Compiling the "Nuggets From The Golden State" series has been a lot of fun and a true labour of love, but right from the start there's one volume I've been itching to put together: 'The Berkeley EPs'. A compilation of four prized artefacts from the mid-1960s West Coast rock renaissance, this CD hopes to make a case for the town of Berkeley as the real birthplace of psychedelic music.People in the UK tend to view the whole of the Bay Area as just "San Francisco" whereas Berkeley, a twenty minute drive east across the Bay Bridge, is a completely separate area, both geographically and intellectually. And it shows.
The role of local heroes Country Joe And The Fish as pioneers of acid rock has always been obscured by the "Woodstock" movie and their overt politics. But one listen to Bass Strings or Section 43 recorded in 1966 for release as an extended-play on their own label, confirms the rarely acknowledged fact that the Fish were the first tangibly psychedelic rock band, along with perhaps the 13th Floor Elevators in Texas.The Fish's EP inspired other Berkeley bands, such as Mad River and Notes From The Underground, to emulate this independence of presentation and spirit. In particular, Mad River defy description as a truly idiosyncratic amalgam of jazz, folk and freaky rock. And they are, as turned-on Mr Kipling might say, "exceedingly psychedelic." Frumious Bandersnatch were from over the hill in Lafayette, but operated in the same time and space; the phrase 'legendary' has been used so many times with these guys that they deserve a place at King Arthur's Court. Interesting anecdote: Frumious bass player Ross Valory's mother Kaye - on whose ranch the band lived - had been instrumental in getting Reagan elected as Governor of California. Consequently, Ron and Nancy would pop round for a cuppa whenever they were in the area and get and earful of high volume acid rock into the bargain.On a practical level, the project was a logistical nightmare. Licensing the Fish tracks from Joe McDonald's Rag Baby Records was easy enough, as was getting the Notes' material from Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie, who reacted to enquiries over the phone with the kind of quiet chuckle that implies that he believes the person at the other end's sanity (i.e. mine) to be severely in doubt. But Chris still had the master reel, and graciously allowed us to also use three previously unissued cuts from the same session.Unfortunately, the tape for the Mad River record had apparently vapourised in the Oakland Hills fire of 1991 (as very nearly did this writer's record collection, recently shipped over from the UK at great expense). Protracted discussions with members of the band made it was clear no-one else had a safety master, and so finally my vinyl copy of the EP was despatched over to Ace, where the boffins downstairs in Sound Mastering worked wonders getting master tape sound out of its thin grooves. Clinching the use of the Frumious Bandersnatch cuts took longer, as the tapes were in the possession of elusive guitarist Bob Winkelman. Around Christmas time of last year we finally got hold of Bob, a real sweetheart of a guy, who quickly fished out the original multi-track session tapes from beneath his voluminous family of cats.A couple of years down the line, it's great to see the disc finally out. And as a resident of Berkeley since moving to the United States, I feel quite proud.