Peach Fuzz and Peppermints

tarantula_coverTarantula: Tarantula (A&M)

What was quintessential can quickly fade. It then becomes the gift of those who decide where relevance exists, and there lies a problem. History is largely a composite, a construct by those who were not present. Much of what is deemed to be wholly representative of an era was largely ignored at the time: the poetry of Rimbaud, the paintings of Van Gogh or the songs of Nick Drake. Messages can take a long time to get through to receptive ears, and one such missive that remains in transit is Tarantula's sole album, from 1969. It mattered little then, and matters little now, but it is a perfect freeze-frame of the dissolution and ideals of the Sixties.

Wigged-out but flawlessly played, this much-ignored, authentic slab of pure psych-prog has a loose-limbed cohesion and is wonderfully weird. In terms of curio and masterpiece, this one exists as an authentic souvenir of the times: California, circa '68-69, just as the flowers start to wilt upon the heads they'd once adorned, and the string pops on the cheap strands of love beads. Unruly, crackers, and out to lunch, this was the soundtrack of uncertain lives. The times seemed to be blessed with optimism, but reality shatters every dream. This is the last gasp of peace and love, but one whose final breath is imbued with the knowledge of impending darkness.

Formed by ex-Spanky and Our Gang member Oz Bach, and produced by Chad Stuart of Chad and Jeremy fame, the album slithers all over the place like a divinely mad snake on the trip of a lifetime. Eastern influences, military drumming and pieces of pastoral delight combine to intoxicate and alienate in equal measure. This spider has been out in the sun too long, is both scary and mad, but wishes to infiltrate the eardrums and share the madness. Joining Bach on bass, were Steve Zwirm, drums, Tom Grasso, organ, Thad Maxwell, electric guitar, and Mike Edelman on vocals, flute and sax.

Inspired perversity stripped much of Tarantula's efforts of its obvious commerciality. The opening track "You" has successful single a la "Spirit in the Sky" written all over it, whilst "Electric Guru" is an adept exercise in bottling the mysticism and ideals of the era. "T.V. Repairman" sounds like Zappa auditioning for Hair. His diversity is referenced on much of the proceedings, but a bunch of also-ran Franks these boys were not. They possessed a strangely spiritual inclination, as betrayed in "Love Is for Peace," their only single. It's a mantra-like chant for space cadets of any era, right down to the Scottish reel they mange to rope into this diligent tapestry of insanity before abandoning it a few seconds later.

Perhaps the beautifully melancholic "Thoughts for Anne" betrayed too much of "Eleanor Rigby" to impress the purists of the day, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a finer song. Rarely have Americans managed to sound so chamber-gloomily English and haunted. The divinely titled and terribly louche "Peach Fuzz and Peppermints" sounds like something a stripper might have shaken her moneymaker to, in a 1930s sin bin, before descending into the kind of fuzzed-out intensity only Patti Smith now seems capable of generating.

"Red Herring," as the name suggests, goes all over the shops, but somehow manages to never topple into the abyss it so perilously skirts, whilst "Billie the Birdman" begins as pure Beatles in "Strawberry Fields" mode, but ends as a whimsical Blur at their most Parklife. The brief, sad smattering of applause at the track's demise, and that of the album, portended the meager portion of appreciation shown Tarantula. Things didn't translate into wider recognition and success, and they didn't cross the line from 1969 to '70.

It is easy to see why they never hit anything resembling the big time. They probably weren't even attempting to, and may not have managed the consequences of success too well. Albums like this don't get made because of good sense and rational behavior, but they do betray impeccable timing and taste. As Mr. Wilde once opined, "All things in moderation, especially moderation." Tarantula thankfully gave free rein to their notions, albeit briefly, and left us a box of tricks worthy of Pandora. More Peach Fuzz everyone? - Robert Cochrane

cochrane.jpg

Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published three collections of poems, and Gone Tomorrow, his biography of the rock singer Jobriath, will appear via SAF in 2008.

Tarantula film

The long lost film of Tarantula was found, restored and digitized in 2010. It had it's premier at The Woodstock Film Festival.

To see the article from the Film Festival's program, go here.

http://www.woodstockfilmfestival.com/festival2010/details.php?id=21559

To see Roll Magazine's article on the legendary photographer Barry Feinstein go here.

http://www.rollmagazine.com/archive/may09/articles/art.php

To view Barry Feinstein's portfolio of iconic photos of the early Bob Dylan et al, go here.

http://www.barryfeinsteinphotography.com/photography.htm

reply to Bill Stow

Hi Bill. The story about Chad Stuart and the song titles has no basis in fact. It was pure coincidence that the titles had similar words. I wrote Peach Fuzz but was not influenced by Incense and Peppermints..a song which held zero appeal for me..and I wrote Billy The Birdman as well and hadn't ever even heard the other song. It would be cool to know how the Chad Stuart story came to be. Electric Guru was written by our sax player, Mike Edelman, and I don't think there was any reference to the other band's tune..there were a lot of guru's floating around in LA circa 1968 and since Edelman played his sax through a Maestro box and an Echoplex, HE WAS the electric guru..knowing my partner as well as I did, it was most likely a reflection of his spirituality...and a way to meet chicks! I'm getting a number of emails from old Tarantula fans. It's great fun. The film, "Tarantula" by Barry Feinstein featuring the band plus 3 of the GTO's had it's World Premier at the 2010 Woodstock Film Festival earlier this month. http://www.barryfeinsteinphotography.com/ The story of how the 16 mm original film was lost for 40 years..then found and digitized is interesting indeed..I'll get around to posting it one of these days.

Tarantula

The interesting thing about this psych album is the similarity of the song titles to the Strawberry Alarm Clock's debut album Incense and Peppermints. The story behind this is apparently that Tarantula producer Chad Stuart felt that the Strawberry's were a bit too poppy to really represent the psych genre so he and the members of Tarantula set out to redress the balance. The date of the album 1969 is after the height of psych which gives further credence to this story. For instance Incense and Peppermints, The Birdman of Alcatraz, Sit with the Guru are all titles on the Strawberry's album, Peach Fuzz and Peppermints, Billy the Birdman and Electric Guru are titles on the Tarantula album. The Tarantula album is worthy of a listen for all pysch fans - it's one of my favourites.

The Genesis of Songs

Thanks for your comments, although they are not accurate. Please see the response below for the last word on how all of this came to pass.

Tarantula.......the album

I've been a long time fan of this abum, since picking it up circa 1971 in Woolworths' (Hartlepool branch) cut out bins for the princely sum of 50p......not really read much about them since!

I would like to thank Robert for selling me a copy of their '45 recently and drawing my attention to his review of the album, which I thoroughly enjoyed and concur with. I sincerely hope that the article may bring this wonderful album to a few more appreciative ears.

'Tis good to read Tom Grasso's input and find out about the promo film. What are the other guys in the band up to these days I wonder? Sadly, I do know that Oz Bach is no longer with us....but at least he has left this album behind for us to remember him by.

As my copy of the album isn't getting any younger, a cd reissue is long overdue....hopefully some enterprising record company may be reading this.........

Robert Cochrane review of the Tarantula Album

I am Tom Grasso..founding member of Tarantula. i wanted to thank Mr. Cochrane for the marvelous review..
Thanks for "getting it"!

T. Grasso

Tarantula film discovered

Someone has posted some rare footage from a promotional film produced by A&M to coincide with the 1969 release of the Tarantula album. It's here..on You Tube. Featured tune is "Red Herring"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=va6ANYh8KxY&feature=related

Tarantula

I won this album from a local radio station. Quirky, yet it became one of my favorites. Would LOVE to get the tracks somehow...

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.