Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Christopher - 1969 - What'cha Gonna Do

What'cha Gonna Do

01. The Great Clock 12:10
02. What'cha Gonna Do? 5:46
03. Holiday 3:00
04. Death Song 3:27
05. Fugue 3:25
06. Modern Day Oracles 2:50
07. Day Of Sunshine 6:32

Bass – Bill McKee
Drums – Gary Lucas
Lead Guitar – Frank Smoak
Rhythm Guitar – Steve Nagle

Original 1969 private pressing on Chris-Tee records. As few as 100 copies pressed.
The rear sleeve has incorrect track ordering, the label has the correct ordering.
"Special thanks to David R. Walker and Paula Lucas".
A copy fetched $7,750 in November 2014 (on eBay)

One of the absolute rarest American privately pressed hard psychedelic rock LP's of the 60's. Original pressings now trade hands on the infrequent occasion they surface for $2000 or more. An enduring work of stunning proportion, all the more amazing for having come out of the Carolina's at the time. All originals, high quality material, extended jamming, (the title track clocks in at over 12 minutes), lysergic lyrics, effects, some fine vocal harmonies, and musically transporting, gutsy, creative heavy guitar work. Acid rock mixed with acid blues, and lovely melodic rock songs, at times reminiscent of Corpus, Moving Sidewalks, Quicksilver, American Blues Exchange, Dragonfly, Litter (circa "Emerge"), Love, Tripsichord, and many others. Had it been a major label release it would have been a staple in every hippie's ear diet.

Some history and tales of the times..... May 1968. The band was originally called Jonathan Hooker Manuscript. Gary Lucas was the Univ. of South Carolina (USC) Student Chairman for the Eugene McCarthy For President Committee and hired the band for a fund raiser. The band was allowed to practice at Committee headquarters. Prior to the gig, Frank Smoak (lead guitarist) had the remarkable idea to call the Fire Dept. and have the building condemned so the band wouldn't have to play the gig with the original drummer, with whom they were having problems. The gig went on in spite of Frank's call. Gary Lucas had been jamming with the band during rehearsals when the original drummer was absent. He officially joined the band the next day following the McCarthy gig. June 1968. Due to their previous interaction with the local Fire Dept., it was decided to change the name of the band to "protect the innocent". They became "Christopher", wanting a singular name for a group effort. The name came from P.C.Wren, author of Beau Geste. September 1968. The first gig as Christopher was a "battle of the bands" in Columbia at USC, where the band all met and attended college. 24 of the bands battled with "My Girl", Christopher played "Purple Haze". Each member of the band of the band took home $5.00! October 1968. The band took any gig they could get to keep playing. A friend, Divver Martin, at USC was Student Director of Student Activities, liked the band and kept hiring them for various events. One such event was at a fraternity-sorority homecoming float party, a tough gig that Gary remembers now as being like something from "Animal House"! They began playing at the USC nightclub, the Golden Spur, and things started to pick up. An anti-war coffeehouse opened up in Columbia, the UFO FTA (Fuck The Army). The band began to build up a following of students and soldiers from nearby Fort Jackson.

