(Welcome to Videodrome. A monthly column plumbing the depths of vintage underground cinema — from cult, exploitation, trash and grindhouse to sci-fi, horror, noir and beyond.)

funGeorge Greenough grew up like many coastal So-Cal youths in the 1950s…in the water. But what made Greenough different was his desire to learn absolutely everything he could about the ocean. In the most simple of forms: how it works and -most impactful on today’s surf culture – the physics behind optimal performance of man and his equipment in the big blue. From boards to fins his achievements are numerous. But, let’s start with his feats as a filmmaker (and photographer), because his impact from directing (arguably) the most progressive surf film of any era – has transcended culture well beyond surf.

The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun, filmed in 1969 captured the first stages of the shortboarding revolution. Up until this point, longboards ruled the lineup and were pretty much the only mode of wave transport. However, the crew that Greenough ran with (Aussies, Nat Young & Bob McTavish) challenged the idea of how a board should look, feel and measure. You see – Greenough figured out that in order to accomplish the things he wanted to do on a wave (hairpin maneuvers, cutbacks, wild air off the lips), he needed to ride on his knees, on a much shorter, spooned out board. Quite a sweeping concept but he proved this allowed him maximum velocity and control…the Aussies agreed and, long story short (pun semi-intended), McTavish (board shaping pioneer) cut down his log and started rippin’. Greenough was there to shoot it all and these sessions make up the footage of the film. A revolutionary surf moment caught in its infancy on Innermost Limits of Pure Fun? Check.

The Farm :: San Ho Zay

With a bit of the history out of the way, let’s focus on some nuts and bolts of the film itself…

Utilizing beautiful 16mm film, Greenough chased the perfect shot. And, I mean, literally chased his subjects. While riding the pocket of a wave, Greenough armed with a heavy camera strapped on his back (or mounted to the nose of his board), navigated gnarly barrels, reef breaks, double-ups and crumbly waves alike…all in service of giving the viewer the most coveted surf prospective: the tube ride. Which, up until this particular timeframe, had never been done before. The only way to achieve this view was to go out and do it yourself.

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Surf filming flipped on its head and redefined as the new standard? Check (you’re welcome, GoPro).

The Farm :: Innerspace

Back to the film…We follow Greenough and crew as they hop around remote Australia and – remarkably untouched – California, riding their radical sea vessels…while basically setting the benchmark for stylish surf performance and living a model life that current surfers emulate daily.  These guys were innovators and forefathers of the modern sport and there is something so absolutely satisfying about watching their historical adventures and penchant for living, that you may not even recognize it all serves as the film’s narrative.

And, what pairs well with a timeless visual narrative? Well, a timeless improvised soundtrack by one-off San Francisco psych band The Farm. There is nary a word spoken in this film…just thick, heavy grooves. The music and imagery coexist so seamlessly in the film, that any explanation would just muddy the experience.

The Farm take their cues from surf music forefathers like: Dick Dale, the Ventures and Beach Boys but rub some bay area psych into the jams that provide the soundscape for some of the most progressive, expressive and stylish surfing caught on film. Thumping bass lines, humming keys and intricate guitar work that recedes and breaks like the water. Simply, outstanding stuff here.

The Farm :: Coming of Dawn

These musicians in an impromptu situation, managed to weave the conversation between the surfers, waves and the viewer. It should be noted they are all familiar names. Dennis Dragon conceived the project and went on to form Surf Punks. His brother Daryl was (I kid you not)…Captain of Captain and Tenille and lead guitarist Denny Aaberg noodled around on various projects such as, writing the Gary Busey surf flick, Big Wednesday.

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Terry Reid’s “Ooh Baby (You Make me Feel So Young)” is a sexed up, laid back, minor key gem. That it sounds like one of the funkiest tracks Crosby, Stills, and Nash never recorded is no accident, as Graham Nash was both acting as producer and pitching in vocal harmonies. Bell-bottomed and swaying under streetlights, the song is one of those classic slices of nocturnal, mid-Seventies LA. That Seed of Memory, the album from which the track is taken, is nowadays hardly remembered has less to do with its quality and everything to do with the back story.

