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6 Feb 2017

Essra Mohawk ‎ “Essra Mohawk” 1974 US Country Folk Pop Rock

Essra Mohawk ‎ “Essra Mohawk” 1974 US Country Folk Pop  Rock

Essra Mohawk first encountered Frank Zappa in 1967, walking down Bleecker Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. She was 19, visiting New York City from her home in Philadelphia with two female friends from Los Angeles. She loved Zappa's album Freak Out!, which had just been released, and when her friends spotted the lanky Zappa walking down the street with his trademark long curls, Fu Manchu moustache and soul patch, her friends started shouting out the names of L.A. locations where they'd seen him hanging out.

Zappa was on his way to the Garrick Theater, where his band, the Mothers of Invention, was amid a legendary six-month residency. "He let us in for free," recalls Mohawk, still known by her given name, Sandy Hurvitz, at the time. "We became fast friends. He started calling me 'the strange little person from Philadelphia.' "

For Mohawk, the meeting changed her life and her musical direction. More than 40 years later, Zappa still hovers: He provided her biggest initial career boost, and then, in a fit of ego and anger, nearly sabotaged her future before her first album was finished.

But Mohawk survived, perpetually evolving: She's been a singer-songwriter and a leader of psychedelic jam bands; she's been a New-Wave chanteuse and a blues-rock belter; she's posed nude for an album cover and provided vocals for the PBS Schoolhouse Rock series; she's had cuts by the Shangri-las, Vanilla Fudge, Tina Turner, McFadden & Whitehead, Peabo Bryson, Keb Mo and Cyndi Lauper, who made her "Change of Heart" an '80s classic. She's inspired songs by Procol Harum, Joni Mitchell and David Crosby, among others. Other collaborations include singing with the Jerry Garcia Band and co-writing with Bob Weir, and her connections to the Mothers of Invention and The Grateful Dead make her an underground cult hero for many. She alternately describes herself as a love child and a feral child, and holds onto a bohemian hippie aesthetic, wearing tie-dye and natural fibers, talking about peace, freedom, creative expression and past lives — as such, she's the Nashville chapter head of the Musicians and Artists for Peace.

Along the way, she's dabbled in nearly every form of popular music other than country — even though Lorrie Morgan cut one of her songs — which is why longtime fans are still surprised to discover she's lived in the Nashville area for about as long as she's ever lived anywhere.

A gypsy most of her life, Mohawk moved to Nashville 16 years ago after an enthusiastic endorsement by friend Al Kooper, another legendary producer and musician. She accepted his invitation to stay at his house to get a feel for the city. "For Al to be positive about anything, I figured it must be a wonderful place," she laughs. She now owns a home in Bellevue, which she shares with her brother Gary, two dogs and a cat.

At 62, she's also primed for an unexpected career boost: Collector's Choice is reissuing her first three albums: Sandy's Album Is Here at Last, released in 1969 on Zappa's Bizarre Records; Primordial Lovers, a 1970 album on Reprise Records that Downbeat gave five stars and Rolling Stone once listed among the 25 best albums of all time; and Essra Mohawk, a 1974 album on Asylum Records.

When Mohawk met Zappa, she'd already released a pop single, "The Boy With the Way" backed with "Memory of Your Voice" on Liberty Records at age 16. She'd been offered a songwriting contract by top music publisher Charles Koppleman, and she had been courted by producer Shadow Morton, who had provided her songs to the Shangri-Las ("I'll Never Learn") and Vanilla Fudge ("The Spell That Comes After").

After meeting Zappa, she left the pop world for something infinitely different. Not long after they met, Zappa ordered a new electric piano. The day it arrived, Mothers' keyboardist Don Preston was ill. Zappa remembered Mohawk played piano, so he set it up on the Garrick stage and asked her to test it.

"I started playing and singing one of my songs, and Frank jumped up and put a microphone in front of me," she says. "Then he jumped back into the theater and listened for a bit. Then he jumped back onstage and said, 'Step into my office.' He walked over to the second row of seats and pointed, so I sat down. He looked at me and said, 'How would you like to be a Mother?' "

Playing solo on piano, Mohawk began opening shows for the Mothers of Invention, staying onstage to sing harmony during the band's set. Zappa had her sing her own song, "Archgodliness of Purplefull Magic," during the band's set, only one of two non-Zappa songs featured during the Mothers' concerts in the year-and-a-half Mohawk performed with the band.

"The first band I was in was my favorite band," she says. "I have to say, it's been all downhill from there!" She then cracks up, leaning forward as she guffaws in her high, childlike tone, showing no bitterness.

