2009 has not been a good year for great musicians. We have seen a lot of them pass recently; Michael Jackson, Bob Bogle, Koko Taylor, the list goes on. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge another great, and a man considered to be the father of the garage band genre. Sky “Sunlight” Saxon, died on June 25th after a brief illness in Austin, Texas. Saxon, born Richard Marsh, recently collaborated with the Smashing Pumpkins last year and was scheduled to perform as part of the California ’66 Revue in August. The Seeds’ hits include “Pushin’ Too Hard” and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.” Saxon and the Seeds were considered the pioneers of the “Flower Power/Punk” movement and their psychedelic sounds were something that would shape generations of musicians to come.
In 1965, Saxon formed the Seeds, arguably the city’s finest punk/garage group, which later evolved into a psychedelic, flower-power attraction. Saxon and guitarist Jan Savage first formed the group with keyboardist Daryl Hooper and drummer Rick Andridge. By the end of 1966, they had secured a contract with GNP Crescendo, releasing “Pushin’ Too Hard” as their first single. The song climbed into the Top 40 early in 1967, and the group immediately released two more singles, “Mr. Farmer” and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.” In an attempt to replicate their success, the latter just missed being in the Top 40.
Best known for their rock & roll standard “Pushin’ Too Hard,” the Seeds combined the raw, Stonesy appeal of garage rock with a fondness for ragged, trashy psychedelia. The band continued to record for the remainder of the ’60s, eventually delving deep into post- Sgt. Pepper’s psychedelia and art rock. As the April 1967 cover of Teen Scene said, “Flower Power has arrived.”
While their singles were garage punk, the Seeds attempted to branch out into improvisational blues-rock and psychedelia on their first two albums, “The Seeds” (1966) and “Web of Sound” (1966). With their third album, “Future” (1967), the band attempted a psychedelic concept album in the vein of Sgt. Pepper’s. The record reached the Top 100 and spawned the hit “A Thousand Shadows.” Two other albums followed: “Raw & Alive: The Seeds in Concert at Merlin’s Music Box” (1968) and “A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues” (1969), which was credited to the Sky Saxon Blues Band.
During the early ’70s, Saxon led a number of bands before joining The Source Family, retreating from society and eventually moving to Hawaii. Saxon became Sky “Sunlight” Saxon upon joining the Source Family, and he began an intense spiritual journey that included music with Father Yod, creating and leading a few family bands including the most famous and cult favorite, YaHoWha. A collection of rarities and alternate takes, “Fallin’ off the Edge”, was released in 1977.
Saxon, who had not produced any new albums since 1978, returned on the U.K. Psycho label in 1984 with “Starry Ride”, which featured support from Steppenwolf’s Mars Bonfire (composer of “Born to Be Wild”), as well as formermembers of Iron Butterfly and Fraternity of Man. The Saxon/Bonfire collaboration reached full fruition in the group Firewall, who debuted with the album “A Groovy Thing” in 1986 (Destiny’s Children features the same songs in a different order).
Firewall featured guest appearances from members of such California neo-psychedelic bands as the Dream Syndicate, the Plimsouls, the Droogs, and Yard Trauma, demonstrating Saxon’s enduring influence and appeal, particularly among that set of musicians. That same year, Saxon recorded a largely unrehearsed live album with his Purple Electricity band, a project featuring members of Redd Kross and the Primates, entitled “Private Party”. Firewall returned in 1988 with “In Search of Brighter Colors”, which was released in the U.S. as “World Fantastic”, with several rare ’80s cuts replacing the former version’s tracks.
The 1990’s found Saxon married and settling down for a while but he, with the help of his wife at the time, Marianna DaPello, released an early pre-Seeds album of doo-wop music called, “A Starlight Date”, that Saxon did under the name, Richie Marsh. He also released an album called “Golden Vaults”. The biggest accomplishment of the 90’s was contracting with Captain Trip in Japan to release an amazing YaHoWha collection of music in a beautiful wood box called “God and Hair”, which also included three albums of Sky Sunlight Saxon music. It was also during this time that Saxon worked with his friend Ken Dembinski a.k.a. Kenny Roland in Mount Shasta on an album released as “Tyrants in the House”.
In 2002, The Seeds reformed and hit Europe and the U.S. three tours in the mid-2000’s. In 2004, The Seeds recorded the “Red Planet” album with The Seeds newest lineup at the time: Sky Sunlight Saxon as lead vocalist, drummer Dave Klein, keyboardist Mark Bellgraph and bassist Rik Collins. The Seeds returned to Europe again in 2006 and Saxon left there with two albums under his belt – “Transparency” with Sky Sunlight Saxon and “Lighter” out of Great Britain, released by Jungle Records and “Atlantic Rising” out of Greece.
In 2007, The Seeds lineup changed for the Goodstock Festival and became lovingly known as the Goodstock Seeds with Sky Sunlight Saxon as lead vocalist, lead guitarist and vocalist Jimmy Valentine, rhythm guitarist and vocalist Sean M’Lady, bassist Dave Waller, drummer Tommy Gunn, and harpist Christopher Robin.
That lineup of The Seeds consisted of amazing veteran musicians including Saxon as lead vocalist, drummer Gary Stern, bassist Don Bolles, keyboardist Geoff Brandin, lead guitarist Atomic, and rhythm guitarist Kevin Dippold. Long-time friend Justino also joined Stern on drums. Justino was also the drummer for Sky’s band, King Arthur’s Court. Saxon also had a solo career as Sky Sunlight Saxon and the Psychedelic Experience, with various musicians backing him as he continued to tour and play as many gigs as he could.
On June 7th, 2007 Saxon married Sabrina Smith on a bandstand at a Summer of Love party in Lagunitas, California and she became his business manager and co-partner. With Suzanne Graeber starting the process of an amazing album released in 2008 as “King of Garage Rock” by Cleopatra Records, Smith helped facilitate the release of this amazing album. King of Garage Rock shows Saxon going back to his roots and performing his favorite hits from the 1960’s.
Danny B. Harvey and Clem Burke produced this album with an amazing line-up of musicians backing Sky including guitarist Danny B. Harvey, keyboardist Don Randi, bassist Trent Stroh and drummer Clem Burke. The album was engineered by Gilby Clarke and Danny B. Harvey at Redrum Studios, S.I.R., and Bedworth Studios. A look at the current indie rock tree of life, from The Vines to Brandon Flowers, finds traces of what Sky Saxon and The Seeds planted in the fertile of the 1960’s.
“Back To The Garden” was one of the last releases for Saxon The Seeds, and includes many songs that he co-wrote with long-time friend, Mike Oak. In November, December 2008 and January 2009, Saxon was in Europe, touring from November 14 – December 14 and followed by various recording sessions with various bands in Germany including Vibravoid.
It’s been said that Sky “Sunlight” Saxon lived to perform and record his music and for that, we are indeed, eternally grateful. The “Flower Power/Flower Punk/Garage” movement, was truly reaped, plowed and sown by the inimitable Sky Saxon and The Seeds. We will certainly miss him.
E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording engineer who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Cliff, and Koko Taylor among others. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached via myspace.com/edoctorsmith