12/09/68 LP Sandy's Album Is Here At Last (Verve V6-5064)
94 CD Sandy's Album Is Here At Last (Demon Records Ltd.)
94 CD Sandy's Album Is Here At Last (Edsel Records EDCD399)
SANDY HURVITZ SANDY'S ALBUM IS HERE AT LAST
"In the middle of the show Zappa introduces "this strange little person in her mod clothes who is called Uncle Meat. She is a very young expressionless girl with silky hair who sings sometimes in duet with Ray (Collins). They stand with their arms around each other rubbing chests and looking tender and mournful. They even dance with each other separated by a century of style. Uncle Meat also gazes through a kaleidoscope or rattles a hypnotic rhythm on the tambourine or parries Ray's carrot swordplay using a lettuce leaf for a shield."
Those were the days my friend. We feared they'd never end. The scene described by Doon Arbus was the Garrick Theater on Bleecker Street in New York City's Greenwich Village. It was the summer of 1967—when if you were going to San Francisco you had to wear some flowers in your hair. The Summer Of Love, of the Monterey Pop Festival, of the Beatles' "'Sgt. Pepper" and of the Mothers Of Invention's "Absolutely Free". It was also the name of the show the group perpetrated on uncomprehending audiences who came to be entertained and abused in equal measure.
Uncle Meat was just one of the identities assumed in this case unwillingly by Sandra Hurvitz, an intense teenager whose dreamy, earnest songs encapsulated the spirit of her times. "I'm one of the people who never changed," she told Bruce Pollock two decades later. "In the 50s I was in the 60s. I remember friends of my parents saying, "Watch her, she's gonna be a beatnik." They were right.
I know from the ages of five to ten I thought I was from another planet. I had a persecution complex—but I was really persecuted. Every time we moved I would meet the wrong people. But music always got me over. Whenever I sang, everyone liked me. For that moment everything was cool. By the time I was 14, I had a piano and a guitar and I was filling up books with my songs."
She'd spent her formative years on Long Island, where she was born in 1947; but by the time she was 16, the family were living in Philadelphia and Sandra had dispensed with her complex. "I found a beatnik school downtown. People liked to discuss things and talk a lot. Suddenly they were all like me for a minute." Still, it was only a matter of degree. "I was never a joiner, especially in the 60s, when everyone was joining things. I figured they were all joining these things to get where I was already. Most of these people were straight and I had never been straight."
But she was determined. At 16, she recorded one of the earliest examples of folk-rock, "The Boy With The Way," for Liberty Records using the name Jamie Carter. Beyond playing a dance in Youngstown, Ohio, nothing came of her debut. A couple of years later she received an offer from John Sebastian's publishers to write songs for $50 a week. Neither this nor her art studies at Philadelphia Community College impressed her so in June 1967, she and a friend set off for California to see what the Monterey Pop Festival was about. In the event, they wound up at the Free Hippie Festival that took place nearby.
"I was a fearless teenager then. We were all adolescents forever. Our parents had been through the Depression, therefore they overprotected us so we were allowed to remain children longer than any generation in history. So we didn't know responsibility. We didn't know caution. We only knew freedom."
Sandy exercised her freedom and returned to Philadelphia and her erstwhile boyfriend, Cal Schenkel, already a promising artist and designer. Shortly afterward, two girl friends from Los Angeles came east to see him. They asked Sandy if she'd like to accompany them to New York. Walking through the Village, they encountered Frank Zappa. The two Californians shouted "Canter's!" and "Ben Frank's" (hangouts for LA freaks), thereby securing Frank's attention and free entry to that night's show.
"When I went to hear the Mothers, (flautist) Jeremy Steig was opening that night. It was the only concert I ever heard on acid and I ended up being in both bands." The girls stayed in New York and hung out with the band. "One day Don (Preston) was not feeling well," she told Dave Dimartino, "and a new electric keyboard had arrived. Frank had heard somehow that I played a little and since Don was ill he asked me would I play the keyboard a little bit for him.
