Friday, 21 April 2017

ESSRA MOHAWK: 'a lot of different kinds of music'

Primordial Lovers is an intense, impassioned, personal and otherworldly record, about which little is known, so thought I'd post some odds and ends here.

Sandra Elayne Hurvitz was born in Philadelphia on April 23rd 1948. Her recording career began with a pop 45 (The Boy With The Way / The Memory Of Your Voice), released on Liberty under the name Jamie Carter in August 1965.


It sold poorly, and by 1967 she was in New York, where she ran into Frank Zappa on Bleecker Street, across the road from the Garrick Theatre in Greenwich Village, where the Mothers were playing their famed residency. They had a romance, and she joined his band under a nickname he gave her, 'Uncle Meat'.

One audience member at the Garrick was Laura Nyro, whose first album had appeared at the start of the year, and to whom Essra would frequently be compared. "She used to come listen to me play at the Garrick long before I ever heard of her, or heard her," contends Essra. "She got my number and called me, introducing herself. She was influenced by me. Not the other way around. She could only imitate a small part of me, as I am much more musically expansive than she was." 

Essra's first album was made the same year for Zappa's production company, Bizarre. Recorded under his auspices, but in fact (rather basically) produced by Ian Underwood, it finally appeared on Verve under the name Sandy Hurvitz, in December 1968. 



Sandy's Album Is Here At Last is quirky and openly emotional, with uninhibited vocals and piano-led songs that change tempo and mood frequently. It appeared in shops without her being informed. "It was released unfinished and without my ok," explains Essra. "I made up the title, not because the label took so long to put it out (they didn't take long at all... In fact I wish they had taken longer, like never!), but because I was finally making my first album. I had no idea at the time how bad it would go." It was barely reviewed, and sold next to nothing. She didn't record for Verve again.

Around this time, the vice-president of Warner Brothers Records, Mo Ostin, saw her performing at Steve Paul's Scene in Manhattan, and signed her up to their Reprise label. Her second LP was recorded and mixed in Los Angeles that year. Almost all the sessions took place at Elektra, where her producer and husband Barry Friedman (aka Frazier Mohawk) worked.

Beautifully recorded and featuring a small army of sympathetic session players, including Lee Underwood, Dallas Taylor, Doug Hastings and Jerry Penrod, Primordial Lovers is a deep, even psychedelic experience that gently unfolds over multiple plays.

For some strange reason, a handful of advance copies were sent out in a red sleeve in early 1970. (The music and running order on these is identical to the commercial release.)




Primordial Lovers was released in the US and Canada in April 1970 (no foreign pressings are known to exist), in a striking gatefold sleeve designed by Ed Thrasher, showing the Mohawks' entwined bodies.



Also included was a plump little lyric booklet:


Here's the press release and accompanying photo that were sent out to radio stations and reviewers:






The only advert I've seen was shared with several other Reprise releases, and crassly drew attention to the 'erotic packaging', as well as wrongly stating it was her 'debut':



Few reviews appeared, and those that did tended to emphasise her superficial similarities to Laura Nyro. Oddly, as far as I am aware, no mainstream music magazines covered the LP.

Here's what Entertainment World wrote in their May 8th issue:


 High Fidelity magazine had this to say in August:


Here's a five-star review in Down Beat of November 12th (review by Mike Bourne):


And, finally, here's a typically sniffy assessment from the American Record Guide's December issue:



No single was extracted, though mono and stereo versions of Spiral were sent to radio stations along with the LP. (It has been suggested that Spiral was also issued with a track called Image Of You on the B-side, but I have never seen a copy.)

Despite having cost a small fortune to record and manufacture, the LP was clobbered by poor distribution and promo, and sold poorly, as did a non-LP 45, Jabberwock Song / It's Up To Me, which appeared in May:



That, unfortunately, was that; a silence of five years was to ensue before her next recordings appeared.

As a final note, it has been claimed by Mojo and numerous others that Rolling Stone hailed Primordial Lovers as 'one of the 25 best albums ever made' upon its release. In fact, they didn't review the album at all. However, in 1977 a RS writer referred to it in passing as one of his personal best 25 albums of all time, something that is now quoted out of context whenever the album is mentioned, as if it were the result of a critics’ poll.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

DIMAGRAPHY AND THE ART OF ORGANOLEPTIC EVALUATION

One of the most important lessons a record collector can learn is that you never know what might turn up - even things you might think couldn't possibly exist.  
   
Until last year an eBay seller based in the US named 'marc_arel11' was selling sealed copies of classic 60s and 70s LPs, with previously unseen promo or 'hype' stickers on the sleeves. When that account suddenly went idle, a new one emerged, using the handle 'dimagraphy', and is still going strong. This seller appears to be named Dmitry Demchenko, and the listings say he's based in Garden Grove, California. Are his LPs from a record industry source, a radio station, or a reviewer? Or is he simply very lucky at sourcing such treasures? No one knows. But the truly amazing thing about his listings is that many of the stickers - which are almost all in remarkable, as-new condition - have also never been seen before, even by old-school collectors.    

In February of this year he raked in an impressive $2,154.00 for an original August 1966 paste-over copy of the Beatles' Yesterday & Today LP. It boasted a sticker that not only referred to the sleeve as a 'butcher cover' - therefore being the first documented use of the term - but also described it as '2nd state' (again, the first documented use of the term).     

Here's the beautiful vintage sticker found on that copy: 


You can click HERE for the auction listing.

On and on it goes - all in lovely condition, mostly previously unknown to hardcore collectors. For example, who knew that Master Of Reality (HERE) ever came with a hype sticker?


Or that the shrink on US first pressings of Led Zeppelin II came with track listing stickers in two different colours? All the ones previously known were pink, with sharp corners (as seen on the right here), but Dmitry's copy (on the left) is black, with rounded corners - and in wonderfully clean condition:


You can see that listing, which netted him an enviable $1313 - by clicking HERE

His greatest coup so far has surely been to find an original, sealed promo copy of the Rolling Stones' 1967 Their Satanic Majesties Request LP, bearing a promo sticker for Polygram records - a European company to which they were not signed, and which did not exist until 1972. 

Here's the beautiful vintage sticker on that one:


and HERE is the original listing, which unsurprisingly hauled in a whopping $1009.

Cynics might cry foul, but Dmitry offers this assurance: 'BASED ON OUR EXPERIENCE AND ORGANOLEPTIC EVALUATION ALL OF THE ELEMENTS OF THE ISSUE LEAVE NO DOUBTS THAT IT IS THE ORIGINAL FIRST PRESSING.'