THE STORY OF DAMON AND HIS PSYCHEDELIC CULT CLASSIC, SONG OF A GYPSY.
The Story Of Damon and His Psychedelic Cult Classic, Song Of A Gypsy.
For any collector of psychedelia whose fortunate enough to find a copy of Damon’s Song Of A Gypsy, it quickly becomes one of their most prized possessions. Sadly, finding an original copy of Song Of A Gypsy is another thing. It’s one of the rarest psychedelic albums, and copies have changed hands for thousands of dollars. That’s no surprise. Song Of A Gypsy is no ordinary album.
Far from it. Privately pressed in 1969, Song Of A Gypsy was released on Ankh Records. It’s an album that pushed musical boundaries to their breaking point. A lysergic, genre-melting album, Song Of A Gypsy wasn’t a commercial success on its release. As a result, Damon didn’t release another album. Over the next twenty-five years, Song Of A Gypsy became a hugely influential album. It enjoyed a cult following. Meanwhile, the man behind Song Of A Gypsy was blissfully unaware of what was going on.
By the late-nineties, David Del Conte was a middle-aged former musician, who’d settled into a routine of running his family business. That was a bowling alley he’d inherited from his father. He’d been sober for twenty years, when he’d found God. Since then, he’d began rebuilding his relationship with his daughters, who he’d previously been estranged from. David had turned his life around. When he wasn’t working, he lived in a house that near Capistrano Beach. With its view of the Pacific Ocean, life was good for David. It wasn’t until he received an anonymous caller that his previous life as a musician became public knowledge.
David had become used to people asking if he was the Damon, who’d recorded Song Of A Gypsy. His reply was that he used to be. He’d gradually sold most of the copies of Song Of A Gypsy he’d left. Then one day, curiosity got the better of David, and he asked a caller how much a copy of Song Of A Gypsy was worth. When he was told a copy of Song Of A Gypsy was worth $3,000 dollars he was shocked. He agreed to sell the last copy for the $500 they’d agreed on, as long as the buyer didn’t resell the album for more that $500. It was only after David asked how much the record he recorded in 1969 was worth, that he realized he’d a cult following he knew nothing about. So what was the story behind Damon and Song Of A Gypsy?
David Del Conte was born in Rochester, New York in 1941. His parents owned a beauty parlor and over the years, saved enough to buy a bowling alley in California. Packing their belongings into their car, they followed the sun to California. In Los Angeles, the moved throughout the city limits. This is when David believed his: “predestined life as a gypsy began.” Eventually, they settled in Inglewood, where his parent’s business blossomed. Then when David was nineteen, his life changed forever.
His girlfriend told David she was pregnant. This was a very different era. So the pair married and went on to have three daughters. By the time David was married, he’d immersed himself in music. He was a natural musician, who’d learnt to play in high school. His first instrument was clarinet, so it’s no surprise that Benny Goodman was his hero. Soon, he was experimenting musically.
A keen surfer, it was only natural that David recorded a couple of surf rock tracks. This included Lonely Surfer, which was released on Merri Records, as David Del Conte and The Castaways. Then David released his first version of Don’t Cry. After that David moved to Harmony Records, where he released Bowling Alley Jane and Don’t Cry Davy. Next stop for David was United Artists, where It Don’t Mean A Thing was released under his name. That’s despite David only supplying backing vocals. Having become a musical nomad, wandering between labels, it was only natural that David founded his own label, Del Con.
Having formed Del Con, David released two singles, A Face In The Crowd and I Lie. Both are best described as garage rock soul. Then Merri Records asked David to record another single Cry, which was credited to Damon Lane. After that, David disappeared for a while,
It was the mid-sixties when David returned. He released singles on his Del Con label. This includes Lovin’ Man, whose B-Side is an impassioned ballad They Call Me A Fool. David’s final single for Def Con was I Wonder Why, was also released on the Ankh Records in 1968. Ankh Records was another label David founded. Tucked away on the B-Side of Ankh Records’ version of I Wonder Why was Song To A Gypsy. It was a tantalising taste of the direction David’s music was heading.
Although the original version of Song To A Gypsy, which was released as a B-Side wasn’t psychedelic, David must have been considering a change of direction. After all, why did he found two separate record labels and release two different versions of the same single? David admired two very different singers, Jim Morrison of The Doors and the purveyor of faux psychedelia, Donavon. It seemed David was caught between two styles of music? One man who’d help David find his musical direction was guitarist Charlie Carey.
Charlie and David met in 1967, when Charlie stood in for David’s guitarist. Soon, the pair formed a firm friendship. David’s life had been turned upside down. He was divorced from his wife, and almost estranged from his three daughters. Music was all David had now. So when Charlie met David, it was an opportune meeting. From the first chords Charlie played, David knew this was the man he’d been looking for. Here was someone with a unique style, who could almost make the guitar sing. This was a result. Despite this meeting with Charlie, David was overcome with the breakup of his marriage and not seeing his children.
So, David turned to drugs. He tried what were the drugs of choice, L.S.D. and dexies. Soon, David was trying heroin. That was the last straw. Things got so bad, that David was unable to standup, never mind make it concerts he was booked to play. Quickly, David got a reputation as unreliable. That resulted in David becoming determined to get straight.
