Conventional wisdom dictates that if you set out to form your basic Ajax Acme Do Good B-flat rock and roll outfit, about all you need is a guitar, a bass, and some drums. Okay, a singer might be good and maybe somebody on keyboards or saxophone but after that you start getting into weird territory. In other words, there’s a reason you’ve never heard of a rock band with a lead bassoon or a xylophone. But the founding members of McKendree Spring weren’t discouraged by that sort of narrow thinking. In 1969 they formed a drummer-less quartet with a violin up front and they played everywhere from Fillmore East to Radio City Music Hall and they shared those stages with everybody from Frank Zappa to Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys. And they weren’t alone. When you talk about violins in rock, twenty-five years before the Dave Matthew’s Band, anyway, you have to mention Seatrain with Richard Greene and Sid Page with Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. And of course Charlie Daniels plays a pretty mean fiddle too. But we’ve only got half an hour so we won’t get to hear from everybody.
Still, today’s batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl flips the power on the electric violin. Jean Luc Ponty steps away from the Mahavishnu Orchestra to take us on an “Imaginary Voyage.” David LaFlame rosins up his bow with It’s a Beautiful Day. The late, great Papa John Creach flies in on the Jefferson Airplane and the track “When the Earth Moves Again.” But the focal point of the set is a composition by McKendree Spring’s violin player, Michael ‘Doc’ Dreyfus. “God Bless the Conspiracy.” An eight-and-a-half minute epic from their third album. It consists of several movements of differing moods and tempos with a bed of psychedelic sound effects in the middle. I broke “God Bless the Conspiracy” into six parts then reassembled them into one of our favorite sets ever. Pay particular attention in the middle of the set as we play Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” over those psychedelic sound effects for an extended mix that’s astounding. Bill Graham said they were “one of the best unknown bands in the world.” So, from the Way Back Studios, here’s McKendree Spring.
|God Bless the Conspiracy (part 1)
|Jean Luc Ponty
|Imaginary Voyage (part iv, excerpt)
|God Bless the Conspiracy (part 2)
|Soul Sacrafice (part 1)
|God Bless the Conspiracy (part 3) with Santana (part 2)
|Soul Sacrafice (part 3)
|McKendree Spring / Santana
|God Bless the Conspiracy (part 4) with Santana (part 4)
|God Bless the Conspiracy (part 5)
|It’s a Beautiful Day
|Hot Summer Day (part 1)
|When the Earth Moves Again
|It’s a Beautiful Day
|Hot Summer Day (part 2)
|God Bless the Conspiracy (part 6)
That’s Michael “Doc” Dreyfus with what the Village Voice at the time called “the most original use of the electric violin we’ve heard.” From 1972 — McKendree Spring with the finale to “God Bless the Conspiracy,” a song we broke into six parts and hand mixed with several other electric fiddlers along with one from Santana, just because it sounded so cool. The bulk of “God Bless the Conspiracy” was written by Dreyfus while the Overture and Finale are credited to his band mates, Fran McKendree and Martin Slutsky. McKendree Spring released seven albums and played all over the world but never had huge commercial success. I read on some website that before he joined the band Dreyfus earned degrees in physics and medicine, taught anatomy, and, I’m not making this up, did research into limb regeneration in newts. Sounds like a lyric from a Frank Zappa record. And speaking of Frank, earlier in the set we heard an excerpt from Part 4 of Jean Luc Ponty’s “Imaginary Voyage.” Ponty was a violinist on the leading edge of jazz-rock fusion, having played with John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. He also spent a lot of time with Frank Zappa, playing on several of his albums including Hot Rats and Overnight Sensation. In fact Ponty did an entire album of Zappa covers, the centerpiece of which is a track called “Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra.”
In the middle of the set, a Latin surprise. While I’d planned to do a batch of songs all featuring electric violin, when I heard those sound effects in the middle of “God Bless the Conspiracy” I just knew it needed some percussion. Grabbed Santana’s first record and came up with that mix with “Soul Sacrifice.” Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Then we returned to the theme of the set with “Hot Summer Day” from It’s a Beautiful Day. That’s David LaFlamme on electric violin. And in the middle of that, we mixed over to Papa John Creach fiddling around with Jefferson Airplane from the “Bark” album. Papa John went on to play with Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna and released several of his own albums on the Airplane’s Grunt label. Well, we’ve fiddled away all our time for today, thanks for listening. I’m Bill Fitzhugh back next time with a fresh batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl, and I hope you’ll join us, right here, in the Deep Tracks.