Dave Lindley - vocals, guitar, harp guitar; Solomon Feldthouse- vocals, guitar, saz bouzoukee; Chester Crill - vocals, violin; Stuart Brotman - vocals, bass; Paul Lagos - drums, percussion
Of all the groundbreaking bands of the 1960s, few developed a repertoire more wide-ranging and eclectic than the Los Angeles-based group Kaleidoscope. Existing from 1966 to 1970, the group released four albums during those years, but the combination of non-existent label support, questionable management, and a repertoire that defied categorization, all contributed to a lack of commercial success. Kaleidoscope's albums never reached a wide listening audience and with the exception of early underground radio listeners and attendees of the group's live performances, Kaleidoscope remained generally unappreciated during their existence.
Categorizing Kaleidoscope's music is next to impossible, but the wide-ranging diversity of the group's music can be attributed to limitless musical experimentation and a group founded on a leaderless principle. The music that Kaleidoscope created can be traced to the various backgrounds of its members, most notably David Lindley and Solomon Feldthouse, the two guitarists in the group, both of who were adept at many stringed instruments.
Lindley, a founding member of the group, who eventually would receive the most recognition later in his career, also had the most previous experience. Lindley had played in a number of bands and served as a studio musician for several labels prior to the formation of Kaleidoscope. A gifted guitarist and banjo player, Lindley formed the group in Los Angeles in 1966 as the Baghdad Blues Band, joined by Solomon Feldthouse, another gifted multi-instrumentalist born in Ismet, Turkey. In addition to playing guitar, fiddle, dulcimer and dobro, Feldthouse introduced more exotic stringed instruments into the mix, like vina, oud, doumbeg, and saz bouzouki and brought a distinct Eastern influence to the group's sound long before most Americans had ever heard the likes of Ravi Shankar. Bass player, Chris Darrow, another founding member, added vintage jazz, R&B, bluegrass, country, blues, and jug band elements to the mix. They were joined by harmonica player Chester Crill (who went by various other names, including Templeton Parsley and Max Buda on the releases) and drummer John Vidican. The group's live performances attracted the attention of Epic Records, who signed the group in 1966. Changing their name to Kaleidoscope, they recorded their first single, released at the tail end of 1966, which went nowhere.
Over the course of the next two years, the group established itself as one of the most experimental and adventurous bands in America, releasing their debut album, Side Trips in June of 1967 and its follow-up, "Beacon From Mars," early the following year. These first two albums reflected the group's musical diversity, but it was their live performances that left a lasting impression on so many (including Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page). As the times grew more turbulent, Kaleidoscope's performances became more outrageous, often reflecting the group's twisted sense of humor and their radical-bent political opinions.
Despite receiving favorable album reviews and critical acclaim as a live band, the albums sold poorly and were lost amidst the flood of psychedelic music being released in the wake of the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album. Following the release of "Beacon From Mars," the rhythm section of Darrow and Vidican left, replaced by Stuart Brotman and Paul Lagos, who rejuvenated the group. Kaleidoscope continued the eclectic experimentation of the earlier albums and began developing new material.
This "phase two" lineup of Kaleidoscope found Lindley and Feldthouse soaring to new creative heights on stage, and their performances became increasingly improvisational and even confrontational as the politically turbulent summer of '68 wore on. Woefully undocumented, this previously unheard live recording of Kaleidoscope at the 1968 Newport Folk Festival not only captures a pivotal moment in American cultural history, but may be the single greatest document of the band live onstage. This performance clearly conveys a band unselfconsciously absorbing inspiration from any musical style that strikes their fancy.
The set begins humorously as the festival's MC introduces the bandmembers from outdated notes reflecting the previous lineup. Rather than correct the mistake accurately, the band exercises its absurd sense of humor by introducing new drummer, Paul Lagos, as Rasheid (and later in the set as the Great Zucchini!) before introducing the opening number. They kick off the set in country-western style with the happy-go-lucky "Hello Trouble," one of Buck Owens' greatest hits.
They follow by going in a diametrically opposite direction with their inventive cover of "Oh Death," one of the creepiest of old folk tunes. Based on a single droning note that casts a deathly pallor throughout its 12-minute duration. Solomon Feldthouse's coarse, deep vocal initially follows the song's harrowing lyrics closely, but then veers off into a radical acid-fueled anti-war improvisation featuring a monologue that is equal parts hilarious and frightening. A true reflection of the turbulent times, this performance is daringly confrontational and one can only imagine the mixed reactions this must have elicited from the folk festival audience. It was these politically-fueled elements that also contributed to the band's poor relationship with their record company, who rather than support the band's creativity, deemed them too controversial, eventually contributing to their demise.
Before proceeding into the lengthy grand finale of their set, some humorous stage banter from Chester Crill (introducing himself here as Templeton Parsley) lightens the mood, as the group rearranges themselves onstage; Lindley switching over to harp guitar and Feldthouse to the even more exotic saz bouzoukee. "Taxim" follows and it is a remarkable performance that clocks in at nearly 15 minutes and never loses its intensity. For those unfamiliar with the words "taxim" or "Turkish taxim," these are musical terms describing an improvisation usually based on a musical scale or the complex shared modal systems of Greek and Turkish music. Born in Turkey, Feldthouse was no doubt responsible for introducing Lindley to such exotic fare. This performance, with its inspired modal jamming, tempo shifts, and unique instrumentation, proves Kaleidoscope had collectively mastered the ability to play unmetered improvisations that could remain captivating for long periods of time. Careful listeners will also discover the band squeezing one more political statement into this instrumental right around the nine minute mark, where they suddenly veer off into "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." Its one remarkable moment among many and in terms of Kaleidoscope's adventurousness and technical prowess, there is no better example than this performance of "Taxim."
Newly mixed from the 1/2" 4-track master reels, this high quality recording provides a crisp clear listen to Kaleidoscope reaching their peak onstage in all their esoteric glory.
Written by Alan Bershaw