The 1975 album Have Moicy! was the summit of what Greil Marcus has called The Old, Weird America, a term he coined to describe Dylan’s basement tapes which he saw as a continuation of the spirit of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. What Marcus missed was the true keepers of the spirit of Smith’s groundbreaking collection, the musical misfits, smokers and tokers who constituted the extended Holy Modal Rounders family and who were responsible for the delights contained in Have Moicy! After surviving the sixties (and leaving behind him a slew of discs that, among other things, added the word psychedelic to the folk lexicon, graced the soundtrack to Easy Rider and funked up The Fugs) Peter Stampfel regrouped the Rounders without Steve Weber and with Michael Hurley and Jeffrey Fredericks and his Clamtones recorded what critic Robert Christgau called “the greatest folk album of the rock era.” While in 1975 Neil Young was heading for the ditch, Stampfel and his allies were manning a gleeful and zany outpost armed with fiddles and guitars taking aim at the absurdities of the day. Songs about hamburgers, alimentary canals and robbing banks delivered with zest, rock’n’roll, doo wop and folk reimagined in their imaginary world.
Have Moicy! ended with the song Hoodoo Bash, a saw fiddle fuelled and surreal gathering of the tribes all bringing Thunderbird wine and a pound of hash. Stampfel sings, “Lovers or strangers we’ll all go through changes when we get the good old spirit down at the hoodoo bash.” Fittingly enough The Hoodoo Bash is the given title for this long waited follow up of sorts to the 1975 masterpiece. The genesis of the album is too long to be repeated here but Stampfel had been considering some sort of sequel for some time. With original collaborators Jeffrey Frederick and Paul Presti deceased and Michael Hurley eventually declining an invite Stampfel still had Robin Remailly and Dave Reisch from the original disc and in a reflection of the earlier sessions managed to marry New York and Oregon freakiness with his inspired invite to Baby Gramps and Jeffrey Lewis to join in, the stage then set for this second summit meeting.
It’s important to state that this is not an attempt to remake the earlier album. While that may have been Stampfel’s original vision, with Hurley, Frederick and Presti out of the equation it couldn’t be. Instead it has the same irreverent yet respectful take on old time American music going back to minstrel shows and up to early rock’n’roll. Recorded without overdubs and no chance to listen to the tapes (other than for producer Matt Sohn) it’s an unholy mess but wonderfully so. Instruments wheeze and splutter, plink and plonk with the rhythm wavering and voices appearing from nowhere on the choruses. The ensemble are completed by Kristin Andreassen, Zoe Stampfel and The Dustbusters and it’s a song by a member of The Dustbusters, Rich Man Poor Man that best displays the wonky groove they found and worked on while the instrumental Banjolina shows that there was indeed a lot of work put into rehearsals with the ensemble playing here incredibly tight. Scattered throughout the album, Stampfel’s goofiness, Lewis’ witticisms and Gramps’ seadog saltiness are all aired while all three Dustbusters contribute songs that sound as if they were written a century ago.
Stampfel opens the album with his reboot of Del Shannon’s Searchin’ complete with spooky hoodoo chorus voices while New Fiddler’s Dram is classic Stampfel weirdness adapting the old chestnut into a tale of, as he puts it, “a patricidal mother fucking skull fucking sociopath.” It works a treat as does Eat That Roadkill, originally a minstrel song called Carve Dat Possum, it has a similar macabre pull as those old racist cartoons that depicted black folk as simple folk happy just to sing.
Lewis in the main takes Stampfel tunes as a start point, he channels the sixties in Nonsense, a wonderful ditty that does recall the psychedelic sweetness of Random Canyon, Intelligent Design could have sat easily on a Fugs album and It’s No Good is a skeletal slice of beat freak folk, a Horse Badorties for our times. As for Baby Gramps, his songs are shanties of the utmost saltiness, his voice growling and burbling in fine fashion on Nailer’s Consumption and Crossbone Scully. While I’ve kind of separated the contributions here, throughout the album there’s a fine degree of cross fertilisation, lead vocals swapped and shared, a true collective effort.
A wonderful collection of songs that see saw away with Stampfel’s love for (and his long standing subversion of) old time music proudly at the helm, The Hoodoo Bash is an essential listen for anyone beguiled by the idea of old, weird Americana.
The album is available here