Gary remembers "It was a tough time to be from up North, live down South, be in a psychedelic rock band, and be politically incorrect". At the UFO club, on a regular basis, 3 or 4 "Haystack Calhoun"-sized country boys would come in and start beating people up, working their way towards the band. On more than one occasion the band was forced to flee out the back door with what equipment they could carry. The police were of course, quite slow to respond to calls from the club. Bill remembers "I had some particular issues about playing at the UFO. I wore a WWII flying helmet to hide the fact that I had short hair (you were considered a narc if you had short hair at that time). I was in school on a ROTC scholarship, playing at an antiwar coffeehouse. Some guy approached me on campus, and told me I was being watched, because the UFO was being financed by Chinese Communists. I talked to my ROTC commander about it. He told me I was not breaking any rules, but I shouldn't get my picture taken there. The next time we played, a German national TV crew was in the club filming us. I tried to duck my head, acting like I was too into the music to face the audience!" The band was actually featured in a German documentary on war protests in the USA. Bill was a Group Commander in ROTC and remembers one occasion while marching his troops to the parade field, Gary Lucas, and other members of the band ran in and out of the ranks, harassing them. In Bill's words, "Only my nerves of steel and superb military bearing prevented me from breaking out in laughter at the insanity of it all. After that, I spent 23 years as a doctor in the Air Force, retiring as a full colonel". Another great event one night at the UFO was Steve's misguided attempt to stop a fuse-blowing amp by putting aluminum foil around the fuse, which caused a rather smoky meltdown in mid-song. In true garage band style, Steve and Frank then played through Frank's small Fender Vibrolux. Two fuzz tone effected guitars blasting through one challenged amp. March 1969. The band moved into a 14 room house, "The Zoo", where their friends Speed Limit 35 (another of Columbia's budding bands) had been living. Christopher started playing out of town and building a larger following. The band was playing gigs for food and fuel - early band toting vehicles were a Peugeot, a Morris Minor, and "The Blue Bomb", a 1953 Plymouth station wagon (the first band purchase). The gas gage on The Blue Bomb didn't work (as Steve found out while on a date one night). April 1969. Christopher's first big break was as a headliner on Easter weekend at The Pavilion in Myrtle Beach (a real hot spot throughout the 60's and 70's). A friend of the bands' grandmother owned it! The gig was good money and great exposure, but considerably risky, as most people down South were just getting exposed to the psychedelic music scene. Hendrix and Cream were getting airplay on the radio, and Christopher did covers by both, as well as their own material. Gary Lucas, "We stepped on some agents toes, so they showed us! We got the same pay for the weekend, but got our sets cut in half and they put in an opening act, The Spontanes, 15 guys in matching black pants, red shirts, and sun glasses. Christopher brought the house down, thank you very much!". Christopher auditioned for Ted Hall, who signed the band for Hit Attractions Booking Agency. The band was doing bigger clubs and college gigs, playing their new psychedelic music. They were using two strobes, black lights, and a liquid light show with pie plates and oils on overhead projectors borrowed from the University. A surviving newspaper photo of the band on stage at the Golden Spur Club shows an animated Woody Woodpecker cartoon projected on the film screen behind them. Bill McKee had a family collection of original 50's 8mm cartoon films that were used regularly, which also included "Mighty Mouse" and "Little Black Sambo" (still not politically incorrect in the 60's). They bought a 1959 yellow Apache Chevy panel truck that had to be held in third gear to go anywhere. Due to the joys of being hippies in the South in the 60's, the band would have to start looking for gas once the fuel gage got about halfway down. They could always buy soda and Nabs (cheese crackers), but many of the stations seemed to enjoy hassling them. Even though the band was always polite, they would often refuse to sell them gas! May, 1969. One night while playing at the UFO club the band was approached by Toby Keeler, who told them they were as good as the Beatles, or Led Zeppelin. He said he had funds and wanted to manage a band, and asked what the best equipment would be for the group. The band put in orders for double stacks of Marshall amps and a van. They actually figured the guy was a wee bit too much into his cups that night and didn't expect anything to come of his comments. Three days later, Toby drove up to The Zoo with a lawyer, a brand new 1969 Ford 15 passenger van with air conditioning(!), and an extraordinary amount of new equipment. They signed a management deal with him.

