FIFTY FOOT HOSE: Cauldron LP
AGUIRRE RECORDS
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Fifty Foot Hose

Limelight

Daniel Czubak & Hugh Hefner

Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?

Fifty Foot Hose

A Flood of Sound

Mick Farren

Terrastock 2, 1998 photo: Steve Burton

Turn Back the Geological Clock
by Byron Coley, November 2017

Although the sticker on the shrink wrap of this reissue makes the mistaken claim that the LP was originally released in 1967, that's okay. It actually came out in 1968, which is a mere year later. And when you are living by the geologic clock (as we should all be doing), what is a human year in the overall scope of things? Less than dick.

If you want to hear what Cork Marcheschi was up to in 1967, you'd best scope out the Big Beat CD, Cauldron - Plus (which includes demos by the Hose as well as material by Cork's previous band, Ethix). Ethix were a Burlingame based sextet, who recorded three singles. The first two, done for D&A Records, seem to have been fairly ordinary garage-rock. I've only heard one track, which was a sort of a “Hang On Sloopy” knock-off, but know-it-all's tell me the rest is more of the same. But by the time Ethix released their third single, for Mary Jane Records, Cork had spent time in the electronic music studios at Mills College and also the San Francisco Tape Music Center, so it tells a very different kind of story. “Bad Trip” and “Skins” are both pretty nuts, and were designed to be playable at any speed. The A-side is a groovy hunk of howling, spaced madness; the flip is a more reserved, though strangely pulsed, instrumental with whisps that recall Beat of the Earth. Both are a far cry from ordinary. “Bad Trip” also pops up on the 1994 Weasel Disc reissue of Cauldron. And the tunes, along with a few demo tracks from the Big Beat CD, plus three exclusive Hose and/or Ethix demos comprise the Del Val LP, Ingredients (which's reputed to be the full demo tape the band did for Limelight). All of this stuff is definitely worth an ear-peep, but the band's most consistent and “out” material resides on the Cauldron LP proper, which Aguirre has just reissued with the rare original inner sleeve present and accounted for (as it is on damn few Limelight copies.)

“[Limelight] were probably best known for the innovative packaging designs by Daniel Czubak, whose pop-ups, little booklets and whatnot were so beloved by Hugh Hefner that he chose Czubak to design Playboy's private plane, ‘The Big Bunny.’”

The band, as it appears on this record, was conceived when bassist/homemade electronics-hotshot Marcheschi met guitarist David Blossom sometime in 1967, about six months after Ethix had broken up. The two started yakking, and decided to get something new together. To this end they enlisted Larry Evans on guitar and vocals, Blossom's then-wife Nancy on vocals, drummer Kim Kinsey and a rotating bunch of bassists (Terry Hansley plays on Cauldron), since Cork would mostly be handling electronics. The Hose started gigging around the Bay Area in the latter part of 1967, and were scooped up in the great Mercury Records signing frenzy of 1968. This occurred when Mercury, along with its subsidiary labels Limelight, Smash, Philips and Fontana blitzed the scene, signing up Mother Earth, Blue Cheer, Shades of Joy, Sir Douglas Quintet, Tongue and Groove, Linn County, Savage Resurrection, Fifty Foot Hose and others in more or less one fell swoop.

Fifty Foot Hose was signed by Robin McBride, who (fresh from a stint running Folkways) was the new product manager of Limelight. The label was founded as a Mercury jazz subsidiary in 1962 by Quincy Jones. The Quince then turned it over to producer Jack Tracy, who ran things until 1967. Apart from a few titles by Roland Kirk and Eric Dolphy's Last Date, Limelight's records were pretty dull. They were probably best known for the innovative packaging designs by Daniel Czubak, whose pop-ups, little booklets and whatnot were so beloved by Hugh Hefner that he chose Czubak to design Playboy's private plane, “The Big Bunny.” Anyway, Limelight folded in 1967. The next June, McBride convinced Mercury to restart the label, and his wild taste is evident from catalog number LS-86047 (the Images Fantastiques comp with Berio, Maderna, Ferrari, Xenakis, Dufréne and Baronnet) onward. He reissued titles from French Philips's avant “Prospective 21e Siècle” series as well as from its Dutch ethnographic counterpart, “Song and Sound from the World Around.” McBride also assembled and released new sets of electronic and world music, and signed a small batch of current artists to record for the label.

