#13   August 2002   WEB OF ETERNITY   guest editor: Cary Loren   PAGE 9 of 13


No 13-page supplement to the 13th issue of a magazine that likes to focus on psychedelic underground music would be complete without an investigation of a band called Father Yod and the Savage Sons of YaHoWa 13. Right? And who better to do it than Byron Coley? Not only is he the greatest rock writer that ever lived (okay, top 10), he also named his goddamn record label and record store after the bandleader! So read on. (A slightly different version of this article originally appeared in The Wire magazine.)


Yahowha "God and Hair" (Japan, Captain Trip)
by Byron Coley

Amongst hardcore collectors of psychedelic whatsis, Father Yod and the Savage Sons of Ya Ho Wa 13 are considered to be the apex of high. During their lifespan (1973-75) they released nine albums and three singles of legendary weirdness and rarity. Indeed, the fact that few people are familiar with the bulk of their recorded work has lent it an air of mystery that is virtually unequalled inside the genre. Some of their music has occasionally been available in reissues of questionable legal legitimacy, but now the veil has been drawn back. The Japanese Captain Trip label has put together a massive 13 CD box set (the physical equal of FMP's Cecil Taylor in Berlin box) which demystifies their corpus once and for all. And as is so often the case in these instances, familiarity breeds something less than pure adoration.

The story of Father Yod begins sometime in 1969. Tom Baker was a middle aged follower of the Yogi Bhajan ? a kundali yoga master and health food prophet who came to the U.S. on the heels of the Maharishi. Mr. Baker became disenchanted when Mr. Bhajan declared that he was not god, so Mr. Baker decided to assume the mantle. He soon gathered a group of acolytes named "The Source" and opened a health food restaurant in the Laurel Canyon section of Hollywood called The Aware Inn.

Dubbing himself Father Yod (later changed to Yahowha), Mr. Baker espoused a philosophy based on kindness to animals, a fruit heavy diet, the wearing of cotton clothes, and sex without orgasm. Apocryphal stories about the Source's practices abound, the most persistent of which has to do with the idea that the group felt that the similarity of spelling between "god" and "dog" was no accident. Anyway, amongst the faithful who toiled in The Aware Inn were a number of musicians. Yod enlisted their talents and tapes began rolling.

They recorded their first group of albums as Father Yod and the Spirit of '76. The liner notes may explain the significance of this, but they're in Japanese, so translating them is beyond me. The first three albums, _Kohoutek_, _Contraction_ and _Expansion_ are of a piece. Mr. Yod's vocals are reminscent of those 'incredibly strange' LPs which were cut when a former Vegas lounge singer got dosed with acid and decided that hipster-mysticism was the shortest path to hippie cooze. The music on these albums is somewhat generic, but still pleasant, low-key west coast spazz psych. Flute pops up here and there. Odd female back-up vocals appear in the mist the way they did on mid-period Jandek LPs.
There is faux-Amerinidian chanting worthy of Bob Markley's protegé J.J. Light. Lyric highlights include the couplet, "You are jesus/Are you ready for that?" ( recurrent text throughout the ouevre, actually). And my dog's ears perked way the heck up at a few of Mr. Yod's less honeyed notes. Perhaps this is how the dog=god rumor got started.

The next album, _All or Nothing at All_, is less interesting. Mr. Yod doesn't appear (although he's shown on the front cover blowing a Biblical horn) and the music is mostly simpering lite-ass hippie make-out crud. There's a little Neil Young, a little Delaney and Bonnie, a little Merrell Fankhauser, but the only really noteworthy track is "The Great Woe" which wiggles with enough lopsided mania to sound like a co-ed version of the Godz's "Quack (I'm a Quack)". It was around this time that Yod changed his name and decreed that his kids could wear colored clothes. Maybe he didn't like the album either.

But it is the next suite of records upon which the organization's musical legacy was built. And they are pretty swank. The eponymous _Yahowa 13_ is the family's first real rock-as-rock effort. Three musicians are pictured on the cover (they seem to be Octavius Aquarian, Djin Aquarian and Sunflower Aquarian) and they bleed a kind of Stonesy riff-blood while Yahowa lets it all hang out. Particularly effecting are the yelps he conjures for "Little Doggie" (a cowboy song, of all things). The best song is "Kind of Depressing", which revolves around a circular guitar figure of almost punkly design. And the bonus tracks are worthy of Bobby Vee's psychedelic phase, especially "It's a Knack," which features what seems to be a detuned surf guitar.


  The next album, _Savage Sons of Ya Ho Wa_, adds Rhythm Aquarian to the line-up and finds Electron Aquarian replacing Yahowa in the vocal perch. What results is the most wildly rocking album of the bunch. It's reminiscent of  something Crazy Horse might have done in the early '70s, if they had been deranged by fruit juice. The fried Screamin' Jay Hawkins-like vocals of Electron on "Fire in the Sky" are particularly evocative of a bad trip. Combined with the toad-ripping guitar and stubby rhythms which fill the album, this is a real meal. Naturally, it is pooh-poohed by hardcore Yod aficianados as being too unmystical. Go figure. For me, this is the one, and "Oh Ya Ho Wa" is a harmonica-bled blues-punk genius that should be called "Yod Kept a Rollin'."

