Funk Archaeology: Soothing Sounds for (Egon’s) Baby

There are record collectors… And then there are people like Egon from Now-Again. Egon – who was the general manager of the Stones Throw label for 11 glorious years – is one of those rare creatures scouring the entire globe for the choicest bits of obscure wax, from Turkish psych to Zambian soul. In this edition, Egon shares some of the tracks he’s introducing to the newest addition to his family.


In a previous Funk Archaeology column, I wrote about the music that I played for my wife and my first child – our son, Kieran. In retrospect, I left off some key musical moments in chronicling his fledgling development. As detailed as a first time father can be, it’s easy to get caught up in parenthood’s necessities like, say, a dirty diaper.

Can - Mother Sky

Here, though, are two: Kieran’s near instantaneous reaction to the introductory guitar phrases on Zamrock legends WITCHs “Introduction” and his grooving up and down with the two and four of Holger Czukay’s bassline on Can’s “Mother Sky” at a Connecticut Christmas in 2011, when he was barely a year old.

I reflected on these moments while I was thinking of which songs I would first play for our daughter – Zoe, born on November 29th, 2012. My mindset now is a bit more focused. For while it seems so easy, when faced with the captive audience of a one year old human being, an empty sponge, ready to suck up whatever music you might want to splash into that brain of hers, just wait till your child is able to express a real opinion. Kieran reminded me of just how committed an infant can be when I tried to play him Edgar Broughton Band’s “Crying” at ten months old – he responded with an ear-piecing shriek, and tears the likes of which I hope never to see again. Captive audience or not, babies must be treated with respect, and they’ll let you know pretty damn quickly if they like what they’re hearing or not.

Be careful what you play your child – because if you do stumble upon something that he or she likes, you’ll find yourself listening to it over and over again.

And it’s just different with a baby girl. Surely, that comes somewhat from your preconceived notions of the way things are supposed to be with your daughter, and some of it, in our case, must have come from her being our second go ’round.  But I must believe that there’s something instinctual at work here too. For my wife, it was just obvious (mothers just get down like that); for me, there was a learning curve. But by the time Zoe was old enough to move beyond Raymond Scott’s classic Soothing Sounds for Baby, and I got around to picking out the selections I wanted to share with her, I realized that the visceral sounds I’d shared with her brother weren’t taking with her. So I took another approach. Atmospheric and environmental sounds took the lead, and the trial-and-error process that led to something resembling a baby hit-list made its way into our lives, our car rides, our every day routines.

As any parent will tell you, be careful what you play your child – not just because you are obviously bringing your taste to bear on a thing that takes stimuli full on, but because if you do stumble upon something that he or she likes, you’ll find yourself listening to it over and over again. And over again. Yes, I’m quite familiar with the first 20 seconds of Austrian psych legends Paternoster’s “Old Danube,” which has become Kieran’s daily fix. So I was careful, but not precious, with Zoe: I know the time is going to come where she, like Kieran, will make her own discoveries, and foist them upon me.

But at this glorious stage, where there are still words waiting to be formed on her tongue, while there are still opinions waiting to be articulated in her bubbling brain, and while I still must infer her like or dislike for something by judging her expression, it’s a particular wonder to behold what reactions the right music can elicit in our baby girl.

Ramases - Hello Mister, from Space Hymns (Vertigo, circa 1971)

Roger Dean / Vertigo
Ramases - Hello Mister

I brought a host of interesting Vertigo LPs to Los Angeles when I moved here in 2000 – mainly the funkier titles, the likes of Assagai’s first album and Ian Carr’s irresistible Nucleus albums. I’d never stumbled upon this one-off, the product of the late UK electrician/Egyptologist Barrington Frost. I swapped for a copy of Space Hymns mainly for its artwork by the famed Roger Dean. But there was also a tangential J. Dilla connection. (The album’s backing band would go on to become pub-rockers 10cc, sample-sources for Dilla’s “Workinonit” and “Waves.”) Upon hearing “Hello Mister,” I knew that the gods had led me to this album, as this song was to become Zoe’s first: an easy, repetitive refrain, a steady, building beat, just enough fuzz guitar and eclectic elements to keep Dad happy over repeated plays. And boy was I right: it only took a few plays, and a waving of my hand before she (and, predictably, her older brother) looked forward to a game of “Hello Mister,” which, by this point, I can happily summon by just humming her the song’s simple melody.

