Tuesday, 20 September 2011

KAK: 'uneven but enormously promising'

Along with Morgen, Kak made arguably the best one-shot US psych LP of the late 1960s. From Davis, California (outside Sacramento), they consisted of Gary Lee Yoder (vocals / guitar), Dehner Patten (lead guitar), Joe-Dave Damrell (bass) and Chris Lockheed (drums). Despite having clear commercial potential and being one of the truest early representations of the West Coast sound, their album crept out in January 1969 and sank without trace. I thought I'd post the only contemporary references to the quartet that I've ever seen.

But first, here's the album itself:

As far as I know, two ads appeared - one in Rolling Stone and one in Go. Here they are:

In addition, Epic included Disbelievin' on their January 1969 Rockbuster sampler LP, and included a small picture of the band in a round-up of its new releases in Billboard at the same time:

Go, meanwhile, ran a very brief interview with their wah-wah wizard Dehner Patten:

Somewhat amazingly, the album was also promoted via a promo film, which has surfaced on youtube, and from which the outstanding front cover was extracted:

I've only encountered three reviews of the LP. The first appeared in Billboard of February 1st:

The second review appeared in the UK underground paper International Times on April 11th, and was written by Barry Miles (later to become Paul McCartney's official biographer). As if Miles weren't already hip enough, note how he casually refers to the 13th Floor Elevators, whom most critics in Texas had never even heard of at the time:

The third was in Stereo Review of July 1969. I stupidly threw away the relevant issue, but it ran thus: 'Kak is one more group with a kooky name and more than a bit of debt to The Beatles. Yet their vitality is infectious, and they can sing and play up a storm. Their Electric Sailor, for instance, is a navvy from outer space with a "double-wide grin" and "sparks flyin' off his electric feet", and a positively galvanic personage, the way they sing of him. Everything's Changing is delivered with such conviction you begin to suspect maybe it really is. The quartet of white boys who make up Kak are not above helping themselves to whatever mannerisms are around and handy as grist to their mill, including a liberal dose of soul - as in a bluesy ballad called Disbelievin' - but they manage to assimilate what they borrow, and give it back as their own. High point of a fast-moving programme is a 'Trieulogy' of three contrasting moods, in each of which they open all the stops and really take off. A lively disc.'

No fewer than three 45s were extracted - firstly the promo-only Everything's Changing (mono) / Everything's Changing (stereo), produced by John Neel:

Next came promo and stock copies of Everything's Changing / Rain (Epic 5-10383), also produced by John Neel. The 45 performance of Rain was different to that on the LP, with white labels being stereo and the rarer yellow-label stock copies being mono:

Their third and last 45 was I've Got Time / Disbelievin' (Epic 5-10446), produced by Gary Grelecki:

Over in Mexico, an EP appeared, coupling HCO 97658 and Everything's Changing with two tracks by Spirit, housed in a picture sleeve showing the latter band's debut LP cover. 

The appetitie for Kak south of the border was evidently not sated by that: mind-bogglingly, a full EP also appeared there, offering Rain, Disbelievin', Electric Sailor and Mirage. At the time of writing, only one copy is known to exist:

Kak split almost as soon as their LP appeared, having played a meagre estimated total of five concerts. Only one poster / handbill seems to exist. It's for a gig at Freeborn Hall, the concert venue on the campus of UCD (University Of California, Davis). Being a hometown gig, it bills them as the Kak [Oxford Circle]... That name still meant something to the local longhairs, even if they were forgotten everywhere else. 

On April 26th, Record World ran a special Los Angeles issue, which featured this ad:

By then, they'd split up. A month later, Epic placed this advert in the May 17th 1969 issue of Rolling Stone

Following their split, leader Gary Yoder issued a so-so solo 45 before joining Blue Cheer, while drummer Chris Lockheed joined Randy Holden for his deafening Population II project. Kak hadn't been entirely forgotten, however - a couple of years later Lester Bangs praised them highly in his Rolling Stone review of Blue Cheer's Oh! Pleasant Hope (July 8th 1971):

In the decades since, many others have come around to Bangs' way of thinking, and the album is now widely regarded as a classic. The CD reissue on Big Beat has excellent liner notes and photos, and a great interview with Dehner Patten can be found here: http://www.rockandreprise.net/kak.html.


  1. Thanks, Richard, for this nice remembrance of KAK, for sure among my all time fave records (and discs in the shape of Alec's CD on Big Beat) right alongside Frumious, the first QMS and both Mighty Baby contributions to human well-being. Over a decade ago now, while Jud and Alec were both trying to track down KAK members (with the goal of beating each other to a CD release -- clearly Alec "won" that round) I was asked to try and track down Dehner. Using the same techniques that had helped me track down other NW bands for a few reissue ventures (e.g. phone book searches and online searches,) I managed to find Dehner in the greater Portland, OR, area and we spoke once by phone. He told me that he had continued to play music, mostly in local blues-oriented outfits, but with no further recording after the demise of KAK. He said he "might" have something on a cassette, but did not seem motivated to search out and send anything to me. Eventually Alec seemed to establish contact with Yoder, Patton and other band members and the Big Beat CD happened, as did the Oxford Circle CD. But nothing ever surfaced from any of Dehner's possible later recordings -- and that is something I'd still like to hear as he ranks among my fave guitarists of that era.

    Cheers, John Berg

  2. Very informative , Richard , for a band that very little information had existed , previously. MAYBE THEY WERE ONLY SUPPOSED TO HAVE EXISTED AS THEY DID......I'd lean toward "shoulda beens " shoulda been more press , more shows , more and better distribution.....I'm sure you know , some of the Kak /Oxford Circle camp played on "Oh ! Pleasant Hope", as studio musicians. Blue Cheer had become , to many people , more Yoder's band than Peterson's , so it's not surprising he's enlist some friends from Davis , As Dickie was becoming less involved. However , I interviewed Dickie several years ago , and he had nothing but praise for Yoder , noting that he'd recently jammed with Gary and other former members of Oxford Circle.. Best , John Battles