"The only things I knew how to play were some songs I had written. Frank had sort of stepped off the stage to hear the sound of the piano and when he heard me playing and singing my songs he jumped back up and asked me to follow him. He said 'Come into my office' and then said 'How would you like to be a Mother?' And I said 'Sure'."
"One of Frank's jokes was that he liked to use opposites to call people. Like Suzie Creamcheese, another of his characters was a real bitch. Her name was (Pamela) Zarubica—and let me tell you she was a real Zarubica. So she had this attitude and he called her something soft—Suzie Creamcheese. I was real nice and sweet, so he called me Uncle Meat." In fact the name had been coined by Ray Collins one day at rehearsal. Frank pounced on it gleefully and decreed that Sandy should assume the identity.
"After a couple of months of it I said "Hey I really don't want to be Uncle Meat!" and Frank said "I'm sorry, but I must insist you are." And I said "Well, excuse me. Here I thought you were Frank Zappa the wonderful musician and now I find out you're God and you're going to tell me who I am." So a few days went by and he said "Okay, you don't have to be Uncle Meat. If you don't want to make money out of the name I will."
She was making money under her own name, but not very much. "I opened for everybody at the Cafe Au Go Go, next door to the Garrick. I did three sets a night there, three sets a night with the Mothers and three sets with Jeremy Steig & The Satyrs—nine sets a week for fifty dollars a week."
Before the atmosphere turned sour, Sandy did get to accompany the Mothers on their first brief European tour in the autumn of 1967. "Melody Maker" got confused when apparently two Suzie Creamcheeses posed on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport on Monday September 18. The "NME" took no chances and identified Sandy, kneeling between Don Preston and Pamela Zarubica, as a "girl-friend". A month before, promoter Tony Secunda had hinted that the band might bring along another chick called "Mother Meat".
It had also been decided that Sandy should be the first artist signed to Bizarre Productions, one of the companies along with Nifty, Tough & Bitchen, Young Market Consultants, that handled all Frank Zappa enterprises. However, the growing mutual antipathy between her and Frank curtailed the promise of their work together.
"(It) was gonna be a whole other album. Frank had been producing and we had started on the first tracks and the original Mothers were backing me up. Somewhere that track exists—it's a shame, I guess there's no way to get to it—but it's the Mothers playing one of my songs "Arch Godliness Of Purpleful Magic"—and I never even got to put my vocal on it. It was great, I still remember Frank's guitar lick over the front of it."
Sandy liked drummer Billy Mundi's playing over the song's coda and suggested that another take with that drumming all the way through would be better. She capped the ensuing argument by storming out of the studio. Hindsight lent a note of irony to the memory. "It was one of a list of really wise things I've done in the course of my career."
Frank handed the production chores over to Ian Underwood, the multi-instrumental [Berkeley] graduate who was one of the two music readers in the Mothers at that time. Underwood brought very little enthusiasm to the project. Ian just used to sit and put on horn parts and erase them on a daily basis". The only one to survive his self-censorship is on "The Sun". I would bring in a group like Jeremy Steig, (bassist) Eddie Gomez and Ralph McDonald and lay down a track, in all sincerity and Ian would put poor Jeremy's beautiful flute track all the way in the background."
The resulting album sounded, as Sandy said later, "just like a stripped down demo." There are just three band tracks, "3 Hawks," "Many Different Things" and "Love Is What I've Found," in which her accompanists struggle to provide adequate backing when it's required. Otherwise, it's just Sandy and her indifferently-tuned piano. Very much a product of their time, her songs are an amorphous combination of tempo and inspiration. None relies upon a consistent tempo. Each runs the full gamut of earnest emotions and quite often her strident vocals render her lyrics indecipherable.
"Arch Godliness" minus the Mothers is a little more coherent. "It was a psychedelic love song. It was about wanting a guy to take an acid trip with me, and he wouldn't. And wanting him to commit himself in love and he wouldn't. And saying that after consuming all these things, why it was back to Go anyway." Uh huh. It was a time of loose relationships. "It was real easy to find an orgy in the 60s, if you were a girl. I always remember being recruited for them. People would say, "Hey let's get in a pile". My first awakening was to that kind of thing opens multi-sexual situations. To me that was perfectly normal."