Almost immediately Steve had an accident with the new van in a USC parking lot. The situation was not made any easier by the fact that the daughter of the base commander from Fort Jackson was in the vehicle with him at the time. The gigs kept getting bigger and better, playing from Atlanta, GA, on up through to North Carolina. A new breed of clubs was popping up through the South, such as D'Scene in Columbia, SC, and Phantasmagoria in Matthews on the outskirts of Charlotte, NC. Phantasmagoria was a very hip club at the time with strobes, colored lights, Plexiglas flashing dance floors, light shows, and parachutes on the ceilings, and billed itself as "The Young People's Emporia, The First Psykinetic Permanent Dance Festival". Frank remembers the gig as the first time he played with too many lights(!), was blinded by improperly placed strobes and had a tough time playing. The club later closed and became a fish camp. June 1969. Christopher wanted to play at "Jack's Palace", a then cool Columbia club. Jack was hesitant but offered to let the band play at his private place, The Cardinal Club, a B-joint, literally across the street from Fort Jackson. The first time out they realized the whole audience were country fans, old-style country! Frank broke loose with "Act Naturally" which the band knew from the Beatles, but was originally a Buck Owens song, and won over the crowd. They then played a countrified version of their set list to get by, including an extremely long version of Cream's "I'm So Glad" , which, being in 2/4 time, was easily set to a country beat. Few customers showed up to the gig. The guy who ran the club told the band they would have to come back the next week and play again in order to get paid. They said no, and he drew a gun. In Bill's words, "We called that playing pro bono". At some point during the summer, Steve and Bill, who hadn't been getting along all that well, stayed up all night at The Zoo having "a true 60's experience", and decided by night's end that they really disliked each other, but could get along great now that they realized it! In Steve's words, "It being the 60's, we felt compelled, and perhaps proud, to recount this attitudinal epiphany to anyone who would listen". July 22 & 23, 1969. Christopher recorded "What'cha Gonna Do?" at Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, NC, a state of the art 8-track studio. Arthur himself was a famous performer and songwriter who wrote "Guitar Boogie" and "Dueling Banjos". It was the best money could buy in the South at the time, an astonishingly expensive $62 per hour, but the studio wasn't quite sure what to make of Christopher! The engineer, Jerry Black, introduced himself by saying, "This is the first 8-track stereo recording of an acid rock band I've ever done" in his Southern drawl. The album was privately pressed by the band as a demo to submit to labels for a hoped-for major label deal. August 1969. The band took two weeks off, their first break in over a year. Rhythm guitarist Steve Nagle went to the Woodstock Festival and was never the same. Toby and Gary went to New York City to try to get the band a major label deal. The demo LP received some radio play on some stations in the South. A three minute edited version of the title track was made for radio as a tape-only single. Most of Christopher's gigs featured multiple acts with real Southern psychedelic rock bands (NOT, the band is eager to point out, "Southern Rock" bands who were to come along later). Other Columbia area bands at the time were Woody & The Goodies; Medusa's Head, The Grits, Acme Repossessing Company, and the aforementioned Speed Limit 35. Due to their increasing popularity and record release, Christopher was by this time always fortunate enough to headline. Another event reminiscent of "Animal House", F.R.E.A.K. Week ("Freedom To Research Every Aspect of Knowledge"). This was a celebration of spring at USC, satirical poke at Greek Week, a century old tradition of frat guys looking and acting like jerks. Christopher played at FREAK Week along with other acid rock bands of the region. There were games like joint rolling contests, belly button contests, and the best, throwing wet grits at Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans. September 1969. In one memorable concert at Phantasmagoria, Christopher was on stage when police raided the club and busted dozens of people. As the police marched the patrons off, the band played Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth". The owner of the club was so uptight he made the band finish playing their contracted evening set to an entirely empty room. One night while returning from a gig at Emory University in Atlanta, in the new van, Gary fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the highway into the woods. Amazingly no one was injured and the van was unscratched. They returned to the road with Frank driving, only to be pulled over a short while later by a SC State trooper. The band sweated it out as the cop came up to the car. Frank rolled down the window, and the cop said, "You boys go to USC?" (the van was sporting a USC Gamecocks sticker). He then proceeded to tell them that the team had won the game earlier that evening, the only reason he'd pulled them over! October 1969. Christopher was contacted by a management firm from Texas who worked with national acts, and were offered a substantial management deal, a national tour as an opener for the Steve Miller Band, and a major label LP release. Big decisions had to be made. Acceptance of the offer would mean leaving school and lives irreversibly changed, and pressure began to build. They figured they would be travelling 300 days a year, and not get rich after all the fees were taken out. Also a new lead singer was brought in for a couple of gigs, and Steve began to question his role in the group, opening the door to further defections, critically Frank's. In Gary's words, "What' cha Gonna Do?" and, "P.S. We all graduated". Both Gary and Frank have continued to work as musicians. (Gary Lucas)

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