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12 Aug 2017

David Peel & The Lower East Side ‎ “Have A Marijuana” 1968 US Psych Folk Rock

David Peel & The Lower East Side ‎ “Have A Marijuana” 1968 US Psych Folk Rock

At first, second and third listen the debut record by New York street musician and John Lennon protégé David Peel seems pretty ridiculous. Recorded live on the streets of New York, the production is patchy, yielding more of a "recorded live in someone's bathroom" vibe than anything else. Then there's the lyrics, all of which are juvenile, dated and delivered in an erratic Tiny Tim-meets-Cheech & Chong style. But somewhere around the fourth or fifth listen Peel and his merry band of misfits begin to grow on you. By the six or seventh spin songs like "I Do My Bawling in the Bathroom" and "I Like Marijuana," with their dumber than dumb choruses and out of tune folk-rock progressions, actually become charming. Perhaps it's because Peel, a marginal figure born to be a cultural relic, is a much more interesting, exciting and entertaining '60s icon than all the overblown, bloated characters like David Crosby and Grace Slick. Unlike them, Peel never came in from off the streets. In fact, he can still be found singing these songs in New York's Tompkins Square Park to this day. And while that's mildly pathetic, it's also heartening. When he sings about smoking some grass and getting harassed by lame cops (the topic of just about every track) you tend to believe him.... by Steve Kurutz ...

With more references to reefer per minute than most reggae albums, “Have A Marijuana” caught David Peel and his backing group, The Lower East Side live in a simple, funny and intensely passionate folk’n’freak-out record. Although the cover states it was ‘Recorded Live on The Streets of New York’ by the thinness of the cheering and applause it sounds more like the proceedings were captured in Washington Square Park (or in keeping with the locale of the group’s name, further east in Tompkins Square Park.) Because of the inciting tones and subject matter of their songs, it seems highly doubtful that the New York City Police Department would’ve consented to having some troublemaking troubadours barricading off an entire block of Avenue A to record an album’s worth of anarchic sing-alongs with titles like “Here Comes A Cop,” “Show Me The Way To Get Stoned,” or “I Like Marijuana.” 

It has been recently pointed out that one of David Peel’s later songs was a definite influence on The Clash’s “White Riot.” Which surprised me (not only because I had never heard anyone voice that comparison before, but) because I had come to the very same conclusion the night before and it’s true: David Peel’s voice predates Joe Strummer’s vocals on the first Clash album, but in an adenoidal Noo Yawk accent of the most streetwise non-nuancing AND IT’S ANGRY. NAW: MAYBE JUST FURIOUS. BUT FOR THE MOST PART HIS SINGING IS MORE A HILARIOUS SORT OF SCREAMING THAT GRABS YOUR ATTENTION AND BALLS AT ALL AT ONCE AND MAKES YOU LAUGH WITH ITS RUDE IMMEDIACY AND EXHILARATING VOLUME. 

It’s a cop out to compare this record to other Lower East Side bands like The Fugs or The Godz (But I will, anyway) because it DOES have a comparable obscenity quotient akin to The Fugs and the simple, skeletal folk qualities of The Godz. But if The Fugs were The Mothers of Invention if they didn’t rehearse and replaced their jazz and Varese elements with lyrics about group sex borrowed from William Blake, then the equation would run that The Godz were The Fugs if they took too much acid and didn’t care about the whole jazz/beatnik nexus that those oldsters were into, And then David Peel & The Lower East Side would be The Godz if they weren’t so abstract and expressionistic and had all their equipment stolen then found two broken 12 string guitars in the garbage, fashioning a tambourine outta a trash can lid with beer can pop top rings and spent all their money on marijuana but were so pissed off it didn’t calm them down one bit but only made them even more agitated. And then spending all their time on the street, hollering themselves hoarse screaming at passing squares in the park, the sidewalk and everywhere “HAVE A MARIJUANA!!!” just to send them into a typically uptight and grumpy slowburn. 