Donovan - Hurdy Gurdy Man, from Hurdy Gurdy Man (Epic, 1968)

Epic Records
Donovan - Hurdy Gurdy Man

Back when I started to collect records in earnest – around 1996, my freshman year in college, when I was freed from the constrained and often overpriced bins of the Tri-State and surrounded by dozens of interesting record crawls in Nashville – I found my first copy of Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man LP in the Great Escape’s Broadway location. It was a beat stereo copy on the yellow label American Epic, but it was such a joyous day. It was a dollar, so I still had enough money to buy a hamburger at the Wendy’s up the street before heading off to class, and it contained one of my most wanted songs at the time: “Get Thy Bearings.”

I spent the summer of 1997 listening to that album, but most specifically listening to “Get Thy Bearings” on repeat. In the years to follow, when I would take a trip to visit the folks, usually on a humid, summer evening, as my remaining family and I sat around the dinner table, eating and talking and thinking and often times drinking a bracing Riesling or another appropriate summer wine, I would reach for this album and play this familiar song for us all.

It was a couple years later that I returned to the title track, a bit more of an over-the-top offering, the type of psychedelic folk song you wish was on that 500 euro Pokora-starred obscurity you lost in a frenzied bidding war on eBay. It contains everything that made 1968 such a grand year for this type of music – a melancholic musing, sung in what one might describe as a weakened man’s warble, that turns triumphant and happy by the enlightenment offered by a roly-poly “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” And it’s just soft enough for a baby, with Donovan’s introductory cooing segueing perfectly into Alan Parker’s fuzz guitar growls. Zoe reacted well to this song, but I have to admit that Kieran – as an older sibling often will – co-opted it, making it his own, asking for it over and over again on this summer’s car rides to the park. That said, there was something magical about the look on Zoe’s face, which my wife first caught in a glimpse in the rear view mirror, as she watched her big brother enraptured for a few short minutes by this minute masterpiece.

Salty Dog - See the Storm, from Salty Dog (Zambezi, circa 1975)

Trevor Ford / Zambezi / Teal Record Company Ltd

According to an interview Strawberry Rain’s Jason Connoy conducted with Salty Dog’s bandleader Norma Muntemba, we find that Salty Dog was a Zamrock three piece, modeled after the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their name? Well, it wasn’t a reference to Procol Harum: Muntemba wanted to base the band around the concept of the force of life, so “Salty Dog” (Zambian slang for sperm) it was.

Perfect reason to include a song on a playlist for one’s youngest, right? There was also that first kick-the-Marshall distortion, which I’ve come to find can rouse Zoe from even her deepest woes, if only for a moment. And, when that works, and she perks up for this beautiful medley of psychedelic rock, blues and folk, I’m happy to have sourced, and duped, a copy of this, the eighth release on the Zambezi imprint, the same label that released WITCH’s landmark Lazy Bones!!

SRC - Marionette, from SRC (Capitol, circa 1968)

Capitol Records
SRC - Marionette

Major psychedelic records have seen release on the most unlikely of labels, from the large indies Metromedia (Christopher) to Roulette (the only US issue of the incredible Arzachel album). There are trippy fancies to find on nearly all of the US majors as well, and Capitol is a shining example. Somewhere across the field from Gandalf and Common People, perhaps within spitting distance of Hardwater, we find SRC. And, in this instance, we focus on this Detroit-based combo’s first album, released in 1968.

Father of three Madlib hipped me to this album, for the lumbering “Onesimpletask,” which he’d sampled on some record or another and which intrigued me enough, in its edited form, to ask for more. And so I ended up with SRC after a late night Discogs scrounge, and stumbled upon the pretty “Marionette,” which immediately made its way into Zoe’s first mix. It’s a progressive psychedelic song, but it’s also mesmerizing, perfect for the last song of her still-early nights.

Fresh Maggots - Car Song, from Car Song (RCA, circa 1971)

Keef / RCA Victor
Fresh Maggots - Car Song

The English folk duo of Mick Burgoyne and Leigh Dolphin – best known as the either intriguingly or unfortunately named Fresh Maggots – managed to record an album’s worth of music for RCA in 1971 while they were still in their teens. Their chosen name is an indication of the whimsy with which the two approached this golden opportunity, and probably explains the impossible pairing of pastoral folk and searing electric guitar leads. Reviews reprinted in 2006’s CD reissue show that contemporary critics were kind to the Fresh Maggots, but the execs at RCA were not. They would release only one album.

But they did manage to release an original 7" single in the UK and Australia. (These songs were then paired with two other tracks for the album for a Portuguese picture sleeve.) Of the two, “Car Song,” is the most unique, and sounds quite different from anything on the album: it actually has a beat. A very “Dilla-would-have-loved-this” boom/clap/boom that leads into a ditty about, well, a trip in the car. Perfect for a baby! And perfect for another ride in the car. The “la-la-la” refrain couldn’t have been a better addition to an already appealing song. Zoe, her brother, her mother and I have sung along dozens of times.

By Egon on October 17, 2013

On a different note