Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sky Saxon

Okay, it’s been a lonnnnng weekend of non-stop Michael Jackson articles, tributes, debates, speculation, and those damn helicopters over my house. But it’s time we take a moment to remember the other rock notable who passed away last Thursday as well. Sky Saxon of the Seeds.

No, he wasn’t the King of Pop but he was the King of the L.A. Garage Band and a kingdom is a kingdom, right? The Seeds had one big national hit in the mid 60s, “Pushin’ Too Hard”. But in L.A. they had several more including “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” and “Mr. Farmer”.

I have to admit I loved this guy.

His music was a mix of hard rock, blues, peyote, and not sleeping for several weeks. The Seeds use of a keyboard is I’m sure what influenced the Doors to employ one on “Light My Fire”. (Listen to me, big rock historian using words like “influenced” and “employ”). From the Seeds beget The Doors, the Byrds, Love, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Electric Prunes, the Leaves, Count Five, the Grassroots – pretty much every group coming out of Los Angeles except Gary Lewis & the Playboys.

The Seeds were one of the first bands to experiment with psychedelic rock. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley we had a radio station in Burbank, KBLA (with a signal worse than your Wifi router) that would play album cuts. All the really cool kids listened to that. Any song longer than three minutes was considered “far out”. There were also “mind blowing” songs but those had to be over four minutes. One of the KBLA staples was “Up In Her Room” by the Seeds. It lasted a staggering 14:45! With lyrics like “Up in her room/I smell incense burn/Up in her room/I sure did learn” we impressionable teenagers got the crazy idea this song might be about drugs. With other lyrics like “Sha la la/Sha la la/Sha la la/Sha la la” that repeated for four minutes we pretty much confirmed it. Meanwhile, the mainstream stations were playing “Everybody Loves a Clown” by… Gary Lewis & the Playboys.

Sky and his group were a local hit just when every channel had a TV dance show. Once a week they’d show up on THE LLOYD THAXTON SHOW, NINTH STREET WEST, SHIVAREE, SHEBANG, or HOLLYWOOD A-GO GO. Sky had a unique stage presence. He was the first performer I can remember who always appeared completely stoned. You’d swear he had no idea where he was. I’d watch in utter fascination. Other rock historians have compared him to Mick Jagger on stage. Huh? Maybe Mick Jagger after shock treatments. But Sky’s deadpan disinterested fog persona made him stand out. He was one of my favorites.

Like the other king, Sky’s life was shrouded in bizarreness and intrigue. Supposedly, the Seeds once guested on the sitcom THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW playing a band called The Warts. They did "Pushin' Too Hard" and "Some Enchanted Evening". Later, Sky dropped out and joined the Yohowha religious cult. The sect broke up when their divine leader Father Yod died in a hang gliding accident. Sky continued to make music, recently had moved to Austin, Texas and was planning a tour with other flower power refugees at the time of his death. Sky was in his mid 60s. Nobody really knows.

He was a character. An influence on many (there’s that word again). A terrific musician. And according to those who knew him, a wonderful person with a gentle soul.

Here’s a video of Sky and the Seeds on SHEBANG, hosted by Casey Kasem. I hadn’t seen him perform in years and happily, he did not disappoint. Pay particular attention to his guitar playing.

Sky Saxon, you will be missed. I only wish you were missed by more.


Mike Bell said...

Growing up in the THEN little cow/oil town that was Bakersfield, I can remember hearing "Pushing Too Hard" on KAFY. It was so radically different than anything else put out on that blowtorch. Just the raw, dirty energy of that song compared to the other hits of the day was, dare I say it Ken, MINDBLOWING. It was one of the reasons I pissed off my parents and took up a "career" in radio. Not being dedicated enough to actually learn how to play an instrument, playing songs like that on the radio was the coolest thing. Even to this day.

Tim said...

Casey hosted "Shebang" on Ch 5, from which this bit of video is taken.

Pat Reeder said...

I made sure that our radio humor/prep service included a mention of Sky on Friday, so radio wouldn't be solely Michael Jackson mourning. My friend and "Hollywood Hi-Fi" co-author, George Gimarc, is one of the top record collectors in the country, and he called to tell me the news about Sky. He'd just visited with him in Austin a few months ago and took him a lot of obscure records and tapes that he was thrilled to get. RIP.