The stentorian bellowing of David Peel breaking through a thicket of acoustic guitars and handheld percussion to bray in one of the most amazingly snottiest voices ever is this album’s primary focus. And this recording in the field (or rather, on the concrete) starts with the anti-war blast of “Mother Where is My Father” and at once you’re faced with a very spindly group sound with a voice that roars out like a street hippie version of the Bowery Boys singing drug anthems with all the larynx-destroying delivery of “London’s Burning,” “Deny” or “1977” by The Clash. The instrumental backing is all madly strumming out in almost middle European-type balalaika cycles on acoustic 12-string guitars with occasional touches of Spanish guitar flourishes handled by Larry Adam and Billy Joe White, while George Cori is on what sounds like a 1-stringed broom-and-metal-basin stand up bass as Harold C. Black whacks tambourine and Peel himself is on acoustic guitar banging out the barest of skeletal acoustic riffs while frothing at the mouth. There’s lot of high-spirited banter in between tracks, too. In fact, one of the highlights is just before their classic, “I Like Marijuana” when he starts REALLY bellowing at the assembled multitudes with a full head of steam. You cannot believe this man’s voice as he continually -- what -- Sings? Speaks?? Shrieks? Ha: it’s all of the above. It’s a loud, fuming tantrum although all he’s doing is asking “MAKE MEEE PREZIDENT OF DA YOO NI TED STATES...!” three times, and the very last one is so over the top, I play it over and over and over and it sends me to the floor every time because he is truly raving at the top of his lungs in an almost terrifyingly cartoon but dead serious underground comic kinda way where someone really freaks out and loses their temper, tearing out their hair and there’s rays of light sizzling from their head or when Fat Freddie’s on the kitchen floor flat on his back going “Gibber, gibber, tweet!” because The Freak Brothers are out of food or pot or both and he’s cracking up like an oversized Baby Huey flapping his atrophied appendages furiously straight up in the air like he’s soiled his nappies and had a bad dream and the whole world is closing in so bad all the time you just wanna cry or shit your pants to make yourself be somewhere else as quickly as possible like poor old’ Chef in “Apocalypse Now” raving like a madman after a near death experience with a tiger: “I CAN’T TAKE THIS FUCKIN’ SHIT ANYMORE, MAN!!! ALL I WANTED WAS A FUCKIN’ MANGO!!!” 


One of the most intense vocals I’ve ever heard on record or ANYWHERE, for that matter. And if that doesn’t flat out get it, then the squirrel joke right before the amazing “The Alphabet Song” on side two unequivocally does. I can’t even repeat it, because it wouldn’t do it justice at all. Just to hear the punch line in that roaring Bronx cheer of a voice sends me into hysterics every time. 

These are truly a crazy moments of sheer manic panic, and it’s utterly absurd because typical politicians don’t scream out pleas for election or make up rude jokes about squirrels on the spot. But David Peel was no politician and he tells only what he wants to and decorum be damned. Hell, there’s even a song called “Up Against The Wall” and wouldn’t you know it -- the entire lyrics are: “Up against the wall / Motherfuckers!!! / Up against the wall / Motherfuckers!!!” Well, there’s also a coupla “La, la, la, la, la, la”s thrown in to flesh it out, as well as ending on a jaunty “Cha-cha-cha!” 

Side two is dominated by the huge tenement sprawl of “I Do My Bawling In The Bathroom” which free associates all over the place. It starts with the spoken opener “Girls an’ guys come to The Village, lookin’ for sumpthin’ ta do...They want to have love and sex” and continues with this narrative for a while until he stops the song dead by yelling, “WAIT A MINUTE!!!” and sidetracks it into how these girls, guys and then even he are gonna be different from straight people by bawling in their bathrooms. Minutes later, it switches gears again and pretty soon it’s fairly apparent that although he’s singing “bawling” he’s obviously intending it as “balling.” 