She hasn't always felt so forgiving. 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. Meanwhile, the self-described "feral child," so long seen as ahead of her time, feels like her moment has arrived. She's determined not to let it pass her by.

"I feel very fortunate," she says. "I've managed to be supported by my music all these years. I've always worked with great musicians. I have found that the best musicians seem to be the ones who respond to my music the most. I may not be famous, but I think I'm respected, and I'll take that anytime. It feels like it's my time again, and I like that, because I still have a lot of music to make." MCCALL.........

“Essra Mohawk Has Never Recorded For The Same Record Label More Than Once, But It's Rarely Affected The Consistency Of Her Songwriting. Here, She Left Behind The Free-Form, Rambling Qualities Of Her Earlier Work, And, Working Within Slightly More Conventional Rock Confines, Rocked 'N' Rasped Her Own Inimitable Way Through Ten Finely Crafted Psych-Pop Gems, As Well As One Frenetic Take On Gershwin's "Summertime." "New Skins For Old" Starts As The Album Means To Go On: "Can We Doubt When We Don An Old Animal Skin/That It's Really A Previous State We Were In"; Birth, Death, Reincarnation And The Universe Are The Album's Recurrent Themes. Despite Its Muscled-Up Rock Power, The Set Also Captures Mohawk Solo At The Piano For "You're Finally Here" And "I Cannot Forget," Two Warm, Candid Love Ballads. Porgy And Bess Fans May Balk At Her Unusual Treatment Of "Summertime," But Approached Without Prejudice, It's A Fine Tribute. As Usual, Though, It Is The Romantic, Spiritual And Sensual Imagery That Never Fails To Impress. "Openin' My Love Doors" Is A Case In Point — Mohawk Describes A Post-Coital Moment Of Bliss ("We Made Love While The Clouds Cried/Now The Birds Sing As We Lie Side By Side") And Runs With It Throughout The Song. A Great Achievement From Start To End, And Mohawk At Her Vivid And Insightful Best.” Charles Donovan, AMG................

By the time Essra Mohawk was in her early twenties in 1970, she'd issued two LPs, both of which (Sandy's Album Is Here At Last! and Primordial Lovers) have also been reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. It would be a gap of about four years, however, before her third album, Essra Mohawk, came out in 1974. Although the core of her distinctive mix of rock, soul, and jazz remained intact, her sound had evolved with the introduction of a new producer.
While Primordial Lovers had been produced by her husband of the time, Frazier Mohawk, her self-titled follow-up was produced by her friend Tom Sellers. "Tom was a great musician," enthuses Essra. "We met working together on jingles in Philly. I sure wish he was alive. What a great friend and wonderful music co-worker." In addition to producing, Sellers also co-wrote three of the songs with her, as well as playing piano, bass, and guitar on several of the tracks. "For instance, [on] 'Song to An Unborn Soul,' he loved the way I played it and chose to play it," she elaborates. "He put his fingers in the exact same places, just to feel it. He played my piano part, and did a great job. Made me feel like Mozart or someone, you know, [when] somebody wants to put their fingers where mine once were on an instrument."

As Essra remembers, she and Tom initially recorded three songs: "Open Up My Love Doors," "Full Fledged Woman," and "You're Finally Here." Manager Johanan Vigoda then had her go into the studio to cut more material to add to the foundation of songs from which to draw a possible album. Although some overdubbing and mixing was done at Philadelphia's renowned Sigma Sound, most of the recording for the tracks on Essra Mohawk was done in Los Angeles.

Asked how Essra Mohawk differs most from her previous LP, she responds, "I think Primordial Lovers has a lot more of me and the piano." Essra Mohawk, she points out, has just two tracks featuring only piano and vocal, "You're Finally Here" and "I Cannot Forget." Even "I Cannot Forget" was not intended to take that form, with a more fully produced version (added to this CD as a bonus track) cut at the sessions. The version of "I Cannot Forget" that did find a place on the album was actually a demo, included on the LP at Vigoda's insistence.

Admits Mohawk, "One bone of contention we had on the album is that [Sellers] did not allow me to freely do the thing I love the most to do when I'm recording—it's the icing on the cake— and that's my background vocals. All these neat little effects that you hear on Primordial Lovers is my own approach to backgrounds. I didn't really have that freedom. He didn't understand how to mix six different vocals, whereas I could. And because he couldn't do it, he wouldn't do it. I do what I call vocal collage, and if there's a couple threads missing, then it's not gonna make sense. So there's discordant vocals on stuff that don't make sense, because the whole collage is not there. The background vocals are not what they would have been had I been given the sort of freedom that I should be given, since that's my forte, and the freedom that Frazier gave me."

