Mel Lyman

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The Modernist

Mel Lyman

Postby The Modernist » 29 Oct 2009, 01:41

A much discussed character in the sixties, but almost forgotten about today.

He was a young folkie who made a name for himself in the growing American folk movement in the early sixties. You can see him in the documentary about the 1964 (?) Newport Folk Festival waxing evangelical about folk with a bunch of acolytes behind him. He was very much a rising star of the scene but with an intensity which was unnerving. At some point in the sixties he formed his own commune which stressed a back to nature philosophy. He was the leader and he expected total obedience from his followers who thought he was Jesus. The commune got very large at one point and featured people like the famous rock writer Paul Williams. Lyman's preaching's became increasingly violent and he came to be seen as a kind of East Coast equivalent of Charles Manson. During this time he released several albums.
Has anyone else looked into this guy, what are the albums like?
(I'm guessing Feeb or Charlie O might have heard them).
There's more info here on this peculiar character for those who are interested.
http://www.lysergia.com/LamaWorkshop/Me ... anBody.htm

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Kenji
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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby Kenji » 29 Oct 2009, 01:53

Mrs Kenji has this album:

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"American Avatar" - The Lyman Family with Lisa Kindred

I listened a few times but I can't say I loved it - I'll listen again later...
The album notes were written by Mel and he plays harmonica on it.
He also has credit as producer...

(please cough if you want it)

EDIT:
I just noticed your link above has information about this album...

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der nister
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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby der nister » 29 Oct 2009, 02:05

The albums are standard folky blues, not stunning.

Complete site on him:

http://www.trussel.com/f_mel.htm
It's kinda depressing for a music forum to be proud of not knowing musicians.

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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby The Modernist » 29 Oct 2009, 02:09

Yes I've heard that they are fairly standard folk music, but I'm curious if the strangeness of the man somehow resonated in the music, or whether they're more mundane than that.

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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby Charlie O. » 29 Oct 2009, 02:13

Dr Modernist wrote:(I'm guessing Feeb or Charlie O might have heard them).

Indeed, I have the album in Kenji's post. It's beautiful in its way, but so slow'n'low it's almost not there at all. Kinda spectral.

And, yeah, a little boring, too. Nonetheless, there are times when it sounds just about right.

If I remember right from the (in)famous Rolling Stone article, it was supposed to be a Lisa Kindred album for... Vanguard, I think?... but Mel basically took control of the session, then stole the tapes and sold it to Reprise as a Lyman Family record.

He was a great harmonica player (he first "came to prominence" with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band)... and an interesting character, to be sure. The Manson comparisons are probably a little unfair - to my knowledge, he and his "family" never killed anybody - but he does strike me as a bit of a creepazoid.
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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby Charlie O. » 29 Oct 2009, 02:23

An interesting excerpt from said Rolling Stone article (which you can find at the site zphage linked):

"We are the hope of the new age," confided Jim Kweskin in the attic studio of the Family's newly purchased Hollywood mansion. "The great music is in us and coming out of us. That's why we're in L.A., to put the Spirit back in films, in music. The Spirit's there but nobody's using it."

At least, not like they used to in the old days, said Jim as he opened one of several huge wooden trunks that lay on the attic floor. Inside were hundreds of 78 rpm records, each one hand-washed, treated with silicone and packed between thin foam rubber for protection against earthquakes.

"Melvin's spent years collecting these records," he said. "We got everything from Slim Whitman to Al Jolson. The Spirit that was in music at that time was unbelievable - none of this 16-track, technical electronic gimmickry."

Kweskin didn't know how many records were in the boxes, but there must have been at least 30 or 40 feet worth. Some of the trunks were labeled "Bing Crosby," "Crosby seconds," "Hank Williams seconds,'' etc.

"Too many people are wasting time and money playing bad music," said Jim, leaning against a new Dolby recording system just bought by Mel. "If people would hold it in until they absolutely had to play, the music would he great. That's why our album is so great - we waited three years to make it."

He was referring to Jim Kweskin's America, the album he and Mel were in the process of remixing in San Francisco. A few miles north, in Burbank, an executive for Warner Brothers Records chatted, somewhat skeptically, about the music they'd waited three years to get from Jim.

"It, uh... it's not like his other albums," said the executive, who asked to remain anonymous. "It sounds like a bunch of hymns - stuff like 'Old Black Joe' and 'The Old Rugged Cross.'

"Jim's kind of a strange guy to deal with, you know. One day he brought the tapes in to play for me, and right off he gave me a 20-minute lecture on how to thread the tape machine. Very intense guy.

"He played me the tapes, and during one of the songs, I think it was 'Old Black Joe,' I got a phone call. And Jim freaked, I mean really freaked, insisted I start the whole thing over again when I got off the phone." To give me a taste of what Jim was up to these days, the executive put on the album. Pretty somber stuff. On several of the cuts, particularly "Dark as a Dungeon," I noticed a strange, warbly falsetto that sounded like one of the Muppets on Sesame Street.