Right before the grand finale of “We Love You” Peel announces “Ladies and gentlemen: we have completed a great album!” to celebratory applause and cheers. And for the only one time in the history of Elektra Records, the credits are not typeset on the back cover in Rockwell Bold but are announced in Peel’s barking tones even stronger than that most solid and in-your-face of typefaces, and at about 50 picas larger: “Production supervisor was Jac Holzman!!! Producer, Peter Siegel!!! Recording Engineer, Peter Granite!!! Art Director, William Harvey!!! Publicity Director, Danny Fields!!! And last but not least...Photographer, Artist and Designer...Bob Heimall!!!” 

You know, it’s not a comedy album because it’s still funny after multiple plays. And it’s not a novelty either, because it’s got some very heavy energy and some real subject matter pushing it forward so recklessly gutsy and with so much heart that it makes it on sheer fuck balls alone. The Seth Man...Head Heritage.

In the late 1960s, even the most adventurous rock and folk acts usually cloaked their drug, sex, and anti-war references in coy, coded language. It took several New York bands to spell these out in plainly explicit, taboo-breaking lyrics, matched to music as raw and pile-driving as their words. The Fugs, the Holy Modal Rounders, and the Velvet Underground are all celebrated for such contributions, but even they weren't as underground as David Peel and the Lower East Side. Peel wasn't just plugged into what was going on in the street – he was what was going on in the street, recording his 1968 debut album Have a Marijuana in Washington Square Park after gaining a following for his performances there. 
After a stint in the military from 1963 to 1965, Brooklyn native Peel moved to New York and played music in the city's streets and parks. Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park had long been a haven for informal folk performers, and it was there that Peel came to the attention of Danny Fields from Elektra Records. The singer's material was riddled with no-holds-barred commentary about war, illicit substances, and other hot-button topics like police brutality that few labels would have touched. Partially for those very reasons, Elektra was a logical home for the performer. 

Label president "Jac Holzman and his Elektra team were certainly visionaries, and not afraid to use candid, controversial, and artistic originality as part of their repertoire of independent music and artists like me – to say what we mean and mean what we say," observes Peel today. "They also had pop, rock, blues, classical, and other good music stuff as part of their music catalog, along with concept recordings. The Doors, as a blues rock pop band, definitely influenced my decision to be signed on Elektra. The Doors are one of my top favorite music bands, along with Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan." 

Peel was unusual, indeed almost unique, in building his sound and reputation outside of the clubs and studios where most musicians scuffle for a break. "The Fugs were one of the first bands that influenced me to sing my type of music as part of my street and underground sound," he remembers. "They were candid, satirical, and contemporary with what was happening all around us and beyond. I saw them perform in Tompkins Square Park [in New York's East Village] and [they] blew me away with their content and style; I had my life changed into a street singer ever since." 

As for the other most notorious New York bands, "The Holy Modal Rounders and the Velvet Underground had their own thing going on -- more or less as electric indie music bands. They had very little influence on my style of music or on me, since I performed mostly in the parks, streets, and other outside public places as an acoustic performer, while they rocked electrically on the stage. I was basically influenced by my outside audience and other park musicians. I usually never hung out at any clubs or cafes or music venues. The parks and streets were my studio and stage." 

Although his route to a contract wasn't conventional, as David adds, "I was thinking of becoming a recording artist before I was signed by Elektra Records after living the Haight-Ashbury scene, then going back to the East and West Villages to do my live street performances. All of my material came organically from the streets and parks wherever I performed in and outside New York City. I more or less fine-tuned my songs when Elektra signed me." And since his sensibility was so shaped by his outdoor performances, it made sense to record his debut album in Washington Square Park itself. According to Peel, "Me and Elektra wanted it to be recorded in Washington Square as [an] acoustic songs concept record. The park was my stage and hangout where most of my songs were naturally developed in my own habitat and comfort zone." 

