It's late October, and for most Westerners that means the Season Of The Witch. And Wizard. And other various mysterious and sometimes spooky things. For Rockin' in the Days of Confusion it means a chance to play some really cool tunes with a somewhat common theme. The first half of the show is all about the witches...
Artist: Al Kooper/Stephen Stills/Harvey Brooks/Eddie Hoh
Title: Season Of The Witch
Source: CD: Super Session
Writer(s): Donovan Leitch
In 1968 Al Kooper, formerly of the Blues Project, formed a new group he called Blood, Sweat and Tears. Then, after recording one album with the new group, he promptly quit the band. He then booked studio time and called in his friend Michael Bloomfield (who had just left own his new band the Electric Flag) for a recorded jam session. Due to his chronic insomnia and inclination to use heroin to deal with said insomnia, Bloomfield was unable to record an entire album's worth of material, and Kooper called in another friend, Stephen Stills (who had recently left the Buffalo Springfield) to complete the project. The result was the Super Session album, which surprisingly (considering that it was the first album of its kind), made the top 10 album chart. One of the most popular tracks on Super Session was an extended version of Donovan's Season of the Witch, featuring Stills using a wah-wah pedal (a relatively new invention at the time). Kooper initially felt that the basic tracks needed some sweetening, so he brought in a horn section to record additional overdubs.
Artist: Jethro Tull
Title: The Witch's Promise
Source: LP: Living In The Past (originally released as 45 RPM single)
Writer(s): Ian Anderson
Label: Chrysalis (original label: Reprise)
American listeners may be surprised to learn that Jethro Tull, known in the US as an album-oriented progressive rock band, actually had a series of top 10 singles in their native UK, including several that were not available on the LPs at all. The last of these standalone singles was The Witch's Promise, released in January of 1970. Released as a follow-up to Living In The Past and Sweet Dreams. both of which had made the top 10 on the British charts, The Witch's Promise continued the trend, peaking at #4 (although released as a single in the US, the record failed to crack the top 100). Nonetheless, Tull's leader, Ian Anderson, announced that all future singles would be taken from the band's albums (although they ended up releasing a couple of EPs with all-new material later in the decade).
Artist: Steeleye Span
Title: Allison Gross
Source: LP: Parcel Of Rogues
Writer(s): Trad., arr. Steeleye Span
The idea of a being with supernatural powers exacting vengeance on a spurned lover is a common theme in British folklore. One of the best known examples of this is the folk song Allison Gross, in which "the ugliest witch in the north country" ends up turning the protagonist of the song into "an ugly wurm" (dragon) for spurning her affections. Steeleye Span modernized the musical arrangement for their 1973 album Parcel Of Rogues. The original folk song has additional verses in which the protagonist eventually is cured of his affliction by a passing group of fairies.
Artist: Fairport Convention
Title: Tam Lin
Source: LP: Fairport Chronicles (originally released on LP: Leige and Leaf)
Writer(s): Trad., arr. Swarbrick
Fairport Convention was hailed as England's answer to Jefferson Airplane when they first appeared. As Tam Lin, a electrified traditional English ballad that was included on their 1969 album Leige And Lief shows, they soon established a sound all their own. Sandy Denny, heard here on lead vocals, is probably best known to US audiences for her backup vocals on Led Zeppelin's The Battle of Evermore from their fourth LP.
Title: The Witch Queen Of New Orleans
Source: European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Message From A Drum)
Writer(s): Pat and Lolly Vegas
Label: Sony Music (original label: Epic)
Citing part-Cherokee Jimi Hendrix as an inspiration, brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas, already veteran performers who had appeared several times on ABC-TV's Shindig, among other venues, decided to form an all Native American band in 1969. Their first hit single was The Witch Queen Of New Orleans, from the 1971 LP Message From A Drum. Redbone recorded a total of six albums for the Epic label in the early 1970s, and are known for being the opening act at the first Earth Day event.
Artist: Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show
Title: Marie Laveau
Source: LP: Doctor Hook
One of America's best known folk characters is actually based on a real person. Marie Laveau was a dedicated practitioner of Voodoo, as well as a healer and herbalist who lived in New Orleans in the 19th century. Details of her life are sketchy, and much of her legend was fostered by her daughter Marie Laveau II, who took the title of Voodoo Queen following the original Marie's death and was much more into public displays of her powers. The song Marie Laveau, which actually has little in common with the historical figure other than the name, was one of many tunes written for the band Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show by the multi-talented Shel Silverstein, author of The Giving Tree and longtime cartoonist for Playboy magazine.
Artist: Black Sabbath
Title: The Wizard
Source: CD: Black Sabbath
Label: Warner Brothers/Rhino
Often cited as the first true heavy metal album, Black Sabbath's debut LP features one of my all-time favorite album covers (check out the Stuck in the Psychedelic Era Facebook page's Classic Album Covers section) as well as several outstanding tracks. One of the best of these is The Wizard, which was reportedly inspired by the Gandalf character from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Artist: Edgar Winter Group
Title: Frankenstein (edited version)
Source: LP: They Only Come Out At Night
Writer: Edgar Winter
A real monster hit (sorry, couldn't resist).
Artist: Blue Oyster Cult
Title: (Don't Fear) The Reaper
Source: European import CD: Pure...Psychedelic Rock (originally released on LP: Agents Of Fortune)
Writer(s): Donald Roeser
Label: Sony Music
Guitarist/vocalist Buck Dharma wrote (Don't Fear) The Reaper in his late 20s. At the time, he said, he was expecting to die at a young age. Dharma (real name Donald Roeser), is now 71 years old. Personally, I can't hear this track without thinking of the 1994 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand.
Artist: Uriah Heep
Title: The Wizard
Source: LP: Demons And Wizards
Although Uriah Heep had been around since 1969, they didn't get much attention in the US until their Demons And Wizards album in 1972, which included their biggest hit, Easy Livin'. The Wizard, which opens the album, was the first of two singles released from the album. The song itself is a semi-acoustic tune about a wizard whose name is never given, but is thought to be either Merlin or Gandalf.
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Title: Gallows Pole
Source: CD: Led Zeppelin III
Writer(s): Traditional, arr. Page/Plant
Following a year of intensive touring to promote their first two albums, Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page decided to take some time off, cloistering themselves in a small Welsh cottage known as Bron-Yr-Aur for several weeks. The place had no electricity, and the pair used the time to write and/or adapt acoustic material for the band to record for their third LP. One of the best of these "new" songs was Gallows Pole, which Page adapted from a 1962 recording by Fred Gerlach, although the song's roots go back several centuries.
Artist: Bo Hansson
Title: The City
Source: LP: Magician's Hat
Writer(s): Bo Hansson
Swedish multi-instrumentalist/composer Bo Hansson released his first solo instrumental progressive rock album, Music Inspired By Lord Of The Rings, in 1970, after having read a copy of the Tolkien trilogy given to him by his girlfriend. The album, originally released in Sweden, was successful enough to be picked up for international distribution on the Charisma label in 1972. At around the same time, Hansson began work on his follow-up LP, Magician's Hat. This second effort was released in Sweden in late 1972 and once again picked up by Charisma for international release. Although not as successful as its predecessor, Magician's Hat is still quite listenable, as can be heard on the LP's opening track, The City.