"You know who that is?" asked the executive. "Mel Lyman."

He recalled a curious request Jim had made the time he came to see him.

"He said the producer needed a first-class ticket from New York to San Francisco, for the session. I said, 'Boy, that's news to me, I'd never heard of any producer.' He said yeah, there was one, and he insisted he had to fly first-class."

"What was the producer's name?"

"Let me think... I'd never heard of him... Herbruck... Richard Herbruck, that was the guy."

At Pacific High Recorders in San Francisco, engineer Phill Sawyer remembered a similar encounter that happened after the session.

"Jim and Mel came in to give me the album credits," he said. "They told me to put down 'Mixed by Phill Sawyer, Produced by Richard Herbruck.' I said, 'Who's that?' There hadn't been any producer in the studio. But they insisted I put it down anyway."

Last month Warner Brothers finally released the album. It's probably too early to gauge the response, but reportedly Fritz Richmond, a former member of the Jug Band, heard it and said, "Jim used to be in the business of waking people up. Now he's in the business of putting them to sleep."

Actually, Jim Kweskin and his favorite backup group, the Lyman Family, did bring Warner Brothers another album during the past three years, and it was released in January, 1970. It was called American Avatar - Love Comes Rolling Down, featuring "The Lyman Family with Lisa Kindred." It had an unusual cover, Mel Lyman's silhouette, and an unusual history, having in fact been recorded at Vanguard Records in the mid-Sixties, when David Gude was still a tape editor there.

"That record ended my career at Vanguard," David said later. "It was a hell of a record - really a miracle. Lisa Kindred had a contract with Vanguard, and Melvin was a friend of hers, had known her for quite a while. He knew Lisa was going to make a record so he asked her could he back her up. Lisa loved Melvin and she said sure.

"So we made that record, and the musicians went home, and Melvin sat down and we edited the tapes, we programmed them, we processed them, Eben Given made the cover, Mel went home and wrote the notes. By the end of the week - it took us exactly one week - we had the complete product."

That's when the trouble started with Maynard Solomon, Vanguard president, said David.

"I went and presented it to my boss, and he didn't like it. He thought the harmonica was too loud, there was too much Melvin and not enough Lisa. He looked at it in these very business-like terms. He liked the record, I think, but he wanted to put Lisa out front and make her a star, 'cause that was the only way he knew how to make a record. Melvin didn't care about any of that."

Gude sighed, revealing that gap he has in his teeth.

"And so I argued with my boss for a long time. He wanted to make changes, and Melvin said absolutely not, you know. And everything Melvin said I recognized as the truth. Melvin was right and Maynard was wrong. I did everything Melvin told me to do, and finally I got fired because of it. Mel told me to go back and erase the originals, which is the cardinal sin in the recording industry, like a photographer destroying his negatives. So I left them with a mono copy of the record, 'cause that was the one thing they couldn't change much at all, a mono mix."

In other words, Maynard couldn't change the levels between Mel's harp and Lisa's voice.

"In fact," David continued, "we're still big advocates of mono over stereo. I mean stereo - at the present stage of recording - stereo does give you a certain clarity that mono does not give you, but you're still dealing with one source. The music itself comes from one source.

"Always, in any art you're expressing a oneness, whether you find it in a movie - watch a love scene in a movie and everybody's crying; they're all feeling the same feeling, that same oneness feeling - and that's what is so fascinating about art and about music in this case. Everybody who listens to it, they all feel one thing and they all feel that one thing at the same time. And that one thing, of course, is... it's God."

David laughed good-naturedly.

"I didn't tell Maynard about that."

* * *

Today Lisa Kindred, a pretty, down-to-earth woman, mainly plays small clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area, living a quiet North Beach life with her old man, a child and some cats. She tells a somewhat different version of David Gude's story.

"Yeah, that whole album was a weird trip," she recalled. "I was living in Cambridge when I first met Mel. This was about '64 I guess, and the Jug Band was together. We played together a lot, at the Club 47, places like that. Mel would come over with his friends, and they'd sit around and smoke dope. I don't smoke myself, I'm allergic to it, but he used to smoke more dope than anybody I met. I remember he used to get really ripped and come out to the kitchen and eat dog biscuits. He said they were good for his teeth. He was a very interesting person, very strange.

"Anyway, the album was supposed to be called Kindred Spirits. At that time there was no such thing as the Lyman Family. At that time it was still my album. The record could have been better you know, if David Gude had known what he was doing. He set up the session, and he'd do things, like he'd put Mel's harp and my voice on the same track.

"I was supposed to go to California, and just before I left I went to hear the tapes. David had told me the tapes were great, just great. I thought they were crappy. The mix was all wrong. There was too much harp, for one thing. So I went to California and sort of forgot about the whole thing.

"And a few weeks later I got a call from Maynard Solomon. He said, 'You won't believe this, but David has stolen the stereo master tapes.'

