Lowell George & The Factory - Lightning Rod Man

Lowell George & The Factory
Lightning Rod Man

Released 1993 on Bizarre/Straight
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 04/06/2007ce

1. Lightning Rod Man
2. Lost
3. Candy Cane Madness
4. Slow Down
5. Smile, Let Your Life Begin
6. The Loved One
7. Sleep Tonight
8. No Place I'd Rather Be
9. Hey Girl!
10. Changes
11. Candy Cane Madness (live version)
12. Crack In Your Door
13. Teenage Nervous Breakdown
14. Framed
15. Juliet

Lowell George-lead vocals, guitar, woodwinds & percussion
Warren Klein-lead guitar & guitars
Martin Kibbee-bass guitar
Richie Hayward-drums & backing vocals

Back in the late 1980's I was browsing through a record store bin one day when my eyes flashed onto a USA issue compilation album by Long Island, New York garage band The Vagrants (on Arista Records no less.) I really couldn't believe my eyes, as USA major record companies at that time really did not do things like go through their own back catalogs in search of suitable archive/re-issue material (they usually let French, German & English labels have all the fun.) Of course not to mention that most USA major labels have heads firmly up their overpaid asses. Thank GOD there are labels like Rhino & Sundazed who are actually doing things right these days.

Well, finding this great archive release by Lowell George & The Factory initially gave me the same state of disbelief, that is until I saw it was issued on Frank Zappa's Bizarre/Straight imprint. The connection was obviously a personal one as Lowell George had played in one of the later editions of The Mothers Of Invention. All that being said, "Lightning Rod Man" is a major find that connects some of the dots in that fertile late 60's Los Angeles psychedelic underground mystery. I should mention at the start that this group The Factory had nothing at all to do with the 2 UK groups who recorded under the name The Factory and issued 45's on MGM, CBS & Oak.

Lowell George's Factory did manage to record a couple of 45's for UNI and land a cameo appearance on USA gonzo TV show "F Troop." It is also now clear they left behind a treasure trove of unreleased material that is nothing short of a revelation. I'm convinced had this group gotten a few breaks they could have been one of the major players of the late 60's. Because The Factory had all the ingredients of a great band, great singing, great playing, great songs and a ton of originality. However if I were to compare them with other artists of the period, these names come to mind: The Byrds, Kaleidoscope, The Rising Sons, The Youngbloods, Love, Moby Grape, Captain Beefheart, The Mothers Of Invention & The Monkees, how's that for starters?

The set opens with the title track "Lightning Rod Man" which is a stone classic that fuses the sound of the early Mothers Of Invention with "Safe As Milk" era Captain Beefheart, it also shows an early glimpse of George's future outfit Little Feat. During the song's finale I can swear I hear Frank Zappa's voice. So just when you think you are getting ready for a major dose of acid drenched dementia the collection takes a swift U-turn into the glorious folk-rock sound of L.A. circa 1966-1967, in fact the entire first side of the record and the first couple of cuts on side 2 were recorded in 1966-67. "Lost" is a bright sunny gem that recalls "Headquarters" era Monkees. "Candy Cane Madness" & "Slow Down" recall the early sides by The Kaleidoscope and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, both of these songs are absolute classics. "Smile, Let Your Life Begin" is even better, it begins with a penny whistle type flute sound that plays a melody that I once heard in an old Shirley Temple movie (sorry but I can't remember the tune.) It then leaps into the sound of pure joy, the melodies are so bright they will blind your eyes, this song should have been a #1 hit in every country in the world.

"The Loved One" steps back to the garage madness of the title track while "Sleep Tonight" blends the sound of "Da Capo" era Love with The Monkees during their "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd." period, this is a perfect example of what is sometimes called "California Sunshine Pop." Side one closes with another absolute gem called "No Place I'd Rather Be" which sounds like the kind of sophisticated pop that The Byrds Gene Clark specialized in, the backing track is remarkable in that it blends a jazz like arrangement with an eastern sitar passage.

Side Two opens with the pure garage/psychedelia of "Hey Girl" which sounds like of a direct lift from the 13th Floor Elevators first album "Psychedelic Sounds." "Changes" is another tough garage number that once again recalls Love during their "Da Capo" period & also WB era Music Machine. Then comes a spirited live version of "Candy Cane Madness" that clearly shows what a potent live group The Factory must have been. This brings the end to the 1966-67 material and things then shift to 1968 & 1969 with material that has the sound George would later employ with Little Feat. "Crack In The Door" would later show up on Little Feat's classic debut, the version here is recorded with members of The Fraternity Of Man (where all The Factory members except George would relocate) the version here actually knocks the spots off Little Feat's version. Also included is an early take of Little Feat's "Teenage Nervous Breakdown" that's a bit tentative (it might be this collection's only weak track.)

"Framed" is a cool, greasy number that sounds like the early sides by The Flamin' Groovies, the melody reminds me of the old R&B number "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash." The final track "Juliet" is a funky, bluesy number that recalls Spirit and their 1969 album "Clear." As I mentioned earlier it's astounding to me how material as strong as 99% of the material on "Lightning Rod Man" could have been left rotting in record company vaults all these years. This album is an absolute must for anyone with even as passing interest in late 60's west coast psychedelic rock. Of course Lowell George would later gain fame and fortune in the mid 70's with watered down Little Feat music, having his songs covered by the limp Asylum Records roster of artists and producing one of the worst records in rock history in The Grateful Dead's "Shakedown Street." He would later pass away due to the usual drinking/drugs madness. But in the beginning he was a major talent and innovator and he deserves to be remembered as such. "Lightning Rod Man" will go a long way in cementing his reputation as one of rock's unsung greats.

Similar records I can recommend:

1. The Kaleidoscope-Side Trips (Epic 1967)
2. Moby Grape-Moby Grape (Columbia 1967)
3. The Youngbloods-The Youngbloods (RCA 1967)
4. The Rising Sons-The Rising Sons (Sundazed/Columbia)
5. The Lovin' Spoonful-Daydream (Kama Sutra 1966)
6. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band-Safe As Milk (Buddah 1967)
7. The Monkees-The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees (Colgems 1968)
8. The Electric Prunes-Underground (Reprise 1968)
9. The Fountain Of Youth-Take A Giant Step (RCA 45 1967)
10. Circus Maximus-Circus Maximus (Vanguard 1967)
11. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band-Pure Dirt (Liberty 1968)
12. West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band-Part 2 (Reprise 1967)
13. The Leaves-Hey Joe (Mira 1966)
14. The Vagrants-The Great Lost Album (Arista 1987)
15. Little Feat-Little Feat (Warner Bros. 1971)

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