Craig Anderton - guitars, sitar, modulator
Randy Monaco - vocals, bass
J. Kevin Lally - drums, timpani
Michael Kac - guitar, Rock-Si-Chord, piano, vocals
The Mandrake Memorial formed in late 1967 when producer/promoter Larry Schreiber was asked to put together a house band for Manny Rubin's downtown Philadelphia club, The Trauma. He started with folksinger/guitarist/banjoist/keyboardist Michael Kac (pronounced "Katz"), who was already a regular performer at both The Trauma and Rubin's other club, The Second Fret. He'd been in a band called The Candymen, later known as Cat's Cradle, who had recently broken up (Schreiber had been their manager). Guitarist Kim King (of Lothar and the Hand People, another Trauma Club regular) told Schreiber about a drummer he knew in a similar situation. J. (John) Kevin Lally had been in a band called The Novae Police, a fixture at the Night Owl Club and The Bitter End in Greenwich Village, playing with bands like The Flying Machine (with James Taylor) and The Ragamuffins (from Canada). Schreiber visited Lally in the basement of New York's Albert Hotel, where Kevin kept his drums in Lothar's practice room. Suitably impressed, he brought Lally back to Philadelphia to meet Michael. The two musicians hit it off immediately. Kac then recruited a young guitarist named Craig Anderton from a University of Pennsylvania college band called The Flowers of Evil, who he'd seen opening for Todd Rundgren's first band Woody's Truck Stop. Lally convinced his friend Randy Monaco, the bassist/vocalist from The Novae Police, to relocate to Philly. Although working musicians, everybody jumped at the chance to be a house band, with a guaranteed gig every weekend and opening for all the big-name bands brought in by Manny.
The Mandrake Memorial quickly gelled and began developing a following. At the beginning they were a standard two-guitar, bass & drums quartet, but very soon a sales rep from R.M.I. approached the group with a prototype of what was to become their Rock-Si-Chord (an electronic harpsichord). The band tried it out and quickly realized it gave them a new sound nobody else had. Since Kac was the only band member who could play keyboards, he switched from guitar to harpsichord and the Mandrake line-up was complete.
The new sound was an immediate success. The band was widely acknowledged as "blowing off the stage" many of the headline acts they were supposed to be supporting. Soon they were performing college circuit clubs such as Boston Tea Party, Psychedelic Supermarket, Electric Circus, New York's Cafe Au Go Go, the Second Fret and The Main Point. Mandrake opened for, among others, The Doors, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Moby Grape, Strawberry Alarm Clock and appeared on TV with Pink Floyd. Through Manny Rubin they were signed to MGM Records' new experimental music label Poppy Records. Their first self-titled LP, produced by Tony Camillo and Tony Bongiovi (cousin of Jon Bon Jovi), sold over 100,000 copies, mainly in the Philadelphia, New York and Boston areas. A second LP, Medium was completed in early 1969 to similar high acclaim.
Kac (and his Rock-Si-Chord) left the band following Medium, citing musical differences, and in the summer of 1969 the remaining trio traveled to England to record a live-in-the-studio acoustic album with famed producer Shel Talmy. They were booked to tour the U.K. with Todd Rundgren's new band The Nazz, but an English union disagreement prevented any American musicians from performing that summer. To top that off, their completed "Mandrake Unplugged" album was deemed too uncommercial by Poppy label executives and never released—although the idea was to become a huge trend two decades later.
Returning to Philadelphia, the band began working on a new album, re-working some of the songs from their failed acoustic album. They were teamed up with New York producer Ronald Frangipane with the result that he brought in an orchestra and filled out the songs with full choir, children's choir, orchestral splashes and elaborate production. Puzzle was a progressive rock masterpiece, but did not sell well enough to make back its considerable production costs. The band recorded just one more single, a cover of Thunderclap Newman's "Something In The Air" backed with an original tune by Anderton. When the single also flopped, Lally left the band and Anderton and Kac soon called it quits.
After disbanding Mandrake, Craig Anderton teamed up with Charles Cohen and Jefferson Cain to form an electronic trio called Anomaly. Their only recorded legacy is the musical backing and production credits on three LPs by Philadelphia acoustic guitarist (and guitar teacher) Linda Cohen (no relation to Charles), "Leda" (1971), "Lake of Light" (1972) and "Angel Alley" (1973). In the early 1980s Charles Cohen and Jeff Cain went on to record and perform as The Ghostwriters. Anderton invented several guitar effects pedals, and a programmable electronic drum machine, projects which he documented in a long series of well-known DIY books for musicians beginning with "Electronic Projects for Musicians" (1975). He wrote extensively for several music industry publications including Synapse and Keyboard Magazine, and was the editor of Electronic Musician magazine 1980-1990. His circuits appear in products from such manufacturers as TASCAM, Peavey Electronics, PAiA Electronics, Steinberg and Kurzweil Music Systems. He produced and guested on dozens of albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He released a solo album on cassette in 1977 and another (Forward Motion) on CD in 1989. He remains active as a producer, engineer and consultant.
During spring and summer of 1969, Michael Kac worked in a guitar/harpsichord duo with Linda Cohen. As classically trained musicians, both hoped to forge a new synthesis of popular and classical forms, which is evident in her albums. Already a graduate student in Linguistics, in 1971 he moved to Los Angeles to take his Ph.D at UCLA, then joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He formally studied the harpsichord 1971-1983 and gives occasional solo and ensemble recitals. In 1998 he reunited with Linda Cohen and Craig Anderton to record "Naked Under the Moon." Linda died in January 2009.
Kevin Lally traveled to England in 1970, where his family originated, and ended up apprenticing at Lloyd's of London in ship insurance. Returning to New York in 1980, he founded Seahawk International, Inc. which became the largest privately held aviation and maritime insurance broker in New York. He was also the chairman on the restoration of Wavertree, the largest iron sailing vessel afloat. He still performs occasionally as a studio drummer, although he prefers to do it anonymously.
In 1974 Randy Monaco headed a short-lived Mandrake Memorial revival in which he was the only original member. Sometime afterward he joined a version of the 1910 Fruitgum Company before succumbing to cirrhosis in 1983.