To this day, Reid is perhaps best known for an apocryphal phone conversation he once had with Jimmy Page. Look at any profile of the guy, and this will be the lead: he lost his chance to be the lead singer of no less a band than Led Zeppelin. But as Reid himself explains: ‘That’s a load of bullshit! I was the one who put the group together. Jimmy Page offered me the job, but I had two tours of America booked up [in 1968, opening for Cream and the Stones], so I had to say no. In the meantime, we were doing a gig in Buxton, I think it was—with the Band Of Joy as support. I’d seen them before, and I knew Robert Plant and John Bonham. And when I watched them on stage, I thought, that’s it…So I phoned up Jimmy the next day and said, “I’ve found him, the singer.” And Jimmy said, “What does he look like?” “Whaddya mean what does he look like’?” I said. “He looks like a Greek God. I’m talking about how he sings!”’The rest, as they say, is rock n’ roll: Zeppelin became Zeppelin, and Reid drifted off, if not into obscurity than into that rather vague status of a Musician’s Musician: adored by the likes of Keith Richards and Aretha Franklin, a deft hand in the studio, a supplier of great gigs (he played Mick’s wedding to Bianca), and yet a stranger to the buying public.

Reid’s sound is a peculiar one, bringing together a whole range of influences. He came up through the Mod scene in the UK, with a strong, soulful voice akin that of Steve Marriott. Taken under the wing of the manager/producer/slave-driver Mickie Most, he went on to lead his own power trio—specializing in Doorsy jams and Hendrixy bombast (see for instance the quiet-loud-quiet of ‘Rich Kid Blues,’ later to be covered by The Raconteurs). He also had a gentler, more introspective side that fell somewhere between Donovan and an acoustic Bobby Womack. Come the end of the Sixties, however, all the smoky psychedelia trailed away to reveal one hell of a roots rocker: someone who could unleash a down home groove and make it all sound improvisational, as though The Faces and Van Morrison had inadvertently found themselves in the same nightclub. If you really want to get beyond the Missed-His-Chance mythologizing and see what Reid was actually capable of, what he could actually accomplish, then look no further than his appearance at the second Glastonbury Festival in 1971. To call this barn-storming is to catch something of the incendiary energy, but to miss the impressionism. The messiness, the rough draft rehearsal feel is purposeful. Scat-like, he toys with the song, rephrasing the words until they’re barely words at all but moans, bluesy utterances.

For all intents and purposes, his follow-up to 1973’s The River should have been the album that made him. With The River Reid had minted a laidback rock that eschewed verse-chorus sing-a-longs. He wasn’t trying to be catchy anymore than Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison was. And therein lay the problem, as Mickie Most proceeded to sink Reid (much as he had previously sunk Donovan) in litigation for drifting too far from marketability. The legal wrangles that ensued would postpone a new album for next three years. So, while others were striking pay-dirt in Laurel Canyon, Reid—who had since relocated to Ventura—was out of sight, out of mind.

Seed of Memory may have been released three years too late, but it’s still an impressive mid-Seventies album, trading in the slick studio perfectionism of Eagles albums for something looser, more earthy. In fact it may, oddly, stand as a far better testament to the Laurel Canyon scene of folky, post-psychedelic rockers, pot-smoking country singers, and expatriate Brits (like Graham Nash, like 3/5ths of Fleetwood Mac)—intermingling musicians who, for a time, were focused more on making music in each other’s backyards than they were record sales or appeasing stadium crowds. In a sense, Reid has remained true to that spirit for far longer than anyone else.  words / dk o’hara

Terry Reid :: Ooh Baby (You Make Me Feel So Young)

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Is it possible that one of the most sublime and transporting pieces of music released in 2014 is by a band with the hard-to-say-with-a-straightface name Bitchin Bajas? Yes, yes it is. The Chicago group’s new, self-titled double LP is a masterpiece of minimalist moves. Drawing from such beloved avant garde composers as LaMonte Young, Henry Flynt, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and others, Bitchin Bajas’ four sides are positively transcendent, weaving a rich tapestry of warm and enveloping drones that hum with cosmic, spiritual vibrations. Turn on, tune in, bliss out.

Cooper Crain, one of Bitchin Bajas’ main movers and shakers, is perhaps better known for his role in the krautrockin’ Cave, truly one of America’s finest bands. There’s no new material from Cave at the moment, but there is Release, a handy compilation of rare and unreleased jams from the Cave archives. This is a group packed with virtuoso players (drummer Rex McMurry is particularly dazzling), but there’s very little showing off. Cave would rather find the perfect wave and ride it together, forever. Release may be a stopgap between proper albums, but it’s essential listening all the same. words / t wilcox

Cave :: Machines And Muscles

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(Volume 23 of Clifton’s Corner. Clifton Weaver, aka DJ Soft Touch, shares some of his favorite spins, old and new, in the worlds of soul, r&b, funk, psych and beyond.)