As spontaneous as Have a Marijuana sounds, with loose spirited backing by several like-minded friends who comprised the Lower East Side, it was actually cut over a period of four weeks. Producing was Peter Siegel, who'd worked with such Elektra folk and psychedelic acts as Earth Opera, Tom Paxton, the Charles River Valley Boys, and Pat Kilroy. "We actually got a permit from the city, but that didn't stop some policeman from unplugging us," recalled Siegel in Follow the Music: The Life and High Times of Elektra Records in the Great Years of American Pop Culture. "Yeah, I had a permit in my pocket, but they were singing about cops being pigs. The light would go out, you'd look up and the cop would be right there with the plug in his hand, you'd show him the permit and plug it back in." 

Siegel and Holzman, Peel emphasizes, "were very supportive to music openness along with Danny Fields, [sleeve photographer/artist/designer] Bob Heimall, [art director] Bill Harvey, and all the Elektra crew. They were a family of friends that made my work and my Lower East Side band have so much fun -- but also getting the music job done as natural but professional recording artists. I am so thankful that I made records on their label." More than forty years later, Holzman remained proud of the LP, commenting in Becoming Elektra, "David Peel was a phenomenon on the street, and we recorded it right out on the street. It was the spirit of Washington Square. Why not? Nobody was telling him or us what to do." 

The art direction and sleeve design was a quite important component for Have a Marijuana, since as Holzman explained in Follow the Music, "The album cover featured a massive marijuana plant, with 'Have a Marijuana' in outsized letters. That cover and the photos of David singing to and with the crowd made it into newspapers, magazines, and onto murals throughout the world as an example of what was happening in rebellious America." Elaborates Peel, "We also added the hemp leaf on the cover along with the title 'Have a Marijuana' – using a pot word (marijuana) that was very rarely used on any record covers until our entry title became real – hemp, hemp, hooray!!" 

An album containing songs like "Up Against the Wall" (which used the same phrase, adding a crucial FCC-unfriendly fifth word at the end, that Jefferson Airplane sang the following year on "We Can Be Together"), "I Do My Bawling in the Bathroom," "Here Comes a Cop," "I've Got Some Grass," and "The Alphabet Song" (with its chant "smoke pot smoke pot everybody smoke pot") was bound not to gain much aboveground airplay, as much as it did reflect day-to-day realities in the Village and Lower East Side. Nonetheless, it did attract some positive press, Eye magazine declaring, "What it lacks in virtuosity and polish it more than makes up in raw gusto." Music trade bible Billboard (whose charts the LP actually entered, peaking at #186) even gave it a blurb, pithily and accurately pegging it as a "folksy post-Fugs peek at pot, cops, and lunacy." 

Sales were profitable enough for Elektra to give a go-ahead to a second album, 1970's The American Revolution, distinguished from the debut as it was "done in an electric music format as I requested it to be done. I wanted to have some rock songs as recordings and had no problem with the record company to do so." A move to Apple Records brought Peel to his greatest level of visibility on 1972's The Pope Smokes Dope, produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He's continued to release recordings since then, April 2012 finding him profiled in the New York Times for performances at Occupy movement encampments and protests, for which he's written songs like "Up Against the Wall Street." 

How do the songs and sentiments of Have a Marijuana reverberate down the years as the United States gears up for the 2012 election, with many of the same issues Peel addresses, satirized, or protested in the late 1960s still very much with us today? "History repeats itself as the rights and wrongs of peoples trying to get their share of peace and harmony," he responds. "I merely sang what I saw in action and otherwise. The Occupy movement certainly comes to mind as a current example of what's happening to our freedom and liberties. Singing songs concerning these matters is one way of expressing yourself in defiance without going to the extremes of no return." 

Continues David, "Elections are all the same in America and all over the world. We artists have to expose their wrongs on our rights as I do making music for the people – by the people – and with the people. David Peel will always be singing on the streets as a messenger of truth and honesty through my songs. And I will always sing my songs from Have a Marijuana until it's legalized as an open celebration for everyone. Thanks for listening. The journey and the adventure continues..." – Richie Unterberger.

