Sam Shepard Joins the Holy Modal Rounders

Sam Shepard Joins the Holy Modal Rounders

The duo split up in the summer of 1965, but the next year the Holy Modal Rounders were offered a princely sum to reunite at a music festival. Neither man could pass up the money; Peter Stampfel was so broke he had put his fiddle in hock at a Second Avenue pawn shop, which he retrieved for the show. As he stood in the shop holding his instrument, Theatre Genesis playwright Sam Shepard walked up to him and asked, “Hey, do you play bass?” One thing led to another, and the playwright-drummer joined the Holy Modal Rounders, and ESP-Disk signed them to make a new record. Shepard played drums on 1967’s Indian War Whoop, but the record company didn’t include his photo on the album’s sleeve because he had cut his hair short (as a way of protesting “all that Summer of Love bullshit,” as Stampfel put it). The band signed with Elektra Records and went to Los Angeles in March 1968 to record The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders, which included their best-known number, “The Bird Song.” It ended up on the Easy Rider soundtrack after being edited by Dennis Hopper into a memorable scene with Jack Nicholson on the back of a chopper, flapping his wings. While out West, the Holy Modal Rounders opened for Pink Floyd at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco and appeared on the comedy variety TV show Laugh-In.

From Chapter 15 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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