Besides the Hose, this list includes Sweden's Mecki Mark Men (an early Swedish psych group whose members, at various times, included Thomas Gartz and all of the Baby Grandmothers), Ruth White (the L.A. based Moog pioneer), The Sound of Feeling (a female vocal group whose backing band included Paul Beaver and Emil Richards), Don Robertson (L.A.-based proto-new age musician, whose Dawn LP is a lovely mix of drones and freak-outs), Beaver & Krause (whose Ragnaröck LP is probably their best), Melvin Jackson (bassist for Eddie Harris, whose Funky Skull LP is psych-funk with heavy AACM involvement), Paul Bley (whose Mr. Joy is a lovely trio date), and Cauldron. And lest you be uncertain about what this gush of head music was about, there's also the sampler LP, Limelight (Total Experience in Sound), with the subtle catalog number LSD-50. McBride's experiment lasted less than two years. But, in retrospect, he created one of the most solidly nuts catalogs of music issued in those years. Had one paid careful attention to its releases, many melted headphones would have surely resulted. But for most drugged listeners, the album at hand remains the best Limelight release.

Cauldron was recorded at Sierra Sound Laboratories on Alcatraz Ave. in Berkeley (where many of Fahey's early sides were done) and was then finished at Columbus Recorders (formerly Trident Sound) in North Beach, all with Dan Healy (later famous for his work with the Dead) at the board. Lots of different theories exist as to exactly when the sessions took place, but McBride joined Limelight in the late Spring of '68 and it's assumed the Hose was signed in the late Summer. You do the math.

“Had one paid careful attention to its releases, many melted headphones would have surely resulted. But for most drugged listeners, the album at hand remains the best Limelight release.”

I seem to recall there were a couple of contemporary reviews of the album when it was released, but I sure can't find them. Probably, like the bulk of Limelight's “golden age” issues, Cauldron was ignored as late period (read: inconsequential) psych-fluff. It would certainly be typical of the era's rock writers to take such a stance. Regardless, Cauldron was a semi-legendary record by the time I first heard it in the early '70s. Most frequently compared to Joseph Byrd's United States of America (which is pretty accurate) and Silver Apples (which is only partly accurate), the music on Cauldron mixes serious electronics with vaguely (by this point) blues-based groove rock, and strong female vocals. The music has a distinct experimental edge, but this co-exists with a real impulse for pop's formalism. The music has vibrational equivalents with records like the homemade-zonage of Michael Yonkers's Microminiature Love, the stream-of-consciousness blub of Jud Yalkut's Citizens for Interplanetary Activities's C.I.A. Change, the roiling cluck of Red Crayola's International Artists's albums, the semi-doofus stonerism of Cosmic Sounds by the Zodiac, the more purely electronic waffling of White Noise's An Electric Storm, certain ESP-Disk albums, and even the jazz-spattered psych of Womb's eponymous debut LP. Actually, some of those records take things further than Cauldron manages to go, but only the U.S.A.'s wonderful eponymous LP, White Noise and Erica Pomerance's monumental You Used to Think (on ESP) make decent use of the female voice.

