Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sky "Sunlight" Saxon

While Roky Erickson is enjoying some rightly deserved revitalization in the wake of the 2005 career spanning documentary You're Gonna Miss Me, playing to capacity crowds at London's Royal Festival Hall and reportedly working with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons on a new record, another 60s psychedelic pioneer has yet to enjoy such renewed fame.

Sky Saxon's contributions to garage rock and psychedelia are arguably just as important and influential as his Texas counterpart, and his band The Seeds produced some great albums from the psychedelic era. Singles such as "Can’t Seem to Make You Mine", "Mr. Farmer" and the classic "Pushin’ Too Hard" combined garage punk with a slightly off kilter and at times almost childlike sound that distinguished them from the typical 1966 fare. Keyboardist Daryl Hooper played a huge role in creating their unique sound as well, which favored the use of organ over an electric bass, which would be part of the formula that would propel another L.A. act--The Doors--up the charts during the same time period.

Much of this period of The Seeds career has been well documented. However, not much attention has been given to Saxon's post-Seeds career, including his time in the Ya Ho Wha 13 music collective during the 70s, most likely due to the absence of a cohesive story line. The Ya Ho Wha 13 have garnered considerable interest as of late and are now regarded by some as the greatest American psychedelic band that just so happened to go virtually unacknowledged during their time. I suppose stranger things have happened.

For those interested in the Father Yod story, you could check out this informative site here or this excellent interview here or go whole hog, no, sorry whole vegetable and dive right into the massive 13 disc document of the entire Ya Ho Wha recorded output from the Japanese label Captain Tripp. It's not entirely clear which of these recordings Sky Saxon appears on but he did lead the Ya Ho Wha 13 on the album Golden Sunrise after leader Father Yod passed away following a hang gliding accident. There is also a book and a DVD documentary on the 140+ member family, which looks interesting, to say the least.

This is the period that found Sky adding "Sunlight" to his name, but it's just one more chapter in the career of Richard Marsh, which began in the early 60s. He continued recording throughout the 80s and 90s, and recently released a new record offering fans distribution rights for a select number of CDs, so long as they create the artwork, and promise NOT to use jewel cases. I’m down with that.

The paisley underground of the 80s saw Sky emerge on the L.A. scene once again and recording with some of the mainstay groups of the time such as The Dream Syndicate, The Church, The Three O'Clock, The Rain Parade and The Plimsouls. He recorded a live album with members of Redd Kross and The Primates for the Voxx label called Private Party. One of my all time favorite psychedelic tracks by any artist has to be "The Flower Lady and Her Assistant" from the 1967 LP Future (which I remember made Rick Rubin’s top 10 list years ago) and here is covered by the band with plenty of overdriven guitars and Sky's impassioned vocals. It takes just three lines before he starts improvising and singing about the grim reaper and something or other that’s in 126 countries. "I smell the perfuuuahhhhoooohhh...." Yeah.

Masters of Psychedelia released on New Rose in 1985 seems to be from sessions dating from an earlier period, but there's just not much information available on this record. "Silver Leaves" is the standout track for me, even though I freely admit that I'm not sure exactly what he's singing about. But that doesn't stop it from being a great slice psychedelia. Listen and see if silver leaves are falling down where you live.

And hey, how about a Sky Sunlight Saxon documentary already?


Pete Bilderback said...

Thanks for this very interesting post. I agree that Sky Saxon deserves more attention. I also agree that the Seeds were a killer band. They had a great sound, and Saxon was one hell of a lead singer--no doubt the model for many latter day garage rockers.

In all honesty though, I don't think Saxon's post-Seeds/solo material compares favorably with Erickson's. However out-of-it Erickson may have gotten, he was always capable of cranking out some good songs. The Evil One, Don't Slander Me and Clear Night For Love all have a handful of fantastic songs that compare favorably with the best work from his glory years. Even if the execution is not as sharp, the songs are still there.

I can't really say the same for Saxon (although I admit I have heard less of his solo material than Roky's). For the most part Saxon's post-Seeds songwriting never grabbed me the way the Seeds material did. His solo stuff just seemed a bit too incoherent to hold my interest.

That's just me though. It seems you always leaned toward Saxon in your record collecting, while I leaned towards Erickson, so it might be a matter of being more familiar with one artist than the other.

There is no doubt that Saxon's story is an interesting one. I'm looking forward to following some of those links and learning more. Thanks again for the awesome post.

adam said...

Nice post, Pete. I have always been a bit more of an Erickson fan as well, though that was more from access than anything.

The guys at my favorite record shop in high school were HUGE Erickson fans so I came to Sky Saxon's stuff later.

