Friday, 21 April 2017

ESSRA MOHAWK: 'a lot of different kinds of music'

Primordial Lovers is an intense, impassioned, personal and otherworldly record, about which little is known, so thought I'd post some odds and ends here.

Essra Mohawk's recording career began with a pop-soul 45 (The Boy With The Way / The Memory Of Your Voice), released on Liberty in August 1965, under the name Jamie Carter.

It sold poorly, and by 1967 she was in New York, where she came into Frank Zappa's orbit. He renamed her 'Uncle Meat', they had a romance, and she played with the Mothers during their famed residency at the Garrick Theatre in Greenwich Village. 

Her first album was made that year for Zappa's production company, Bizarre. Recorded under his auspices, but in fact (rather basically) produced by Ian Underwood, it appeared on Verve under her real name, Sandy Hurvitz, in December 1968. 

Sandy's Album Is Here At Last is quirky and openly emotional, with uninhibited vocals and piano-led songs that change tempo and mood frequently. Its title refers to the label's long delay in releasing it, and the finished product supposedly appeared in shops without her being informed. It was barely reviewed, and sold next to nothing. She didn't record for Verve again.

Her next LP was recorded and mixed in Los Angeles in 1969. Almost all the sessions took place at Elektra, where her producer and husband Barry Friedman (aka Frazier Mohawk) worked, raising the possibility that the LP was originally intended to be an Elektra release. However, the album ended up on Reprise. 

Beautifully recorded and featuring a small army of sympathetic session players, including Lee Underwood, Dallas Taylor, Doug Hastings and Jerry Penrod, Primordial Lovers is a deep, even psychedelic experience that gently unfolds over multiple plays.

For some strange reason, a handful of advance copies were sent out in a red sleeve in early 1970. (The music on these is identical to the commercial release.)

Primordial Lovers was released in the US and Canada in April 1970 (no foreign pressings are known to exist), in a striking gatefold sleeve designed by Ed Thrasher, showing the Mohawks' entwined bodies.

Also included was a plump little lyric booklet:

Here's the press release and photo that were sent out to radio stations and reviewers:

The only advert I've seen was shared with several other Reprise releases, and drew attention to the 'erotic packaging':

Few reviews appeared, and those that did tended to emphasise her similarities to Laura Nyro. Oddly, as far as I am aware, no mainstream music magazines covered it.

Here's what Entertainment World wrote in their May 8th issue:

 High Fidelity magazine had this to say in August:

Here's a five-star review in Down Beat of November 12th (review by Mike Bourne):

And, finally, here's a typically sniffy assessment from the American Record Guide's December issue:

No single was extracted from the LP, but mono and stereo versions of Spiral were sent to radio stations along with the LP. (It has been suggested that Spirla was also issued with a track called Image Of You on the B-side, but I have never seen a copy.)

Despite having cost a small fortune to record and manufacture, the LP was clobbered by poor distribution and promo, and sold poorly, as did a non-LP 45, Jabberwock Song / It's Up To Me, which appeared in May:

That, unfortunately, was that; a silence of five years was to ensue before her next recordings appeared.

As a final note, it has been claimed by Mojo and numerous others that Rolling Stone acclaimed Primordial Lovers as 'one of the 25 best albums ever made' upon its release. In fact, they didn't review the album at all. However, in 1977 a RS writer referred to it in passing as one of his personal best 25 albums of all time (something that is now quoted out of context whenever it’s mentioned, as if it were the result of a critics’ poll).