Raga rock is a term used to describe rock and roll records with heavy South Asian influence, either in construction, timbre or use of instrumentation, such as sitar and tabla………….
This heady blend of instrumental pop covers, fuzzed-up guitars and sitar is a kitsch blast from start to finish. Featuring the cream of LA’s session players alongside sitar virtuoso Harihar Rao (Ravi Shankar’s senior disciple), it was originally released in 1966 and makes its long-overdue CD debut here, showing itself to be the first and best ‘sitarsploitation’ album ever recorded. …… The Folkswingers, a studio-only group comprised of a changeable cast of top Los Angeles session musicians, had issued a couple of instrumental LPs showcasing the 12-string guitar before leaping on the raga-rock bandwagon with Raga Rock in 1966. Give the World Pacific label a little credit, though: at least they jumped on that bandwagon real fast, almost right after the term “raga-rock” was first used. Plus, the record did employ the cream of the cream from the L.A. rock session world, with Hal Blaine on drums; Larry Knechtel on keyboards; Tommy Tedesco, Howard Roberts, and Herb Ellis on guitar; and Lyle Ritz and Bill Pittman on bass. And it did at least have an actual sitar, courtesy of Harihar Rao, leader of Los Angeles’ Ravi Shankar Music Circle and director of the Indian Studies Group at UCLA’s Institute of Ethnomusicology. It still sounds like what it is: a hastily recorded cash-in album, largely comprised of raga-fied instrumental covers of mid-‘60s rock songs by major artists that were much more instrumental rock covers than they were Indian ragas. Some of the tunes were natural selections for this sort of project: the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” were some of the greatest Indian-influenced rock classics ever, and while the Indian influence wasn’t as overt on the Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things,” it was there. Still, the very idea of raga-rock arrangements of the Association’s “Along Comes Mary,” the Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me,” Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Kicks,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound,” and (most unexpectedly of all) the Turtles’ “Grim Reaper of Love” is kind of ludicrous. The only songs that weren’t covers of mid-'60s rock hits were the folk staple “Donna, Donna” (here spelled “Dona, Dona”) and the generic title cut, its composition credited to Hollywood arranger George Tipton. Overall, the LP couldn’t help but sound like a novelty record, albeit one with a much higher level of instrumental proficiency than the usual such project. Not to mention that they manage to screw up “Norwegian Wood” big time, with a drone that sounds more like a cow’s moo than an Indian instrument. This rarity was reissued on CD by Fallout in 2007, with the addition of basic historical liner notes…………..
This album is great if you like sitar instrumentals. I thought this album is fun to listen to. If you like 60s instrumentals, this is something to check out. I love the 60s sound of this album. I have several of the songs on this album and listen to it a lot to relax me and if I’m in the mood for something from the 60s. This is all just my personal experience……ByHippieFlowerChild……..
I am still not sure what really caused the sitar boom in pop music. I can only say that after the first introduction of classical Indian music in America, with Ravi Shankar for instance, without showing yet real adaptations of fusions with both worlds first, and with the first attempts of combinations with jazz since 1966, it was especially George Harrison (The Beatles) and his interest for Ravi Shankar the year thereafter, that there was no way back from including the sitar into pop music standards. From then on, many musicians started to explore and use the sitar. It only took a little time before pop music made a subgenre exploiting pop music with the use of sitar. The most known LP’s from this subpop genre are the Lord Sitar/Big Jim Sullivan releases, the first Ananda Shankar release (which was more expressive in style than his later albums), but I also heard a few others, like the albums, very similar to The Folkswingers, by the Balsara & His Singing Sitars. These were all albums that mostly chose the pop icons who had tried to use sitar in some songs. But it were the Folkswingers who had been the first example of sitarpop-exploitation.
Sitar player Harihar Rao had played before with many Indian sitar masters, and was a teacher for the Ethnomusicology Department of UCLA. He also wrote some introduction manual for the sitar. He had also appeared with Don Ellis and the Hindustani Jazz Sextet at the Los Angeles Centre, and had played sessions before with several LA jazz groups. The arrangements on this album were done by George Tipton who had his own fame of production work and arrangements in jazz, and for television and shows. Some of the accompanying session musicians had recorded and played before in jazz or related genres, like Dennis Budimir on 12-string guitar (Bud Shank Quintet, and various sessions since the 50s), Tommy Tedesco on guitar (Elvis Presley, Beach Boys, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra,..), with Herb Ellis guitar on other tracks, Bill Pittman on bass, and Lyle Ritz on Fender bass. It also featured drummer Hal Blaine (who is known as a famous Phil Spector session musician ; he recorded before some sessions with Elvis Presley, and together with Phil Spector’s crew for groups like the Ronettes, Crystals, Beach Boys and lots of West Coast pop musicians, like Jan and Dean, The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Love, The Association, The Carpenters, Sonny and Cher, and so on). Larry Knechtel on organ & electric piano was known before from The Rebels also would become a Phil Spector session musician, had previously recorded bass on «Mr. Tambourine Man» by the Byrds, and later would join Bread. (Also Frank Zappa later would show interest in some of these session musicians).
