C.A. Quintet—
Trip Thru Hell

Released 1969 on Candy Floss
The Seth Man, December 2000ce
By 1969, most garage punk bands had either fallen by the wayside or went the way of forced white soul, proto-metal or the utter oblivionsville from whence they came. But C.A. Quintet survived a number of personnel changes since their ’66 inception until three singles later issued what was to be their only LP: “Trip Thru Hell.” It is psychedelic and a little too late, inventive and plain weird for garage punk; more a perplexing offering from late sixties Minnesota characterised by a quality as homemade yet effective as bathtub acid, as well as a serious exploration of sounds and moods.

“Trip Thru Hell” is surrounded by its two-part title track, and its theme of wordless woman wail will continually reappear eerily throughout the rest of the album from time to time…when you least expect it. Part one of “Trip Thru Hell” is a haunting, nine-minute instrumental odyssey and plain scary at times, the main theme overlaid and woven within its chanteuse wailing and only interrupted by cross fade by: an over-phased drum solo, an organ-led trip piece, and finally a churning and completely not right noise guitar solo that sounds like a recording of a sputtering car engine trying to start and plugged through a chain of distortion and fuzzboxes while slowing and speeding up pitch at random. It really starts to shriek at about the same time you realise that for all its lighter moments, this guided tour of Sheol will have moments just as heavy, and it is those that remain to petrify and terrify. The main theme fades back in, maintaining the previous interludes as portraits of perilous hellfire or the infamous in their torment. But then again, seeing as The C.A.Q. s spelt their album’s title “Thru” and not “Through”, it does also operate on the level of a battle of the bands winner presenting a jerry-rigged haunted house spectacular after exam week by dropping a couple tabs and playing in the dark in the corner with painted faces, a totally warped 45 played on 16rpm on a portable record player while some of their girlfriends scream behind a curtain. But it’s this very hand-stitched quality that makes “Trip Thru Hell” so convincing. I’m sure lead vocalist, lyricist and trumpet player Ken Erwin didn’t have to bone up on Dante’s “Inferno” to get a convincingly ‘hellish’ and oftentimes trippy feel to his lyrics, while the arrangements present their democratic ensemble-lising amazingly well.

“Colorado Mourning” outlines “The Letter” by The Box Tops, but with blaring trumpet lines and cavernous vocals that end with more strident trumpets, as though signaling all rise to hail an entering technicolour Hollywood king. Cross fading out of this abrupt blast is the cool, serene and always unsettling main theme from “Trip Thru Hell.” The next track, “Cold Spider” begins with quiet bass and spooky organ, filigree guitar and a snare roll as the words “Cold spider...cold spider...cold spider...” precede an echoed cry for help. The guitar solo intertwines with fuzzed-out hits and brash, soaring feedback drones as it turns into a simple but effective two-guitar feedback war. “Underground Music” opens with a brief feedback flourish, paving the wave for Ken Erwin’s celebratory trumpets to blare out the melody line before the he sings with melodic harmony vocals the explanatory lines: “It’s the music for the mind/Underground music/Underground, so fine.” What it is in fact is a pop single with a three and a half minute feedback freakout featuring guitarist Tom Pohling hitting all the wrong places at the right time, using wah-wah and generally sounding like he’s operating on his guitar with the entire contents of a toolbox as he continually belabours his already smoking Vox amp. Then guitar riff splits off into two separate leads, going neck to neck and constantly outdo themselves in an ever-throttling manner. The repeating drum and organ pattern is then left to continue its turtle pace alone once the two guitars burn up and drop out entirely. A few seconds later, the lyrics come back to hurry the song to its pop finale, complete with brash trumpet trills. Did that song happen out loud?

A trudging organ crawls behind “Sleepy Hollow Lane,” a forsaken place “where nothing ever grows.” Dismal and dank, “You can go there anytime you want/And it will always rain.” Even if you brought both umbrella and torch here, you will still trip over a tree root and flee screaming, ‘Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care!’ Then the eternally spooked main theme of “Trip Thru Hell” reappears (but passes by the doorway only long enough, like in that ONE hallway scene in “Repulsion” to completely make you do a double take and shiver.) A gong crashes open “Smooth As Silk,” and Erwin’s trumpets are to the fore once more and ultimately catchy in the bridge while the guitar is still sputtering fuzz and distortion throughout. The organ fills are all over the place in a completely 1966 Vox Continental manner, swelling all over the place and over-recorded. Which only adds to the diaphanousness of the whole feel as well as providing a sensuous backdrop to the lines “Don’t stop to wonder/If I’m real/I float on by you” because he’s smooth as silk and flying pretty high, at that. But despite this track’s abundantly optimistic air, all cascades back to the ultimate return of “Trip Thru Hell (Part 2)”, the final track. Heralding trumpets straight out of a medieval Hollywood constructed Technicolor palace resound with “Hear ye, hear ye!” ALMOST corniness. But then both Ken Erwin and 16-year old Toni Crockett (the otherworldly female voice on album emanated forth from a junior in high school?!) “Ooooo-ooo-oooo” a bit longer until the guitar comes in. And when it does, it’s time for flight or fight, because after a final blast of trumpets (what are they heralding now?) the now already-too-familiar main theme returns. And when it ends, it is the last time it appears on the record. What now enters but an incredibly bouncy, bass-led percussion segue that sounds far too happy go lucky for…Hell.

Ah, that’s what you thought. (Cue evil laughter) WELCOME...!

Everything then tears apart, the curtain of the former jolly percussion scene is now revealed for what it truly is: brimstone, flames, lava, you name it: It’s all here in musical form as backward lead guitar flies all around and stretches against the organ as everything begins to speed up faster, faster, FASTER until it all explodes into a startling freak out of descending bass line, wah-wahed guitar, screaming and more scraping fucked-ness until...a clock chimes as the music starts to fade out, continuing well past the music’s exit.
Was it all a dream, or just another awakening?

Oh, “Dead Of Night” is on tonight?
Let’s watch it and get r-e-a-l-l-y creeped out.

(“Doctor Of Philosophy,” the B-side to “Smooth As Silk” is included on the Sundazed reissue of this remarkable album. Also included are The C.A. Quintet’s earlier two singles, which illustrate exactly how blazingly far they pushed their own musical envelope, as well as a number of alternate and unreleased cuts.)