Brown Acid: the sound that rock forgot – The Guardian

In the age of “music overload”, when it’s possible to access millions of songs via YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music, is it really possible to find something new? Something unheard, from rock’s recesses? Lance Barresi, the man behind the Brown Acid compilations, claims that not only has he dug up undiscovered gems, but that they sat under the noses of collectors and collators for decades.

Starting in 2015, Barresi, along with Daniel Hall’s RidingEasy Records, began pulling together five collections of rare and weird tracks from rock’s past. The music all comes under Barresi’s umbrella term “Brown Acid”, with the tracks loosely fitting into three sub-genres: hard rock, heavy psych and proto-metal. They’re labels that have confused the snobbiest of musos.

“When I go to record shows, even guys who have been selling records for decades – you start mentioning these three sub-genres and they’re like: ‘What, what do you mean?’ It’s befuddling that these records exist but they’re also virtually unknown even to people who have been dealing with records their whole life.”

As the compilations came together, Barresi began to notice a pattern. The tracks all fell between 1968 and 1975, as garage rock began to give way to a harder, darker sound. “Very rarely is something we include on Brown Acid heavy enough to come before 1968 and rarely is anything that comes later than 1975 or 1976 in the right ballpark either,” says Barresi.

“Sometimes there are things like Blown Free’s The Wizard, which is from 1980. It just hits that sweet spot because it’s from a rural town in Texas that was just behind the times and the band weren’t trying to be contemporary. They were just playing the same music that was popular a decade before that.”

Brown Acid started out of necessity. Barresi, who set up the Permanent Records store in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles where he opened more branches, was playing hard rock at his weekly DJ gig in Eagle Rock on the outskirts of east LA. The problem was that he couldn’t find enough of the sounds he was looking for: rough and ready hard rock with a fuzzy psych or soul edge. He began asking friends for tips on similar music and mining YouTube for potential songs to play out.

That led to unearthing tracks via a network of hardcore collectors, often going off scarce information found on record sleeves or on online forums. Once he found the band members and got their authorisation, he put out The First Trip in 2015. But finding them was the hardest part.

Barresi says one typical case was Captain Foam’s Richard Bertrand, the front man of a little known Ohio two-piece who released one sought-after 7-inch in the late 60s. “Anyone I called in Ohio named Richard Bertrand was not him,” he remembers. “I was hitting wall after wall for a long time. I’d been looking for someone in Ohio when he was actually in California. Eventually I found him on LinkedIn, of all places.”

Altamont signaled the end of the 60s and ushered in a darker period in American life



Altamont signaled the end of the 60s and ushered in a darker period in American life. Photograph: Ronald Grant

Similar amateur detective work was necessary to find nearly all the bands on Brown Acid. Barresi describes the compilations as a “set of unknown hits you can’t believe failed to connect back in their heyday due to various unfortunate circumstances”. Most of the bands on the compilations aren’t one-hit wonders, but one-record wonders who made just one 7-inch that might never have been sold or made it beyond a DJ’s promo bag.

“A lot of the records were used by bands to showcase their abilities, so the B-side will be a really terrible ballad or a bad cover of Crosby, Stills and Nash or something,” says Barresi. “Generally speaking, these bands only had one crack at it and it didn’t go well, and then they called it quits and moved on to something else.”

That element of misfortune, as well as the quest for more of the music he loved, fueled Barresi’s search as he wanted to give these musicians another chance to have their tracks heard. “You can be amazing and be in the wrong place at the wrong time and not have anything take off,” he says. “I’m just happy to give these guys – who I think deserved more than they got – another chance at success. However little that might be, at least their music will be able to be heard by a new generation of people.”

“It’s phenomenal at all that some of these 45s even exist, because they don’t need to exist – they just happened to be created,” he says.

There’s been a glut of deep-dive compilations over the last five years that have shone light on the darkest recesses of rock’s back catalog. Now Again’s Function Underground: The Black & Brown American Rock Sound 1969 to 1974 focused on African American rock musicians whose music wasn’t defined as rock and operated in a world between nascent soul, funk and heavy rock. Numero Group have collated two collections that overlap with Brown Acid. The brilliantly named Darkscorch Canticles feature “wizard rock” bands who replaced “hippie pastoralism with mythology, armored conflict, sorcery, and doom” (not to be confused with Harry Potter-inspired “wizard rock”). Acid Nightmares, meanwhile, touched on some of the same heavy psych and “short-lived stoner bands” that also found their way on to the Liverpool Psych festival’s collections.

Axas



Axas Composite: Sam Morris/RidingEasy

Barresi says the compilations are mining a transitional phase of rock created during a time when the hippy optimism gave way to a post-trip hangover that Joan Didion captured in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. “It’s not all pot smoke and love,” he says of the period. “In 1969 you have the Manson murders, you have [the disastrous Rolling Stones gig at] Altamont, while Vietnam is ruining everyone’s good vibes and the music starts to get a little bit heavier and less flowery.

“The music got real dark, real quickly during that era. When everyone was first discovering the Beatles and garage rock and weed and LSD – it’s all fun and games, and then you start to realise the dark side of that and it gets ugly.”

Barresi hopes that Brown Acid will do for hard rock, proto-metal and heavy psych, what Nuggets did for garage rock, and bring it to a wider audience of collectors and music fans. He sees it as plugging a gaping hole in rock history. “It perfectly fits the void between [the garage compilations] Nuggets, Pebbles, Boulders and [the punk compilations] Bloodstains and Killed By Death, which seems really natural to me, but obviously no one thought of it.”

“It’s like a bastard child of rock music that no one really paid attention to. There are all these amazing records from the late 60s to the early 70s that exist that really didn’t have a place to be filed under.”

Whether proto-metal or heavy psych or even “wizard rock” become the next genre to see a wider scale resurgence is debatable, but Barresi plans to continue with the compilations and believes there’s a lot more music to be unearthed. “We’ve only just discovered the tip of the iceberg,” says Barresi. “You keep digging that hole thinking you’re going to hit the bottom and all that happens is the dirt underneath you just gets weirder and weirder.”

Brown Acid: The Fifth Trip is out now on Riding Easy Records

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