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Sitar to Psychedelia

Paisley Pop was immortalised by the words ‘Bamboo Butterflies twice their normal size, flying around in my mind’. (“Purple Shades” by Trogg Reg Presley) England would leave the Mersey beat and embrace the unknown zones of creativity thanks to Ravi Shankar’s introduction of Indian sitar into the western world of sub-culture. Most notably George Harrison of the Beatles with his regular excursions into India brought forth Rubber Soul’s exotic “Norwegian wood” that popularised the sitar to greater appreciation. Strangely it was not Ravi that introduced George to the wonderment of sitar, but Byrd traveler David Crosby shortly after Shawn Phillips had shown him the basic steps.This obscure fact stemmed in 1965 when the Beatles toured the US and visited Ravi at ‘World Pacific Studios’ where the Byrds had permanent residency. It was also here that McGuinn’s Rickenbacker jingle jangle influenced Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone”.
The roots of Sitar blended into rock started Nov 1964, when Brian Auger engineered the first recording of “Heart full of Soul” by the Yardbirds. An authentic Indian sitar player was brought into the studio, including a tabla player could not get the 4/4 time signatures right. Due to the fact that the Yardbirds were a road group and the original could not be played to live audience, Jeff Beck stood in and used his fuzz machine with a tone blender that created a similar and extremely effective sound. The discerning difference between sitar and some of the more elaborate Framus offbeat tuning was sometimes difficult to discern, namely Kinks Ray Davies’ 1965 single (#10) “See My Friends”,  which made use of a droned cheap acoustic Framus guitar. Joe South used sitar on his hippie theme “Games People Play” while Big Jim Sullivan, guitarist for the Wildcats studied Indian music under Ustad Vilayat Khan. The folk segment of the UK ,John Renbourn and Davey Graham were both capable sitar players. Renbourn’s sitar features prominently with Pentangle’s Basket of Light on “House Carpenter”, “Once I Had a Sweetheart” and Woody Guthrie’s rural “Buffalo Skinners”. Then there was Magna Carta’s Davey Johnstone who added it to “The Bridge at Knaresborough Town” while The Strawbs’ “From The Witchwood” had everybody fooled with it’s Eastern pluck, deviously played by Dave Cousins on a dulcimer and enhanced by picking banjo. The Byrds utilised sitar on their trippy Eight Miles High while Richie Havens applied this cumbersome instrument to the twang of Joan Baez’ Dylan repertoire “Love Minus Zero” / “North Country Blues” and “Love is Just a Four Letter Word”.
Beach Boy Brian Wilson strongly influenced by Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ introduced sitar into his conceptual Pet Sounds. The Rascals entered flowerpower with full saffron and bead adornment tainting their underrated See album with spotted tablas and sitar on “Stop And Think”. Even the conservatives played the incense game, namely B.J. Thomas on Mark James’ “Hooked on a Feeling”  and Donovan with Shaun Phillips on sitar (full version of “Sunshine Superman”) The Grassroots now separated from the talents of Sloan & Barri pounded into the charts with the evangelical “Glory Bound” (Price / Walsh), a windswept anthem swaddled in sitar. Even Lee Dorsey joined the intrigue while the Boxtops added it to “Cry Like A Baby”. The Move silted the awesome “Lightning Never Strikes Twice” with Sitar that blasted from the B- side of the bass pumping “Brontosaurus”. The Doors also created a haunting sitar atmosphere with “The End” soaked in the Nam forests of Apocalypse Now. Many of us will not forget Canned Heat’s sitar intro “On The Road Again”. His majesty, Prince Jones, gave the Stones powerful inroads into the hippie culture with “Paint it Black” and “Mother’s Little Helper”, while Traffic sitar obsessive Dave Mason gave the band it’s first two singles, “Paper Sun” and “Hole in my Shoe”. Indian sitar could be sourced in Kaleidoscope and Chris Farlowe’s rendition of Jon Hendricks’ jazz standard “Moanin” and “What Have I Been Doing?” (1967).

Added: August 31st 2008
Reviewer: shiloh noone | See all reviews by shiloh noone
Category: Music
Location: South Africa
Related Link: Seekers Guide To The Rhythm Of Yesteryear

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