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Yama & The Karma Dusters - Up From The Sewers (1970)

On May 4, 1970, Alan Goldberg called me up asking if I wanted to help put together a band to play for the Kent State Massacre Stop the War student strike next day at UICC. I said, "sure". We called the band the Euphoria Blimpworks Band. Alan, Lincoln Zimanck, and Kenny Gorres had formed a sound company by that name the previous New Years Day to provide sound for the bigger venues: the Aragon Ballroom, the Quiet Night, the Chicago Colosseum, the International Amphitheater, festivals and demonstrations. This kind of stuff was not really commercially available at the time. The Blimpworks supplied the p.a. and most of the band equipment for the UICC demonstration. It was a riot. We didn’t know it, but we were the  counterculture. The band consisted of Al Goldberg on drums; Karen Tafejian: keyboards; Neal Pollack: bass; Lewis Favors: congas and percussion; Bob Goodfriend: flailing arrhythmic hand drums and occasional off key tribal flute. I played the guitar and sang lead as well as writing and arranging the music. Our music was unique. A mix of just about all styles around at the time in Chi. And way political, social, ecological in content. Sort of anarcho-hippy. We played strikes, demonstrations, festivals, parties, benefits and the occasional dance hall and night club like Kingston Mines and Alice's revisited in Chicago or Marshall’s Nitty Gritty in Madison Wisc. We played at colleges and college towns all over the midwest. We played for the Black Panthers, Rising Up Angry for the Commissar Michael James, we played to stop the war, free Angela Davis, free John Sinclair, Save the Whales, Women’s Liberation. We were the first band to play in the yard at Cook County Jail, paving the way for the great BBKing recordings. We kicked butt, traveling in a caravan consisting of a primer gray Checker wagon; a White bread truck named Snake in the Grass, manned by Richie Marks and Ray Kiessler; and sometimes an old sweet Chevy Carryall. We seldom got paid more than expenses and stayed in musicians co ops and communes, getting wined and dined and made love to all over.

 As the summer rolled on we got involved in the food co op and musicians co op’s then forming. Al and the Boys had a series of loft commune factories where they had hippies building the equipment for rice, veggies, and a place to live. These were down in the city near the loop. I was living up in Rogers Park with a bunch of friends in a giant old victorian apartment.

Towards the end of summer Alan ran into some guys who were putting together a recording studio in the basement of a music store in Libertyville, out in the northwest suburbs. They were giving away an introductory free hour of recording time. I believe the store was owned by a guy named Jeff di Giulio or maybe his dad. The guy who was in actual fact putting the physical project together was Barry Mraz: musician, techie genius engineer. He’d go on to become very well known in the recording world before his untimely and premature death. We went in and recorded for eight hours straight. Somehow Al and I convinced these guys that with a little extra effort we could easily expand it to a whole l.p.; so we got to record an entire album for free while the Plynth guys as they were calling the studio, worked the bugs out of their operation. It was like heaven. We recorded late summer thru all the autumn. Sometimes we slept in the studio. We partied down big time. I made love to my girlfriend under the recording console. We went days on end recording, mixing, layering. In addition to the regular players, friends of ours from other bands would drop by and add their parts here and there. The late Jack Sullivan contributed some excellent bass. Dick Larson kicked but on piano on a tune or two. Gerry Field killed on the violin. Richie Marks added some drums and percussion. It was sublime. Alan and I mixed it with the holidays coming on.

After the New Year, Alan and I decided to take our tape out to L.A. where our friend Cynthia Plaster Caster was hanging out with Frank Zappa. We embarked in an American flag painted ‘49 Volkswagen to skirt south around the winter. We got busted for defacing the flag in Kankakee. They took all our money. We played a gig in Carbondale, Ill. We took off and the car blew up in West Memphis. We flew to L.A. Frank and Cynthia were in London. Al and I hitched up and down the coast visiting friends, playing duo in coffee houses and restaurants for a while. Just before we were to hitch back home they had that earthquake in February of ‘71. We flew home. All the expenses were going on Al’s college issue oil company credit card. The first plastic. We were screwed. It was a long time before we were taking home any money from the gig.

 Back in Chi, the original band sort of broke up. Karen had other things to do. Neal was becoming a world renowned jeweler. Bob ran off to Israel. Al and I were playing duo’s and trio’s. But we had this tape. It was still winter or very early spring and we were going somewhere in Jordy Fine’s Yellow Cab. Al and I were complaining to each other and Jordy about how no one wanted to pick up our black flag political thunderstorm record. We had been examining actually actually having it pressed indie ourselves. It was one of those yeah if I had $500 I’d give it to the dentist kinda conversations and Jordy pipes right in and says," You only need $500? Shit, I’ll give you that". We took Jordy’s money and became some of the first indie producers. Some dude on the South Side who did high school choirs and polka bands manufactured the vinyl. We called the record," Euphoria Blimpworks presents Yama and the Karma Dusters, Up From the Sewers". Real commercial. It was a complicated sounding title made up to go along with the Ogden’s Nutgone Flakes, or Their Satanic Majesties Request and Require fad of the time. We did two pressings of 500. The first couple dozen had hand done covers. The remainder of the first pressing had a hand done block print that I cut. It has a fist coming out of a sewer on a red jacket. The next 500 have a rose coming out of a sewer and were printed by the Women’s Print Collective off a silk screen that I cut as well. Some of them have the holes off center. A very few are polka records with our labels.

 Once we got these records out we got together, Lewis, Al, and I with an excellent bass player named Vince Blakey. Sometimes his uncle Fred would come along and play second conga. We sounded like a funky artillery barrage. We called ourselves the Karma Dusters and started selling the records at our gigs. Once more we were back on the road doing the power to the people routine only getting paid some money sometimes. Only Al and I were paying off the plastic and Jordy Fine. Money was scarce and Chicago was scary. The war was on. The Red Squad was assassinating people. The FBI was investigating everybody. Alan and I decided to split so in the spring with our girlfriends Marilyn and Robin we took to the road in an old ‘63 Caddy named Pearl. Our ostensible goal was to sell a bunch of records. We went up through Canada and back down into upstate New York then to the Earth People’s Park in Vermont. We stayed with hippies everywhere. Somehow Robin and I got separated from Al and Marilyn. We hitched around New England playing in coffee houses and clubs. We headed back to Chicago and hooked back up with Al. Marilyn was gone. By early ‘72 we’d pretty much had it. We were doing some Karma Dusters gigs. Duo’s and trio’s in the coffee houses as well. The occasional pop festival. But as the Vietnam war was reaching terminal velocity things were getting very unpleasant Stateside and Al and I decided to head for Europe, maybe sell the record in England. We left in late March or early April of ‘72 and the Karma Dusters were no more. The Blimp split up. The world as we knew it changed big time. (source)

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