The Roots of Madness were formed in San Jose CA in 1969 by Geoff Alexander and Don Campau, and included Joe Morrow, Jim Kulczynski, and David “Dave Dolphin” Leskovsky. This core group was joined frequently by Gary and Chris Campau, Patrick Evans, and Vickie Leskovsky. Geoff, who was influenced by the likes of John Coltrane, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Japanese ichi-genkin music, was unaware of the rock musical revolution taking place 60 miles to the north in San Francisco. Don, influenced by British blues and San Francisco psychedelic rock, was unaware of the avant-garde. The melding of these influences became the framework for the group’s eclectic compositions and arrangements.
The Roots existed from 1969 to 1973, and performed unannounced in laundromats and on freeway overpasses. Their only scheduled gig was at Forbes Mill in the town of Los Gatos, where they were joined by pianist Russ Ferrante, who later would form the Yellowjackets. Yikes!
Their sole rec, The Girl in the Chair, was pressed in 1971, in a run of 500 copies, 100 of which were distributed by the legendary Norm Pierce of San Francisco’s Jack’s Record Cellar. Norm also distributed ESP-Disk recordings, and felt that The Roots would appeal to the same listener (Norm later jokingly said it was one of the few times he was wrong). The record was funded by KTAO radio owner Lorenzo Milam, on whose station The Roots had performed on many live occasions (Lorenzo later jokingly said the recording wasn’t avant-garde enough for his taste).
By the time the group recorded its last session in 1973, a total of 10 records had been sold.
The Roots had nine formal recording sessions from 1969 through 1973. Most were recorded in the kitchen / dining room of Geoff’s parents’ house, and household / found sounds (his barking dogs, the Kirby vacuum cleaner, and the Volkswagen keys) were liberally incorporated into the sessions. Recordings were done mostly on Don’s reel-to-reel Sony tape recorder, with two mics. VUs were set for every instrument, which was placed in a distance that would slightly put the needle into the red, when played at full volume. When a fade-out was desired, the player simply walked out of mic range. In ‘Réalisation II,’ the shortwave radio piece which introduces The Girl in the Chair, the volume on the radios is controlled by volume knobs, whereas music box volume is enhanced or decreased by moving them toward or away from the mics. Most of the Roots recordings were done in this suburban kitchen, with a large family and friends coming, going, and walking through the recording sessions.
Other recordings by various Roots members were made during this era, including “Morrow’s Big Band,” the” Geoffrey 3,” and several recordings by Don & Chris Campau. All of these recordings are available in CD format at Don Campau’s Lonely Whistle website.
KTAO went off the air in 1973, and Geoff and Don formed Dogmouth Records, a used-record store, that year. At least one of the Roots’ last recordings was made at the store, a converted house (the shower was located inside the store, and showers were sold to customers at 50 cents each). By 1976, Dogmouth was out of business, a victim of Los Gatos town planners, who felt that an anti-trendy store like Dogmouth wasn’t--- like KTAO --- in keeping with the image the town wanted to portray.
Geoff soon picked up the flute, attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and played for a year with Louie Romero’s ‘Los Reyes del Ritmo’ in East San Jose. In the late 1980s, he made two cassettes of his own compositions and arrangements, ‘Canódromo’ and ‘San Jose Confidential. His ‘New Directions for Farfisa Organ’ CD, consisting of his avant-garde pieces for organ performed in 1987, was released in 2004.
Don never stopped playing and recording, having made dozens of tapes of his own music, and collaborating with others. His Lonely Whistle label highlights the breadth of his innovative and collaborative musical career. Don’s ‘No Pigeonholes’ radio show on Cupertino’s KKUP-FM has showcased home tapers and collaborative musicians for over 20 years.
