Friday, November 10, 2023

The Gurus - Are Hear! (1966-67 us, exciting garage psych rock with oriental elements, 2003 release)

With the current level of interest in Turkish and middle-eastern psychedelia out there, this may be the perfect time to rediscover the sounds of The Gurus Are Hear. Formed in New York city in the  throes of 1966, the Gurus were the brainchild of a certain Ron Haffkine, a jeweler who liked to hang around at Cafe Feenjon, a hip coffee shop on MacDougal Street that catered to a wild mixture of Arabs, Israelis, and, apparently, psychedelic rock and roll musicians. His concept was a simple one: combine the electric rock and roll beat that was rumbling across the charts with the exotic sounds of the middle east. He put forward the concept to a number of talented local musicians, who not coincidentally also happened to moonlight as Cafe Feenjon regulars, and they went in to cut a record.

The results could easily be compared to what Kaleidoscope was doing across the country at around the same time, but the Gurus really kick things up a notch and cut back on some of the eclecticism that distinguished their musical compadres. The Gurus Are Hear is very much a psychedelic garage rock record, despite the prevalence of Pete Smith’s oud and the eastern warbling (the liner notes reveal that these were often simple obscenities mispronounced in order to sound exotic). The record is full of highlights, including a wonderfully unique take on the old garage band chestnut Louie Louie coated in Smith’s tasteful oud playing. If you thought you’d heard every possible variation on this one you could bear, you may want to reconsider. It really does speak to the band’s credit that, even when delving into cosmic territories, the songs never stray far from their heavy go-go grooves. It may be weird, but it’s always danceable. The single from the record, Blue Snow Night, backed with the crazy album opener Come Girl, even managed to do well enough to land the band on the covers of both Cashbox and Record World magazine.

Despite sounding so ahead of their time, however, the Gurus still come across as being an acquired taste, due in large part to the eccentric singing of (the rather inexplicably named) Medulla Oblongata. His faux-eastern vocalizing may lend the record a good deal of character, but also risk confounding the unsuspecting listener. This is not to say that straighter singing would have made the record any better, however, as his most accessible vocal just so happens to come with my least favorite cut on the album, Rainy Day in London. Despite some intriguing instrumental flourishes, this one is a rather turgid, sentimental ballad about walking in the rain and eating leftover cake that doesn’t quite sound like anything else the band ever recorded.

It may come as a surprise that despite the success of the aforementioned single, The Gurus Are Hear was to remain unreleased until 2003, when the tapes were rescued from the vaults by the good folks at Sundazed Records. Five bonus tracks round out this rather belated release, those being a number of alternate takes of songs already on the record and They All Got Carried Away, a moody psychedelic pop number with some otherwise trying Polly wants a cracker vocal interjections.
by Nik Rayne
1. Come Girl - 2:07
2. It Just Won't Be That Way (Jimmy Ryan) - 2:19
3. Contact (Alan Gordon, Garry Bonner) - 2:37
4. Breakaway - 1:37
5. Cry, Cry - 2:44
6. Roads To Nowhere - 2:33
7. Blue Snow Night - 2:20
8. Louie Louie (Richard Berry) - 3:05
9. Everybody's Got To Be Alone Sometime (Jonathan Talbot, Nickalos Schneider) - 2:22
10.Rainy Day In London (David Pickell, Mark Hansen Holden) - 3:05
11.Mystic - 1:51
12.Shaker Life - 2:09
13.They All Got Carried Away (Alan Gordon, Garry Bonner) -  2:04
14.Blue Snow Night - 3:20
15.Cry, Cry - 2:35
16.Mystic - 1:48
17.Contact (Alan Gordon, Garry Bonner) - 2:42
All songs by Jonathan Talbot except where stated

The Gurus
*John Lieto - Vocals 
*Pete ''Blackwood'' Smith - Guitar 
*Jonathan Talbot - Bass
*Victor ''Vittorio'' King - Drums 
*Medulla Oblongata - Guitar 
*Michael ''Jason'' Weinstein - Bass, Harmonica