June 25th, 2009 will doubtlessly go down in popular culture as a momentous day of loss.
This piece was originally published July 13th, 2009
For the majority of the world’s citizens, it was a day that meant the end of the life for one of the world’s singular, biggest record selling— and to put it mildly—more eccentric entertainers of recent times, Michael Jackson.
Concurrently, it was a day of losing another talent. An actress with charisma, beauty and an affable demeanor, not forgetting an impressive body of acting work, Farrah Fawcett.
An actress whose best known role—while only appearing for one season—boosted a show into a multi season iconic smash hit series that was never as good after she quit. Her pin up poster is still the biggest selling ever, and the profits from sales of the posters were far greater than any salary she made from acting, regardless of how huge the series.
Coming in third on this day of loss, and understandably, relegated to a much smaller mention on that day’s gargantuan news headlines, was another entertainer. Perhaps an unknown to most, or a low level blip on the radar of the stars, but for others, myself included, just as important and as colorful a character as anyone who ever chose the arts as a means of self expression.
Born Richard Elvern Marsh in Salt Lake City, Utah sometime between 1937 and 1946. His exact day of birth is probably August 20th according to his widow, but given that Sky did not believe in age or care much for calendar dating, this is also open to speculation.
As with most kids pursuing a musical dream, he migrated to a big city. That metropolis being Sky’s closest capitol for making it in pop music, Los Angeles. Soon he began by performing Doo Wop R&B for a couple of years under the name Little Richie Marsh (not to be confused with “Little Richard” Penniman) in the early ’60s and then changed his name to the remarkable Sky Saxon, so he could better emulate his idol, the swashbuckling action hero, Errol Flynn.
After starting a few various bands such as the the Electra-Fires and Sky Saxon & The Soul Rockers, it was in 1965 that Sky painted his masterpiece by forming The Seeds along with guitarists Jan Savage and Jeremy Levine (who left shortly after early recording sessions), drummer Rick Andridge, and equally important as Sky’s vocals to the sound that The Seeds would become famous, keyboardist Daryl Hooper.
Equally encamped in the ongoing rush of excitement made by British Invasion, namely, the gritty bad boy Mick Jagger/Rolling Stones bluesiness (The Beatles being a bit too clean cut no doubt) and the early, primitive, short songblast adrenalin rush of the garage rock craze that was happening via kids with instruments throughout the world, The Seeds were fairly early on, major contenders.
Garnering enough local attention, they signed with the GNP Crescendo record label and released a first single, the regional CA hit “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine,” but it was their second single a song called “Pushin’ Too Hard” that would forever solidify The Seeds as one of the truly great Sixties American bands.
A driving force of speeding locomotion, a tornado of pop power, “Pushin’ Too Hard” is one of the great songs of the era, or of any era for that matter, and with it, Garage Rock, Trash Punk, the new rebellion, or whatever you want to call it, now had an anthem.
Both songs were part of the debut album simply called The Seeds. Kicking off with the forlorn angst of “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine,” The Seeds album is a brilliant and careening delight of all original songs (a rarity for a band in those days!) mostly written by Saxon and featuring Hooper’s mesmerizing and repetitive keyboard riffs, Savage’s super fuzz drenched guitar lines and Sky’s inimitable, raspy wizard vocals.
Rereleased as a single after the album came out, “Pushin’ Too Hard” made it to #36 on the U.S. pop charts, and while it went no higher, it still was enough of a hit to become well known across American radio and place The Seeds on many TV appearances including a memorably odd but very cool performance (Sky in a cape!) on the popular sit com, The Mothers-In-Law in 1966 (also featuring Star Trek’s Roger C. “Harry Mudd” Carmel).
The second Seeds album, 1967’s A Web of Sound, is perhaps an even greater “high” in the band’s discography. From the groovy shlock horror, Munsters style cover art to songs such as the single “Mr. Farmer,” “Tripmaker,” “Rollin’ Machine” and ending with the 14 minute! psychedelic tour de force, “Up In Her Room,” the album is a stunner variety and messing with the former album’s basic formula.
The Seeds third album, Future, is yet another great one in Sky’s catalog, although by this time the psychedelic flower power stoner factor increased to such an extent that many fans of their previous aggressive garage sound jumped ship. I love this album as much as the others, but you can probably guess that songs titled “March Of The Flower Children,” “Travel With Your Mind,” “Flower Lady And Her Assistant” and “Where Is The Entrance Way To Play” are on a different astral plane than “Pushin’ To Hard.” The band next released a great follow up single “The Wind Blows Your Hair” as well as performing a cameo in the Jack Nicholson film, Psych Out.
By late ’68 (time moved fast for the bands of this time) things had started to veer off commercially and members departed leaving Sky to briefly rename his band The Sky Saxon Blues Band for the release A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues. Immersed for a time in his version of the blues, Sky soon returned to using Sky Saxon and The Seeds as he helmed The Seeds through various lineup changes and a few more singles until retiring The Seeds around 1972.
Sky became Sky “Sunlight” Saxon as he joined up with the mysterious although musically unbelievably prolific cult figure Father Yod and his Yahowha religious sect. Sky would always continue to make music with members of the sect from time to time.
Spurned on by newer garage rock bands such as The Chesterfield Kings and Redd Kross that recognized Sky’s status as a seminal figure in groovy garage music, Sky would in the ’80s until recently, reform new versions of The Seeds, reunite with original guitarist Jan Savage for a time, perform on Summer of Love package tours and release new material that more often than not still does justice to his earlier greatness.
He has been called “The King of Garage Rock,” “Master of Psychedelia,” “Godfather of Punk” and “Founding Father of Flower Power.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame lists “Pushin’ Too Hard” as one of the “500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll.”
Sadly, I had planned on seeing Sky in concert this summer but unfortunately, he passed away on June 25th of a brief illness, with the actual cause still officially unreleased at this time.
Sky’s official web site is here and the official statement released is this:
“Sky Sunlight Saxon Sunlight Arelich Aquarian passed over to be with YaHoWha 6/25/2009 at 9:10 am. Sabrina Saxon and spiritual brother in YaHoWha Joshua Aquarian were at his side. He passed peacefully and with no pain…”
Thankfully, The Seeds and Sky’s music will surely live on and be rediscovered time and again by new generations of fans, as surely as a new crop will always discover The Ramones, The Velvet Underground and The Beatles. Tribute shows and festivals have been recently organized to honor the work of Sky and have featured various members of The Seeds, Strawberry Alarm Clock and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins who had recently been recording with Sky and supposedly had been working on a Seeds documentary with the vocalist.
Let’s hope it gets finished soon.