F.J. McMahon - Spirit of The Golden Juice (Psychedelic Folk US 1969)

Jumat, 12 Oktober 2012

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Hypnotic folk-rock introits from California Vietnam vet.

Grew up in Santa Barbara, California. He played in several “surf/instrumental” bands through junior and senior high school. Upon graduating Santa Barbara High School in 1964, he enlisted in the Air Force.

While stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base just north of San Francisco, he had the opportunity to play a few small clubs and get involved with some of the music scene that was happening in that area between 1965 and 1967.  In 1967 he received orders to South East Asia.  This involved travel and temporary duty in Vietnam, the  Philippines and  Thailand.

After being discharged F.J. returned to Santa Barbara to play and write what would be his only album: Spirit of the Golden Juice.  The album was released in 1969. This was followed by two years of hitting the road and playing anyplace that he could.  He then played in a succession of bar bands culminating with a move to Hawaii and one more year of gigging bars and hotels.  

With disco on the way in and glitter glam the current flavor of the month, F.J. decided to quit the music business and get a day job. 

So he went to work for the Atomic Energy Commission as a Security Enforcement Officer on a place called Johnston Atoll.  Upon his return to California he met the lady of his life Diane Milano, got married and had two daughters Danielle and Niki.  Mixed in with all this was four years in the Navy where he became an avionics technician and served on the USS Ranger.  F.J. has spent the last twenty five years as a computer repair and operations specialist.

Fred McMahon must have called me at MOJO one day but I have no recollection of it. All I know is that, back in 2004 I received a CD burn of this album in the post. Given I’d forgotten he’d even called my natural next response would have been to stick the CD straight in the listen-to-later box, and get on with something far less important. But written on a post-it note stuck to the back of the CD case were the words “Sorry it took so long” and a signature that looked a lot like “F.J. Mc”. Then there was that cover - an oval Victorian picture frame containing the image of a perplexed, apprehensive young man, standing next to a pot plant, looking like he’d was posing for some 19th Century photographer, before going off to fight in the American Civil War. 

Then there was that album title, Spirit Of The Golden Juice, suggesting something mystical yet seedy, transcendental but intoxicating. It needed to be played. Well, Spirit of The Golden Juice doesn’t come upon you like a great album. It neither pounces nor creeps but is just there, like you’ve walked in on the middle of it and it’s always been playing. The opening track, Sister, Brother “begins” with a short military drum paradiddle before guitar and drums flop into a lazy, seemingly eternal time-keeping groove, interspersed with lonesome twangs of Gibson echo as McMahon sings “Sister, brother/come and hold my hand/don’t let me walk away/help me stand.” 

McMahon’s voice is something else: nervous, beaten, wary, possessing some of Fred Neil or Tim Hardin’s folk presaging but without their junkie meanness or arrogance. If Spirit has a weakness it’s also its strength: every song sounds the same, keeping to the same lazy rhythm and possessing the same delicate, mournful melodic drift, with only the lyrics changing. But it’s in those lyrics that you get to the heart of the album. On one track he is a drifter who “forgot the way back home”; on another, a man back from a five-year sentence who doesn’t understand how the world works. “I never knew what they meant by duty,” he sings on Five Year Kansas Blues, while on the beautifully sad Early Blue we find him cowering in his room during daylight “I try to hide from people…” Turns out that McMahon was a Santa Barbara surf guitarist who joined the USAF in 1965, receiving orders for a tour of duty of Vietnam two years later. The darkness at the heart of Spirit Of The Golden Juice is combat fatigue, PTSD.

“I know I’ve lost a good part of my life,” he sings on the reverberant, premonitory title track, “But I’d do it again / As will most men / Keep on ’til I die.” And what is The Spirit Of The Golden Juice? “That song is about my experiences in Viet Nam, Thailand and the PI,” he tells lysergia.com, “The ‘golden juice’ is I. W. Harper bourbon which was the fuel of the times.” Fred McMahon currently works in computer repairs. If you go to his website http://fjmcmahon.com/ and drop him a line he’ll burn you a copy of his album for $19.95, including postage and packing. [Mojo Magazine]

01. Sister Brother 4:05 
02. The Road Back Home 3:12 
03. Early Blue 3:02 
04. Black Night Woman 3:22 
05. One Alone Together 2:57 
06. Five Year Kansas Blues 2:44 
07. Enough It Is Done 2:35 
08. The Learned Man 2:37 
09. The Spirit of the Golden Juice 3:33 

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