Adds Essra, "Years later, a couple weeks before he got killed, we hooked up again and we were going to start working together again. I got to actually tell him about the thing about the vocal that he didn't let me do that I really wanted to do. He said he was sorry. We've all matured and understood more over the years about giving other people their freedom. A lot of producers think they have to be in control."

As for her favorite song on Essra Mohawk, "I love 'Magic Pen.' Because it really was a magic song. At the time, I kind of built up my albums, and I like to have a climax of an album come towards the end. So usually—not always—but usually my favorite stuff is at the end of the album. Most people, they put their best foot forward first. But in terms of their listening, I want the experience of the whole album to build for [listeners]. Tommy had a track and asked, 'Did I have some lyrics for it?' I always had my book with me, and I opened it up to these lyrics I had written. They fit perfectly, the first note, with the beginning of the music. I just sang it down and the first time, the last note, the last word, of the lyrics coincided with the last note of the music. So it really is a magic song."

Essra Mohawk also contains a real oddity in a cover version of the standard "Summertime." "I remember I said I wanted to do 'Summertime' differently. [Pianist] Dave Kempton said, 'Well, I know twenty-one different ways to play 'Summertime.' Which one do you want?' I said, 'The twenty-second way.' And that's what we ended up with."

In a roundabout way, Elektra/Asylum was the company with which Essra Mohawk eventually found release. Asylum was home to a number of prominent singer-songwriters in the mid-1970s, among them Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and Tom Waits. Yet in Essra's view, that didn't work out to her advantage. "It started out on Paramount. When ABC bought Paramount, Vigoda used that as an excuse to, I guess, use some kind of option in the contract to pull out and then re-sell the project. It ended up on Elektra/Asylum. That was a mistake, because Paramount was into it. They had done all the work. And by Elektra/Asylum getting it, it was just [to] finish it and they didn't have any real involvement with it. So once again, there was no promotion."

As with Primordial Lovers, Essra had some reservations about the artwork. For "the cover, they did the precise copying of the position of the subject in [a] Maxfield Parrish painting. I had really wanted to do a more modern pose, but with the same kind of background. I wanted to change it up a little. I wasn't thrilled when I saw the first renderings for the Maxfield Parrish-type cover for Elektra/Asylum, but they tried to fix it a little bit. And I was an actual portrait artist, so I could do that stuff. When I was sixteen, I did boardwalk portraits on the Million Dollar Pier in Atlantic City; I was the youngest one. It's just a shame that that was never taken advantage of."

For this CD reissue, two bonus tracks have been added to the ones that appeared on the original Essra Mohawk LP. Besides the fully produced version of "I Cannot Forget," this disc also includes the outtake "I Stand Here Naked," featuring backup by the Philadelphia band Edison Electric, with Jeremy Steig joining on flute. Though recorded in Philadelphia, it was written while Essra was living in San Francisco for a brief time.

In the several decades since Essra Mohawk's first appearance, she's continued to write, record, and release music. To what does she attribute the enduring appeal of her work as a singer-songwriter? "It's because I come purely from within, and uninfluenced as possible," she says. "What comes out is not any kind of intentional influence. And my voice is my own. I don't sound like anybody else. There's other people that don't sound like anybody else either. We have signature voices.

"Always the one thing I do have in mind when I write is the influence it will have on others. So I really do try to lift with my new music and my lyrics. I try to maybe teach and help people to understand themselves and all life. So I think there's a strong spiritual aspect to my music. And I get a lot of responses from people that it's helped their lives, so I keep doing it. If I didn't continue to get that good response and thought I was just banging my head against the wall and no one was listening, I would have stopped long ago. Not to say that you really can stop. When you're inspired with music, it's kind of compulsive. The music just kind of comes out of me. I really couldn't stop if I wanted to, to be honest." – Richie Unterberger.............

Mohawk’s self-titled third album may be her most conventional. She covers the George Gershwin “Summertime” in a bluesy way, and only one of the 11 original tracks clocks in at more than four minutes, and that one (“I Cannot Forget”) is only four minutes and 24 seconds long. The lyrics are more sedate as well, frequently about love between a man and a woman. Yet Mohawk still takes risks and sings the odd lyrics about life and death, nature and transcendence, faith and reason, etc. The Elektra album comes off as quirky (“My right hand has six fingers”) more than weird.