It suddenly strikes me that Sundazed should really start to catalog both erickson's and saxon's work.

Peter Hennig said...

I have always been a fan of Roky's music too and grabbed it up whenever it was available. For some reason it was scarce when I first started getting into 60's garage and actually my first exposure to the Elevators albums was a bootleg tape that I bought from a street vendor.

I think Roky has always been more of a traditional songwriter who just happened to believe he is an alien from outer space. Much of his music after the Elevators is more informed by folk and early rock and roll and doesn't really explore many of the realms that other psychedelic bands pursued. For many fans this keeps his music approachable no matter what the subject matter may be.

Sky strikes me as less of a traditionalist in that regard and seems just as comfortable improvising on the spot or doing long psychedelic workouts. Pete mentions that it can be incoherent at times - I certainly wouldn't argue with that.

Personally I think both are great and glad to see the resurgence of interest in this music - and a Sundazed effort would be nice.

Pete Bilderback said...

I think you pretty much got the difference right there Pete. Probably part of the reason I end up leaning toward Erickson is that I am myself something of a traditionalist, despite my love for obscure music that many people would consider unlistenable. Most of the stuff I really like has a pretty strong pop foundation (even if it is at times obscured).

I find this is more and more the case as I get older too. When I was younger I got into free jazz, but never listen to it anymore. Anything more "out there" than Coltrane's mid period on Impulse just kind of leaves me cold these days.

This isn't to say that I don't find much to admire or appreciate about Ornette Coleman or Cecil Taylor, but I don't find myself connecting to their music emotionally anymore. I'm not trying to knock anyone's work in saying this--just offering an observation on my own creeping conservatism/oldsterism.

Pete Bilderback said...

BTW, I always thought the album cover for Masters of Psychedelia was awesome.

Sky Sunlight Saxon said...

My dear friend Peter,

Thank you so much for your awareness and for your kind writings about me. So much of the music that I've done, I don't have. But I always felt that someone would have it somewhere and I could get it back. I remember Purple Electricity Private Party but I don't have the music anymore. Is there any way you can make some mp3's of it for my home library. I'm finally trying to put an archive library of my music and also articles written about me together. I will give acknowledgment to people who are helping me find lost music. Thank you so much for writing about me in such a positive way.

I am bringing my latest Seeds band to play with YaHoWha 13 in L.A. and in San Francisco in mid-November. You may have noticed that on my site.

Many people say that a documentary should be done about me, my music, and my life. I guess I'm still waiting for a Producer to contact me. Although, my wife and I may just pull it together ourselves.

There is so much music that I have that has never been published on a CD or LP or anything. I've posted some of those on my Snocap music store on my myspace sites and on my official website.

Again, thank you so much for your nice blog. It is appreciated.

Blessings to you!!!

Sky Sunlight Saxon
The Seeds
Atlantic Rising

Peter Hennig said...

Hello Sky -

I am not only thankful that you found my post but also that you took the time to write a comment here and add your thoughts and personal perspective.

I do hope that a Sky Sunlight Saxon documentary is in the future as I am sure it's a great story. Your universal message of peace is more important now than ever and, as you may know, Yoko Ono has just dedicated the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. A favorite of mine is: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can".

Also, I would be more than happy to make a copy of any of your albums in my collection - I'll send you a pm.

Anonymous said...


Pete Bilderback said...

Sky--thank you for dropping by our little website. It is very rewarding to be noticed by that artists whose work we honor here.

I know Peter would be very happy to get a digitized copy of Purple Electricity to you. Let us know what other releases you are looking for, and I'll see if we can find a way to connect you with people who have copies.

karen tudor said...

sky saxon what can i say!! roky what can i say!! both legends in their own right!! yes sky its karen from chester wot good times we had an wot an impact you had on my life personally and through the music father yod made the boy into a man and what a man you made of yourself! roky different but what thoughts he sends.Neither artist has ever got recognition they deserve cos hey what amazing artists!!! love you

karen tudor said...

sky saxon what can i say!! roky what can i say!! both legends in their own right!! yes sky its karen from chester wot good times we had an wot an impact you had on my life personally and through the music father yod made the boy into a man and what a man you made of yourself! roky different but what thoughts he sends.Neither artist has ever got recognition they deserve cos hey what amazing artists!!! love you

jimmy Valentine said...

Sky produced my last CD Pisces Rising. So if you want to hear how his music continues to resonate into the future and how he continues to plant the SEEDS of thought and love peace and freedom . check it out.
Sky is a dear friend and I love him SO much!
I really didn't have a music career till Sky hired me.
It was an honor to work with him and a continued joy to count him among my friends.

Jimmy Valentine