It’s been a while since the last Clifton’s Corner; so I thought I’d share some of my favorite soul and funk sounds of the moment to help us get reacquainted.

The Chambers Brothers :: Funky

Probably best known for their psych-soul masterpiece, “Time Has Come Today”, this lesser known track will be familiar to Tribe Called Quest fans as providing the sample for “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”.

Lee Sain :: Them Hot Pants

Lee Sain was born in Muskegon Michigan, where he attended the Muskegon Heights school system. He first started singing at the age of four in a gospel group consisting of him and his four brothers. He recorded his first record in Chicago, “We’ll Meet Again,” and went on to record “Hey Baby and “I Can’t Fight It”, featuring Denise Williams. After leaving Chicago he recorded “Them Hot Pants” and “She’s my Old Lady Too” at Stax and was one of “The Stax Golden 13” who performed “Old-Time Religion” at the 1972 Wattstax concert in Los Angeles.”

Samson & Delilah :: Will You Be Ready?

Roy Redmond :: Good Day Sunshine

An interesting cover of the Beatles track off of Revolver. This particular version was featured in the obscure 60s pop art film, The Touchables. Coincidentally (or not), the film was directed by Beatles photographer Robert Freeman. As well as this gem, the soundtrack features songs from the original UK band Nirvana and organist Wynder K Frog.

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smokedawson_fiddleChances are you have very few — if any — solo fiddle records in your collection. Smoke Dawson’s Fiddle, freshly rescued from private press obscurity by the ever-reliable Tompkins Square label, should change that. Among other things, Tompkins Square is known for uncovering little-known gems from the Takoma School/guitar soli world.

While Smoke Dawson’s instrument of choice is the fiddle (with a little bit of bagpipe thrown in there for good measure), his spirit is in Takoma, as he dips deep into the well of traditional American music and comes out with a rough-hewn fantasia that’s raw, beautiful and just goddamn wonderful. Originally released in an extremely limited edition way back in 1971, Fiddle still sounds as fresh and clear as a mountain stream. words / t wilcox

Smoke Dawson :: Connaughtman’s Rambles Devil’s Dream Marche Venerie

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Since the dawn of the Great Recession, M.C. Taylor has emerged as one of America’s most potent songwriters. Formerly of hardcore outfit Ex-Ignota and alt-country band The Court and Spark, Taylor’s recordings under the Hiss Golden Messenger banner have chronicled his move from California to North Carolina, discussing his fatherhood, the duty of work, and mysteries of faith along the way. He’s tackled such big concerns over the course of five full-lengths, immersing himself in ancient American musical idioms – folk, blues, gospel and country, while folding in textural ideas garnered from a deep understanding of reggae, AM gold, boogie, soul, and R&B.

HGMLateness of Dancers is his latest. Named for a Eudora Welty story, the album continues Taylor’s immersion in Southern culture. It’s his first for Chapel Hill-based independent label Merge Records, and it stands as Taylor’s warmest statement yet. The record finds Taylor joined by many of the musicians who made 2013’s Haw feel like a dramatic step forward: guitarist William Tyler, bassist/engineer Scott Hirsch, Phil and Brad Cook of Megafaun. Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Mountain Man is present too, contributing powerful harmony and background vocals.

With these fine players by his side, Taylor continues to move away from the stark folk that defined his breakthrough album, Bad Debt. Here, he indulges his taste for country soul, driving roots rock, and fluid folk. First single “Saturday’s Song” swoons like classic ‘70s singer/songwriter pop, while “Mahogany Dread” and “Lucia,” a holdover from Court and Spark’s Dead Diamond River, evoke The Band, with swelling organ and steady, thumping rhythms. With “Southern Grammar,” Taylor recalls the roadhouse funk of J.J. Cale like he did with fellow songwriter Steve Gunn on their collaborative Golden Gunn LP. The sonic palette will be familiar to Taylors’ fans, but he continues to surprise, grooving as hard as Hiss Golden Messenger ever has with the loose “I’m A Raven (Shake Children)” and drifting into the mystic ether like never before on the title track and standout song, “Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses).”

