The Charlatans iTunes Tracks

The Charlatans

Long before the Britpop outfit of the same name relayed their post-Madchester affectations, there was Haight-Asbury’s The CHARLATANS. For the latter half of the 60s, their deep-rooted hybrid of psych-cowpoke-blues, jugband-folk and counter-culture attire, railed against San Francisco contemporaries, JEFFERSON AIRPLANE, GRATEFUL DEAD, MOBY GRAPE, QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE, et al.
Back in the summer of ’64, former draftsman George Hunter (vocals, autoharp) and Richard Olsen (bass, vocals), roped in Mike Wilhelm (lead guitar, vocals), Mike Ferguson (keyboards, vocals) and Sam Linde (drums), to perform their own unique blend of rock music. As Linde was found wanting, the 5-piece were forced to enlist Dan Hicks (from Little Rock, Arkansas), a sticksman himself who could also play guitar (and sing). If British Invasion acts were soon raiding London’s Carnaby Street by the droves, then The CHARLATANS took their distinctive inspiration and fashion aplomb from the late 19th century Victorian period that encompassed gun-slinging gentry from the Wild West. These choices probably helped the group glean a residency the following June at the Red Dog Saloon, a bar in Virginia City, Nevada.
For this six-week stint, Ferguson and Hunter designed the billboard (the first ever psychedelic concert poster!), a deed which led to them sharing future gigs with The Warlocks (i.e. GRATEFUL DEAD) and JEFFERSON AIRPLANE; they were known to share other stuff such as LSD, which duly gave them the tag of “first acid rock band”. The CHARLATANS played a variety of styles, including jug-band, folk and blues (or bluegrass), although they returned tail between their legs back to ‘Frisco having had their demos for Autumn Records rejected.
When M.G.M.’s offer fell flat, they were handed over to Kama Sutra Records in 1966 (home to folk-pop cousins The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL). Ironically, their version of BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE’s `Codine’ was thought unsuitable for its drug references, although for a label named after creative sex positions, it was a bit of a pot-kettle-black situation. In the event, a whole album’s worth of material was shelved and, in its place, a Leiber-Stoller cover `The Shadow Knows’ (b/w a re-vamp of ROBERT JOHNSON’s `32-20’) was issued that October. Note that these sessions (and bonus shots) later surfaced for UK’s Big Beat Records in 1996 as “The Amazing Charlatans”.
In the ensuing few years ahead, Ferguson was fired (replaced by Patrick Gogerty), DAN HICKS – who had become their rhythm guitarist – formed his Hot Licks and, finally, Hunter bailed, disgruntled at the band’s lacklustre efforts and the tensions between him and the band. Terry Wilson was now the drummer, and with Wilhelm and Olsen, plus keyboardist/vocalist Darrell DeVore, the quartet inked a deal at Philips Records.
THE CHARLATANS (1969) {*6} album, if issued a few years previously, might have made an impact, at least in the States, but as it was it could not succeed with the ever-changing climate. Opening with the single, `High Coin’ (a VAN DYKE PARKS song twinned with Olsen’s `When I Go Sailin’ By’), several pieces seemed out-of-sync with the San Fran scene; `Ain’t Got The Time’ and `Time To Get Straight’ came across as cheap bar-room BYRDS imitations, while the country-rock aspect seeped in by way of the traditional `Alabama Bound’, A.P. CARTER’s `Wabash Cannonball’ and JOHNNY CASH’s `Folsom Prison Blues’.
Having reunited briefly, all originals became quite creative in the 70s; ZigZag’s Wilhelm fronted LOOSE GRAVEL, and later joined The FLAMIN’ GROOVIES; Olsen became a producer at Pacific High Studios; Hunter was the sleeve artist on the 1969 albums by IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY, QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE and CANNED HEAT. The CHARLATANS original members: Dan Hicks, Mike Wilhelm, George Hunter and Richard Olsen, re-formed briefly in 1997; an album, `Playing In The Hall’, was released in 2015 to commemorate this reunion.
© MC Strong 1997/GPD // rev-up MCS Feb2016

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