Among the eccentrics who inhabited Greenwich Village (New York) in the early 1960s, The Holy Modal Rounders were as weird as fish – as illustrated by their very name, which was selected from a shortlist which included The Total Quintessence Stomach Pumpers, The Temporal Worth High Steppers and The Motherfucker Creek Babyrapers.
Pete Stampfel and Steve Weber were accomplished folk and bluegrass musicians whose faux-shambolic playing belied their expertise. A warped vision commercially taken up by The Lovin’ Spoonful, they took old-time blues and Charlie Poole standards and fabricated lyrics about sniffin’ glue.
Their 1964 self-titled LP saw the first recorded use of the word “psychedelic” while 1967’s Indian War Whoop was recorded in a single hallucinogen-fuelled session in New York, complete with nonsensical between-song sketches and chatting. Playwright Sam Shephard contributed on drums.
Live In 1965 (1965) captured the band at the height of their prowess and remains an indispensable document of the 60’s folk revival.
The band went to Los Angeles to record their sole album for Elektra in 1968, The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders, a kind of acid folk parallel to early Mothers of Invention albums.
The LP segued between zany song fragments without a break. Bird Song – by far their most widely-known song due to its memorable use in the soundtrack of Easy Rider (1969) – was bad-trip honky tonk country, giving way in turn to zigzags among manic-depressive acoustic folk, barroom country and shambling tongue-in-cheek white boy blues.
Surprisingly, given the fairly insane end-result and modest sales figures, the Holy Modal Rounders did start on a second Elektra album, but the project was aborted when the drug use and craziness accelerated even more.
Stampfel and Weber got involved with doing the score to Sam Shepard’s Operation Sidewinder, split from Elektra, drank a lot, almost signed with Atlantic, and finally signed with the newly-founded Metromedia, releasing the album Good Taste Is Timeless (1971).
Guitar, fiddle, banjo, vocals