Following the often harrowing lyrical ruminations of Haw, Taylor spends much of Lateness of Dancers focusing on family and home. Taylor’s narrator in “Black Dog Wind” sings of his father, “Yeah he just waved bye bye/That man, goddman/What he told me sticks/We gotta cross that river in a black dog wind.” There’s something about the way he sings “bye bye,” in a manner that suggests a kind of beautiful hurt, which hints that he’s singing about the kind of sadness that can only come from a place of deep devotion. He illuminates it even more with “Mahogany Dread,” where he sings, “The misery of love is a funny thing/ The more it hurts the more you think/You can stand a little pain.” Over the course of the album’s ten songs, Taylor explores that range, singing about his happiness with twinges of perfect melancholy, finding moments of solace and hope in even his darkest observations. The album calls to mind another quote from Welty: “The excursion is the same when you go looking for your sorrow as when you go looking for your joy.” Few songwriters take that idea to heart like M.C. Taylor, and few albums address it quite like Lateness of Dancers. words / j woodbury

Hiss Golden Messenger :: Lucia

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On September 8, 2008, David Berman rolled his touring band into WFMU‘s New Jersey studio to record a live set for Benjamin Walker’s show. Berman — who by this point had played live less than a hundred times in his band’s twenty year career — sounds like his pre-Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea self; the sense of confidence that rings through that record is suddenly notable for its absence here. But his crackerjack band, which includes experimental guitarist William Tyler, spitshine the lo-fi off that back catalogue, giving Starlite Walker standout “Trains Across the Sea” the trad-Nashville sheen it never knew it needed. Less than four months later, Silver Jews would be no more. words / m garner

Silver Jews :: Trains Across The Sea (Live, WFMU)

berryIn the case that you just hit play on our “September” mix and subsequently heard the funky rhythms of a song that is clearly said to belong to Chuck Berry, let me assure you that, yes, this is THE Chuck Berry. From his 1971 album San Francisco Dues, the second of five releases on the Chess label from 1970 to 1973, Berry continues on a more mature, blues-driven note introduced on 1970’s Back Home. But this song, more than others recorded around the same time, is the most difficult to pin down genre-wise. Above all else, it’s a song of longing — a yearning for a richer, easier way of living than the one he is escaping. Failed love has driven him back to the welcoming arms and Delta magic of Louisiana.

As a resident of the bayou state, the song’s unyielding shout-outs to the creole cuisine and down home Delta dialect serve as a reminder of he overwhelming feeling of deprivation that sets in when I set one foot over the state line. So feel free to add Chuck Berry (along with Dion, Melanie and Bobby Charles, just to name a few) to that long list former hitmakers responsible for some, largely unheard, 70’s gems. He surely earned it with this one. words / p dufrene

Chuck Berry :: Oh Louisiana

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Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 355: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ David Bowie – Speed Of Life ++ Landline – Wire ++ The Fall – A Lot of Wind ++ Ought – Pleasant Heart ++ Ty Segall & White Fence – Scissor People ++ Jack Name – New Guitars ++ Jack Name – Pure Terror ++ King Tuff – Magic Mirror ++ David Vandervelde – Nothin’ No ++ Ty Segall – Tall Man Skinny Lady ++ Richard Swift – Lady Luck ++ Paul McCartney – Darkroom ++ Foxygen – How Can You Really ++ Jacco Gardner – Clear The Air ++ Gruff Rhys – Con Carino ++ Gap Dream – Fantastic Sam ++ Blossom Dearie – Somebody New ++ White Fence – Anger! Who Keeps You Under? ++ The Olivia Tremor Control – California Demise, Pt. 3 ++ Alex Chilton – Don’t Worry Baby (fragment) ++ Old Smile – Are You Still There? ++ The Beets – You Don’t Want Kids To Be Dead ++ The Allah-Las – Long Journey ++ The Beach Boys – Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine ++ Jeans Wilder – Sparkler ++ Sonny & The Sunsets – Death Cream ++ T. Rex – Explosive Mouth ++ David Bowie – Boys Keep Swinging ++ Cass McCombs – The Same Thing ++ Amen Dunes – Spirits Are Parted ++ Kevin Morby – Reign ++ Woods – Size Meets The Sound ++ Jonathan Rado – All The Jung Girls (Diane Coffee cover) ++ Woods – Size Meets The Sound ++ Jacques Dutronc – Les Métamorphoses ++ Eddie Ray – You Are Mine ++ Flo & Eddie – I Been Born Again ++ Modern Vices – Taller In The Sunshine

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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