The original folk-niks Peter Stampfel & Steve Weber took off with 'Bird Song' in the movie "Easy Rider", but debuted with these two completely eccentric albums for Prestige in 64/65. 100% original folk nutters - accept no substitute
I WANNA BE A BIRD
by Phil Smee
It doesn't happen very often, but when it does the results can be cataclysmic! I'm not talking twisters or volcanos, but the meeting of two manic musical minds - in this case one Peter Stampfel and a certain Steve Weber.
The pair met in Greenwich Village in 1963, playing the rounds of coffee houses under a variety of bizarre names (including The Total Quintessence Stomach Pumpers), and rubbing shoulders and swapping songs with Tiny Tim, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. Steve Weber (guitar and crazy vocals) and Peter Stampfel (banjo, fiddle and even crazier vocals) decided to call themselves The Holy Modal Rounders. When asked, Peter declines to explain its meaning, "It took too long to make it up in the first place!" he claims. They wowed and baffled their Greenwich Village audiences with their disregard for traditional arrangements, making up their own words (when they couldn't decipher the originals) and subtly changing the melodies of the old standards. Despite ruffling a few folkie-feathers, their superb musicianship, spontaneous humour and a detailed knowledge of their subject enabled them to take lyrical liberties, and soon brought them to the attention of various record companies. Vanguard and Elektra showed an interest, but Prestige's producer Paul Rothschild evidently smoked dope - so they signed there!
This CD collects the music from their two Prestige albums entitled HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS and HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS 2, and adds a couple of previously unissued cuts, all in all representing their stage set list of the time. Both albums were issued in 1964 and their influence was soon felt as other groups picked up songs from the Rounders' repertoire for themselves. Thus, Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers' 1930 recording of Blues In A Bottle was given a new lease of life by The Lovin' Spoonful via Stampfel and Weber's crazed interpretation.
Repeat listening to these CDs is recommended! The duo veer across the grooves with what may seem like gay abandon, but listen again and you'll find Weber's guitar playing is a complete joy (Long John) and quite distinctive (Same Old Man), while Stampfel's violin cuts through and livens the choruses (Flop Eared Mule) with an electric charge.
The boys' repertoire was culled from an enviable collection of original recordings. They re-interpret Charlie Pool & The North Carolina Ramblers' Hesitation Blues, they do a cool version of Frank Hutchinson's Chevrolet Six, and even manage the incredibly beautiful Sail Away Ladies, familiar to fans of John Fahey. Like fellow troubadour Bob Dylan they admired the work of Henry Thomas, choosing his Fishing Blues for the 'Rounders treatment' and handing it over later to John Sebastian.
1965 found the Holy Modal Rounders playing at the opening of the Peace Eye Bookstore on East 10th Street, New York. The owner, a certain Ed Sanders, had a loose group/poetry-reading/partying band going with Tuli Kupferberg, called The Fugs. Weber and Stampfel were enlisted alongside Ken Weaver to record The Fugs First Album (CDWIKD 119). Weber also graced their second offering in 1965, The Fugs Second Album (CDWIKD 121). The pair then split, reformed and split again, but managing to record some of the most challenging and fun-stuffed music in between, including psychedelia, acid freeform and unholy folk mayhem. They still play the occasional gig to this day.
The Holy Modal Rounders were 100% folk nutters - true originals!