"Sandy's Album Is Here At Last" although of its time was probably a little ahead of it. The singer/songwriter emerged at the very end of the 60s.
Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell were in the process of establishing themselves during 1968 and Carole King's solo debut was two years hence. David Geffen became Sandy's agent and she moved to California to make her second album, "Primordial Lovers" for Reprise. But Geffen also handed Nyro and Sandy, now calling herself Essra Mohawk, was destined to stay in her shadow.
In the ensuing years there have been a number of albums and innumerable songs. These days she is a successful songwriter, her collaborations include "Change Of Heart" with Cyndi Lauper. It's a long way from "Arch Of Godliness and Purplefull Magic" and "Opening My Love Doors" but the journey's never been less than interesting.
Subject: "she spent her formative years in Long Island"
In 1948 (not 1947) on April 23rd, I was born in Philadelphia, where I grew up. I only spent 7 months in Long Island living with a friend and his family. The 'orgies' are a fabrication as well resulting from a flippant remark a boyfriend of mine used to make as a joke. He used to say "Let's all jump in a pile." No one ever acted on it. In fact once, we were at a party where things got a little too racy, so we left. Sorry if the truth isn't as tantalizing as the fiction posted on your website. If it's any consolation, I did experience a few manage-a-trois' back in those days (60's/70's) but no real orgies. Just a lifetime of trying to spread the truth about real life and real music.
Some of which will be available on Cherry Street Records Feb.23rd,1999
Go CherryStreetRecords.com for more info. I wish people would come to me for information about me. I'm not dead yet. Edsel got it wrong from copying Bruce Pollack's mistakes. Dave DiMartino did the same as Edsel and he has promised to correct the facts in the next printing of his book. Also you have my e-mail address wrong. It's esmohawk.com and the flute player's name (on my 'Sandy' album)is spelled S-T-E-I-G. Please correct the information on your website. Feel free to contact me in the future for more info.
—Essra Mohawk aka Sandra Hurvitz
Subject: brief European tour
I did not go on this tour. Wish I had but I wasn't invited. Actually, I didn't know a thing about it till I read about it on the Edsel liner notes almost 30 years after the fact.
Speaking of facts, here's another one for you: I did not collaberate with Cyndi Lauper. I wrote "Change of Heart" alone. I receive 100% writers royalties. Cyndi sang one line of lyric differently and moved a few words around here and there. She asked permission and I told her she could sing it any way she liked. The original lyrics can be heard in the upcoming album I referred to in my first note. Hope you post all this on your website so you can set the record straight for interested fans who deserve the truth. Thank you.
It was over Billy [Mundi]'s playing that Frank and I disagreed the first day we started tracking my album with the Mothers. Billy really started to cook during the ride out after the charts that Frank had written ended, so I asked Frank very respectfully if we could record it again with Billy playing like that from the top so that the track would cook right away rather than having to wait till the end of the song. Frank's response was less than supportive. Let's just say the session ended badly. I ended up walking out. I was an inexperienced youth of 19 and many years away from learning patience, tolerance and restraint. By the way, the song we began recording was the one we performed every night at the Garrick: "Archgodliness Of Purpleful Magic." I can still remember Frank's guitar line [...].
Not long after I walked out of that first session, Frank delegated the production to the newest member of the Mothers, Ian Underwood. In Ian, Frank found an obedient soldier, albeit not the most inspired musician. In all of my over 40 years of recording experience, I've never witnessed a more inept or insensitive 'producer'. Ian was good at only one thing: wasting studio time. He actually erased one of my best vocals for no rational reason. I was with a friend who witnessed it and was shocked when Ian gave the lamest reason I ever heard. He said he couldn't mix it, which, of course, is absurd as it wasn't a mixing session. We were recording my vocals. He would spend days putting down his own horn parts and then erasing them over and over! Not a single note of his noodling (thank goodness) ever ended up on the album. Production ended before the album was even close to being finished. A raw demo, it was released after I left Zappa, the Mothers, and New York for LA and a deal with Reprise being offered to me by Mo Ostin, with David Geffen offering to help. My second album was finished to my satisfaction and released on Reprise in 1970. Ultimately, I forgave Ian. He was young and didn't know any better. I ran into him years later in LA. He seemed surprised, and appreciated that I treated him kindly and forgave him for screwing up my first album all those years ago. It still has merit, even though it's so bare bones, as it shows the songs I wrote and my voice and piano playing at 19 and 20.
