bent traditional band. And the first traditionally-based band that was not trying to sound like an old record." They weren't the only musicians in New York thinking along these lines, and Stampfel and Weber contributed heavily to the first recordings by a similar, more rock-oriented group, the Fugs.

The Rounders began recording in the mid-'60s for Prestige as an acoustic duo. Even at this early stage, they were not for everybody. Although clearly accomplished musicians, and well-versed in folk traditions, they were determined to subvert these with off-kilter execution and strange lyrics that could be surreal, whimsical, or just silly. They outraged folk purists by simply changing melodies and words to suit their tastes on some of their cover versions of old standards; Stampfel once wrote in the liner notes that "I made up new words to it because it was easier than listening to the tape and writing words down."

On their 1967 LP Indian War Whoop, Stampfel and Weber added other musicians, including playwright Sam Shepard on drums (Shepard also wrote some material). The resulting chaos was just as as inspiring, but both material and performance improved on 1969's Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders. This addled combination of folk and psychedelia was their most inventive work, and featured their most famous song, "If You Wanna Be a Bird" (which was used on the Easy Rider soundtrack)."

Holy Modal Rounders - Indian War Whoop

Holy Modal Rounders - Bay Rum Blues

These You Send It files are available for seven days or until exhausted.


Cocaine Jesus said...

and there's me. writing my MUSIC TO GROW OLD TO post, trying to look all clever and knowledgeable and i hadn't even heard of these blokes.
i take it that they are nothing like The Incredible String Band or Amazing Blondel?

michael said...

No, not really. I love the Incredibles but even they sound pretty normal compared to these drug crazed weirdos!

scrapatorium said...

Hey, I can finally listen to the music! But boy, I picked a bad one to try first! I don't even think LSD would enhance the quality.

Cocaine Jesus said...

'drug crazed weirdos' eh? time for a visit to amazon or maybe ebay to get a copy!

michael said...

Glad you casn listen now Angelica. Sorry for the assault on your eardrobes! Try some of the others as they are a bit more tuneful!

hans dreiken said...

Hi Boot Sale Sounds. Thaks for your wonderful blog.I heard some material by this guys and i went crazy. i coudlnt find the albums you posted anywere else, and the links are expired. I wanted to ask you if you could please post them again. Would be very thakful.

José Ignacio, from Chile.

wastedpapiers said...

Thanks for dropping by hans, Glad you like the blog. I will try and uplaod some more HMR soon.