Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Fifty Foot Hose—
Cauldron


Released 1967 on Limelight
The Seth Man, June 2000ce
Picture Dr. Who jamming with a more proficient Great Society featuring an adenoidal Grace Slick on vocals, and you have at least a scant aural reference for this rare proto-synthesizer-in-an-acid-garage-band junction. It was recorded in late 1967 on Mercury’s subsidiary Limelight label, so it comes to no surprise that they were unceremoniously dumped after it failed to become the label’s answer to “Surrealistic Pillow.” They broke up mid-1968, which quickly resigned “Cauldron” to the ever-growing scrap heap of one-off Bay Area bands signed in the wake of the ‘Summer of Love’ that were forgotten long before autumn’s end. This is a pity, as Fifty Foot Hose’s “Cauldron” is a small but terrifying monster of homegrown psychedelia. Only the unmistakably West Coast guitar jamming spree in their epic cut and paste “Fantasy” is there audio evidence as to the space (San Francisco) and time (1967) they occupied, but the uniqueness of the album is in the efforts of Corky Marcheschi and his bulky, homemade electronic instrument, a nameless behemoth consisting of audio generators plugged through echo and fuzz boxes, a huge cardboard tubes, a plastic outdoor speaker and other homemade devices. It was jerry-rigged, unglamourous...and highly effective. It’s presence runs throughout the whole jazz, folk, R&B potpourri and turns it into a proto-electronic stew with practically every other track solo audio generator experimentations, some 2 minutes and some so brief they act more like codas to the song they trail. “The Things That Consern You” is an acidhead reassuring his old lady that “The things that I do now/ they don’t consern you now/ I’m just trying to feed my head.” But with all the beeping, flashing and fucked up crude electronics, they seem to be not only feeding his head but also setting it alight like a flickering neon sign. A tremendous rock out and the high point of the record is “Red The Sign Post.” Here lead vocalist Nancy Blossom gives it some strident Slick vocalising as husband David Blossom goes for it on customised Gretsch with fuzztone built directly into his axe. It’s a blistering surge out, recalling “Bombay Calling” by It’s A Beautiful Day. Not that it sounds the least bit like it, mind you. But just as “Bombay Calling” provided Deep Purple with the inspiration for “Child In Time,” “Red The Sign Post” (deep breath) is the undeniable source where Ritchie Blackmore based a note for note guitar blueprint for The Purps very own “Space Truckin’.” Aaarrghughhh!

The album calms down (somewhat) with the Owsley-dosed coffeehousing of Billy Holliday’s “God Bless The Child.” Acoustic guitar and hissing jazz hi-hat and traps are surrounded by incongruous space whooshes and bleeps in a proto-synth, fifties sci-fi movie manner. It all ends on with the hellish title track, “Cauldron” with the echoed clang of struck bells and an aggrieved woman’s wailing as Nancy Blossom’s chiding tones are slowed and sped up at will over a backward-masked rhythm section. The vocals get more and more filtered and unreal, at first intoning only words that start with an ‘s’, and becoming the demented little sister of the second side of Brainticket’s “Cottonwood Hill” -- another femme vox-scalded, hellbound psycho-out.

After only one album, this proto-cyber psych outfit passed as quickly as they came. Their only mention would be a name-check in Ralph J. Gleason’s 1969 book, “The Jefferson Airplane And The San Francisco Sound” published over a year after their demise. But recent interest caused by both US and UK re-issues of “Cauldron” led to a reformation and a small string of gigs in San Francisco in 1997, a full thirty years on.