The Girl in
"Tomorrow I may do something quite different."--- Gustav Holst (1926)Geoff Alexander had --- on his own --- just begun to experiment with "The Sunnyvale Sound" as it was later to be called. It consisted of Electric Trumpet, Short-Wave Radio (tuned to WWV - Denver), and Proctological Tubing. The melody base was an obvious borrowing from the blues-guitar style of the late P. P. McFeelie. In fact, The Roots of Madness claims brotherhood with this obscure Ebo City musician who died tragically of what doctors believe was existential angst --- shortly after recording "You Are My Sunshine" (included in this album for comparison).It was perfectly natural, given the ethos of fate, and the composition of the peoples of the Santa Clara Valley that Alexander, should have run into Joe Morrow --- "Big-Little" Joe --- in the local Safeway, in the fruit and vegetable section. Joe stood (then, as now) an even 6' 8" in his stocking foot --- weighing in at an even 374 pounds. Joe, with his unabashed affection for the two-inch "sweet potato" --- his instrument of choice --- brought with him the brilliant if addle-pated Don Campau."It was Donald who was our great inspiration," says Joe through his speaking tube. An early, and unfortunate bout with kyphosis made it impossible for Joe to use his larynx. Doctors fashioned an experimental plastic reed which is stuffed directly into his duodenum. Thus the piercing sound in some of the compositions as Joe exhales through his voice-box as if were a flute. "Don was important to what was left of the rest of us because of his ability to play piano with only one arm."
Here Joe is referring to Donald's tragic experience at age five when he lost his left arm in the ratchet of a player piano. Ironically, it is the player piano that Don favors the most, hitting it (pounding it, really) with his one remaining arm. "What's left of him may be twisted and horney --- but man! can Don do the old 88s," says Joe with obvious approbation through his clear wet plastic flue. Joe likes to think of himself as "An Attentive Ear" as Don races up and down the very instrument that tried to "eat" him.
It would be impossible for me, in this short introduction, to give you the feeling of inspiration, musicianship, guts and sheer noisomeness that sets The Roots of Madness apart from other folk, blues, rock, rap, rank, funk, smudge and swart musicians worldwide. I first heard them over a Los Gatos radio station that has now, thank god, disappeared from the dial.
Twice a week, at midnight, KTAO featured new and unusual local talent. So twice a week, Geoff would wheel himself into the studios of the radio station, put his hook into the trumpet, adjust his speculum bag --- and blow his heart out. He always brought his funny friends with him --- assorted misfits like Joe, Don, and Dolfin.
It was a very moving experience. Even the janitor whose job it was to clean out the bile-pipes would be moved to listen. A visitor once asked him what he thought of "Geoff and His Residue" (as the group was called then). He is reported to have said, "It's a Gol-darn mess, it is." Many of the witnesses in those early days were frightened by another member, "Old Gimpy" Dolfin who, when he was trying to get the Short Wave Receiver inserted, would remove his colorful stumps and leave them right there on the table for all to see.
Enough of peculation. I want you to lay aside your prejudices about San Jose and its deformed and crippled. I want you to open up your soul to some of the most seductive music to have appeared since Gustav Holst hung it up in 1926.