Mohawk continued to make music after these records, and has written songs that have been recorded by Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, Lorrie Morgan, Keb’ Mo’, and many others. Mohawk also was the vocalist on School House Rock songs “Interjections”, “Sufferin’ Till Suffrage”, and “Mother Necessity”. None of these three albums were successful upon release, and Collectors’ Choice should be applauded for re-releasing them..................

Philadelphian Essra Mohawk is best known as the answer to the trivia question: “Who was the first female Mother (of Invention)?” She joined Frank Zappa and the band in 1967. Her name was Sandy Hurvitz back then, although Zappa dubbed her “Uncle Meat” for obscure reasons.

But Mohawk had been in the music business for several years before her association with the Mothers at age 19. She recorded a single for Liberty when just 16 years old (“The Boy with the Way”, b-side “Memory of Your Voice”) and wrote songs recorded by the Shangri-Las and Vanilla Fudge. In 1969, Mohawk, nee Hurvitz, put out her first solo album, Sandy’s Album Is Here at Last!, on Zappa’s Bizarre record label. The record went basically unproduced (fellow Mother Ian Underwood is credited) and suffers from poor sound quality and other technical issues. Collectors’ Choice has recently reissued this album and Mohawk’s next two releases, Primordial Lovers (1970) and Essra Mohawk (1974).

Critics frequently compare Mohawk with other female singer songwriters from her era, especially Laura Nyro and Carole King, because all three write piano-based jazz rock that frequently concerns issues of Mother Earth spirituality and distaff loneliness. However, the three have distinct personalities and anyone with even a glancing familiarity of the musicians could easily discern their differences. Mohawk is the most, um, out there. What would one expect from the original woman Mother? Conventionality? Her songs meander all over the place and use serial repetitions rather than hooks to catch the audience.

Mohawk’s self-titled third album may be her most conventional. She covers the George Gershwin “Summertime” in a bluesy way, and only one of the 11 original tracks clocks in at more than four minutes, and that one (“I Cannot Forget”) is only four minutes and 24 seconds long. The lyrics are more sedate as well, frequently about love between a man and a woman. Yet Mohawk still takes risks and sings the odd lyrics about life and death, nature and transcendence, faith and reason, etc. The Elektra album comes off as quirky (“My right hand has six fingers”) more than weird.
by Steve Horowitz ................

Essra Mohawk has never recorded for the same record label more than once, but it's rarely affected the consistency of her songwriting. Here, she left behind the free-form, rambling qualities of her earlier work, and, working within slightly more conventional rock confines, rocked 'n' rasped her own inimitable way through ten finely crafted psych-pop gems, as well as one frenetic take on Gershwin's "Summertime." "New Skins for Old" starts as the album means to go on: "Can we doubt when we don an old animal skin/that it's really a previous state we were in"; birth, death, reincarnation and the universe are the album's recurrent themes.

Despite its muscled-up rock power, the set also captures Mohawk solo at the piano for "You're Finally Here" and "I Cannot Forget," two warm, candid love ballads. Porgy and Bess fans may balk at her unusual treatment of "Summertime," but approached without prejudice, it's a fine tribute. As usual, though, it is the romantic, spiritual and sensual imagery that never fails to impress. "Openin' My Love Doors" is a case in point -- Mohawk describes a post-coital moment of bliss ("We made love while the clouds cried/Now the birds sing as we lie side by side") and runs with it throughout the song. A great achievement from start to end, and Mohawk at her vivid and insightful best.
by Charles Donovan................

*Essra Mohawk - Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar
*Larry Carlton - Guitar
*Eric Errison - Congas
*Gene Estes - Percussion, Vibes
*Wilton Felder - Bass
*Ed Green - Drums
*Tony Hensley - Piano
*Keny Jenkins - Flute
*Dave Kempton - Piano
*Dennis Parker - Bass
*Dena Parks - Guitar
*Geno Pello - Drums
*Joe Sample - Piano
*Tom Sellers - Piano, Bass, Guitar
*Skip Switzer - Drums
*Bert Wilson - Sax
*Zitro - Drums, African Talking Drums

A1 New Skins For Old
A2 Openin' My Love Doors
A3 Full Fledged Woman
A4 You're Finally Here
A5 Summertime
A6 Back In The Spirit
B1 You Make Me Come To Pieces
B2 I Cannot Forget
B3 Song To An Unborn Soul
B4 If I'm Gonna Go Crazy With Someone It Might As Well Be You
B5 Magic Pen

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