The Ash Grove will long be remembered as the West Coast epicenter of the traditional folk and blues revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s. As such, the Los Angeles venue was a critical component not only in the careers of many important folk and blues artists, but as an educational environment to many younger musicians and songwriters, providing them with firsthand exposure to the best of the best in an intimate setting. Also a focal point for progressive thought, the Ash Grove would have an equally strong impact on the cultural and political perspective of these young emerging artists, laying the groundwork for what would become the rock music revolution of the 1960s.
It was into this environment that the Lydia E. Pinkham Superior Orchestra brought their wild and wacky musical antics during the Summer of Love. Taped on July 2, 1967, this recording captures the group in fine form, full of youthful enthusiasm, delivering a wide range of material, despite their limited stage time. For the uninitiated, The Lydia E. Pinkham Superior Orchestra was actually a North Western jug band, their name embracing absurdity, like so many of the San Francisco bands at the time. According to the stage banter on this very recording, the real Lydia E. Pinkham was a woman from Massachusetts known for concocting alcohol-fueled elixirs in the 1870s.
In many ways, the Lydia E. Pinkham Superior Orchestra paralleled their counterparts in the North East, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Both groups mined similar material and contained talented musicians and singers who would gain greater recognition during the following decade. Both groups also contained young but devoted archivists of early 20th century music and both groups relayed a strong sense of humor. However, they also differed significantly. The Kweskin Band was several years older and a bit more reverent in their approach, staying relatively traditional to the end. The Lydia E. Pinkham Superior Orchestra were more youthful, incorporating modern songs as well as jazz standards into their wide-ranging repertoire. Unlike the Kweskin band, the Lydia E. Pinkham Superior Orchestra emphasized songs that were equally suitable for dancing as they were for listening. The California counterculture was fully blooming at this moment in time and that too is reflected in the group's performance.
This 1967 recording is a highly entertaining time capsule, capturing plenty of the group's comical stage banter as well as their skillful and often humorous song arrangements. The set kicks off in square dancing mode, with a highly energetic take on John D. Loudermilk's "Big Daddy Is Alabama Bound." Another up tempo dance number follows with a cover of Jerry Corbitt's infectious "Grizzly Bear." Here the group is covering a contemporary rock group, the Youngbloods, but adapting their arrangement to jug band instrumentation. As the recording reveals, it's a perfect fit. Next, the group slows things down and ventures back to 1921 for "Shiek Of Araby," a classic Tin Pan Alley hit composed in response to the Rudolph Valentino film The Shiek. Then it's back to more modern fare, with the group's take on the Lovin' Spoonful's "Good Time Music." Written by John Sebastian, a songwriter with plenty of jugband influences in his own music (Sebastian was a former member of New York City's Even Dozen Jug Band), this also adapts perfectly to the group's style. The set concludes with a classic Bessie Smith song, "Charlie Green, Play That Thing." Written in the 1930s for Smith's trombone player, Charlie Green, this is another thoroughly fun romp, filled with humorous double entendres and amusing instrumentation that display the group's signature wit and highly entertaining style.
Written by Alan Bershaw