David Peel is the nightmare of all staunch conservatives and straight-laced liberals - unclean, pot-obsessed and radical. So many people jumped on the bandwagon of 60s counterculture but Peel was real - pretty sure "Up Against The Wall" is the first on-record MOTHERFUCKERRRR so take that, MC5! Jefferson Airplane are more famous for using the slogan in "We Can Be Together", but Peel did it first! I highly doubt that those comparatively clean West Coast hippies had ever been up against the wall! Or ever fucked their mothers, for that matter! *Shakes fist at Jefferson Airplane* 

Peel took the lyrical themes of the Fugs (pot and sex, obvs) and did away with the arty beatnik influences. This is some of the 60s' most demented folk, not up there with Virgin Fugs but it still makes a hell of a lot of hippie folk look tame! The jugband tea-chest bass sound is what gives this a psychedelic vibe, it's just cosmic. 

Peel's songwriting is hit and miss here and there's filler on display - the last track is taken up by shout-outs, couldn't he have put them in the liner notes? I ask the same question to pretty much every 90s rapper ever. But the highlights hit hard - "Mother, Where Is My Father?" is one of the best anti-war songs of the era, straight to the horrifying point, no happy-clappy rubbish. Recording this on the streets of old New York (Peel's natural habitat) and capturing the reactions of fans and onlookers gives this album an incredibly lively atmosphere. 

Not much when compared to the two albums that followed it but still a great start to a great career. LSD gotta hold on me! .

A young David Peel (left) with his band, the Lower East Side, including Harold C. Black (right), circa 1968.

David Peel (born David Michael Rosario) is a New York-based musician who first recorded in the late 1960s with Harold Black, Billy Joe White, George Cori and Larry Adam performing as David Peel and The Lower East Side Band. His raw, acoustic "street rock" with lyrics about marijuana and "bad cops" appealed mostly to hippies. 

In 1968, Peel was contracted by Elektra Records when he was first discovered and recorded two "envelope pushers" for the label. His album Have a Marijuana peaked at 186 on the Billboard Charts. 

Peel was rediscovered by John Lennon in 1971 as the early seventies continued its swing towards the youth revolution. Lennon befriended Peel when David was playing with his ragtag hippie band in New York's Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Lennon produced The Pope Smokes Dope for Peel. This album was banned in many countries and since has been sought after by collectors worldwide. 

In the summer of 1970, Peel performed at Washington Square Park along with Ira Gewirtz. 

Peel appeared with Lennon at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan on December, 1971. 

In 1976 the independent labels Orange Records and Auravox Records released An Evening With David Peel. The LP was hailed as being a breakthrough recording by capturing the tumultuous mid-1970s American underground movement as well as the bubbling under of live recordings that have become a mainstay of the recording arts. Mix was finalized by Ron St. Germain (of Band 311 fame) at Ultrasonic recording studios in Hempstead, NY. 

In 1995, the vinyl LP tracks from An Evening With David Peel were combined with two new multi-tracked studio recordings: "Junk Rock" and "I Hate You" (recorded at Right Track Studios, NYC) for a CD release Up Against The Wall. In the additional studio recordings on the CD, Muruga Brooker (of Genesis fame) played his "electric talking drum" on the comeback hit "Junk Rock"..

David Peel (in the middle) and the Lower East Side, circa 1970.

David Peel (left) with John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in 1971.

A1 Mother Where Is My Father?
A2 I Like Marijuana 
Written-By – Goldsmith*, Peel*, Smith*, Barnum*, Cooper* 
A3 Here Comes A Cop
A4 I've Got Some Grass
A5 Happy Mother's Day
A6 Up Against The Wall
B1 I Do My Bawling In The Bathroom
B2 The Alphabet Song
B3 Show Me The Way To Get Stoned
B4 We Love You

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..







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