Song of India

Roger Craig Song of India 45 (Argo, 1961)

Two virtues of exotica are its geographical and musicological ignorance. Free of the knowledge of world and its music, exotica artists can pretty much make things as they go along. If Martin Denny wants to evoke the sounds of Hawaii and the South Pacific by interjecting monkey sounds, fine. If Korla Pandit choses to pass his hypnotizing organ music as something out of the Punjab, great. If Yma Sumac feels a need to sell her not-so-easy listening music as ancient Inca music, fantastic. Roger Craig and the Riley Hampton Orchestra also get a pass for trying to sell their odd mix of faux-Oriental music with "Hawaiian" percussion as a "Song of India."

While I know that this Roger Craig is not the legendary San Francisco 49er, his story is a mystery. His backing band, the Riley Hampton's Orchestra, was the Argo Records house band. They backed artists like Etta James, Jerry Butler, and Von Freeman. Did they ever turn out a record by their lonesome? Don't know. But Riley Hampton did do a version of Barbara Lewis's "Hello Stranger."


St. John's Ringers

St. John's Ringers s/t LP (United Sound, 197?)

Welcome to the world of handbell ringing! Until I found this record, I had no idea such a thing existed...or at least if I did, that knowledge was buried under a bunch of useless bullshit. In researching this record, I found that the handbell scene is very large. My first hit was that there is not just one group called St. John's Ringers, but at least ten! That means that there are just as many St. John's Ringers in the handbell ringing world as there are The Fugitives who made garage 45s in the Sixties. Think about that for a second.

The reason why there are so many St. John's Ringers has everything to do with the history of the music. While there is no record when the first bell was invented, it is known that the Ancient Hebrews used them in worship. While Celts also used them in worship, the first official Christian use was in the 600s, when Paulinus, the Archbishop of York, hung them in his church and used them to mark the time of worship. In the Dark Ages, people kept bells at home to ring away bad spirits and, from time to time, they would get together and ring bells to scare away really big bad boogiemen. It was also during the Dark Ages, that bells started to be used inside the church during mass. Until the organ took over, bells, along with vocals, were the main instrument used in Christian ceremony.

Bell ringing was revived in the 1700s, but this time its practitioners were mostly outside the church. Bell ringers found that they could adapt chamber music, Christmas carols, and popular tunes to their handbells. In England, bell ringing groups popped up everywhere and by the mid 1800s bell ringing competitions were popular. The genre thrived until the 1920s, when it, once again waned in popularity. But bell ringing didn't die. Many Anglican and Presbyterian churches kept the tradition alive, mostly by shepherding adolescent bell ringing groups.

St. John's Ringers is one of those groups. Formed by Richard Coulter at St. John's Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, California, the St. John's Ringers did three European tours, a trip to Hawaii and one record. Their self-titled debut was made in the 1970s and contains Christmas carols and compositions made for or adapted to handbells. The Christmas carols are what you would expect: Christmas carols. However, some of the compositions are pretty damn great. Here are two.

Donal Allured's "Introduction and Allegro" was composed in the 1970s for handbells. "Danse Rituel de Fue" was composed by Manuel de Falla in the early 1900s and adapted to bells.


Moob Nkauj Luaq Ncaa

Jiang Moob Nkauj Luaq Ncaa cassette (self released, 200?)

Here is some music that has a story but what that story is we'll have to wonder for now. My friend the Flower Vato Larry Rodriguez dug this tape up at a local flea market. At a table was an old Hmong man selling tapes of his music. Curious, Larry bought a couple, took them home and was blown away. Out of his speakers poured some strange Asian blues, music worthy of a Sublime Frequencies release. I don't know anything about the artist, other than Larry tracked him down and got a few more tapes, and that he doesn't speak much English. I think it is a good guess that the artist came to the US with the wave of refugees from the US War on Southeast Asia. That he settled in Sacramento isn't chance as there is a very large Hmong population here. From the address on the tape, I also know that he lives in one of Sacramento's worst neighborhoods. Does being a refugee living in a violent suburb inform the music's emotion? Don't know, but I do know that this is probably the first time you've heard this one.


L. A. Mantra

Various L.A. Mantra cassette (Trance Port, 1983)

Though described in several online entries as the first of Trance Port's trance cassettes, this pup is less a trance release and more of an overview of Los Angeles' non-punk music underground. The only artist on L.A. Mantra that is even close to being a household name (but only if you live in a very hep house) is Savage Republic. Music freaks might recognize the name of Savage Republic side project The Tunneltones, the John & Dix Denney (of the Weirdos) experimental venture If-Then-Else, or A Produce, the founder of Trance Port, member of Afterimage, and a pioneer in the L.A. trance music scene. And then there are true obscurities such as Rich Evac (of Afterimage and Psi Com), Fat & Fucked Up, and Debt of Nature.

You've read enough of my babbling on the cassette underground. I am sure you know that something exciting was happening in the Los Angeles underground from 1975 to about the time this cassette was released. And I am too fucked for time and energy to search out more information on the artists represented on this cassette. I will, however, leave you with a handful of songs.

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