"So I figured that was that. I just wrote the whole thing off. And then years later, I was living out here in Califorma, I got a call from a girlfriend of mine. She said, 'Guess what. That album you made is out. It's on Warner Brothers.' I couldn't believe it. I hadn't heard from anyone all this time. I didn't hear anything from Warner Brothers. Finally, three months later, the people at Warner Brothers gave me a copy. It was called American Avatar. I said to myself, 'I know Mel is an Aries with a God complex, but this is too much!'"

"How did it sound?"

"It sounded just like the tapes. I think if it had been mixed right, it could have been a good album. There was some very good stuff on it. But as a whole... it sounded like a real nice home tape, you know? It had no great message. Just a bunch of people having a good time.

"All I ever got were the fees for the recording session. About $400. It would have been fine if they'd owned up and told me what they were doing up front. But to do what they did - I think it's against the law, isn't it? I mean, I ended up being a side man on my own album!"

After pouring some coffee and brown sugar into a heavy mug, Lisa thought for a moment, then said, "You know that album Creole Belle by Eric Von Schmidt? It's on Prestige, and Mel plays on it. And now that I think about it, there's not enough of Eric on it. There's too much harp."

* * *

On the inside cover of American Avatar, next to a photograph of the Fort Hill tower at sunset, Mel Lyman wrote these album notes:

"I've been waiting to get this record released for three years and it is finally only possible now because I played the tapes for Mo Ostin a few months ago and he loved them. Everyone I have ever played these tapes for has been deeply moved, it is great music. The force that drew us together to record this music is the same force that is always evidenced in great works of art, and like all great works of art this music was created to elevate men we were merely the instruments... I have marveled at these tapes for years and have never ceased to find more and more in them, more grace, more perfection, more magic, more God. And now I have passed them on to Mo and he is passing them on to you in the form of a record album. This is no album, it is a miracle."

Maybe so, but today Mo Ostin, head of Warner Brothers Records refuses to talk about the album or its dubious origins, or about anything connected with Mel Lyman. For a period of two months - several times a week and several times a day - we called his office in Burbank. We wrote him. But he never replied.

Finally we settled for a stand-in - Stan Cornyn, who runs Warner's creative services department. He said that when Kweskin presented the Lisa Kindred tapes to Warner Brothers, no questions were asked.

"Mo has a basic faith in his talent," Cornyn explained. "So when that package and tape was delivered to us, we took it as it is. We consider ourselves an artist-oriented company, and that means that we work under the assumption that when tapes or records come in, that's that. We've got to assume that.

"I mean, artists are sometimes incredibly ahead of the rest of the world. Sometimes they're not so bright. You've got to take the good with the bad."

Apparently the world was not quite ready for the album American Avatar. It sold 1764 copies, of which 1000 were bought by Jim Kweskin.
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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby Kenji » 29 Oct 2009, 02:25

Charlie O. wrote:I have the album in Kenji's post. It's beautiful in its way, but so slow'n'low it's almost not there at all. Kinda spectral...And, yeah, a little boring, too.


I'm listening again now and I agree with all of this...

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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby der nister » 29 Oct 2009, 02:32

I think the Kweskin Jug band albums are more bent than Lyman's, but if you can get Lyman albums cheap go for it. AVATAR was also name of the magazine he proffered.

Don't forget, Mindf**kers book:

http://www.amazon.com/Mindfuckers-Fasci ... 263&sr=8-1
It's kinda depressing for a music forum to be proud of not knowing musicians.

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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby king feeb » 30 Oct 2009, 08:34

Dr Modernist wrote:Has anyone else looked into this guy, what are the albums like?
(I'm guessing Feeb or Charlie O might have heard them).


I've heard them, but frankly I wasn't all that impressed. Kweskin's America and the American Avatar record are both pretty sedate. They're not real weird or creepy, as one might expect (for that type of "feeling", you might be more interested in the album by acid casualty/ probable murderer/ failed cult-leader Kit Ream, called All That I Am. Lord, that thing weirded me out! You can get it here).

I do, however, have a couple of issues of Lyman's newspaper The Avatar. When I was working in a used record store in Boston in the mid-80s, we also bought and sold a lot of old magazines and papers (Rolling Stone, Fusion, Crawdaddy, Creem, etc). Sometimes an old hippie would bring in a stack of Avatars.

When I first read it, I thought it was a put-on, that Lyman was some sort of satire of a cult leader, because the articles and columns in The Avatar were so "over-the-top", sociopathic and egotistical in the extreme.
You'd pay big bucks to know what you really think.

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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby The Modernist » 30 Oct 2009, 08:46

I believe The Avator was an straightforward underground newspaper of the time initially but Lyman took it over so it became his mouthpiece. It's amazing that he was allowed to do it really. I wonder how well it sold after it became an organ for his his messianic rants...
Well the consensus seems to be the music itself isn't that interesting, even if the life story is.
Thanks for the tip on the Reams album, that's a completely new name for me, it sounds fascinating. I'll certainly give it a listen.

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Re: Mel Lyman

Postby Charlie O. » 12 Mar 2018, 04:02

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