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The Insect Trust - 1st (1969) / Hoboken Saturday Night (1970)

Robert Palmer - Sax, Clarinet, Recorder
Trevor Koehler - Sax, Piccolo Flute, Flute, Drum
William Folwell, Bob Bushnell, Joseph Macho - Bass
Charlie Macey - Bass, Rhythm Guitar
Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Charles Nealy, Donald MacDonald, Elvin Jones - Drums
Bill Barth - Guitar, Steel Guitar
Luke Faust - Harmonica, Banjo, Electric Guitar, Fiddle
Hugh McCracken, Ralph Casale - Rhythm Guitar
William Folwell, Warren Gardner - Trumpet
Nancy Jeffries - Vocals

Some Facts:
The Insect Trust came together in 1967. It's been reported that their name was inspired by William S. Burroughs 'Naked Lunch', and it was, in a way. They took their name from the poetry journal Insect Trust Gazette, who had taken their name from the Burroughs novel. The members of the band construct a spiderweb of interesting facts & connections, both before & after their involvement with Insect Trust. Luke Faust (guitar/banjo/fiddle/harmonica) had been a jug player with the Holy Modal Rounders, Robert Palmer (clarinet/alto sax) was making a name for himself as a music journalist; Bill Barth (guitar), Nancy Jeffries (vocals), Robert Palmer (clarinet), and Trevor Koehler (sax) completed the line up.The groups self titled debut album was released in 1969, and featured contributions from Bernard Purdie (drums- recorded with Louis Armstrong, Steely Dan, etc), and Chuck Rainey (bass- recorded with Sonny Rollins, King Curtis, etc). They followed it up the next year with 'Hoboken Saturday Night', this time enlisting the help of Elvin Jones (drums- recorded with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, etc), Bob Bushnell (bass- recorded with Nina Simone, Van Morrison, etc), Hugh McCracken (guitar- recorded with Paul McCartney, BB King, etc) and Bernard Purdie a second time. It would be the last release for the group.After Insect Trust, Bill Barth co-founded the Memphis Blues Society, and is credited with tracking down Skip James in a hospital room in 1964. Luke Faust played with Dave Van Ronk as well as the Carolina Jug Stompers. Nancy Jeffries went on to work as a talent scout for various labels, and signed such acts as Iggy Pop, Ziggy Marley, and Lenny Kravitz. Robert Palmer pursued his first love of music journalism- contributing to Rolling Stone, the New York Times, worked as a producer, penned several books about the history of music, and much much more.

My Thoughts:
I was reading an interview with lead vocalist Nancy Jeffries, and came across this awesome quote- "Bill (Barth) was the leader because he was the biggest asshole." Funny, but also telling... when the group came together, Nancy & Bill were dating. Their breakup happened simultaneously with the bands breakup, and was definitely a factor in them disbanding. Another large factor was the fact that they actually weren't a complete band. The official line up didn't include a bass player or drummer, and though it worked out pretty well when it came to studio recordings (those were some impressive session players they snagged), it was a pain for live performances & touring, as they had to hire new people for each show. Despite that, they did open for some greats during their short career, such as Frank Zappa, the Doors, and Santana. Robert Palmer passed away in 1997, Bill Barth in 2000, and Trevor Koehler- the sax player who's name is only mentioned one other time in this entry, in 1973. Interesting(?) story behind that one... allow me to quote his bandmate Luke Faust on the matter- "Trevor went to New York and accidently killed himself. We would always stage these suicides. He needed attention so he would be sure to have a network of friends that would come bail him out if he didn't answer his phone. Then one night in '73, he stuck his head in the oven and the phone lines went down and that was it. I was really upset. I got pissed at him that he would do that to himself and waste that beautiful talent and all that gorgeous music he could play. It was such a waste. We lost a lot when we lost him." (source)

The Insect Trust’s only two albums are a great example of what today would be called wyrd America. Back then, such terms did not exist and even still, it’s unfair to label this individualistic band.

They were often compared to San Fransisco bands such as the pioneering Jefferson Airplane, although this comparison really doesn’t do them justice. Hoboken Saturday Night (1970), the band’s sophomore effort usually gets the nod, or at least the most attention. Though it must be mentioned that most fans forget about this startling, groundbreaking debut.

They were a classic east coast band taking in a multitude of influences from folk, blues, psychedelia, rock n’ roll, country, jazz, ragtime and bluegrass. Nancy Jefferies had a strong, clear voice while Bill Barth and Bob Palmer were always experimenting with exotic instruments. Skin Game is typical of their approach, starting off as a country blues shuffle then exploding into a slide guitar freakout that is quite marvelous. Miss Fun City is a trippy slice of Americana with some great hypnotic banjo, a most excellent composition! Be Here And Gone So Soon, has to be the most classic track on this legendary album. It opens up with some classic hippy dialogue, then bursts into a magical folk-rock song.

Anyone searching for a good organic slice of authentic American music along the lines of the Dillard and Clark Expedition, Robbie Basho’s Zarthus or Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes will love this classic from 1968. (source)

One of the more interesting one-shot bands in rock & roll, the Insect Trust's most famous member was writer/critic/ethnomusicologist Robert Palmer, who played alto sax and clarinet. Less famous, but still a notable member, was guitarist/songwriter Luke Faust, who went on to add creative input for the Holy Modal Rounders' string of wonderful early- to mid-'70s records. the Insect Trust released two albums, their self-titled 1968 debut on Capitol, and their second and final LP, Hoboken Saturday Night. Along with the loose-limbed music, Hoboken Saturday Night features musical contributions by heavy hitters (no pun intended) such as drummers Elvin Jones and Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, guitarist Hugh McCracken, and novelist Thomas Pynchon. The music ranges from surreal folk-rock (a la the Holy Modal Rounders and Fugs), to Booker T.-like pop-soul, to flat-out free jazz. Decades after its release, Hoboken Saturday Night sounds a bit dated, but its charm is irresistible, especially when Nancy Jefferies sings and the band cranks up its raucous onslaught of reeds and percussion. Never intended to be a traditional pop act, the Insect Trust should be best remembered for extending rock's boundaries and taking the genre to a much hipper level without resorting to a lot of banal technique. Good luck locating their records. (source)

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