Kaleidoscope – the American one, featuring David Lindley – purveyed a truly idiosyncratic mix of jug band stompers, psych-pop, blues, bluegrass and neo-Egyptian instrumentals.
Much favoured by fans like Jimmy Page (who loved the guitar interplay and sonic ambition), their four albums for Epic from 1967 to 1970 were unbalanced but intriguing objects.
Like a mind-boggling combination of Summer of Love acid-rock, goodtime saloon music and a Middle Eastern jam session, Side Trips, the 1967 debut album by the San Gabriel Valley (California) – based outfit, stood out, even in the eye of the psychedelic hurricane, as something altogether different.
The album was recorded with a startling arsenal of instruments, including banjo, fiddle, doumbek, mandolin, viola, saz, bouzouki, dobro, vina, autoharp, oud and clarinet.
Other highlights included Nobody – a one-off collaboration with Larry Williams and Johnny Guitar Watson, psych-soul with Egyptian flavours, and lengthy instrumentals like Taxim, Sefan and New Blue Ooze (whose bass part features one note plucked for nine minutes!), which are surprisingly gripping.
When they entertained the wide-eyed customers of San Francisco’s Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms and Los Angeles’ Ash Grove, they frequently employed flamenco and belly dancers onstage.
Much of their uniqueness was due to the only two constant members, from their formation in September 1966 to their departure four years later – David Lindley and Solomon Feldthouse.
Lindley was primarily responsible for getting the band together. He was a well-known musician in Southern California, where he was a member of a healthy scene revolving around McCabe’s guitar store (which had associations with Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as well).
He also recorded banjo for a number of regional labels and worked with people like Randy Boone, Glen Campbell and, inevitably, the New Christy Minstrels.
Sol Feldthouse grew up in Florida and eventually found his way to California. Lindley was principally lead guitarist, banjo and fiddle player, while Feldthouse played various exotic instruments like the oud and saz, as well as guitar.
They both handled most of the vocals too. Feldthouse, in particular, had an unusual coarse, deep voice, which was very distinctive – the ultimate Feldthouse vocal can be heard on Oh Death, on Side Trips, a curdled vocal that is surely what the mysterious Mr. Allen in H.P. Lovecraft’s Case of Charles Dexter Ward would have sounded like.
The other musicians on the albums were no less versatile. It’s useful to group Side Trips and A Beacon from Mars together here, where Chris Darrow played bass, plus fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitar, John Vidican was percussionist and Max Buda, who replaced Fenrus Epp, played keyboards, fiddle and incredible harmonica.
Now managed by the Robert Stigwood Organisation, they supported Cream on their American farewell tour. The band broke up not long after the release of Bernice.
After splitting, the ex-members went in various directions. Lindley relocated to the UK where he played for two years in Terry Reid’s band. Throughout the ‘70s Lindley toured and recorded with a number of artists, including David Crosby and Graham Nash, Linda Ronstadt and, most famously, Jackson Browne.
He played on innumerable sessions and collaborated with Ry Cooder, Henry Kaiser and others. In the ‘80s Lindley formed the reggae and R&B-inflected El Rayo-X, who recorded three albums for Elektra before disbanding. Lindley began releasing work under his own name during the following decade, working both solo and with percussionists Hani Naser and Wally Ingram.
Paul Lagos played with John Mayall for a time, Stuart Brotman did session work, for example with Al Kooper, and Morning (on their excellent Struck Like Silver), and Parcely, Kaplan and Crill can be heard on Bruce Palmer’s solo album, which, despite association with two great bands, is sadly not very good. The remarkable Sol Feldthouse vanished from music altogether.
Chester Crill (Fenrus Epp)
Keyboards, fiddle, harmonica