Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Psychedelic Daze Part Twelve: "Harbinger and the Dawn Album"

Psychedelic Daze Part Twelve:
"Harbinger and the Dawn Album" 

by Don Robertson

This is the last of my 12-part series on the San Francisco countercultural movement of 1965-1969 that created a revolution in music and culture. I was a part of that movement, recording my album Dawn for Mercury Records in San Francisco in 1969.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan
      Hearkening back to Part 1 of this "Psychedelic Daze" series, my purpose for coming to San Francisco in 1968 was to study North Indian classical music's great tradition of tabla drumming at the new school of Indian music that my teacher, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, had founded that summer. It was located temporarily in a Berkeley fraternity house that was empty during the summer months. I had been studying with the master in New York where he had been living, and I basically followed him to the Bay Area when he brought the great tabla player Shankar Ghosh from India to teach there. I had told him that if he brought this great tabla player to California, I would come out to attend.
     I can’t be appreciative enough the late master musician, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, who brought his musical knowledge from India to America, dispensing it to the so-called "Hippies" of the Bay Area until his death in 2009. I learned so much from his teaching.

     My "DoveSong.com" and "MusicalKaleidoscope.com" educational programs that I am currently developing, and this, my "MusicFuturist" blog, are the fulfillment of my longtime goal as a 21st-century music educator. A major part of this goal is helping to bring understanding of the very important, wonderful, and amazing tradition of music called North Indian classical music to serious students of transformative music everywhere. 
My Guru-ji Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009)

     Years later, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan brought the great tabla player Swapan Chaudhuri to America to teach at his school, now located in its final home in San Rafael, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. I began a years-long study with him and I thank him for the wonderful masterpieces of tabla that he taught me. I continue to practice on a daily basis. In the video below, my two teachers, Ali Akbar Khan playing sarod and Swapan Chaudhuri on tabla, perform raga Jhinjoti in a 1986 film:

     Watch for my upcoming article The Hero From Across the Sea about the coming of North Indian Classical music to America. (Subscribe to Music Futurist, and you will receive email notification of all future posts).

The Dawn Album
     My 1968 discovery of the duochord (thoroughly discussed in my book "The Scale") opened the door to my understanding of the difference between the music that I had been learning from my teacher Ustad Ali Akbar Khan – an ancient healing and uplifting spiritual music – and the discordant contemporary classical music that I had been studying with American composer Morton Feldman. I now understood that there were poles for both positive and negative music, and that a grey area existed between them. I also had begun to realize how powerful music really was, and how instrumental it had been in creating harmony, or conversely, in pulling things apart.
     The existence of music’s positive and negative polarities had been lost on an unsuspecting world, seduced into “becoming used to” the discords that were dished out on a daily basis via American radio, television and film.

     I dedicated my first album, my 1969 Dawn LP, recorded in San Francisco, to the subject of positive and negative music. Side 1 of the record contained the positive music, Side 2, the negative.  
     For the back cover of the album, I created a collage that expressed the difference between the music on the record’s two sides. The left half of the collage visually represented the music of Side 1, the positive music, while the right half represented the negative music of Side 2. The music on Side 1 began with a nine and one-half-minute improvisation that I performed on my 80-string zither tuned to the pentatonic scale. Side 2 dealt with the negative music that I had been creating during the previous two years in New York City: music based on the duochord and the not-yet-named genre of heavy metal music, ending with my acclaimed sound collage called "Belief." 
    This is me preparing for the recording of the Dawn album. The bowls contain water that tunes them for playing with chopsticks (Indian jal tarang). I had just purchased these in San Francisco's Chinatown. Meanwhile, I am tuning my Indian drone instrument called the tampura
     This following song is called "Contemplation" from my Dawn Album. The music that I am playing is an improvisation using a scale that is somewhat similar to the great Indian raga Darbari Kanada that I love so much. I used feedback while playing my Fender guitar to produce overtones, and I got a pretty amazing sustained sound. 

"Contemplation" from the Dawn Album, by Don Robertson

     It would take me many years to gain a much firmer understanding of this amazing raga. I listened to and studied it for years. In about 1992, I sat with Ali Akbar Khan's main American student, George Ruckert, and he explained many of its features to me. George and I had studied together with the master in New York City in 1967 and 1968. He, however, had continued to study with him as his principal American student, while I came and went. He had information about the raga that I couldn't find elsewhere. George teaches and plays at MIT. He has written at least four books and I recommend them all. He is most knowledgeable, and he is a wonderful musician.

