Seance in the sixth fret…

From Perfect Sound Forever:
“It is difficult to describe the music of Exuma. Many times, there is not much in the way of instrumentation; most of the songs are anchored around his singing and acoustic guitar playing. It is undeniably African-influenced, with much exotic percussion, but it is also grounded in Voodoo beliefs found in the West Indies. His guitar playing is solid, but not flashy. He once said in an
interview, “I only know a few chords, but I can stretch them out!” His greatest instrument was his voice. It was a thing of ragged beauty. Neither too high nor low, it compelled and beckoned, sounding as if he had experienced many things in many planes.

On the first album of Exuma (called Exuma, but subtitled “Fire”) you hear a wolf’s howl, acoustic guitar, bongos and bells. Then a gravelly voice sings:

“I came down on a lightning bolt
Nine months in my Mama’s belly.
When I was born, the midwife scream and shout,
I had fire crystals coming out of my mouth
I’m Exuma, I’m the Obeah Man!”

The lyrics get even more colorful after this, if you can believe it. He makes mention of walking with Charon (the ferryman at the River Styx) and Hector Hippolyte (artist and Voodoo priest). The backing vocals are dolorous and chant-like; there are bird calls and the whole affair ends with a sonic boom.

Then, the SECOND song starts up!

This was 1970. The Guess Who were angering certain people with their song, “American Woman”, which some took to be anti-patriotic, so one can only gather what the reaction to this album would have engendered among the same factions.

One track, “Seance in the Sixth Fret,” is exactly that; a seance. While “Black Mass” by Lucifer (Mort Garson) has a simulation of a seance on it, the listener can become detached, as the album is played entirely on synthesizer. This doesn’t feel simulated (there is musical backing, but the words are prose, not poetry), even if no dead people spoke to anyone involved with the record. He calls out the names of three deceased people and there are sound effects; not quite a field recording, nor does it have the feel of an Andy Hardy musical in which Mickey Rooney turns to Judy Garland, and says “Hey, let’s put on a seance!”

The illustrations on the album are also rather odd. An anguished face on the cover, the foldout picture features two white, silhouetted profiles looking in opposite directions, reminiscent of the Greek God Janus, with two wings behind it. The back cover features a butterfly, whose wings feature two sets of eyes, one set eerily reminiscent of the eyes of the anguished face on the front cover!

COURTESY JOSEPH M.!

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About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in Tucson, Arizona with Stephanie Smith. https://linktr.ee/jaywbabcock