Willy B. Good said...

Great song and memories Ken. Sky rocked!

Tony in London said...

Hi Ken,

Always enjoy your blog and glad to see Sky's death wasn't completely overshadowed in everyone's book...

I have that Seeds episode of The Mothers In Law on a DVD if you would like me to send you a copy. The episode is quite dire, being all about way-out teenagers and squares, but the Seeds (and Sky) are entertaining.

LouOCNY said...

very cool..looks like the bass player is using a Vox Bill Wyman teardrop bass....

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks for the post about Saxon. I played "Mr. Farmer", my favorite Seeds song, on my show awhile back.

"The Mothers-In-Law" episode was cute; wait 'til you hear the Seeds(Warts) play with marching band accompaniment. It ai not "Tusk" to be sure.

I believe that the cult was called "Ya Ho Wa". Sky "Sunlight" Saxon appears on this 1974 album:

DwWashburn said...

Sky, MJ, Farrah, Billy Mays, Ed McMahon, Fred Travalena. It's been a bad seven days in the celebrity world.

DwWashburn said...

Oops -- forgot Gale Storm.

A. Buck Short said...

Did this intercept the traditional references to these things coming in "threes," or did anybody get that in under the wire?

Anonymous said...


my name is Alan aka jettblackberryx aka junkcultureboy.

I've love a copy of that Mothers-In-Law episode.
Can I do some sort of swap/trade for it?
Alan Bryan - Maryland USA

cleek said...

Did this intercept the traditional references to these things coming in "threes," or did anybody get that in under the wire?

Ed McMahon, Sky Saxon, Farah, MJ, and Billy Mays (king of the shouting infomercial).

busy week for the reaper

jbryant said...

Saxon is the bass player.

I guess Shebang didn't have much camera rehearsal time. Every time an instrumental solo starts, whether keyboard or lead guitar, the director cuts to a close-up of Saxon's bass. :)

Bobwa wawa said...

This just in to our newswoom...Ed McMahon, Fawwah Fawcett, Gale Storm, Biwwy Mays and Michael Jackson are still awive!

It was actually "The Man of a Thousand Voices" -- impressionist Fwed Travawena who died in Wos Angeles. He was 66.

We apologize for our ewwah.

Mike Bell said...

Ya pushin' too hahd
Ya pushin' on meeeeee
Ya pushin' to hahd
tha way ya wantitobeeee
Ya pushin' to hahhhhhhd
onnnnnn maaaaayyyyy

Too haaaaaahhhhhddddd!

(again, not jokin'- WV: HALLA)

Halla back!

Steve J. said...

You sure can hear a vibe plus a few riffs co-opted/"borrowed" by The Doors. Thanks for making that connection, Ken.
So, the formula is simple - take something original, add a better looking and edgier (nuttier) lead singer, and go make money. True, Jim wrote good songs, but the Seeds were uncredited, until now.
Re the video, it's funny to watch the zoom-in on the base during the guitar solo.

Sabrina Smith aka Sophia said...

Thank you so much for the blog about my husband, Sky Saxon .... This has to be one of the best I've read and I so appreciate it.

You might like to know though that the photo at the top is a photo of his publicist, Jennifer Marchand and not of Sky Saxon ...

And also thank you for the nice comments about Sky too. He has really been an influence in so many people's lives in so many positive ways.


Sabrina Saxon

jbleu said...

Hi Ken,

Wonderful blog, but please remove my picture asap from the heading of this piece on the late great Sky Sunlight Saxon. PLEASE!

(Thank you Sabrina!)

Jennifer Marchand
Publicist :: Sky Sunlight Saxon

Unknown said...

Further proof that having been born in 1962 made me too late for a lot of good music, which I am now catching up with at the age of 47(!).

By the way, this is strictly a side note, but does it seem that rock groups not only sounded better in the 60's, but dressed better, too? These guys looked pretty snappy . . .

imsoakinginit said...

uh, his guitar playing? it's bass and they're not plugged in.

JIm W said...

I was a dancer on Shabang back in the mid 60's. It was taped in Bakersfield but most of the kids were from LA. They were definitely lip sinking . I remember the drummer was not making contact with the drums. I was right next to him and I could plainly see. Casey Kasem was really a nice guy.