     In 2001, the Dawn album was reissued on the Italian Akarma label on both CD and audiophile vinyl. It is available through Amazon.com. Click here for CD, vinyl and mp3 download. It is also on Spotify and YouTube.

The Dawn Album, by Don Robertson
     In the writing of this last part of Psychedelic Daze, I turn back to the first person that I mentioned in conjunction with the San Francisco counterculture at the beginning of Part 2. This is the radio personality called Travus T. Hipp. 
     During 1969, he hosted his own radio show and had become the mouthpiece for the counterculture community. I listened to every word of every show. His show was based on a talk-show format, and listeners calling in often asked him what his real name was. However, this was information that he would not share. He told his listeners that if his identity was revealed, it would be an embarrassment to his family. 
     I found out who he was, however. He was Chandler A. Laughlin III. Like me, his wife, Lynn Hughes, was also signed with Mercury Records, and she was recording an album at the studio where I was recording my music. Chan used to hang out there with her. Her album was called Tongue and Groove.

The Album Tongue and Grove, by Lynn Hughes

     One day on his show, Chan/Travus started talking about a new outpouring of enlightenment that was taking place North of San Francisco at a place called Harbin Hot Springs. It was called Frontiers of Science, and the founder was a man named Donald Hamrick. They were printing a newspaper   called Harbinger, and selling it in the Haight. It was modeled on the now-defunct San Francisco Oracle (described in Part Four). I made a number of trips to Harbin Hot Springs and I will wait to describe my experiences in the novel that I am writing called “Pot, Paisley and Rock 'n Roll (When Swans Flew South).” 
     Discover more about Harbinger with this paper: "Harbinger Community, 1967-1969":  Click here

     Harbinger Hot Springs bid us farewell when it completely burned down in the huge Lake County fire of 2015:
Stephen Gaskin
     I’m going to wind up my 12-part of "Psychedelic Daze" series with another counterculture hero, the late Steven Gaskin.
Steven held a weekly event in San Francisco back in the sixties called the Monday Night Class. It attracted thousands of people every week. I went only one time, before a lot of people were attending, and not being attracted to following or learning spiritual things from any of the counterculture heroes, I never returned. But Steven was big time.
     I had a clash with his group once at a counterculture event that took place on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. This was a "happening" or "be-in" event, meaning that people danced, some took off their clothes, and everyone was high at least on grass.
     I was jamming with my Dawn-album drummer Mike Dahlgren, and people were dancing. One young girl was taking off her clothes. Meanwhile, about 100 feet away, Gaskin was speaking to a large group of people. One of them came over and asked us to stop because we were disrupting the talk. Mike just told him: "Fuck off! You people are too serious. We have just as much right to do our thing as you do."
     The following year, Gaskin left San Francisco with 60 vehicles filled with his followers and settled just 60 miles south of where I am now living in Nashville Tennessee. There, near the town of Summertown, he created the most successful counterculture community ever. Called "the Farm," it is alive and well today. As he built his community, the establishment fought him, but he won in the end. Hats off to Steven who, like myself, was born in Denver, Colorado.
     In December, 1969, I too left the Bay Area scene to return to some kind of normalcy. It was clear to me that the sixties were over. Those who were not in the Bay Area during the counterculture movement will never really understand what went on back then, but among the children of our future, the so-called millennials, there are those who thirst for whatever it was that we found back then, chemicals or not.
Monday Nite Class with Steven Gaskin
     This amazing photo shows Steve Gaskin's Monday Night Class being held at The Family Dog Hall On The Great Highway at Playland in San Francisco, September 25, 1969. 

Photo by Robert Altman

 "We must always remember to thank the CIA and the Army for LSD. That's what people forget. Everything is the opposite of what it is, isn't it...? So get out the bottle, boy... and relax. They invented LSD to control people and what they did was give us freedom. Sometimes it works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform."
John Lennon Playboy Interview, 1980

If you liked my 12-part Psychedelic Daze series, please check out The 8-part Genesis of New Age Music series, where I give the real story of the beginning, and the end, of the new-age music movement of the 1970s and 1980s.
- Don Robertson