For the next pair of albums the group called itself Yahowa 13 and
continued to build on their strengths. For _Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony_ Yod ousted Electron once and for all to take back the microphone, but he lays out a lot. As a result, this album's best parts are charged clouds of rock improvisation that float and huzz in a very special way. Indeed, _Penetration_ contains more aggressively distorted psych than anything else the family recorded. This was followed by the epic double LP, _I'm Gonna Take You Home_, which reunited the band with their long-lost brother Pythias Aquarian (who'd been out of the fold since _Expansion_). This one has the best cover quote, "Divine Communion time is here little kitties," and probably represents the best integration of vocals and music the band achieved. There are five long, untitled tracks of ripped guitar psych. On the best of them, Yahowa unleashes some post-tongue vocals that incorporate all the sounds of barnyard revolution while the guitarist destroys himself. And the whistling bits are even better than Taj Mahal's. Which is saying something.

At the end of 1974, The Source sold their restaurant, packed their bags and moved to Hawaii. It was supposed to be paradise, but Yahowa had a tough time finding a pad for himself and his 13 wives, and the locals were a bit hostile. They eventually went to Northern California for a spell, before returning to Hawaii to make their stand. _To the Principles for the Children_ was recorded during this period and the tension shows a bit. The album consists of two long tracks, broken into untitled fragments. One of them is an ode to "woman power" worthy of Helen Reddy. But more often Yahowa is in heavy chant mode, backed by instrumental rounds that sound like the Magic Band's "Abba Zabba."  It's possible to sense that this album explains a great deal of the Father's philosophy. But it's kinda tough to make out the words. Still, it's heavily vocal and the ensemble is blended w/ effects & percussion more than on other albums. And when the kid's chorus of "Ya Ho Wha" starts up at the end you'll feel like you've been somewhere.

Then, on August 25, 1975, Yahowa decided he wanted to go hang gliding. He'd never done it before, but he was adamant, so the family went along with it. He took a short flight, landed badly and broke his back. He refused medication, asking instead for massages and salt packs. He died after about nine hours. Following his instructions, the family gave him an enema, lit incense, and chanted for three days before they called authorities to remove his heat bloated corpse. Another rumor has persisted that Yahowa was stuffed and mounted in the family's house, but it seems more likely that he was cremated.

At this time the family splintered, but the musical core of  Yahowa 13 remained together, calling themselves Fire, Water, Air (which is what I think Yahowa means in astrological terms). In 1977 they released an eight-track cartridge, _Golden Sunrise_, which continued Yod's legacy. The playing is shockingly pro on parts of this and it's hard to tell whether the effects are intentional or whether the tape recorder was just out of phase. Still, when Sky Sunlight Saxon joins the proceedings, about halfway through, the session takes off. The extended psych jams are a perfect match for Sky's boiling word-gush and the results are transportational. Also excellent is the nude hippie cover pic. In fact it's so perfect that it looks like that fake cover pic on HNAS's krautrock piss-take, _Damenbart_.

After this comes the mysterious _Yodship_ album, recorded sometime in the late '70s by un-named members of the family. This has two untitled suites in praise of Yod and is the record most eerily reminiscent of those by other cultists (the Manson Family, the Jonestown Choir, Spirit in the Flesh, Sun Ra's Arkestra, etc.). The album as a whole has an edge of menace that gives portions of it a very high rating on the loner folk-psych scale. It is very much like the funeral rite for a dream. The final two CDs are less germane. _Related Singles_ collects some odds and ends from Sky Saxon's post-Yod recordings. There's some nice enough garage rock here, but only a couple of tracks from his truly-related '70s singles, and nothing from the _Lover's Cosmic Voyage_ record. _Unreleased Material_ is a CD comprised largely of dullish material by Earth, Water, Fire (of unknown vintage, it could even be contemporary), plus some chanting by various people, and a good rap from Sky about being nice to dogs. These discs do not end things on the highest of all possible notes, but their inclusion serves to tie up loose ends.

As to the overall worth of the set, that depends largely on you. The sound is adequate. Although the discs are obviously mastered from LP, the sonics are much cleaner than on any of the LPs that have been around. The playing times of the individual CDs might give consumers pause. Some of them are extremely short (the mean playing time is less than 40 minutes). But this can be forgiven, as it is a necessity both for retaining the individual albums' autonomic functions and for pushing the set's numerology into the realm of the mystical 13. It was disappointing to see that there was no English text (FMP's Taylor set had, after all, bilingual annotation), and the price seems a bit steep. But it is extraordinarily pleasing to have the cover illustrations all in one place. Featuring nudity, astrology, balloons of god's breath, a Rolls
Royce, loincloths, and so many of the other good things of life, the covers provide a lovely visual analog to the music. if you are at all attuned to strange vibes that drip like honey from the creases of _God and Hair_, you will consider its purchase price money well spent. As with the work of any true esoteric, the aesthetic surface presented by the music on _God and Hair_ is just the outer skin of a vast onion. Many people could spend time aplenty peeling and digging the work of Yahowha. Even "mere fans" of crazed grassroots psychedelia will find plenty to enjoy. And man, it looks great standing next to _Cecil Taylor in Berlin_ on the shelf. So, like, what the heck? You may not find yourself wanting to play this all the time, but during those moments when you want to hear it, nothing else will suffice. Or even come close.



The Yodship Rediscovered! See Perfect Sound Forever's
mammoth interview with members of the band



#13   August 2002   WEB OF ETERNITY   guest editor: Cary Loren   PAGE 9 of 13

End is Here I was a Jack Smith love slave Infinite Black Darkness, Infinite White Darkness Buried Alive Rock and Revolution, photos by Leni Sinclair Aesthetics of UFOs by Mike Kelley Wallace Berman Angus MacLise Father Yod  Ira Cohen Akira Ikufube Swampy Lagoon Index Ray Johnson