[...] Things deteriorated between [Frank and me] at about the same rate the album progressed. I guess it all came to a head one day when Frank dropped by uninvited and physically forced me out of my own session. [...] At any rate, before I left Bizarre, I ran into Mo Ostin who was then vice-president of Reprise (he went on to become president). Upon hearing me sing at Steve Paul's Scene in Manhattan, he approached me and asked me to come to Reprise which ultimately resulted in the recording and release of my second album, Primordial Lovers.
[...] Once, years later, when I was staying with my mom in Philadelphia—Frank used to introduce me on stage as "that strange little person from Philadelphia"—the phone rang. Mom picked it up and came to get me, telling me Frank Zappa was on the phone. He called to let me know, "We're doing more music and less bullshit these days." I was amazed (and continue to be) that he carried my words with him for years, as I used to tell him how much more incredible his music was than the low-brow humour. [...]
Frank and I ran into each other one last time, also in Philadelphia. This time in the mid-80s. We both had been invited to the Chestnut Cabaret for a special Halloween show being put on by Stella, Philly's late night horror movie hostess—in the same vein as Elvira. When we spotted each other at the event, we were drawn together like magnets and had ourselves a good long hug. Any negativity that might've existed years before that moment was banished forever, replaced by the deeper reality of the love and respect we had for each other.
Zappa invited Mohawk to Los Angeles, and at age 20, she started recording her debut album with Zappa producing and the Mothers of Invention as her backing band. In the studio, as drummer Billy Mundi played a ride-out she liked at the end of one of her songs, she turned to Zappa and suggested he let Mundi play with that kind of freedom throughout the song, instead of sticking to the charts Zappa wrote for each band member.
"He glowered at me the way he could do and said, 'Who's producing this album anyway?' " Mohawk, shocked, stopped still for a few seconds, then said, "You're not." Then she ran out. By time she returned, Zappa and the band were gone, never to return. She finished the album with Mothers keyboardist Ian Underwood producing, but he more often than not erased good takes and, in Mohawk's opinion, worked at undermining the recording. Mohawk finished it with a strong band, including Eddie Gomez on bass, Donald McDonald on drums, Jim Pepper on saxophone and Jeremy Steig on flute.
"I was sad that I didn't get to finish it with the Mothers," Mohawk says. "It wasn't the album it was supposed to be. But I listen now, and I really enjoy it. It's very raw and stripped-down."
Zappa and Mohawk later reconciled, staying friends and talking regularly until his death in 1993.
She changed her name to Essra Mohawk and made a whole bunch of LPs in the 70s, including a disco album. She's got a website, I think, put together by a fan. Don't know the address though.
Sandy Hurvitz wrote "Change Of Heart," which was a hit for Cyndi Lauper in 1986.
1969 Sandy Hurvitz—Sandy's Album Is Here at Last
1970 Sandy Hurvitz—Primordial Lovers
1975 Essra Mohawk—Essra Mohawk
1976 Essra Mohawk—Essra
1985 Essra Mohawk—E-Turn
1988 Kool & the Gang—Everything Is Kool & the Gang (Arranger)
1995 Essra Mohawk—Raindance
1998 Schoolhouse Rocks the Vote! (Vocals, Producer, Speech/Speaker/Speaking Part)
1999 Essra Mohawk—Secret Diva
2000 Essra Mohawk—Primordial Lovers MM
Essra Mohawk—Burnin' Shinin' Essra
1986 Cyndi Lauper—True Colors (co-wrote "Change Of Heart")
1995 Annie Haslam—Blessing in Disguise (co-wrote "Can't Turn the Night Off")
1998 Rita Coolidge—Thinkin' About You (co-wrote "What's It Gonna Be")
Maintained by Román García Albertos