The Folkswingers had released another session musicians album (with other members, mostly from bluegrass ensemble the Dillards) before in 1963 called “12 String Guitar!”. But this is a completely different group. Like in the fifties pop hits were arranged for big bands and orchestras, this album was a production for giving a groovy version of what was called “raga rock” for fashionable measures, while the name Folkswingers just referred to the ethno-folk instrument which the sitar in those days still was. And this “swinged” all right ! The sitar in various tracks plays often over the music, fast like a bird between the groovy up and down rocking volume measures, while on some other tracks the sitar plays in combination with one of the guitars. The tracks are short, with fuzz, and not for one moment loses the groove of attractive pop-rock “swing”. It still is hard to believe this was done in 1966 already, but one must realize that several of the hits they assembled had already some Indian music association somewhere. No wonder that later, The Beatles, thanks to George Harrison’s interest, were almost forced to show their own fashionable version soon in this newly launched fashion. It is funny to realize how afterwards people tended to believe that it was the Beatles who first introduced the sitar into pop, but this is not really true. Even when this album is a deliberate studio project meant to sell in a certain rationalized fashionable style, the album succeeds well and convinces. Compared to all other albums who expressed something similar, still manages to withstand time as one of the more successful and attractive ones…………..
Ragakrok, born from the light hand of George Harrison, who played on the Indian stringed instrument - sitar in the song “The Beatles” Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) “in 1965, was to become one of the most recognizable features of the Western Muses. Culture of the second half of the 60’s. Finally, the popularity of raga rock was strengthened by Brian Jones, who played on the sitar during the recording of the hit The Rolling Stones of 66th year - "Paint It, Black”.After the two most famous British rock bands to record at least one “sitar” track on the album, it was their duty to most of the young psychedelic bands. And it raced …In the summer of the 66th, against the backdrop of how the oriental trends in music were gaining popularity on the western stage, the management of the American recording company World Pacific Records decided to make money on this phenomenon by releasing such a disc. By the way, World Pacific Records, published a lot of authentic eastern music (that’s even the most famous “sitarist” - Ravi Shankar was published there) …In the World Pacific Records catalog there was a project called The Folkswingers (Folk Swingers, sorry, God), specializing in instrumental versions of famous folk and rock songs, which has already released 4 albums. The Folkswingers, in fact, were not a band at all. They did not even have any permanent staff! It was just a studio project, recruited from session musicians. Here and this time, World Pacific Records have assembled a team of experienced Los Angeles sessionists to accompany the Indo-American musician Harihar Rao (Harihar Rao).According to the “old traditions” of The Folkswingers - the repertoire of the record was instrumental versions of famous songs. “Paint It, Black” (The Rolling Stones), “Eight Miles High” (The Byrds), “Norwegian Wood” (The Beatles), “Shapes Of Things” (The Yardbirds) and “Grim Reaper of Love” (The Turtles ) So they were raga-rock, so it’s better their performance The Folkswingers - did not. Especially went to the “Norwegian Forest”, which in their version was worth renaming the “Norwegian meadow” (listen, and you will understand why). But The Folkswingers managed to turn into raga-rock songs such as: “Dona, Dona” (Jewish, “almost folk”, popularized by folk singer Joan Baez), “Along Comes Mary” (from the repertoire of The Association), “Time Won 'Americans’ The Outsiders, Hey Joe (American, Almost Folk, Jimi Hendrix then not yet recorded), Kicks (from the repertoire of Paul Revere & The Raiders) and Homeward Bound (Simon & Garfunkel). Well, the only own track of The Folkswingers on the album "Raga Rock” is the track with the same name, which covers the record.In general, to be honest, the record is quite a passing one. But for “general education”, or as background music - it will work! Noteworthy only the date of its release (summer 66th) and the fact that it, as it were, sums up the experience of the pioneers of the genre, and represents it as a “person”………………
Credits Bass – Billy Pittman Bass – Lyle Ritz Design Concept – Brice Wood Drums – Hal Blaine Guitar – Herb Ellis, Howard Roberts, Tommy Tedesco Organ, Electric Piano – Larry Knechtel Producer – Richard Bock Sitar – Harihar Rao Twelve-String Guitar – Dennis Budimir
Tracklist A1 Paint It, Black A2 Eight Miles High A3 Dona, Dona A4 Norweigian Wood A5 Along Comes Mary A6 Time Won’t Let Me B1 Shapes Of Things B2 Hey Joe B3 Kicks B4 Homeward Bound B5 Grim Reaper Of Love B6 Raga Rock