Mention Vanguard Records, and most people will think of their blues and folk releases. Very few people will think of Vanguard Records as a psychedelic label. However, between 1966 and 1970, A&R men Sam Charters and Maynard Solomon  Sam Charters decided that Vanguard Records should climb onboard the psychedelic bandwagon. 

This being Vanguard Records, Sam Charters and Maynard Solomon ensured that the psychedelia being released was innovative and groundbreaking. It was far removed from much of the psychedelia being released during this period. Vanguard Records released psychedelia that was guaranteed to open the doors of perception. That was down to Sam Charters and Maynard Solomon A&R skills.

They spent time seeking out the most innovative musicians of the psychedelic age. This meant criss-crossing America. Up and down the East Coast, from New York to Philly Sam and Maynard travelled. They even headed down to Detroit, before heading to the West Coast. From Los Angeles, right through to San Francisco, Sam and Maynard spent time searching for psychedelia’s next big thing.  Their patience and persistence paid off. 

In 1967, they signed Country Joe and The Fish, who released their debut album Electric Music For The Mind and Body in 1967. Country Joe and The Fish were Vanguard Records’ highest profile and most successful psychedelic signing. However, there’s much more to Vanguard Records’ psychedelic era than Country Joe and The Fish.

This includes The Third Power, Erik Heller, The 31st Of February, Circus Maximus, The Vagrants, The Serpent Power, The Family Of Apostolic and Far Cry. These are just a few of the artists on Follow Me Down-Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70, which was recently released by Ace Records. It’s an eighteen track treasure trove, which features forgotten hidden gems from Vanguard Records psychedelic era. You’ll realise that, when I pick some of the highlights of Follow Me Down-Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70.

Follow Me Down-Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70 opens with The Third Power’s Getting Together. This is one of two tracks from the Detroit trio. The other is Persecution. The Third Power honed their sound in Detroit clubs and eventually, were crowned psychedelia’s heaviest band. By 1970, The Third Power had signed to Vanguard Records. Later in 1970, they released their only album, Believe. It showcased The Third Power’s unique fusion of heavy rock and psychedelia. Aggressive and lysergic, this is epitomised by Getting Together and Persecution, two of Believe’s highlights.

Just like The Third Power, Erik Heller only released one album, 1968s Look Where I Am. It was written by Erik and produced by Samuel Charters. You Said/But I’ve Got My Way is very different from much of Look Where I Am. It’s a six minute epic, where screeching, searing guitar riff. It emulates the paranoia that Erik’s singing about. Dramatic, disturbing and decidedly trippy, it’s a hidden psychedelic gem from the Vanguard vaults.

Listening, a Boston based band, feature twice on Follow Me Down-Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70. They’re Stoned Is and See You Again. These tracks are taken from Listening’s 1968 eponymous album. It was recorded and mixed at Vanguard’s 23rd Street Studio, in New York. When the album was recorded, Listening managed to complete each song in one take. That’s not surprising. They’re a tight, talented band, capable of creating groundbreaking, mind-bending, psychedelia. Stoned Is, was penned by Gilbert Moses and Michael Tschudin, It’s a haunting, triply and timeless track. See You Again has a heavier, rockier sound. There’s even a nod to Jimi Hendrix, courtesy of Peter Malick’s guitar, as blues, psychedelia and rock combine seamlessly.

In 1968, Jeff Monn, the lead singer of The Third Bardo, a New York based band, signed to Vanguard Records as a solo artist. Later in 1968, Jeff released Reality, his debut solo album. It was produced by Maynard Solomon and featured I Can Understand Your Problem, a dramatic, soul-baring ballad. This is one of Jeff’s best vocals on Reality. It’s helped by Maynard Solomon’s production, which adds to the drama and emotion of Jeff’s vocal. Sadly, Reality wasn’t a commercial success. It was the only album Jeff released under his own name. In 1968, Jeff adopted the alias Chris Moon. Still commercial success eluded the former The Third Bardo frontman.