Borrowing his grandmother’s cabin in Portland, Oregon, David went cold turkey. Now clean and free of heroin, David started making journey’s between his hometown and San Francisco. One day, when traveling to San Francisco, David entered the Esalen Institute in Big Sur.
Having dropped two tabs of acid, David walked twenty miles to the Esalen Institute, which was managed by his school friend Charlie Farrington. Best described as a retreat or residential community, it was like nirvana for David. He wandered around playing his guitar and reveling in the atmosphere. The only thing that bothered David, was when a guitar strong broke. Later, Ravi Shankar and George Harrison visited. Tuning his guitar to the same tuning they used, David played alongside them. That tuning would prove inspiration for Song Of A Gypsy.
Having left the Esalen Institute, David walked back to San Francisco, where his car was. He drove back to Los Angeles, where he and Charlie Carey began work on a two singles, Song Of A Gypsy and Poor Poor Genie. Various versions were recorded, with the final version recorded at Western Recorders, in Los Angeles. Song Of A Gypsy and Poor Poor Genie were released simultaneously in 1968. Ankh Records hired a promotion company to plug it. They worked the singles well. There was a problem though. When Poor Poor Genie was well received on American Bandstand, there was a problem, the B-Side Don’t You Feel Me was reviewed. Sadly, despite the marketing campaign, neither single sold well. Maybe the album Song Of A Gypsy would fare better?
Accompanying Damon for what became for Song Of A Gypsy, were a tight, talented band. They recorded ten songs Damon wrote. The band included a rhythm section of drummer Carl Zarcone, bassist Atley Yeager and Charlie Carey’s “singing” guitar. Lee and Mike Pastora added percussion, Helena Vlahos finger cymbals and Richard Barham goblet drum. Damon sang lead vocal and played guitar on Song Of A Gypsy, which was released in 1969.
Just like the two singles, success eluded Song Of A Gypsy. Released on Damon’s Ankh Records, the label didn’t have the budget to promote the album. Instead, Damon tried promoting Song Of A Gypsy by performing live. That didn’t work. He wasn’t well received. Worse was to come. The original master tapes of Song Of A Gypsy disappeared. Surely things couldn’t get much worse. Could they?
Sadly, it did when Song Of A Gypsy was a commercial failure, and Damon decided to try other career paths. An agent tried to get Damon a job in the film industry. That wasn’t for him. Then his life spiralled out of control. By the mid-seventies, it’s alleged that Damon was reduced to robbing drug dealers at gun point. Then when someone pulled a gun on Damon, he realised it was time to change his ways. He couldn’t go on hustling.
So in 1979, Damon found himself in a drug program. His real reason was, he was hiding out from a couple of drug dealers he’d robbed. Then there was this woman who Damon had taken a shine to. Whether it was fate, Damon decided to mend his ways. He found religion and gave up drugs. Turning his back on his wild ways, he somehow, managed to turn his life around. Twenty years later, and Damon was back living in Capistrano Beach, running his family business. That’s when he discovered that his debut album Son Of A Gypsy, had acquired a cult following. More than that.
Son Of A Gypsy was a lost psychedelic classic. It’s is an innovative and influential genre-melting album. Damon pushed boundaries to their limits on Son Of A Gypsy, and sometimes, way beyond . That’s why for anyone whose interested in psychedelia, then Son Of A Gypsy is a must-have album. Everything from blues, folk, funk, psychedelia, rock and soul can be heard on Song Of A Gypsy. With its lysergic, ethereal and dreamy sound Song Of A Gypsy showcased a truly talented musician, Damon. Belatedly, his one and only album Song Of A Gypsy found the audience it deserved. By then, Son Of A Gypsy was part of David Del Conte’s past.
He was now reconciled with his family, and for the last twenty-five years, had been a respectable businessman. Very few people were aware of the seventy-two year old’s musical past. It was only the release of Song Of A Gypsy that David Del Conte’s musical past became public knowledge. Suddenly, the man behind Song Of A Gypsy’s past became public knowledge. The man who had run the family business was being hailed as an innovative and innovative musician. Somewhat belatedly, David Del Conte was receiving recognition for his psychedelic classic Song Of A Gypsy. That wasn’t the end of the story.
Since 2013, a new generation of music lovers have been introduced to Damon’s Song Of A Gypsy. What was once an underground cult classic had now found the wider audience it so richly deserved. Meanwhile, a new generation of critics recognised that Song Of A Gypsy was a psychedelic classic, that had slipped through the net first time round. Not any more. They heaped praise and critical acclaim on Song Of A Gypsy. The album that David Del Conte recorded half a lifetime ago was now receiving the critical acclaim it deserved. It was a case of better late than never.
Sadly, three years ago, in 2016, David Del Conte the man behind Damon’s Song Of A Gypsy passed away. David Del Conte died peacefully at his home in an Juan Capistrano, California. He was 75 years old. However, David Del Conte will never be forgotten, and will always be remembered for the psychedelic classic he recorded as Damon, Song Of A Gypsy.
The Story Of Damon and His Psychedelic Cult Classic, Song Of A Gypsy.