Vintage Hippie Rock for Earth Day | Bleader

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Vintage Hippie Rock for Earth Day

Posted By on 04.22.10 at 10:11 AM

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Yama & the Karma Dusters, 1970
  • Yama & the Karma Dusters, 1970
Forty years ago today Yama & the Karma Dusters played one of their first gigs as part of the first Earth Day celebration at Daley Plaza. Tonight members of the band will be present at another Earth Day event, a listening party at the more modest Heartland Cafe. Who the fuck are Yama & the Karma Dusters, you ask? I'm still figuring that out.

Earlier this month Lion Productions, a great reissue label in Geneva, Illinois, reissued the band's 1971 debut album, Up From the Sewers, on CD. The insanely extensive liner notes include a rush of information and recollections that clutter rather than clarify my picture of the band, but they do capture a forgotten chapter in Chicago rock—at least I assume it's forgotten, since I stay pretty well informed and nearly all of it is new to me. The band grew out of what the notes claim was the city's first rock 'n' roll sound company, Euphoria Blimp Works (its logo featured a hookah-smoking caterpillar, apparently from Alice in Wonderland, curled up in a dirigible), born when the original Kinetic Playground club burned down and some friends salvaged the usable sound gear. From there the story gets a bit hazy, but it definitely involves communal living, Students for a Democratic Society, Cynthia Plaster Caster, and free love.

Up From the Sewers
  • Up From the Sewers
The liner notes also provide detailed stories of the various gigs Yama & the Karma Dusters played in 1970 and '71, and mention what various band members have been up to since. Drummer Al Goldberg "develops space for artists, facilitates a drum circle, practices ecstatic dance, and studies Jewish Mysticism," while bassist Neal Pollack quit the band in order "to pursue a distinguished career as a fine jeweler." (Both Pollack and singer-guitarist Howard Berkman had previously played in a garage-punk band called the Knaves.) I haven't had enough time with the record to make a fully formed judgment, but so far the songs, though played and recorded well, aren't all that special to my ears; there are folk-rock numbers with bits of violin and flute and relatively propulsive guitar-driven jams enhanced by the conga playing of Lewis Favors (aka Doctor Zulu). The mildly twisted lyrics, which make it pretty obvious that somebody in the band had a thing for Dylan, explicitly address the politics and social mores of the era, and date the album more than any of the actual music does.

The CD reissue includes a couple bonus tracks not on the original album, a self-released effort packaged with gloriously amateurish silk-screened artwork. The Heartland Cafe listening party begins at 7 PM.

Today's playlist:

Synnøve S. Bjørset, Slåttar (Ta:lik)
Johnny Cash, American VI: Ain't No Grave (American)
Azar Lawrence, Prayer for My Ancestors (Furthermore)
Ivo Papazov, The Best (Balkanton)
James Weidman, Three Worlds (Inner Circle Music)

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