When “Saint Dominic’s Preview” came out in 1972, there was an intriguing track called “Almost Independence Day” and there were some strange sounds on it. Closer inspection of the personnel booklet that was included with the record revealed that these sounds were made by a Moog synthesizer played by someone called Bernie Krause. I had never heard of a Moog synthesizer before but it transpired that I heard one on several songs, notably on Abbey Road; “I Want You” featured some strange swirling electronic whooshes on it and “Here Comes The Sun” uses a Moog extensively. In particular the descending notes at the end of the introduction are the sounds of a Moog malfunctioning but in such a serendipitous way that the sound was retained. To this day, I don’t know whether the instrument is pronounced “mooooog” or “mohge”. The instrument was invented by Robert Moog who had also designed theremins. Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause were sales representatives for Robert Moog. Early Moog sounds can be heard on albums by The Monkees, The Doors, Simon & Garfunkel and The Byrds. George Harrison bought one in 1968. Beaver & Krause also contributed some film music for “The Graduate”, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They,” “Catch 22” and “Love Story” and many others.
On the basis of the credit on “Almost Independence Day”, I decided to investigate Paul Beaver. I went to “Recordwise” in Egham and borrowed Beaver & Krause’s first album which was a double called “The Nonesuch Guide To Electronic Music” which sounded like the sounds of a primitive computer game with lots of beeps and no tunes whatsoever. I did record it on to tape but I never listened to it. Other albums were much more interesting. “In A Wild Sanctuary” and “All Good Men” are very interesting records but “Gandharva” is probably the best.
This is a record of two sides. Obviously. But the two sides are very different. Side one is a mixture of electronica, blues and gospel. Side two consists of five tracks but they merge into one piece. After a short quiet introductory piece on Side One called “Soft/White” which is basically electronic noodling, “Saga Of The Blue Beaver” makes a startling entrance. The main instruments are the Moog, played by both Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause, lead electric guitar played by Ronnie Montrose (before he formed his heavy metal band, Montrose, but after he played beautiful guitar on “Tupelo Honey”) and Mike Bloomfield, who was a highly regarded guitarist and member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and The Electric Flag. Bernie Krause recalled that Mike Bloomfield “lived in the same musical community as we did, and he asked if he could join us on a session. He was agitated the day of the session, for some reason not related to us. When he came into the studio, he took his guitar out of his case and announced that he had one take in him, and to roll the tape. We did. He played. When he finished, he put his guitar in the case and walked out of the studio. Last time we saw him alive.” It’s a fairly typical late sixties blues instrumental with great dual guitar work.
“Nine Moons In Alaska” is more noodling on the Moog with some white noise that sounds like breathing. It’s not hugely interesting to me.
“Walkin'” is utterly remarkable. It was originally sung unaccompanied by Patrice Holloway (who sung backing vocals on lots of songs including “With A Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker). The track was later enhanced by adding a lot of echo and a faraway piano. She sings wordlessly at the start but ends by singing “We’ll be walkin’ by the river by and by, we’ll be walkin’, we’ll be talkin, we’ll be singing, we’ll be shouting when we meet on the far distant shore.” The word ethereal was invented to describe this track.
The last words of “Walkin'” are picked up and sung vigorously at the start of the last track on Side One, “Walkin’ By The River”. This sounds like a traditional gospel song and there’s not a hint of Moog on it. There are eight members of the choir, including Vanetta Fields (who has sung with Pink Floyd, Ray Charles, Ike & Tina Turner, Bob Dylan etc). The lead vocalist is Clydie King who is an amazing singer. See her sing “Abraham, Martin and John” with Bob Dylan on YouTube.
Side One is interesting but probably only “Walkin'” is remarkable. However, the whole of Side Two is incredible. It was recorded in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. There were no overdubs. According to the original liner notes, the venue was chosen because “it is an unbelievable cavern about 150 feet long and over 90 feet high with a seven second decay time.” In this way, they use the space as an instrument. That sounds pretentious until you hear the music. The prominent musician on Side Two is Gerry Mulligan playing baritone sax. Bernie Krause said this about Gerry Mulligan. “We just called him up. Always cynical, with a rather nasty contentious edge to his personality, he agreed to come if we put him up in a nearby ‘class’ hotel on Nob Hill, and provide him with all the room service he could handle and an electronic keyboard instrument. We did. He did. And we all hit it off pretty well. Later we did a movie score together titled “Final Programme”, recorded and released in England. We were friends until he retitled “By Your Grace” and recorded a cover of the same tune under a different name so he could claim our half of the copyright. Turns out others had suffered the same experience while working with him.” Gerry Mulligan was a well regarded jazz musician, playing with Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, Stan Ketz, Billie Holliday, Dave Brubeck and Charlie Mingus. Oh and Barry Manilow. His playing on this side of music is wonderful. Howard Roberts plays guitar on Side two and he is also a well regarded jazz musician having played with, amongst others, John Lee Hooker, Thelonius Monk and Shorty Rogers. He was also a member of “The Wrecking Crew”, playing on many famous Sixties hits. All five tracks should be listened together as one piece.
A wonderful exploration into some jazz tinged music that I would never have heard without that personnel booklet in a Van Morrison record.