1971 heavy private press free
blues/psych from the left coast cortical geo zone of the US underground
chain spearheaded by Don Campau and essentially the Californian amalgam
of the Gate 5 as ESP disk punk/jazz 3rd eye. A higher key farrago of
hypercosmic extended runs that oscillate between the tubular philosophy
of the Sun City Girls sound/art and the aloneness of stoned blues
concréte. A refreshing lost artifact of pure American fizz resurrected
from the iconoclasm void and perfectly reissued in a joint effort from
De Stijl and Child Of Microtones. An essential LP for anyone concerned
with the paramount energy fields of all the above ground sound
~ Matthew Valentine
The Roots of Madness were a
group of teenage 'heads from the early '70s who attended Leigh High
School in San Jose. Their LP of full-blown psychedelic freakery was
locally released around 1970 and descended into hyperobscurity, until
now. It's a reissue so totally needed because this music is such a
stinky, boiling stew of fractured blues, primitive electronics, free
jazz, and scatological spoken word, given an excessively potent kick
from heaping doses of juvenile "hormonage" and some serious drug
consumption. It opens with "Réalisation II" (they apparently skipped
right over "Réalisation I"), which is a fierce, 11-minute crescendo of
maniacally tinkling bells, gray blasts of shortwave radio,
walkie-talkie gobbledygook, feedback, freely stabbing percussion, a
chorus of throat-shredding howls, and pig-squealing horns. And that's
just a warm-up for the real freaky shit, such as "The Old Man's Ass,"
wherein this incensed voice chants such anally obsessed verse as "The
old man's wretched ass ... Grown nonfunctional with constipated eons of
nonuse ... And the old man's crack? Watery, jelly skin dripping through
fingers ... Turning the hills of youth into a canyon. A canyon eroded
by venereal shankers and fiery and proud hemorrhoids." Amen for
gratuitously disgusting weirdness.
~ Justin F. Farrar
June 1, 2005
“We were the hairiest of Leigh
High School's intellectual maelstrom. We were the first of the North
Santa Clara 'Musique-concrete' set.”
--from the original liner notes to The Girl In The Chair
There are collage-sound, kitchen sink-concréte albums that sound as mysterious and appealing as The Girl In The Chair, but you can bet none of the groups that made them were from San Jose, and none of them had the sense of silliness and fun so valued by Roots of Madness.
Formed in 1970 by Bay Area home-taping legend Don Campau, his best friend Geoff Alexander, and their brothers, Roots of Madness was as much about teenage Partch and Stockhausen enthusiasts making each other laugh as it was any serious attempt at avant-garde music. As Campau explained in a 1991 interview, “at the time no one else was doing this weird shit in their living room. We would make 'albums' on open reel and occasionally play a live gig at a freeway overpass or laundromat.”
The sounds that compose The Girl In The Chair include fragments of transistor radio frequencies, frantic piano tinkling, music boxes, spoken word recitation, tape-recorded messages, Ayleresque horn flares, and sonic booms of all shapes and degrees. Each side of The Girl In The Chair is left to a long, slinky stoned slide guitar piece; one acoustic, one electric.
Beyond the survey of aural swag, what really sets the record apart is the Roots' send-up of 1960s Bay Area counterculture, and the extent to which Campau and his buddies so clearly reveled in the joke. The Roots skewer the coffeehouse scene with two faux-beat poetry readings (in which anuses and excrement always figure prominently), and a droopy folkie parody called “We Had A Love (But It Died)” (complete with simulated encouraging audience applause). As the liner notes assert: “If you like Glenn Yarborough, you'll delight in this tragic number.” That Campau and company were goofing on the After the Gold Rush/ Judy Collins scene as it was happening around them is admirable enough; the fact that they put it on record is priceless.
If the album itself doesn't fulfill your satire quotient, the sleeve notes definitely will. Composed in the "Behind the Music" style of 1960s sleeve notes histories, and authored by “L. Milan, Director, Doghouse Records,” they're chock full of “our town sucks” jokes about San Jose [“…formed in the suburban living room of a Del E. Webb Stucco home…dedicated to the memory of the San Jose Water Works project.”], digs at '60s-era blues revivalists [“…Roots of Madness is probably part of the South Bay Delta Blues Conference, rather than the Ben Lomond Blues School as represented by Blind Joe McBlind”], and generally silly language [“…nothing can threaten the obvious originality of this genteel, gibbous, genial, ganglia in genitalia.”]. Any misfits who made their small town their stages, and their garages their clubhouses will understand.
Girl In The Chair
available in a limited press vinyl-only run from the Minneapolis-based
Destijl label; anyone looking for fresh sonic victuals, a laugh at the
hippies' expense, or both, should cop this gem on the double.
~ Sam Sweet