Originally, when Sam Charters signed Circus Maximus, they were called Lost Sea Dreamers. They were, however, forced to change their name. Their original name Vanguard Records thought, was too obvious a reference to drugs. So Lost Sea Dreamers became Circus Maximus. They released two albums between 1967 and 1968. Travelin’ Around opens their 1967 eponymous debut album. It was penned by Robert Bruno and was produced by Dan Eliot. From the opening bars of Travelin’ Around you’re hooked. Melodic, full of hooks and searing guitar licks, it’s a four minutes fusion of frantic power pop, rock and psychedelia.

When you look at the cover to Notes From The Underground’s 1968 debut eponymous album, they look like a good-time band. Nothing you’d think would faze them. Their raison d’être, it would appear, was to make music, and enjoy the cultural revolution. That’s what it sounds like the San Francisco based band were doing on Where I’m At and Why Did You Put Me On, two tracks from Notes From The Underground. They fuse jazz, jug, psychedelia and rock on the two tracks. There’s more than a nod to the Grateful Dead on both tracks. Sadly, Notes From The Underground didn’t enjoy the same longevity, and they only released one album. Mind you, what an album it was.

Former beat poet David Meltzer embraced the psychedelic era, forming The Serpent Power, a quintet. Sam Charters came across The Serpent Powers whilst on the road with Country Joe and The Fish. One night in Berkeley, he heard David Meltzer. Always on the look out for the next Country Joe and The Fish, Sam signed the psychedelic folk group. They weren’t Sam’s most successful signing. However, they recorded one album, The Serpent Powers in 1967. It features the thirteen minute genre-defying epic The Endless Tunnel, which is without doubt, The Serpent Powers’ finest hour.

The Hi-Five could’ve, and should’ve, been one of the biggest bands to come out of the Greenwich Village scene. However, success always seemed to elude them. Time and time again, they came tantalisingly close. This included being signed by Chas Chandler, who managed The Animals. Later, The Hi-Five cut demos  for RCA and Columbia. However, neither RCA nor Columbia signed The Hi-Five. Instead, they signed to Vanguard and recorded Did You Have To Rub It In? It was never released. Instead, You’ll Never Know What’s In My Heart was released as a single. The Mamas and Papas inspired Did You Have To Rub It In? remained unreleased until 2011. It’s another hidden gem, which makes you wonder how different The Hi-Five’s career might have been if id You Have To Rub It In? had been released as a single.

My final choice from Follow Me Down-Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70, is The Frost Big Time Spender. It’s the second track from The Frost. Their first was Take My Hand a track from their 1969 sophomore album Frost Music. Big Time Spender is a glorious slice of psychedelic rock. It’s much heavier than most of the tracks on Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70. That’s down to to The Frost’s rhythm section and a vocal powerhouse from lead singer Dick Wagner. Despite their obvious talents, The Frost never enjoyed the success their talent deserved. As a result, Dick ended up working with David  Bowie, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper.

The story of The Frost typifies that of many of the artists on Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70. They could’ve and should’ve enjoyed critical acclaim and commercial success. Sadly, for whatever reason, groups like The Third Power, Listening, The Hi-Five and The Frost never reached the heights their undoubted talent deserved. Instead, these groups have been forgotten about. Not any more.

Recently, Ace Records released Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70, which features eighteen hidden gems from the treasure trove that’s Vanguard Records’ vaults. These eighteen tracks are just a tantalising taste of the psychedelic delights within Vanguard Records’ vaults. This includes albums from The Third Power, Erik Heller, The 31st Of February, Circus Maximus, The Vagrants, The Serpent Power, The Family Of Apostolic and Far Cry. They’re just a few of the artists who were signed to Vanguard Records during the psychedelic era. 

This means that there’s more than enough for a followup to Follow Me Down-Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70. After all, the eighteen tracks ooze quality. It’s one of the very few cases where a compilation is all filler, and no killer. Indeed, so good are some of the tracks on Follow Me Down-Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70, that it would be good to see a comprehensive reissue of Vanguard’s psychedelic delights. Then we’ll be able to discover some of the most innovative and groundbreaking psychedelia released during the psychedelic era. Just like the psychedelia on Follow Me Down-Vanguard’s Lost Psychedelic Era 1966-70, it’ll be guaranteed to open the doors of perception. 













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