The sound on this reissue is great. I A/B'ed it against a clean stereo original, and it sounds as good, better than any of the CD issues, as I recall. But not having them handy, I have to rely on memory here. The album starts with “And After,” a rumbling tone spurt that would not be out of place on a Throbbing Gristle or PTV record. This bleeds into “If Not This Time,” which mixes electronics with rock instrumentation and female vocals in a style very congruent with Joseph Byrd's U.S.A. project (and even his later Field Hippies slab). Next is “Opus 777,” one of the instrumental interludes Cork inserts throughout the first side of the album. The others are “Opus 11,” “For Paula,” and they're all pretty cool short bursts of squink. Meat music for macrobiotic brains. After that is “The Things That Concern You,” which was written by guitarist Larry Evans and comes off as something halfway between Silver Apples and some NYC hippie commune band of the day, like The Group Image. Although it's also about as close as any U.S. band ever got to presaging Gong's space-whisper phase. “Red the Sign Post” is probably the nearest the Hose come to more standard psych-dynamism. The song's built around a raunch fuzz guitar riff and Nancy bellows like Mariska Veres (of Shocking Blue) or Amon Düül II's Renate Knaup (ca. “Archangel's Thunderbird”). After that comes “Rose,” a slinky, bluesy sound-chunk reportedly inspired by Marcel Duchamp's readymade sculpture, “Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?” Considering that Rrose Sélavy was also the name Duchamp used for those odd, cross-dressing photos he did with Man Ray, there may well be more going on inside this tune than a prole such as myself can easily discern. Thus ends the first side of Cauldron.

The flip begins with a ten minute piece called “Fantasy.” It is, in many ways, the band's most 'Frisco-friendly piece. An instrumental, it blends space squeedles with very basic Bay Area Ballroom-era shuffles. “Fantasy” is pleasant as hell, but the bulk of it could have been done by a lot of the era's bands, which is something you can't say about most of the Hose's tunes. This is followed by a cover of Billie Holiday's “God Bless the Child,” which was reportedly one of Nancy's favorite songs. And she does it pretty straight, if you don't count the Gravity's Rainbow-style V2 squeaks in the background. Remember, if you hear the bomb coming you already survived the explosion. Things end with the title cut, “Cauldron,” which is pure Cork — electronics, whacked spoken vocals, strange background sounds, just about everything you'd need if you were hoping to follow up Ethix's “Bad Trip” single. Cauldron goes out on a higher note than one could dare hope.

“Most frequently compared to Joseph Byrd's United States of America (which is pretty accurate) and Silver Apples (which is only partly accurate), the music on Cauldron mixes serious electronics with vaguely (by this point) blues-based groove rock, and strong female vocals.”

When it was originally released, in an edition of 5000 or so, nobody seems to have paid much attention to Cauldron. But let's remember, 1968 was a psychic nightmare of a goddamn year. It's possible the album was just too fucking much for both squares and hipsters to grok. Too close. Too pure. Too whatever. The Limelight label closed its doors within a year of the album's release. And this may seem like a bummer, but the fact that extant Limelight stock was widely distributed as cut-outs, surely contributed to the album's ultimate success. I've heard from collectors all over the world who were able to pick up a copy of the record for a few pence at some pharmacy or something, back in the day. So, while the band dissolved when the contract for a second record died with Limelight, it may not have been the worst thing that ever happened.

Most of the group ended up getting hired by the San Francisco production of “Hair.” Cork demurred and moved to Minnesota, where he taught sculpture at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, before moving back to the Bay Area in the '80s and working in film as well. The other key Hose member, David Blossom, worked as a recording engineer, whose names pops up on such weird projects as Leland's crazy hard rock LPs and Becky Ryan's eponymous gal-folk album (enlivened by Blossom's electric guitar sputs) before leaving the planet sometime in the '90s. Aware of the Hose's growing underground profile, Cork enlisted a new version of the group in time to play a 1995 fundraising gig that was issued on CD by the Japanese Captain Trip label as Live and Unreleased. Mixing Cauldron material with new tunes, this line-up (with Lenny Bove from Tripod Jimmy) sounded pretty cool. The subsequent '96 studio CD, Sing Like Scaffold (Weasel Disc), was also very hep. Mostly instrumental, it was a bit of a shock to hear how clear and an extension of Cauldron it actually was. I'm not exactly certain who the members were when I caught the Hose at the 1998 Terrastock in San Francisco, but they were great. Mick Farren and I were pretty ripped on Ice (the smokeable form of meth than everyone hoped would be the Crack of the '90s) when they played. But we agreed they were fucking good. I mean FUCKING GOOD.

And here we are, a couple of decades later, and Cauldron is finally getting a true hi-fi vinyl reissue, and I'm pretty sure, somewhere in hell, Mick Farren is feeling pretty damn good about the way it came out. I miss you, buddy.